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Best of January 2013



Off Site:

  • Nintendo: Playing With Power, Once Again
  • Foreign Chops #9: Cinema of Quebec

Finally, you can view the entirety of Food Don’t Go Stale in Space at Sketchy Details now. This includes the conclusion of the Evul Deed arc delayed due to personal issues. I’m tweaking the format of the comics aspect of the site and really liking how the new WordPress Galleries format (enhanced with Lightbox Plus) works. I could never get Comic Press to install properly and Manga+Press Comic Manager works but doesn’t fit for this wide-format comic.

What to Expect at Sketchy Details: January 2013

Happy New Year, everyone. I have some big plans for Sketchy Details this month and I think you’re going to like them. I also have some outside projects that I’ll be sharing, as well.

You can expect some new video content. I went in half and half with some family members on getting a good rig for videos together as a Christmas present to myself, including a new camera, lights, microphones, and even a greenscreen/backdrop kit. It works really well and you’ll get to see some of that content coming in as the Best Of 2012 continues throughout the month.

Speaking of the Best of 2012 series, I have a lot of categories to take you through. I’m trying to break them up even within the post for easier reading. Gaming is done already and music will follow through the rest of the week. Then we get into the meatier film categories just in time for the Oscar nominations announcement next week. Can you believe we’re there already? I can’t either. It’s because they moved the date up but pushed the ceremony itself back.

I don’t have any conventions or events line up just yet for January, though I might get in for a live show or two which are always good for a few posts. Cannonball Read V is starting up and I still have a backlog of reviews from IV to post before the deadline passes this week.

I’m also trying to make an effort to have a bit more coverage for all the mediums I tackle on this site. Film is easy with Netflix and all that; TV, too, with Hulu. I feel like books, comics, games, and music have been getting a little shortchanged and I’m doing my best to change that. I also cleaned up a lot of categories at the end of December and pulled anime, manga, and comics from the books and TV categories so they’re viewed within their own cultural framework.

It looks like it’s going to be a good year for new content at the site. Thanks for reading and, as always, feel free to comment, share, and respond to what I post here.

Netflix Max: Turning Movie Recs Into a Game

Twice now, I’ve had the opportunity to test out a new feature Netflix is rolling out for Instant Watch on gaming consoles. Netflix Max turns the process of finding a new recommendation into a video game.

You know how there’s that really tedious page on the Netflix site where you rate screen after screen of movies? Netflix Max could eliminate it.

You are greeted by a game show host-type named Max. He offers you three categories of film that, based on your viewing history, you might be interested in. You are then given a randomly selected group of eight films to choose from. Rate them from one to five stars if you’ve seen them, or indicate that you’re not interested. If you haven’t seen them, just press skip.

From there, things get interesting. Netflix Max will recommend a title in that genre even if you skipped all eight category samples. The first recommendation will be introduced with an audio summary of the series to entice you. You can read the summary, start playing it, let Netflix know you’ve already seen it, or pass on the option.

The second recommendation goes the same way. Max maintains his composure and offers you a back-up pick. Read about it, play it, rate it, or pass it.

The final round is a choice of five rapid fire recommendations in the category. Yes, no, or rate it. If you don’t choose one of the five, Max gets very sad. He wishes you good luck while encouraging you to give him another shot in the future.

In two to three minutes, you let Netflix know about your genre preferences in relation to other genres, offer your opinions on at least nine films, and get a chuckle out of Max’s banter. It’s a win-win scenario even if you don’t get your next viewing off of the service.

So what do you think? Would you try Netflix Max if you had the chance? It’s what needled me into finally watching Tucker & Dale vs Evil over the weekend. Sound off with your thoughts below.

My Birthday Gift to You: Read and Rave

Today, I turn 27 years old. Despite working as a freelancer writer for just shy of ten years now, I still get excited by the entertainment writing. I love watching people go back and forth over ideas and sharing their thoughts with the world.

That is why I am launching Read and Rave today.

Read and Rave is a user-generated entertainment writing site. You provide the content. Want to recap your favorite show? Share an awesome video you found? Review the latest movie or video game? Parody the latest blockbuster novel? Promote your own original music or webseries? If it’s about entertainment, it’s welcome at Read and Rave.

