Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top Ten Forgotten Realms Novels (Part 3)

At long last, this is part three of my series on the Top Ten Forgotten Realms novels.  They are by far and away my favorite vice, literary or otherwise.  As I've said before, FR novels are like salty potato chips.  Even when they’re good, they’re not really good for you, but once you get started, they’re awfully hard to put down.

Since it's been a few weeks since I published the earlier pieces of this list, let's take a minute to recap what's gone before.  

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at numbers 10 through 7.  There were:

10.  Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore
9.  Swordmage by Richard Baker
8.  Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis
7.  Hand of the Hunter by Mark Sehestedt

In Part 2 of this series, we looked at numbers 6 through 4.  They were:

6.  Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunnigham
5.  Shadowbred by Paul S. Kemp
4.  The Magehound by Elaine Cunningham  

And so today, at last, we look at the top three books!

Danno’s Top Ten Forgotten Realms Novels (Part 3)

3.  Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore

Starless Night is the second book in the Legacy of the Drow trilogy, and in my opinion, it’s the best of the books featuring Salvatore’s signature character, Drizzt the drow ranger.  In Legacy of the Drow , Drizzt finally deals with the fact that in denying his people, he made an enemy of the most powerful magical race in the Realms, and now they’ll stop at nothing to even the score.  Starless Night specifically sees Drizzt journey to Menzobarrenzan, the city of his birth, to confront the evil forces that threaten his life and his friends, but of course, this proves to be a pretty foolish idea.  So now it’s up to Cattie-brie, Drizzt’s best friend--and eventual spouse--to rescue him in a city that she neither knows nor understands.

Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore
Starless Night is the book where Drizzt finally comes into his own as the finest swordsman of the Realms.  That works because it sets up the elements of the story that work--the intrigue of the drow and sheer weirdness of their Underdark home.  

I liked this book because a lot goes wrong, leaving our heroes in a Hell of a lurch.  When they finally overcome and escape, it’s awesome.


2.  The City of Splendors by Ed Greenwood and Elaine Cunningham
The City of Splendors by Ed Greenwood
and Elaine Cunningham
My theory on this book is that Wizards of the Coast (WotC)asked Ed Greenwood to write a novel about his signature city, Waterdeep, and the manuscript that he turned in was a hot mess.  This left WotC with a problem, which they solved by bringing in ace writer Elaine Cunningham to re-write the story in its entirety.  The resulting book was an explosion of the kind of wild ideas characteristic  of Greenwood’s best stuff, but balanced by an understanding of plot structure and the necessity for foreshadowing that’s normally absent in his other, less well-edited books.  So this book has it all.  Dastardly villains, ridiculously awesome heroes, a girl who can spin gems into thread, and even a  beholder cult.  It’s both exciting and hilarious, and I loved it.  Clearly, because here I am naming it my second favorite FR book of all time.


1.  Servant of the Shard by R.A. Salvatore

By the time the Legacy of the Drow trilogy is over, the drow are less a force of nature than they are a kind of disorganized set of competing organized crime families.  Servant of the Shard takes that new dynamic on the road, setting up Salvatore’s best villains--the drow crime boss Jarlaxle and his pet assassin Artemis Entreri--as the heroes of a fantasy/crime fiction novel set in the FR version of Tunisia.  As the story opens, Jarlaxle is addicted to the power of the sentient arcane artifact Crenshinibon, and it leaves Entreri in a bad spot.  Surrounded by enemies, Entreri and Jaraxle have to hit the road to escape a trap of their own making.

Servant of the Shard isn’t just my favorite FR Novel.  It’s one of my favorite novels, period.  I loved it.  Unfortunately, however, I don’t know how much sense it’ll make to the uninitiated,  which is why I think you probably ought to start with The Legacy if you want to see what these books are all about.

