Saturday, February 25, 2023

Weekend Lounge ~ On the Wagon

This week I wanted to share an obscure movie from 1996, one of my personal favorites and one that has been out of print since the VHS days. Yes, this one doesn't even have an old DVD release. And that is a shame, because it's a good time.

Bandwagon is a movie about a band, inspired by director John Schultz's time in a band of his own, back in the Midwest in the early 1980s. This story follows a young band from the same time period who become a unit, learn how to work together, and find their sound as the tour across the US. Just like the band portrayed in the movie, Circus Monkey, the film is an underground favorite, despite the premise that has been done millions of times. It still manages to stand out.

Like SLC Punk, this came from that brief period where Gen X kids were allowed to make movies based on their youth, thereby capturing a sound and time period that is in the process of being erased by modern revisionism as we speak. Unlike SLC Punk, this movie a positive reflection on a time and period that still existed at the time the movie was made, a time that no longer exists today. Something like Bandwagon could never be made now, which actually adds to the film's charm and mystique around the power of music.

Aside from the typical salty language you would expect from young adults in the 1980s (some of which would never be allowed in a movie now), it is a rather lighthearted watch, uplifting in a strange way. You won't be taken by surprised by the events of the film, but the likeable characters, surprisingly well crafted songs, and the atmosphere, will carry you along to the end. The end, by the way, which reaffirms the power of art and the spirit that creates.

Normally, I would link to an official release of this movie, but it's been buried. You can't even watch it on a streaming site, for whatever reason. Nonetheless, it is worth setting some time aside to watch, especially if you like music or wish to see what the world looked like before Cultural Ground Zero swallowed everything.

There is nothing else quite like it!

You can watch Bandwagon on YouTube here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Swords, Maidens, Sidearms, & Sorcery!

Find it Here!

It's been a bit of a while, so today I wanted to introduce you to two new anthologies, both of which I am part of. What's more, both will be out very soon!

The first is the brand new Swords & Maidens anthology, stories about chivalry, love, and the wonder of romance. My story, "Judgement Sun" (which was once in the now OOP Planetary Sol anthology) is once again being made available for readers here! For those who haven't read it, this tale is still one of my personal favorites that I wrote. This is a story about a desert planet on the brink of Armageddon. Can it be saved? I am extremely thrilled that it will be widely available again. But this is not just about me, as you can see from the author list above.

Check out this collection of tales from Anne Clare, Declan Finn, T. J. Marquis, N. R. LaPoint, John C. Wright, Blake Carpenter, Hawkings Austin, Michael Gallagher, Alexander Hellene, and L. Jagi Lamplighter! Aside from my story, you are getting top notch tales from each of them. As you can already tell, this is quite the lineup!

Here is the description:

From magic battlefields where horses fear to tread, to flying fortresses, fantastical otherworlds, a planet infested with eldritch abominations, and lands ruled by fear, heroes will fight for what is worth fighting for. Knights in gleaming armor, soldiers, Middle Earth’s most deadly Elvish assassin, hunters, and kings. All will risk their lives to defend the defenseless, to destroy monsters, to preserve the lives and honor of fair maidens.

See a soldier fight to rescue a besieged princess from marauding, magitech barbarians, an immortal knight fight for a farmstead, a husband and wife fight for the honor of a fallen comrade against a deadly dragon, a hunter seek to recover a maiden’s stolen soul, an elf defend a woman from assassins, a deposed king fight for his kingdom, and more!

You can preorder it right now on amazon before the official release date of March 19th. That's right, it's only a month out. Swords & Maidens: Eleven Tales of Chivalry is available at amazon to preorder right now here.

For more on the actual stories included, check out the below images for fun art and excerpts created by our editor, N. R. LaPoint!

Once again, you can find Swords & Maidens for preorder here!

But that's not all! There's still another announcement to be made.

I will also be having a story in the upcoming Sidearm & Sorcery, Volume Two from the same folks that brought you StoryHack magazine and the very well received first volume! Get ready for more action and adventure in the classic mold, only set in the modern day! This ain't no pretend pulp you'll be reading in these pages.

As stated above, this is the sequel to last year's surprise hit anthology on sword and sorcery tales in modern settings. If you haven't yet read the first volume (you are definitely missing out if you haven't!) you can find it here. I also have a story in its pages, one in the same Night Rhythm series which has had other entries published in StoryHack #5 and Pulp Rock! The tale in Volume Two is something brand new, not a part of that series.

The story in Volume Two is called "City Eater" and was called by Bryce Beattie, the editor, as one of the best stories I've yet written. High praise, but this is quite a story. For those who have read Y Signal, see if you can spot the connection. You don't need to have read the book to see it, but it does add to the events of the story.

As for what it's about, I don't think I want to spoil it. That title should be enough to tell you that it is no small adventure.

Sidearm & Sorcery, Volume Two should be out sooner than later. I can't give a release date yet, but the cover has been revealed. It is quite incredible, worthy of the lineup of authors featured in its pages and very reminiscent of the great Frank Frazetta.

