The Overlord Tumblr.com Account is Live!

I have set up a Tumblr.com account for my in-development webcomic The Overlord.

As of today it is just a placeholder until I can complete enough scripts and hire an artist.

Until then, please give it a follow if you’re on Tumblr, so you can stay up-to-date about the latest developments!

(Also, Merry Christmas and a happy new year!)

A Groundswell Review: Old But On-Point

Note: This review is adapted from an article I wrote on LinkedIn on November 4, 2016, which was in turn adapted from a review I wrote for Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies on my Goodreads.com account.

I checked this book out from the library when I saw it on a list of books about “social media marketing.”

In my quest to learn everything about the subject, I had consulted books by Guy Kawasaki and Gary Vaynerchuck. This was something very different.

Written in 2008, my second edition of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff was released in the slightly-less ancient age of 2011.

Although Groundswell is admittedly a little dated, it does provide much insightful advice regarding social media marketing.

This book was plainly written as a guidebook for executives in established corporations who are trying to navigate the brave new world of social media.

It provides several case studies regarding the issue. Li and Bernoff are a decidedly more technical in their approach to understanding social media.

Thankfully, they avoid the common mistake of focusing on the particulars of the internet and technology.

It is foolish to spend close to two years writing a book about a field which changes every two minutes. Messrs. Li and Bernoff are not foolish.

It was nonetheless rather jarring to hear the book refer to things such as MySpace as significant factors in the realm of social media.

It was even more incredible to find that YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were hardly mentioned at all. Regardless, I’ll hardly fault the book for failing to predict the future.

Groundswell has two main strengths.

First, they manage to present their findings, research, data, case studies, and advice in a manner that is easy to understand and accessible to everyone, from the average person to a C-Suite executive.

It’s largely free of corporate-speak and industry jargon that might have hindered a lesser book.

The book’s other big strength is that although the future of social media was made of Playdough when this book was written (and still largely is now), Li and Bernoff do manage to give mountains of good advice regarding what is still a very new subject.

It’s good to know that there’s someone from the old school of doing business who “gets it.”

For example, they perceptively note near the end of the book that it would be foolish to force everyone in a company to be part of social media. It would not only be ineffective, but might backfire.

It’s smarter instead to empower people who are already engaged in social media and let them do their thing.

This and other good pointers, combined with interesting case studies, make Groundswell a book that should be read by all corporate executives at big companies that are still trying to tell Retweets from Likes.

Any that are still having trouble with that are going to be desperately in need of help. Luckily for them, Li and Bernoff have written a book in their language.

Image courtesy of netchange.co

Popularity is Amoral

Many authorities seem to believe that if something is popular, it is therefore low quality. This is particularly true when it comes to works of fiction.

This is nonsense. There are plenty of popular works of fiction which are also good.

Inception. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. (Both the books and the films.)

Likewise, there is plenty of tripe out there which is enormously popular.

Twilight. (Both the books and the films.) Fifty Shades of Grey. (Ditto.) Most Adam Sandler movies.

The exact opposite of these two parallels are also true.

There are works of artistic genius mostly ignored by audiences (Twelve Years a SlaveLincolnHugo) and equally obscure works of utter hackwork (Dylan Dog: Dead of NightRepo Men).

In the end, popularity (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. It’s amoral, like money. (See 1 Timothy 6:10).

The only thing that matters is why something is popular.

The Dark Knight was popular not just because it was good (that’s what made it memorable) but because it had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

Similarly, the Twilight movies were popular not because they were good (they weren’t), but because they had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

The principle of popularity being amoral can be seen everywhere. The films put out by Marvel Studios are generally mediocre aesthetically, but people do go to see them.

The late Roger Ebert said as much in his review of the 2011 Thor movie:

“Thor” is failure as a movie, but a success as marketing, an illustration of the ancient carnival tactic of telling the rubes anything to get them into the tent.