Servant of the Shard by R.A. Salvatore is
my favorite Forgotten Realms novel.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sorcerer's Tale (Chapter 1, Part 1)

Chapter 1: Unexpected Visitors

“Professor?”
Something in the questioner’s voice raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  And then, too, there was something else.  A feeling.  A whisper.  Before I’d even registered the conscious need to react, my hand had fallen into my coat pocket, fingers closed around my wand.  
You might think that sounds paranoid, but then, you didn’t know my father.  You don’t know what it’s like to be a Rasputin.
I turned slowly.  Around me, my students were leaving in a tidal wave, ebbing from the learned shores of “Continental History: 1633 to 1815.”  It took me a moment to pick my questioner out from amongst the sea of bodies.  But then I saw him—them, I realized—standing like a rock against the flow of free-spirited adolescence.  The one in front—he must have been the speaker—was tall, proud, and in retrospect, given the voice, distinctly American.  He had broad shoulders, a blue Brooks Brothers suit, and black hair cropped so close that he could have been a 1960s-era astronaut.  His power-tie—red-burgundy, of course—and starched white shirt served to accentuate what was already an immensely strong aura of solidity and confidence.  The lines in his face proclaimed him to be in his late-forties at least, but as I looked at him, I knew that his body would be chiseled granite beneath his clothes.
So, the United States Army.  Or maybe he was a U.S. Marine.  Obviously an officer, at least Field grade.
Nothing good could come of this.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?” I replied.
The man behind the speaker was similar but younger, bigger, and strikingly blond.  In fact, he was enormous.  He looked like he should be wrestling bulls on some Texas ranch wearing only a pair of leather gloves and a cowboy hat, not standing in a suit in my lecture hall in a pose vaguely reminiscent of Parade-Rest.  And it was his power that I was feeling.  I shuddered.  He was not the kind of man that any sane magician wants to fight.   
Fortunately, he wasn’t in charge.  Probably, he was an aide-de-camp or something.  A senior captain, at least, or more probably a major.  Not exactly the kind of man that you’d normally think of as “muscle,” but then the American Army has taken that whole shock-and-awe thing to heart.
The dark-haired man waited as the last of my students left and then looked briefly around to make sure that the coast was clear.  When he was satisfied that we were alone, he took another step forward.  His voice dropped so that I had to lean forward to hear him.  
“You are Professor Nicholas Rasputin, I presume?”
I caught myself leaning forward and almost shook my head with frustration.  Clever.  With an effort, I straightened and took what I hoped was an innocuous-looking step back.  I needed some space and a chance to get control of the conversation, or thing might not go well.  And more to the point, my desk was behind me.  I turned to it and picked up some papers, glanced at them briefly, and then stepping around in front of my chair.  
I suppressed the urge to activate my wards.  
“Is there something I can help you with, Colonel?”
The effect of my words was instantaneous.  “But how could you--?”  
Behind him, the blonde man reached inside his coat, to the place where most people would keep a pistol in a shoulder rig.  “I told you this was a mistake, sir.”
 “Easy, Chris,” the Colonel said, laying a hand on his companion’s arm.  He looked up at me.  “Is there someplace we can talk, professor?  I mean, privately?”  He took a deep breath and looked very much like a man about to confess to murder.  “I’m sure you can guess what this is about.”
“As it happens,” I replied, “I can think of several things.  So which is it?  Basque Separatists?  Or maybe the CIA is looking for an expert on Russo-German relations as it formulates policy in relation to Gazprom?”  I shrugged and drew out the moment.  “This is Oxford, and my nation is your staunch ally.  Whatever it is, I assure you…  I am at your service.”
The Colonel frowned.  “It’s a little more delicate than that, I’m afraid.  But we’ve got a car downstairs if—“
“We’re talking, Colonel.  And there’s no one here.  Just tell me what you want, and if I can, I’ll be happy to help.  But if you think I’m just going to get in the car with you and—“
The blonde one—Chris—cut me off.  “This is ridiculous, sir.  He’s toying with us.”  As he said it, I felt him gather a bit more power to himself.  “But I can Compel him, if you’ll authorize it.”
Could he?  I was presumably safe behind my wards, but this man, Chris, he was the worst kind of opponent.  Young and strong, athletic and dedicated.  Confident.  Probably gifted, too.  There was no telling what he was capable of.  In that, he reminded me forcibly of some of my father’s old friends, especially back when Dad was young—back before they transferred him over to the SIS and Special Section.  But then, that fact raised more questions than it answered.  For starters, when did the American Army start using magic, and who in Hell could possibly have thought that it would be a good idea to teach Army Rangers to be war-wizards?
Unfortunately, I already had a pretty good idea how this was going to end.  
So too, apparently, did the Colonel.  He put a restraining hand on his companion’s shoulder.  “No Chris.  I’m sure that if we’re polite, Professor Rasputin will see reason.  Or at least that’s how his father always was.  Isn’t that right, professor?”
“I’m not my father, Colonel.  Either ask me what you came here to ask me, or get the Hell out of my classroom.  I don’t like being bullied in my own lecture hall.”
Chris reached back into his coat and pulled out a long metal rod.  It wasn’t a wand exactly.  It was too big and heavy—and definitely dangerous.   “No one’s bullying you, professor,” he said.  “Not yet, anyway.”
“Colonel, your friend is about to hurt himself.”  I kept my voice calm, but I made sure to keep my eyes focused on Chris’s weapon.
“The Colonel already asked you nicely—“
“The Colonel didn’t ask me anything.  And if this is your idea of nice, I’d hate to see ‘persuasive.’”
“I can be very persuasive, professor.”
“Boys,” the Colonel said.  But by then it was too late.
“Can you?” I snarled.  “You learned a trick or two, and now you think you’re some kind of bad-ass sorcerer?  Now you’re ready to draw-down on me, Chris?  Come on, then.  What’re they teaching in America these days?”
“I’m not scared of you,” Chris said, though it was obvious that he was. “Your father’s dead and buried, and from what I hear, you’re not half the man he was.  Where’s Durandel?  Tell us where the Sword of Kings is, or I swear to God, I’ll—“

