Entries Tagged 'Reading' ↓

What’s a Good Comic for Beginners?

Interesting social media / Twitterverse domino-falling from yesterday’s post on Locke & Key. There are big brags to be had so might as well get those out of the way first…

What’s that, MichaelJ? Casual retweets from the best artist in comics?

Why yes it is, MichaelJ 🙂 How nice of you to notice!

/ big brags

Anywho, Diego Natalino asks what might be a good comic for beginners?

Here are some random guidelines I thought up in response:

  1. It is my general belief that comics are at their best when doing superheroes. Superheroes are kind of ridiculous (check more-or-less any movie prior to Batman Begins)… But comics can make you take them seriously! There has to be something special there (plus most every comic is a superhero comic, so…)
  2. That said, I don’t think anyone is default-wired to like superheroes. I think most comics fans are somehow conditioned to like them through I-don’t-know-how. I am not sure I would put a superhero book in front of a new reader, necessarily (especially a girl) (BTW half the population is girls).
  3. Comics have some of the best writing on the planet, but writing without pictures is just prose. Comics at their best have not just some of the most beautiful pictures on the planet… They have pictures that are lined up in a special way to tell a story; but pretty pictures without the accompanying guidance of the story is just a portfolio. I would want any recommendation to have both a great story and great art.
  4. Comics have a tendency to feed into a particular audience. The active comics-reading audience for the most part has been reading comics for 20 or even 30 years at this point. Many of the best stories are written for people who have decades of comics-reading under their belts. My friend Chris Pikula in particular was insistent on recommending Watchmen (BTW I consider Watchmen not only the best ever comic book but a pinnacle of fiction in any genre)… I am resistant to recommending Watchmen as a first comic because in order to “get” even 25% of its storytelling innovation and richness, you would have to be steeped in many volumes worth of DC superhero lore. “Anyone” can “like” Watchmen but — maybe it’s just me as a territorial comics fan — I don’t think you can fully appreciate it as a neophyte. Corollary: I would want to recommend something anyone can pick up and like and read without a huge amount of background.

Here are some of my recommendations:

For someone who likes Harry Potter: Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things.
You can actually read Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1 for free on Comixology (so you might as well do that). Courtney Crumrin is basically Harry Potter, if Harry were a girl, and a bit of a jerk. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1 is probably my all-time favorite first issue of a series. It has literally no continuity requirements; is written and drawn by former Magic: The Gathering artist Ted Naifeh. Just a note of forewarning… Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1 is my all-time favorite #1, but it is more for the story than the art, and as this comic was fairly early in Naifeh’s comics illustration career… Let’s just say he has progressed since.

For someone who likes Dexter: Stray Bullets
Great suggestion from Big Jon Rudd on Twitter! BDM used to work at one of New York City’s big comic shops; next time you see him, ask the Pro Tour Historian the story about Stray Bullets #1 coming in… The book was really something special, and surprising; different and new. David Lapham self-published Stray Bullets after his departure from Valiant comics; he was eventually rewarded with an Eisner for his work on this series. The only problem?

You might have a tough time getting a copy 🙁

Stray Bullets looks fairly out of print, back issues and trades look pricey on Amazon, and I didn’t see digital offerings.

For someone who likes Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: Saga
Saga is the new smash-hit comic from my old high school buddy Brian K. Vaughan. It is freaking awesome, absolutely gorgeous, and actually the book that got me into reading digital comics in the first place. I paid $3.99 for my debut copy, but Brian is literally giving away the first issue on Comixology (so go read that).

For someone who likes The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead
Yes, before it was the inheritor to Mad Men and Breaking Bad on AMC, The Walking Dead was a hell of a comic book. It remains one of my favorite books after all these issues. Not for the weak of heart.

There are all kinds of superhero books that you can knock yourself over with, but I wouldn’t necessarily block those off as gateways to comics-adoration. If you want to know some of my favorite ongoing titles, I’d say American Vampire, Chew, and of course Locke & Key (which according to Matt Sperling, was quite the serviceable first foray into comics).

Very curious about any comics readers’ thoughts on this. If you have a particular thing you like (Vampires, fairy tales, torn blouses, pirates, etc.) I would be happy to try to field some further recommendations in the comments below.

LOVE
MIKE

Desperate Ravings #7 – All Good Things…

Thanks to everyone who has participated in Desperate Ravings so far.

We’ve given away $150 in prizes, but still have more to go! Remember, you have until June 12, 2012 to get all seven Desperate Ravings assignments done in order to qualify for…

  • One $50 gift certificate from GatheringMagic
  • One $50 gift certificate from LegitMTG
  • One $50 gift certificate from ManaDeprived…
  • … or a one-hour coaching call from YT!

Well, what are we waiting for? Here goes the last Desperate Ravings assignment, from Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion:

The day then dissolved into a long sickening panic, a slow and stretched-out dying. Jack rowed, and was whipped, and other times he whipped other men who were rowing. He stood above men he loved and saw only livestock, and whipped skin off their backs to make them row infinitesimally harder, and later they did the same to him. The raïs himself rowed, and was whipped by his own slaves. Whips wore out and broke. The galleot became an open tray of blood, skin, and hair, a single living body cut open by some pitiless anatomist: the benches ribs, the oars digits, the men gristle, the drum a beating heart, the whips raw dissected nerves that spun and whorled and crackled through the viscera of the hull. This was the first hour of their day, and the last; it quickly became too terrible to imagine, and remained thus without letting up, forever, even though it was only a day—just as a short nightmare can seemingly encompass a century. It passed out of time, in other words, and so there was nothing to tell of it, as it was not a story.

