Archive for February, 2011

From the Desk of the Dictator:

Welcome back from your weekend everyone.

I’d like to officially announce here that the scope of Project Cut Flowers has been expanded. This is a result of my meeting last week with former Technefarious lieutenant Pipewrench. A native of the Suncloud, he joined Technefarious because our style matched his, but he left us before my immediate predecessor had taken control of our organization. He’s a big man, well suited to pounding on the steampunk machines he likes to build.

The destruction of one of those clockwork devices is what brought him to us last week. So far, Project Cut Flowers has consisted mostly of stockpiling materials for Pipewrench to run through his construct. We don’t normally do mercenary work, but Pipewrench used to be one of us and was paying very well. Since we now have nearly all the things he needs, he wants to expand our contract to have us rebuild his Dimension Projector in a timely manner and to assist him in its eventual launch. I cleared it with Frigid, then told Pipewrench we’d be setting aside our own operations for his, so I’d have to charge him a great deal of money. He agreed. Then I asked exactly what happened to the one he had been working on.

It seems that he had kidnapped the heiress Persephone Guilder. He assures me his demand for her ransom was not an indication of a lack of money but just a routine operation to ensure a steady cashflow. Since I had already had the computer department hack into his bank accounts, I believed him. However, living in the world that we do, a superhero had taken it upon himself to arrange for the release of Ms. Guilder without an exchange of money. Unfortunately, that hero was Grogan the Giant Lizard-Gorilla, who is roughly six stories high and well known for his property damage skills. By the time Grogan had extracted Ms. Guilder, half of Pipewrench’s base was rubble and his Dimension Projector’s assembly strongly resembled a large golden pancake instead of a three dimensional Rube Goldbergian clockwork. Hopefully, we’ll be able to avoid a similar mess this time.

Tonight, the propaganda department has hired the Demented Resistors to do a concert for us. The musicians have been mind-altered to think they’re playing a corporate gig for the Technalysis Foundation, so everyone can relax and enjoy the show. The Demented Resistors opened for Power Bow on his last tour and are supposed to be really good. I’m looking forward to it.

On Tuesday, we’ll be holding a memorial service for Henchmen 84U-4B (Rachel) from the science department. Technically, she isn’t dead, but the experiment she was working on pulled her into a non-string based dimension and transmuted her body to let her survive there. We’re not sure exactly how it happened, and we don’t have a clue how to reverse it. Decades of Technefarious history suggest that it is best to memorialize her now.

In the latest news of our package exchange program with our rivals at the Golden Web, I sent them back a glass jar full of mutilated gummy bears. Two headed, multicolored monstrosities will stare at the recipient with twin blank gazes. Perhaps the jar’s new owner will recoil for the horror of seeing three gummy butts sealed together. Probably not – no one has ever called the Golden Web wimps. Well, except for the Powder Keg, but that’s only because their answer to everything is to blow it up.

Have a good week everyone. Remember, the world is already ours – it just doesn’t realize it yet.

Your Leader, 

Dr. Photius Callaway

The Killing Man

John Scalzi is an awfully good science fiction writer. He’s also no slouch as a live performer. When the boys from of Wootstock (Paul and Storm, Wil Wheaton, and Adam Savage) put together their show for Minneapolis in June of last year, they invited him as one of their guests.


Luckily, they also release their show under a creative commons license, so fan vidoes of every Wootstock performance can be found on the internet. The Minneapolis show had particularly good recording made (thanks grnbrgb). Other segments from the particular show will probably show up in the slush pile again.

Here’s John Scalzi reading his short story, “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth.”


(via Whatever)

The Internet is a giant slush pile, and I’m the unpaid intern wading through it. Here’s a bit of pretty dredged from the dreck.

From the Desk of the Dictator:

Welcome back from your weekend everyone. Turned out to be a bit more eventful than we all expected, didn’t it?

