Derik Badman's Journal

March 2021

2021-03-02 07:56

I think I decided in the shower this morning that I'm going to make a new minicomic. Something small and simple just to do something and to familiarize myself with the tools. My copies of Abode products stopped working a few Mac updates ago so it will be all Gimp and Krita for me. I don't exactly know what I will do or how or when, but I guess the time has come around again to try my hand at comics making and see what is generated. Does writing it here mean it will happen? No. I wrote the other day I was going to stop playing video games until something new came out and I almost immediately turned around on that and went back to Assassin's Creed Vahalla for a DLC and to explore the map more.

Mordew is coming along. Over 300 pages in (out of... almost 600 I guess) and I'm still waiting for the turning point. I can just tell at some point the protagonist's view of the world will get upended and there will be some important revelation. I can kind of see lurking behind the events of the plot. I could tell from pretty early on that would be the case, and I'm still waiting for that moment. So far my biggest complaint about the book is that the protagonist is a young teen boy who is not particularly interesting. He has no particular defining traits other than having some kind of hereditary magic power (that is vague and unclear) and having an issue with anger.

Watched Mati Diop's Snow Canon on Criterion the other day. The short film is about a relationship between a teen girl staying in a house in the alps with a housekeeper/sitter (who is a younger woman (twenties maybe)). There's an element of fantasy in the beginning, I think, the girl is IMing (or some kind of computer chat) with her friend who is on vacation somewhere and says that she is in the house with a cute guy who is the sitter. We see the guy and the girl sitting next to him. And the texts to the friend make some comments but then... she's like "there's a housekeeper" and the guy never appears again. I think we are just seeing the girl's fiction that she is sending to her friend. her friend too sends her messages about some American guy she makes out with and you get the distinct possibility they are both just telling each other stories. The girl and the housekeeper end up getting closer when the housekeeper is broken up with over the phone by someone (I don't think we ever get a sense if it's a boyfriend or girlfriend). In the end they end up kissing just as the housekeeper is about to leave, and not in that European one cheek then the next way... And you wonder... if the person on the phone was a woman, was the girl making up a fiction about a guy to hide her true interest in women? There are no answers, but it was an enjoyable short film. Still need to watch Diop's other short "Atlantiques" which is somehow related to Atlantics which I really liked.

2021-03-04 08:18

Saw my first crocuses of the year/season popping up in a yard on my walk yesterday, so spring is coming. That's something positive for my week. Work has been a struggle.

I watched Georges Franju's Judex over two days, 1963 homage/remake of an old Louis Feuillade silent serial (also called Judex). Someone somewhere mentioned it recently, and there it was in Criterion. It's a fun rather silly film that I quite enjoyed. The plot has all the logic of old serial thrillers which is to say, a very loose logic. At one point the antogonist femme and her gang kidnap the hero's love interest (the femme is dressed as a nun which makes for some great visuals) then throw her off a bridge and watch her float down the river (maybe an Ophelia reference as she floats on her back down the river). They then follow the body to "see where she goes." When she is picked up by some village fishermen, they hope she is dead. Then... they hijack the ambulance the villagers call to help the woman and... kidnap her again. There is no plot-based logic to this, it all seems to just be for the purposes of the visuals, the dynamic scenes. Franju is clearly using the tropes of the silent films but it feels less aged because of the filmic technology (better quality visuals and, of course, the sound).

Francine Bergé is quite stunning in the role of the governess turned criminal femme. She is very much the star of the movie despite being the antogonist for the eponymous hero. Of course she has to die at the end (falling from a building while wearing her black cat suit after fighting with a circus acrobat in a white leotard), splayed out on the ground amongst weeds and flowers. I wasn't aware I'd seen her before, but I just found a still of her from Rivette's The Nun and I very much remember her. She was also playing a kind of antagonist in that film too. She has these great expressions where she is just shooting daggers at another character. I see she's also in Roger Vadim's La Ronde with Anna Karina, which I guess I'll have to now watch.