All you have to do is register at ReadandRave.com. You’ll get an e-mail with a temporary password and a log-in address. Log-in and change your password under your profile. You automatically have access to all the Author controls on a WordPress dashboard. You can write, edit, and delete your own content. You can fill out the SEO forms, categories, and tags. You can upload or embed audio, video, and images that go with your writing.

I think Read and Rave could grow into a great platform for writers of all skill levels to share their thoughts about entertainment. It’s free to join and free to use, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include your affiliate links and marketing info in your writing to earn a little extra cash.

How you choose to use Read and Rave is up to you. Media is fundamental. Anyone should be able to write about it and be heard.

Replacement Google: NFL Lockout Satire at its Finest

This is not a sports blog primarily because of my lack of interests in sports.

Yet, in some rare instances, sports crossover into my entertainment media radar.

Discussions of the NFL referee strike are becoming ubiquitous on news programs. The broad strokes version is this: the NFL is not using union refs for its professional games because they don’t want to agree to a contract increasing pay for union refs at NFL games. The problem is that the non-union refs are not as practiced as the union refs, leading to controversial calls and accidents that better eyes might have prevented.

Enter Replacement Google. Replacement Google is a satirical website Erik Johnson. You visit a website that looks just like Google. It has a new line of text that lets you know something is up:

Google.com is now sponsored by the NFL.

Let me take you through the site in action.

replacementgoogle1 Replacement Google: NFL Lockout Satire at its Finest

Let’s say you want to search for “Sketchy Details: Media Views, News, and Reviews.” You’d type it into the search bar. Nothing strange yet.

replacementgoogle2 Replacement Google: NFL Lockout Satire at its Finest

Click search and what do you get?

replacementgoogle3 Replacement Google: NFL Lockout Satire at its Finest

New copies of Office space on VHS? That’s not what you searched for. Try again and you might get results for “how much caffeine is enough?” or “Ken Griffey video game appearances.”

The genius of Erik Johnson’s satirical take on the NFL referee lockout is the replacement engine. Without the trained professional referees, the calls in the game are as random as getting results for an outdated home movie format when you wanted information on a particular website. The arbitrary nature of the results is aggravating, possibly infuriating. They reflect poorly on the search engine and don’t help anyone.

Johnson is forcing you to experience the frustration of the players and coaches in the NFL. Strange new rulings are dictating the sport of football. Everything the teams have trained for is rendered pointless without consistent rules.

I applaud Erik Johnson for coming up with this quick work of satire. It’s the kind of thing that can open up this discussion to people who don’t follow football.

So what do you think? Will you be sharing Replacement Google with your friends and family? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.

Follow: Vaginal Fantasy Book Club

When I learned that Felicia Day was running a romance fiction book club called Vaginal Fantasy Book Club, I didn’t pay much attention. I’m not exactly the target demographic for romance fiction. What I know about it–the paperbacks with dreamy, scantily-clad models on the cover–doesn’t appeal to me. Give me some Modernism or a thick tome of genre fiction and I’m happy.

Vaginal Fantasy Book Club has developed into a large community of hybrid romance fans over at the GookReads with close to 6000 members. Each month, they read two titles that straddle the line between romance and fantasy/horror/sci-fi.

The hybrid fiction element is what got me to start watching the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout videos on YouTube. Technically, they’re live interactive broadcasts on Google+/YouTube, but they start at 8PM Pacific. That’s 11PM here and the last thing I need is another reason to not sleep at night. You can follow along live on Twitter, Google+, or the GoodReads forum and interact with the hosts during the broadcast. It becomes a live, global book club led by four people who actually care about the quality of what they’re reading.

vaginalfantasybookclublogo Follow: Vaginal Fantasy Book ClubFelicia Day, Bonnie Burton, Veronica Belmont, and Kiala Kazebee are having the kinds of conversation about modern genre fiction that I have with my own friends. They’re really getting into the text and debating the merits of the books. They talk style, character development, plot, themes, and genre elements in an intelligent but approachable way. They’re joking around and still leading a real discussion about books.