It started with a birthday party. Alpha and Gamma of the Elite Triad decided to hold a surprise party for Beta. I’m not sure why, since they’re almost one person anymore. Originally designed by D.O.K.T.O.R., the E.L.I.T.E. series were built by the second most famous leader of Technaferious to test ways to improve his own software. He used the same operating system for all three, thus Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. However, the three ended up getting along so well that they started regularly integrating their software and memories together. Nowadays, if you talk with one of them, you’re talking with all three of them, even if they are halfway across the planet from each other. I can understand why two of them would want a surprise party for the third; I’m just not sure how they managed to make that decision without involving him. Also, I don’t know why Beta is a “he” and Alpha and Gamma are “she’s.” Gamma is a short, androgynous robot, so I can kind of see that one. And yes, I’ve heard the joke about Beta being a tank with a really big turret, but Alpha is a big silver obelisk, which is just as phallic as that turret. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to the whimsies of our silicon people. 

Naturally, since Beta is literally a tank, we held the party in the parking garage. We were going to have it out in the yard, but weather control involves using forces that the Establishment can usually detect pretty easily and it rained. Unfortunately, the bustle of setting up for the party let a security breach get past our receiving department. We are stockpiling Cosmic Kinetic Fluid for Project Cut Flowers, and the latest shipment of had just come in. There are legitimate industrial uses for the explosive CKF, but not many for the amount we’ve been diverting. I suppose it was inevitable that someone was going to notice. I guess I should be just as glad that it wasn’t an Establishment strike force that snuck onto our base.

Once the party was well underway, someone discovered Henchman 11E-7P (Ned) had been knocked out, stripped naked, and tied up. I suppose in another profession, this would have set off an immediate alarm and stopped the party instead of being considered merely slightly rougher than the usual party shenanigans. Once the medical department revived him, however, he told them it was an intruder, later identified as the vigilante Flutterdie, who had attacked him.

Flutterdie is a butterfly-themed superhero wearing a powersuit created by a sorcerer from another planet, which is only a slightly more exotic than usual explanations for superpowers that I’ve heard. It’s not really a power set suited for sneaking around, which is why she stole Ned’s clothes. It is a power set good for fighting, so when the security squad finally intercepted her, she blasted her way out with her twin pistols. Everyone in the squad received injuries and Henchman 65N-7T (Turner) was killed permanently. The enchantments on her weapons nullified his connection to our soul catchers when they hit him, putting his recovery beyond our reach.

With the rest of us involved in the party, Flutterdie managed to fly away before we could move to stop her. Luckily, as a vigilante she isn’t a certified officer of the Establishment, so her contacts with them are weak enough that we didn’t immediately have the heavy hitters of the superhero world breathing down our necks. That let us do a more orderly transition to our new base than we usually manage, so our operations resumed as normal today.

The Noir Club is holding a Purple Poetry reading Tuesday night, and Henchman 43E-2W (Sherlock Stupendous) of the Occult department is doing a magic show on Thursday. I hope someone has screened his act ahead of time. The last time we had an amateur showman from that department, it took us three weeks to get all the gremlins out of the equipment. Consider yourself warned, Stupendous.

Have a good week everyone. Remember, the world is already ours – it just doesn’t realize it yet.

Your Leader,

Dr. Photius Callaway

The Killing Man

Update: Bleach tells me Alpha is phallic like a dildo, thus earning her the female designation. Thanks, Bleach.

I downloaded Champions Online a couple of weeks ago when it went free to play. Tried to get into it last week but got bored with the character creator. Not the stat building, because I chose my class pretty much at random. No, I got bored trying to figure out what my character would look like. 

I took another run at it last night, using Epiphany as my starting point since she’s one of my few superheroes whose costumes I know what they should look like. They didn’t have labcoats, so it ended up not being Epiphany. However, they did have some wicked looking butterfly wings, eventually giving us FLUTTERDIE:


Origin: Long story. Let’s just say that alien sorcerers are strange.



This is the default stance for female characters. I switched to the action pose.

I needed a vigilante type in Monday’s Dictator memo, so I think I’ll use my new hero there.

I bought a new iPhone. Verizon finally manage to snag it for their network, and the power supply for my Blackberry has been more twitchy than usual lately.

I’ve already intergrated it with my iTunes stuff and my email. Anyone have suggestions for additional junk I should buy for it or apps that I should download?

From the Desk of the Dictator:

Welcome back from your weekend everyone.

