Where to write, and more with If This Then That

Where to write

I find myself running into what seems to be an enviable problem – I currently have too many tools at my disposal in which to write things. Each one is similar, with differences that are slight enough to make each compelling in its own right. But, while each has its advantages, I haven’t devised a workflow in my head that might require that I use all of them simultaneously. So I have this sort of fragmented writing existence that is compartmentalized in several different apps.

Part of the problem I am having, honestly, is iCloud and its sandboxing properties which keep documents created in one app walled off and unavailable to other apps. So I’ve got a group of documents in one app; a separate group of documents in another app; a third group of documents in a third app; and so on, with no crossover. Using iCloud sort of forces your hand into one of two workflows: a single-app workflow where you use one tool for everything, or a fractured workflow where multiple apps become used for certain specialized purposes since you can’t share documents between them.

Here’s a rundown of what I’m using right now.

iA Writer

iA Writer was one of the first tools I played with that had Mac, iPhone and iPad versions so I could access the things that I wrote anywhere on any device at any time. I don’t use iA Writer on my phone all that often, but it’s become my primary writing tool for work; every news release or other story I write for work is written in iA Writer and then moved into InDesign for layout and distribution. I’ve created around 150 work-related documents in iA Writer, and they all live in iCloud. I have some personal documents here as well, mostly work in the last three graduate school courses I took and a couple of documents related to some personal projects I have worked on over the last year.

I like iA Writer; it’s become a comfortable writing environment, even though I’m creating some roadblocks for myself when it comes to importing that text into InDesign for layout (or into Pages for export into a Word document if I am using it to write a magazine story, for instance).

As an app-based service, iA Writer comes with some one-time charges; the Mac app is $4.99 and the iPad and iPhone apps are 99 cents each. Still, for less than the cost of two drinks at Starbucks you get access to a pretty solid round-trip writing environment you can easily access from your Holy Trinity of devices.


Draft is the most recent addition to my app arsenal; on the surface it’s a Markdown app like iA Writer, but rather than using a collection of native apps Draft achieves “access anywhere” by being a web-based application. Draft’s killer app-type feature is its functionality as a transcript-writing tool; it has the ability to embed audio with extremely easy-to-use and intuitive controls for navigating that audio, making the development of transcripts an absolute breeze.

Right now I have exactly four documents in Draft – and all four are transcripts of audio interviews I have done for work. Draft made preparing these transcripts almost trivial; it’s probably the only tool I have ever used that had specific built-in functionality to help with transcribing, but I can’t imagine any other existing tool doing this any better.

I’m honestly not sure what’s keeping me from going all-in on Draft. It has a free and a paid version, and the paid version is a $3.99-per-month subscription; the subscription is primarily an “I love this tool and want to give you money for it” support mechanism, as the freely-available version of the tool seems entirely functional. And Draft’s developer, Nathan Kontny seems to be exactly the kind of person I would have no problems giving $4 a month to in order to help him continue to build this tool; he’s obviously passionate about what he does and he’s putting every piece of his talent to work in order to build a tool that people will love using. Guys like Nathan Kontny are part of the reason I love technology — he helps to give a writing tool a personality, which is a pretty amazing thing.

If there’s any immediate change in my workflow, I could easily see it being a straight trade of iA Writer for Draft.

Google Docs

Then, I’ve got a pile of stuff in Google Docs, which is almost entirely work-related; I also did some grad-school work in Docs, mostly on group projects where I had to collaborate with people in other cities. But I have very few personal documents in Docs. I actually do very little with Google Docs, and I suspect that as Apple’s iCloud.com versions of Pages and Numbers come out of beta there won’t be any reason for me to use Docs for anything that isn’t related to work. Right now, though, Docs is great for building shared calendars and other workflow-tracking documents for me to share with our student workers.

But, the majority of that material could eventually be moved into something like Wunderlist or Trello, as well, which would leave very little reason to continue using Docs for much of anything.

Day One

Day One is touted as a journaling app, and it’s quite good. I have taken to writing all of my post drafts for andybartlett.com in Day One, because as a journal its entries are tied into a built-in calendar which makes it a nice archival tool. Day One entries also are written in Markdown, and simply as a Markdown editor Day One is quite good.

Day One is a lot like Evernote; the more I use it, the more I realize I should be using it. I’ve started using Day One for job journaling, to keep track of significant accomplishments over the course of a day (although I haven’t remotely gotten into a flow with that yet, mostly because I’m not entirely sure what I would be referring back to the entries for), as well, and it’s good for traditional journal-type entries where something that I want to write pops into my head and I need somewhere that isn’t a blog to stash it. This is another situation where I really like that Day One’s entries are married to a calendar.

Still, other than drafts of andybartlett.com posts, Day One wouldn’t be a good production environment for work; because of the calendar, it would be quite difficult for me to start a story on one day, then write a bunch of other stuff over the next seven days and then backtrack to finish that story. Day One ties your writing to when you start it, and with my work I’m more interested in when it gets finished.

The Rest

In addition to these four outlets, I also have a significant amount of data spread across two Evernote accounts (one that is basically for work and one that is for personal things — drafts of the comic book reviews I used to do for The Terrordrome were all originally written in Evernote); I’ve got a pile of stuff in a Simplenote account that I don’t hardly use any more – data that, honestly, I should migrate somewhere else; I’ve got some things in Vesper; and there are other things still that I have in Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps. So there are six other apps where I have data, and as with the first four, none of them can share information with each other due to iCloud sandboxing.