On the other side of the coin, Marvel’s Netflix properties, such as Daredevil and Luke Cage, are both television masterpieces and smash hits with audiences.

As I discussed a few months ago, more genuinely good artistic endeavors would be financially successful if one or both of the following were true:

  • If people had more disposable income.
  • If more artists had an entrepreneurial mindset.

The political economy of the arts and entertainment industry, it is definitely more feasible at this moment for artists to hustle up and market the heck out of their art rather than to wait around for a more forgiving economy.

Until then, rest assured that popularity neither certifies a film as good nor condemns it as bad.

It just is.

Note: I realize that in a past postArt Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)“, I stated that popularity “generally” denotes quality, in that there must be a good reason for many people to pay for something. I now realize, in keeping with the subject of this post,  that this reasoning is crude, if not without merit. I intend to expand on this point in a future post.

Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My Goodreads.com reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

View all my reviews

We Cannot Trust Modern Depictions of the Past. Watch Old Movies Instead.

When it was announced in May that ABC’s Agent Carter would be cancelled, I wondered if it would have succeeded if it had been kinder in its depiction of the Greatest Generation.

The male denizens of 1940s America in Captain America: The First Avenger were heroic stalwarts willing to fight and die for a noble cause.

By contrast, nearly every male character in Agent Carter is a portly desk-jockey with no regard for women. It would almost be caricature, except that the show takes itself completely seriously.

But even a brief examination of a few movies actually made in that era demonstrate a far different world. Women are respected by men as equals, being strong characters in their own right, and are often in positions of authority themselves.

Francis Schaeffer wrote that all art reflects the worldview of the artist. Logically, classic films depicting noble treatment of women in contemporary times are in line with a worldview that endorses such behavior in reality.

In a time when modern period pieces pull out all the stops to remind us just how stupid and backward our ancestors were, a more accurate picture of the past can be found in classic films.

In the 45 minute televised installment that was the pilot episode of Agent Carter, the eponymous heroine, played by Haylie Atwell, struts about post-World War II New York City as a secret agent.

The show takes every opportunity to remind us that all men are fat, lazy, sexist pigs, except for the subservient Jarvis (James D’Arcy).

One handicapped colleague who does stick up for Carter is immediately chastised by our heroine for thinking that she couldn’t fight her own battles. One wonders how exactly Carter wants men to behave.

Another fellow chews out a waitress, stating that the Nazis who put him in a POW camp gave him better food. I found myself contemplating how that rotund gentleman would ever have been accepted for military service.

Agent Carter isn’t the only modern TV show to follow this trend. A Christmas special for the popular BBC drama Sherlock re-imagines the show in Victorian London.

Once again, nearly all male characters are unrivaled sexists. In this take on the 1890s, Women are treated as mere chattel. The episode’s antagonists are a bizarre cult of suffragettes whose murders Holmes justifies in his concluding summation of the mystery.

Contrast this rubbish to the 1957 film Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

With a tight script and a fun plot by today’s standards, this romantic comedy depicts women working in the offices of a large media corporation on a level equal to that of men and critical to the organization’s function.

In fact, the main conflict within that film isn’t the typical feminist cliche of women being hampered and discriminated against due to their sex. Rather, the conflict arises from the introduction of new technology into the workplace.

Take another film, Deadline – U.S.A. This 1952 film starring Humphrey Bogart shows multiple women not only in positions of power and influence, but almost universally in a positive light.

It features the owner of the newspaper which Bogart’s character runs, an elderly matron. She herself summarizes the problem with many female characters in fiction today, complaining that girls in her day are “all gall and no guts.” There’s also a career woman, a tough reporter and a respected member of the newspaper staff.

Regarding the Sherlock Christmas special, I recall a 1954 American Sherlock Holmes TV serial. In one episode, an English lord’s wife takes the blame for a murder apparently committed by her husband.

This particular husband, however, is not an oafish pig. Rather, he’s a man in a position of power suddenly put in an impossible situation.

