Archive for December, 2007

lunchtime score

So I went out to get some lunch today, and I was having trouble deciding what to get. I thought maybe I’d get some enchiladas, but I wasn’t sure. The garden enchiladas sounded good, though — basically spinach filled enchiladas with some onions and red bell peppers and other stuff. I’ve never ordered them because they’re a little pricey for me. So I argued with myself, thinking, gee, the cheese enchiladas are $1.50 cheaper… or I could get a turkey sandwich, that’s even less than the cheese enchiladas…

Then I realized I was just hemming and hawing over price. Okay, I told myself. If you really want the garden enchiladas, get those, but just make sure they’re what you want to eat. But don’t get a sandwich or cheese enchiladas just because they’re cheaper if you don’t want to eat those.

Okay, okay, me, I said to myself. I’ll order the garden enchiladas. Fine.

“Hey dude, whatcha need?” Uh oh, it’s the waiter who always says “hey dude” to me. It always puts me off for some reason even though I go to this place because it is laid back and informal. Maybe he’s a little too informal, I dunno. I order the garden enchiladas and some coffee and he rushes off.

Dissolve to: later in the meal.

I’m partway through eating these spinach enchiladas and something doesn’t seem quite right. I spread one open and realize there’s no spinach in them. I flag the waiter down. “Whatcha need, man?” he says. I say, “Hey, isn’t there supposed to be spinach in these?” He looks at the plate. “Oh, is there spinach in the garden enchiladas?” he asks rhetorically. “I’ll have to check.” He leaves my table. I see him grab a menu and look up the garden enchiladas, and I watch as a funny reaction crosses his face as he reads the first words of the description: “Spinach-filled…”

He disappears into the kitchen for half a minute and comes rushing back. “Hey dude,” he says. “Yeah, uh, do you want them re-done, or do you want a side order of steamed spinach, or what do you want?” I was hoping maybe for a discount, but somehow I end up shrugging and saying, “Oh, a side order, I guess. Whatever.” So he nods and rushes off. Another reminder that I need to work on my negotiating skills.

In the interval, a waitress comes by with a coffee pot and we both regard my half-filled coffee mug. “Would you like more coffee?” she asks. “Yes, please!” I say.

A minute later, the waiter is back again with the side order of wet spinach leaves in a little bowl. “Hey man,” he says. “Ah, we’re gonna give you half off the price on the whole order, is that okay?”

“Sure, okay, cool,” I say. Score!

All that debating I did before ordering about whether to order by price or by what I wanted seems to have worked out extra-well after all. I’m not sure there’s any lesson to be learned from this or not. But I chose wisely today, it seems.

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movie reviews

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Directed by Jake Kasdan, Produced by Judd Apatow. Starring John C. Reilly, Raymond J. Barry, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell, Jenna Fischer, and cameos by an assortment of Judd Apatow regulars.

Capsule verdict: Disappointing misfire, eliciting a smattering of chuckles at best.

Ten minutes into the movie, nobody in the audience had laughed yet. Full crowd, too. Probably full of people who have seen the other two Judd Apatow movies this year, Knocked Up and Superbad. Maybe even people who saw and liked Talladega Nights and Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, which all have more or less the same pedigree as well as cast. There were jokes, but nobody was laughing.

They were a peculiar, particular kind of joke. It was sort of the joke style for the whole movie, so if you didn’t like that kind of joke, you weren’t in for a treat. I spent a lot of time engaged by the mental exercise of trying to nail down what this kind of joke was so that I could write about it later. It’s a kind of joke writing that felt really familiar — that I knew from somewhere else, but not movies, exactly. What was it? I had a lot of time to think, and the audience was nice and quiet, which was conducive to long stretches of rumination.

