Our Fall fresh big comics and graphic novels reading list for 2020

What a year it’s been, with just a few more months to go. A fun escape into new comic worlds might really help with that.

The global pandemic and related problems will likely stretch the anxieties and effects of social isolation further down for many. It’s a strange time for comic book fans, with shipping schedules interrupted and companies thrown into turmoil with comic stores and retail book outlets struggling.

But the sequential arts are still out there, waiting to be discovered and pushed. Many creators, artists, writers, and publishers have not quite backed down. They push and promote through “virtual” comic conventions, and still have fresh and exciting stuff to share.

So, give the digital screens and social media a break soon. Check your local new comics outlet, be it near or mail order online. Seek what’s new and exciting for whatever money you may have. Finding a fresh read has a wonderful joy that can take you away to a more thrilling place.

So, I have a guide below of some hand-picked comic volume trade paperbacks and graphic novels, either recently released or set for the next few weeks of October. Each is based on peer reviews, personal anticipations, celebrated creative talent, interesting interpretations, awesome art, and storytelling worthy of your attention.

So here we go (keep in mind, the following info is for tailored for United States releases).

(Orion T, aka Captain Stranger notes – Also, I am adding in personal commentary highlighted in blue).

Olympia

Writer: Curt Pires
Artist: Alex Diotto, Dee Cunniffe, Christian Ward
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Retail Price: $16.99 Age Rating: 16+ Format: softcover 176 pages

Elon is a latchkey kid who spends his days alone reading comic books-until his favorite superhero, Olympian, comes crashing off the page and into reality! But as he nurses his wounded and delirious hero back to health, he discovers Olympian isn’t the only thing that came through… something evil followed him. A comedic yet heartfelt love letter to the comics medium, Olympia is also a meditation on hope and loss, conceived by Curt Pires (Wyrd) and his father, Tony Pires, while Tony was undergoing treatment for cancer. Collects OLYMPIA 1-5 and Bonus Material.

I love this series, and also the main reason I put this on the top of my recommend list here. It’s got humor, action, twists, and a whole lot of heart. It’s just a fun little serialized story that honors the joys of escapism, while dealing with harsh realities. It’s got a lot of fun nods to comics past (especially Jack Kirby), and where it should be in the future. Also, love the coloring and art.

Victory Point

Writer/Artist: Owen Pomery
Publisher:  Avery Hill Publishing
Release Date: October 14th, 2020
Retail Price: $18.95 Format: paperback 80 pages

On a summer’s day, Ellen returns to the coastal town she grew up in, the picturesque, yet architecturally strange, Victory Point. Revisiting old haunts and people from her past, she feels increasingly disconnected from her previous life, and exhausted by the constant struggle of trying to forge the path ahead. Exploring a town, which itself is an experiment in how to live, Ellen searches for some comfort in her own history that might just give her the strength to move forward.

Victory Point quietly explores the idea of how we choose to live and be remembered, asking whether we should strive for a higher calling, or if a simple, domestic legacy is the most honest and admirable achievement we can hope for.  And if the land from which we disembark feels as alien as the one we hope to reach, how does anyone make their peace with a life amongst the ever-changing  ocean waves?

I love the art and style. And there is something oddly appealing about its approach, which also involves my love of travel and exploration.

Gunning For Ramirez, Volume 1

Writer/Artist: Nicolas Petrimaux
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: September 30 2020
Retail Price: $16.99 Age Rating: 16+ Format: paperback , 144 pages

Falcon City, Arizona. Jacques Ramirez works at Robotop, the leading home appliance company in the Southwest United States. Jacques is efficient, thorough, and discreet. That last one is easy: he’s also mute. But everything changes when two members of one of Paso del Rio’s largest drug cartels stumble upon Jacques and believe him to be the deadly hitman who betrayed them in the past: the ruthless Ramirez. Could it be that the cartel’s legendary clean-up man is really a legendary vacuum cleaner expert?

Nicolas Petrimaux presents the first in a trilogy—a tribute to the action thrillers of the 1980s and ’90s, a brutal narrative with never a dull moment. Gunning for Ramirez is as much a descendant of Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. as it is Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction or Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy.

It’s got style, with some awesome layouts and coloring. Some of the odd elements makes appeal as something fresh and different, rather than a usual drug cartel drama with the usual expectations. I am looking forward to reading this soon.

Heartbeat

Writer/Artist: Maria Llovet
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Release Date: October 6, 2020
Retail Price: $16.99 Age Rating: 15+ Format: softcover 184 page

IF NO ONE IS INNOCENT, IS ANYONE TRULY GUILTY? Eva, a high school outcast, finds herself witness to a horrible secret: the most popular boy in school enjoys the taste of blood and will kill to get his hands on it. Horrified and intrigued, Eva lets herself be pulled into Donatien’s macabre world. He offers the escape she has been looking for…but how much is Eva willing to betray her moral code in order to find something that gives her life meaning? And will she—or Donatien—ever find redemption? Acclaimed writer and artist Maria Llovet (Faithless) presents a dark, violent, decadent, and disturbing story in which life and death, blood and love are inextricably intertwined. Collects Heartbeat #1-5 for mature audiences.

High school based horror is always fun. I heard great things about this, and I need some fresh horror for October. Definitely worth checking out!