It was quiet this week. We ran another segment of Project Cut Flowers, but this one did not require mobilizing all of Technefarious, so it’s understandable if you didn’t notice it. Operation Grass Clippings only required a couple of people to complete, so I assigned it to Frigid and myself. It was nice to get out of the office without being abducted by aliens or trying to oversee a small army in the field.

Operation Grass Clippings required a trip to the floating city of Suncloud. If you’ve never been, you’ve missed one of the wonders of the world. No one knows exactly how old it is, although it is referenced in Homer’s Odyssey. Somewhere in prehistory, a vine plant mutated or got hit by miscast magic or was the subject of a miracle, allowing it to exhale a mist that made it float free of the ground. For whatever reason, this floating planet didn’t die but instead grew bit by bit. Eventually, some bits of it did die, but the dried husks stayed entwined with the living vine. Slowly the plant grew larger and its discarded bits accumulated, turning into a floating mound and then into a floating hill and finally into an entire island buoyed by its white cloud of gas. Over the millennia, it accumulated passengers: birds, bugs, dirt, flowers, weeds, and trees. Occasionally it was tamed by a wizard or a god that wanted the living cloud for their own reasons, but mostly it wandered the planet, a little island of life in the sky. Eventually, it was colonized during Europe’s Age of Exploration. However, the European powers found it impossible to control the island’s course, making it difficult for them to do regular business with the floating colony. Finally drifting away from their old homes, the former colonists dubbed their land the Suncloud and developed their own independent culture that specialized in flight long before the Wright brothers developed the propeller driven airplane.

Frigid and I slipped onto Suncloud by the simple expedient of teleporting onto it. Flying is a poor option for sneaking in, because the Cloudians have developed the best flight detection systems on the world. Teleporting in was better. Oh, they still detected our arrival; it just made intercepting us harder. By the time their security forces reached our arrival point, we had already disappeared among Suncloud’s many tourists.

To give security time to settle down, Frigid and I pretended to be tourists and went shopping, giving me an opportunity to prove to my lieutenant that the stereotype of guys hating to shop is entirely true. Frigid chose her name deliberately, having been born with ice powers and no sex drive. Talk to her for a while, and you’ll find she finds the contortions the rest of humanity goes through for sex amusing. Apparently, she managed to have avoided going shopping with any guys in her life so far and found it hilarious that I lived up to the male reputation. I just smiled at her patiently and told her that the real reason I seized control of Technefarious was so I could make the henchmen do my shopping for me.

After stopping for some coffee with floating foam (a Suncloud speciality), we made our way to the edge of the island to try and find some plant matter to prune. The forests there had plenty of exposed stalks of the floating plant, but we wanted to do this with more subtlety than Jack and the Beanstalk. We finally found a sprout shorter than us, so I used my powers to figure out how to trim it off without killing it. Then Frigid encased it in ice and manipulated the temperature of the water inside of it to preserve its cells without letting them rot, or so I gathered from the long, detailed explanation of her process that she shared while she went about it. I didn’t actually understand it all, but as long as our science and occult departments are happy with her work, then I’m happy.

Of course, our attempt to teleport back out was immediately foiled. Despite our efforts to skirt security, they had managed to track us down. The squad was mostly just grunts, but I recognized their leaders. The first was Shiver, a young woman with a vibration based power set. The other was Caesar Rex, the Mechanical Canine-Man, my rival in having a completely ridiculous mix of names and titles.

Rex gloated that he had caught us and boasted about the jammer he was using to keep us from teleporting away. It wasn’t a bad little monologue, but I thought it was bit presumptuous of him considering he hadn’t subdued us yet. Oh, I won’t pass up a good monologue myself, but I do have priorities.

In this case, my priority was has to extract ourselves without killing anyone. Sure, we’re facing a couple of superheroes and some extra muscle, all of whom are usually expendable, but murder is more memorable than property damage and theft. At worst, I wanted us to be an annoying escape, not a focus for vengeance. Our teleportation device’s countermeasures had started processing as soon as it found itself blocked, so it would eventually get us out. The question was how to keep our opponents busy in the meantime.