Finished up Alex Pheby's Mordew, excepting the rather long glossary at the back which I was only skimming. In the end I feel... meh, about the book. Interesting enough that I finished it, but it never really... turned... to something all that interesting. The protagonist is pretty flat, mostly just doing what other people tell him to. A large shift in the plot/world/outlook never really happens beyond the expected revelation that his parent's were not the poor slum living people he saw them as. The ending was very much a "first part of a trilogy" ending that resolved very little and did not do much to explain anything. I shrug. I will not be searching out the sequel should it ever appear.

2021-03-07 08:56

Did some more weeding of books yesterday and a bit of reorganization. A lot of the RPG books went into a box: rules I don't need because I have options I like better; settings that I just won't ever want to run; resources that don't seem like they'll ever be useful or are redundant to something else I have. The shelf is a lot emptier now which I like.

I also set up a small area next to my desk of inspirational art books, those I could page through just for enjoyment but also that I think about in relation to maybe making some comics. Still deciding what should go there but currently it has: Uta Barth, Twombly, De Chirico, Ian Wallace, Ancient Greek Vase Painting, Tantra Song, and the Emily Dickinson Gorgeous Nothings book.

Yesterday's movie was Josef Von Sternberg's Shanghai Express which I thought I had seen before, but on watching it... I don't think I have. It's one of those movies that takes place largely on or around a train, in this case in 30's China during the civil war. It's basically a love story about faith starring Marlene Dietrich and some guy whose name I have already forgotten (he was not particularly memorably, especially when working with Deitrich and Anna May Wong the other lead). I enjoyed it: the plot is a bit suspenseful, it has a wealth of side characters, the leading ladies are beautiful and interesting, and it is visually dynamic, very noirish looking: dark shadows, tight interiors, a bunch of cases of shooting day for night that gives every a kind of gray haze, some excellent use of really strong lighting. One scene late in the movie that really hit me is during close-up of Dietrich (there are quite a few, all impeccably shot) she is smoking and blows smoke out of her mouth and just for a moment her face is obscured by the smoke and then it is revealed again. If I recall correctly, it coincides with a sense of seeing her anew by one of the other characters who has changed his opinion about her character. I didn't realize that one first watching, but it makes sense now in rethinking about it.

Started in on Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships a Icelandic Saga like novel about vikings in the 10th-11th century. We'll see how it goes.

2021-03-10 08:22

Landscapers started work yesterday in the yard. We've been in our house almost 6 years now and let large parts of the yard just get completely overgrown. The garage was covered in vines (Was! As of yesterday afternoon, it isn't), areas were taken over by what the landscaper called "weed trees", one of the walkways around the house was almost completely obscured, including some steps and a small brick wall. They are basically ripping out almost everything and then are going to put in some grass seed and plant some bushes. The idea being we'll get a fresh start and can attempt to keep up with it better.

Been watching Von Sternberg's Morocco in tiny bits. It's not as interesting as Shanghai Express but at this point I'm at least determined to finish it. The whole movie feels like it is lacking tension in its primary romantic plot, and there's not much else to it but that plot. Not even much in the way of striking imagery.

Was going to start messing about in Krita on a new comic, so I installed the latest version, and then on the second action I tried to take (copying a layer mask) the app crashed. Reopened, tried again, crashed. Turns out there's a bug, so I was thwarted, which I think put me in a mood for the rest of the day. But it was a beautiful day out (in the 60s) when I took a walk down to the library to pick up the new Arkady Martine novel A Desolation Called Peace, a sequel to her A Memory Called Empire which I really liked.

2021-03-13 14:42

Made two comics in the past two days. Had to revert to an older version of Krita to avoid the bug that was messing me up. Pulled out an old 4 panel strip template from November of 2014 and made use of some screencaps I took from Shanghai Express. Feels good to be working on something, even though it's a bit slow as I figure out both how Krita works and remember how a bunch of these general features work (like layer masks and filters and all that stuff). I guess these are the first comics I've made since November of 2015, as that's the latest dated reference in my "Comics" folder. Looking back at those, I can see myself struggling with where to go and what to do. I was trying out a different format (portrait page, one big panel with three panels under/over it) and some different techniques. For the most part they didn't/don't work.