I Hope This Helps: Comics and Cures for 21st Century Panic

Writer/Artist: Tommy Siegel
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Retail Price: $16.99 Format: softcover, 208 pages

Tommy Siegel’s debut book collection includes 200+ pages of comics, essays, and extremely helpful guides to coping with 21st-century panic. With comics titled “Choose your social anxiety coping mechanism” and “What your coffee drink of choice says about you,” I Hope This Helps offers clever and sardonic commentary on our phone-obsessed, social media-driven culture, as well as a series of devastatingly funny relationship comics starring his popular Candy Hearts characters.

Tommy Siegel’s comics began as doodles in the back of a van as a touring rock musician, and quickly earned a viral global fanbase and shout-outs from cultural heavyweights ranging from Ringo Starr to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. With a perfect balance of absurd humor and insightful writing, I Hope This Helps outlines the journey from the author’s earliest “van doodles” all the way to the socially-distanced awkwardness of the present day.

With every little bit of suffering, that needs to be some humor and satire to help with the hard time. I love the cartoon style and humor of Tommy Siegel, especially from his Twitter feed, @TommySiegel.

Tartarus, Volume 1

Writer: Johnny Christmas
Artist: Jack T. Cole
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Retail Price: $16.99 Age Rating: all ages Format: paperback 176 pages

When Surka, a ruthless criminal warlord, escapes her prison pit, she unleashes a wave of destruction that ripples across Tartarus, a vital colony in an everlasting galactic war. Years later when Tilde, a young cadet, learns that she’s Surka’s daughter, will she continue to fight on the side of galactic order or reclaim her mother’s dark crown?

I just started reading this recently, and I really love the world-building and epic grand story going on here. It’s a got a fresh space opera feel to it, with a mix of what I missed from great science fiction space stories – grit, action, and some well-paced character development.

Barbarella

Writer/Artist: Jean-Claude Forest
Publisher: Humanoids
Release Date: October 20th, 2020
Retail Price: $22.99 Format: paperback 160 pages

Jean-Claude Forest’s timeless Erotic Sci-Fi series recounting the spatial adventures of the beautiful titular character is now available in a brand new English-language adaptation. In Book 1 (first collected in 1964), Barbarella’s spaceship breaks down, she finds herself trapped on the planet Lythion. There, she has a series of adventurous, and bawdy, encounters with a variety of strange beings, from robots to angels. In Book 2, “Wrath of the Minute-Eater” (first published in 1974), Barbarella’s traveling Circus Delirium enters another dimension, led by the mysterious and alluring aquaman, Narval, whose machinations catapult Barbarella & Co. into a complex battle for the planet Spectra. Featuring a brand new, contemporary English-language adaptation by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.

I had no idea that the more famous film starring Jane Fonda was based on a French comic series of the same name. This is makes a lot more sense, in recalling the epic weirdness yet awesome style of the movie. And given that based movie adaptations are often watered down versions of original comic stores, this could be an interesting read and interesting treasure.

Henchgirl (Expanded Edition)

Writer: Kristen Gudsnuk
Artist: Kristen Gudsnuk
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: September 29th, 2020
Retail Price: $19.99 Age: 12+ Format: paperback 337 pages

Mary Posa hates her job. She works long hours for little pay, no insurance, and worst of all, no respect. Her coworkers are jerks and her boss doesn’t appreciate her. He’s also a supervillain. Cursed with a conscience, Mary would give anything to be something other than a Henchgirl. This second edition offers the humor and henching you love, along with an extra new Henchgirl story!

I read an older edition some rears ago, and found myself enjoying it more than expected, even laughing out loud at some parts. The art, style, colors are fantastic, and the story has a mix of satire, slapstick, and heart. Highly recommended!

He-Man and the Masters of the Multiverse

Writer: Tim Seeley
Artist: Dan Fraaga, Tom Derenick
Publisher: DC Comics 
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Retail Price: $17.99 Format: paperback 144 pages

The scourge of Anti-Eternia is unleashed on the Multiverse! Blazing a trail across the dimensions, he’s devastating each version of Eternia and stealing its power. Now it’s up to a ragtag team of surviving He-Men to recruit the one man in existence who might save them: Prince Keldor, the man who would be Skeletor! This series brings together the many various iterations of the fan-favorite franchise, including the 1980s Filmation cartoon series and the 2002 animated series and toy line-as the fate of Eternia is at stake! Collects He-Man and the Masters of the Multiverse #1-6.

I am definitely putting this on my list. I am an original fan, and recall some screenshots revealing some fun surprises and expected fan service. I’m a also a fan of any story that merges alternate realities crossing over TV, comics, games, movies. Plus, Tim Seeley is a huge fan of MOTU, so it’s going to be a lot of heartful fun for sure!

Did I miss anything that should be on this list that’s fresh and exciting with sequential art? Have you checked any of these out, and like to share your thoughts? Or has anything here piqued your interest? Let us know in the comments!

Cheering on my SDCC time with Comic-Con@Home

Not even a terrible pandemic can stop the San Diego Comic-Con.

Today, the 51st San Diego Comic Convention begins now, until Sunday. This could set a record for attendance, depending on one’s perspective. Because this year, the whole show is “@Home” and online, as the global-wide pandemic continues to keep large social aspects and gatherings to a minimum.