You can see the cover below:

Beautiful, is it not?

Yes, that's another great set of writers. I can definitely say that it's a killer slate. So definitely look forward to the final release! I am also looking forward to reading the tales by other authors whose material I enjoy quite a lot. Sidearm & Sorcery, Volume Two is destined to be a great time, an anthology unlike anything you'll find from OldPub.

Be sure to keep an eye on this one!

So yes, there is a lot on the way in the near future. Keep an eye out for even more announcements to come from me! We're not finished yet.

2023 is going to be something else. We're already off to a great start.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Weekend Lounge ~ NewPub Marching On!

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It's been a crazy year so far, and it isn't getting less crazy, but those of us in NewPub are working hard to give you, the audience something to take your mind off the chaos. So here are ten projects to give you that escapism you crave!

The first project is the above Fantastic Schools, a Magical School anthology, and the sixth one at that! If you haven't yet read the old entries you now have six books to catch up on! Today we are focusing on the brand new release in the series. 

The description:

Have you ever wanted to go to magic school? To cast spells and brew potions and fly on broomsticks and—perhaps—battle threats both common and supernatural? Come with us into worlds of magic, where students become magicians and teachers do everything in their power to ensure the kids survive long enough to graduate. Welcome to ... Fantastic Schools.

Meet a student who discovers the hard way what happens when he is transformed into a monster, another who mixes magic and music to remarkable effect, a student who wants to trigger a magical industrial revolution, an assassin posing as a tutor with a mission he cannot deny, two students who have to learn to work together – or else – and a student who starts her school newspaper and discovers a conspiracy that strikes at the heart of a proud institution …

… And many more.

Stories by:
Christopher G. Nuttall, N. R. Lapoint, Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett, Roger Strahan, Thomas K. Carpenter, Erin N.H. Furby, James Pyles, J.F. Posthumus, Declan Finn, Des M. Astor, Cathy Smith, Shana M. Buck, Andrew Young, E.F. Buckles, C. E. Perez

You can find it here!


Find it Here!

Jacob Calta, creator of 365 Infantry, is a writer on a mission to entertain! This is a man who has a vision, and will do anything to reach it. His vision? To bring fun back into your life by any means. Trust me, this is someone you'll be seeing a lot of in the years to come! 

The above anthology collects the first year of 365 Infantry stories in one place. It is the best place to get started. But if you prefer digital, there is another option. The original 365 Infantry stories can be found here on the Substack! You can read them for free there, if you wish, or subscribe. It is up to the reader to decide!

The description of the anthology is as follows:

For the brave wolven warriors of the 365th Infantry, the fight against the strange creations of the sentient computer A.C.E.S. is a nonstop war for the freedom of the Wastelands and those in the heart of the distorted metropolis Haven. A war of nerves, a war of force, and a war waged in denim, leather, & chrome.

Creator Jacob Calta takes readers on a fantastic journey into a savage world, a post-apocalyptic circus that is as much a celebration of classic science fiction as it is a salute to hot rods, chopped hogs, and heavy metal, all with a unique and stylish vision from the multi-talented author, composer, and filmmaker. Enjoy 25 exciting tales across multiple series within the setting, including a brand-new spy thriller NEVER BEFORE RELEASED! Hop in and hang on for the most savage hounds this side of the Bomb!

Once more, you can find the first collection of fun stories here!


Find it Here!

The modern master of weird returns with Savage Headhunters! For those unaware, J. Manfred Weichsel has been in the scene for years injecting his own brand of unique, surprisingly moral, horror and weird tales, into the scene. Always interesting, always worth delving into, his new story is finally out now! In fact, it came out a few days ago.

The description:

Chased by cannibals through an Amazonian jungle, an archeologist takes refuge within an old pyramid, only to confront an evil worse than the man-eaters without.

You see, inside the pyramid is a little old lady who collects books. But hers are not standard editions. Each putrid publication in her sickening study is so disgusting that nobody can flip through one without doing a rainbow cough.

The librarian makes a deal with the archeologist: if he can read just one retched record from her bibliotheca of bile, she will help him escape the cannibals. But if he tosses his breakfast, he will become their lunch!

The horrible hardcover he must read is a gory history of American servicemen on Guadalcanal in World War II, who collect the skulls of dead Japanese soldiers. This abominable account is a narrative so nasty that there’s no way he’ll be able to cram it all in without regurgitating everything he’s learned.

Can you read this book without throwing up? Do you take the challenge?

Again, you can find Savage Headhunters here!


Find it Here!

James Krake is another newer writer on the scene injecting his own style into the mix with unique results. His fun first approach lends much needed comfort to a scene that has a tendency to take itself too seriously. Infinite Money Glitch is one such book. Be sure to check it out!