Holmes deduces that the murder was actually committed by the lord’s secretary, the wife having taken the blame in order to keep her husband free of scandal in the midst of sensitive diplomatic wrangling.

Both Holmes and the husband commend the woman for her moral courage. In fact, all of the men do so, except for the weaselly secretary, who is arrested for his crime.

This is a very different take on Sherlock Holmes than we have recently seen.

My brief survey of a few obscure films and television programs is hardly comprehensive in nature, but perhaps you’ve heard of this one: Miracle on 34th Street.

This hugely popular film featuring a female lead in a position of authority (Maureen O’Hara) was critically acclaimed when it was first released in 1947. Surely the homogeneously misogynistic world of Agent Carter wouldn’t stand for such a thing!

Unless, of course, our television programs have been lying to us.

I have long since resolved not to watch much television in general, or even movies. Modern period pieces are almost always suspect in either medium.

But I will be happy to watch any film made prior to the 1970s. I daresay that people living in those times had a much better perspective on what the world was like in their era than we do today.

Image: Scene from Deadline – U.S.A. – Source: HamptonRoads.com

Goodreads Review: Comics and Sequential Art

Comics and Sequential ArtComics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In what is probably the most academic text on comic books I have ever read, I was introduced to the works of Will Eisner in “Comics and Sequential Art.” I’d heard of Eisner before in passing, but had never given the man much thought. But after being twice recommended to read this book, I am now glad I finally did.

Simply looking at Eisner’s sample work from “The Spirit” and his other works featured in this book made me realize that he wasn’t just ahead of his time. Rather, comics have fallen backward. From what I’ve read in various comics from the 1980s to the early 2000s, Eisner’s influence on comics as a storytelling medium was strongly felt during this time period, but has slowly faded.

Chuck Dixon continues to lament to this day that the writing in American comics has weakened while the art has made leaps and bounds. Eisner, who wrote this book in 1984, foresaw this trend thirty years ago. He not only boiled down the raw principles of comics into a coherent whole, he noted that new technology will create both new challenges and new opportunities for comic book artists and writers.

In addition to that prognosis, he suggests that comic book writers and artists focus on crafting a good narrative in order to take advantage of a world where digital rendering and computers allow perfect coloring and shape-forming to be available to all, thus considerably leveling the playing field. I swear, this guy was a genius!

I now look forward to looking into his works with more detail, such as his graphic novel (a term he coined, I believe) “A Contract with God.” As someone who can’t draw to save my life, I would respectfully dissent from this great master’s judgement that the duties of artist and writer be vested in one person. However, I now know that such an arrangement was once the norm, not the exception. The more you know!

View all my reviews

Writers, Actors, and Singers: Please Stick to Writing, Acting, and Singing

I was watching a football game or something a few weeks ago, when I suddenly informed by an asinine commercial that Leonardo DiCaprio planned to release a new documentary on “climate change.”

Last time I checked, DiCaprio is not a meteorologist, or an ecologist, or a biologist, or a chemist, or a physicist, or an astronomer. He is an actor.

I also know that he has been making such documentaries and promoting such nonsense since at least 1998, when he established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is when they were still referring to climate change as “global warming.”

(For the record, I’d be pretty scared if the climate wasn’t changing.)

I then reflected that this DiCaprio is probably a better actor than he is a scientist or policy analyst.

But his behavior falls in line with that of many other writers, artists, singers, and actors who attempt to play those roles yet have absolutely no business doing so.

Meanwhile, people like Lena Dunham and Jay Z are suddenly being treated like they’re the smartest people in the room because of their stances on hot-button issues.

In Dunham’s case, she wants “straight white men” to go “extinct.” As for Jay Z, he apparently likes Clinton enough to belt out obscene song lyrics at one of her campaign events.

The only reason people pay attention to the political statements of actresses and singers is because they’re already famous.

Whatever they say is going to sound like pure wisdom to their fans, and it will attract the attention of the media because it’s political, thus giving them even more unwarranted credibility.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what these people say so long as it’s them saying it.