This pandemic time is difficult for the comic book and related creative industries across all entertainment landscapes. With many shows and events canceling, the news for artists, writers, creators, publishers, distributors has hit hard, especially as venues and storefronts continue to struggle. Yet, many of the same shows reactivate to a virtual, online version with guests, creatives, and a lot of fun people coming together via video conference service and streaming platforms.

The San Diego Comic-Con keeps its grand prestige, with its innovative Comic-Con@Home event. Unlike past cons, this event will be the first 100% free event for all with no registrations, no line, no IDs. Just take a look at what they got, and join in.

I am personally excited, as this will be my 26th year in attendance!

The core of this online event is the many, many discussion panels. Glancing over the many panels, I see the drive that has always made Comic-Con great, with the appeal to inspire and grows its community through discussion and promotion of what’s out there. But, there’s not a lot of A-list celebrity and big studio presence, which feels makes this whole event feel like the old Comic-Con that I came to love in the 1990s. The comic book presence feels strong again too, which I think that industry really needs that attention now.

Here’s my viewing list for the following days:

Thursday, July 23
10:00am-11:00am – P.S. NPC: Storytelling in Video Games
12:00pm-1:00pm – Comics During Clampdown: Creativity In The Time of COVID
2:00pm-3:00pm – SYFY: Untold Tales of Todd McFarlane
3:00pm-4:00pm – Soundtracks to Fandom: Z2 Comics and the Graphic Album
3:00pm-4:00pm – ThunderCats Roar
5:00pm-6:00pm- Breaking Into Comics and Staying In!
Friday, July 24
10:00am-11:00am – “Crazy” Talk: Mental Health, Pop Culture, and the Pandemic
10:00am-11:00am – Pixel Stories – Reimagining Video Game Narrative
12:00pm-1:00pm – Lucasfilm Publishing: Stories From a Galaxy Far, Far Away
4:00pm-5:00pm – VIZ: A Haunting Conversation with Junji Ito
4:00pm-5:00pm – How to Make a Comic From Start to Finish
Saturday, July 25
10:00am-11:00am – UDON Entertainment 20th Anniversary!
10:00am-11:00am – Narrative Design For Computer Games
10:00am-11:00am – Warner Archive’s Secret Origins of Saturday Morning Cartoons
11:00am-12:00pm – From Wakanda to Numbani, Writing the Next Generation of Heroes
2:00pm-3:00pm – IDW in 2020 and Beyond
3:00pm-4:00pm – Authors on the Best Advice I Ever Got
3:00pm-4:00pm – Best and Worst Manga of 2020
5:00pm-6:00pm – What’s New In Small Press Comics
5:00pm-6:00pm – Mexican Lucha Libre: History, Tradition, Legacy
Sunday, July 26
12:00pm-1:00pm – The Craft of Worldbuilding in Comics
1:00pm-2:00pm – Kevin Eastman Panel
1:00pm-2:00pm – Mega64 Panel In These Trying Times
3:00pm-4:00pm – Making A Living Being Creative
3:00pm-4:00pm – The Writer’s Journey: Developing a Producer’s Mentality

For living viewing, I will have to make some tough decisions.

There are also collectible show exclusives again, watch parties, costume contest via Tumblr, virtual art shows, portfolio reviews, the Eisner Industry Awards, the annual Blood Drive, and many more activities. All of which are on the official site.

This Comic-Con has a lot going on.

In addition to official events, we have our Comic-Con involvement with our newly built Stranger Worlds Discord Server, with a special sub-channel for Comic-Con. We will share news from more news from the show in the following days as well. Come and join us!

So dive right in and share in the joy that is the Comic-Con@Home, wherever you are!

Short Film Find: Laws of the Universe

Laws of the Universe

  • Director: Chris Mangano
  • Writer: Adam Aresty
  • Published: June 25, 2020 as a short film exclusive from DUST

Synopsis: An inmate is trapped in his prison cell after an extraordinary circumstance happens beyond his prison walls. With outside forces threatening the ones he loves, he will do anything it takes to escape.

Personal Thoughts:

A most interesting story about a young man serving his time, but looking to make a change, biding his time for the future, excepting his isolation in the meantime. But, he doesn’t seem to be a cold-blooded killer, and has a kind heart with humane prospects, as we see though aspects of his room decor and phone conversations. He killed someone, but for reasons that suggest his own sense of justice, but he lives with the guilt in a system that judged him.

But a much bigger story in the outside world changes the conditions of his small room within, by too much. I love the contrast of those outside his micro prison, seemed to be affected less. He is forgotten, and you see his agony through a low deprivation of food, electricity, contact.

But he sees on chance for a way out, though someone who seems to care less for his plight, but with the means for an escape. He goes for his one chance through alien tech, and its gratifying when he takes advantage. The tech at the same time, is a tool of a different system, granting him that much needed extra chance. But to get that, he uses the one thing he does have to his advantage, and that’s the fear he conveys as an imprisoned Black male. That works very well.

What happens is the important resolution of this story, just be his freedom, and that’s enough. But, I also like how he holds on to the alien tech, as a sense of newfound responsibility, likely will put it better use than the former user, who I think probably stole it. Still, there’s much potential for more story with this odd new tech. Many problems can be solves, and created with this.