About an hour and 15 minutes in, I laughed out loud, surprising myself. It was the last joke in a montage of not very funny shots of Dewey Cox (whose name was chosen to be funny, but never quite is) destroying things in his house because he’s feeling very emotional. It was the one joke that got a laugh, and I’m not sure why, and that was just as fascinating — although I can tell you it was a different type of joke. It was a sort of truthful human moment that slipped in by accident into the contrived script. Having overturned his piano, sawn his sofa in half, broken his sinks, smashed his guitars, Dewey doggedly keeps destroying everything he can, finally having to settle for smaller and pettier acts of destruction, grabbing spoons out of his drawer and bending them. “Rrrr!” he says, bending a spoon. He grabs another. “Rrr!” he bends that one. There’s a dissolve, showing some amount of time has passed. He’s seeing through his intention to the bitter end, looking a little fatigued by the tedium of it, but he’s clearly bending every last spoon he owns. He sighs instead of growling as he bends another spoon.

As stupid as that is, that’s what I laughed at, in this whole idiotic movie. Somehow that moment looked like actual human behavior. Exaggerated for comic effect, but yes — sometimes you get wound up and commit to some silly course of action, and the emotion that prompted it runs out but there you are, still seeing it through, just because. So I recognized something of my own foibles in that, and so I laughed.

Now the rest of the movie, I finally figured out, is written in an internet style of making fun of things. It’s a lazy form of satire, a style I think is really weak and never find funny. In fact, I maintain an active dislike of it and make gripey noises when people foist URLs on me. But it gets traded around and is popular in its own way, probably because it’s easy to write. Non-writers can write it. You just have to be snide and obvious.

It is usually found in fake-script form, making fun of movies. It is thus a written form of humor, and I can’t recall having seen this kind of material actually made into a movie, let alone by professionals (as opposed to some sort of youtube skit).

Allow me to contrive an example. Suppose you wanted to make fun of Spider-Man movies. You would write something like this:

Peter Porker is talking to his Uncle Joe.

PETER: Hey aged father figure that I'm too self-absorbed to listen to, I need to go exploit my secret super pow-- I mean, uh, I have to study at the library. Yeah.

UNCLE: Just a second Peter. Now as an aged father figure to
you I need to tell you something important.

PETER: (not listening) Yeah yeah whatever.

UNCLE: Hold on sport. In case I suddenly die and the last thing I tell you becomes suddenly poignant, you better listen.

PETER: What, are you going to tell me that with great power comes great responsibility or something?

UNCLE JOE is suddenly killed by a crook!

PETER: Nooo, Uncle Joe! If only I'd listened, and now it's all my fault and I'll be haunted by your last words forever!

Okay, you get that? You’ve seen that, right? That style of comedy? It’s almost like watered down 1970s MAD magazine writing, now that I think about it. It seems juvenile and uninspired to me. It’s like notes for jokes, placeholders where actual jokes should be, without actually being funny. Well, Walk Hard is about 85% made up of scenes that are written like that. Yes, literally, just like that. The remainder is songs written in various styles, but which also aren’t funny.

And through it all, they neglected to make it actually hang together like a real movie. It wanders, getting lost in the 1950s for quite a long time, before rushing through the 60s and 70s and skipping the 80s entirely. Strange, since if the conceit is that Dewey Cox lived through all of these musical eras, you could get a lot out of doing an 80s pastiche, but it’s like it didn’t even occur to them to do that. There’s one moment earlier when somehow Dewey starts to get addicted to cocaine, but way too early, like in the late 50s or maybe early 60s, and they nearly make a joke about him inventing punk rock, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and doesn’t make any sense. Then by the time they get to 1978 they don’t even have any more music ideas for their musical lead character, and have him doing Sonny & Cher-style variety television.

That reminds me of another complaint. It’s like they didn’t bother to do any research about any of the eras they were going through. Oh, I guess the costume department did. It seems like they missed a lot of opportunity for comedy by not knowing enough about anything to actually mine it for humor. The Beatles show up in a cameo that seems to be written by, and for, people who have never seen the Beatles before, just heard other people referencing them second or third hand. They bring on the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly and I was sure they were going to go for a joke about Dewey Cox failing to get on a plane with them after the show because of some amusing reason, but they didn’t do that. Instead they end the scene with a guy doing a cliché parody of 1970s Elvis while dressed as 1956 Elvis, throwing karate chops and calling himself The King. I dunno, is that the joke, that 1956 Elvis would act like 1976 Elvis? Maybe they thought that was funny.

walkhardpic10.jpg
I am completely mystified insulted by the casting of Jack Black as Paul McCartney.