That’s 10 apps, total, each containing some unique segment of stuff I’ve written. I’d like to start consolidating most of that, but other than eliminating Simplenote I’m not entirely sure where to cut. I am going to hold out with iCloud for my storage until MacOS X version 9, Mavericks, comes out this fall, and I’m also going to see what happens with Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps at iCloud.com once those come out of beta. As I mentioned earlier I’m sorely tempted to switch from iA Writer to Draft, but if I did that I would want to pay for Draft just because I would feel the need to pay for something that I was using as such a central piece of my workflow.

Ideally, I could foresee a situation where I changed my sync solution from iCloud to Dropbox (which I probably just need to go ahead and do), switched to Draft as my go-to primary writing tool, and then distributed writing to andybartlett.com, Day One or Evernote from there.

Right now it’s all still a mess.

Spending time with If This Then That

If This Then That has proven to be a fun little automation tool that can tie some — but certainly not all — of the various presences I have scattered throughout the Internet’s vast series of tubes together into a cohesive presence.

For example, I’ve got sharing functionality set up in WordPress that automatically shares to Facebook and Twitter whenever I have a new blog post. I do this so I don’t have to jump over and immediately share that I’ve posted something on those social networks, mostly because there would eventually be the temptation to just not share because I couldn’t be bothered to spend the 30 seconds to do it or because I came up with some reason why the post shouldn’t be shared. So that’s usually fine.

I wrote an IFTTT recipe that automatically creates a post at andybartlett.com to share photos I post to Instagram. This is fine and it works great; it gets photo content to andybartlett.com, which in the past was exceedingly rare. But right now I’ve got a situation set up where an Instagram post fires an andybartlett.com post which fires a Facebook update; so if I share to Facebook when I post in Instagram, I get a double post on Facebook — one directly from Instagram and one from andybartlett.com.

The one thing that’s nice is that those auto-posts on Facebook aren’t triggering the IFTTT action I wrote to dump Facebook status updates into an Evernote notebook.

I either need to figure out a way to tweak the recipes to recognize post tags so that those round-trip type posts are situational and not automatic for every situation, or just scrap IFTTT for social posting automation.


Now that I’m done with graduate school save for my final paper and a comprehensive final exam, I’ve started giving some thought to what to tackle next. Grad school hasn’t been challenging, really, but having it hanging over my head constantly for the last two years, including summer school, has been incredibly taxing. It’s been a distraction, pulling my attention away from just about everything else with the mere fact that it’s been something that’s been constantly on my mind since August of 2011.

Right now, my “what’s next?” list has three projects. Those are:

• Write some software. This is a project I have already started; initially I want to work on doing some development for Filemaker Pro 12 as part of a project for work, and I think it’s finally time to stop making excuses and begin learning how to do iOS development. It’s something that has fascinated me since the very first moment I held my first iOS device, a third-generation iPod Touch.

For Filemaker, I want to start building a project for work. I maintain a series of spreadsheets in Google Docs to keep track of my news and social media calendars for work; right now there are three. One with an inventory of news releases I distribute over the course of a given year; one is a calendar of upcoming events on campus that I use as a coverage planner; the third is a similar calendar for scheduling social media posts, which is a new initiative for this year. With this system, I don’t have an easy way to answer questions like “what media outlets picked up X story?” or “what stories were picked up by the most number of media outlets?” I think I can use Filemaker to build something that can answer these questions for me.

For iOS, I have all kinds of ideas. There are things I could build for work; I have ideas for things I could build in order to support Brad’s new initiatives in athletic media relations; there are things I could build to help deliver publications and presentation materials. I also have an idea for a game, to digitally resurrect something from the late 1990s that has been gone for awhile and never got the virtual version it deserved.

• Write a book. Taking inspiration from this, I have an idea for a similar encyclopedic look at something that I’m pretty sure has not yet received this sort of formal treatment (although there are several web versions, but none that do exactly what I have in mind). This will take a ton of work, but I think the end result could be cool.

I also have had an idea for a work-related book in my head for about 10 years; it’s something that is right in my wheelhouse, and I have the ability to gather the assets I would need to write this book at my easy disposal through work. And, it’s a subject that deserves to be written.

So, ultimately “write a book” might become “write two books.” We shall see.

• Finish my postcard project for my friends. Just over a year ago, I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to request postcards – “Ask me to draw you something, and I will send it to you on a postcard.” I expected a few responses, and I ended up with a list of about 36 of these to draw. I had this idea that I’d do one of them each week. The first one was done for Megan in early June of 2012. By October, I had done eight. I finished a ninth in November, and have barely touched pencil to paper since then save for the Megan Fox piece I started in May. I need to get this off the ground again, and get my friends the cards they asked for. Maybe not a card a week, but at least a card every other week.

I also need to start drawing Lego Gagas again; I’ve scrounged up some great reference material on Pinterest that needs to be Legoized.