I love the acting, done very well by the star, Sidney Lawrence Brown, Jr. The use of light, angles, spacing with much of the film being restricted to a very small. And, then the refreshing contrast at the end, to a beautiful, very open world where the alien ship places little less.

Nintendo beats to chill by and Quarantinendo to

Through life, there is a constant of in video games with the style of music that Nintendo brings. So many games, beautiful soothing, mood setting tones that can be both epic yet peacefully soothing.

Anyone that’s ever played a Nintendo hit game from the original Super Mario Brothers to the new Animal Crossing, will probably have some tunes stuck in their head from time to time. The most frequent in mine is the Overworld Theme from Super Mario World for the SNES. I probably just put it in your head just now, if you played it as much as I have (a lot!).

There are so many great game track tunes, and variations of such remixed in later editions and by fans worldwide. Thanks to many internet resources, most are easily found. Some are waiting to be discovered. No game needed, just perfect for long moments of solitude, studying, organizing, creative development, and quarantine during a long pandemic.

Here is that time where all the above is relevant, and we could use some Nintendo tunes to sooth our minds. Below is some selections for you. Some you know, some you maybe forgot, some fans know and redid, some with additive flavor. Dig in, and enjoy this curated mix of long mixes!

Super Smash Bros Ultimate – Best Of Music Mix

Chosen because the Smash Brothers brand in its purity, has the best orchestral mix celebrating all that is majestic about the familiar tunes many will never forget.

Zelda and Chill

Lofi hip-hop beats produced by German beat-maker Mikel and mastered by Philadelphia based Dj CUTMAN. It’s a nice mixture, and something different for the series most dedicated fans to enjoy!

Relaxing and Calming Music From Super Mario Series

The Super Mario Brothers is the pinnacle of Nintendo musical poetry, always help setting the mood and giving the mushroom a surreal beautiful tone.

Poke and Chill

Got to catch them all! These are various compositions from past Pokemon games, remixed German beat-maker Mikel and mastered by Philadelphia based Dj CUTMAN (same who did Zelda and Chill). Amazing freakin stuff!

Relaxing Earthbound/Mother 2 Music

Earthbound (aka Mother 2) is one of those games that every video game fanatic should eventually play in life. Its beautiful and wondrous with a little bit of 90s experimental electronic beat thrown in. Some of those tracks have special secrets, giving a little extra dimension for deep listeners.

Ambient Relaxing Music From Metroid Series

Nintendo shows us that even a dark, dangerous world of aliens and space weaponry can be a place for haunting, yet soothing music pulling us deeper into other, stranger worlds.

Donkey Kong and LOFI

Whaaat?! Listen and add it to your favorites. That’s what! A masterful remix from a variety of artists. It’s a real treat for any Kong….bananas for your soul!

1 Hour of Relaxing Animal Crossing New Horizons Music + Rain Sounds

Personally, I never played any of the Animal Crossing crossing. But the music, I hear from gaming radio stations and curated playlists gives a calm, setting tone to which I think adds to the series success. Here’s some relaxing Animal Crossing New Horizons game tracks, but with some soothing rain added.

Enjoy, stay well, and be chill out there!

May the 4th, Revenge of the 5th, and so on be with you…

Happy Star Wars Day, even though it will over by the time you read this…

Yet, the many of us don’t stop really enjoying and appreciating those Star Wars.

Star Wars is with us forever. What a silly thing this science fiction franchise does for us! So many among love the characters, get deep into its expansive lore, praise, or groan emotionally at creative turns through the years across all mediums. And how remarkable and surprising was that Star Wars: Clone Wars finale? 10 out of 10 lightsabers up for me!

What is it about Star Wars appeals to so many beyond its initial groundbreaking movies from decades ago? There’s a huge plethora of cool creatures, spaceships, robots, action with laser swords and laser pistols. There’s weird space politics, mystical religions, various cultures, and lifestyles that keep growing with the many more movies, games, serials, books, whatever else.

My three favorite Star Wars movie are The New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi…the original trilogy!

My three favorite Star Wars comic series is the Star Wars Tales (Dark Horse anthology), Darth Vader (the first Marvel series run), and Tag and Bink are Dead.

My three Star Wars video games is Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Knights of the Old Republic, and the Super Nintendo trilogy (I group all three games as a singular experience!).

My Three favorite Star Wars books are the Heir to the Empire Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. That’s all I recall enjoying in the 90s and haven’t read any more since. But, I hear there’s a lot of great ones centered around the new sequels lately.

I can go on with other favorite Star Wars, but another time because the time is too late now.

I believe it’s the binding and bonds between established characters. There are ongoing themes about friendships, family, rivalries, comradery, and the sense that we are all connected no matter how far apart in planets we are. You can be a farmer, a robot, a princess, a bounty hunter, a soldier, a wizard, a princess, a knight. Somehow, there’s a possible connection in the universe for anyone to partake. Then go on an adventure, discover something about yourself or others, check out an environment opposite of your familiar zones, get the rush of an exciting and very high stakes battle. From all, gain something new for surviving the experience. Star Wars is just a fascinating thing that happens through its pop culture that will never end as long as humanity enjoys the escapism that science fiction brings us together.