Granted, some political views are more palatable to the blogosphere, tabloids, news aggregates, click-bait sites, and the mainstream media than others.

Chris Pratt’s enthusiasm for hunting hasn’t won him much attention from such parties. The same can be said for Adam Baldwin of Firefly fame, who endorsed Ted Cruz via Twitter last year according to Wikipedia.

The effect, however, remains the same. When some actor suddenly announces his stance on a feel-good cause like climate change, it grants him an aura of sophistication and charity.

Think about it like this: People are naturally suspicious of politicians, but they love it when celebrities make political statements because they already like them.

If they happen to agree with whatever vacuous tripe the celebrity is saying, they’ll love them even more and do whatever they say, which usually means voting for Democratic politicians.

The problem isn’t so much that people unqualified to give opinions regarding such topics continue to do so. It’s a free country. They’re free to say what they want.

The problem is that these people’s sincerity is, at best, questionable. DiCaprio is without a doubt mouthing whatever lines some intern is feeding him just so he can beef up his personal brand.

Ditto for Donald Trump, who’s taken this principle to the Nth degree by becoming a major contender for President of the United States of America. Heck, he’s been running for president since 2000.

The two-pronged point I’m trying to make is that when people who are famous for acting, singing, or writing begin talking about politics, science, or public policy, plug your ears. They have nothing to say worth listening to.

I highly doubt that any actors, singers, or writers of note are reading this blog post, but if you are, please stick to acting, singing, and writing.

If you must talk about politics, go and spend your free time reading good books on things like history or economics, like Ronald Reagan used to do. Please avoid major periodicals for a while.

Or if you’re more technically inclined, you could be like Hedy Lamarr, who invented a nifty anti-missile jamming system during World War II. If she could do something like that, you could easily bone up on mathematics or chemistry or engineering or something.

In a word, actually learn something about what you’re talking about before deciding to soapbox about it. That’s all I ask.

Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Want to Understand How the World Works? Read History!

In a letter to someone asking for a good source of information about politics, Thomas Jefferson once wrote:

“I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors.”

In this rather cynical and barbed letter, Jefferson makes several reading suggestions to his correspondent, also giving his opinion on the popular press:

“General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, &c., &c.; but no details can be relied on.”

Jefferson was smart enough to know that newspapers (and their 21st century counterparts) are engines fueled by sensation, wild speculation, and excitement above all else. I don’t believe that much has changed.

Many people my age who go to college enroll in a “political science” class in a misguided effort to gain an understanding of how the world works. In reality, this rather dubious field of study is hardly up to the task. Even the realm of economics falls short.

The best way to understand the way the world works, the way that all of the great men throughout the ages did so, from Alexander the Great to Jefferson himself, is to read history.

History shows how the world works because it shows what happened that resulted in how things are today.

The press is a constant stream of random facts, many of them false.

“Political science” is little more than a term used to legitimize the idea that politics can be reduced to a uniform set of scientific principles. No term should have “science” put after it unless it involves a lot of math.

But history is different. History is the story of the world, the grand, mindbogglingly complex saga of what’s been happening on the face of dear old Earth.

There are plenty of authorities who will say silly things like “History repeats itself” or “History is written by the winners.” Neither of these are true.

But as Mark Twain, another great man from American history, once (but not really) said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

The meaning of these wise words is that there are patterns to be found in history.

This isn’t because there is some inexorable force causing all the events of time to periodically go around the merry-go-round in some fashion or another which we decide to call “history.”

No, it is because history is the unpredictable story of a subject which is absolutely predictable: Man.

Man, mankind, humankind, humanity, is entirely predictable. By this I mean that human nature never changes, one of the only things that can consistently be relied upon.

And inevitably, because human nature is inclined toward evil, history can be very ugly. Conversely, because history is so ugly, it naturally follows that mankind is inclined toward evil. Both statements prove each other.