Comic review: “Cobra” #14

Cobra #14
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Cover price: $3.99

Cover A: Antonio Fuso, with colors by Arianna Florien
Cover B: Joe Eisma and Juan Castro, with colors by Simon Gough
Cover RI: Joe Eisma and Juan Castro

Written by: Mike Costa
Art: Antonio Fuso & Werther Dell’edera
Colors: Arianna Florian
Letters: Neil Uyetake

Links to the solicit text and IDW Publishing’s official preview for Cobra #14 is up on Storify. More preview art and other assets will be added to the Storify story for this issue as I run across them.


The fallout from Tomax’s big reveal to the Joes at the end of Cobra #13 — that the pre-Krake Cobra Commander has a secret son named Billy — begins in earnest, as the Joes scramble to find out what that could mean for them in a strategic sense while at the same time wondering what it could mean for Cobra.

The Joes quickly reveal that they have a second, still-secret (to everyone, including Tomax) source of information from Cobra in the form of another captive; Flint shows that the Joes are able to use one to confirm intelligence from the other, and fill in some blanks that Tomax and the secret captive are unable to provide on their own.

The biggest splash of this issue is Firefly finally making his first appearance in the main IDW universe; his only appearance so far has been a half-page story in the five-issue Hearts and Minds limited series from 2010.

Firefly meets up with Blacklight, explosions ensue, and Cobra is set off on a Cannonball Run-type race to Zurich – the Joes and, apparently, two independent factions within Cobra all pursuing the same ultimate prize – Billy.

There’s a poignant moment early on when Lady Jaye is having lunch with Chameleon; they’re recalling the fight in the former Joe base in Maryland when Steeler was revealed to be the Cobra mole. After recounting the injuries they each suffered during that fight, Chameleon asks, “How do we survive this life?” Lady Jaye responds, “I don’t know. I don’t think we’re supposed to.” Then they sit in silence, not even looking at each other, for a moment before deciding to the spa to get a massage. It’s an exchange I read over two or three times; I found it interesting to watch these two characters confront their own mortality in a direct way, and respond by going off to relax.

And, the Firefly/Blackout fight has a couple of subtle little things that push it over the top and sell the reader on the nature and personality of the combatants rather than just showing “hey, punching.” These two guys are trying to kill each other, and yet when the police intervene, Blackout take steps to ensure Firefly isn’t killed by the cops. There are a whole lot of things you can read into that, and it makes the fact that this is occurring while these guys are both quite seriously trying to kill each other pretty engrossing.

Cobra #14 is one of those comic books you can put right into the hands of anybody who asks whether this series is worth their time and four bucks every month. It’s got a bit of everything that makes this series great – you’ve got a fun, kinetic action sequence that’s well-paced by writer Mike Costa and drawn really well by Antonio Fuso; you’ve got multiple groups of characters racing on separate paths toward the same prize; you’ve got an issue that concludes in a way that makes it very difficult to contemplate waiting for next month’s installment; and you’ve got two of the strongest female characters in this universe.

I’m looking back now over the reviews I did for Cobra #12 and #13, when Antonio Fuso took back art duties on this series after the “Cobra Command” story arc wrapped up and Alex Cal’s nine-issue art sprint on that crossover came to an end. I’m not sure what else I can say about what Fuso’s done this month that I haven’t said the last two months. Having him on the art for Cobra has been an interesting transition — his style fit the dirty, ground-level espionage that filled the early parts of this series, but it wasn’t engrossing. It was just this look that Cobra had as a series. Now that he’s getting a chance to draw full-bore action sequences, his work is just coming alive. His action sequences are just fun, and the little things he does with page layouts and panel designs keep you guessing what you’re going to get on the next page. There’s one panel in the Firefly/Blackout fight that just sells the whole sense of motion and chaos in the fight; it’s a closeup of Blackout’s head, which would’ve been easy enough to just do in a straight mugshot-type panel. Instead, Fuso draws Blackout exactly as he might have otherwise, but tilts the panel 20 degrees or so toward the center of the book. It throws off the balance of the page, and the tilt makes you want to turn your head to follow the action. It pulls you right in to what’s happening on the page.

Antonio Fuso’s Cover A features an airborne Ronin, doing a cartwheel high over the outstretched arms of the Vipers below her — who are presumably in the process of being killed. I really love this cover; it’s an expansion on a couple of the really outstanding panels from Cobra #13 showing Ronin battling a group of Vipers. It shows fluidity and grace in her motion, which is somewhat offset by her baggy cargo pants and enormous combat boots, and also clearly illustrates her dramatic physical advantage over the Vipers in combat.

Joe Eisma, who’s become a superstar for his work on the fantastic Image series Morning Glories, teams up with Juan Castro to provide Cover B — Ronin stalking Lady Jaye. Eisma’s aesthetic is very different from the typical gritty look of Cobra, but it provides a nice contrast to Fuso’s A cover.

This month’s retailer incentive is an uncolored version of Cover B.

What I’m reading/writing/learning

What I’m Reading
I’m a bit behind on my comic book reading; and, in actuality, I’ve cut back significantly on the number of books I’m buying every month. I’m down to less than a dozen books a month now, which I’m OK with even though I’d really prefer to be closer to eight. I’m buying both of IDW’s ongoing Transformers series (More Than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise) and all three of its G.I. Joe books (G.I. Joe, Cobra, and the newly-renamed Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow). I haven’t kept up with the Transformers books like I did before IDW split its one ongoing series into two after Transformers 125 (which I never got), so those are almost in the “I’m only buying these because the shop is pulling them for me” territory.