Geek pedant complaint: So Dewey complains to his manager that his variety show is getting trounced in the ratings every week by The Incredible Hulk. Okay, that works if it’s 1978. Then they talk about a supposed recent episode of Hulk, where he has an evil twin who’s red instead of green. There’s no such episode, so is that the joke? They made up an evil twin episode that doesn’t exist. Did somebody sitting there typing the script think that was funny for some reason? Suppose they assume most people in the audience won’t know that there wasn’t an episode like that. Is that why it’s funny? Anyway, they talk about helping the ratings by plugging the variety show on a news interview, and Dewey practices saying that it comes on “Thursday evenings, right after the local news.” That’s my geek pedant complaint: Hulk was on Friday nights for its entire run. You know, right before The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas.

There’s no point in them actually researching when Hulk was on, since it doesn’t make it any more funny to get it right. But why get it wrong? I really don’t see why they couldn’t look it up and write Friday into the script instead of Thursday. It’d take 20 seconds. It just seems lazy. They didn’t look up anything, they didn’t think through anything. How can you be funny when you’re just faffing around like this?

It seems, ultimately, like they had an idea for a movie. And they thought that was enough to get started. Lots of wheels to get spinning to do a movie like this. You have to write a bunch of songs, pre-record them. You have to get all those period costumes made. You have to order some Yellow Submarine-type animation. It’s like they were so focused on all this business that they went into production with a first draft. One with lots of ideas for scenes but no actual scenes. Lots of ideas for jokes but no actual jokes. Or jokes that exist just to narrate themselves.

Very weird. I remember I had trouble with Anchorman too, for what seemed like different reasons at the time, but I think underneath there is a related problem. However, that movie was way funnier than this, and I think it’s because of Will Farrell being able to riff while the cameras are rolling and make things funnier. I’m not a really big Will Farrell fan, but I recognize that he has this ability to funny things up.

I couldn’t help but think the entire time that they wanted Farrell to play Dewey Cox, and he either couldn’t do it because of other commitments, or he was wise enough to turn it down. Or, he said to them, “Hey, get Reilly to do it. He was hilarious in Talladega Nights. He’s your man.” So they said, yeah, Reilly’s a hell of an actor, and he’s funny, too, and he can sing. So we’ll do that, it’ll be great.

Only it’s not great. And as flabby and pasty as he is, he’s not funny running around in tighty whities the way Will Farrell is.

Oh yeah, about a half hour in, a completely naked woman walks across the screen. It wasn’t funny, but it was pleasantly distracting. Then they showed a giant close-up of a penis. Twice. Three times if you count the recapping montage at the end of the movie. I think they thought that was funny, too, and I guess from a certain perspective it is.

Cox. Get it?

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Less Ordinary: Behind the scenes

lo_logo.jpg

Appendix A: The Making of Pages 1-24

First of all, I have to say that writing and drawing this
comic has been the most satisfying creative project of the
year for me. It demanded a lot from me, and that’s partly
why it ended up being somewhat thrilling. Keeping on my
self-imposed schedule (aiming to be done with each page
at 12am each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) was a crazy
high-wire act with a lot of frenzy behind the scenes that
I deliberately didn’t mention was going on most of the time.

I say this because I want people to know that I’m having an
enormous amount of fun making Less Ordinary, so I do
intend to start cranking out pages again soon. Posting this
is not a replacement for that, it’s just extra stuff. And
I have in fact been sketching new pages lately.

