My favorite comic book, graphic novels reads of 2021

Captain Orion, longtime reader of comics and graphic novels, of strangerworlds.com, writes:

2021 was a quiet year for comic book stores and retail shelves, but the awesome new reads keep coming.

The impact of the ongoing global pandemic continues to affect the industry, creators, publishers. Yet, there the push to keep sequential arts remains perpetual in a forward direction, from and for folks who are passionate for its pure form of art and storytelling. Comic books and graphic novels will never die as long as there are intelligent creatures who can distinguish, interpret, enjoy visual storytelling. But in our present days, that may change in format, and how they are received.

For myself, I am well aware of the new trends of online comics as long form storytelling, particularly with WebToons, and scrolling comics. I do find that evolving form interesting, but found nothing yet that has grabbed me. There are many new webcomics series self-published as well, which I hope to explore in 2022. But for last year, it was all about print and what was available at comic stores, borrowed from friends and local libraries.

I’m often excited if a favorite writer or artist is involved, so there might be a bit bias for how much involved with a read I get. In 2021, I was especially excited to see many favored names prominent on shelves, especially Mark Russell, J.H. Williams III, Naoki Urasawa, Tom Taylor, and more. I also discovered new favorites for the years ahead.

Many of those, I will share below as my best comics and graphic novels of 2021, which I highly recommend for 2022…

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2021

Stray Dogs

Writer: Tomy Fleecs Artist: Trish Forstner, Tone Rodriguez, Brad Simpson
Publisher: Image Comics (limited series)

It’s scary being the new dog. In this suspenseful new series, readers meet Sophie, a dog who can’t remember what happened. She doesn’t know how she ended up in this house. She doesn’t recognize any of these other dogs. She knows something terrible happened, but she just…can’t…recall…Wait! Where’s her lady? Now Sophie has to figure out where she is, what’s happening, and how she’s going to survive this. They say there’s no such thing as a bad dog—just bad owners.

Stray Dogs is an underrated hit and an exhilarating reading experience. By that, I mean looking at the old cartoons. mostly from Disney where house pets and street animals are humanized, to a point of talking and having there own lives. But, also with a realistic approach keeping in mind their physical limits. Stray Dogs brings it all to a creepy extreme, with grisly murder and dark turns where nothing is off the table for the fates of some very cute, talking animals. Throw in some many nail-biting moments, leading to an epic finale. And overall, Stray Dogs is an awesome read.

BEST FANTASY (and NEW) SERIES of 2021

ECHOLANDS

Writer: W. Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III Artist: Dave Stewart, J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

In a bizarre future world that has forgotten its history, a reckless thief, Hope Redhood, holds the key to excavating its dark, strange past—if only she and her crew can escape a tyrannical wizard and his unstoppable daughter. But fate will send them all on a path leading to a war between worlds. Echolands is a landscape format, mythic-fiction epic where anything is possible—a fast-paced genre mashup adventure that combines everything from horror movie vampires to classic mobsters and cyborg elves, to Roman demigods and retro rocket ships. It’s going to be a helluva ride!

This series is a bold mix of magic, technology, world-building, but with a unique feel and presentation, bringing the reader on a dreamy, wild journey. Echolands delivers well with a landscape oriented pages, utilizing J.H. Williams III (which I know well from Batwoman, Promethea) inventive use of panels and transition. It’s all very fast-paced as we follow Hope and friends are in constant danger, but also for the reader to slow-down and really take in beautiful complexities of this strange, fantastic adventure full of interesting concepts. Also, love the extras every issue brings, expanding upon both the insights of the creators and the world of Echolands. This brings what true fantasy should be, without limits and breaking the boundaries of the fantastic.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES of 2021

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Writer: Al Ewing Artist: Simone Di Neo
Publisher: BOOM! Entertainment (monthly Series)