My DC reading was getting out of hand with their New 52 initiative, and I dropped all but four titles from them — Animal Man, Batman, Batgirl, and Birds of Prey. I missed Animal Man #9, so just by that I may be done buying that one even though it’s a title I have enjoyed quite a bit. Batman is just shockingly good; I read tons of Batman books when I was a hardcore comic book collector in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and while I’m not at all familiar with his recent print history this is as good as any Batman story I’ve ever read. Scott Snyder is just in the zone with the way he’s written the story so far, and Greg Capullo is doing absolutely astonishing work on the art. I’ve looked forward to it every month for eight months now, and it hasn’t let me down yet. Batgirl and Birds of Prey have just been fun books; Gail Simone is right in her element writing Batgirl, and I’ve just been surprised at how much I have enjoyed Birds of Prey. It’s been a really good team book.

I’m also reading three books a month from Image — Invincible, Morning Glories, and Saga. I’m all-digital with Image — I have the first seven hardcover collections of Invincible and the first two trades of Morning Glories, but have never bought single paper issues of either series. I got the first issue of Saga because of the buzz about it online, and then went digital with it just because I loved it so much. All three of these titles, really, have a spot among my favorite books right now, along with Batman and Cobra.

You’ll notice no Marvel books on my list. As much as I love their characters, I’m not buying any of their books. Moon Knight was really cool and I enjoyed following that for a year until it wrapped up; Daredevil was fantastic but suffered the Animal Man fate and got swept aside when I missed an issue somehow; Ghost Rider was silly fun before it wrapped up after nine issues; I decided to quit on FF when it went into space and got kinda silly, and I’ve been buying the second SHIELD miniseries — but it’s been many, many months now since the last issue came out, and I have no clue what the status is on that series moving forward. I bought the first two issues of the Scarlet Spider series that Ryan Stegman was doing art for, but that didn’t hook me; Stegman’s fantastic, though, and now that he’s moved to pencils for Fantastic Four I am probably going to check that out.

What I’m Drawing
As much as I love to draw, and as much as I really wish I was better than I am and had the ability to put the things I can see in my head onto paper rather than just being a Xerox machine of marginal quality, hammering out somewhat decent, but not quite good, copies of work produced by actual artists, as I’ve been trying to get back into it on a more serious basis, I have found it difficult to find motivation to draw regularly. I know, those two sentiments compete mightily and make absolutely no sense. But it’s exactly where I find myself.

So in order to provide myself a push, I bought 15 blank 5×7 Canson watercolor postcards and put out a call on Facebook to my friends — the first 15 people to respond would get a drawing on one of these postcards, which I would then mail to my home. Right now I have a queue of 28 postcards to draw — the response has been overwhelming, and I’m quite excited about that. I hope I can get to all of them in a respectable amount of time; I suspect it’ll be a project I will be working away on for the majority of the summer.

I’ve started already; the first two cards are completed and ready to go out the door. My process has been to start with a light purple sketching pencil to define shapes, then use a 5H pencil to build the image. From there, I’ve been inking over the top of the pencils with Kuretake Zig Memory System Millennium markers — they come in a five-pack of various point sizes that runs about $10.50 at Target — and then erasing all of the pencil lines and coloring the final image with Prismacolor markers and pencils.

Right now, the Kuretake pens are killing me. They’re fantastic pens — if you stop at the inking stage. I’ve discovered the hard way that the ink isn’t waterproof; the Prismacolor markers will catch the black lines and smear ink all over the place when I’m trying to color the cards.

I had an Amazon gift certificate to burn, so I took the plunge and bought a four-pack of Copic Multiliner SP inking pens a couple of weeks ago. I’ve wanted to try Copics for awhile; the ink is waterproof and is specifically designed to use for this kind of inking and then colored over with markers. So I think for Card 3, I’m going to switch from the Kuretakes to the Copics and see how that works out. I’m actually afraid that I’m going to fall head over heels in love with the Copics and want to buy more — because they are stupidly expensive.

What I’m Learning
I spent today trying to learn a couple of new social media tools – HootSuite and Storify.

HootSuite is pretty much just like TweetDeck or Seesmic or any other Twitter client along those lines; it allows you to create different columns for different content and search piles of stuff simultaneously, has functionality to allow you to keep track of Facebook, etc. It’s got some built-in post scheduling abilities that are either non-existent or not as apparent as they should be on the other clients.

Most of the “good” features of HootSuite are limited to the pro (“paid”) version, which costs about ten bucks a month; so who knows if they’re even worthwhile. I’ll probably just pay the $10 at some point to try them out, and if they seem useful I’ll keep paying them.

There still is not a multi-column Twitter client that allows for any decent way at all to manage user lists. You can add users to lists in HootSuite, but I need to do some digging to find out if that’s actually adding users to my Twitter list (which means their membership would be available to me in other clients, like TweetDeck or the Twitter desktop and/or mobile clients), or if they’re just added to a cloned version of that list that only lives in HootSuite. If it’s the latter, that’s basically useless.