They did not begin to be human again until the sun went down, and then they had no idea where they were. There were not as many men in the galleot as there had been when the sun had come up and they had dipped dry oars into the whitecaps as the bugle played. No one was really sure why. Jack had a vague recollection of seeing bloody bodies going over the gunwales, pushed by many hands, and of an attempt that had been made to throw him overboard, which had come to naught when he had begun thrashing around. Jack assumed that Mr. Foot could not have survived the day, until later he heard ragged breathing from a dark corner of the quarterdeck, and found him huddled under some canvas. The rest of the Cabal had all survived. Or at least they were all present. The meaning of survival was not entirely clear on a day like this. Certainly they would never be the same. Jack’s similitude about trapped beasts gnawing their legs off had been intended as a sort of jest, to make Dappa feel less guilty, but today it had come true; even if Moseh, Jeronimo, and the others were still breathing, and still aboard, important pieces of them had been chewed off and left behind. That night, it did not occur to Jack that, for some of them at least, this might amount to an improvement.

You Know What to Do:

  1. Copy the above selection from The Confusion by hand and in triplicate, and
  2. Upload to the Desperate Ravings HOMEWORK page. You can get there via http://on.fb.me/DesperateRavings or http://facebook.com/groups/DesperateRavings (my homework is already up!)

Whips wore out and broke.

Whips wore out and broke – are you kidding me?

How much damage do you have to do with — and to — a whip to wear it out in one day, let alone one hour?

These two paragraphs from Stephenson are basically my favorite two paragraphs in all writing, in terms of writing. Stephenson does everything well that you can do well. He blends love and violence and authority, queering the relationship between master and slave while laying everyone out.

He stood above men he loved and saw only livestock.

… Then he whipped the bejeezus out of his friends; had the bejeezus whipped out of him.

This passage is a great “lists” passage, too. I am of the belief that list-writing is the best kind of writing. Yesterday’s from Gravity’s Rainbow was also superb list-writing… But surely when you read over the two passages you could see how different they were. Pynchon made you go fast with his run-on sentence. Pynchon’s passage was a relentless rush of snowballing madness… Stephenson’s here is slow, rolls out and develops at the pace of ice or glass, forces you to live through, maybe relish, each syllable of violence and triumph.

I have copied this passage more than any other in my own practice, pre-Desperate Ravings. Maybe someday I will be able to write nearly as well as Neal.

I would like to thank GatheringMagic, LegitMTG, ManaDeprived, and all of the Desperate Ravings participants for humoring me all week. I’d think it just dandy if you gave them a visit:

LOVE
MIKE

Desperate Ravings #6 … This Homework is BANANAS!

Welcome my friends to the penultimate episode of Desperate Ravings.

I hope you have enjoyed the story so far, and invite you to finish out today’s and tomorrow’s assignments.

By this point most of you know what is what, but for those of you who are just joining us, you can check out any ep marked Depserate Ravings, or read the explanations from Episode 1 or Episode 5 to get your bearings.

Now that we are past the point of daily $10 bribes, I feel confident in revealing the two hand-copying exercises I love the most. Longtime readers of my greater Magic writing have probably encountered both already.

The first one of these two is from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

Josh Ravitz and I, working together at the time, heard of the 1973 novel, unanimously elected to the Pulitzer Prize by the three-person novel-selecting committee… with the award later overturned by the other eleven members of the Pulitzer illuminati. No award was given out that year.

Gravity’s Rainbow did earn the 1974 National Book Award… But Pynchon chose to neither acknowledge nor accept it. He has been depicted as a secretive recluse, you know, like on The Simpsons.


I would guess none of my readers actually visit seemoretube

In the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, Susanna Clarke paints this wonderful idea, when one of the titular wizards distills the idea of madness itself into a vial, so that he can take a few drops when he wants to do magic, to touch madness itself. As a writer this is an incredibly attractive idea for me. I hope that exploring this passage from Gravity’s Rainbow will give you the chance to touch on the same scary and exciting experience, even for a moment:

With a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate’s mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table, a southern island well across a tropic or two from chill Corydon Throsp’s mediaeval fantasies, crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded into the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre (attributed to a French observer during the Charge of the Light Brigade) which Pirate has appropriated as his motto … tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsfull of banana mead … banana croissants and banana kreplach, and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyrenees also containing a clandestine radio transmitter …

Yes. That’s pretty much one run-on sentence. One wonderful run-on sentence. No. Josh and I never finished the book.

What to Do Next:

  1. Copy down the above passage from Gravity’s Rainbow, by hand and in triplicate.
  2. Upload it to the Desperate Ravings HOMEWORK page on Facebook, separately known as http://on.fb.me/DesperateRavings and http://facebook.com/groups/DesperateRavings

The daily prizes ended yesterday…

But for at least three lucky Desperate Ravings readers, Day Five was the most important one of all!

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from GatheringMagic: Eric Blanc

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from LegitMTG: Avery Garon

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from ManaDeprived: Devin Brown

Congratulations to Eric, Avery, and Devin on their $10 gift certificates from our generous sponsors!

And get to it every one — You have until June 12 to finish all seven Desperate Ravings assignments and qualify to win one of our four big prizes (three $50 gift certificates or a one-hour call from YT)… Plus the unprecedented long-term awesome sauce of Desperate Ravings – Flashback. Bring it!

LOVE
MIKE

Thanks for visiting our Desperate Ravings sponsors:

So Much Depends Upon… Desperate Ravings #5

Here’s What I’ve Got: Desperate Ravings Assignment #5

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Here’s What It’ll Do for You:
Considered a masterwork of 20th Century imagist poetry, “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams — probably even more than Rachel Maddow’s Drift selection from yesterday is a great example of writing that engages your visual imagination.

