6 Things I Learned at New York Comic Con 2011

Well, another New York Comic Con has come and gone, and taken with it entirely too much of my ever-dwindling cash reserves.  But it was a good time overall, and the memories will last a lifetime. Here’s the short list of what I did at the Con this year:

  • Got my copy of The Foot Soldiers Vol. 1 signed by Jim Krueger (and found out that they’re redoing the series in color in 2012! Woo!)
  • Got my copy of The Flash #1 (New 52) signed by Assistant Editor Darren Shan (It was his first autograph ever, which was amusing)
  • Attended in costume for the first time, dressed up as DC’s The Question
  • Picked up a Professor Zoom T-Shirt, since you can’t buy them online anymore
  • Got hedgehog-themed sketches for a friend, in return for helping me with my mask
  • Played Con Bingo, and generally took pictures of awesome people and things at & around the convention
  • Met the folks from Channel Awesome who showed up, and attended their after-party on Saturday night

So, after attending the con for 5 years in a row, what have I learned?  What are the things that are fun to do at NYCC, and what are the things to avoid? What are the keys to having a good time?  Here’s my advice, in list form:

1) WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES!  I cannot stress this enough.  When I was attending in a professional capacity, this was the single best piece of advice the head of my company gave all of us. Quite simply, seats are in extremely short supply at NYCC, and if you want to actually do anything you’ll find yourself standing and walking far more than you would in an ordinary day.  Additionally, I recommend checking your coat and any heavy bags you might have on you.  $6 may seem like a lot, but your back will thank you for it (by not causing you tremendous pain!) Never has there been a more important occasion to be gellin’.

2) Eat hearty meals before you enter the con and after you leave it.  While bathrooms are in ample supply within the convention halls, affordable food vendors are not. While there, you will have to choose between subsisting on whatever you can cram into your backpack (protein bars, energy drinks and the like) or paying exorbitant prices for food that would be sub-standard at a high school cafeteria. In the case of NYCC, you do not even have the luxury of walking to a nearby eatery and dining there, for the Javits Center’s section of Manhattan is a food WASTELAND.  Additionally, be sure to bring at least one bottle of water.  The more crowded cons (of which NYCC is certainly one) often get very hot, and it’s hard to have a good time if you get dehydrated.

3) Take a shower every morning before you leave for the con, and apply some form of deodorant or anti-perspirant.  This isn’t so much for your enjoyment as it is for everyone else’s.  We nerds frequently get a bad rap from the mainstream media for being sweaty, smelly and gross, so there’s no reason to play into a negative stereotype.  Just remember: Personal hygiene is everybody’s job.

4) Before you attend, make a list of the things you want to do in priority order.  In a manner similar to the dark magic practiced by Las Vegas casinos, high-profile nerd conventions reduce the average attendee’s level of rational thought to somewhere on the level of “oooh, pretty.”  If you aren’t moving with purpose, you will quickly find yourself swept up in the flow of foot traffic, being bounced around from one major entertainment company’s marketing booth to the next.  If you want to get that copy of Swamp Thing #1 signed by Len Wein, look online to find out where his booth is and head there first.  If you want more than anything to see the new Marvel Studios film footage world premiere, show up the night before the con opens and get ready for a lot of waiting in line.  If you want to go to a panel in the same room where they’re showing said Marvel Studios footage, too bad. NYCC is not designed to cater to your needs. Which brings us to the next point…

5) Know your con’s strengths and weaknesses.  ComicCon is a very different environment from Dragon*Con, which is a very different environment from PAX, which is a very different environment from MAGFest.  Every convention, in addition to focusing on different fandoms, has its own atmosphere and focus.  If you spend the entirety of PAX on the show floor trying to get free swag from the gaming companies, you’ll be missing out on what makes that convention stand out from the rest.  Likewise, if you go into NYCC looking to attend great panels, make new friends and participate actively in the geek community, you’ve got a long uphill road ahead of you.
Like its even more massive counterpart in San Diego, NYCC is a high-profile convention focused on creating opportunities for the major geek media producers to advertise to their fanbase, almost to the exclusion of all other activity.  There are still opportunities for fans to interact with their favorite comic creators in Artist Alley, and there are a handful of events (such as the Cosplay Contest or Speed Dating) that focus on attendees themselves, but nearly all focus is directed away from these toward the show floor and showcase theater.  Since convention admission packages are almost never cheap, it is important to determine what the average con-goer’s experience is and whether or not it is right for you before you buy that 3-day pass.

6) When meeting your idols, try to avoid acting like Chris Farley’s character on the classic Saturday Night Live sketch, “The Chris Farley Show.”  For those who don’t remember, “The Chris Farley Show” was a sketch based around the joke that Chris Farley was a television show host who was so completely star-struck by his guests that every interview went something like the following:

CHRIS: So, Paul McCartney.  Do you remember … when you were in the Beatles?
PAUL: Yes, yes I do.
CHRIS:
CHRIS: … that was awesome.