Storify allows you to cobble together bits and pieces of stuff from all over the web, with an emphasis on social media posts, to build a “social story.” The best way to explain it is to just show you the test story I built this afternoon. You pick and choose social posts, images, web pages, text snippets, any piece of content you can find on the web, really, and mash it all together into a “story,” along with text fields that allow you to put the pieces into context or weave an overall narrative to stitch them all together into something coherent. I can foresee a few applications for this for work; I can also foresee a few uses of it for some of my other side projects. I may try to use it to support the comic book reviews I write; I have never felt like putting in the time to download art, format it for the blog, and upload it to support the written reviews. It’s just seemed like too much work. But, I can see how it might be pretty easy to cobble together the existing pieces of the comic from all over the web — IDW’s original solicit for the issue, the cover art, the preview that gets posted, pencils/inks/etc. posted by the creative team on their various blogs and hangouts all across the Internet — and smoosh them together into a “supporting art” story in Storify, and then just link to the Storify story from the review. I might give that a shot this week and see how it goes…

Comic review: IDW’s “Cobra” #13

Cobra #13
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Cover price: $3.99

Cover A: Antonio Fuso, with colors by Arianna Florien
Cover B: Antonio Fuso, with colors by Arianna Florien
Cover RI: David Williams, with colors by Joana Lafuente
Cover RI: David Williams

Written by: Mike Costa
Art: Antonio Fuso
Colors: Arianna Florian
Letters: Neil Uyetake

It’s hard to know where to focus when considering a review for Cobra #13; Mike Costa introduces two legitimate “holy crap” moments in this issue, the first midway through as a mysterious new financial benefactor for the recently defunded G.I. Joe team is revealed, and the second as a brilliant and thrilling page 22 cliffhanger that will immediately hook fans of IDW’s universe who also were invested in the 1980s Marvel series.

The Joes’ new benefactor makes sense on every level; you’ll just have to read the issue for yourself to find out what that twist is. That new benefactor also plays a role in the issue-closing cliffhanger, as he delivers to the Joes a piece of intelligence that could provide to be a game-changer in G.I. Joe’s efforts to get back into the fight against Cobra.

Beyond the two incredible twists Costa introduces to the post-Cobra Command story arc, this issue highlights what has been the strength of the series from the very beginning — its ability to focus on what could be considered sidebar characters in the wider G.I. Joe mythology and make them the centerpieces of an enthralling storyline. While the main characters here are A-listers Flint and Tomax, with an emphasis on Tomax, Ronin gets a starring role in a brilliantly-staged action sequence to kick off the issue, and the main narrative is driven by the Chameleon/Firewall/Lady Jaye trio that we’ve seen together throughout much of this last six months or so of this series.

Snake-Eyes and G.I. Joe stumbled a little bit out of the blocks as IDW attempted to follow up on the Cobra Command story arc, but Cobra has never faltered. Cobra #13 is a fantastic example of what readers have come to expect from IDW’s best G.I. Joe series.

Cobra #13 allows Antonio Fuso to showcase basically everything he does well — his five-page action sequence featuring Ronin to kick off the issue is simply beautiful. There’s a fluidity to the way he shows Ronin moving on the page, and the use of tiny inset panels to focus on some tiny element from the scene, or adding an internal panel border to highlight a particular section of an image all serve to pull the reader into the page and, as a result, completely into the scene. Across the entire sequence, there are only three instances where Ronin’s entire body is in the shot, and she is twisted into a radical positions — usually hovering at an impossible height — which does a great deal to emphasize the physical and athletic advantage she has over the quite-grounded Vipers.

You just never know what you’re going to get when you turn the page of an issue of Cobra; pages 11 and 12 are a perfect example of this. Page 11 is an example of what Fuso does so well in this book, with a radical and unique panel layout — what is essentially a full-page Panel 3, with Panel 2 inset over the top of it, and Panel 1 floating over both of those; panel 4, the same dimensions as panel 1, anchors the bottom of the page overlapping only the third panel. But inside the third panel are three tiny square panels, which show only one eye of each of three characters as they’re getting retina-scanned, and those tiny insets are where speech bubbles get attached to advance the story. It’s a fantastic page.

But, turn to Page 12, and you get three horizontal panels stacked on top of each other; a shallow panel at the top that sets a scene by showing only the tops of three characters’ heads, a second panel that’s twice the height of the first panel, zooming out to reveal more of the scene, and a third panel that’s four times the height of panel 1, zooming out again to establish a first glimpse of G.I. Joe’s new headquarters. As Page 11 is complex, Page 12 is simplicity. Fuso does these things constantly, and it’s tremendously fun to experience.

The A and B covers are both done by Antonio Fuso, with colors from his usual interiors running mate Arianna Florien, and continue a six-cover series running across all three IDW G.I. Joe titles in May. Fuso’s duo feature the main players from this issue, Flint on Cover A and Tomax on Cover B. The Tomax cover is fantastic, mostly due to the way Fuso has him posed in the frame — hands behind his back, holding an umbrella. He’s just calm and chill, always in control of the room, as he has been throughout most of the series.

David Williams’ retailer incentive cover features Flint unloading on something off-camera with a shotgun while standing on a craps table; colors by Joana Lafuente. The second retailer incentive cover is an uncolored version. They’re a mixed bag; the colored version makes Flint look like he has a mustache, and the uncolored version has him looking a little wide in the hips.

The Terrordrome has a preview of Cobra #13 here.