Captain Malik and the crew of the spaceship the Vihaan II are in search of the only resources that matter — and can only be found by harvesting the giant corpses of alien gods that are found on the edge of human space. While other autopsy ships and explorers race to salvage the meat, minerals, and metals that sustain the human race, Malik sees an opportunity to finally break free from this system: by being the first to find a living god. But Malik’s obsession with the gods will push his crew into the darkest reaches of space, bringing them face to face with a threat unlike anything they ever imagined, unless the rogue agent on their trail can stop them first…

This is some crazy cool sci-fi fun, told with modern digital coloring, slick animated style, and fluid storytelling. There’s action mixed with moral reflection on our place in the stars, and the limits sentients ponder on breaking. But also, the story feel believable with space physics and engineering that doesn’t seem like made up nonsense. Our main hero, Captain Malik, is the cosmic romantic with an deep life-story bringing him to the edge of the known, and beginning of the unknown. It’s all a wonderful story unfolding in vibrant color and dramatic faire, giving this hard sci-fi a wicked sharp edge. I look forward to see where this all goes!

BEST COMICS PANELING of 2021

The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human

Writer: Heloise Chochois Artist: Kendra Boileau
Publisher: Graphic Mundi – PSU Press (graphic novel)

A young man has a horrible motorcycle accident. He wakes up in the hospital to discover that one of his arms has been amputated. Then a portrait on the wall of his hospital room begins to speak to him. The subject of the painting introduces himself as Ambroise Paré, the French barber-surgeon who revolutionized the art of amputation. From this wonderfully absurd premise, the two begin an imaginary conversation that takes them through a sweeping history of surgical amputation, from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Unencumbered by pathos or didacticism, this graphic novel explores the world of amputation, revealing fascinating details about famous amputees throughout history, the invention of the tourniquet, phantom limb syndrome, types of prostheses, and transhumanist technologies. Playfully illustrated and seriously funny, The Body Factory is sure to delight anyone interested in the history and future of medicine and how we repair and even enhance the body.

This read is both a wild story journey and a real look at the history, science, psychology of amputations and prosthetics. The story is also psychological, dealing with a protagonist dealing with the loss of his body part, and coming to terms with what comes next. It’s fascinating on that level where the situation can happen to us, what how we can understand, given it’s necessity to history and medical solutions. There are parallels of the fictional, the non-fictional, textbook information, mixed in a strategic placements giving the reader a broader understanding of the subject matter. The Body Factory gives much on this unfortunate situation that amputation brings, yet also giving an enlightened approach on the act of living through fixing ourselves. Telling this through expressive art, story mixed with information through this inventive, entertaining style, is awesome.

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES of 2021

Superman: Red and Blue

Writer/Artist: (Various)
Publisher: DC Comics (limited series)

Around the world, everyone knows that when they see a red-and-blue streak in the sky, it’s not a bird…it’s not a plane…it’s Superman. Collected for the first time in its entirety, this unforgettable anthology series showcases fresh new visions of the Man of Steel in his two signature colors!

A series of very diverse stories about Superman, sometimes from different perspectives, that give a fresh look at a character that some would think all has been done to. Those people would be wrong. There are some very interesting takes on Superman, his strengths and weaknesses, and what helped make him so iconic. All of these stories, with an artistic challenge where only red and blue colors used. I loved every issues, and excited to read about Superman again.

BEST CREATIVE STORYTELLING of 2021

Mawrth Valliis

Writer/Artist: EPK
Publisher: Image Comics (graphic novel)

During a skirmish with an opposing Martian faction, a fighter pilot disobeys orders to pursue a fleeing foe. Guided by her determination and curiosity, she is led into a dangerous chase through Mars’s forbidden valley where she will be confronted with the red planet’s darkest of secrets. A fast-paced, 128-page, full-color, pocket-format, sci-fi adventure through Mars’s mysteries all told in its original Martian form.

It’s a short read with a lot of heart. There’s a pursuit across a Martian landscape, leading to some fantastic twists and turns. But, also, there is no exposition of an Earth language. It’s all in “Martian.” giving the reader a more alien feel, and more reading of actions, reactions, and situation. There is more show, don’t tell, and I love that. The use of colors are fantastic, the choice of opposites of blank and white in our two main characters are brilliant. The end is haunting, leaving room for the reader to ponder its overall message and true nature of the story.