The latest episode just got uploaded to YouTube and it’s their strongest yet. The main book for September was The Cthulhurotica Anthology from Dagan Books. It’s what you think it is: a collection of short stories combining erotic/romantic fiction with the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Any of the trepidation from the first few videos is gone. They’re respectful of the authors, but they’re not afraid of being too critical anymore. They go off on natural tangents to explore what helped shape their opinion of the book they’re discussing.

In the latest video, the conversation really kicks off after Veronica Belmont asks a series of questions to the group:

“Does all sexuality have to be love-based? Like, does it all have to be romantic? Or can something still be hot but not romantic? Can it be scary and hot? Is that ok? Or does it have to be romance-based?”

Veronica and Bonnie Burton really liked Cthulhurotica Anthology, partly because the story authors were so free with their use of sexuality. Felicia Day and Kiala Kazebee were more disturbed by the content but open to the reading experience.

Yet, as they begin to discuss their favorite moments, you find out they all responded similarly to the stories. It became not a matter of content but preference. The horror book fans were more open to strange content because they were used to it. They were aware that the stories were disturbing but were better equipped to respond to the insanity of Lovecraft fans injecting relations into the Cthulhu Mythos.

Then they started talking about an intentionally (?) bad romance novel about shapeshifting dinosaurs and proceeded to laugh at each other for forty minutes.

One of my favorite things in the world is seeing people get excited about books. That happens all the time in the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout videos. You can obviously join a real life book club for the face to face experience. The vastness of the Internet combined with so many interactive elements allows for much more specialized groups to form. I don’t think you can get more specific than romance books for genre fiction fans (or vice versa).

If you want to follow a program/community that has a lot of fun with books, you should join up with the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club crowd. The Hangouts are all archived on the Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel. They also have a dedicated homepage and Google+ page, but most of the activity is at the GoodReads forum.

Here’s the latest hangout video. It’s worth a try. Do like I do and watch the first few minutes for the introductions/thematic decorations and then treat it like a podcast.

Thoughts? Share them below. Love to hear from you. Me? I have to find a copy of Masters of Crow so I can really start engaging with this group of book fans.

Has Kickstarter Jumped the Shark?

Just this week, I was wondering about the reliability of Kickstarter as a fundraising platform. Questions of integrity came up, as well. Who is really creating these projects or pushing for their creation?

Well, Kickstarter had a different issue on their mind that needs to be brought to everyone’s attention. Did you know Kickstarter isn’t a store? Kickstarter thinks you don’t, so they wrote three new rules that radically change the landscape of the site.

Rule #1: Say Goodbye To Product Simulations

Product simulations are prohibited. Projects cannot simulate events to demonstrate what a product might do in the future. Products can only be shown performing actions that they’re able to perform in their current state of development.

Kickstarter, a site that’s supposed to help people complete projects, has now decided that you cannot simulate what the finished product can do. If the product can’t currently do it in your mock-up, you can’t show it.

In other words, if you can’t finance the full prototype, you can’t show what the finished product will look like on Kickstarter anymore. So, Kickstarter your Kickstarter by Kickstarting a functioning prototype before Kickstarting a production run?

This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the second new rule.

Rule #2: No Product Rendering

Product renderings are prohibited. Product images must be photos of the prototype as it currently exists.

In other words, Kickstarter users cannot show you what the product could do or what it might look like anymore. If you only have sketches, you can only show the sketches. If you only have the internal components wired and can’t afford to do the outer casing, tough luck; you’re not allowed to render the design to show the supporters what they can get.

If the goal is to show that Kickstarter isn’t a store, both of these rules fail. Unless you refuse to actually look at the website, it’s quite clear that your giving someone money to make a project come to life. There is no guarantee anywhere it will happen or work. By hiding the full vision of the project, you’re discouraging people from supporting hardware projects on Kickstarter.

You can’t be the crowdfunding website that refuses to let creators sell their ideas to possible investors. There’s no guarantee that a funded work of theater, dance, or art will ever be completed, either, but they’re allowed to use demos and concept art to sell their ideas. Hardware alone is now prevented from doing that.