May the Force be with you, always!

The Star Wars playing cards in the picture are from the Theory11 company. Great quality and I recommend giving them a purchase at theory11.com.

Creator Spotlight Interview: LJ Phillips on his Iron Nail Afternoon, a new indie urban fantasy comic story

Meet LJ Phillips, a creative artist from eThekwini, a growing city off the coast of South Africa. After training under one of Africa’s leading political cartoonists, LJ worked as an art lecturer and now runs a small local studio. He’s had four solo exhibitions, showcasing mostly surrealistic ink-and-pen artwork. His work in comics grew from recent comic anthologies, along with short stories showing in various publications.

LJ is especially excited this week. He released a new world of his creation, written and drawn, with a mix of urban noir, fantasy within the pages of first published comic series, Iron Nail Afternoon. The first issue is now available digitally online via Comixology.

This new series takes place in the Iron Nail – a red-light district in a floating city, maintained by supernatural enforcers known as Sheriffs. The most feared of these is Sed Stonehaven. On just one shattering day, he falls prey to his worst enemy…his own temper.

Iron Nail Afternoon was initially released as a webcomic, published a few pages at a time. The first issue is the accumulation of that work, and more. LJ has big plans for an ongoing story, yet aims for self-contained parts of an interconnected narrative.

Special note: Iron Nail Afternoon is intended for mature audiences only, much in the same vein as Saga, Sandman, The Wicked + The Divine, Hellblazer, Preacher.

We had a short online interview with LJ Phillips on the week of the release of Iron Nail Afternoon, to share in the excitement of opening his new world and the creative process, insight of its foundation.

Hello LJ, tell us a little about your background and what influenced the creation of Iron Nail Afternoon?

LJ Phillips: I formerly worked in the private security sector – doing some bodyguard work, as a bouncer, stuff like that. This allowed me to save up enough to attend art school on a partial scholarship.  In my former profession, there was a heavy emphasis on brotherhood but of course, this brotherhood could be conditional. There was also a lot of blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, discrimination against interracial relationships and so on. Which gave me the key concept behind the Iron Nail Afternoon series. What happens to the hard cases who get excluded from the world of tough guys? Where do they end up?

What were the greatest joys in the world-building and creative processes in Iron Nail Afternoon? 

LJ Phillips: Developing the main protagonists. The Governor had a deprived childhood. As an adult, she enjoys having power and pleasure on her terms. Jekkel is the most dangerous of the three protagonists but also the most vulnerable. What he really wants is to be loved.  And Sed is…Sed. He’s a big personality – he booms. Because of this, it’s easy for others to underestimate his intelligence and his loyalty to his friends. When we finally meet Sed’s brother, he’s the complete opposite – quiet, intense, fastidious.  It’s fun to put them in different situations and work out how they would act. Their choices and reactions are what drive the narrative. The world-building is important because it provides them with a setting and limitations on what they can and can’t do to accomplish their goals.

What were the greatest challenges?

LJ Phillips: Working even when you don’t feel inspired. Acquiring and continually developing the required skill set. Creating a comic, like any job, can be a hard bloody slog. It’s also important not to get obsessed with vanity numbers i.e. online views and followers. These don’t necessarily translate into profits/reliable fanbase and they’re not an accurate reflection on an artist’s ability or lack thereof. Tyler James – of ComixTribe – discussed the issue in one of his superb podcasts ; it really helped put things into perspective for me.  Another big challenge is being disciplined when writing a fantasy comic.  You have to avoid relying on magic as a form of deus ex machina. In Iron Nail Afternoon,  most of the magical elements have real-life equivalents or practical applications. For example, instead of cell phones, there are crystal balls. 

The use of colors and composition aided in the art for Iron Nail Afternoon are wonderous. What influences come to mind in developing the look and feel of Iron Nail Afternoon? 

LJ Phillips: The work of Enki Bilal, notably his Nikopol trilogy. In it, he managed to create an entire sci fi world – one of great beauty and desolation – and do so with a restrained palette and spare art style.

What do you feel Iron Nail Afternoon brings to readers looking for a fresh escape from our problems of the current global pandemic?

LJ Phillips: The series deals with issues we all face – growing older, prejudice, disappointment in love, sibling rivalry  – but it deals with them on a larger-than-life scale. Hopefully readers will find a lot that’s relatable but because of the fantasy elements, the Iron Nail Afternoon series will also provide some welcome escapism as well. Plus it has dragons. Who doesn’t like dragons?

Stranger Worlds thanks LJ Phillips for his time and insight on his new world of Iron Nail Afternoon, now available on Comixology. Here are a few more preview pages…

Earth Day A.D. Visions, toward post-pandemic weirdness

Happy Earth Day!

Today marks another Earth Day this April 22nd. We look to the future while respecting the past, modify our present. The challenge renewed, complicated with the current pandemic changing the atmosphere in many ways. Animals are roaming while, the humans have quieted down, the air is clearing up thanks to the vast reduction of pollutants.

What does this day especially mean? It’s hard to tell in our busy life to pin it all down among the many challenges we share upon this grand ball of life. I think of our science fiction for what comes next—lots of post-nuclear disasters, many dystopian nightmares, and the occasional reach of destiny beyond.