Here’s What I Want You to Do Next:

In case you are just joining us, Desperate Ravings is a collaboration between myself and the good people at GatheringMagic, LegitMTG, and ManaDeprived. Aspiring writers (or just contest participants) are given passages each day of Desperate Ravings to copy and upload to the aforementioned Facebook group. For each of the first five days — today being the fifth and last — our sponsors select a single winner of a $10 gift certificate. For example, here are yesterday’s winners:

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from GatheringMagic: Marcus Bastian Hensing

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from LegitMTG: Jarrod Keith Williams

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from ManaDeprived: Bernhard Zander

The thinking is that anyone who drives himself — or herself — to do all seven assignments, consecutively, will have shown the shoulder-to-the-grindstone commitment necessary to become a consistent producer of content for one of the above sites.

Simultaneously, the thinking is that copying down some of the great passages selected by Desperate Ravings will help aspiring writers / contest participants to internalize that elusive turn of phrase that makes for engaging or entertaining writing.

… Plus there’s the, you know, prizes!

In addition to the 3×5 daily prizes from GatheringMagic, LegitMTG, and ManaDeprived, anyone who finishes all seven assignments by June 12, 2012 (ten days total to finish seven assignments) may qualify for…

  • One $50 gift certificate from GatheringMagic
  • One $50 gift certificate from LegitMTG
  • One $50 gift certificate from ManaDeprived, or
  • A one-hour coaching call from Yours Truly!

… Plus consideration for actual feature writing gigs at the sponsor sites (though we’ll shake all that out in the second phase, Desperate Ravings – Flashback).

So… If you’re late to the party, it’s okay!

Do today’s assignment and you might just get lucky on Day Five. You’ve still got until June 12 to get all of them in!

Good luck and have fun.

LOVE
MIKE

Please visit the Desperate Ravings sponsors:

Desperate Ravings #4 – Digital Jeet Kun Do

I was surprised at the lukewarm (and perhaps “lukewarm” is generous) reactions to yesterday’s selection from Thinking, Fast and Slow. It so happens that I am reading Thinking, Fast and Slow right now and I pretty actively try to highlight and add from stuff that I am reading at any time.

That was half, anyway. Some readers commented that they didn’t love Kahneman’s prose. I actually thought it was well written, but that wasn’t really why I picked it. Kahneman, in this segment, uses simple and very clear language. He describes a fairly complex sequence… but I think all of us got it, and more than that, believed it.

As for the content? It kind of reminded me of this old Matt Sperling comic.

Speaking of stuff I read recently, these are the first two paragraphs from Rachel Maddow’s excellent Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power:

Homework #4!

IN THE LITTLE TOWN WHERE I LIVE IN HAPSHIRE COUNTY, Massachusetts, we now have a “Public Safety Complex” around the corner from what used to be our hokey Andy Griffith-esque fire station. In the cascade of post-9/11 Homeland Security money in the first term of the George W. Bush administration, our town’s share of the loot bought us a new fire truck — one that turned out to be a few feet longer than the garage where the town kept our old fire truck. So then we got some more Homeland money to build something big enough to house the new truck. In homage to the origin of the funding, the local auto detailer airbrushed on the side of the new truck a patriotic tableau of a billowing flaglike barrier, a really big bald eagle, and the burning World Trade Center towers.

The American taxpayers’ investment in my town’s security didn’t stop at the new safety complex. I can see further fruit of those Homeland dollars just beyond my neighbor’s back fence. While most of us in town depend on well water, there are a few houses that for the past decade or so have been hooked up to a municipal water supply. And when I say “a few,” I mean few: I think there are seven houses on municipal water. Around the time we got our awesome giant new fire truck, we also got a serious security upgrade to that town water system. Its tiny pump house is about the size of two phone booths and accessible by a dirt driveway behind my neighbor’s back lot. Or at least it used to be. The entire half-acre parcel of land around that pump house is now ringed by an eight-foot-tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, and fronted with a motion-sensitive electronically controlled motorized gate. On our side of town we call it “Little Guantanamo.” Mostly it’s funny, but there is some neighborly consternation over how frowsy Little Guantanamo gets every summer. Even though it’s town-owned land, access to Little Guantanamo is apparently above the security clearance of the guy paid to mow and brush-hog. Right up to the fence, it’s my neighbor’s land and they keep everything trim and tidy. But inside that fence, the grass gets eye-high. It’s going feral in there.

I love Maddow’s diction, humor, combination of simple and unusual words, and sense of the bizarre. But what she does really well in this segment is to engage your visual imagination. You can see the fire truck sticking out of the too-small garage; the flames and towers detailed, the little pump station, couched and hidden behind too-tall “frowzy” grass.

Anyway… same stuff as the last three days!

  1. Copy down the assignment, by hand and in triplicate
  2. Upload to http://facebook.com/groups/DesperateRavings
  3. (maybe) topdeck some fabulous prizes!

Note that address change – Facebook has upgraded our HOMEWORK page to http://facebook.com/groups/DesperateRavings!

Yesterday’s fabulous winners:

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from GatheringMagic: Tony Merriam

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from LegitMTG: Wil Rosario

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from ManaDeprived: Armando Lope

LOVE
MIKE

A Note on Homework and Prizes:
Just because you miss a day or caught on a little late doesn’t mean you can’t participate! I designed Desperate Ravings to give you 2-3 extra days to get all the homework in and potentially qualify for one of the four big prizes. Remember – We are giving away three $50 gift certificates next week to those who complete all seven assignments!