The Tools

Currently, I’m using a Sawtooth model Macintosh G4 minitower
from the mid-90s, at a screaming 400MHz with 768MB of RAM. The
computer cost $100, give me a break. The monitor is a huge monster
I got at a Goodwill computer store, also for $100. I’m using version
3.0 of Photoshop, which I got as an extra with a scanner I bought
in 1997 for an incredible $300. It was like 2 feet long and had
heavy solid glass and weighed 8 pounds, and it broke during a
move and I threw it away. But the Photoshop was a full version,
not that LE business, and I’ve never been able to afford to
upgrade it, so I’m still using it. Fortunately, version 3.0 is
when they standardized the PSD file format that is still in use
today. I do have to run it under OS9-Classic (under OS X 10.3.9),
but it behaves well. One limitation that has a significant
impact: one level of Undo only. If I make one stroke I don’t
like, I can get rid of it. If I make a stroke I don’t like and
then accidentally touch a dot of digital ink somewhere else a
second later, I’m committed. Or I have to go back to an earlier
saved version. Personally I look at this as a heroic and very
manly way to work, without all those effete and foppish 99+
levels of Undo people think they can’t live without.

The drawing tools: Cross ballpoint pen (blue medium),
Strathmore sketchbook, Wacom tablet, chair, desk, mouse, keyboard.
09_preink_dlg.jpg
09_final.jpg

The Process

I invented the process of turning out pages of this comic while
doing it, seeking always to make it more efficient. It does end up
being kind of a factory assembly line kind of operation, taking
several weeks to produce the first page, but able to churn out a
page every two days on schedule when it got up to speed.

The basic workflow goes like this:

  • Pre-Production
    • Sketching
    • Scanning
    • Preliminary Page Breakdowns
    • Page Layout, Composition and Editing
    • Pre-Ink Prep
  • Production
    • Inking
    • Dialogue and Sound Effects
    • Coloring
    • Finishing

The Pre-Production phase happens on multiple pages at a time, so
that a whole sequence is prepped for production at one time. It is
more efficient that way, and helps for planning ahead in terms of
storytelling.

Production is one page at a time. I start and finish one page
before even thinking about the next, because it’s all I can handle.

Now that you have the broad idea, I’ll take each step at a time
so I can talk about each part and show some art examples. I didn’t always
save copies of the intermediate stages — too busy trying to get the
page done to worry about documenting the process — but every now and
then I remembered to do that.

Pre-Production

Sketching

The stage wherein I draw several pages of “pencils” in my sketchbook,
in a fast and loose style. I’m aiming to get down the next few pages of
ideas all at once, usually in one sitting. It’s almost like I’m just
jotting notes for what I’d like to do, except that I actually use these
drawings as the basis for the final art. Even though these are much rougher
and sketchier than ink-ready pencils usually are, they are not cleaned up.

This is somehow working beautifully for me. For years, my
main sketching/doodling medium has been ballpoint pen
in an artist’s sketchbook (11×14). I get a really fluid
line out of a ballpoint, and it can sometimes feel
effortless. It often looks messy if I can’t quite get
a line in the right place, because I can’t erase, but
a lot of the time I will draw a breezy stroke that
somehow captures something perfectly — a look on
a face, the body language of someone in motion.

I used to have a very hard time with the fact that I
couldn’t use these ballpoint sketches as the basis for
a real piece of finished artwork. I would have to, at
best, laboriously re-draw the sketches in pencil, and
then ink, and I’d lose that ineffable something that I
really thought the fast first sketch had.
05_orig.jpg
I got a Wacom tablet about three years ago,
but after multiple experiments with it I still had never
become comfortable with drawing with it directly — ie,
digitally “pencilling” — or even with inking over scanned
drawings. However, a lot of other artists digitally ink
over scanned pencils, so I figured there had to be a way
to make it work for me. This comic gave me an opportunity
to experiment.

In fact, it started just as a quick and dirty experiment
I was doing purely for research purposes. I had been planning
to do a webcomic of my own for a full year, and by September
2007 I was very busy trying all sorts of experiments with different
real and digital drawing tools, trying to figure out what
would be efficient and reliable for turning out pages on
a regular schedule. Traditional pencil, pen and ink were
looking good but incredibly slow. I knew I’d be lucky to do
more than one page a week like that, and that just wasn’t
good enough. I had to try doing more of the work in the
computer itself.