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pictures from the Hurricane

Sally and the girls and I just went down to Shakespeare Park to take a look at the hurricane.  We took some pics.

Sally and Emma jumping into the wind.
Sally with Shakespeare Theater in the background.
It was high tide when we took these pics, but there wasn't yet much
storm surge.
Sally, Hannah, Emma, and Dixie down by the water.
I took this one myself using my phone's rear-facing camera.
Me and the girls.  And the storm.
Me and my bride.  Emma took this pic.
The infamous panoramic shot of the storm and the bay.

Joss Whedon on Mitt Romney

Day Out at Sleeping Giant

Sally's birthday was Saturday, and for it, she wanted to go to Sleeping Giant State Park.  Needless to say, we had a good time, and I took a bunch of pictures.

My beautiful bride, on her birthday.
We posed at the trail head for a picture.
Hannah and Emma set off!
Hannah on the trail.
Sally and Hannah
Emmboo!
Hannah and Emma at lookout point
Hannah and the cliff.
The tower at the top of the hill.
The prisoner in the tower!
Climbing the tower.
Romeo!  Oh Romeo!  Wherefore art thou, Romeo!
New Haven as seen from the top of Sleeping Giant tower.
The view opposite New Haven from the top of the Tower.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's My Fault

It is.  It's my fault.  I haven't been watching much of the Tennessee Titans this season because, bottom line, they just haven't been very good.  But they've been better these past few weeks, and so I got suckered.  I let myself start to believe.

Today I wore my Titans sweatshirt to my daughter's soccer game, and during the game, I listened to the radio feed on my phone while the girls were out there playing.  Then I put the game on the radio here when we got home, and against my better judgement, I actually let myself believe that the Titans were gonna win.

Of course, they didn't.  They lost in the worst, most heartbreaking, most ignominious fashion.  Ugh.

