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August 13th, 2012

11:35 am - Turn out the lights, draw the curtains, put the weasels back in storage
We played some D&D yesterday, and I thought I might come post about it here.

And then I realised that I hadn't posted to LJ in three months, and that the only things I've been talking about this year is either roleplaying or my writing. Which I can - and do - talk about in other places. I thought there'd be value in having a personal journal space to talk about stuff, but in practice I just don't need it.

So yeah. I think it's time to stick a fork in this journal, and has been for some time.

If you still want to read about my various adventures, here are some options:
  • patrickoduffy.com for my writing, writing about writing, reading self-promotion, talk about things I like and other semi-professional blogging
  • Twitter for me talking about pretty much everything, with heavy use of profanity 'cos I know people like that sort of thing
  • Facebook for pictures of me doing things or snippets of talking about stuff, often with other people
  • My Facebook fan page and my Google Plus page for, well, mostly links to my blog
  • Obsidian Portal for game writeups, for the very small number of you who care
And with that, we out. It's been real.


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May 21st, 2012

09:07 pm - Exile Empire - Calm Before the Storm
Three weeks after the last session, we got back together for a new session of our 4th ed D&D game. Seriously, that's almost exactly like a regular timetable! It can't last, I know, but we took advantage of the alignment of the stars to reshuffle the plot hooks, work out some plans and foreshadow like a motherfucker.

Come, join us behind the cut.

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May 5th, 2012

11:16 am - Exile Empire - Beware the Claw!
April is generally the cruellest month, and by that I mean it's the time when Comedy Festival not only eats away at my spare time but completely eliminates that of some of my friends - friends and fellow roleplayers to boot.

All of which means that April isn't a month for gaming round these parts, at least not until the very end. Which, of course, is when we got the whole band back together to return to Exile Empire, kicking off a new phase of the campaign by repeating smacking all of the PCs with spiked flails and/or setting them on fire.

Details behind the cut.

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May 2nd, 2012

11:05 am - Now on sale - The Obituarist
Hi folks,

I know I've been silent for a few weeks, but I have a good reason - I've been writing my tail off getting something new ready.

And here it is! I’m pleased beyond all measure to announce that my new e-novella, The Obituarist, is not only finished but published and available to purchase!

Kendall Barber calls himself an obituarist – a social media undertaker who settles accounts for the dead. If you need your loved one’s Facebook account closed down or one last tweet to be made, he’ll take care of it, while also making sure that identity thieves can’t access forgotten personal data. It’s his way of making amends for his past, a path that has seen him return to the seedy city of Port Virtue after years in exile.

But now his past is reaching out to catch up with him, just as he gets in over his head with a beautiful new client whose dead brother may have been murdered – if he’s even dead at all. If Kendall doesn’t play his cards right, he could wind up just as deceased as the usual subjects of his work.

On the other hand, Kendall may know more about what cards to play than anyone else realises…

It’s been six months since I announced the concept and started work on this book, two months since I rolled up my sleeves and started it in earnest. It’s been drafted and redrafted, edited and altered, changed and changed back again and now it’s as ready as it’ll ever be.

And I have to say that I had an absolute ball writing this book. Once I really got into it it was a hoot to sit down every night and lay down another chapter of weird crime antics, chase scenes, thoughts about death and identity and occasional jokes. That joy is a bit unusual for me – too often Ifind writing a chore – and I really hope this isn’t the last time I feel it. Or the last time I write about these characters.

I’d like to thank my wife Nichole for her thoughts and support, my Alpha Readers (Cam Rogers, Josh Kinal and Lyndal McIlwaine) for their feedback and suggestions, Fiona Regan for editing the manuscript and Carla McKee for her great cover. And I’d like to thank my readers for responding positively to the idea and telling me you wanted to see more. Here it is – hope you like it.

The Obituarist can be purchased as a $2.99 ebook from the following sites:
  • The Amazon Kindle Store has the Kindle version
  • Smashwords has ePub, Kindle, PDF, HTML and Word versions
  • Other sites (Barnes and Noble, iBooks etc) will have it eventually, and I’ll update as the links go live
All sites should have a sample of the novella that you can read for free.

As part of the launch, I’ve also made some changes to patrickoduffy.com, specifically breaking out my ebooks into their own separate pages – so if you want to tell your friends about The Obituarist, link to this page right here. (I’ve also made new pages for Hotel Flamingo and Godheads if you want to spread the love.)