BEST SATIRE SERIES of 2021

Not All Robots

Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Publisher: AWA Studios – Upshot (monthly Series)

In the year 2056, robots have replaced human beings in the workforce. An uneasy co-existence develops between the newly intelligent robots and the ten billion humans living on Earth. Every human family is assigned a robot upon whom they are completely reliant. What could possibly go wrong? Meet the Walters, a human family whose robot, Razorball, ominously spends his free time in the garage working on machines which they’re pretty sure are designed to kill them in this sci-fi satire from Mark Russell (The Flintstones, Second Coming) and Mike Deodato Jr. (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Resistance).

I love Mark Russell’s style at satire with Prez, Flintstones, God is Disappointed in You, dark but with a mix of wit and humor to it all. But here is a brilliant escalation in Not All Robots; to what happens when machines are made to be more human, with attitudes and status. There is a lot of back and forth with human elements/ That includes taken in all the insecurities are also inherited with both humans and machines that they create. But there’s also a lot of metaphorical moments, bouncing back to who we treat as machines today, who we take for granted, and groups we take in as cheap, willing labor. It’s funny, because we see the absurdities that Mark Russell loves to mix as cartoonish tropes brilliantly disguised as current, real human issues.

BEST IMPORTED SERIES of 2021

Asadora!

Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher:
Viz (published in monthly volumes, 16 volumes)

In 2020, a large creature rampages through Tokyo, destroying everything in its path. In 1959, Asa Asada, a spunky young girl from a huge family in Nagoya, is kidnapped for ransom—and not a soul notices. When a typhoon hits Nagoya, Asa and her kidnapper must work together to survive. But there’s more to her kidnapper and this storm than meets the eye.

Asadora is a historical fiction, science fiction, and suspense mystery all rolled together. There’s much stroy to follow with multiple plotlines, but with memorable characters that we trust will eventually be more connected – a signature style to the storyteller that brought us Monster, 20th Century boys, Pluto – all great works but took time to develop. There’s only a few volumes in the US so far, and off to a big start. Asadora gives more in curiosity with real life events mixed in with science fiction familiarities; all rooted deep in Japanese culture. We also get some great developments, with some tense reactions. But Naoki Urasawa’s art style seems more detailed than ever here. I’m excited, and looking forward to reading more of this in 2022.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Monsters

Writer/Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Publisher: Fantagraphics (graphic novel)

In this pen-and-ink graphic novel, in 1964, Bobby Bailey is recruited for a U.S. military experimental genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany 20 years prior. His only ally, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes to try to protect him, which sets off a chain of events that spin out of everyone’s control. As the titular monsters multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning. Windsor-Smith has been working on this passion project for more than 35 years, and Monsters is part intergenerational family drama, part espionage thriller, and part metaphysical journey. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious (and intense) graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.

Monsters is brutal, mean, and really putting the “graphic” into graphic novel. The art is amazing with a story that leads through the familiar territory of government experiments gone out of control, but then heads into darker territory into both physiological and psychological. It’s started as a Hulk story, then kind of mutated over time, with elements from Barry Windsor’s work on Conan and Marvel’s Wolverine story of Weapon X. There is amazing passion that comes from telling the grand story of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters, which comes out as an uncomfortable, emotionally-driven masterpiece.

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSICs of 2021

Berserk Deluxe Editions

Writer/Artist: Kentaro Muira
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (published in volume compilations)

Not much else needs to be said about the amazing epic story of Berserk and art/storytelling of Kentaro Muira. His sad passing in 2021 has brought fans and new readers together to further appreciate his great work and what we will miss in the years ahead. But to best appreciate his work I believe, are these amazing deluxe hardcover compilations of his smaller sized manga volumes, all beautiful brought on larger, high quality pages. For myself in later years of rereading, this will be how I best enjoy the story of Guts and his many companions and challenges.