Anything is possible. But, often comes the focus of human prevalence, with a fascination held for the adaptation, though it can be very fantastically far-out.Mostly in agreement, is that the Earth will always change its face to fit the conditions of what we do. I present this fascinating map, produced by the extraordinary hand of Jack Kirby (with the inks and letters by D. Bruce Berry), from the comic book Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth (#32) initially released in 1975.

Behold, the troubles of tomorrow.: The “Mad-Hole,” a mysterious giant Vortex, a fragmented South America, and the map vastly changed. Hopefully, our new animal rulers will have this all sorted out. Could this be Earth’s future?

It’s funny how the Earth changes, yet still does its best to survive the needs of our living creatures. There are many examples of this throughout the most fantastic of Earth-based science fiction and fantasy.

My favorite works of science fiction on a vastly changed Earth are future sets. There are memorable movies in mind, including A.I., the original Planet of the Apes, Mad Max. There are T.V. shows I can’t forget, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead. Some favorite books I never forget on my shelf: The Time Machine, I Am Legend, The Road. I played many video games of an Earth changed by dire global situations (Resident Evil, Fallout, The Last of Us). And there are countless comic books read of an Earth changed by human conflict and drastic status changes in civilization, including Kamandi #32.

Many of the above carry a bleak view upon humanity’s present course, yet remain pushes for individuals to carry on. For those needs to happen, there is always a constant call to pull from the Earth’s resources, whether its food, medicine, raw materials, natural shelter, other natural remedies to gather. Such things that save are naturally grown and provided to share among each other. We struggle on, but should always keep in mind the planet that provides. This day and all forward, we should at least appreciate it. Then, take care and maintain its overall system.

We do that, and our Earth will be ready to take care of us, or the zombies, or our ape masters. At least it will be there someone else to appreciate.

How the trending #SixFanarts challenge helps art communities in this tough time

What is the #SixFanarts art challenge? It’s a collective new trend hitting the comics art community, and a testament of social media beauty for a tough time.

Amid this terrible COVID-19 crisis and quarantines in significant areas, an incredible little challenge has grown from the heart of the fan art artistic community in mid-March. This challenge is simple, as the template says below (as started by artist comic book Melissa Capriglione through her Twitter account @mcapriglioneart). Post the templates. ask for six characters to draw, then follow through on requests:

The result has been noticeably impressive for many reasons. It initially gives a fresh challenge to try something new, gives their perspective on a beloved pop culture icon, or show appreciation for something a little more obscure. The process offers range across mediums of the graphic arts, cinema, serialized work, interactive games, and much more. The exercise encourages communication between fans and artists, finding out more of just what the audience enjoys. Maybe seeing your favorite artists take on something different that caters to something different in the realms of geek culture can catch by surprise. Sometimes, the artist’s interpretation can shed new artistic light on a favored character. The finished work gives indie artists some fresh exposure through the hashtag and ties the community closer. It’s timeliness is also helping artists cope through this very difficult time.

#SixFanarts is a remarkable trend, which I hope it carries for much longer. It will also help bridge various sub-genres of pop cultures, closer together. In the meantime, here are some favorite results across Twitter. Note the creative use of lettering, space, and composition on some.

And there is are many more posted finished pieces across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and more to check out just by searching the #SixFanarts. With that, I encourage anyone who appreciates fan art to check out, discover new artists, and help support the community.

And try it yourself. Here is the template…

Reach out, see what you can do, and be ready to surprise yourself and others!

In memory of the Konami Code, a life hack symbol from Kazuhisa Hashimoto

UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT RIGHT, B, A (and then Start usually)

For my life forward, that famous Konami Code known among classic video gaming enthusiasts, shall remain a part of my continual development. That was my first cheat into a grand system, for a secret shortcut can provide the best path to victory, in dealing with stacked unfavorable odds in the way.

Thank much to the code creator Kazuhisa Hashimoto, long-time video game developer, programmer, and producer of many Konami published games, who recently passed away on February 25, 2020, at 61 years of age. He remains well-known among game history enthusiasts, as the person who implemented a sequence of button presses intended for early Konami-published games for the 8-bit original Nintendo Entertainment System. The result of this sequence would give the player special advantages, such as extra lives or power-ups, to help finish a difficult game.

The sequence meant for play-testers in the development of his first game Gradius. The develops left the code within the game, to avoid possible glitches and disruptions in its complex program. This code was used in other games by Konami at the time, and eventually discovered by the public, and shared.

This nostalgic code is an odd note for one person to be remembered, after passing away. It’s referenced often, and well-known to many hard-core gamers of every generation, as a nostalgic footnote into the complex history of interactive games. What made the Konami Code special? There were many cheat codes and game hacks at the time, usually shared in gaming magazines and tip books. But the Konami Code, so unforgettable though history

For me, it was a symbol of my upbringing with the glory days of Nintendo’s 8-bit era. I lived a less-privileged childhood, often hustling in the deep urban city streets of San Francisco for money. Nearly every NES video game of my early collection, I saved up for, from doing small errands for some street artists around Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a hard early life not depending on my parents for money, but I found my way through an advantage of many there knowing my parents, thus trusting me with their money.