And speaking of telling your friends…

Folks, if you want to help me get the word out about The Obituarist, that would be fantastic. Amazing. Vitally necessary, in fact. I’m going to do everything I can to promote the book, but I need all the help I can get and you can provide some with very little effort. Here’s what you can do:
  • Buy it. Buy it from whatever site and in whatever format you prefer. Even if you’re not really into crime stories, it’s still worth picking it up – it’s offbeat enough that I think anyone who likes my other work will dig this too.
  • Read it right away. You know how sometimes you buy an ebook and it languishes unread for ages? Jump in and read this one as soon as possible, so that you can then…
  • Talk about it. Recommend it to your friends, family or anyone that might like it. Mention it on social media. Tweet that you’re halfway through it. Show people the cover on Facebook. Mention it at work when someone asks what you’re reading. Use jungle drums, anything.
  • Write a review. Give it some love on Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads, any other review site you frequent. Give it stars if that’s a thing, but if you can write a few words about it that would be much better. And be honest – I’d rather see a genuine 3-star review than a fake 5-star review. Mind you, I’d especially rather see genuine 5-star reviews if they’re available.
  • Pass on the signal. I’ll be promoting this as best I can wherever I can – Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, anywhere else. If you see any of that promotion, pass it along – retweet it, link it, like it, +1 it or whatever. And if you see other people talking about the book, throw up a flag for that too, if only so that I hear about it.
  • Give me a soapbox. If you’re got a blog, a column, a podcast or some other project of your own, I would love to be on it and have a chance to talk about the novella. I can talk about other stuff too – I’m a charming guest and I bring enough beer for everyone. Try me!
Above all else, tell me what you think of it. I want to hear if you liked it and what you liked about it, and whether you’d be interested in reading a sequel. Because I have ideas for more stories about Kendall and Port Virtue, but if no-one wants to read them then I’ll put them aside and work on something else. And I also want to hear from you if you didn’t like The Obituarist, because I’d like to know why and I’d like the next book to be better.

I always want the next book to be better. That’s how I know I’m not dead yet.

Alright, that’s enough out of me. Time to get off the stage and let the book do the talking for a while.

But I'll be back later. Scout's honour.
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant

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April 1st, 2012

11:37 am - New Zealand, as reviewed by artbroken age 41 and a couple of weeks
Just got back yesterday from a 5-day business trip to New Zealand.

My thoughts on the nation are as follows.

  • It's just ridiculously beautiful
  • Good food
  • Monteith's Winter Ale
  • Wellington
  • Winding mountain roads with sheer drops and breathtaking views
  • Getting a better understanding of the NZ education system and market
  • Flying over a motherfucking volcano (albeit a dormant one)
  • The growing degree to which Maori-based culture and language is integrated into English-based culture and language
  • Working so much I didn't have time to explore the beautiful bits properly
  • Mediocre coffee
  • Lion Red (like a glass of cold water with a head on it)
  • Auckland (or at least the bit where I was staying)
  • Concrete motorways all over the place
  • How complicated the NZ education system and market is
  • Needing to fly and drive for hours at a time just to meet everyone on my contact list
  • Everyone talks about rugby all the time and I don't understand any of it
So on balance, the ineffable ledger points strongly towards the PRO column. I'd like to head back someday and spend more time in Wellington with emrhyck, maybe check out the South Island too. I'll just have to bring my own coffee.

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March 25th, 2012

08:26 am
Dear Queensland friends,

Fuck a bunch of Jesus, that was a bad day yesterday.

May I recommend moving to Melbourne? It's got an arts scene and laneways and less homophobia (not none, of course, but less) and a bunch of other good things, and rents are apparently going down. Sure, beer costs 5 bucks a pot or more most places, but nothing's perfect.

And while it's true that Victoria also has a Coalition government, they're a bunch of lazy buttplugs who are basically just running the state using Labor policies 'cos they can't be fucked writing their own. Plus Labor has some chance of winning a state election down here in the next decade, which is a lot more than we can say for QLD.

I mean, goddamn. Goddamn.

Anyway, think about it, okay? And if you do move down, buy blankets and jackets, it gets balls cold down here. Sorry.

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March 2nd, 2012

08:26 pm - Tribulation - Carnivale (part 2)
And we finish the February Month of Gaming (slightly late, as I've been at a conference in Geelong) by talking about our Weird West game Tribulation, which we actually played about two weeks ago. One of the good things about this game is that barrington and fengshuiguytake notes so that I don't have to, but then I need to edit them down to a more compact size - and to tell you the truth, editing just isn't that much fun when you've been doing it all week at your day job.

But enough complaints! Let us quickly flash back to the last session, which was a fuck of a long time ago, and then dive straight into the crazy goings-on!

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February 25th, 2012

09:21 am - Exile Empire - The Siege of Zantashk III
February has shaped up as Gaming Month here at Casa del Artbroken, almost to the point where it's exhausting.

Ah, who am I kidding, I love it.

There was a long-delayed session of Tribulation earlier in the month (and I'll post a write-up soon for everyone that's been gagging to see what's happening there), a session of Hero's Banner with mousebane that we have to come back to, and the promise of actually getting to play 4th ed D&D in (checks watch) about 4 hours from now.

But last Sunday it was back to Exile Empire, which saw our tense siege drama culminate in chaos, sacrifice and sarcasm. Everything went off the rails. And it was great.

Details behind the cut.

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February 7th, 2012

08:56 pm - Exile Empire - The Siege of Zantashk II
Oh wait, I know what I can write about on LiveJournal: roleplaying!