Luckily, I had Frigid with me. Like any good ice slinger, the first thing she did was encase our opponents in blocks of ice. If she had been able to concentrate on maintaining the blocks’ integrity, that would have been enough to let us get away. Unfortunately, Shiver’s vibrations tore down her ice cube prison almost immediately. The hero threw herself at Frigid, forcing a standoff between Shiver’s excitation of atoms and Frigid’s storm of ice.

In the meantime, Caesar Rex and his goons had managed to extract themselves from their blocks, but I was waiting for them. Killing someone is much easier than disabling them, but I am highly trained. I served concussions and severed tendons to the help, then delivered an arrangement of sharp strikes and crushing blows to Caesar Rex, incapacitating his capacitors and grinding his gears. With his mechanical bits damaged, he dropped the jammer. That wasn’t what I was going for, but I stomped on it anyways, teleporting us away and ending the fights.

I told Frigid that the next time, maybe she should start the fight by destroying the equipment preventing our escape. She said thanks for the brilliant idea after the fact.

This memo is long again, so I’ll just write one quick note here about our package exchanges with the Golden Web. This time, our archrivals sent us a box full of the stiff, deadly gum sticks that comes with baseball cards. The science department was able to determine the entire lot of gum dates to the mid-1980s. Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on over there.

Have a good week everyone. Remember, the world is already ours – it just doesn’t realize it yet.

Your Leader,

Dr. Photius Callaway

The Killing Man

From the Desk of the Dictator:

Welcome back from your weekend everyone.

Operation I-Should-Have-Probably-Named-It-But-It-Wasn’t-Part-Of-One-Of-Our-Take-Over-The-World-Plots-So-I-Didn’t was a success with some additional positive, if unexpected, results. We successfully rescued the soul of Henchman 98B-3O (Carl), which we expected, but it looks like it may have resulted in a proper secret origin story for him too.

First, let’s talk about the actual execution of the rescue. Carl’s soul was being held by the dragon statue Granquartz. Our occult department prepared some materials, and I hired the Positronic Ghost to deliver them to since he could complete the job more quietly than anyone currently on staff.

The Positronic Ghost was built by one of the former leaders of Technefarious, Dr. Masivo. The doctor had found that building a sentient computer was easier if the materials used were entirely antimatter. Unfortunately, antimatter has a bad habit of exploding when it actually touches anything on Earth. Masivo addressed that problem by building the entire thing slightly out of phase with the rest of the world. As a result, it could seen and heard and but not touched. In keeping with the theme, he built his computer an antimatter body of a seven-foot tall robotic skeleton dressed in rags. Dr. Masivo had a sense of humor.

I’ve always liked the Positronic Ghost. Sure, his attention span isn’t great, and you have to prod him sometimes to get moving again, but he’s a pleasant (if occasional abstract) conversationalist. I was sorry when he left us to pursue his own projects.

Positronic Ghost snuck Granquartz’s lair and coated the stone eggs in her nest with the dragon semen our occult department had prepared. Now fertilized, the eggs quickened within a couple of days and then hatched. Carl was reborn with his soul now attached to a body of baby dragon statue. The other eggs had also hatched with other souls Granquartz had captured. In the confusion of the dozen or so sudden births, Carl escaped from the Soil Six’s base and flew back to us. Apparently learning to fly with a body made of stone is easier than you might think.

The occult department has reattached Carl’s soul to a clone body but found that they did not have to detach it from the dragon statue. So if you see the clone or the statue walking around, keep in mind that they are both Carl. Given his unusual condition, we’re evaluating him to see what additional training and duties might be suitable for him.

Later in this week, the science department will start their battle robot contest. Be sure you get your filled out elimination brackets to Dr. Ratchetman by Thursday morning to have a chance at winning the betting pool.

I have one quick note on the package exchange program with our enemies, the Golden Web. They haven’t sent us anything back yet, but Frigid noted I should have put a mesmerizing subliminal in the Manimal Betamax tapes I sent the Golden Web. So thanks, Frigid, for the brilliant idea after the fact. I’m going to go be grumpy now.

Have a good week everyone. Remember, the world is already ours – it just doesn’t realize it yet.