Desperate Ravings would not be possible without our generous sponsors.

Desperate Ravings #3 – Rhymes and Reasons

So how did you like yesterday’s assignment?

Like I said, that one from A Shropshire Lad is one of my favorite poems ever… And all I did in college (other than play 50 hours of Magic per week) was read poems (mostly). Remember how I said to pay attention to your punctuation? The genius of Housman’s poem is how — via just a couple of English single-quotes — he shifts the speaker one-line-per-stanza in order to give us the overall experience of a surprisingly unsuccessful seduction.

In case you missed it, me and Bella reading, again:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(more on this… someday)

While the content was from my perspective super fun, the more important lesson for the day was one of form, and using punctuation and pattern in order to shift emphasis and uncover meaning in the text. Ever hear the phrase “it’s not what you said, but how you said it”? How you present an idea — what tools you use, what format or technique — can be the difference between just another boring “play my awesome deck list” that no one reads and a line-in-the-sand format-breaker that changes the composition of the next GP’s Top 8…

… Even though they might be the same deck list!

One of the reasons I make you write these exercises out by hand (rather than typing, or worse, copy and paste) is that the process forces you to slow down and absorb passages — both what is written and how they are written — more closely in order to graft the skills of a Stefani or A Shropshire Lad onto your very  spine.

Here’s a grammatical time bomb I use fairly often: repeat, Repeat, REPEAT.

I am sure you’ve seen some variation on that three-beat in my work in the past. I have come to lean on that capitalization progression something like every other week. I like how it looks.

Flores Fact:
I stole it from faster / Faster / FASTER in the letter column of an old issue of The Flash comics. True story.

Now on the subject of form, if you want to get a message to stick, learning to add a little poetry to your prose is an effective vector to covert hypnotism. I do a fair amount of not only caps / Caps / CAPS but alliteration and internal rhyme in order to increase the convincingness of my various articles and blog posts.

But don’t take my word for it!

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, in his best-selling Thinking, Fast and Slow cited a stunning study thusly:

“… Put your ideas in verse if you can; they will be more likely to be taken as truth. Participants in a much cited experiment read dozens of unfamiliar aphorisms, such as: Woes unite foes. / Little strokes will tumble great oaks. / A fault confessed is half redressed.

“Other students read some of the same proverbs transformed into nonrhyming versions: Woes unite enemies. / Little strokes will tumble great trees. / A fault admitted is half redressed.

“The aphorisms were judged more insightful when they rhymed than when they did not.”

Now you know why we marketers love those jingles 🙂

Today’s assignment comes from a different, in my mind surprising and delectible, section of Thinking, Fast and Slow:

Assignment #3!

In one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, Walter Mischel and his students exposed four-year-old children to a cruel dilemma. They were given a choice between a small reward (one Oreo), which they could have at any time, or a larger reward (two cookies) for which they had to wait 15 minutes under difficult conditions. They were to remain alone in a room, facing a desk with two objects: a single cookie and a bell that the child could ring at any time to call in the experimenter and receive the one cookie. As the experiment was described: “There were no toys, books, pictures, or other potentially distracting items in the room. The experimenter left the room and did not return until 15 min had passed or the child had rung the bell, eaten the rewards, stood up, or shown any signs of distress.”

The children were watched through a one-way mirror, and the film that shows their behavior during the waiting time always has the audience roaring in laughter. About half the children managed the feat of waiting for 15 minutes, mainly by keeping their attention away from the tempting reward. Ten or fifteen years later, a large gap had opened between those who had resisted temptation and those who had not. The resisters had higher measures of executive control in cognitive tasks, and especially the ability to reallocate their attention effectively. As young adults they were less likely to take drugs. A significant difference in intellectual aptitude emerged: the children who had shown more self-control as four-year-olds had substantially higher scores on tests of intelligence.

Per previous, just:

1) Copy down the above, by hand and in triplicate, and
2) Upload your efforts to the Desperate Ravings HOMEWORK page

… To improve your game and qualify for fabulous prizes!

Why Am I Doing This Again?

I just said “fabulous prizes” didn’t I?

Each of the first five days of Desperate Ravings comes with it three generous prizes from our sponsors, GatheringMagic, LegitMTG, and ManaDeprived.

Yesterday’s big winners:

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from GatheringMagic: Michael Marsala

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from LegitMTG: Susan Zell

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from ManaDeprived: Carlos Gutierrez

Carlos, Susan, and Michael were chosen by KYT, Medina, and The Stybs for their efforts on the Desperate Ravings HOMEWORK page (my homework is already uploaded there!).

Want to join the growing legion of winners (and topdeck the communication skills of a Nobel laureate while you’re at it)? You know what to do.

LOVE
MIKE

A Note on Homework and Prizes:
Just because you miss a day or caught on a little late doesn’t mean you can’t participate! I designed Desperate Ravings to give you 2-3 extra days to get all the homework in and potentially qualify for one of the four big prizes. Remember – We are giving away three $50 gift certificates next week to those who complete all seven assignments!

Desperate Ravings would not be possible without our generous sponsors.

Desperate Ravings #2 – The Pickup Artist of 1896

Once upon a time I held the respect of Isabella Jane Hill Flores.

She had, at an early age, decided she was going to be Girl Iron-Man and has, admirably I think, done a good job of focusing on math and science and disciplined thinking and strategy… at least for an eight-year-old.