BEST HISTORICAL COMICS of 2021

The Comic Book History of Animation

Writer: Fred Van Lente Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
Publisher: IDW Publishing (limited series)

Incredibly informative and very entertaining. From the Victorian Era to the Digital Age, no bits of significant knowledge of moving art is forgotten and so well put together. Everything makes perfect sense, especially in the critical turn of my growing up with Saturday morning commercialized cartoons, anime binges through college, emotional Pixar masterpieces, and all in between and moving ahead. Much behind the scenes is explained, including many rough legal spots and bitter feuds, leaving the history of the industry as cartoonish and wacky as expressed through every chapter.

That’s all my favorites for the 2021 year. I probably missed or overlooked some as I could only cover so much. I would love to read your favorites in the comments below.

Relaunch to the Stranger Worlds, to infinity and beyond

Believe, the best adventures take the longest times through uncertain paths.

A true explorer can expect to get lost, finding maps useless and going by instinct, looking further into the unknown, stepping toward with curiosity. Use intelligence to take calculated risks, always be inquisitive and gain more data to keep every step moving forward, passing on as stories for others to expand upon and take further steps. Repeat the cycle and look further to those infinite possibilities that hide in our Stranger Worlds.

That’s where we return to this site after a long hiatus, with a new path on what’s to come. The hiatus was filled with distractions, anti-stories, fixated on the repercussions of an ongoing pandemic escalating personal responsibilities. I had to stop, rethink, then step forward again.

What can be done now to stand out, to be something other than a place where we tell things, and actually contribute to the grander infinite scope of stories and Imaginative power? This site, is to be a vessel to extract what needs to be explored, and shared. For that to happen, this atmosphere must be welcoming, yet reel in curiosity and bring out the explorer inside.

Remember the mission, to boost and promote creative work through the Stranger Worlds expedition…

To explore these imaginative, creative ideas and storytelling in every form through literature, visual art, motion, interactivity, music and mixtures of such. Seek samplings, previews, shorts, demos, displays of interesting findings. In our findings we encourage discussions, conversations, and new inspirations leading to further exploration.

So, Strangerworlds.com is now reactivated with changes. The site now has a darker presentation with some colors to emphasize the way. The site will have less clutter, with links to our social media. Our Discord site will be a main hub for communications among readers and creators. There will be less focus on telling and more on encouraged sharing. While informing of interesting imaginative works, we hope to share exclusive content, to be a gateway to other creators who seek to remain independent of corporate influence. In it’s center will be our upcoming project, which will be a main feature on Strangerworlds.com:

Stranger Worlds Quarterly.

There will be more on that soon. But for now, let’s renew strangeworlds.com to new horizons, portals, and beyond. I hope many of you will join our crew on the new adventures of adventures. Keep discovering, keep sharing, keep exploring.

Stranger Worlds await us all.

Captain Orion’s bestest comic book, graphic novel picks of 2020!

Oh 2020, what an unusual year for the comic book industry.

Sadly, there are less comic book stores, less retail book outlets, and those left are mostly now struggling to survive through the ongoing global pandemic. There’s also the freeze on comic cons, potential book signings, promotions. 2020 was a troublesome year for creators, merchants, publishers, and readers.

Yet, the sequential arts shall survive. Graphic novels sales are up by 29% since 2019! Also, there are many fresh reads throughout the year, and more time among the masses to catch up on these and past work with with the quarantines and lockdowns. Also, buying comics supports the industry, among the struggling creators, publishers, distributers, small business dealers.

So below, are my bestest picks released for 2020, based on what I have checked out.

BEST NEW SERIES of 2020

Inkblot

Writer: Emma Kubert Artist: Rusty Gadd
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

It’s a fun little series about a mischievous magical over-powerful cat. I love the worlds, characters, art, writing, and excited to see where it’s all going!