The third rule is perhaps the most damning new regulation on Kickstarter. It applies to everyone and actually hurts the ability of project creators to fund their projects.

Rule #3: No More Multiple Quantity Rewards

Offering multiple quantities of a reward is prohibited. Hardware and Product Design projects can only offer rewards in single quantities or a sensible set (some items only make sense as a pair or as a kit of several items, for instance). The development of new products can be especially complex for creators and offering multiple quantities feels premature, and can imply that products are shrink-wrapped and ready to ship.

Do you know how a lot of products meet their fundraising goal? Multiple quantity rewards. The ability to fund the product while ordering a new piece of hardware for you and your sibling is huge. Multiples are worth more than single items. And guess what? The limitation only really applies to Hardware.

In other words, I can help Kickstart an album by purchasing multiple copies, but I can’t do the same for a new DVR box because it implies the “products are shrink-wrapped and ready to ship.” It’s absurd.

Kickstarter is supposed to help people get funding for big ideas. By preventing hardware designers from adequately pitching their concepts and offering multiples of rewards–the incentive you’re required to use to get people to support you, Kickstarter is crippling their own fundraising efforts.

Some people in the comments point out, correctly, that you can just make multiple donations. If you’re determined to get multiple rewards, you can go through the checkout process multiple times. Casual users won’t do this. They might not even donate at all if they can’t donate all at once. It’s a hurdle designed to protect the supporters that actually hinders the flow of crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

All I can say at this point is that IndieGoGo and RocketHub are viable alternatives for this kind of project and don’t restrict you from using simluations and renderings to adequately pitch an idea.

What do you think? Is Kickstarter making a huge mistake here? Or are they justified in assuming people don’t actually read what their site is they have to protect people from funding projects they can’t possibly understand? Sound off below.

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to Sketchy Details. The site has had a major face lift that I’m quite pleased with. Please note the new color scheme and content layout. All written posts are broken up into three categories: Views, News, and Reviews.

Views are where you’ll find deep critical analyses and recommendations, such as Werewolves and Sexual Awakening: A Deadly Attraction or the Play It series.

News is where you’ll find breaking media stories and more detailed looks into stories of note, such as Reality Reflecting Criticism: Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This will also contain (for now) any breaking information on a project I’m directly involved in.

Reviews are the new home of both traditional reviews and recaps.

The newest edition to the site is the relocation of my collaborative webcomic project with artist Angela Kiger called Food Don’t Go Stale In Space. In case you missed the launch last time, here’s the pitch.

Food Don’t Go Stale In Space is the story of three freelance artists working together to get by in the world. They have dreams of grandeur and unexpected abilities that throw their dream project, an interactive webzine for writing, music, and art, in constant delay and turmoil. Can the trio pull themselves together to make FDGSIS a success? Or will the project fall aside as outside interests overtake their chance publication?

It’s a wacky gag-a-week/story arc hybrid that explores how we consume and create media. I still love it even though it got put on an extended hiatus for a variety of reasons. New comics are in production and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

However, this is where the site needs to be tweaked a bit. I’ve switched over to a webcomic-friendly theme called Inkblot that is bugging out in a few odd ways. I’m aware of the issues and working to fix them. The site needs to be reduced in width, but that also requires compressing all the comic files, designed to be 1000×300, to around 550×165. If the comic isn’t legible, I’ll have to actually recrop them into a vertical, rather than horiontal, layout that impacts some of the gags later on.

More comics will be coming in. I hope to restart the “My Week in Media” series that I toyed with a few months ago this Friday. There are also non-media driven comics that should be joining the site over the next few months on a rotating, issue driven schedule.

Then there’s the original media page I didn’t even create yet and the relocation of my online shop. More on those later.

Sketchy Details is in active beta in its new edition, if you will, and I couldn’t be more excited to begin bringing you daily content again.

I’ll be back this evening with a film review, for certain. Will it be Dark Knight Rises or something with a little more indie flair? I don’t know. I haven’t written it yet. We’ll find out together after work today.