Once again there's been a three-month gap between sessions of our D&D campaign, during which times players went overseas and came back and I got married. And yet, in the game, perhaps only five minutes passed by. There's something metatextually interesting in that, but let's gloss over it to talk about party infighting, attempted war crimes and more attempts to kill the PCs with scorpions and hyenas.

Details behind the cut.

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January 18th, 2012

09:26 pm - I have met the grognard and he is me
Anyone interested in roleplaying games (and anyone not interested in RPGs probably should find a better LJ to follow, to be honest) would have heard the news last week that, roughly three years after releasing the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro is gearing up to release a new edition in the next 12-18 months, probably called D&D Next or something similar to avoid the shameful term '5th edition'. And lo, there was a wailing upon the internet, as if a million gamers with a million opinions rolled on the Loudmouth Opinion Table all at once and were now arguing about who won the Shrieking Initiative roll.

The announcement came with a strong subtext that Wizards had Done the Wrong Thing with 4E and alienated too many existing D&D fans in the pursuit of new players, driving them into the arms of Pathfinder and Castles & Crusades and a bunch of other games that are quite openly and deliberately just rehashes of 1st/2nd/3rd edition D&D with some additional house rules and a smaller art budget. The public self-shaming was followed by an announcement that Wizards wanted the new system to be all things to all gamers, to have modular levels of complexity that would magically make everyone happy, to bring the 'experience of D&D' back, and in order to foster this would run a mass open playtest of the new system - which, like Paizo's open playtest of Pathfinder a few years ago, would probably do little to effect the end result but would allow gamers to feel like their opinions were valued and to get a head start in becoming unhealthily emotionally invested in a game where you pretend to be elves that hit monsters with magic sticks.

My response to the whole thing?

...yeah, I think I'm done.

Not with gaming, hell no, and not with D&D - or more accurately, not with 4E D&D. I really like that system, which for me hits a sweet spot where a generally low-complexity system unpacks into exciting and cinematic action scenes and then folds itself away again when not required. My 4E games feature plenty of character-based fun and roleplaying, for all that the PCs don't have ranks in Blacksmithing or Trick Turning or Wetting Their Pants When Trouble Breaks Out, and the occasional glitches have been easy enough to overcome. There are things that could have been done better (skill challenges are a good idea but generally don't work, and feats are boring), but it's going to remain my go-to system for over-the-top big-explosions fantasy for a long time to come.

But I'm done with staying current with D&D; this new edition can go on without me, bolstered by the power of 99% of gamers having shrieking arguments in a thousand web forums about what form the new edition should take and why the features of [THEIR FAVOURITE EDITION] are objectively better than the features of [THAT EDITION THAT ONLY DOGFUCKERS LIKE]. I already sat on the sidelines of 3+ years of edition war bullshit, and I'm not interested in being part of Edition War II: Electric Fuck This Shit.

And I'm not much bothered by this, since for most of the ~29 years (fucking hell) that I've been gaming I haven't been that interested in D&D. Like most gamers I got started with D&D, in my case a dusty copy of the Basic Set that I found in the local gifts & homewares shop in my small country town, but within a year or two I had left that behind for more refined and cerebral games like Rifts and Call of Cthulhu (whichever edition let us blow monsters up with dynamite). For close to 20 years I didn't think twice about D&D, and it was a year or so after 3E came out that I decided to check it out, mostly because I had a pile of game-store credit burning a hole in my pocket and it had to be spent on something. And I dug it; it had a mix of approachability and density that I appreciated at the time, rules-robust without being too rules-heavy (for me), with lots of dials and knobs to play with and a couple of interesting campaign worlds. Suddenly I became Mister Dee Twenty, juggling a bunch of campaigns while writing game material for WW and Green Ronin, and I had a real good time with it. Still, when 4E rolled around, I'd had enough of the system mastery requirements and the GMing workload, and the emergent gameplay that the 3E system fostered wasn't as interesting to me; a game where I got some cool powers and fought bad dudes in exotic locations was just what I needed.

That's my D&D story arc - 2001 to 2011 is when I got to be one of the cool kids. For various values of 'cool' and 'kid'. And I don't feel like continuing; I have my preferred edition now, and I don't feel like changing. Which is a cause for some concern. Have I become a grognard, fearful and resentful of change and convinced that my favourite game can never be improved except through my dense folder of house rules? Well, probably not, since I don't listen exclusively to Rush and Jethro Tull, which is the mark of the true beardy-weirdy gamer; the rest is mere details.

But I'm not that interested in being on the cutting edge of commercially-successful RPG gaming any more. That edge is uncomfortable and smells like Doritos. My 4E books aren't going anywhere, there are mainstream games that I've been wanting to explore - like finally diving into that 'New Jerusalem' city-based nWoD game I've been mulling over for a couple of years - and a whole host of intriguing indie games that merit a session or five or play. If focusing on those for the next 10-20 years means that I don't get to be part of the D&D Nextwave Revolution or whatever, well, shucks.