So when I got the idea for the first 8 pages, based on a
real-life incident, I figured this was a chance to try out
any techniques I wanted. I drew some fast sketches,
took pictures of them with my digital camera, and pulled
them into Photoshop. I lowered the contrast and brightened
the page, making the ballpoint look faint. I chose one of
the drawings from the page, traced over it with the paintbrush
tool with black “ink”, and hey — I liked the result.
23_orig.jpg

Since then, I have continued to do all the pencilling
work as crazy-fast sketches in my sketchbook, making often
very little effort to draw them cleanly or what you might
think of as being a sound basis for finished work. But
it somehow works! Mostly because I’m finally getting to
work from the intuitive strokes that manage to get the
bold ideas down, because I’m drawing in the way I’m
absolutely the most relaxed, comfortable and confident.
04_preink-1.jpg

04_intermed.jpg
04_final.jpg

Scanning

Getting the sketches into the computer.

As I said, I started with just a digital camera, because
I was scanner-less. (My old scanner didn’t have a driver for
OS X, and UMAX refused to ever make one, for some reason.)
I’d take one picture per sketched panel, several per
sketchbook page, often ending up with dozens of pictures.
I’d capture them in iPhoto and use that to brighten them up
a bit, because the camera was always making the sketchbook
paper come out as 50% neutral gray instead of white.

It eventually became clear that using the digital camera
and was adding a lot of steps to the process of getting them
assembled as ink-ready pages, and whacking those few steps out
of the process was going to be a big time and energy saver.
Anything to make it faster and easier to turn out new pages
was my guiding principle. So, I bought a new scanner, I think
around the time I was working on page 10.
10_NEW_preink.jpg
10_NEW_intermed.jpg
Because it costs a stupid amount of money to get a scanner
that can take an 11×14 image, I have to scan each sketchbook
page in two overlapping halves. At first, I fell back on my old
habit of scanning at 300dpi, but the scanner was especially
slow at this. I realized that high resolution didn’t matter,
because I was resizing the artwork so much anyway during the
layout and composition phase (see below) that the starting
resolution was largely irrelevant. Once again, speed was better,
so now I scan them at 75 dpi. I take the two scans,
bung them together in Photoshop, collapse them into one image
file and save that.

Preliminary Page Breakdowns

Where the sketches get reorganized into comic pages.
I take all of that newly scanned material and make a
preliminary best-guess at breaking it down into 11×17
comic pages in a rough form.

Industry standard art boards for illustrating comic
pages are now 11 by 17 inches, so I decided it would be
smart to use that size of virtual paper, at 300dpi, for
drawing this comic. My sketchbook pages are 11×14, though,
which means that there is not a complete correspondence of
sketchbook page to comic page.

The extra 3 inches vertically are a little annoying to
deal with, actually, because it’s not enough height to
add another row of panels to the artwork, but pulling
all of the panels apart with more room can leave things
looking a little empty. I approach this problem anew for
each one; it’s the initial challenge that gets me engaged
in the activity of deciding what, in fact, will happen
on this page.

Page Layout, Composition and Editing

In this stage, the sketches are treated as mutable
independent objects that can be rearranged on the page,
with an emphasis on the visual flow of the whole page
and telling the story.
08_layout_raw.jpg