… Once upon a time…

Today if you ask her which parent she thinks is smarter, me (the primary breadwinner) or her mommy (the infectious, more accessible @BastardStory) she will laugh at you.

“Mommy has a Masters Degree in Physics,” Bella will declare, and with contempt. “Daddy studied poems. Poems!”

You see, I had a strategy backfire a couple of years ago. Mommy was always there, kind, and focused primarily on taking care of the kids. They loved — and of course still love — her, but I didn’t feel they were showing her sufficient awe (Katherine really is one of the most impressive persons I know). So I informed my Girl Iron-Man-to-be which of us had the full-ride advanced degree in Physics (though she went into publishing and later conventional advertising pre-full-time mommy); and which of us studied poems. Poems!

I got it half-right. At least she now respects mommy.

So on the subject of poems, longtime readers know that in the years before FiveWithFlores, my online handle was madmanpoet. Paul Jordan (and I would guess relatively few others) have figured out that I stole that from the wonderful Dar Williams song Are You Out There.

But anyway, at the age of 18, freshly off my first national publication (in a poetry journal) I decided I was going to devote my college years to British poetry (Americans, in my 18-year-old estimation, couldn’t write). One of the poets I most liked was A.E. Housman; today’s assignment was a piece I fell in love with in the spring of 1994:

Today’s Assignment – The Pickup Artist of 1896

OH see how thick the goldcup flowers
  Are lying in field and lane,
With dandelions to tell the hours
  That never are told again.
Oh may I squire you round the meads        
  And pick you posies gay?
—’Twill do no harm to take my arm.
  ’You may, young man, you may.’
 
Ah, spring was sent for lass and lad,
  ’Tis now the blood runs gold,        
And man and maid had best be glad
  Before the world is old.
What flowers to-day may flower to-morrow,
  But never as good as new.
—Suppose I wound my arm right round—        
  ‘’Tis true, young man, ’tis true.’
 
Some lads there are, ’tis shame to say,
  That only court to thieve,
And once they bear the bloom away
  ’Tis little enough they leave.        
Then keep your heart for men like me
  And safe from trustless chaps.
My love is true and all for you.
  ‘Perhaps, young man, perhaps.’
 
Oh, look in my eyes then, can you doubt?        
  —Why, ’tis a mile from town.
How green the grass is all about!
  We might as well sit down.
—Ah, life, what is it but a flower?
  Why must true lovers sigh?        
Be kind, have pity, my own, my pretty,—
  ‘Good-bye, young man, good-bye.’

-from A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman

Please make sure to pay attention to your spacing and punctuation in this one; it’s both tricky and rewarding.

Here is a short, two-minute, recording of YT & Bella that illustrates just why:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Same deal as yesterday!

1) Copy today’s assignment, by hand, and in triplicate.
2) Upload to on.fb.me/DesperateRavings
3) Like this post!
4) Become eligible for fabulous prizes!

On the subject of “fabulous prizes” here are yesterday’s winners —

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from GatheringMagic: Sonja Boschman

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from LegitMTG: David Weitz

The winner of a $10 gift certificate from ManaDeprived: Shaun Louis Korb

The Story So Far…
In order to qualify for those prizes, Sonja, David, and Shaun wrote out a short segment from Gwen Stefani’s Early Winter and uploaded their work to the Desperate Ravings HOMEWORK page:

Why?

Why do you act so stupid?

Why?

You know that I’m always right.

(in case you were wondering my homework for today has been up there for hours!)

The Gwen segment perfectly encapsulates how I feel about the comments from some — especially combative — commenters and forum denizens. It is important if you are going to write down your thoughts and present them to large groups of people — and certainly if you expect to be paid for them — that you can develop some sense of confidence (that your words are worthy of publication, and to be appreciated by others), and a bit of a thick skin (haters gonna hate).

I love a lot about Gwen, but really, really, thank her for the above fourteen words.

Secondly, one of the classic openings in the Magic writing game is the asking of a question. To wit:



I wanted to prime the Desperate Ravings pump with a super simple one, and one of the best — and reminiscent of likely the absolute most influential and important articles — despite its being an easy and simple one to start us off right… Even if the question itself (“why…”) wasn’t a particularly useful one.

If you think you’re late to the game — that’s okay! You might have missed the first day’s $10 gift certificates, but you have until June 13 to complete all seven Desperate Ravings assignments in order to qualify for one of the big prizes.

The Desperate Ravings Calendar:

  • June 4, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #1, $30 in gift certificates went to Sonja, David, and Shaun!
  • June 5, 2012 – (today) Desperate Ravings assignment #2, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 6, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #3, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 7, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #4, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 8, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #5, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 9, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #6
  • June 10, 2012 – Last Desperate Ravings assignment, #7
  • June 12, 2012 – Everything is due! Shortly thereafter we will finalize an additional $150 prizes, a personalized coaching call, and the possibility of Desperate Ravings – Flashback.

I hope you guys are having fun.

LOVE
MIKE

Desperate Ravings Facebook Page
Desperate Ravings Homework Page
All Desperate Ravings Posts on FiveWithFlores

Please remember to visit the Desperate Ravings Sponsors:

Desperate Ravings #1 – The First One’s Free!

Dear Friend,

Are you desperate?

Given perhaps to a ravings or so?

Or would you like a wider opportunity to express yourself, and share your ideas, to the greater Magic and gaming communities? Do you want to improve your communication skills or become a better writer? Or try your hand as a writer at all?

HOW ABOUT FREE STUFF?

DO YOU LIKE FREE STUFF?

Have we got some hoops for you to jump through this week!

