194-lets-see-02pg09The other day I received a special package in the mail. My friend Erik asked me to look at the first four issues of his digital comic book and give him some sensor readings on his work. Better than that Erik, prepare for hot review action in the shape of a brutally honest analysis from a guy who thinks Mister Spock is the right way to go.

So, peering into the contents of this watercolor mixed media creation what do we have? A story about a group of mainly academic science types who gain superpowers when they drink the wrong beaker of liquid. From there on out they become a heroic band of do-gooders who work to protect their town from the evil works of various foes.

191-cheers-01pg08Over time, the group expands to include a variety of strange characters who also have superpowers. Some of them maintain the amphibian theme, some don’t. This coincides with an increase in various villainous power centers. Good thing the Amphibimen arrived to counter all the villainy that has arrived!

The creator of this fabulous journey of froggomatic fun has an enthusiasm for the comic books of yore and it shows in every panel of action and unfolding plot. The Ultimate Amphibian, a galactic scale super being moved to act by the exploits of the Amphibimen, is pure old school foreshadowing of the best sort.

192-the-princess-01pg11Comic book culture has reached a point where all the parameters are well known, and most of the stories have been told. Now comes the re-telling, and this is where the energy of most superhero comic work seems to collect its focus towards. Seeing the details in this comic book evolve, as steeped as I am in the culture, it’s a joy to see familiar ideas unfold in new ways from another old school perspective.

The thing that strikes me most is how detailed every character is, and how complex the interactions become as a result. It’s a strong stance, but it also ends up being a weakness overall—the artist hasn’t quite got the skill to pull off such multifarious material yet. He needs to boil it down a little and let the story unfold more. There’s enough material in the four issues I read for for eight issues. It takes a master to get that to work.

195-they-watched-us-03Pg22You see this most in the battle montages and split narratives of the characters. There’s so much going on that encapsulating it becomes overwhelming. There’s a ton of stuff in here, but making it accessible requires more practice.

Despite a huge ensemble group of heroes and heroines I’m not quite sure who the main protagonist is (and I believe one is needed in a dense narrative like this, to act as an anchor), although I’m pretty sure who the main villain is. When the villains are more recognizable than the heroes you need to work on the heroes.

193-hand-clasp-01pg24The artist has what can only be seen as a unique style. This hampers identification with the characters and requires more work from the audience. The characters all have weird eyes and creepy fingers. The background is jarring in its blocky abstraction. The foreground is where the action is. The square dialogue balloons and their placement make the dialogue hard to follow.

Not that I would have the artist change any of that! Weird is good. Different is good. The writing is solid and the comedy subtext is fantastic. THE PRINCESS, good lord what a character! The wordplay is right on. I actually care about the most intelligent rat on earth.

196-who-am-i-03Pg24What I would like to see is more skill and craft in the form, and that can only come with time. Then the personal bridges can emerge as a natural quality in the work and make it more welcoming without losing that special sauce that makes this comic so damn unusually cool.

I’m going to keep my eye on this guy. He has a lot of stuff to say. Frog help us all if he actually manages to complete the recombobulator module actuator and achieve full storyline satisfaction flow.

3 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

Album Cover for Bone Walker.I was hanging out in the secret garden taking it easy when I got a surprise goodie in the hopper. A chance to get a sneak peak at the latest Crime and the Forces of Evil project. Hey, I think these elf supervillains are pretty keen, so why not give their latest aural pastry a whirl?

The goodie manifests in the form of Bone Walker: The Free Court of Seattle Official Soundtrack, a number of tracks available in digital or solid form as you please. It’s a collection of music to accompany a pair of urban fantasy books by author Angela Korra’ti—specifically Faerie Blood and the more recent Bone Walker.

The liner notes mention struggles with complexity drift and unexpected delays. While it’s true that struggle is good for one’s art, I think it can also distract one’s focus. You need the adversity or you stop short of your best, but the other side of that is real risk–meaning you might actually miss a crucial ingredient or choice along the way.

The splendid positives: A first rate package of materials–the tracks sound great and the artwork is gorgeous. The music is a wonderful assortment of mainly Irish tunes by professional musicians having a good time. These people know what they’re doing and it shows.