My Nintendo collection grew, with much money earned on my own. After the included Super Mario/Duck Hunt game, I purchased Blaster Master, Legend of Zelda, Contra, Life Force, others including the first Final Fantasy game on the day it was released. But, going back to Contra, I would find a special fixation.

Contra was an awesome side-scrolling shoot-em-up game, an epitome of 80’s macho space marine commando types sent to stop some sinister hybrid army of enemy soldiers and nasty space aliens. That game was difficult for me at that time. Yet, I felt obsessed with finishing its programmed conclusion eventually. I had rescued Princess Toadstool from King Koopa, defeated Ganon twice, triumphed over mutant overlords, and street gang bosses. But saving the Earth by dodging a hail of bullets, traps, claws, lasers, and everything else in between seemed impossible on less than three lives and limited continues.

I would learn through an old Nintendo Power magazine, of some cool secret code that gives 30 extra lives to one playing Contra. Just use that secret Konami code with special directions on your Nintendo Control Pad, and there you go. You can save the Earth on much easier terms.

And that I did, finally ending the game to a somewhat satisfying end. I would tell my friends, share at school, proudly share the mighty secret that Contra the game can be beaten, with this super-secret code. And then, I discovered and shared the same code in other Konami published games, usually in Gradius and Contra sequels.

But something happened with repeat plays that original Contra, and my love later for the Gradius games. I got really good, especially with Gradius III on the Super Nintendo. I could play that on the hardest mode, and lose 0-3 lives in one single play without a single continue. Yet, I had to punch in that code, to bring that satisfaction of added safety, or…

Maybe a small reminder of just how much power I had before the game begins. Nothing felt hidden from me that could otherwise be found, and perhaps that’s the real power of the Konami Code, where it was applicable.

And then, much else difficulty in systematic design seemed less unfair. Never look at the obvious in front of you, as an impossible puzzle. See what else there is, and especially look out for cheat codes in some metaphorical sense. Cheat codes in that sense were should be legal, yet not well known to the general public for obtaining tough objectives in difficult times. That for me would include applying for free school credits in community college through proving my lack of income, discovering tax fixes leading to a bigger refund, volunteering to do press work that would get me into special events, with free food and sometimes free places to stay. So much more, from all this, leading me to survive in the most difficult times.

So thank you Kazuhisa Hashimoto, for creating that memorable, fun way to originally test your games. Having that, lead the way to a path many gamers of hold, can still symbolize for the rest of our lives as that life hack held within.

A look back to the prequel past of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

I love my Star Wars, especially in the hands and hearts of creative storytellers.

That’s why I am psyched for the new Star Wars: Clone Wars episodes, with Season 7 coming through on the Disney+ streaming service soon. Also, Dave Filoni, the original show-runner, is taking lead again. Finally, a proper send-off (I hope) to the original Cartoon Network series I felt never got its full respect of the Star Wars overall community, as the best representation and mood of the prequel era. The movies only set the stage, while the Clone Wars TV show was truly the grand epic space opera that George Lucas originally set fort in 1977.

The reasons I believe are obvious after going through the entirety of the TV series, though the art style took some getting used to for the visual part of the appreciation. The stories were a beautiful mix of character development of new and established characters, new legends built, old ones resurfaced, and an overall world-building that made the best sense of the vague references spoken by Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in Episode IV. Multiple award nominations including won Daytime Emmys, top ratings for its time slots, and heavy merchandise sales were further testament to its greatness.

The Clone Wars series focused on the destined paths of unique soldiers, space wizards, mercenaries, political figures; all with a mix of humor, drama, action, and sometimes unexpected philosophy and expansive thinking not often associated with the Star Wars brand.

In my excitement, I would like to share my favorite stories (usually multi-part episode arcs), through its overall progression.

Season 1 – Episode 5

“Rookies

An all around great episode that humanizes the clone warriors, where we see some individual human qualities to Cody, Rex, Fives, and others we get to know not just as soldiers, but as brothers. There is more humanization to these clones, as we can tell them apart from here and beyond. This episode truly brings out what makes this series great and standing well beyond its story progression onto Star Wars: Rebels.

Season 2 – Episode 20-22

Death Trap, R2 Come Home, Lethal Trackdown

A great story where we really get to know the bounty hunter Boba Fett as a great standalone character, as still young but fresh with dedication for revenge against the Jedi master who killed his father, Mace Windu. There’s a great mix of great action, many rogues, and pretty much everything that is fun about Clone Wars. I grew up thinking Boba Fett, was a cool space ninja dude. But, never could figure exactly why from just looking at the movies. He was just there with just enough of a presence to feel there was more to him. Episode II gave gave a little more background, but not enough.

This arc, delivered plenty on the cult character. We learn he was a young character coming to terms with the loss of his father, seeking vengeance, then eventually a meaningful path to himself, perhaps making his father proud eventually, but still selfish to those around him. This story arc sets his path well.

Season 3 – Episode 15-17

Overlords, Altar of Mortis, Ghosts of Mortis

Now this, is a powerful story that delves deep into the mystical side of Star Wars, and the nature of the force. What balance means, and the complexity of the Dark and Light side. This story deals with the Anakin, Ashoka, Obi-Wan drawn to a mysterious place where we meet a family trio of powerful force entities. The Daughter represents the Light, The Son represents the Dark, and the Father represents balance between the two. Anakin is given a difficult choice, and an unsettling vision of the future of what he will become, leaving a dilemma for the Family of Mortis to deal with.