Final score: Colts 19, Titans 13.

Argh.

Sunday Comics: Bronx Angel--Politics By Another Method (Page 1)

Bronx Angel: Politics By Another Method, Page 1.
To view the page at full size, click here.
I gave it some thought and finally decided to skip the Foreword for now.  Given the choice, I'd rather you read the story first and decide what you think about it on its own merits.  Then I'll print the Foreword, and the inevitable debate will begin.

As I noted in some detail before, I was never able to get this book greyscaled.  I did, however, get the first five pages greyscaled, and eventually, we decided to use those as a (somewhat misleading) preview of the book.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Best Goalie!

We're late in the fourth, and the score's still tied nil-nil. I think we're missing Emma's friend Rowena today, but she's out with flu-like symptoms. Need a late game rally to push ahead.

Winter Ambush: A D&D Solo Adventure for 4th Edition

I track the stats on this site pretty closely, and one of the things I've noticed is that people come here A LOT looking for D&D Solo Adventures.  Well, here's the deal.  I wrote one, called "Winter Ambush" for my old gaming group, the Sellswords of Luskan, and then I started writing a second one but haven't gotten around to finishing it because, bottom line, writing those things takes a long damn time.  However, I want to give people what they want, and I want to make this site as user-friendly as possible.

So here's what I've done--I've created a new tab on the top row of the blog for Winter Ambush, and I've re-formatted the adventure to make it a little easier to use on the site.  I think you will still want to download the Excel file to run the thing because of the embedded dice-roller and because the maps are a little easier to use that way, but ultimately, that's up to you.

Now.  If folks want me to finish the other solo campaign, what they are gonna need to do is to comment on the existing solo campaign in order to let me know how awesome it is and how my putting it out there is one of the greatest public services in the history of Dungeons and Dragons.  Elsewise, well, I've got a lot of other stuff to write, and that stuff is gonna take priority.

If you're wondering, here's the link to the new tab.  Or you can just look to the menu tabs above and find it there.

That's all I got.  Happy gaming!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The Fiscal Cliff and The Energy Industry

Slate.com this week took a look at the Fiscal Cliff, and I guess I’m gonna lead with that because it doesn't seem like there’s a whole lot more going on.  I didn't love Slate’s take, but they do at least point out that the issue came up in the last debate--as “sequestration”--and that it’s a real thing.  Obama’s answer--that it can’t and won’t happen--isn't much of one, but I’m not sure what Romney added to the conversation beyond that--and the fact that he brought it up in the first place.

Having said that I don’t think much of the article, I’d still say that it’s still worth reading because a) it’s short, and b) there’s not much else that’s out there that covers this issue with anything like details and candidate positions.  Still, I don’t get the idea that the Fiscal Cliff is much of a policy issue for most voters, and more to the point, the only real policy difference that’s possible here is something along the lines of, “a vote for Romney is a vote for compromise because at least the House Republicans will compromise with a President from their own party.”  Maybe.  In any event, if Obama is re-elected, compromise with Congress--or vice versa, really--goes out the window, and the Fiscal Cliff becomes a much more likely scenario.


***
The iPad Mini made waves this week.
The iPad Mini came out this week, priced at $329.  That’s a good price because Apple has made a decision--a marketing decision, really--to aim for the premium end of the pool.  So at this point, regardless of whether or not they have the best hardware, truth is that they need to have the best, i.e. highest, prices in order to convince consumers that their stuff is the best.  I think it’s interesting to note that Microsoft has also staked out this end of the pool while Google, Amazon, and Samsung have tried to go the other way.  Meanwhile, the actual differences in hardware are very much open to debate.

With all of that said, for my own personal needs, I’m leaning towards one of the new 12” Samsung/Google chromebooks.  But then again, I do a lot of typing, so what I’ve realized is that I really need a keyboard.  Your mileage may vary.  