The description:

The most advanced videogame in the world is so popular that the in-game gold is a recognized currency on Earth, but that does not mean it was programmed particularly well. Some of the sentient NPCs have just discovered an exploit in the market and it might just be time to buy their world back from the players. If they can pull it off that is.

Infinite Money Glitch is a hilarious hybrid of a heist and an adventure pulled off by the last group of people anyone would ever expect. After all, who actually remembers the merchant from the tutorial zone? But, he remembers you.

Once more, you can find it here!


Find it Here!

Now for something a bit more traditional, but still new! Lori Janeski's short stories might be known by you (also in the our of print Planetary Anthology series!) but now you see before you the first book in a brand new series! It's The Carter Files book one, entitled Phoenix! It is time for space cops. I hope you're ready!

The description:

Humanity has colonized the solar system, but crime still doesn’t pay. David Carter is one of the most decorated agents in the Interplanetary Police Forces, but for the last two years, he’s turned reckless, throwing himself into his work—or into the path of a criminal’s bolt pistol. As a specialist in deception analysis and interrogation, Veronique de Tournay has been right where she wants to be: a profiler in the major cases bureau, Division 7.

Unfortunately, the director has reassigned her to Special Agent Carter, and neither of them are happy about it. After they stop a devastating attack on Mars, meant to kill thousands and cripple interplanetary travel, Carter and de Tournay discover evidence of other subversive attacks in the system. With time running out, the reluctant partners may be the only ones standing in the way of a conspiracy that stretches all the way from Luna to the Saturn Space Station.

Remember, you can find Phoenix, book one of The Carter Files here!


Find it Here!

Karina Fabian's DragonEye PI is an Urban Myth series about a dragon solving mysteries in a world not too dissimilar from our own, aside from all the enchantment. They're a bit cozy and a bit funny, but that makes it a unique series unlike anything else you'll see, even in NewPub. Siren Spell is the newest story in the series.

The description:

What could challenge a dragon more than being human?

When a curse turns Vern human, he does not have time to deal with it; Sister Grace’s cousin has gone missing in the Mundane. Besides, how hard could humaning be? He might even enjoy it for a while.

But from stubbed toes to fever dreams of emus, he discovers that humaning is not as easy as it seems. When women throw themselves at him, the unfamiliar hormones catch him off guard – especially because his heart, dragon and human, belongs to the nun who is his best friend.

Can he master his new emotions and solve the mystery before Grace becomes the kidnapper’s next victim?

Don't forget, you can find Siren Spell here!


Find it Here!

We've covered the first book in Moe Lane's Tom Vargas Mysteries series before, but now it's time for the second one! This one is entitled Tinsel Rain, and it's more of what you enjoyed from the first go around. Kickstarted like the first, the series has gone on to be a crowdfund favorite, possibly for how out of the norm it is. How bizarre is it? Well, let's get to that.

The description:

323% funded on Kickstarter!

Tinsel Rain returns us to the post-apocalyptic world of Cin City, glittering tinsel crown of the Kingdom of New California. When an old not-quite-friend of Shamus Tom Vargas is found dead, Tom gets pulled into a case of murder, magic, and mystery! Sinister archmages! Bodies in alleys! An actual high-speed car ride! And as many bad jokes as the author could cram in! Truly, you deserve to read this book!

Of course, you can find Tinsel Rain here!


Find it Here!

Speaking of Kickstarter, we are in the final days of Cirsova's campaign to collect the last stories of Jim Breyfogle's modern classic Mongoose & Meerkat series of swords, sorcery, and adventure! If you haven't backed yet, you might want to hurry. You can also get all the volumes in a bundle if you are new. 

But hurry! Not only is it the final volume, but time is quickly running low! You might not get another chance. Only two days left!

The description:

Two years have passed since the fall of Alness. And two years have passed since the brash young sellsword Mangos teamed up with Kat, the mysterious Alnessi rogue. Together, they have made a name for themselves as the Mongoose and Meerkat!

The ravaged northlands still smolder as the warlord Rhygir holds Alness in an iron grip. Rumors swirl that a member of the Alnessi royal family may have survived, but Rhygir is intent on hunting down any resistance that might rally to a rogue prince who escaped the slaughter.

Though Rhygir has been consolidating power in Alness, the Mongoose and Meerkat have been hard at work, gathering resources and making alliances in Alomar and abroad. But can the new allies and old friends overcome the army of Rhygir before it can be bolstered by elite mercenaries?

All of the pieces of the King's Game are in place!

The Redemption of Alness collects the third year of Kat and Mangos's adventures together, including: 
  • The Flying Mongoose
  • Death and Renewal
  • Fight of the Sandfishers
  • Thunder in the North
  • Feast of the Fedai*
  • Trapped in the Loop - [Previously unpublished]*
  • The Redemption of Alness - [Previously unpublished]*
* : [We WILL be publishing these stories serially in Cirsova Magazine, however backers of Volume 3 will get these these last two stories before they are published in the Fall and Winter 2023 issues].