The comics from this week work ok. I've decided to try to work on them as a kind of versioning process. Instead of starting with a new blank template, I'm starting with the previous comic. I don't know how long I can keep that up (I guess I could just remove almost everything from the file one day), but I'd like to see how... refining the comic goes. How transforming it a few steps at a time goes. I can look at and think about what works, what I like, what I don't, and then add something new, take away parts, edit parts. Over some amount of time I should end up with a comic that has almost no relation to the first one and then, if I keep it up, later, a comic that has almost no relation to that one.

I'm liking Krita a lot (minus that bug that messed me up the other day). It's free, open source, and really full of features. It certainly seems better suited for drawing than say, Photoshop. And so far it's working fine for me in my use of photos. And it supports my Huion tablet's pressure sensitivity.

2021-03-14 12:29

Finished another comic this morning, took quite awhile. I'm still learning the application, but also, not totally sure of what I am trying to do. Today's doesn't feel totally satisfactory to me. Maybe I'll have time tomorrow to make a new/better version of it.

Reread Robert B. Ray's The Avant-Garde Meets Andy Hardy this past week. In it he argues for new ways of writing/talking about films, drawing from the repetoire of, mostly, Surrealism and their descendents. It's the type of book that is hard to... summarize... but is always inspiring to me. It makes me want to try new forms when I write criticism. Though I don't think I've ever been very successful at that.

Somehow came across this old interview with Aidan Koch in the Paris Review that has some good stuff in it:

It’s easy to compare comics to movies, but with drawing you’re selecting what people see all the time instead of giving them a whole frame of imagery. I’m taking that to an extreme, and I think that helps the play between watching a narrative and experiencing a narrative—you don’t necessarily know whether something is just what someone else is seeing or whether it’s something that’s happening emotionally. I’m trying to manipulate those things into a more encompassing experience, so that it’s more about internalizing your own experience or relation to it than just having a scene playing out in front of you.

...

The reader has to do a lot of work.

Yeah, that’s been a mild critique of my work. Some people are irritated by not understanding what’s going on, whereas others are excited by that, excited to reread it and try and figure it out. Part of the point is that there is not necessarily a definitive view, so the more you read it, the more you might pick up on other details and see how they relate to each other.

You frequently paint without outlines, so that the color provides the form.

It’s nice to have options for how to depict things, depending on what’s going on. Having the same level of information all the time constrains your view. I can change the way I represent something to give an idea of it without actually having to show it. Readers automatically associate things if you give them hints. If I showed a bunch of things in a row, you wouldn’t necessarily know if they’re related or how they’re related, but the minute I give concrete information, you’d see connections or resemblances.

2021-03-17 14:39

It's like a zero sum game: making comics takes away from this journal as I end up (at least during the week) doing them the same time of day. Slowly working out how to do stuff in Krita, slowly working out some methods new and old for making comics.

Six or seven chapters into The Long Ships and I don't know if I'm enthused enough to finish it. The story really reminds me of Prince Valiant in many ways but without all the lush art to look at. Which then has me thinking, I could just go reread the dozen or so volumes of that I have on the shelf.

Been reading Taiyo Matsumoto's Ping Pong which I probably would not stick with if I didn't know it was just two volumes (or at least 2 volumes in this edition), as, in knowing there is an imminent end makes me feel like it's not going to end up as a long winded race to the top sports manga, and my understanding is it turns against those tropes at some point. Matsumoto has a great line to his drawings, not quite unvarying but not dynamic either, it's hard and sharp and works really great for the action sequences. It also makes everything look a little alien and grotesque, especially the characters when they are showing emotion. You almost expect some kind of horrific monster to emerge from one of their mouths.

Watched most of (I fast forwarded through some scenes) La Ronde from 1964. It is the type of movie you watch for some of the leads (Anna Karina, Francine Berge, Jane Fonda) and then realize that there's not much else to it. It was a lot of bright colors and fancy costumes and a kind of wink wink sexuality. Not much to recommend it.

2021-03-19 08:30

Read a bunch of comics lately and realizing I sometimes forget to mention them. There is this level of quality where I don't think its awful or even bad, but I am not excited by the work either, so it just kind of slips out of mind. Matsumoto's Ping Pong did not end up that different from the regular genre/tropes as I expected and ended as a disappointement. Of all the manga of his I've read, oddly (or maybe as expected) the one I like best is the one I read as a scanlation and still isn't published in English. I think the translation is Bamboo Samurai. It has a really different look than his other work, thinner lines, more dynamism, and I recall enjoying the story a lot. I should reread that.