That said, I’m not much in love with the Google Drive word processor.  I’m using it now to create this issue of Friday Mad Science, and while it’s okay, it’s not as fast as a non-Net word processor, and more to the point, if there’s a way to change the magnification on the text size, I haven’t found it yet.  

Does anybody out there know if I can get OpenOffice to run on the new Chromebook?


***
I've been away on business this week--in exciting Albany, NY, if you’re wondering--and one of the things I've done while I’m here is to catch up on the new CW show Arrow.




I like the show, and from what I've seen and read, I’m not the only one.  Still, I think it’s kind of an indictment of the whole concept to acknowledge the reality, which is that the show succeeds best when it’s a more-or-less blatant rip-off of Batman.  Of course, that’s true of the original comic character as well, so maybe the fact that the Batman parallels are so obvious and continual throughout the show merely indicates that the show has done a good and faithful job of recreating the comic character on the small screen.

The new TV show Arrow appears to borrow heavily from the  Andy Diggle/Jock
joint Green Arrow: Year One.  For reference, Diggle and Jock are also responsible
for one of my all-time favorite comics, The Losers.
Anyway, there’s plenty of terrible TV out there, and with that in mind, I can think of plenty of worse says to waste time than watching what has so far been an at least decent adaptation of a pretty cool comic character.  I also like that the show is both darker and grittier than the character’s portrayal was in Smallville.

***
The last thing this week is just an observation--New York State is kind of a microcosm of everything that’s going on in this nation’s energy policy debate.  I've had a view of that debate from the cheap seats for quite some time now, but it seems like issues are coming to something of a head.  Right now we've got:


  • An abundance of natural gas, now (suddenly) readily available from Pennsylvania.  And perhaps from in-state resources as well.
  • Pressure on the state’s coal-fired generators, both from the newly cheap natural gas and from environmental regulations.
  • A bunch of hydro-power, both from in-state resources and from exports available from Canada.
  • Aggressive development of wind and solar energy in order to meet renewable energy goals.
  • Both expansion and contraction in the nuclear power market, from a variety of economic and political sources.
  • And an aggressively deregulated energy market that enables a boatload of what we might call destructively creative capitalism.

None of this is good or bad, but compared to the staid, conservative way that New York used to run its power sector, it’s both a substantial change and a significant challenge.  I bring all of this up because in the overview of the industry that I attended this morning, one of the things we discussed is the way in which the state is attempting to move itself forward.  That way is mapped out on what is to me a new website, the New York Energy Highway site.

I’ll recommend the site to anyone who wants to see a realistic view of the nation’s power sector, not just in New York but everywhere.  I think that the past decade or so has shown this state to be a kind of a bellwether of the industry, and this being an election year in which energy independence is something of a major concern, taking some time to at least leaf through what’s going on might be worth your time.

Take that for what it’s worth.

***
And that’s about all I’ve got.  It’s my wife’s birthday this weekend, and we've also got Giants/Cowboys on Sunday at four, so whatever else happens, it ought to be interesting.

Take care.

Friday Hair Metal: In The Air Tonight

This song is doubly inappropriate.  Not only is it not Hair Metal, Phil Collins doesn't even have any hair!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

10 Worst Avengers of All Time

I'm kind of at a loss for what to write about today, so pretty much all I've got is a link to a Newsrama article that I thought was gonna be kind'a entertaining:


But then I start reading through the article, and who's the third person on their list?  Triathlon!

The cover for issue #8 of Kurt Busiek's totally awesome
run on the Avengers.
What kind of  bullshit is that?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Velma!

Here's Hannah's contribution for the day--Velma from Scooby Doo!

New Trailer for Iron Man 3

Odds are that if you're a comic fan, you've already seen this.  But on the off-chance that some of you are not complete and utter nerds, I'm posting it... because I thought it was awesome.  

Yes.  This is the new trailer for Iron Man 3.



If you are a comic geek, then you already realize that there are almost certainly two very different villains in this movie, the Mandarin and the Iron Patriot.  