This is the type of thing that fans typically blather to their idols, and I know that I’ve been guilty of it myself more than once in the past (arguably even at this convention!)  It’s awkward for both parties, though, as the person you’re praising doesn’t really have a way to continue the conversation.  As fans, we should be trying to engage them the way their work engages us, even if we can’t do it to the same extent.  It’s fine to praise a person’s work, but the praise shouldn’t be empty and generic.  Tell them how their work changed your life for the better, or made you think about a subject differently. Ask them about the themes or messages in their work, not about minor plot details or continuity errors.  Also be conscious of your surroundings, taking care not to take too much of their time if there is a long line of other fans behind you.  I found it helpful to write down what I wanted to say before I said it, if only to give my thoughts coherence and organization.  In short: Don’t be creepy, rude, redundant or dull if you can possibly avoid it.

Well, there you have it.  Those are my six pieces of advice on how to survive and enjoy New York Comic Con.  I’d actually love to examine the facets of fan-idol relations in greater detail, so if you have your own perspective on the subject, (or if you just know of an article someone else has done about it) please share it with me. Until next time, in the words of Stan Lee and the New York State motto, “Excelsior!”

COMICS: John Reviews “Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Time to switch things up!  Since this is the final installment of the excellent six-part slice-of-life-romantic-comedy/over-the-top-video-game-action (holy-crap-that’s-a-lot-of-hyphens) graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim, much of the usual introductory fare is unnecessary.  Instead of structuring my reviews as I normally do, I will invert the pyramid and start with my final summary:

  • For those who have been reading and enjoying the Scott Pilgrim series up to this point, rest assured: Volume 6 brings the story to an action-packed, emotionally satisfying conclusion.
  • For those who have been reading the Scott Pilgrim series and aren’t sure they like where the later volumes were heading, there’s a very good chance that Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour has brought back everything you loved about the early volumes and will make you a fan again.
  • For those who haven’t been reading the Scott Pilgrim series at all, it should be rather obvious that the last volume is hardly the place to start.  Go out and pick up Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, resting comfortably in the knowledge that the whole story is a well-crafted arc and the big ending doesn’t fall flat.

And now, the specifics! Continue reading

A Serious Diskinect

Microsoft Kinect: Wave of the future, or anti-Controller propaganda? I didn’t even know there was an anti-controller movement until now!  It seems like the “convenience” of motion controls is limited solely to not having to interact with a physical device.  The actual actions themselves require far more work than they would on a traditional remote or controller, and for those of us who don’t want our media platforms to be a cleverly disguised instrument of mandatory exercise, the whole thing is entirely unwelcome.
This will be the first console generation where entire GENRES of games are rendered incompatible with current technology.  While I’d love to see a resurgence of the point-and-click adventure, nobody is going to want to play a brawler or platformer (or God of War-style adventure that combines the two) when they have to perform EVERY ACTION using gesture controls.  (Oh no! What will this do to my favorite beleaguered mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog?!  NOBODY will have enough energy to play as Sonic for any substantial length of time!)  And how will 2-D games play?  Will we see any of the insultingly counter-intuitive hardware virtualization so prevalent on the iPod/Phone/Pad, where controller buttons are mapped permanently onto portions of an already small touchscreen?  People knock the Wii (and simultaneously credit it as the salvation of our obese children) but it understood something that Microsoft doesnt: Having a couple of buttons saves a game from being downright EXASPERATING to play.  Example: Gamers groaned at the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess required players to waggle the wiimote fiercely for every sword slash, and that was only ONE function mapped to gestures.  Games like Metroid Prime 3 would be unplayable without the Nunchuck’s analog stick controlling movement while the wiimote controlled the camera.  Microsoft, however, seems to be loudly proclaiming that “gamers are lazy.  Let’s FORCE them to choose between lazy and being gamers!  Then we can turn all the not-lazy people INTO gamers, and flip every convention of the culture on its head and make BILLIONS!”  In the process, they will destroy several different categories of games, and they will tear down all of the elgant usability and Human/Computer Interaction work that went into controller technology.  Games like Guilty Gear, Ikaruga, Mega Man (or I Wanna Be The Guy) or Ninja Gaiden are just too nuanced and precise for flail controls (Flail.  It’s the new waggle!)  and the range of activities you’ll want your avatar to engage in will shrink to what you feel like aping in the real world.
Another factor that limits Kinect’s potential is its vast space requirements. Anyone who has a small room (and a relatively small TV) is SOL when it comes to Kinect, since the camera needs to be able to detect you standing up and flailing and jumping.  Plus, you can’t make any unrelated gestures while playing, which would have been easy in the days when you could pause the controller.  Notice how awkward the demonstrator looked at E3 when his hands were constantly at his sides, waiting for a chance to move and engage the controller.  And presumably you can’t ever say the word “Xbox” near the device, for fear that you’ll activate some voice-sensitive command.  You’ll have to spell out X-B-O-X as though you were trying not to wind up an excitable dog (though I hear that some dogs have learned how to spell 😛 ).