Anders Nilsen's new self-published collection In Your Next Life You Will Be Together with All of Your Friends was a bit of a letdown, as it has a comic of his I really love called "Event" from an old issue of Mome (one of the, or perhaps the only, comics I scanned before getting rid of all my Mome issues). But the version in this collection feels inferior, black and white, crowded (the other version is color and single image per page). The rest of the collection is all short comics and illustrations from various sources. Much of it is minor, though there are a two comics in it that are typical Nilsen and quite good. One is a single pager (here, a spread) from the New York Times that addresses the pandemic and George Floyd's murder (Nilsen apparently is from a few blocks away from where it happened). The other (also having appeared in the Times) is four images (one a spread, so 5 pages) of diagrammatic comics tracing his autobiography over an epic scale. It has that... neutral observer tone of so much of his short work, and the images are a mix of abstracted figures and small images in callout boxes. (Callout? Not sure that is the work I want... smaller images attached by lines to a larger image to act as details.)

2021-03-21 09:47

Finished a first playthrough of Detroit: Become Human (2018) on the PS4. It is a most unusual game not without a number of narrative flaws, but it is interesting as a game. The plot is about a near sci-fi future where androids have become ubiquitous and what happens when the androids start to gain free will and want to be treated as a free lifeform. It's a pretty classic sci-fi trope and the narrative is filled with tropes and clichés (drunken abusive father, drug addicted estranged son, drunken detective mourning dead family member, giant quiet black guy protector, etc. and that's just characters). The storyline I played through (more on that later) includes the androids peacefully (for the most part) gaining equal rights, but it happens in like a couple days via edict of the President. With the thematic parallels established in the game to slavery, the ridiculously fast solution to a very complicated situation is just absurd and probably insulting.

The game also has large plot holes involving the clarity of the diegetic world's rules. In most games by virtue of their clear controller actions, character abilities, and things like hit points and other stats a certain consistency has to be maintained. This game is almost completely ad hoc in its control scheme (other than the move/look controls) and has no character sheets/stats at all, so there is no rules/system based limitations on the characters, which also means that at any one time it's not clear what you can actually do. The writers apparently also cared not for any consistency in this matter either, writing in actions and abilities as required for an end result. Sometimes the detective android can take out 5 armed guards in a second with pinpoint pistol accuracy, but in another scene his only shot at a potential murder suspect is a kill shoot (when a disabling shot would have been much more useful). Sometimes the one android must touch another android to "convert" it to have freewill, while other times it can happen at a distance. Sometimes it seems only that one android can "convert" but at other times it seems others can. A particularly galling example at the end, one android switches his mind/body with another android. Not only is this thematically problematic (if the other android is supposed to be human than what does it say that the character is willing to switch him into a dying body), but also problematic to the plot where a mystery thread is blocked off because suspects are "killed". It's never clear what consistutes death for the androids, since one of the protagonists is brought back after being shot in the head and mentions only a bit of memory loss, while other android deaths are counted as permanent. It's a lot of stuff like that (and more minor issues), not to mention suspension of disbelief issues harder to believe than sentient androids, like that the government somehow rounds up all the androids in like a day despite, an earlier report that because of the androids going rogue there are all kinds of problems running infrastructure and staffing workers and such. Oh and a hilarious line where a reporter asks the President about androids hacking reactors and weapons system and the President is like "all IT systems have been turned off."

So, ranting about plot holes aside, it is an interesting game because of its decision tree/choice matrix and the way the designers show you that tree at the end of each chapter. So after you finish a chapter is shows you a whole tree of options: filling in the ones you took, which ones unlocked options further along, and which ones were unlocked by some previous set of decisions. In a sense it ruins a certain magic of the narrative, seeing what choices you missed or that there were 3 possible endings to a chapter, but in another sense it opens up replayability because you can go back and replay chapters to try different choices or open different chapters (at least that's how I understand it, I haven't actually tried it yet). How else could the narrative have gone? Well you can go back and replay that a scene and see. Pretty interesting.