BEST ONGOING STORYLINE of 2020

Excellence

Writer: Brandom Thomas Artist: Emilio Lopez, Khary Randolph
Publisher: Image Comics (monthly series)

This series keeps on surprising, with twists and turns while presenting a secret world of Black magic that feels more intricate and responsible than your typical Hogwarts melodrama.

BEST COMIC BOOK COVER of 2020

Amazing Spider-Man #55 (latest series)

Artist: Patrick Gleason
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I don’t know if the story is good, but the cover is just too awesome to ignore!

BEST COLORING of 2020

MTSYRY: Octobriana 1976

Writer/Artist: Jim Rugg
Publisher: AdHouse Books

The black light colors are truly eye-popping, with this modern take on an old Russian superhero from the early Bronze Age. To further the color even more, Jim Rugg also put out a 1970s style coloring issue, and colorless version as well. Masterful stuff!

BEST INSANITY of 2020

Dark Nights: Death Metal

Writer: Scott Snyder and others Artist: Greg Capullo and others
Publisher: DC Comics (monthly mini -eries and crossover one-shots)

Also the best guilty pleasure of 2020. As a big DC fan since the late 1980s, the is the most ridiculous and over-the top crossover event yet. Everything has gone wrong in the DCU as an army evil Batman from the Dark Multiverse take over, and things just get crazier from there.

BEST SUSPENSE SERIES of 2020

Something is Killing the Children

Writer: James Tynion IV Artist: Werther Dell’Edera
Publisher: DC Comics (monthly series

If you enjoy horror, mystery, stronger and darker content than Stranger Things, than Something is Killing the Children is waiting for you to turn its pages. It’s different, not as spoon fed in pacing, full of mystery, and has a unique protagonist.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION of 2020

Planet Paradise

Writer/Artist: Jesse Lonergan
Publisher: Image Comics (Short graphic novel)

I love this story, which feels like a mix of old fashioned pulp, mixed with grit and light campy elements. Great survival story revolving around adventure, danger, friendship. Also love the alien landscapes, designs, and space tech – simple yet escapist pleasure for sure!

BEST CHARACTER STUDY of 2020

DARTH VADER Vol. 1 – Dark Heart Of The Sith

Writer/Artist: Greg Pack, Raffaele Ienco
Publisher: Marvel Comics (#1-5 of the latest series, collected in trade paperback form)

This is an interesting read as it delves deeper into the inner conflict of Darth Vader since the events of Empire Strikes Back (but before Return of the Jedi), searching his feelings. This leads to a startling revelation, that you should read to find out. The result, gives more sense to his transition and actions in Return of the Jedi, yet also plays upon his cruel, corrupted nature.

BEST WRITTEN SERIES in 2020

John Constantine: Hellblazer

Writer: Simon Spurrier Artist: Matias Bergara, Arron Campbell, Marcio Takara 
Publisher: DC Comics (Black Label) (monthly series)

I freakin love Simon Spurrier’s writing from past work and here, also with great respect back to the Vertigo socio-political days of Delano and Ennis!

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL of 2020

Under Earth

Writer/Artist: Chris Gooch
Publisher: Top Shelf (graphic novel)

This was really, really good, and fitting for a pandemic time for themes of lonliness and isolation turning to friendships and communications through restrictive times. In this case, a prison system in a surreal future or alternate present. The artwork is perfect, with a masterful use of blacks and whites…check it out!

BEST REPRINTING OF CLASSIC COMICS of 2020

Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1

Writer/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz

Many fans of Rumiko Takahashi will know her best for the grander Inu-Yasha anime and manga series. But for me in my older days of when manga felt more fresh to comic books stores, Mermaid’s Saga captured my heart way more. Seeing it all complete, but this time better edited and and presented, is a treasure to behold.

BEST COMICS HISTORY BOOK of 2020

Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books

Writer: Ken Quatro
Publisher: Yoe Books

An large book full of lost history detailing the stories and lives of many obscure Black cartoonists and comic creators during comics Golden Age around the Second World War. Full of rare panels, pictures, fascinating facts on multiple genre contributions (some are very surprising!) what would have been lost if not for this book.