Today has been a mixed bag of fun and garbage

Where I’m Visiting
I write to you from the Cedar Valley Resort in Whalan, Minn., a short seven-hour drive south of my usual digs in Bemidji. I’m here for three days of conferencing goodness as part of the Minnesota Two-Year College Marketing Association; this is really my public debut as the associate director of communications and marketing representing Northwest Technical College. It’s going to be an adjustment to get used to having responsibilities for them. This thing has been fun so far — we had a very good introductory session with the state system’s new vice chancellor for admissions, Mike Dougherty; he’s really charismatic and seems like an awesome guy who knows his stuff, and then we moved into some breakout discussion sessions that I felt really ill-equipped to do much talking at. I have 10 pages of neatly-scribed notes, though, as per my usual conference habit. Another long day tomorrow, then a half-day Friday, and I get to make the trek back home.

The resort we’re at is pretty nice; we’re tucked in a valley by this stream out in the middle of absolute nowhere southeast Minnesota. No cell coverage, etc. But it’s pretty scenic and relaxing. No AC or anything like that, but I’ve got a perfectly nice ceiling fan.

What I’m Listening To
I gave “Born Villain,” the new Marilyn Manson album that I mentioned yesterday, a thorough listen in the car on the way down to this conference today; I may not listen to it as an album again (although I’m sure the tracks will occasionally pop up in random playlists). It just feels colossally boring and uninspired. Basically every song is structured exactly the same — a bass-heavy drum beat with bass over the top, and very little lead guitar, while Manson grunts slowly or whispers lyrics or whatever. “The Gardener” is essentially a spoken-word piece. The pattern changed up a little bit (not much; just a little bit) in the back half of the album, most notably on “Murderers are Getting Prettier Every Day” — and even that devolved into an unintelligible noise-fest about halfway through, but it was still a pretty constant stream of like-sounding, similarly-constructed songs.

The best song on the entire album is a cover of the 1972 Carly Simon hit, “You’re So Vain.” He rocks this song and makes it his own, and it holds up well with the other great covers Manson has done (think “Sweet Dreams,” “Personal Jesus,” and “Tainted Love”) but it’s incredibly disappointing that the highlight of the album is a cover.

Manson has a history of doing clever things with lyrics to twist new meanings into his songs – “mOBSCENE,” for instance, or “(s)AINT” (“hold the ‘s’ because I am an ‘ain’t’ — very clever). There’s some of that in this album – notably in “Pistol Whipped” which includes the lyric “I want to have your ache and beat you too,” a play on “have your cake and eat it too.” It’s overdone in the song, but it’s the kind of wordplay that’s missing from the rest of the album.

Nothing about this album hooked me. The title track, “Born Villain,” holds up well enough on its own, but it just gets lost in a sea of sameness when included in the album as a whole.

If the pattern holds, Marilyn Manson is now due for a very good album in about 2015.

What I’m Watching in June
Nothing, apparently.  I sat in a session at my conference today and followed the onslaught on Twitter — first shock and disbelief, then anger and rage, and finally just rampant disappointment and fear for the future of the brand at the news that Paramount has pushed back the opening of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” from June 29 until March of 2013 so it can “add 3D for foreign markets.” In other words, Paramount is watching Battleship turn into one of the more hilarious flops of the year (nobody’s talking about John Carter now, that’s how bad it is for Battleship), and some suit panicked and pulled the plug on Retaliation — a movie that to a person G.I. Joe fans have been really, really, really excited about. Now, Hasbro has a toy line launching tomorrow to support the movie, and no movie to support the toy line. Retailers are likely to be extremely livid over this, and the chances of Retaliation figures lasting beyond the first two waves are basically zero. So, since Hasbro pulled the plug on the Renegades cartoon early so it could be retooled to support the movie storyline, G.I. Joe is effectively dead as a property until March. And the extremely positive momentum built up for the movie so far this year, since the unveiling of the first trailer on Machinima and the Super Bowl spot, will be impossible to replicate next year.

Ugly. The odds of me wanting to go see another Paramount release between now and the time that G.I. Joe is actually released are basically zero.

Birchbox and comics — a pretty solid combination

What I’m Buying
I actually got this on Monday; I signed up for a three-month trial to Birchbox. This was a total impulse buy; it just seemed silly and fun to get a little box full of unknown loots in the mail every month. The first box came with a pair of really nice green and blue Richer Poorer socks, a trial size bottle of Zirh shave gel (which I’ve actually used for years), a bar of this Kiehl’s soap, and some Billy Jealousy facial cleanser. Super-fun. I’m curious now to see what sort of goodies I get next month…

What I’m Reading
Tons of good stuff today. Tons. Batman #9 continues the Court of the Owls storyline, as a weakened Batman tries to flush the Court’s Talon assassins out of the Batcave; this entire series has been comic book brilliance, and today’s issue was absolutely no exception. It’s incredibly well-written, and Greg Capullo’s just been in the zone on the art for all 198 pages so far. It’s one of four DC books I’m still buying after my experiment to try out around half of DC’s New 52, and as long as the creative team of Scott Snyder and Capullo stays together, it’s getting my four bucks a month. I just love it. G.I. Joe #13 came out today as well, and I wrote a review of it last night for The Terrordrome. Just read this morning’s post; it sucked and I really don’t have much more to say about it.