Additionally, this volume will include the previously unpublished short story Knots in the Thread of Time AND a teaser for Jim Breyfogle's upcoming novel, A Bad Case of Dead!

The last days of the Mongoose & Meerkat Kickstarter can be found here!


Find it Here!

For something coming soon (as in, releasing in a few days), feast your eyes on the new entry in the White OPs space opera series. Declan Finn tends to be a constant on these sorts of lists for a reason, he's always got something new and they are always worth your time. You can now preorder the new volume, due out very soon, right now!

The description:

When Earth First terrorists threaten to assassinate the Pope, the Rangers of White Ops are called in to protect him.

After the hostage situation at Yesdin planet, Sean Patrick Ryan is still bothered by the Renar weapons the terrorists used. When Earth First has the same weaponry, it's clear that something Is wrong on Renar.

Dark forces stalk White Ops. but who will be the prey?

You can grab Gathering Storm right here!


Find it Here!

Last today, but only because it's the furthest out, is a preorder for a new edition of Paula Richey's Penance, a Heroes Unleashed tale. this one is illustrated! Most of the Heroes Unleashed writers are still looking for avenues to re-release their books, and this is one of the first to do so. It's also a bit different than the original release.

The description:


Penance Copper won't be a tool for evil any longer!

For as long as Penance can remember, Acid has owned her. Day after day, year after year, he has exploited her electromagnetic superpower for his own gain, while she lives on the streets and scrounges for food and clothing. She copies RFIDs and credit cards, opens electronic locks, causes explosions and havoc, but at least she's never had to kill anybody.

Until now.

The superhero Justice is getting too close to finding out where Acid has been selling trafficked girls, and it's Penance's job to take him out.

She seizes this chance to escape Acid and join up with the good guys in a desperate attempt to gain protection and make a new life for herself. Unfortunately, this is the same day that aliens invade...

Soon, Penance is embroiled in an intergalactic encounter with an alien boy named Kail, who is perhaps as lonely and broken as she is. Even if he is infuriatingly arrogant.

The first young adult series in the Heroes Unleashed universe launches with the Teen Heroes Unleashed series. Readers will love hardworking, sassy Penance as she tries to learn to use her powers to save the world instead of to steal.

Can Penance and Kail find the missing girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion? Or will Acid find her again and punish her for running away?

Read Penance today and find out!

It goes without saying that you can preorder the illustrated version of Penance here!

So there you have, these are ten new releases to show you the current state of publishing in the NewPub world. Even so early in 2023, you can hopefully see just how varied it is, and how many options you have to find what you want.

2023 just started and already the scene is jumping, so don't worry about not being able to find something fun. There is still plenty more to come ahead!

Myself I also have a couple of surprises to announce soon, so keep an eye out. The age of NewPub has only just begun!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Lost Comforts

Thanks to the dismal weather, I've had a lot of time to think, to ponder at what exactly has led us to this modernity pit of materialism and alienation we are still trying to claw out of. It's been so long it's almost hard to believe there was a time when things were actually different. Well, it was! What are we missing today that we once had? Well, we've covered all the big things many times. At this point, you know everything the mainstream peddles to you is harmful, so what is it that we need instead? What can we have instead? We can have what have we forgotten.

I've spent some of my time looking into the catacombs of, revisiting old, forgotten properties and products, lost to the slick typhoon of modern merchandising cynicism, and trying to ascertain what they had that hasn't been revisited in either subversions or their haphazard revivals. I believe I have found it, though it will take some time to explain. The answer appears to be simpler than it is to describe.

We are missing comfort, plain and simple. There is precious little today that contains anything in the way of soothing the audience's mind and reassuring them of a normality that puts them at ease with the natural order, their neighbors, and the idea that their lives have value beyond novelty. We have taken simplicity and warmth for granted, and precious little today contains any of it. Yes, even in the indie, underground, and NewPub spaces. Though I suspect that won't be the case much longer, because I have been getting the feeling that attitudes are beginning to shift on the subject. The desire to connect, to feel like one has value, has been only increasing in recent times.

What is strange about the concept of comfort in entertainment is how simplistic and obvious it is when you see it firsthand, but how abnormally hard it is to contain it in a society poisoned by cynicism, mistrust, and abandonment, and is constantly told how silly faith is. It is really a case of "knowing it when you see it" probably in it's purest form. How do you beat embedded cynicism? How do you reassure people who have been misled by the people who are supposed to by leading them? How can you give comfort for those taught to mistrust?

This is going to be a long road to travel, but I feel people are slowly coming around to the realization of what is coming for themselves. This is not sustainable. The question is if we even remember what comfort is in the first place because, despite what you might feel based on funny memes you see online or in your social media groups, precious few people today actually know what comfort is anymore. It isn't about wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting in an easy chair.

And this is the crux of the issue.