I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one with this opinion on the second motion control revolution (outside of fan boards, of course, but there are haters of every concept known to man on those).  So don’t just take my word for it, take a look at what Warren Spector (designer of many award-winning games) and Tim Buckley (creator of webcomic Ctrl-Alt-Del) have to say!  [Cue Reading Rainbow music.]

From Joystiq’s interview with Warren Spector:  “There are a lot of people looking at gestural control as the future of games, and I think what we need to do is say, is gestural control appropriate for this game or not. If you’re playing tennis, good lord, if you don’t use it, if you don’t do this, you’re crazy. But there are plenty of other games where it’s just better to [press buttons]. And we have to be brave as developers and publishers and retailers to just accept that some games are just going to be better like this. We’ve got twenty years of experience doing this, and gamers have twenty years of mastering it. Most kids today have thumbs that are more dexterous than — than me, that’s for sure. So why should we throw that away?”

From Ctr-Alt-Del’s Tim Buckley: The real kick in the balls came when further footage of the Star Wars Kinect game suggests that it is an on-rails Jedi slasher game. Yes. Because when I think of being a Jedi, I think of standing in one place, flailing my lightsaber hoping that I either reflect blaster bolts or some dumb shit walks into my melee range, and then dashing a few feet forward and doing the same thing. Maybe it’ll be a blast, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s not what gamers were hoping for. Beyond just hoping for a really cool sword/lightsaber fighting game (because deep down we all want to be Jedi) I think we’re also looking for confirmation that motion controls can provide more, daresay, “hardcore” gamers with a legitimate experience. That it’s not going to all be Kinectimals.

Why I Quit Facebook

Because YOU demanded it! All the hackle-raising reasons why I decided that I had had enough of Facebook and committed social network suicide on May 31st.  While my statement may not have made waves, it was an important moment for me.  Here’s the breakdown:

REASONS WHY I QUIT FACEBOOK


My Email to Buzz Out Loud

I’m a big fan of the good folks at C|Net’s “Podcast of Indeterminate Length” known as Buzz Out Loud, and since I actually had something relevant to their show to add for once (in other news, I permanently deleted my Facebook account,) I figured I’d write in.  In case they don’t read my email on the show, here’s what I said:

Hey MoRaJas,

I was sad to hear the story you featured in ep. 1239 regarding Quit Facebook Day’s big fizzle.  I had been a Facebook user since it was (my college).thefacebook.com, and after years of watching everything I valued about the site erode like so much Jersey coastline (and fill up with garbage like it, too) I decided to vote with my demographics and quit for good.  But apparently Leo LaPorte and I were the only ones brave enough to go through with it!  Now that QFBD over, my question is: Do I go crawling back to the one that did me wrong, or stick with it for the sake of principles and the right to complain?

Love the show/show the love,

(name)

Incidentally, if you’re a Buzz Out Loud fan and you miss the wry-yet-wholesome wit of Tom Merritt (I’m looking at you, PetPluto,) be sure to check out his new show Tech News Today on the TWiT Network.

My Soul Is on the Ground (a look at socially responsible footwear)

This might surprise you, but I’m not the most fashion-forward person out there.  In fact, I’m pretty fashion-backward.  I pay little-to-no attention to color matching, and in the winter I literally get dressed in the dark.  Only the “business casual” dress code of most of my places of employment has forced me to learn the basics of garment-related aesthetics.  Why am I telling you all of this? Because I recently had an interesting and philosophically engaging experience when embarking on my quadrennial quest for a new pair of shoes.

Yup, you read that right.  Quadrennial.  As in once every election/olympic cycle.  Ah, the joys of being a heteronormative guy.

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Will Google take over your Television? Is that even a bad thing?

So far the biggest news I’ve heard out of Google’s I/O conference pertains to the launch of Google TV, the latest and greatest attempt to bridge the worlds of desktop computing and TV watching.  The list of products, services and software that have tried to connect these two seemingly similar activities is depressingly long, but with each iteration of TV and web technology the gulf gets narrower and narrower.  Indeed, the problem may no longer be one of “can someone do this,” but one of “can someone get all the oligopolies involved to play nice with one another?”  Before we dive into Google TV, let’s take a quick look at its predecessors and rivals:

WebTV

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