Your Leader,

Dr. Photius Callaway

The Killing Man

An interesting conversation took place in the comic book world over the past week. It started when Eric Powell, creator of the award winning comic The Goon, posted a video criticizing the lack of genre diversity in comics. I’d post it here, but he’s since taken it down, presumably because either because it wasn’t particularly well argued or because it wasn’t particularly well presented. Jill Pantozzi has a summation of the video here, as well as her own thoughts on it. Here are some commentaries on it: Scott McCloud, Van Jensen, and Tom Spurgeon. There were also conversations comic news/commentary sites: one on Comic Alliance, and several on The Beat.

I’m less interested in examining the video itself (I think it wasn’t well argued or presented, myself). However, I did post my thoughts about the follow up conversations on The Beat, and I’m cross-posting them here.

1: In which I discuss the emerging digital download market which the video completely ignored as a commercial outlet and the realities of making a living off your art

I expect the growth in the digital download market will spur growth for drama comics, simply because drama is more satisfying in larger chunks; there’s a reason sitcoms are thirty minutes and television dramas are an hour, after all. Comedy has the edge in webcomics, just like it does on the newspaper comics page. Drama comics can get by on the web (Family Man, YU+ME: dream, Sailor Twain, World of Hurt, Zahra’s Paradise), but the daily joke rules that side of the business.

Digital downloads have enough format differences from floppies, trades, and webcomics to make them the preferred format for an under-exploited audience. Since that audience will expect them to come out on a floppy or trade time-period, expect drama to dominate the format just like it does in the direct market. As there’s no shelf space limit like there is in the direct market, expect the independent stuff to dwarf the Big 2, Archie, and Disney. The tech to create and deliver the work just doesn’t require a big corporate middle man to hold the bag. The only advantage a big corporate middle man might have is in building a big enough digital storefront for costumers to randomly browse through. Even then, any creator that doesn’t also sell his digital downloads off his own website to cut the middleman out of selling to the creator’s hardcore fanbase is an idiot.

Will digital downloads be enough by themselves? Probably not, but comics by themselves never were. Newspaper comics, webcomics, and comic books have ads. All three have trades that repackage the content in books that doesn’t have ads. All three merchandise (suction cup Garfield for your window, Fat Pony T-shirts, and Wolverine action figures). All three license to the other, bigger, riskier, more profitable mass mediums (Peanut holiday specials, Batman movies, Penny Arcade video games) which is where you actually hit the lottery with your work. Sure, Harry Potter level success in books will you a millionaire, but Harry Potter movies and merchandising is what it takes to make you the second richest woman in England.

The marketing for most direct market comics, even from the Big 2, is bad. The profits margins aren’t there for something much better than what a one person creator can manage in the internet age. A determined and patient creator can create more marketing for himself now than ever before. It won’t be overnight. In fact, usually takes years, but we are talking about creators who intend to do this for their entire life, right?

While you’re struggling, keep your day job. If you’re already in the direct market, there’s no reason why shouldn’t stay in it while you build up your own creator owned works that you can sell again and again and again, year after year, as floppies and trades and webcomics and digital downloads.

I keep running into these unrealistic expectations that finding more audience in a new format should happen instantaneously, instead of being the backbreaking work making your living off your art always is. Is it the fact that artists have an actually, marketable skill out of college that is useful in the business world that skews these conversations on these direct market specialization sites? The awards for best new novelists usually go to people in their THIRTIES. Actors are disgustingly hit and miss in their cash flow, no matter how successful they might have been in the past. Sniveling in public that you might have to lower yourself to get a paycheck to keep pursuing your preferred projects is really annoying to some of us coming from those backgrounds. Making money from doing something creative is tough, and building a new business from scratch takes time and effort. Just be glad that it’s easier now than when Jeff Smith and Dave Sim started theirs – or when Scott Kurtz and Fred Gallagher started theirs. (Fun fact – Fred Gallagher? His webcomic Megotokyo is the only one whose trades are published by DC or Marvel, and his last volume came out under the DC Comics imprint itself. And it’s a drama webcomic. It was the only title to survive DC killing the CMX line. Know why it survived? Because the trades were too profitable for DC to just drop it. The collections of a comic you can read on the internet for free were too profitable for one of the Big 2 to let go. The future is now, kids.)

Oh, and only 300 million people? If you’re only aiming for America when talking about delivering content on the internet, you’re aiming too small.