Guess that's how the gelatinous cube crumbles.

(EDIT TO ADD: Man, I likes me some boldtext.)

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December 31st, 2011

05:42 pm - 2011 and all that
And so, the time for the traditional end-of-year roundup LJ post has come around again.

...yeah, sure, let's pick it up.

2011 was a pretty good year for me, don't get me wrong. A lot of good things happened this year - I spoke at the Emerging Writers' Festival, saw a bunch of great comedy, published Godheads as an ebook, published a whole bunch of textbooks at my day job, launched patrickoduffy.com, played some fun games, GOT MARRIED, continued to have a bunch of terrific friends and in general rocked the year like a hurricane. And the things that weren't so great - like a massive tax bill or failing to get much writing done - are mostly on my head, rather than things that happened to me, so I don't feel the urge to grumble much about them.

To be honest, I don't feel the urge to talk about much. I think that's the big thing that's changed in me over the course of this year - I've become less inclined to talk about myself, particularly online. Now, you could look at the twice-weekly posts I make on PODcom and say that sounds like bullshit, but a) I use those more to talk about my ideas than about my life, and b) that's professional (at least in theory), not personal. I'm not using that space for lemme-tell-you-about-my-day-or-this-cool-thing, and the desire to do that has dropped off markedly, as has my participation in forums and discussions.

Why? I'm not sure. I think the wedding is part of it - it weighed so large in our lives and minds that for a while it felt like that was all I could talk about, and I didn't think other people would be all that interested. For that matter, being so busy with the wedding and with a pretty full-on year at work (I published 17 books!) left me kinda worn out and with no time for the kind of virtual hanging out and chatting I used to do. And I think that there's a level where I feel satisfied enough with my real-life interactions that the pleasures of an online presence feel muted by comparison. I used to say that I was a much more interesting and likeable guy when communicating in text than in real life; in 2011, I think that's not the case any more.

And anyway, you know, there's Twitter. It lets me talk about myself and forces me to be brief and punchy in doing so. That's great for discipline.

But enough of this ruminating, which is frankly just another LJ chorus of 'Don't Get Around Much Any More', which I'm sure you're tired of hearing and I know I'm tired of writing. Singing. Whatever.

Instead, I'm going to think about 2012, and not because it's the End of All Things or a really shit movie. And not in the sense of a new year's resolution, 'cos I don't do those and if I did it'd be about finishing bloody Arcadia. But I will say that I want to put more energy back into a personal online presence next year. That might be LJ, or it might not, because the ugg boot spam is really starting to give me the screaming shits. It might be centralised, but more likely it'll be spread across a range of sites and forums. It won't be deeply personal, but I'll try to get back some of that friendly and chatty style. And I might even bottle up some rage and vitriol in preparation for the 2013 election, in which we can choose between the moral vacuity and empty promises of the Labor Party or the endless negativity and bigoted hatred of the Coalition.

Gosh, doesn't that sound like fun. Now I hope the Mayans were right.

In any case, enough of this! NYE beckons, and the promise of cold beer, good company and my most excellent wife by my side. I'ma gonna go do that. Hope all y'all have a good night too.


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December 6th, 2011

09:02 pm - Are you there, LiveJournal? It's me, Patrick.
Yo, LJ. Sup? Chillin' chillin?

Yeah, okay, I can't pull that off. Back to my normal voice.

So I admit it, I ain't haven't been around much lately. There was the whole wedding thing, and the lead up to the wedding, and the wind down from the wedding, and the hanging out with guests and taking small children on excursions, and people sleeping in the same room as my PC, and going back to work, and Batman: Arkham City to play, and yeah at this point I know I'm just making excuses.

But it's not the same as it used to be. LJ used to be the big pumping party, but now it's like one of those parties where it's 10pm and there are still only two guests and they brought home-brand soft-drinks and have to leave soon anyway, and the host just looks sad and betrayed. Or maybe  LJ used to be the first season of South Park, and everyone was tuning in and taking about it at the pub and being amazed by how daring it was, but now it's the current season of South Park and you stopped watching it ages ago because Cartman was just horrid and it was turning into a showcase for Trey & Parker's white middle-class libertarianism.


The feedback loop's not what it used to be, you know? There isn't the same presence of people posting stuff regularly that made me feel like I was interacting with some kind of loose community, or commenting on my posts to make me feel like that community was embracing me. Which is sad, to be honest; that LJ community was a big part of my decision to move to Melbourne, as it gave me contacts and options and people to talk to before leaving Brisbane. And those people are still there, but they're increasingly not here; they're on Facebook and Twitter and maybe on Google Plus, and they're finding new modes of interaction that are less about personal blogging, and that's okay. But it means I don't feel the same urge to check LJ that I once had, and that in turn decreases my urge to post to it.