One of the things that has warped the perception of entertainment to the common man is the loss of comfort in the western world. Now, you might be questioning how that is possible. Surely people are lazier than ever, and seek to do less work than their predecessors. Isn't the problem that they have too much comfort? Surely they don't need more comforts.

There might be truth in that on some level, but one of the major reasons for this attitude taking over is the overwhelming rise of depression and anxiety in modern life brought upon by the alienation and isolation we champion above familial and fraternal bonds. They get comfort from precious few places as it is. No one can relate to each other, therefore they can't trust each other, and eventually they look for excuses to be alone more often than not. Being forced to job hop and both family and friend constantly made to end relationships, as if life is a carnival, as if it is normal to constantly socially cleanse yourself, has done untold damage to the average modern person's psyche. No man is an island, yet we live like we are. Zipper blues was an evil thing to subject kids to. It still is. And yet we can't imagine a world where it doesn't exist, despite the fact there is no other era in existence aside from the last century when it existed.

You are expected to see every piece of media as either subversive, mindless froth, or a think piece. there is nothing else moderns allow as a possibility. None of those three descriptors are needed to make art, but also, none of them are capable of creating comfort. They are all designed to force the audience to engage the media in the way the creator decides, and without any subtlety or nuance otherwise. They are not made to let the audience to settle in and just enjoy the proceedings. This is the biggest difference with how art is made now, and why the mainstream has hemorrhaged patrons so badly for decades. In these uncertain times, people want certainty.

Comfort emphasizes certainty, predictability as a positive, and stability. There is no mainstream entertainment that does this. In fact, there is plenty that treats all three as evil, usually while striving to unsettle and disturb the audience instead of connecting with them.

And I am beginning to believe that comfort is what audiences actually want now. The age of edge, subversion, and political preening, is over.

Some of the things I have been delving into since the calendar changed to 2023 include old sitcoms, adventure shows and comics, and classic video games. The reason for this is that I wanted to see what older products had that we are missing today to really make the connection to modern audiences. Aside from aesthetics or themes, what did these things have that the mainstream cannot deliver now? The thing they had was an assumption that cultural unity and shared values are admirable, and anti-social cynicism and bitterness are harmful to cohesiveness. Without that connection, we are destined . . . well, we are destined to the world we have right now.

I can give a few examples, but keep in mind they are only a few. And I believe the only modern industry (in its independent/NewPub-esque form) that is truly nailing what made the classics work, is the video game industry's middle market and indie spaces. Others, like comics and books, have problems beside the constant backbiting over nothing.

But what is this comfort of which I am speaking? It is time to get on with it.

Let us take a series like The Littlest Hobo, the 1970s version, supposedly the decade of nihilism. For those unaware, this series follows a stray dog as he goes from town to town, and across the countryside, looking for people to help. The premise is simple, and obvious. The unnamed canine protagonist comes across humans that need help, he solves the problem, then goes off looking for new adventures. It's very formulaic, but it's a good one, and instils a sense of comfort in the viewer with its cheesy humor, catchy music, and bright visuals. There is no social conditioning, subversive political sloganeering, or contempt for the audience. It is a simple series with a simple premise. Instead of trying to make audiences "turn their brain off" or "think" or whatever the people behind the show they think they should be able to force their audience to do. No, the Littlest Hobo's main concern is comforting the audience with a simple plot, a straightforward idea, and no extreme content.

If you think this is a bad thing to have ambitions towards, then you clearly have been taken for a ride by those in charge. There is nothing wrong with a piece of art whose main purpose is to comfort and offer straightforward thrills. The question is if it does so convincingly. This series does.

For another example, I also recently partook in watching the 1970s version of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries, the series where one week it would center on one party or the other, or both together in one episode. This was made for a family audience, though it made sure not to dumb down the mystery element. All-ages stories used to be able to appeal to All Ages.

One of the episodes I viewed concerned Nancy disappearing and the Hardy Boys having to investigate what happened (with the local law enforcement!) leading to a chain of events involving an exploding building, an eccentric millionaire hiding away in his tower, and daring escapes from criminals. Despite all of that, there was no graphic violence or edgy behavior. Nothing extreme. The threat was real, but never did it ratchet tension or raise the stakes to levels that would unnerve audiences or the younger set. Instead, it ended by putting a new bow on the proceedings and everything working out despite all that had occurred.

Remember the old joke making fun of old crime shows ending on a lighthearted moment or a joke? Well, there is a reason they did that. I know we are told all people before us never had a reason for anything they did, but they did. They did this because they knew the main goal was to please the audience and leave them smiling as they headed to bed. Good triumphing over evil and succeeding fully is a good state to fall asleep to. Your sleep and rest is affected by the last thing you consume. This is why old TV did this.

Ask yourself why it is now the complete opposite of this, and why all the people who engage in this programming have high anxiety and depression. The answer is clear.