For example, the songs “John Barbur” and “Lukey” really shine. I could imagine the main characters from the books hanging out and enjoying themselves in between their problems. It sells their complexity to me.

I gotta say Leannan Sidhe can sing so sweetly she could charm a nest of devils. Dara Korra’ti’s vocals are as soft and as quick as a hare in all the right places. Sunnie Larsen’s fiddle cavorts with buoyant notes on “Lukey,” and resonates with unshakable dynamism on “Bring the Storm.” Easy to lose yourself in the moment with skill like this, it’s that marvelous.

The not so exciting: The spoken word excerpts from the novels don’t work. The complex prose needs a different kind of reading and they’re too long–a minute at most would have been best, not 2-3 minutes. The mellow, enjoyable background music doesn’t fit the action scenes being read.

For example, the Burke-Gilman Troll piece doesn’t match what I would imagine the reading was depicting. Way too laid back for a serious combat narrative.

Same with the other readings. In “Bring the Storm” the dulcimer is exquisite, but it’s the wrong kind of sound for a supernatural fight with an angry dragon. The prose calls out for a lusher, more sophisticated sound with energy. There’s grace and wonder, but not enough fire and spice to be truly glorious.

Listening to the last bonus track, “The Burke-Gilman Troll (Klopfenpop mix),” I glimpsed a direction many of the songs ought to have taken–less mild and laid back and more, well, Lord of the Dance-y. Here the music fits better with the scene selection, it has an edge. I can’t help but think it’s an opportunity that was almost realized.

A soundtrack ought to evoke the quality of the medium and type of story it accompanies. The overriding message of this collection is a laid back adventure that doesn’t match the whole picture. It’s more of a promo piece than a soundtrack, and that’s too bad. I know Crime and the Forces of Evil are capable of more.

3 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

131_grrrsaysThere are countless hidden workshops, dockyards and sanctuaries in this world. If you’re fortunate you may get to see one of them and bear witness to its wonders.

At the heart of many of these concealed places is often a personality of power. Someone who naturally embodies or has attained a certain degree of mastery in learning, healing, and understanding.

J.R.R. Tolkien introduces good examples of this kind of archetype on a grand fantasy scale in his Lord of the Rings books. For example, the elf Lady Galadriel or the inscrutable Tom Bombadil. Hidden from the world at large, yet influencing it through their work, or as the case may be, their play.

The Starship Snipe has something resembling a beagle active probe in its sensor array, so my computer is always receiving sensor readings on hidden units. It’s good to be able to do the total dodge on incoming brain-drains. No pain-pain in the brain-brain for me, thank you very much!

However, there are also many hidden things that are delightful. Always remember to check for secret doors, so say I. Fabulous treasures beyond compare, beautiful places that defy description, and the most amazing people are all around us without our knowing it.

My wily and resourceful friend Kimaroo always has the scoop on interesting tidbits and clues of possible quest importance. She told me to check out this pirate queen’s puzzling website because it looked like my kind of thing. Hey, I’m all about deciphering the strange and elusive. Ogopogo? The Swamp Monster? Lemmie at ’em!


It’s been a long time since I ran into a direction confusion magic like this. It’s strictly old school D&D stuff that is difficult to throw off. Took me over a year to accumulate enough information about activity zones and artistic stance to fill out a character sheet on this pirate queen.

That’s when I got an invitation to visit her ultra-secret clearance level special project: Stompopolis.

What the hek is a Stompopolis, you ask? The Mr. Spock explanation is that it’s a playroom for adults who need a sacred space in which to work with states of creativity in safety.

It’s a zone in which folks can enter an open space of free imagination without jackup, and then withdraw to a closed space in order to reach creative goals without distraction. All while receiving wizard-level tools, training, and encouragement.

This is major civilization stuff we’re talking here.

To describe such a place feels almost like sacrilege. Stompopolis is a temple of childhood power, an explosion of details that wash over the senses even as an invisible aura of warmth surrounds and protects you.

There’s a gumball machine with special prizes inside, which is always a good sign in my book. There are small hidden doors for the fairies to use, which shows courtesy and foresight. Colorful flags and banners fly, which to me displays an appreciation for romantic pageantry. The pirate queen knows her stuff.