But I don't want to let go just yet. Yes, sure, I am all up in your Twitters, and PODcom gives me a good outlet for more substantive blogging and transparent self-promotion about how wise I am about all, like, writing n' shit. And yes, the more time I spend actually doing enjoyable stuff in my life, like going out and having fun and spending time with MY WIFE, the less I feel like revising and condensing that sort of thing into posts for others to read. But there are still things I like to talk about in a more relaxed, less me-focused space, like movies and TV shows and superhero comics and RPG session recaps - you know, the kind of thing people have generally stopped commenting on but that I nonetheless feel compelled to share.

And I might get all worked up for the next election at some point. It comes in waves, the rage.

So I'm not gone. Don't call it a comeback. But feel free to call it a lazy, lazy man.

PS - being married is great so far. 

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November 21st, 2011

06:55 pm - 19-11-11
Dear LiveJournal,

I know I've been a bit crap with updates over the last few months. It's not you, it's me. I've had a lot on my mind, to be honest. Publishing projects, PODcom posts, visitors, alcohol and oh yeah, I was preparing to get married.

Well, I'm happy to say that I can cross that last off my to-do list.

With the help of E., neonfaerie and blithespirit, the amazing emrhyck and I got totally hitched on Saturday night in an intimate ceremony at the Fairfield Boathouse.

I wore Batman shoes, and she referenced N.E.X.T.Wave in her vows. Because we are nerds.


All the love in the world to all our friends who attended and helped us pull this incredible night together. You are our sunshine.

More photos to come, probably on the Facebooks.

I am a very happy man.

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November 11th, 2011

06:59 am - Absent without update
Hi folks,

Sorry to have gone so long without breaking radio silence, but as you may know, emrhyck and I are getting married in (checks watch) eight days, and getting ready for the big event is taking up all my time and energy.

There's a lot involved - folding paper cranes, buying Batman sneakers, cleaning the house, making playlists, writing vows, building decorations and a whole lot of other things that younger couples avoid by having their parents pay someone else to do it for them in a montage, or so I am given to understand from popular entertainment.

So anyway, that's been the priority. But soon I'll be bonafide married, the guests will have gone back to the US, we'll decompress and I can get back to the serious business of writing up game sessions and bitching about comics. I promise.

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October 30th, 2011

11:36 am - Tribulation - Carnivale (part 1)
After many, many months of disorganisation, other commitments and players being interstate/overseas, we finally managed to assemble more than a week ago to play another session (the third!) of our Weird West Smallville game.

I should have written it up ages ago, but I didn't. Bad GM.

Anyway, details behind the cut. They're kinda long.

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October 25th, 2011

08:48 pm - Bachelor Party XI: The Bucksnightening
There's just four all-too-short weeks to go until emrhyck and I get hitched (FOR REALS), and our lives are currently consumed by nailing down all the things left left to organise - the Batman sneakers, the dessert buffet, the last paper cranes to fold, the slow jazz version of 'Too Drunk to Fuck'... you know, all the traditional stuff like that.

It's very complicated, getting married. I'm glad I'm never doing it again.

But anyhoo, another fine tradition is the kidnapping of the groom by former Mossad agents and leaving him stark naked and chained to a public monument with his balls painted blue. Fortunately this is another area in which we're breaking with tradition, and instead on Saturday there was the fully-clothed bachelor party to end all fully-clothed bachelor parties, as organised by my best lady blithespirit.

Stage 1: Paintballenation

Eschewing the world of indoor paintball for the significantly cheaper wilds of outdoor paintball, we joined up with a couple of other buck's parties (largely composed of homophobic bogans, but such is life) to run around a field for 90 minutes spraying large amount of paintballs at each other. It was a lot of fun! Not quite as much fun as I'd hoped, but in hindsight I was mostly hoping it would be the paintball episode of Community, so I was probably aiming a bit high.

So anyway I learned that I still don't bruise that easily, that paint tastes bad, that my hair is so thick that it can deflect paintballs without them bursting and that I am not very good at paintball. Because that's what a bachelor party is all about - life lessons. And shooting people from 10 metres away with a gas-powered gun that couples inaccuracy with stickiness.

This is a typical photo from the day:

And this is a photo of me apparently turning into the world's most horrible muppet:

I mean, fuck, that face is going to haunt me. If I ever see that in a mirror I'll know that the Reptoids have won.

So that took us to about 4pm, and set the stage for:

Stage 1a: Dinner

Well, a quick bite to eat, preceded by a lengthy wait in the rain for a cab because the weather decided it had had enough of watching us scramble only slightly damply about with paint in our teeth.

Very shortly after that:

Stage 2: Manabarrageddon

I am not a complex man, nor a jaded one. I like alcohol, music, video games and the company of friends, and fortunately all of these things were on hand in the slightly confined quarters of the Mana Bar. We spent a very pleasant, if increasingly loud and confused, time here over the next four hours or so. I played some Mario Kart and Halo, got to whet my appetite for Arkham City (which I'm not buying until after the wedding because I know what I'm like), drank every game-themed cocktail that was pressed into my hands without asking for it and got completely arseholed.

And then N. came over to meet us from her bachelorette party, and the night became pretty much perfect.