The perfect sort of thing that audiences should be going to bed on is not something that distressed them or leaves them uncertain. It's no coincidence that bad sleeping habits, anxiety, and depression, are so high given what subversive programs streaming services pump into people's brains. There is a reason old crime shows used to end on a lighthearted moment and with everything wrapping up with the villain defeated. Now they don't, and haven't for decades, and most audiences have fled in response. We live in an anti-audience entertainment climate.

There is probably something to the way things were once done.

What I meant about video games applies here. I recently indulged in the game Fashion Police Squad, a first person shooter (Get it? FPS?) where you play as a fashion cop shooting fashion criminals with your clothing guns based on what their "crime" is. It's an outlandish and silly premise, but the gameplay is fun and the level design is varied enough to keep it interesting until the end. It's not the biggest or most original game ever made, nor does it contain a "deep" story, but it is a much better time than any AAA game will be. It's also considerably cheaper. There is a reason games like this are becoming more and more in demand while no one talks about Halo or Call of Duty anymore. Fashion Police Squad is the exact sort of tension reliever and breezy simplicity that people used to expect from your average video game. Not cinematics, $70 prices, endless DLC, big budget HD junk, or rehashed 2006 gameplay: just pure concentrated comfort and enjoyment.

This is where the video game industry actually is far beyond everyone else when it comes to the NewPub and indie style spaces. They get the idea of comfort as a key component of entertainment. With everyone else's focus on '90s Xtreme edginess or '00s gore and sex, we haven't quite reached that point in adjacent subcultures. Considering those aspects of said decades are what lead us here to this modern climate, they aren't really a sense of comfort to the majority of audiences outside of momentary nostalgia. Hence why those things have never really taken off, even in a climate currently obsessed with nostalgia.

To beat the old industry, you need to give people what said old industry is not giving them. That requires more than rolling the clock back. It requires a mindset shift.

My point is not that all art and entertainment needs to instill comfort on the surface, but I'm quickly reaching the point where I believe the majority of it should, on some level. It needs to reinforce the good and reject the evil. We are clearly seeing the results of an industry without any comfort to be had. It's not working.

For one last example, take the hit series, The A-Team. This was a series that got ratings comparable with pre-rural purge era works, and was constantly dogged as being mindless violence and junk food for the brain when it came out. Nonetheless, it contained stunts like anyone might expect from the golden age of action movies, but not the level of violence. It did this for multiple reasons, including Standards and Practices, but also because it was like a modern twist on tokusatsu: an action series for the whole family with a comedic bent. It is for all ages, the whole family. The team gets into a situation, devises a crazy plan to get out of it, the problem is solved, and the heroes go home winners. This is something the whole family can understand, and each one for different reasons, and it is why they watched it together. That is what entertainment exists to do.

Afterwards, when the sizzling action and excitement has passed, you then go to bed with your spirits raised and a smile on your face, and tomorrow you will talk all about it in the school yard / at the water cooler. In the end, everyone wins. This is what pro-social entertainment should inspire--connection. This is what it once did.

Sitcoms used to epitomize this idea in the west. Essentially a weekly stage play filmed in front of an audience (laugh tracks are an aberration of this original form), the show unfurls a situation played for comical effect that the majority of the audience can understand based on common everyday life. Eventually it hits a climax, the problem is put right, the family remembers it is a family and forgives each other, and things are put right. It is a very simple formula.

All the more why it was the target of derision and subversion by cynics and anti-social types since the dawn of television. Sitcoms have always been looked down on by the wider industry, and eventually they were completely subverted from their original aim.

They ruined them in a few steps. First, removing the stage play format and audience participation makes sitcoms more detached from their roots, "maturing" the writing cuts out family participation, and uprooting it from any sort of moral framework makes it pointless noise for hipsters to pat their own backs over. There is no relation to the audience or reality anymore. There is no connection with others anymore. But at least the writing is "smart" or whatever, even though that was never the point of sitcoms in the first place.

We completely lost the plot on what comfort is, because we no longer wish to connect with one another. We don't want to spend time with each other, whether in a fantastical world or the normal one. We wish to be put above our neighbor, not live beside them.

Japan does seem to understand the concept of comfort better than the west, to an extent. There is a reason shonen action series, moe and romance series, and tokusatsu, continue to be popular despite constant complaints of predictability from those who do not care for them. They know what their audience wants, deep down, is to have that connection in their entertainment. Comfort is a trait we take for granted, to our tremendous disadvantage. We can currently see what a society without comfort looks like.

It's not pretty.

But what about a society where there is comfort? That is something we can very easily imagine, because it wasn't around that long ago.

So how can we right the ship? Is there any hope, or are we destined to spin down this drain forever until the death of the universe?

First, we can see where we went wrong. It's fairly obvious. Everyone can see it, even if they don't want to admit it.

One of the industries that completely miss this aspect of comfort, especially in the mainstream, is comic books. With how the manga industry has completely dominated the west, including in paperback book sales, this isn't arguable anymore. Japan has completely crushed the western publishing industry and it isn't even close.