The Mandarin, of course, is one of Tony Stark's long time foes, a Chinese wizard possessed of not just one Ring of Power but actually ten.  Mandarin has been around for awhile, and if you ask me, he's kind of a logical villain given that we're now up to the third movie, and he's pretty much the only one of Iron Man's heavyweight villains we haven't seen yet.  That said, it'll be interesting to see how they play him.  Sometimes he's been a straight-up ancient Chinese mystic, sometimes a leader of the Chinese mafia with ancient mystical powers.  Occasionally, though, you see him as kind of quasi-legitimate tool of the Chinese state or business interests, and all things considered, that'd be an interesting angle to take.  Still, Marvel makes a lot of money with its movies in China, so a portrayal that's big-guns American and anti-Chinese is probably not in the cards.  Which I guess leaves the ancient mystic as the most likely portrayal, though that's not necessarily obvious from what we've seen.  Still, all things considered, that's where I'm leaning.

The Iron Patriot is a little more interesting.  In the comics, he's an alter-ego of Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin from Spider-Man's rogues gallery.  But here, because we know that Marvel doesn't currently hold the movie rights to Osborn, it's a little less clear who this new Iron Patriot is going to be.  I suppose that my money is on Justin Hammer, this time played by a new actor, but it certainly doesn't have to be him.  And then, too, they've hinted at some of Tony's traditional issues with his tech getting out of his control per the Armor Wars storyline, so it could go something like that as well.

Regardless, the thing we definitely do not see is how these two work together.  And what does any or all of this have to do with Tony Stark's sleeping problems--and, presumably, his paranoia?  

True believers, I have no idea.  I do know, however, that I liked the last couple of movies.  So at this point, I can't wait to find out how're they're gonna stitch this thing together.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Sorcerer's Tale: Prologue