The place is filled like a sack of gold doubloons with goodies like this, yet through some miracle of transdimensional engineering has vast free space. There’s no foolin’ around here; this is adventure time that understands the need for “fun now”. All that “fun maybe” stuff was checked at the door and given a complimentary pizza with some cartoons to watch.

There are emergency nap hammocks, specially prepared retreat tents to hide in, and of course a friendly kitchen capable of summoning hot beverages when a break is called for. Doing nothing is the most important heavy lifting research and development you can do and this pirate ship of the mind has got it covered.

The super fun pack of creative supplies, the spontaneous free-flow of inventive activities, and the magic of self-discovery that emerges in a hallowed moment—these are things that simply have to be experienced to believe them. I can only speculate on what kinds of incredible marvels lay just beyond my gaze.

All this and a pirate crew to boot. Yarr!

Alas, I forgot my camera and tape recorder. When the time came for me to leave this playground of delight and my bumper car deposited me outside the invisible castle, I found myself with naught but the incredible experience of it. A worthy mystery nonetheless, and well satisfying to come upon too.

You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Then again, maybe YOU will happen across the mysterious Stompopolis and find the gold!

Traveling carnivals and liminal spaces; mix well to create a mystery ride.

I played an amusement park game for kicks because I’m a sitting duck when it comes to the carnie pitch. Strangely enough, I won an emerald ticket to the mermaid tent and found myself reading a most curious book.

It is presented as a diary of impressions, with evocative photographs that offer a theme to each chapter. You are pulled along by the narrative and facedwith an organic labyrinth of the senses that rapidly disorients and alarms.

The reader and protagonist switch points of view; at times you are the voyeur, other times you are participant. How ghastly! The horror is imminent and personal. Denial or humor may dull the pain.

The only cure is to listen. Under the immediate tumult is the story of an anxious and compelling internal experience; a young woman discovering her shadow and the trauma of understanding her soul’s growth.

Dive into the depths and what you really have is the journey of Kore through the underworld. Plunge, hunt, rise. This is hard core stuff. People lose minds, innocence and teeth on journeys like these. Sometimes they don’t even leave a corpse.

To allow ourselves to feel for another is to open the door to terrible risk. Invasion by a vampire or a bluebeard are just one possibility. We might be swept away by divine brutality and carried off into an otherworld which is beyond human understanding.

It’s distressingly relevant today. Having an experience of the mermaid and the unredeemed passions of the underworld without being blasted to pieces is a serious human issue. All of us are in need of wizards who can show us what is in our being and how it is understood. Making more conscious choices might be the best tool we have.

The author is no slouch. She can craft a solid sentence and handle the whopper fish with the respect and skill for the inner ocean that makes it look easy. Her grasp of photography is stunning when you consider how much goes into the capture of a compelling image.

I had to dig around though; something told me this kung fu master had a few more concealed tricks in reserve. Multimedia competency and honed artistic talent are impressive accomplishments, but I felt I was missing some context.

To say the author knows her stuff is an understatement. Looking up photos from the book on her Flickr sets or watching the YouTube videos she’s posted, it gradually becomes clear to me she has a Leonardo’s Workshop thing going on. Master model of disguise, Doctor of creativity, Sage of academic standards, Ace crafter—I could go on, but I’m satisfied.

The book reaches me on a personal level because I’ve been through the underworld myself. Finding the other you is no mean feat. I have to admit I was afraid of where the book was going about half way through—finding one’s way to the center and out again often seems to me to be a rare moment in art. How exciting to see that I’m not alone!

The turbid darkness of it does make for some tough reading. Prose like this needs to be savored, and reexamined in order to extract the full meaning. In real life the labyrinth is a constant series of marking and re-marking of your path. I just don’t know if I could come back to this book; it’s that harrowing.

Indeed, the text itself indicates that the heroine hates aspects of the journey, that she wants it to be over with. Don’t I know it—preach sister! One ticket is enough for anyone, just like an everlasting gobstopper.

It’s too soon to tell with a work like this whether the text is built like that or whether there really is bounty. There are works of art that make a mark on you, and you don’t need to experience them again because they have served their purpose. Either way is valid, and worth whatever you paid for your psychic increase.

Remove the glamor and you have something most freakish: something ordinary and wholesome. Real food that feeds the soul and restores us to ourselves. Superbly well done.

5 out of 5 stars of the Magi.