The two digital comics I buy also both came out today — Invincible #91 and Morning Glories #18. Both of those were really good as well. Invincible also ends with a great cliffhanger, as we discover that the Viltrumite scourge virus meant to kill Mark might have altered him in noticeable — and exceptionally painful — ways. And there really aren’t enough good things to say about Morning Glories at this point; it’s just now a year and a half old, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever picked up. The story is phenomenal; Joe Eisma’s art is gorgeous. This is just a fantastic comic.

I’m also a couple of weeks behind on this, but I finally got the second issue of the Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples collaboration, Saga, today as well (two bucks on iPad — I freaking love digital comics). This series is amazing. Absolutely fantastic. The premise is simple enough — boy soldier from Army A falls for girl soldier from Army B, resulting in child C; powerful people who don’t like that they’ve combined forces send assassins to kill them. So they run. Vaughan’s using a really clever narrative trick to drive the story along, and Staples’ art is just flat-out beautiful. The full-page cliffhanger splash at the end of the second issue is just a genius comic book page; based on how the issue progressed, the ending is nothing you would expect in a million years, and visually it’s just stunning. Fantastic page.

I am really enjoying the fact that I am to the point that I absolutely love everything I’m buying now. So fun.

Who I’m Following
There has been a bunch of research regarding social media that says people tend to surround themselves with people who share similar opinions on political issues, and that despite the infinite ability of the Internet to connect people of every imaginable viewpoint, people tend to freeze out those who don’t agree with them. I’m really finding that I am exactly the opposite. After today’s news that President Obama came out and explicitly supported gay marriage, the reaction from my social media circles has been overwhelmingly and basically exclusively positive. I’m not sure I have seen anything from any of the people I follow on Twitter or are friends with on Facebook that has come out and complained about the position. The only remotely anti-Obama things I’ve seen today have been obvious jokes on Twitter, really. I think I have a diverse group of people that I’m following; it could be that is not true, or that the people who lean to the left just tend to be far more vocal. And, it could just be that the right-leaning people who are vocal (and I do follow some) just haven’t felt like commenting about this. Whatever the reason, the overwhelming one-sidedness of the reaction stood out.

As for this particular announcement — for those who are pursuing this right (and they should be; the 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law, First Amendment, religious freedom (and this is a religious issue, and only a religious issue), all of that) what the President said today is a shot in the arm. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, right now it’s meaningless. North Carolina is passing constitutional amendments banning it; Minnesota’s trying to do the same thing. There’s no possible way the federal government passes anything; the Supreme Court doesn’t seem to be touching it. It’s a feather in the cap, for sure, but, functionally, nothing seems as if it will actually change any time soon.

What I’m Studying
Grades are posted for both of my spring courses at Winona State; I have officially completed my first year of grad school with a 4.0.

Our local media

This morning on Twitter, I linked up a very interesting pair of stories from our local media outlets covering Friday’s commencement ceremony at Bemidji State. The first was from our local television station; it featured basically no males, other than having some walk through group shots. Both of the interviewed students were female, and the isolation shots of students during the ceremony were predominantly female as well. It really jumped out at me as being an odd way to package that story.

The second was from our local paper; it had a brutal typo in the headline. Instead of walking across the stage on Friday, apparently 950 of our graduates walked across the state. That’d be a good trick.

Other stuff I read
Apparently you cannot play DVD or BluRay movies with the default installation of Windows 8. That’s going to go over well… They seem to be betting heavily on users being savvy enough to download a paid addon to Windows after installation to get them the necessary codecs, and not having those users go immediately into Rage Mode.

Also, Evernote bought Penultimate. I looove Evernote, and while I own Penultimate it’s not something I’ve ever used very much. Due to limitations with mushy-ball styluses I’ve tried, writing by hand on the iPad sucks; you can’t take notes on it during a meeting very well at all, because there’s no accuracy with the pens. Still, this could be a remarkably powerful combination; since I use Evernote all the time anyway, with an acceptable way to write with a stylus on the screen, I could conceivably never use paper at work again.

Finally, a Washington Post blog post claims that the amount of money being spent every year by the military on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan could fund 2/3 of the cost of free college at public universities for every America. It’d be really interesting to fact-check that claim; if it’s true (and it probably is), it’s a pretty damning indicator of where our priorities lie as a nation.

That’s basically all; quick update for tonight.

Busy weekend at the Casa

I’m going to throw a quick post in at the end of what has been a pretty crazily busy weekend here.

What I’m Watching
Avengers — twice.  It had been my goal to get two Avengers showings in this weekend for about a week; Helen had been wanting to go see it for months, and after talking with Mel about it decided to do an advance screening to make sure it was OK for her (cut to the chase – Mel and I took her last night, and she lovedlovedloved it).

There’s not much I can say about this movie that hasn’t been said 12,000 times all over the Internet already, so I’m not going to bother with a review or anything like that. Suffice it to say that I absolutely loved this movie. Absolutely loved it. Since the brilliant first Iron Man movie, Marvel’s buildup to this massive event flick has been pretty solid if not spectacular — Iron Man 2 got bogged down a bit by the need to shoe-horn in the Capt. America and Thor references, and the two movies stemming from those references were pretty solid but not great by any means. Still, expectations for Avengers were pretty high — and, man, it delivered. Tom Huddleston was brilliant as Loki; Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk absolutely stole the show (best representation of Hulk outside of a comic book ever); Robert Downey, Jr., just is Tony Stark at this point; the SHIELD Helicarrier was amazing; the final battle was everything the Transformers: Dark of the Moon Chicago fight wished it could have been… On and on and on. It is a fantastic movie.