Explore: Pottermore

When J.K. Rowling announced Pottermore–an interactive annotated guide to the Harry Potter series–last fall, I was skeptical. What could be the draw for anyone but the most dedicated fan? It’s fan service from the biggest fan of the series herself.

No one is as consumed with the Harry Potter series as the author herself. Rowling spent seventeen years working on the seven mega hit novels. As she reveals in Pottermore, she even created what she calls “ghost trails”–side plots for major characters that didn’t even come close to making the final edits of the books. Her universe is so well-planned and researched that she sometimes forgets these side stories are not common knowledge.

pottermorealley Explore: Pottermore

Diagon Alley is filled with life in Pottermore

Pottermore is where the world of Harry Potter will really come to life. The films added a visual, the games interaction, and the theme park physical presence, but Pottermore is opening up the universe beyond Harry’s experience. Ever wonder how Harry’s Aunt and Uncle grew to hate him so much? What about the real origin of Professor McGonagall’s distaste for Slytherin? Or a history of how Olivader’s Wand Shop knows exactly which wand a wizard needs?

These are not random little tidbits being thrown out to earn money. For one thing, Pottermore is a free website that anyone can join. No, these are fully developed ideas that Rowling very easily could have turned into additional books. She already did that with The Tales of Beedle the Bard and Quidditch Through the Ages. Pottermore is fan service of a unprecedented scope.

Pottermore is an interactive online community with gaming elements. It’s not quite an MMORPG as I predicted when it was first teased, but it’s close. You explore all the various settings of the novels chapter by chapter. You interact with objects to find additional information and stories from J.K. Rowling.

pottermorepotiongame Explore: Pottermore

Brew potions to earn points for your house in Pottermore

However, once you get past Harry’s humble beginnings, you become a part of the story. You are the newest student at Hogwarts and you have to get ready for your first year. You buy your books and supplies, receive your wand, and get sorted into your house. You can earn points for your house through various tasks. Maybe you’ll excel at wizard dueling or potion making. Perhaps your eye will complete collections of items for bonuses. It’s up to you.

The only rule in Pottermore is that you have to follow the story in order. You can’t jump to the final chapter until you’ve explored the entire first novel. The locked features open in a specific order. Once content is unlocked, you can always go back and explore further.

I would not consider myself a big Harry Potter fan by any means. I read the books (to a point) and saw the films (all but the last three on TV or DVD). I am, however, having a good bit of fun exploring Pottermore. It’s a clever supplement and one that will only keep growing as they add on the rest of the series book by book.

So are you joining Pottermore? Sound off below.

Explore: Scale of the Universe 2

Carey and Michael Hwang set out to make a beautiful and interactive educational web tool about the relative scale of objects in the universe. What could have turned into a simple website or chart became something much more.

scaleoftheuniverse2 Explore: Scale of the Universe 2

All it takes is a mouse to scroll through the entire universe.

Scale of the Universe 2 is the updated version of the Hwangs’ project. It’s deceptively simple. You use your mouse’s scroll wheel to exponentially slide through the entirety of the universe. From the estimated size of the smallest hypothetical particles to the entire universe itself, you get to see a representational look at how large everything is.

Take, for instance, the human body. Compared to the raffelesia–the largest single-flower in the world, we are huge. But scroll that wheel back one click and we’re tiny. Suddenly, we’re in the domain of spider crabs, giraffes and elephants. One more click and we’re barely visible. The T-Rex takes our place as insignificant in the face of the blue whale.

scaleoftheuniverse2compositehuman Explore: Scale of the Universe 2

Humans are going, going, gone in two clicks of the mouse.

While the information is geared at a younger audience, the style and concept of Scale of the Universe 2 make it a fun diversion for anyone. Each object in the application can be clicked on to learn a few facts about it. The prose is clear and the trivia selected engaging. There’s not much to say about it. It’s a beautifully realized educational tool with value as a piece of interactive art and an early resource for research.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Chirpbug and Occupy the Street

Janine Ditullio is the head writer for SuperJail! on Adult Swim. She also works with coder Pat Rogan to develop technology she calls Chirpbug. It lets people interact with live events. It was originally designed for stand up comics to get feedback during performances (to fuck with the comic, naturally). You could rate the comic as they performed live and create messages for them to read if they looked down at the monitor. The comic could hear the pre-programmed laughter or jeering from speakers on her end of the live video feed.

