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.

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.

50 great things I love about the San Diego Comic-Con!

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I love that San Diego Comic-Convention.

Sometimes, I don’t shut up about it. I plan accessively over it. I have dreams about it sometimes. This leads to my attending this show again for 2019, carrying on my annual tradition for this sold-out, world famous, perhaps the grandest pop-culture show in the world. I can’t freakin wait for its 50th show (and my 25th in attending) since it started as a humble local comics convention in 1970 (held twice in that year).

So, in leading to another grand show for us nerds, here are 50 things (in no order) I personally love about this fandom converging, sequential arts celebrating, history-making, crowd-drawing, amazing thing that I shall forever be a part of…

1.  Arrival and spending time on the Exhibit Floor! It’s huge (615,000 square feet) and takes at least a full open con day to completely explore and observe.

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2. The welcoming show attendants, volunteers, dealers,  presenters, booth staff and all involved, who love the show as much as the attendees…and help make it all worthwhile.

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3. Comic Books! The SDCC is still focused on comic books, graphic novels, manga, cartoons, etc.. There are lots of other distractions, but its CCI is still focused on the sequential arts. I welcome any debate on this in the comments below.

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4. The many happy returns of my favorite companies, usually consistent but slightly updated in appearance. Image Comics puts the biggest smile on face with their own little world run by creator-owned titles.

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5. Ridiculous displays outside usually put forth by big media companies promoting whatever, but I welcome each balloon, animatronic, recreation, light show, large prop, and whatever else awaits visitors and the curious open public.

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6. Watching an admired creative person at work, especially at the DC booth. Here. famed artist Liam Sharp draws Ares (of DCU lore). I answered his trivia question and won the finished result!

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7. Outrageous and totally awesome booth displays. Nickelodeon, Lego, Cartoon Network, DC usually excels with a different theme every year, in awesomely brilliant style!

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8. You may have the chance to chat with a living legend, who could just be hanging out at a booth or signing at a table. Back in 2017, I had a great talk with artist Mike Grell as he worked on a commission piece. We talked a lot about living in Seattle (where much of his acclaimed Green Arrow comics run took place).

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9. Discovering something new, with many indie press creators looking to personally pitch your next great read. Writer Erika Lewis (at the Heavy Metal booth) sold me on this graphic novel blending modern fantasy and otherworldly magic. Loved it!

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10. Meeting an admired creator, having that person sign something unexpected. In this case, it was Yoshitaka Amano (best known for the Final Fantasy games, Vampire Hunter D original artist), who I snatched his placard during his feature panel, and got him to sign it as he was initially confused, then amused.

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11. Every fandom is welcome, and those communities often welcome you back!

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12. Cosplayers, of all crafts and everywhere! No matter how crazy crowded this show gets, there’s always room for cosplay!

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13. Looking through piles of stuff that are kind of organized in the dealer area, all for a set price. Develop fun conversations with others picking through, sharing fun finds and cracking little jokes.

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14.  Enjoying a show panel where the complete cast is present and interacting, like this one for the TV series, Community.

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15. Seeing for yourself how a well-known creator known for controversy or the subject of heavy conversation deals with the public, perhaps giving the chance to share some thoughts and ideas on controversies and how that affects creativity (in this case, Frank Miller). The SDCC recognizes such contribution very well.

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16.  Getting a huge boost of inspiration from someone that already inspires you (Ray Bradbury (on the left, Ray Harryhausen off-screen to the right) to love what you do, do what you love.

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17.  Unusual crossovers, such as this annual TV Guide panel, where a mix of talent just get together and answer questions from the audience. Let’s see what happens!

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18. Finding out there are many around who like the things you do, but sometimes in their special way (Doctor Who).

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19. The souvenir guides attendees receive each year. Each one full of fan art, writings, insights, and the usual focus on the comics!

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20. Autograph hunting!! Plenty here to fill up, and some sketches if lucky. One fan here shares his collection of Batman related artists, writers, related talent.

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21. Lots of original comic book cover and pages. Each unique and usually expensive, but much fun to look at.