There was some additional drinking and a brief visit to a mediocre strip joint, but to be honest all that stuff's kind of a blur. It was followed by a bleary sleep and an appalling hangover that wiped me out for Sunday, but I'm not complaining about that. I earned it.

So anyway, that's another item to cross off the pre-wedding checklist, and in style to boot. Many thanks to the amazing and wonderful blithespirit for organising it all, to the various guys (and occasional gals) who came along and plied me with liquor, and to my much-loved emrhyck who still wants to marry me despite watching me make a twat of myself on Marvel vs Capcom.

Next stop, Weddingpocalyse 2011.

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October 18th, 2011

12:03 pm
Professional editing/publishing day job update:

For the last 18 months I've been working on commissioning and publishing a series of 12 maths textbooks for primary and high schools.

Today the advance copies of the last books arrived.


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October 14th, 2011

09:01 am
To counteract the pessimism and rantiness of the previous post, I wrote an entry over at patrickoduffy.com about five really fun, worthwhile comic books (with nary a superhero in sight).

So if you haven't checked it out already, go over there and learn about some great titles that can provide far more enjoyment than anything in the DC reboot.


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October 9th, 2011

10:30 pm - 52 put down
So a while ago, I wrote a long diatribe about the impending DC Comics reboot and my thoughts upon it. (And in the process apparently decided that I would mainly use LJ for sporadic posts about geek stuff, since that's how this journal has looked since then, but I digress.)

Well, the reboot is no longer impending; it kicked it at the start of September, and because I am a total goddamn fanboy dedicated to sharing my knowledge with my readers, I read all 52 first issues. While dubious, I did my best to approach the material with an open mind, to evaluate the comics and characters as new things in their own right, without comparing them (overly) to what had gone before. As I went through I wrote a very quick review of each and posted it to Twitter, and tried to make an overall judgement of the reboot based on this opening wave.

The verdict is... well, it's not very good. The New 52 consists of 10-12 good-but-not-very-good titles, 7-10 dogfuckingly-awful comics, and a whole bunch of bland, mediocre titles.

For the curious, here are all 52 of my Twitter reviews, grouped by week and hidden behind a cut for your reading convenience

52 Put DownCollapse )

You can see that my optimism started strong in the first week, which had a number of good issues and only one completely shithouse one. That pretty much was the best things got. By the end of week four I'd pretty much written off the reboot and I'm coming close to writing off DC Comics completely - which, as someone whose ethics and personality were fundamentally shaped by reading DC titles for 30 years, is kind of a big deal.

So here are the major issues I have with the reboot - which, of course, I'm sure you're all anxious to know.

More of the same, except less of it

The superhero genre is one filled with scope and grandeur - 'mad, beautiful ideas' to quote Grant Morrison - and much of that has come from the legacy of 75 years of DC titles. Intelligent planets, gorilla cities, invading universes, time travel - nothing has been too crazy for DC in the past, and while various reboots and launches have sought to focus and control the fringes of things, the DCU has always been a place to see what the genre was capable of containing.

These new titles, on the other hand, largely ignore the range of possibilities inherent in the genre to produce generic action-adventure stories that are rooted in the aesthetics and storytelling conventions of the 1990s. They're full of government conspiracies and secret organisations, dudes in battle-armour and evil corporations, serial killers and special operatives and a whole bunch of other things that we've seen before, especially in a swathe of Wildstorm titles. There's no ambition or experimentation here; even the best of the titles are fun and pretty good, but provide nothing new. There's nothing like the warmth of John Rogers' Blue Beetle, the subversive humour of Gail Simone's Secret Six or the energetic idea bombs of Grant Morrison's... well, pretty much every DCU thing he's done.

We've lost all of that, and gained a bunch of generic superhero comics. Yay.

Left hand and right hand are mortal enemies

It becomes clear after reading all 52 titles that this whole reboot enterprise has been very haphazard at an editorial level. There are contradictions between titles, concepts that don't line up properly with each other, a general lack of polish and oversight across the board... it all adds up to a decision made at the last minute and then foisted upon writers who haven't had the time to properly develop their new projects. It's an editor's role to work with authors and further polish those ideas while tuning them to fit into the continuity, but while editors are listed on the titles I'll be fucked if I can work out what they're doing.

One major indicator of this is how different titles show different levels of rebooting and how well they function as first issues. Some are complete restarts, such as Blue Beetle, where a five-year-old character gets a complete revision of his origin for reasons unknown. Others are supposed to be reboots, but are stuck in old continuity despite it not making sense - see Batwoman, which is a straight continuation of pre-reboot events and references a Teen Titans era that no longer exists, or the Swamp Thing title that is anchored in the events of (sigh) Brightest Day. Or, of course, the utterly opaque Legion and Legion Lost, which dump a pile of pre-reboot characters and plotlines down and say 'time travel!' as the excuse for none of it making sense. Meanwhile the titles that were selling well pre-reboot, such as the Green Lantern and Batman lines, are left almost entirely unchanged, whether or not there's any story-based rationale to such blatantly-commercial logic.