Outside Port Darwin, Falkland Islands. 17 May 1982, 6:43 pm.
Andre Rasputin had always thought that if he ever got around to seeing South America, it would be on holiday. White sands, scorching sun, half-naked women in thong bikinis, these were the things that had always been associated in Andre's mind with that most mythical of places, the South American continent. And yet there he stood, less than thirty miles off the coast of Argentina wearing a cold weather parka in driving mist-like rain and freezing his balls off.
This was not how Andre wanted to die.
"You almost ready, Commander?"
Andre turned. Colonel H. Jones was the commander of 2 Para--the second battalion of the famed Parachute Regiment of the Royal Army’s Third Commando Brigade.
"Almost, sir. This won't take long." Almost without thinking, Andre looked down at the sword in his hand, scabbarded safely away in a sheath of polished brass and red lacquered wood. It was his finest work, the culmination of a long and, truth be told, a rather storied career as a combat sorcerer for the Crown.
"You, uh... you really think that there’s some ancient mystical boogeyman out there?" Jones asked.
Andre looked out over the barren bog-like stretches of peat and rock that were the mainstay of the Falklands' landscape. The mist had grown to a drizzle, driven hard by perhaps as much as seven knots of wind. The weather played Hell with visibility, but still both men knew that somewhere out there was Boca House. For both, the place would mark a rendezvous with destiny.
Andre turned back, looked Jones in the eye. "If you want to know the truth, sir, I think that this is why we're here." Andre held up the sword. “This is what this war’s really about.”
Jones shrugged. "If you say so. In any event, you'd best get going. We step off in a little more than an hour, and it’s going to be rather a long walk, I'm afraid."
"Yes sir. I won't miss the LD."
"No," Jones said, "I don't suppose you will." He patted Andre on the shoulder and forced a smile. "I won't pretend to understand what you're about, Commander, but whatever it is, I wish you the best of luck."
"Thank you, sir. God willing, luck won't factor into it."
***
It didn't take Andre long to get out away from the headquarters tents. The Falklands weren't big, but they were big enough, and barely anybody lived there. This left the Parachute Regiment with plenty of room to spread out as they staged for the coming campaign. That there would be a campaign—a real one, with real fighting—had become unavoidable. The Royal Navy had already exchanged salvos with the Argentine Air Force with casualties on both sides, and now 2 Para was moving up to begin the ground fighting. That night's raid—on Boca House, an Argentine infantry strongpoint on the southeastern side of the main island—was merely the first step in the larger sequence of battles intended to recapture the islands and drive the Argentine invaders out. But while the regular forces expected only light resistance at Boca House, Andre Rasputin knew that Boca House itself would be where his own war was decided once and for all. The wars of wizards often coincided with the wars of men, but they were rarely decided at the same times and places. This was why Andre had walked off into the Falklands hinterlands, away from the relative safety of Colonel H. Jones and the men of 2 Para.
With the tents far behind and twilight falling around him, Andre noticed that the quality of the air changed. The rain gave way to something that was only a little more than drizzle, and the wind settled appreciably. Soon, a low ground fog began coming up off the turf. This thickened quickly until Andre felt almost that he'd entered a cloud bank. He would have been worried about losing his way had he not other means of finding it again.
“Right then,” he said aloud. “We can do this the hard way if we must.”
Despite the fact that he held a full, magnificent longsword in the scabbard in his left hand, Andre reached into his field jacket and drew forth his athame with his right. The athame’s blade was much smaller than the sword’s—it was little more than a field knife, really—but it served to allow Andre to begin gathering the ambient energies of the universe into himself, and in any event, he had reasons for wanting to leave the sword untouched.
With the energies around him, Andre closed his eyes and cocked his head to listen.
“Это не нужно, командующий.”
Andre slid the athame back into his jacket slowly. When he opened his eyes, a tiny woman stood in front of him, ancient and bent with age—and holding a long wooden spoon. Wisps of white hair escaped from under a loose knit cap on her head, and her sweater, though warm-looking, was dirty and beginning to unravel in places. Behind her stood what looked for all the world like a small hut on stilts made of palm trees, save that these trees ended in giant chicken feet.
Despite having grown up in a Russian-speaking household, Andre spoke the language seldom, and so it was work to compose his reply. “Здравствуйте, заслуженный бабушки.”
The woman shook the spoon at him. “Pfah! Your Russian grates on my ears, boy. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“With respect, honored grandmother, I do not think that we are here so that you may criticize my command of the mother tongue.”
“Mother tongue? You’ve become an Englishman, Rasputin.”
Andre bowed. “And that is why I’m here.”
“Are you so eager then? To face your death?”
Andre shook his head. “The world has changed, grandmother. I think you—and the old man—will find that English bullets are far more potent than once they were.”
“You are a fool if you believe that,” the old woman replied. Andre opened his mouth to argue, but she cut him off. “No. Do not bother explaining it to me. Whatever will be, will be. It is not my concern. Do you have that which you wished me to hold for you?”
Andre held out the sword. “I have. You will see that he gets it?”
The old woman took a step forward and glared at Andre. “You do understand the price of my aid? And you will pay it? No tricks?”
Andre wanted to be strong, but in this moment, he felt anything but. He stared down at his feet, but after all, the decision was already made. There was only one course of action, and this was it. They both knew it.
“I will,” he said. “God forgive me, but if this bargain protects the Sword of Kings, then I will pay, and gladly.”
The old woman sighed. Andre held out the sword, and she took it. Though she had mocked him, Andre could see that there was little joy for her in this victory.
“You are a fool, young Rasputin. You cannot possibly hope to win without this sword. The progenitor of your house is a far greater sorcerer than you can ever hope to be.”
“I know that, grandmother. That is why you must take the sword. I can only hope that my son will do better with it than I have.”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Comics: Bronx Angel--Politics By Another Method (Cover)

The cover for Bronx Angel: Politics By Another Method.
Cover art by Manny Trembley.
To see the page at full size, click here.