Even better – THANOS. As great as this movie was, Avengers 2: Avengers in Space could be even better. Especially if Marvel somehow gets the rights back for ROM: Space Knight before then…

What I’m Reading
I took the girls downtown for Free Comic Book Day on Saturday; Helen loves going, and I’ve taken her each of the last four years. This was Millie’s second FCBD appearance, as well. Helen decided to get a HeroClix miniature of Thor; she’s picked up the HeroClix every year I’ve taken her, and now has Thor, War Machine, Batman and Green Lantern. I was able to get IDW’s Transformers 80.5, the lead-in to the Transformers: Generation One series they’re starting up this summer as a direct continuation to Marvel’s Transformers series from the 1980s that ended at 80 issues. IDW’s relaunch will start at #81, and just carry on the old series.

They have done the same thing with G.I. Joe to some success; they hired Larry Hama to resurrect that series from the dead, relaunching it with a #155.5 issue at Free Comic Book Day two years ago and then starting its continuation with #156. It’s the only one of IDW’s four regular monthly G.I. Joe series I don’t read, even though I have most of them upstairs…

I saved my Wednesday store run for this weekend because of FCBD; I didn’t want to go in and get free stuff and not also buy something (this tactic cost me Animal Man #9, which kinda bums me out, but that’s the risk I took when I removed everything DC off of my pull list). They had copies of DC’s Earth 2 and World’s Finest debuts left, so I picked both of those up.

Nicola Scott’s art in Earth 2 is really the highlight of both books; she gets to draw Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all getting killed in one issue, which is a pretty good trick, really (even though the panel where Wonder Woman bites it is kinda problematic; it seems like Scott’s hands were tied a bit by the space she had to draw the scene). The World’s Finest book is mostly a “here are your two main heroines; here is how they got where they are in this universe” type of situation. It strikes me that it could wind up being the more interesting of the two books, mostly because Earth 2 not only killed the three biggest heroes in the DC universe in the span of just a few pages, two other characters who played pivotal roles in the book fell through a wormhole of some sort into a parallel universe — landing as the two main characters in World’s Finest. So, really, not a single super-hero we saw in this book will make it to issue #2. It closes with some character introductions and a chance encounter with Mercury (yes, the god Mercury) to foreshadow some of the heroes we’ll meet next month, but for now every superhero we saw in this comic was either killed or transported to a parallel universe. If you are a hero on Earth 2, man, those are not good odds…

Coming up this week: Batman #9; G.I. Joe #13; Invincible #91; Morning Glories #18 (not confirmed as a release this week). If the shop gets Takio #1 (if it ships), I’ll get that for Helen, too.

All for now. *yawn*

Princessization, and Avengers, assemble!

This is a bit old news at this point, but from April 22-28, Target, Disney and Julie Andrews teamed up to celebrate “National Princess Week. Here’s an LA Times story on it; basically, it was an opportunity for Disney to shill princess merchandise at Target, including the two “Princess Diaries” movies on BluRay — which Andrews was in.

Of course, that led to a bunch of stuff like this, all over the Internet about how this was terrible for girls, and shame on Disney for continuing to shill these horrible role models, shame on Target for continuing to promote and profit itself from all these horrible role models, and Andrews should feel bad for taking part in pushing this horrible anti-feminist princess agenda, etc., etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.

I have three daughters, and I’m not a huge fan of princessization either. But, none of the princessization is the fault of Julie Andrews, or Target, or even Disney. None of it. Julie Andrews is taking money to be a spokesperson; people do that all the time. Good for you, Julie. Target and Disney are massive corporations that exist to make massive amounts of profit for their shareholders. This isn’t their fault either, and people trying to attack them over it are completely misguided.

Princessization exists because there are legions of people buying this merchandise, and because parents aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing and making sure they’re exposing their daughters to more than one thing. Megan was totally into princesses, but also was totally into Powerpuff Girls. Helen’s totally into princesses, but she also loves Transformers and has been marking out over the thought of going to see Avengers for more than a month. Millie loves princesses, but she prefers to watch a cartoon called Ruby Gloom that features a character called Skull Boy.

They like lots of different things because they’re exposed — intentionally — to lots of different things. And when Helen decides that what she really wants from a garage sale box is a toy from the “Aliens” movies, I buy it for her. Is it something she treasures always and forever? No. But it was a quarter, and for a couple of hours she thought it was awesome — so it was well worth the quarter. And in the grander scheme of things, she spent a couple of hours exploring what she wanted to explore — and didn’t have me slapping her down with “no, that’s for boys. How about this nice crown?”

Princessization isn’t Target’s fault, or Disney’s fault, or Julie Andrews’ fault. It’s the fault of parents who princessize their daughters.

What I’m Watching
In one hour and 40 minutes, I will be watching The Avengers. I’m so pumped. That is all.

What I’m Reading
I started the A Game of Thrones graphic novel tonight; read George R.R. Martin’s intro, didn’t get into the actual comic yet. I’ll read it tomorrow.