Interface wise, as mentioned, it's almost all ad hoc except move and looking (and a weird "scan" option that helps direct you to the main plot points). This caused me a lot of confusion especially early on, trying to ascertain which actions where simple and direct and untimed and which ones I had to be quick about or careful about. It also means at any one moment is never totally clear what you can do in the game. The dialogue options can also be really obscure as they are all single words, often in ways that don't indicate a clear decision as much as an attitude, where you don't know what particular topic or idea that attitude is being applied to. I often ended up with decisions I didn't really intend because of that confusion.

But for all that, it is interesting as game design, especially since it doesn't easily fall into existing types of game action. There's fighting but there's no combat system. Once or twice you have to sneak around, but it's not really a stealth game. It's not a strategy game even slightly. There are points (a score), but I have no idea what purpose they serve. It's basically like a complicated choose your own adventure done in some pretty good looking motion capture (spot the actors you know, like Friday Night Lights' Minka Kelly and Millennium's Lance Henriksen).

To further interrupt both this journal and my new comics making, I started writing up an RPG thing. Jim at d66 Classless Kobolds (an rpg blog I follow) created this Play Worlds, Not Rules: Design Challenge, and I decided to give it a try. I'm making a document, mostly of tables, for a game about playing people in an old West town, the setting of pretty much all my favorite westerns, starting with Deadwood but including movies like Warlock, The Man Who Shot Libery Valance, Canyon Passage, Rio Bravo, etc. I've got about 1000 words already, and am looking into figuring out how to lay it out in Scribus (which I've only briefly used and that many years ago).

In real world news, a lot of my family and friends have been getting vaccinated, which heralds some chance of a return to closer to normalcy (like in person gaming sessions). Most are getting the two dose vaccines, so it's still more than a month away, as I haven't even gotten a first one, and likely won't in the immediate future since the distribution in our county/state appears to be really messed up (apparently certain highly populated counties in the state were apportioned a lower percent of doses). Small steps.

2021-03-24 12:44

Finished up a v0.1 version of Hadleyville: Rules Free RPG in an Old West Town [Edit: And now I'm up to v0.3]. There are a few empty spots in the tables and a few more suggestions I'd like to add in as well as figure out Scribus well enough to layout a short printable zine format of it. The whole process has been really fun so far. Working within the limitations of the challenge is right up my alley, and I quite enjoy brainstorming random tables that are very focused on a specific setting/milieu. I feel like I could happily make a few more of these based on some other settings I've been wanting to put into a game (like Ancient Greece). The focus on setting/tools/inspiration is what is missing so often from RPG products which too often are filled with rules and then add a few things at the end as an almost afterthought about what to actually do with those rules or are often tools that are so generic as to be useless.

Lots of comics showing up in the mail lately. I guess my interest in making some new comics also found an outlet in me ordering more comics (though a bunch of them were from the online Printed Matter fair from a few weeks ago, and some are just a coincidental confluence of things pre-ordered coming out near each other). I should try to write about some of them soon.

A bit adrift as far as non-comics reading goes right now. I read Jean Giono's Melville: A Novel the other day, a fictionalized story about Herman Melville before he wrote Moby Dick that was used as the introduction to the French translation of that novel which Giono worked on. In it, Melville, in England to deal with his publishers, takes a carriage into the country anad meets a young woman who he ends up spending some enjoyable hours with. Not much happens exactly, but... I enjoyed it. Giono has a way of telling the simple narrative that was engaging and expressive but also didn't linger too long (it's a very short novel). Going to hold onto it and reread it at some point. (I really should reread more Melville for that matter Moby Dick or The Confidence Man.)

2021-03-28 09:47

I've been working more on my western RPG Hadleyville, now up to a 0.2 version. I want to make it a printable booklet, though it isn't quite there yet. My InDesign stopped working awhile back (it was old), so I was trying out Scribus but discovered it is total garbage for designing tables, and this project is more tables than not. So, I ended up using html and css. I have never used it before but there is a whole css module for print design (different than making a stylesheet for printing a webpage) that is pretty much invisible/unused in browsers. This makes designing with it a bit tricky. Had to get a program that converts html to pdf and actually parses the print css. You edit, regenerate the pdf, then check the results. It's a little tedious, but I've managed to at least get a better layout worked up. Still need to add more art, and probably some more pages so I can make it an 8 page (2 sheets double-sided) booklet.