So how did comic books fall out of fashion? Where did it go wrong? Fairly easily: they stopped caring about growing the industry or catering to anyone but themselves and their own fetishes above the audience's tastes. And they did it way back in the 1970s and 80s. There is a reason sales only dropped as the years went on.

From all reports, the Gen X radicals that came into the industry back in the day had no interest in creating stories for all-ages or kids. In fact, they only wanted to create stuff for their very mature selves. You can see this with how mainstream superhero comics got more and more violent and lurid while at the same time kids started flooding out of the hobby.

This doesn't even go into how locking the entire medium into specialty stores (something Japan does not do, by the way) effectively cut off any entry point for new readers to come in or the industry to grow. Eventually we got to the point where everything is produced and made for a subset of New York hipsters that have no interest in understanding others outside of their tiny social circle and look down on who they deem lesser than they are. As a result, the industry is dying.

The answer to preserving the form is not to preserve the decline that occurred in the 1970s before bottoming out in the 2010s. That's a long fall! Therefore, imitating a stage of said fall is not going to bring audiences back. This doesn't mean you can't aspire to have good art styles inspired by works back then, but imitating those subversive storytelling tropes didn't bring audiences in back then. Why would it do so now? A different tact is needed.

True all-ages comics are what is needed again. Not necessarily kids comics (though those are needed, too!) but series with a more broad appeal outside of tiny slivers of shrinking demographics, especially as demographics are no longer the same as they once were. All-ages is the bedrock of any entertainment industry in getting mass appeal, bringing in audiences, and connecting people. they are necessary for industries to grow. This is why manga and bande designee are growing, while western comics are a punchline.

Think of some of the highest selling international comics: Tintin, Donald Duck/Scrooge, Valerian, The Phantom, classic Fantastic Four, Asterix, Bone, Captain Marvel (Shazam!), or even old Archie. This doesn't even go into more independent fair like Usagi Yojimbo or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These all have only one thing in common, and that is to tell an accessible story that anyone can get into without being jarred out of it by extreme content. This is what draws wider audiences in. More in the vein of the A-Team, less in the vein of the decline. The opposite would be focusing on ideas limited in scope and centered on characters the majority audience cannot connect with (or are specifically designed not to connect with) while insulting your customer base. Guess what exactly the western industry does.

As far as the literary world goes, there are plenty of examples in PulpRev and Superversive circles where comfort exists, but as for comics? I don't think we're quite there yet. You can find examples, such as Flying Sparks or Kamen America, and there are others in the web sphere such as Jane Smith: Wannabe Gladiator or Cloudscratcher, but we need more. The scene needs a sea change, and this is the direction that will eventually give it the shot in the arm it needs to grow again.

So it is with every art scene. The future is really going to be in comfort, wholesomeness, and wonder, first. We are already gearing up for a kickback to the poison of modern culture, especially as more nihilistic and darker stories and properties are currently dying out due to the audience dealing with enough of it in their own lives with the real world going mad. Mindless nostalgia of subverted properties made back when things were better is not working, and it offers no solutions. It is that subversion, that very poison, that is being rejected. It isn't that audiences want old things, they want new things with that old spirit.

The only way to get that is to change the way we operate and reassess our creation process. Not just what stories are we telling, but how do we actually want to connect with the audience? What are we getting across? What sensations do we want to instill them with?

This isn't so much a call to sanitize works already being made, but to rethink the aim of the works we create from the ground up. Who will be reading them, and what will they get out of it? Because every bit of a piece matters, and it all contributes to the greater whole. You can't create unreality and warp normality with art, unlike what common advice tells you today, but you can either pervert it or champion the good instead. We've seen what a constant onslaught of perverse art can do. I honestly do not think audiences are looking for it anymore, not to mention that there is already a surplus of it. Why contribute to it further?

2023 hasn't been a great year so far, but there are definitely bright spots ahead, cracks in clouds. If you can put your faith in a brighter sun on the other side then you will eventually see it. It might take longer than we'd like, but it will happen.

Let's just make sure not to wait for it to arrive before we make a change. It would be better to meet it ready to go instead of scrambling to keep up.

You can't know the future, but you can know the past. There are always ups and downs, sunrises and sunsets, and tribulations and peace, but there is always a tomorrow. There is always another chance to get it right. And we'll get this one right, mark my words.

Comfort and joy are what gives the world its beauty. Without it we'd be trapped in a misery and darkness so deep we would never crawl out. But we will. We always do, eventually. Let's be sure to work for it. It'll make that comfort all the more sweeter when we get it.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Weekend Lounge ~ It's Not Easy Bein' Cold!

I know I've been gone a bit too long, but that's just the way of the typical Long Winter Blues. I sort of expected it, though I hoped different. A lot of people around here have had health issues and the snowplow is not cleaning the roads properly. So it hasn't been all fun and games for early 2023. Welcome to late winter, I suppose! Here's hoping things start looking up as we move through the second month of the year.