The point here is that learning history is important, because otherwise you’ll go looking for answers about how the world works from your Political Science 201 professor.

He will proceed to fill your head with nonsense about how human nature is on an upward march toward a classless utopia as envisioned by Marx. Trust me, your instructor’s predecessors have been saying that for the last 125-plus years.

Instead, please turn off the news, politely filter out your professor, and pick up a history book instead.

Casablanca: Old Hollywood’s Take on Being the Good Guy

I recently watched the 1943 film Casablanca, as part of my current preoccupation with old movies.

Set during World War II, it depicts the struggle of an American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) who runs a Moroccan nightclub when his long-lost lady love (Ingrid Bergman) suddenly shows up with her husband, attempting to evade agents of Nazi Germany.

What interested me about Casablanca was how it presented a world far more tangled, wretched, and realistic than any modern depiction I can recall. Inception and The Dark Knight are creampuffs in comparison, even losing in terms of how tight their respective plots are.

At the same time, however, this mature, flesh-and-blood cinema manages to do all this without sinking into the thrall of violence and profanity. It tackles mature content with class.

Most importantly, it elevates the values of an older class of hero. This isn’t done to mockingly kick him from his pedestal, but to present him for serious study and reflection.

Casablanca provides a window into the world of the Greatest Generation, a world far more complicated that today, contrary to those who have inherited Hollywood might say.

To begin with, this film was created in the thick of an event which defined the twentieth century and continues to reverberate into the twenty-first. The Second World War influenced our art, our economy, our foreign policy, our manner of education, and even our eating habits.

For too many people my age it is little more than a mythical backdrop to the careers of Captain America, the Flash (Jay Garrick, that is) and Indiana Jones.

But when you realize that every piece of art reflects the worldview of the artist, as I believe Francis Schaeffer noted, you must conclude that the opinion of artists about that time concerning the war will color every form of art, including film, created during that time.

Suffice it to say, Casablanca firmly plants its feet not in the camp of the Allies or the Axis, but in the camp of Good as opposed to the camp of Evil. It is decidedly apolitical in a context and narrative backdrop where contemporary politics is pervasive.

To say this may sound strange, considering that in this case, Good is clearly personified by the Allies and Evil by the Axis, particularly the Nazis.

But when I say that Casablanca is apolitical, I only mean that it would make no difference whether the Allies or the Nazis won the War, either within the realm of fiction or in reality. What matters is that one side was Good and the other side was Evil, and the identity of both is obvious.

Rick, the protagonist played by Humphrey Bogart, emphatically cracks down on “politics” in his bar. But he unreservedly sacrifices his own personal happiness to make sure his former lover and her husband, an anti-Nazi journalist, can escape to safety.

Later, his reward is to join the fight against the Nazis on the side of the Free French, along with the lovably corrupt Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), who turns over a new leaf in the final minutes of the film.

Columnist Mark Tooley wrote in a 2010 piece in The American Spectator about the differences between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood. According to Tooley, “Old Hollywood privately misbehaved but publicly was glamorous and classy. New Hollywood is proudly trashy.”

Casablanca is very much a product of Old Hollywood. I’m no scholar of film history, having only the most rudimentary knowledge of the subject. But as I understand it, Old Hollywood knew that it’s easy to be decent when you inevitably get the girl at the end.

But when being good means not getting the girl, not coming home covered in glory, and not getting the commendation of your peers and mentors, it’s a little harder.

Casablanca plainly tells us that if you keep deciding to be one of the good guys until the end, despite all that, you’ll at least be one of the good guys. And that’s it.

As a Christian, if one translates “being one of the good guys” to “trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation,” then one’s eternal reward will be far greater than anything that I just described.

Aesthetically, the film is stunning. Morally, the film is saintly, perhaps in the manner of David, in keeping with the Jewish heritage of Michael Curtiz, the director.

Most importantly, it’s a film that every man, woman, and child should see, and that is final.

Image courtesy of irishnews.com