The progression centers to Anakin as the central character in the movies, conflicted and doomed. His relationship to his apprentice becomes more important for the Clone Wars, leading the audience to care and share in his eventual fate, foretold here.

Season 4 – Episodes 7-10

Darkness on Umbara, The General, Plan of Dissent, Carnage of Krell

Wow, this story arch really blows me away. It’s a mix of Apocalypse Now (with the original Walter Murch as the story director) in a galaxy far, far away with twist and turns leading to an epic conclusion.

Even before we get to the main story, there is an amazing CG sequence of war and grit, mixed with classic and modern science fiction organic and mechanical imagery.

Then, we meet the general for the protagonist side, General Krell. He’s a tough Jedi, but then a psychotic murderer. His soldiers eventually must deal with him, an deadly nail-biting showdown. Everything about this arc is epic and truly badass, with an ending that leaves much for the audience to think about.

Season 4 – Episodes 19-22, Season 5 – episode 1

Massacre, Bounty, Brothers. Revenge, Revival

A huge story line revolving around Jedi Padawan turned bounty hunter Asajj Ventress, whose tragedy upon her people sends her on a quest for revenge. There is great development, but the story switches focus to a new character, Savage Opress who ends up on a journey of his own as he finds the remains of his brother Darth Maul, long thought dead in Episode I. He lives, as his brother gives him new life and purpose, making the galaxy a more interesting, and deadlier place. also, the new voice for Darth Maul by Sam Witwer brings a new emotional depth and dark tragic melody to the known Sith.

Season 5 – Episodes 2-5

A War on Two Fronts, Front Runners, The Soft Wars

A great story about intervention in a planet’s dispute and involvement with the Separatists, that is given restraint by the Republic and Jedi Order. Here we meet Saw Guerra, a revolutionary rebel later taking part in the Star Wars: Rogue One movie. His background and this story arc challenges both the viewers and our protagonists that not everything is simply good and evil, as there are moral dilemmas to ponder and sides to take for the Jedi and The Republic, in a conflict that becomes personal for Ahsoka. A tragic twist at the end, builds much towards Saw Guerra’s character, that made his later appearances more meaningful and interesting.

Season 5 – Episodes 6-9

The Gathering, A Test of Strength. Bound for Rescue, A Necessary Bond

A very different perspective to the Jedi Order than the usual conflict melodrama. Here’s its more about what makes a Jedi as a new generation of younglings take center-stage, where Ahsoka takes on a more teacher role. Her maturity feels like it reached full circle here, in a mentor role we will see more of in Rebels. Lots of bonding, but also a building melancholy when thinking about the tragic fates of this next generation.

Season 5, Episodes 14-16

Eminence, Shades of Reason, Shades of Reason, The Lawless

A great continuation of the journey of Darth Maul, as a great complex character with feelings and motivations of his own, reaching beyond the Sith agenda now. This crosses over into the world of Mandalore, with gives more background on the designs of Boba Fett’s armor, and the culture it represents. We also peek more into a potential love interest for Obi-Wan, Duchess Satine. There’s also the Darksaber weapon passed around, which just looks crazy awesome whenever used. The story moves toward more tragedy for both Obi-Wan and Darth Maul, as they both suffer personal losses, leaving them more intertwined than ever.

Season 5 – Episodes 17-20

Sabotage, The Jedi Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Jedi. The Wrong Jedi

The story arc for Clone Wars as a whole to end on, before season 6 brings us to more self-contained side stories. This arc starts off as a murder mystery, but delves deeper into conspiracy and false accusations. In the heart of this, is Ahsoka Tano, who must prove her innocence. The story progression is an awesome mix of twists, action, drama, and revelations that lead for a shocking turning point for Anakin’s apprentice. This will need the most follow-up for Season 7, which I hope connects well to her later appearance in Rebels.

Season 6 – Episodes 1-4

The Unknown, Conspiracy, Fugitive, Orders

Hands down, my favorite Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series story. It’s also very standalone, with enough basis and knowledge of what happens when soldier Fives finds out that he is programmed as a murderous tool for a vast conspiracy well-hidden from him. A concern and paranoia sends him on a revealing journey, to the heart and beginning of his clone production. He, and the audience learn more about Order 66, and to what ends is its purpose. Of course, we know the answer…but seeing it through Fives view and determination is gut-wrenching, exciting, then tragic. Clone Wars has a lot of well-written tragedy.

Season 6: Episode 11-13

Voices, Destiny, Sacrifice

A story that takes the Force to greater mystery with its complexity and mysticism…which sets at ease that it’s all more than midiclorians. The setting for all this is incredible, with a mix of beautiful and haunting visuals. Liam Neeson returns as the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn, whose character journey reaches a far more proper and dignified end. We also have a more humbled Yoda on a quest to learn more, with still much to understand about the Force, This is where the Clone Wars ends, for then but not now.

That’s overall my impressions of Clone Wars, summarized on what and where I found it best. I would like to revisit its series and impact as a while, as I look forward to its completion as the best of what makes Star Wars great.