IP freely

The thing that shines out to me about this reboot is how the ultimate goal is not to create good comics, but to position DC as an IP farm to develop concepts for movies and TV shows. Everyone loves superhero movies right now, and one of the key ways they work is to strip ideas and characters from the comics back to basics and set them in a more 'realistic' context. Well, no need for Warner scriptwriters to worry about that now, as the reboot does it for them. Almost all characters have been filed back to the simplest reading, without the quagmires of shared continuity to muddle things up, and awkward individualities are sponged away to leave a more accessible stereotype. (For example, it's cool to see Frankenstein in the mix, but the Byronic bombast of the character's dialogue and backstory has been dropped to make him into a standard monster-fighting monster ala Hellboy). Supporting casts come pre-fleshed out, along with equally self-contained enemies and plotlines to draw upon. One interesting side-effect of this is the multiplication of entities in the setting as a whole - the drive to give every character an independent backdrop has created a DCU overflowing with unconnected government think tanks, secret societies and specialist corporations, each providing their pet hero with a secret headquarters (that will look good in CGI or Happy Meal form), none of which interact. Man, it must be great to be the guy building all these places, although I pity the poor architects who have to design every top-secret base from scratch.

The drive to create movie-friendly characters is also, I think, the reason for the new costume designs. Every character now wears form-fitting armour that shows their impossible muscle definition while still being covered in enough seams and joins to look 'realistic' - or, more precisely, look more-or-less the same when recreated by real-world costume designers. Some of the new designs look alright, to be honest, but most are generic and draw upon the same limited set of aesthetics, eschewing the variety and impracticality of old costumes that made them fun, no matter how much non-fans sniggered about underpants being worn on the outside. Maybe they did need an overhaul, but I'm unconvinced that Superman needs body armour and metal ski-boots. Or a permanent scowl. But I guess this is better suited to Zack Synder's next blockbuster.

Writing down to the audience

One thing that really bothered me about the New 52 is how shakily-written most of the new titles are. I don't just mean the plots are thin (although many are), but how unpolished so many are in terms of craft and story-telling. There's this massive reliance on text, which overlooks the key point of comics in that pictures tell most of the story. Most titles are thick with first-person captions (some from multiple narrators) and expository dialogue, and a few (such as Superman) have massive walls of text that would be a chore to read even if they were well-written, which they're not. Most artists are competent, but there's a remarkable gap in visual storytelling nonetheless so that few stories flow or underpin the narrative. (An exception being Francis Manapaul's excellent Flash.) There's also a constant barrage of tell-not-show writing, with plot and character points spelled out and hamfistedly pummeled home rather than being explored through action and interaction. (See Deathstroke and Aquaman, both of which revolve around people standing around and talking about the title characters rather than actually letting them do their thing.)

It's tempting to blame this on DC employing poor writers, and there's some truth in that - many of the more creative and craft-focused writers in the industry are happily ensconced with Marvel right now, leaving DC with the likes of Adam Glass and JT Krul. But I think there's another element - it feels like the writers lack faith in their audience. They don't trust the readers to understand the flow of comics or connect plot to art, so they spell things out in detail and tell you everything you need to know (and a pile of shit you don't need as well.) Sure, the aim of the reboot was to attract new readers that perhaps aren't as familiar with the medium, but it's not rocket surgery to understand how words and pictures go together and to see the story happen - and if you're struggling with that, a pile of unnecessary verbiage isn't going to help, it's just going to confuse you. Or make you patronised when you realise that the writer thinks you need training wheels and the most linear storytelling possible.

(As for the promise that writers would move away from decompressed storytelling aimed at making things fit comfortably in trades... yeah, not so much. Nearly every comic is stretched and padded out, to the point where something as bland and wooden as JLI nonetheless feels more interesting than the more polished Justice League simply because things actually happen in it.)

Genocide is painless

At some point someone in DC (probably Geoff Johns) decided that the best way to emphasise DRAMA! was through massive body counts and graphic violence. For the last 6-7 years, DC titles have used bloody violence as shorthand for this ain't your father's comic books, with on-screen decapitations, dismemberments and mass murder demonstrating that superhero comics are Serious Business. And that's worked, assuming 'serious' actually means 'grim, joyless and unpleasant'.

Well, any hope that that would be pulled back for the reboot in an attempt to reach a new audience can now be abandoned. Just as before, the new DCU is a place where hundreds of civilians die as background colour, where antiheroes gun down defenceless rivals, faces are sliced from skulls, characters are graphically tortured and you can tell the evil alien mastermind is evil because he commits planetary genocide after hacking the heads and limbs off some minor heroes. Of course, the ultimate effect is to make the heroes look ineffectual and weak by comparison, or to justify them becoming hardened, unpleasant testosterone factories that hack limbs as good as they get. Sometimes that can work (Wonder Woman is violent but the violence has a mythic quality that validates it), but mostly it just makes the comics bleak and entirely unsuitable for the kind of young audience that once devoured these stories by the millions.