Regardless of all that nonsense, this weekend I wanted to share this documentary series on Jim Henson I found from Defunctland with you. It really goes to show you how much things changed in the modern world, even over the lifetime of a single person. Henson's creations certainly outlived him like he wanted them too, though not due to the quality being carried on in his stead (His head writer, Jerry Juhl, died in 2005, and the last thing he wrote was 1999's Muppets In Space, before Disney consumed the Muppets whole) but because his work was just that original and full of quality that it has withstood the test of time. You can watch the first episode of the documentary above. Be warned, it's six parts long and quite long!

All that aid, if you are into art or an artist yourself, it is a must watch. Creativity is so terribly undervalued these days.

For around 35 years or so, Jim Henson worked as a creator and writer in the early days of Golden Age TV up to the beginnings of the decline of popular culture itself in 1990 when he died. He was there in the early days of the industry, contributed to its rise, and died just as it was beginning to head down the slope to destruction into the pit it currently resides. His funeral honestly does feel like the end of an era, one that will not be replicated again.

Though I will say, as I inferred above, that his company's productions still remained quality up until Cultural Ground Zero, like everything else of the time managed. Things didn't just fall apart overnight: it was a long process of decay. Muppets In Space in 1999 wasn't good, and ended up being the final Muppet feature for over a decade, and also the last time they were culturally relevant, like most things from the time were. It's an interesting frame and time of operation, and probably one of the reasons Jim Henson and his creations are still so beloved today even while most other things have been ruined. They come from, and epitomize, a time much better than today, and they are so tightly identified with the man himself and his team.

That doesn't mean it was easy for him to do what he did. It really was not, as the documentary shows. But he did live in a much different era than the one we are stuck in now.

As a member of Generation Y, of course I was engaged in his work. It's hard to meet those who were not on some level. Labyrinth, for instance, is a film that has always stuck with me since I was a kid and saw it on VHS in my grandmother's house. But when it came out it was savaged relentlessly and took much time to gather the appreciation it has now. Now it is known as a classic, unique in what it does. And it is. But then? It was just another production for people spoiled with quality choices in their leisure. As we've said on Cannon Cruisers, it was a time spoiled with choice and you can't throw a rock without hitting an underappreciated classic currently receiving reappraisal in the modern day. There was just too much!

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't still build on what came before or hope for better times ahead of us. Art and creativity doesn't die because the industry made to promote it fails to do so. There will always be something: we just have to find and support it. Nonetheless, enjoy the documentary and I will see you next week! Keep warm.

We've got much more to see and do, and we still have to get out of this crummy winter weather!

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Final Flying Sparks!

Find it Here!

2023 seems to be a year of climaxes, because this is the second crowdfund I'm talking about this year, and it is yet another conclusion of yet another series!

It is time to talk about the final volume of Flying Sparks!

This is an independent comic series from pulp maestro and the always controversial Jon Del Arroz, someone who just wants to have fun. And Flying Sparks is fun. A superhero series of the sort not made much anymore, it is the sort of thing the mainstream gave up for grimdark decades ago. This is the sort of thing that has given the independent scene a shot in the arm to push it far ahead of what remains of the larger western industry.

You aren't going to find anything this wholesome and fun in the majors. And, as I mentioned, it is also the final volume! You can back for them all in this campaign, though.

The description:

FLYING SPARKS VOLUME 5: Ultra Light Beams is the fifth 72-page volume to the mega-hit crowdfunded graphic novel series, which has sold more than 3,000 copies! (All five volumes are available as rewards and add ons)

Meta-Girl and Johnny are having the worst rough patch yet in their relationship after Meta-Girl finds out Johnny's been delving into deep crime. They don't have time to think about their love lives because strange lizard creatures are pouring through an interdimensional portal, threatening to destroy our entire existence. If that weren't bad enough, a major villain has given himself supreme powers to become the strongest enemy our protagonists have ever faced!

Who will make it to the end alive?

#1 Bestselling Author Jon Del Arroz (For Steam And Country, Justified, Flying Sparks 1-4, OVERMIND) and artists Jethro Morales (Green Hornet, Hack/Slash, Dejah Thoris, Flying Sparks 1-4) and Elias Martin have another hit on their hands with Flying Sparks Volume 5!

"Flying Sparks is the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel Comics"-

Back Volume 5 today!

It has been something else watching the indie comic scene expand over the last few years, even as mainstream comic books are seemingly petering out as manga and wargaming overtake the shelves of book stores, and what remains of comic shops. What this means is that you have far more variety and choice than existed even a few years ago, and we should be very thankful that this is the case. The medium deserves to thrive.

I do not know what Jon Del Arroz has planned after wrapping up the series that got him started, but I'm sure it'll still contain that fun and sense of wonder his other works contain. There is no reason for him to stop now. There's no reason for any of us to stop!

Once again, you can back the final volume of Flying Sparks, Ultra Light Beams, on the campaign page here!