A month or so ago I was on the phone with Adam, “The Sybs” Styborski, puppet master and proprietor of GatherringMagic.com; Adam and I were chatting about the quality of content on GM and areas where it could improve. One thing that Adam pointed out — that has been a refrain even when talking about some of my favorite writers on certain bigger sites —

… Isn’t the quality of ideas themselves, or the passion behind those ideas, but the qualities that make for a good — and consistent — Magic columnist.

Now this got the gears in my head turning.

I grabbed Evan Erwin to make sure the Shadow Cabinet / Parliament of Trees in Roanoke, VA were okay with a small collaboration with my friends at some of the up-and-coming sites.

All clear!

Now not every subscriber and follower loved the videos I posted last week; certainly they were not my best work, but that was the point — they weren’t supposed to be. It might surprise some of you to learn that most of what I write and do ends up on the floor. I think that the only way that you can get good at something is by doing it over and over, and that’s what I try to do. I write as many as 8,000 or even 12,000 words in a day, but professionally publish less than 8,000 words per week, so you do the math.

Now to Geordie’s point, the essential something that can make an entertaining writer — in whatever niche — is that “turn of phrase” … not just whether you agree with him or he is always publishing cutting-edge deck technology.

I can’t do much in terms of kindling your The Fire or improving the substance or your ideas (only the process by which you form them), but I can pass on two things that can help make you — if you are interested — into a consistent and desirable Magic content generating machine: 1) That “turn of phrase”, and 2) Consistency!

Here’s the thing: If you go back and read The Ferrett’s essays on producing content for Star City Games back in the early- and mid-2000s, you will learn something… Consistency is more-or-less the most important thing Magic websites need.

“My favorite writer is, undoubtedly, me. I find me very easy to edit, and me always makes the deadlines that I ask him to. Furthermore, if I’m short on good articles, me can usually pull one together with very little notice. Plus, I hear me always speaks well of myself.”
-The Ferrett, 11/19/04

One-of articles — especially great ones — are (or at least can be) great… But they can also set expectations that, long run, are impossible for a site to maintain.

In the same 11/19/04 Ask the Editor, The Ferrett criticizes “guy who has few ideas, but wants money” … and decries in particular that “Pros tend to be the worst at this – but who can blame them? The winner of the last Pro Tour knows darned well that if he wrote ‘How 2 not Seck N Xtendud’ on toilet paper, his articles would still get more hits than 99% of the PTQ-grinding articles out there. I can’t really blame ’em, but turning them down can sometimes backfire.”

So how do we solve this issue?

Star City hasn’t got any shortage of guys and gals who can turn in that turn of phrase eight years later.

As @FloresFacts reminds us, I constantly add and jettison to my algorithm.

One of my strategies is to steal / add / approximate the prose styles of writers I admire by using a specific exercise; I am going to share some iterations of this exercise over the next seven days.

You — if you are interested in awesome prizes, and / or making a go of becoming a featured writer on one of our sponsoring sites (itself an awesome prize) — are going to do them!

Each day, I am going to put up a short piece of prose, poetry, or song. It will be awesome. You will copy it down BY HAND, three times, and upload your work to the Desperate Ravings Facebook HOMEWORK page.

There will be seven such exercises.

But because I am a kind slavemaster, you get ten days to complete all seven.

As the exercises for the most part aren’t easy, if you can complete all seven in this relatively short time frame, you will show — in my opinion anyway — some of that capacity for consistency that is essential in a featured Magic writer.

If you can do them all, you will not be able to avoid adding tools that will help you ask questions, craft descriptions, develop characters, and make arguments with more beautiful, horrifying, clear — or when necessary, obfuscating — turn of phrase.

Our Sponsors:

Like I said earlier in the post, this idea came out of a conversation I had with Adam. I haven’t had a chance to work with Adam on anything before (despite our both being longtime writers on The Mother Ship DailyMTG), and I am excited to do something special this week. Thanks to Adam and GatheringMagic for participating, and sponsoring!

A month or two back, Jonathan Medina had the idea of resurrecting Flores Rewards. Gavin Verhey is in R&D lockdown, and we haven’t had a Flores Rewards hoop to jump through in over a year (despite certain proprietor’s “promises”) … Desperate Ravings seemed pretty Flores Rewards-ish, and I knew Medina would be excited to participate. He even came up with the name!

KYT has proven himself one of the most enthusiastic young influencers in the Magic community over the past few years, and single-handedly rallied the entire country of Canada around his black-and-blue lightbulb. Most recently, ManaDeprived was rewarded with a PT win when their Alexander Hayne spiked Barcelona with his magical Miracles. KYT was the first person I wanted to include; he quickly ponied up the dough.

… What dough?

Desperate Ravings Fabulous Prizes:
There are at least $300 in fabulous prizes being awarded by our sponsors:
GatheringMagic / Cool Stuff, Inc.
LegitMTG (“what is LegitMTG?”)
ManaDeprived / Face to Face Games

… and one priceless one from YT!

Over the course of the next five days, each of these sites is going to give out a $10 gift certificate to a lucky reader who:

  • Likes the DesperateRavings exercise of the day, and / or
  • Completes the DesperateRavings exercise of the day and uploads their three pages on our Facebook HOMEWORK page.

So if I were you — and I were interested in getting a $10 gift certificate — I would upload early and often!

Need some practice? Go like this blog entry now!

Anyway, that is $30 in prizes for the next five days, or the first $150.

At the end of the line — on June 13, 2012 — we are going to assess everyone who has completed all seven assignments.

At that point we will hand out three $50 gift certificates among any cats who have done all seven.