It was when I was working on page 1 that I began to see
the potential of working in the digital medium at this early
stage, before I start inking. I can take a sketch for a panel
and combine it with another panel. I can mirror flip a drawing
if it makes the visual flow of the page work better. I can
stretch a small panel to be really large, and I can shrink
or crop a large panel to be small. I can grab drawings I
assigned to future page breakdowns, and I can throw away drawings
completely, because I’ve figured out how to tell the story
without them, probably by beefing up the role of a different
panel. This phase is where I look hard for what I
can cut, that I don’t need to tell the story on
that page. I think it’s strengthened the visual
impact and the storytelling to have made some
bold choices in this regard along the way.
08_p1-3_orig.jpg
08_revisions_dem.jpg
08_OLD.jpg
08_NEW.jpg
The first dramatic breakout was on page 6, which
originally was laid out like pages 1-5, with a lot
of little panels and a lot of dialogue balloons.
But by that point, I’d realized that drawing one
small panel takes about the same time as drawing
one big panel. And drawing two big panels to do
a page takes considerably less time than drawing
four to seven panels to do the same work. And so
when I stretched the second panel (see below) to cover everything
and realized that one image told the whole visual
story for that page — Mr. Glasses’s incredulous
reaction to what was happening on the other side
of the table — I knew I had a lot more storytelling
options than I was originally assuming.
06_preink.jpg
06_OLD.jpg
06_NEW.jpg
Sometimes discarded material is saved
to be used in upcoming pages. Other times, I may decide it
just doesn’t work — there is one sequence of sketches
I did that I liked a lot, but I tried twice to prep it for
inking — spending several hours trying to put the
pieces together — and it never came together as a solid
layout. The layout has to feel firm, because it’s the
foundation level, and something was always too wonky
about this sequence of drawings, and so I had to leave
it out.

The dramatic example of this was the “Timequake” sequence,
which started as eleven pages of sketches, was broken down
into eight pages of preliminary page layouts, and then
ended up being slimmed down and reorganized (one page
decided at a time) to just five pages of the final comic.
lo_0003.jpg
21_color.jpg
22_NEW_preink.jpg
22_NEW_color.jpg

Pre-Ink Prep

This gets everything all set for the inking to begin.

After I’ve got the composition and layout pretty much
finalized, the page is massively reduced in contrast and
raised in brightness. You may not have noticed this, but
the background is never true white, it’s always a very
faint off-white, a sort of yellowish gray. (Only the
dialogue balloons are pure white, which makes them pop
out.) The main point of doing the contrast and brightness
alteration is to make the ballpoint sketches turn a very
faint, light purple that can be drawn over and also erased
by a paint bucket fill with a moderately high tolerance (52).
It can look faint in a thumbnail or zoomed out, but zoomed
in it is still highly legible throughout the inking process,
so that I don’t find myself losing track of the underlying
sketches.

Lastly, the panel borders for the page are set by drawing
with the straight line tool and filling with black ink. I
might still move panels around after this point — some of
a trickier pages require rethinking and tweaking even after
inking has started — but the general rule is that the
artwork and layout are now “locked” and I can move
on to the next task with a clear head and confidence.
lo_scan_0018.jpg
16_orig.jpg
16_color.jpg

Summary

This Pre-Production process is, in my mind, highly analogous
to working on a film: sketching is like shooting raw footage, the page
breakdowns and rearranging of panels is like editing the footage
to a rough cut, then down to the final cut. In movies, you then
“lock the picture” (stop changing any of the editing or timing),
and then you go into post-production to sweeten it all up and
polish it (ie, add music and special effects, do the sound mix,
and so forth). Except, for the purposes of doing a comic book, that next
bit is the Production, not the Post-Production.
11_dialog_fix.jpg
Next: The Production stage: Inking, Dialogue, and Coloring

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on the great boss battles of life

I thought about posting stuff this year a lot more than I actually posted stuff. I guess that’s not unusual, but it always bothers me. I think there was more of a reason than usual this year than in previous years, because for a solid 13 years I had a certain coffee shop I went to that I used as an office, and if I thought of something I wanted to write, I would go there and write it.

2006 was when I lost that coffee shop and had to move on, but 2007 is when I felt the effects of that loss — of not having anywhere to go to work, that would really serve as a workplace for me and my creative projects. The best substitute I found had good coffee and was open 24 hours, but it is really a restaurant, and so has the problem of not really being a good place to hunker down for several hours to work on something, the way a coffee shop can because that’s what it is by design. You’re not putting out the management by sitting there for ages, not really, if they’re running a coffee shop. If you’re running a restaurant, a guy might be taking up a booth that a family of four will order a lot of food and drinks from, and then leave and be replaced by another family of four, and there’s this guy still sitting there. I definitely feel that pressure.