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22. The love of newspaper funnies cartoonists. Jim Davis (Garfield) gives some very deep insights into this famed cat and supporting cast.

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23. Familiar faces, coming back for many repeat years. This Obi-Wan cosplayer I noticed for many of my early years, often showing up to the late-night Masquerade party.  I may not know them, but many among them have an unforgettable coolness and style.

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24. Meeting someone at the con, and becoming a good friend (met Mark cosplaying Captain Kirk many years ago, here he is Ric Flair), then blend in for further randomness!

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25. Enjoying the show with a friend or group of (Helen, you’re awesome!), as we go to a panel or just walk around and meet a Klingon.

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26. Free Swag! If persistent enough, there’s plenty to take home!

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27. Many collectibles on display, especially at the toy companies. Many of them are previews for products yet to be released!

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28. No matter how busy the show gets, many will have a second to sign a badge. If you have nothing to sign for an unexpected meeting with a person of fame and inspiration, find a marker and hand them your badge!

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29.  Stan Lee for many years and still there in spirit… Nuff Said!

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30. You can be yourself, let loose and have fun, like Burt Ward, Adam West, Julie Newmar at this small and cozy press conference as they share some hilarious moments together and with the crowd.

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31. Getting the inside scoop on your favorite series, with more insight from the creators themselves (Saga panel, with Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples)

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32. Buying some really awesome collectible exclusives, that are high quality and worth every minute of the long line and the high price paid…Cowabunga!

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33. The city of San Diego, really adds to the grandness of this Comic-Con. There’s a lot to see and do here, with some epic beaches and awesome nightlife. If visiting here, take extra time to enjoy the city outside the show.

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34. Very large building displays. Not sure how effective the advertising and wish it was more focused on comic books. Yet, still glorious!

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35.  The Comics Creator Connection (artist/writer speed pitching), portfolio reviews, pitch panels, workshops…many opportunities for new talent to show their stuff and become the potential top SDCC stars of tomorrow!

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36.  Artist Alley, an awesome mix of business professionals and indie folk, taking down commissions, selling original art, awesome prints, and so much more. There’s a lot of heart and soul in this area, and the SDCC has kept it going!

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37.  Small press section, another great area of home-grown, indie-power delights. Here, you can find as much personality in the creator as the creations themselves!

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38. Becoming a Blood Donor for the longtime annual show Blood Drive.

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39. Really weird, sometimes mashed-up collectibles, custom made by special artists sold the designer area of the convention center. Lots here for the weirdo in all of us.

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40.  Exclusives are nice, but the dealer stands have a magnificent variety of lost, very rare treasures..sometimes at a real steal of a deal.

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41.  There’s usually one unexpected panel end up going to every year, totally different and of nowhere. Bloom County’s Berkely Breathed’s hilarious panel comes to mind (2014), …showing brilliant misdirection that he may or may not be Bill Watterson.

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42.  Great finds you did not know existed. You just have to look!

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43.  Back issue bins are plenty, where all your super friends are waiting!

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44. Star Wars is everywhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

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45.  The annual Comic-Con Masquerade show, showcasing a mix of great and sometimes very surprising cosplay.

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46.  Finding an awesome outside event, very increased over the years. There’s plenty out there, with much not needing a badge to participate!

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37.  Venturing out into the night, checking out the side events and stumbling across some different things going on, like this live sketching event.

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48. Crashing of many parties after the con. The After Masquerade Party at the Convention Center is often fun and worthwhile.

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49. It’s never really goodbye when you hang with great friends at Comic-Con. You share memories that will last lifetimes and beyond. Here, is the flashiest back to circa 2000, with me, my dear friend Heather (who I shared many SDCC years with ever since), Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, and Sargeant Kabukiman NYPD.

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50. The show as it is, for keeping all that is wonderful about it real and forever a part of my life.  Thank you Comic-Con (and all my friends, who I have shared this show with over the years)!

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Not the end, as I have much more to add, I will save that perhaps for the 75th, maybe the 100th anniversary.