In the unlikely case that only one person has finished all the assignments? That lucky hard-working cat is going to claim all $150!

On top of the $150 from GatheringMagic, LegitMTG, and ManaDeprived, I am personally going to award one hour of coaching / consulting to a fortuitous finisher.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Anyone that finishes all seven Desperate Ravings assignments is going to be eligible for a long-term / permanent writing gig on one of our sponsor sites. We don’t really know how this promotion is going to stick at this point, so we don’t know how that is going to shake out in its entirely, but LegitMTG’s Jonathan Medina has an idea he likes to call:

Desperate Ravings – Flashback

More on that when we get there!

Prizes, In Summary:

Five $10 gift certificates from GatheringMagic
Five $10 gift certificates from LegitMTG
Five $10 gift certificates from ManaDeprived
… Distributed randomly among those who Like and / or complete Desperate Ravings assignments

Three $50 gift certificates from GatheringMagic / LegitMTG / and ManaDeprived distributed among those who complete all seven Desperate Ravings assignments

One one-hour call from YT, to one all-seven-assignments completer as well.

And for those who want to land a long-term gig… the next step is: Desperate Ravings – Flashback!

Desperate Ravings Calendar:

  • June 4, 2012 – (today) Desperate Ravings assignment #1, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants from the good people at GatheringMagic, LegitMTG, and ManaDeprived!
  • June 5, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #2, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 6, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #3, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 7, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #4, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 8, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #5, $30 in gift certificates to Like-ers and contest participants
  • June 9, 2012 – Desperate Ravings assignment #6
  • June 10, 2012 – Last Desperate Ravings assignment, #7
  • June 12, 2012 – Everything is due! Shortly thereafter we will finalize the $50 prizes, coaching call, and the possibility of Desperate Ravings – Flashback.

Today’s Assignment – The First One’s Free

Since I already made you read 1,000 words explaining what Desperate Ravings is, I decided to be super kind on the first assignment. It’s a short segment from Gwen Stefani’s solo hit Early Winter.

What to Do:

  1. Copy down the following short excerpt from Early Winter, 1) by hand, 2) three times.
  2. Upload your work to the Desperate Ravings Facebook HOMEWORK Page.
  3. That’s it!

Why?

Why do you act so stupid?

Why?

You know that I’m always right.

That’s it!

Writing out this entire assignment shouldn’t even take five minutes.

I am going to be doing these with you every day. Here’s mine!

You want prizes? You want to grow up to be a fabulously influential Magic personality? Get to it already! These pages ain’t gonna pencil themselves.

Discuss on Twitter at #DesperateRavings

LOVE
MIKE

Weird Note on Facebook:
Facebook is weird. I mean we all love Facebook but it is em effin’ weird about some stuff. Ergo, we have two Facebook locations.

Visit the Desperate Ravings Sponsors:


Why I Don’t Like Avacyn, Angel of Hope


No, I don’t like Avacyn, Angel of Hope. More on this later.

Yesterday was an absolutely epic day here in Five With Flores land.

243 Facebook Likes? Are you m-f’ing kidding me?

We crushed any and all all-time records with well over 10,000 visits. And why?

No effin’ clue.

I literally saw Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded circa 6am when my toddling monsters awoke me from my Thursday evening slumber, and decided to comment based on — if you read yesterday’s blog post — what I saw as some unnecessarily reductive forum posts.

Was I a little too harsh?

Maybe.

But it’s not like this is the New York Times or something; if one can’t be self-indulgent on one’s own blog, where can one?

Over 300,000 people have visited Five With Flores over the past four years or so, but we have never welcomed 10,000 of them in a single day before, not even when being linked to by ye olde Mother Ship. Was the universe just trolling me on account of it being Friday the 13th?

Don’t care.

Thank you any and all for validating me, per usual.

At this point, I would like to thank my Twitter friend Scott MacCallum, better known as @MrScottyMac. A short time ago I appeared on — to be frank — a surprisingly unpopular episode of Scott’s podcast The Eh Team.

I am a “what’s great about this problem?” kind of person, and took something really compelling out of that appearance, which is that all The Eh Team guys talked about loving this blog, and lamented that I had let updating it slip since, you know, December of last year… Scott in particular.

So if Scott (and KYT, Medina, and Jay) didn’t give me a little push, I might not have ever had a day like yesterday.

Quid Pro Quo, Scott recently did an interview at Medina’s site LegitMTG (“what is LegitMTG?”) that he asked me to look at. I actually enjoyed this interview. I think you should visit LegitMTG and read it.

Summon Legend: Scott MacCallum

Things I really liked:

  • Scott taught his son to read via Magic: The Gathering cards (he saw how much fun they were having and wanted to join in)
  • Actually the whole thing was heartfelt; I learned lots of stuff about Scott I didn’t know, despite chatting with him regularly and listening to quite a few episodes of his cast for the past handful of years… Well worth the read.

Things that could have been better:

  • Not enough michaelj. Sure, Scott says that I was a podcast inspiration and that being able to chat with me on Twitter was cool… But most of you on Twitter know that I will chat with most anyone there! Examples for improvement: 1) naming me as the hero of his story (over the ridiculous choice of Brian Kibler), 2) drafting me for his “surviving the Zombie Apocalypse” team, or 3) at least mentioning Top 8 Magic in his favorite podcasts!

    … But hey, we all have room for improvement 🙂

On the subject of fellow Twitter folk / podcasters / personalities elsewhere, Chris Lansdell of Horde of Notions recently did a nice write-up of deck design principles he learned from me (and some other guys but I don’t remember who any of them are).