Last week, Janine connected with the Occupy Wall Street movement to create Occupy The Street [From Your Couch]. Essentially, they have cameras filming the NYC protests. The cameras are connected to speakers and monitors. As their camera guy walks around and films the protests, you can interact live. You have your choice of four chants and can make your own sign to flash next to the camera.

occupythestreet Chirpbug and Occupy the Street

Follow: Hashtag the Planet

Hashtag the Planet is a one pane webcomic from artist Ann Merritt. Meritt works in a very different style from a lot of other webcomic creators. Her comics are not narrative or sight gag driven. She develops an idea inspired by her life into simple representational text and imagery.

hashtagtheplanet 1024x768 Follow: Hashtag the Planet

I had the chance to briefly meet the woman behind Hashtag the Planet at New York Comic Con last weekend. Her display was one of the more eye-catching ones in Artist Alley. The simple booth was framed with twin metal photography trees holding wrapped versions of her one pane comics. Her large black and white banner, candy-colored artwork, and bright demeanor were enough to draw a crowd for a very different style of art.

“I don’t have a set publishing schedule,” she said. “I try to get at least one a month, but sometimes can do one every two or three days. It really depends on if I’m inspired.”

Hashtag the Planet is, of all things, a product inspired by Twitter.

Why I Write

Forgive the personal blogging. I’m in a funk and need to get this out there.

I write because I enjoy writing. I’ve been told I have a skill for it, though my own psyche refuses to accept even the most sincere compliment. I’m severely insecure about what I do and always looking for a new angle to please someone else.

This is why I do so much writing for other people. It’s safe. My name doesn’t go on it. I don’t take the heat from user comments. I don’t get contacted by the people involved in a story. I simply write the article/post/copy/whatever, send it off to its “official” owner, and wait for the check to come in (if there’s a check involved at all). I’ve learned how to imitate other’s voices while strengthening my own point of view at the same time. Chances are, if you read this, you’ve read something else on another site that I produced without even realizing it.

It’s not an easy lifestyle, but it’s one I wear like a soft sweater.

Discover: The American Apparel Plus Size Model Spectacle

Hey, this isn’t entertainment media! Yes it is. It is when it gets blown up this huge and crosses over multiple art forms to get any sense of resolution. I won’t cover advertising campaigns too often, but they’re here to stay at Sketchy Details.

A few weeks ago, clothing company American Apparel decided to hold a plus size model search. They will be expanding their line for women to include size XL in some popular designs. A website was set up (already stripped down to nothing) where hopeful models could submit their photos and answer why they wanted to be the next face of American Apparel. Sounds like a great opportunity, right?

This is American Apparel we’re talking about. Two years ago, company CEO Dov Charney made every store manager photograph their employees so they could be evaluated on whether or not they fit the American Apparel aesthetic. This was in response to a slower than average selling period. Charney blamed the employees for not being the right look for the store. Law suits were filed. Charney replied that ugly people could be hired if they were fashionable. Right. A year later, there were reports that starting pay and store position were determined by aesthetics rather than qualifications, also not fully denied.

Now the winner of the plus size model search has been informed via a publicly distributed press release letter that she will not be receiving a prize for winning the contest.

It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge based on your personal distaste for our use of light-hearted language, and that “bootylicous” was too much for you to handle. While we may be a bit TOO inspired by Beyoncé, and do have a tendency to occasionally go pun-crazy, we try not to take ourselves too seriously around here. I wonder if you had taken just a moment to imagine that this campaign could actually be well intentioned, and that my team and I are not out to offend and insult women, would you have still behaved in the same way, mocking the confident and excited participants who put themselves out there?

That’s a strange response because controversial contestant Nancy Upton never said that at all. Her photos, their text, and her response after the jump.