Since I've been thinking western, I watched Rio Bravo on HBOMax a few days ago. I ended up... thinking less of it than I remember. In general John Wayne tends to annoy me and the story just doesn't do much for me. I ended up only kind of half watching it. On the other hand, I've been rereading Oakley Hall's Warlock which I am quite enjoying the second time through, though I can't read it without picturing the actors from the movie (Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, and DeForest Kelley in particular). The chapters shift point of view through a succession of characters in an effective way, and the novels themes about law, authority, and violence feel at the heart of what I find interesting in a lot of the westerns I like.

Somehow I stumbled upon the fact that Alex Toth drew the Dell Comics version of Rio Bravo and found a Toth fan site that had scans of it. That comic was unimpressive, but looking into other westerns by Toth (searching for material for images for my game) I found this great example of Toth inking his own pencils in Dell Comics Gun Glory from 1957. Lots of great inking going on in that comic, which, having just skimmed through a bunch of Toth comics, is not normally the case for his pencils. He does a lot of really loose expressive blacks in both background and foreground that looks less precise and controlled than what I'm used to seeing from him.

Ran a session of fake Warhammer in Marienburg last night for some of the guys. I haven't run a game in a long time (I think it was the Mausritter adventure back in June) so I felt a little... unprepared. Trying very rules-lite using this Streets of Marienburg game that is a reskin (and maybe simplification) of a simplification of Dungeon World. I'm probably simplifying it even more in how I'm running it. We didn't get super far into the adventure so we'll see about the rules. I'm most concerned how combat will go. Running this "House of Rogat Demazien" from Gabor Lux's Trail of the Sea Demon adventure zine as it was fairly easy to reskin for Marienburg.

2021-03-29 08:04

Lauren Tamaki on making the art for the new Criterion edition of Celine and Julie Go Boating Some great art in there.

2021-03-30 07:49

Spring has arrived but today there is frost. We actually had dinner outside Friday it was so nice, but things have chilled off since then. Still, the daffodils have come up everywhere and our new grass seed has sprouted, short bright green spikes in the dirt, each day a little fuller, a little wider ranging. The tree that hides behind our garage, just barely visible depending on which window you look out, has sprouted its varegated pink flowers. I really should identify it (Edit: Lianne identified it as a "leonard messel magnolia").

Been taking morning walks again, after quite a long hiatus when the weather was so cold and I lost the habit. In this case, this week, it is because I ran out of coffee and forgot to add it to our weekly grocery list. So I've walked down to the new cafe in town, nice to be out, but further eroding my pre-work time. I suddenly seem to have too many projects where before I had none. Haven't gotten back to the comics, because I've been working on this game.

A bumper crop of publications in the mail lately: comics, books, zines, magazines. My cleared off desk has piles again of the unread, the partially read, and the read but want to reread or write a bit about it. Got a new Jane Irish exhibit catalogue from Locks Gallery for an exhibit up right now. I saw it was up but not being likely to go (I'm not getting on the train to get into the city), I just ordered the catalogue. It's a disappointment, not seeing the show, because I only recently discovered her work (I think I just pulled a catalogue off the shelf when last we were in Locks, probably for a Jennifer Bartlett show), and I'd really like to see her work in person. They tend to be large and detailed, so the reproductions in the book clearly don't do them justice. Her work is figurative and bright, but expressionistic and political with a hearty use of appropriation and allusion. I really love it.

Been watching the latest seasons of Doctor Who, with Jodie Whittaker, and quite enjoying them. I gave up on the previous doctor's seasons back when they were on. In the first season of her run, there is no overarching sci-fi plot, but there is an ongoing plot for the companions that is not really wrapped up in the sci-fi elements. The Doctor's extreme pacificism is stressed frequently but also occasionally undermined by the actual plots. In the first episode she let's this killer alien dude go, and then in the last episode of the season we find out he caused all these deaths and trouble subsequently and you wonder that she maybe made the wrong decision. Yet at the end of that one they still just lock the dude up in some kind of stasis (surely, to return in a subsequent episode?).