One thing I find to be super ingenious and super useful is anything that is both blatantly obvious and true being said in plain language. I absolutely love stuff that has some people saying “well, duh…” You know why? Because even if something is obvious to you, that doesn’t mean that it is obvious to everyone, and especially in a game as fast-growing as Magic, we have new players who are eager to learn joining our ranks every day.

This is what I am talking about in Chris’s post:

“It’s a fundamental truth that the power of your spells increases with the mana cost, at least when it comes to tournament-quality cards.”

I was talking about a very similar concept in the most recent Top 8 Magic podcast *, specifically why I don’t like Avacyn, Angel of Hope.

Most of my compatriots were talking about how she has a lot of board presence. Yeah. Congratulations. She costs eight. If I am spending eight, I don’t want an “indestructible” creature that dies to Tragic Slip. My God, Vapor Snag is probably the most common creature control card being played in Magic: The Gathering right now.

“Well you probably aren’t paying full retail for it.”

Well if I am reanimating… Or I am paying eight, and I am allowed to play Avacyn Restored cards, why do I have dumb Avacyn, Angel of Hope in my deck rather than Griselbrand?


“Pick me! Pick me!” -Griselbrand

Even the most Spreading Santorum-leaning conservative player can, you know, gain seven to pad HIS life total a bit before paying the seven to, you know, completely take over the game.

“One of these things is not like the others.”
-Aaron Forsythe
(when the DailyMTG fans were voting on Crucible of Worlds versus other, less card advantageous, options)

Anyway, Chris’s plainly spoken statement pretty much echoed what I was thinking about last week, and as you know, that gives you like +1 points in my book.

Check out Chris’s blog post and see where you can agree, disagree, or just pick out michaelj name-drops (also an admirable way to spend a Saturday evening).

Last “everywhere” in this roundup: AJ Sacher put up a blog post on EV and how to deal with girls, possibly “for whom you care deeply” (AJ’s terminology).

A Tale of Expected Value

I would recommend clicking the above and checking out AJ’s story before reading this next bit.

I have been in similar spots, especially early on in my dating / married life to / with Katherine. One thing that women I dated found odd about me — and I don’t know if this is the same with you or what — but they often didn’t understand the adversarial / competitive relationships I had with some of my best friends. Think about how you deal with some of your best buds… Many of mine are duels of oneupsmanship, or running beats, shenanigans, or dirty tricks on each other. Who’s the barn? Who’s the hull? Different question: Who’s winning? How do we keep score?

In AJ’s spot I hope I would have recognized the communication disconnect and just acceded to her. It is just simpler to let her thank the other guy than inadvertently step on feelings. If there is one thing marriage has taught me, it is that avoiding conflict is generally more desirable than “being right” (or perceived as right).

Anyway, summary of everywheres:

* Oh, and one more thing… New Top 8 Magic Podcast is up at MTGCast!

Part 1 :: Part 2

Thanks for reading, etc.

LOVE
MIKE

The Long-Awaited Smoke and Guns Review

Concerning: Smoke and Guns by Kirsten Baldock and Fabio Moon

Smoke and Guns is like no other graphic novel.

It is almost like a Wes Anderson film. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson say that when they make their movies, they try to describe a world that follows the rules they like, rather than the rules of the real world.

Smoke and Guns — without ever really coming out and saying so — kind of imagines a prohibition-esque world where beautiful girls sell cigarettes on the street… and lethally guard their street corners and local bar real estate with… you know… guns.

Kirsten Baldock was herself a real-life cigarette girl before writing this graphic novel… Though I assume the more conventional type rather than one of the heat-packing adventurettes depicted in this story; you get this sense of sisterhood and hidden knowledge and almost pride from reading the book that you might not expect given the plot.

Smoke and Guns follows the story of ambitious cigarette girl Scarlett who gets into trouble picking a fight with another merry (and murderous) band of cigarette girls, ends up hostess-ing the wrong party after she is disciplined by her madame-esque cigarette-hawking boss-lady, and ultimately excites a gang war. She is not so much the hero as the protagonist for no other reason than the story mostly follows her. I mean she has a really big chip on her shoulder and I think you want to cheer for her in the same way that you want to cheer for Tony Soprano versus any of the other dirtbags and murderers who happen to share screen-time with him. Beautiful? Yes. Nice? Not so much. You get the feeling that Scarlett has everything coming to her, but she has enough Indiana Jones to her that you don’t care.

Pretty girl, pretty girls, cigarettes, turf war… that’s it?

If it sounds like a thoroughly superficial story… It is.

Yet it’s freaking great!

Smoke and Guns moves with a rare velocity in modern comics. Fabio Moon’s visual storytelling can flow from frame-by-frame, panel-by-panel description of a single cigarette being lit, to ice cold ultra-violence, gun-play, and grenades lobbed between nubile cancer-peddlers. The story tries very hard to be crass — cigarette girls dressing up as everything from sexy nurses to Chun-Li from Street Fighter — but it manages to be demeaning… never. Really never. The book is so overloaded with girl power, the fact that the violent participants are also sexy kind of never comes up.

In that sense, it is a storytelling triumph.

Of course I found this indie book because of Fabio Moon, previously mentioned in my Ursula review. Smoke and Guns was Moon’s first work without his brother Gabriel Ba; and it is well worth the look.

While no one is going to mistake this quick read for Watchmen, Smoke and Guns really does have something unique going for it. It is one of my favorite graphic novels, I read it several times a year, and love almost every page (the Chun-Li stuff is sadly more cheddar than cheesecake).

You can get it for a whopping $1.49 on Amazon 🙂

LOVE
MIKE