Well, I guess I can't really put this off any longer.  And I suppose I don't really want to.  I mean, this is really the reason I started this project, to put this story back out there.

If you're wondering, the answer is yes, I do still like this story.  For all the problems this little book has--and I know there are problems--I think this story still resonates even now, nearly ten years after I started writing it.  But there are problems here, lets not fool ourselves.

For one thing, there are maybe a half-dozen typos in the text of the various word balloons that I happen to know are my fault because my letterer, Ben Rollman, simply cut-and-paste from the script I sent him to make the word balloons in the first place.  Proletariat Comics was a good little company in a lot of ways, but our copy editing was crap.  I'll go ahead and blame Ken Olsen for that.  Ken, that shit is still your fault.

And then, too, I'd thought I was going to be able to get the book greyscaled on the cheap.  That happened with the ashcan, the 14-page Bronx Angel: Born Leader story that I ran here when I first started doing Sunday Comics.  But for this one, my colorist quit just after production started, and it pretty quickly became clear that I'd have to spend something like $25/page to have this thing toned, and well, that was more than I was willing to invest in a project that was already costing a lot more than it was ever going to bring in.

When you start writing your first book, I think it's natural to assume that other folks are gonna be interested in your work.  That your work is going to find an audience--naturally--because it's your work.  But what really happens is that you toil away on something that's either an obsession or a labor of love or both, and then you get to a certain point, and you're like, "Here!  Look at this thing that I made!  Isn't it awesome?!"

But the world isn't paying the slightest bit of attention.

People have lives, and anyway, nobody reads anything, and that's even before you consider the flaws in your work and/or the fact that it means something to you because to you there are emotional connections lying just below the surface on almost every page.  But to others, they don't know your life, and even if they did, that emotional resonance wouldn't exist for them.  Which is to say that writing is a craft--a difficult one--and the odds are that with your first book, you didn't succeed in putting all of those connections out there in a way that other folks will immediately, intuitively understand.

For me, that realization happened after we published the 14-page ashcan.  We put it out there, and I sent it to some reviewers, and pretty much everyone who read it liked it.  But getting folks to actually give us even the time it takes to read a 14-page mini-comic was like pulling teeth.  And that's when we were giving it away for free.

It was like: "Proletariat Comics?  What the Hell does that mean?"  Or, "What?  You guys are a bunch of Communists?  I don't wanna read somebody's manifesto, man."  And that's even when we got their attention in the first place.

*sigh*

It was my fault.  The name was too clever by half.  The idea that experimental creators could somehow rise up and create something new and revolutionary in the industry was just too... subtle.  The rest of the subtext overwhelmed the important parts.  I mean, I liked it, but the rest of the world totally missed the joke.

On top of that, I called the book "Politics By Another Method", which is a not entirely oblique reference to Clausewitz's famous book, On War.  Well, that reference isn't overly oblique if you went to West Point.  The rest of the world, however, thought they were reading a political treatise published by a bunch of NYC-area Communists.  The idea that this was a book about a Bronx-area gang war, that I was trying to look at it through the lens of a military education and a life of service...

Suffice it to say that even before the book came out, I knew that Bronx Angel: Politics By Another Method was gonna struggle to find an audience.  So I scaled down the production, left the line art as is, and cut out about half of the story.  What was originally a 135-page book became 80-pages, including the ashcan.  I hated doing that, but on the other hand, it's a tighter,more focused story now.  Spice's girlfriend Maryanne lost her story arc, and Angel's sister and his family became little more than props in the background, but then again, the story of Angel and Darlene is now front and center, and that's not a bad thing.

Anyway, everyone has a first book, and one this is mine.  Warts and all.  Enjoy!

***
By the way, the cover art here is by Manny Trembley, and I have to thank him because I know he cut me a break on the price.  Well, Manny has a new project looking for funding on Kickstarter right now, so if you like this cover and want to see what else he's got, let me encourage you to go take a look at his site.