2: In which I discuss the recent markets for mass media and how they impact comics

If we’re going to talk the history of money in comics, we have to include the fact that comics are a mass medium and competing with every other mass media for the time and money of a limited audience (6 billion+ people big but still finite). In the direct market era, we’ve had two new mass media mature, video games (now the same size as the movie industry) and the internet (hi there!). I’m not going pretend I have the numbers at my fingertips, but I’m guessing there’s a strong correlation between the rise of those industries and the decline in direct market sales. There has certainly been one reported between their rise and the subsequent decline of television. Video games just steal time and money, which makes it tougher for those in the older media. The internet has been something else.

Like video games, internet has been another time and money sink for consumers. However, it has also opened up new distribution channels for content sellers, like people making comics. We’ve seen the webcomics side of the industry grow from strips put up for fun to having a solid cadre of full time professionals. Here’s the Wikipedia list  for those that missed it on the other thread. Add in the many, many semi-pros on the net, some of whom will eventually be pros, and we start reaching numbers matching the number of comic creators in the newspapers.

I know there are some that like to claim that making it on the web is like hitting the lottery in terms of the odds. They’re absolutely right. However, the odds making a living doing comics in newspapers (Peanuts or Garfield), magazines (Mad Magazine or New Yorker), or the direct market (Batman or Cerebus) are every bit as bad. If you’re making your living doing comics, it’s because you worked hard enough to get enough lottery tickets to have a real chance of earning a living wage. Maybe you wrote regularly to the comic’s letter page. Maybe you carried your portfolio to cons year after year. Maybe you had an internship at one of the publishers’ offices. Maybe you got a lot of rejection letters. However you did it, it was no less work that the process of assembling an audience one by one on the web. Yes, there is an element of luck involved, but work can do a great deal to shrink those odds to something manageable, assuming you have the talent to create something worth the audience’s time.

Now digital downloads are adding another distribution channel for comics, and it’s in a format that should work well for the same types of creators that enjoy working in the direct market. Heck, it should even carry the Big 2 as the direct market and book stores continue to contract.

Contract, not disappear. If hardbacks, trade paperbacks, and mass market paperbacks for novels can exist side by side for decades despite being the exact same product in only slightly different packaging, then that suggests packaging as different as floppies and trades and webcomics and digital downloads will all have audiences that will support them.

Collectors and floppy fetishists will keep that format going, but it will be increasingly dominated by older titles and titles tested first as mini-series by the Big 2 in the digital market that are then relaunched with a first issue to catch the direct market’s attention. Independent creators will abandon the direct market for digital downloads, unless they are floppy fetishists themselves.

To extent they work with the direct market, independents will ship trades collecting their digital work. The webcomic guys already do. Oh, some are ignoring it and selling their trades just by their websites and at cons, but some are paying the price of splitting money with a publisher to get into the direct market and book store distribution channels. Turning my head, I can see five different webcomic books on my shelf with Dark Horse on the spine, one from IDW, and one from Archaia. Digital downloads are nice, but they’re hit and miss as gifts and you can’t read them in the tub.

The relationship between digital downloads and webcomics will depend on the content. If it is drama, the webcomic side will probably be only modestly profitably but will drive consumers to buy downloads they can read comfortably away from their clunky PCs. If it is comedy, downloads will be driven by those that want to own the files for the strips or want to reread them comfortably away from the internet or their PCs. 

That ownership is pretty important, since there’s no guarantee that the website for the comic will be up forever.  Cloud storage has its place in computing, but it doesn’t actually replace having a file on hardware in your own possession. DRM on the downloads has a similar problem when the specifics of the format encryption becomes unsupported because of business failures and software changes. However, at least if you have the file in your possession, someone on the internet will eventually figure out how to jailbreak it.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll just wait the publishers out like I did the music industry. Dear publishers: I don’t care if your business fails – I won’t buy from you if you have DRM. Yours won’t be the first creative endeavor to abruptly stop, and I got plenty of independent creators to fill the void you left behind.

Okay, that’s the best I can do for where we’ve been and where I think we’re going without writing an entire book. I just get wound up by those who think their little sliver of the market is the whole business of art and commerce, and then compound their error by seeming to be oblivious to the fact that their little sliver used to be different in the past.