Scary vagina mutants

Ah jeez. Here's the big one. There's a really disturbing vein of sexism, bordering into outright misogyny, running through many of the titles in the launch. Never the most gender-balanced genre, superhero comics have had their issues with the representation and often sexualization of female characters in the past. Still, on the whole things had improved a lot thanks to an increase in female creators and readership and the popularity of strong female characters amongst the influential cosplay community. Which is why this sudden swing into Creepytown comes as such a shock, even as DC puts out more comics featuring female leads than ever before.

A lot of this has been picked up across the internerd, so you may already know about it, but there are three big offenders:
  • Catwoman, where the nuanced and complex reinvention of the character performed by Ed Brubaker ten years ago has been jettisoned in favour of a comic about sex. Catwoman thinks about sex, talks about sex, dresses to emphasize sex, uses sex and sexuality to get what she wants, is depicted visually as a sexual entity rather than a character (plenty of scenes where you can see her underwear but not her face), and when Batman finally shows up she straddles and fucks him without even speaking.
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws, where the character of Starfire - who was always depicted as sexual and beautiful but was driven by strong emotional connections to her partners - is now a largely-emotionless child-woman who can't tell humans apart and has sex with anyone that catches her attention. She wears next to nothing - Red Sonja would tell her to put something sensible on - and is constantly posed to present herself to the reader as a lust object rather than an actual character.
  • Voodoo, which is a comic about a stripper, or at least a shapechanging alien killing machine disguised as an impossibly attractive stripper. The issue opens with a full-page shot of her on all fours, cleavage thrust out to the reader, as men throw money at her; the rest of the comic is set entirely within a strip club, with images of strippers and half-naked women everywhere (although we're assured they're all students and single mothers), culminating in a long conversation between Voodoo and a secret government agent that takes places while she gives him a lap dance WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK DC.

Nothing else is as bad in the rest of the lineup, but there's still plenty of unnecessary cheesecake, homogenisation of female characters into generically attractive/available figures and women presented butt-first to the reader, sometimes butt-and-breasts first because 'sexy' is more important than 'anatomicaly correct'. Even some of the really strong comics featuring female characters, like Batwoman and Wonder Woman, have occasional this-one's-for-you-boys moments.

There isn't anything wrong with female characters having sex, or male characters for that matter - Secret Six featured plenty of it, both healthy and entirely fucked-up - but the issue is about how these women are depicted as sex objects presented for the male gaze, rather than characters in their own right. It's hard to look at these three comics and see agency or healthy attitudes, or indeed anything that says that DC wants to attract or retain female readers.

Not all bad

The biggest tragedy of the reboot is the fact that there are actually some really fun comics in there, but it's harder than it should be to find them under the wave of mediocrity and blips of pure shittiness. The reinvention of Superman as socialist crusader in Action Comics, the lean technothriller of Batman, the quiet humanism of Animal Man, the exuberant Kirbyisms of OMAC... these are excellent comics and well worth reading. Ditto Flash, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Batwoman and I Vampire. And look, some of the others have potential - there are neat premises and character elements, and while some of the starts are shaky they could eventually develop into an interesting title given a little time to grow. 

It's just that the really awful comics drag everything down, and the thoroughly mediocre titles - the ones that aren't even interesting enough to be bad - make up the bulk of the line. And it's going to be hard to feel or share the enthusiasm for Action or Frankenstein when the conversation gets drowned out by outrage over decapitations and softcore porn.

Comics are saved - but for how long?

I've been pretty damn negative about the relaunch's creative failures, but that hasn't stopped it being a massive commercial success. Sales on these titles have been outstanding, far higher than anything DC (or indeed Marvel) have sold in years. And even the controversies have mostly served to get attention and win sales, or at least more sales than they've lost.

For the moment, anyway. The real question is whether people keep buying and reading, or whether the new readers this project is meant to attract stick with the comics or get bored and go back to something else. Time will tell, and to an extent I hope it works well for DC and the industry. Kinda. I guess.

But we've got a line of comics that have dumped the imagination and variety they used to possess to focus on angry protagonists shooting and hacking their opponents, scowling as they deign to save weakling civilians from threats, or sticking their breasts up against the page with the promise of a fully-illustrated tittyfuck.

Who's the audience for this? It doesn't seem to be me, or most people I speak to, or indeed anyone with a vagina. No, it's those cherished males 18-35, and more specifically I think maybe it's those guys who call each other Mexican Jew fags on teamspeak while teabagging their opponents in Call of Duty. In short, it's this guy:

He thought Red Hood and the Outlaws was pretty cool, but it needed more blood and funbags.

And maybe it's a good decision to target the angryshooty video game market for readers. They have money, they like spending it, and they go to movies based on their favourite intellectual property. You can build a company on that. 

But it may not be a company I have any interest in supporting any more.

And that makes me sadder than I can say.

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September 29th, 2011

06:55 am
This basically sums up almost every MMO ever made.

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