And, that’s all my favorites for the 2020 year. I probably missed or overlooked that might have been better. Please if so, let me know in the comments. I don’t want to feel left out on your best books.

On Dec. 20, 1940 – Captain America makes his debut, punching Hitler and becoming an icon

On this day, 80 years ago, Captain America introduced himself, punching Adolf Hitler in the face on his premiere comic book first issue on newsstands everywhere!

With a publication date of March 1941, Captain America #1 hit newsstands earlier on December 20th, 1940, by Timely Comics (later reborn as Marvel Comics). The book sold nearly a million copies, as part of the remarkable Golden Age era of comic books hitting its prime for the decade to come.

Two Jewish New Yorker cartoonists, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America. Joe Simon originally sketched the concept for the character as “Super American” but then felt there were enough Supers already on the newsstand and not enough Captains. So, he thought it sounded cool and catchy, and so Captain America was born. From there, he gave the pitch to his editor Martin Goodman at Timely Comics, who approved. Then, Joe wrote the initial story and gave concepts, sketches, cover art to Jack Kirby to take over as the sequential artist for the breakout issue. Jack Kirby fully brought out the character in full comic book form, with the help of Al Lieberman as the inker and Howard Ferguson as the letterer.

And so, Captain America was released a year into World War II, in a difficult time for the U.S still recovering from the Great Depression and dealing with its racist attitudes. Captain America was viewed by many as Jewish propaganda as many Americans were sadly not yet on board against Hitler’s rising fascism and attempted takeover of Europe.

Joe Simon later noted “When the first issue came out we got a lot of … threatening letters and hate mail. Some people really opposed what Cap stood for.” The threats, which included menacing groups of people loitering out on the street outside of the offices, proved so serious that police protection was posted with New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia personally contacting Simon and Kirby to give his support.”

Captain America arrived as a fictional champion against Hitler and his Nazi Third Reich. He fitted America’s rising position and eventually entry into World War II, with the Pearl Harbor bombing pushing the U.S. forward to act a year later after the comic book release. Captain America would continue to punch Nazis in comics and other symbols of its fascism and ideology for the rest of the war through Timely Comics. Soon, Stanley Lieber, A fresh 19-year old editor, would contribute with editing and writing under the pseudonym and later legal name, Stan Lee.

The character of Captain America became a significant pop-culture icon, mostly from Stan Lee’s revival (with the help of Cap co-creator Jack Kirby) of Marvel Comics much later. His new look and updated origin of the 1940’s release would become iconic, appearing further in cartoons, live TV, toys, and movies. The later MCU produced movies featuring Cap portrayed by Chris Evans would boost the iconic fighter of Nazis and other evils to an inspirational status further beyond the failed visions of Hitler’s Third Reich.

After 80 years, Captain America remains a symbol for what’s supposed to be right with America, standing up to evil and fighting for good and preservation of better ideals. Now, Captain America is currently owned by Disney and used to support a monopolistic entity that many consider part of a bigger problem with modern America. Yet, there remains something wholesome and wonderful about the Star-Spangled First Avenger’s humble roots through his comic book introduction, as a colorful champion boldly leads against evil in dark times.

Captain America inspired real life people to dress-up and take on issues of the real world (while some sadly misuse him as a patriotic symbol). A personal favorite is Sikh Captain America, a bearded turban-wearing version cosplayed by cartoonist Vishavjit Singh. He promotes, educates on what he feels Captain America should be about in the modern era, going beyond the super hero theatrics and melodrama of the Marvel Comic and MCU stories. Many challenge him and his appearance going against the white male American ideal. But he fights on, with the ballsy spirit of Captain America’s Jewish creators.

So, Captain America didn’t just punch Hitler in the face 80 years ago. Along with many other comic book super-heroes, he led the fight for generations to come and stand up (perhaps punch if that’s what it takes) evil in all forms. And the fight will continue, often holding on to what we want the righteous symbols to press on to and keep on representing as better patriotism.

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!

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.

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.