However, after hanging out there for a year, eventually the whole staff gets used to you, and appreciates the fact that, just by plunking down money into their cash register and tipping the wait staff nearly every single day, you’re actually supporting the place more than the family of four who only eats there once and doesn’t return. So they start getting nicer and more tolerant, and go “Yeah, whatever” if you want to sit there for a while.

bullfinch-1.jpgStill, it’s a restaurant, and it’s not the same. I can’t really knuckle down the same way and be productive there, which bugs me. All year I felt off-kilter, and a lot of things went un-done that I wanted to do because I’d be in the mood to get something done, but it’d be a high traffic mealtime at the restaurant, so I’d try and wait for a better time, and by then, the mood or the muse was gone. Life goes on, none of these missed projects were a great tragedy, but cumulatively, they felt like a real drag on me this year, and added to my overriding sense of frustration.

That was one of the major themes this year, at least in terms of my emotional life. I’ve been feeling just absolutely frustrated, day and night, for quite a long time now. Feeling frustrated makes me quick to anger instead of easygoing. I can’t tell you how many times I had a spastic tantrum over something that shouldn’t even have bothered me, because my general frustration level was so high that a minor uptick would make me hit the boiling point. I had to switch from playing active-type videogames to more passive ones (turn-based combat is my new friend) so I would stop exploding into rages. Boss fights were starting to feel like symbols for my powerlessness in actual life to find any traction. When I played Shadow of the Colossus, I invested it with a lot of psychological weight and baggage, let me tell you.

colossus.jpg

That reminds me of something else I was thinking of writing about as a one-shot post, but I guess I’ll conjure some of it now while I’m on the topic. Currently I’m playing this fairly mild mannered and pleasant RPG called Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King, another Square Enix adventure. Late last night, fulfilling a side quest led me down into this labyrinth that ended with a pretty rough boss battle against two giant dudes who could really whale on you, and who had ridiculous hit points (actual amount hidden, but it must have been 2500 to 3000 each).

Have you ever had a really satisfying scrap with a boss? Like, where it’s definitely pretty challenging, but not so overwhelming that it’s impossible? It reminded me almost of the way a classic Jackie Chan fight goes (when he’s fighting the boss henchman dude at the end of a movie). First Jackie has to get beaten down where it looks like he’s not going to win this one, then he manages by luck or by starting to approach the fight differently, he regains his ground, only to lose it again. And then the tide spectacularly turns just when it’s about to be hopeless, and the boss goes down. Well, that’s how this fight went.

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I had four guys against these two, and they killed two of them early on. But one of my guys had just gotten the ability to sacrifice himself to resurrect everybody else who was dead, and one of those guys had just gotten the ability to resurrect with 100% success. So I brought everyone back. Then they killed half my party again, this time both of those guys who could bring people back. One guy, down to about 20 hit points from 250, had a resurrect spell, but it only worked 50% of the time, and it failed 3 times in a row. I was down to a turn where if it didn’t work this time, I was pretty much finished. Meanwhile, the other guy (girl) I had was casting spells that was zapping both bad guys every turn for about 70 points of damage. I just kept doing that, turn after turn.

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On that turn where it was make or break, pow, one of the bosses keeled over dead, and my resurrect spell finally worked. That revived guy resurrected the other guy, and all four characters whaled on the remaining boss with all they had, and he went down a couple of turns later. I was really happy that everybody was alive and in fact in pretty healthy shape when the battle ended. A triumph!

“That was a pretty good scrap!” I said. (Actually, I may first have said, “BOOM! Gotcha, you f*cker!”) It just felt satisfying to have been nearly wiped out and then managed to pull it out in the end. It felt like I had met this challenge with my characters leveled up exactly to the right spot to have the most engaging battle I could have had. I really enjoyed that.

The future is always completely uncertain, but I’ve been feeling an undercurrent of optimism starting to buoy me for the past six months, sort of an antidote to that corrosive feeling of frustration. I’m kind of waiting for my real life to have some sort of dramatic turnaround like this. I’ve felt psychologically nearly wiped out a few times this year, and it would be nice to know that the tide will turn and I’ll pull out some sort of overwhelming victory and get to do a happy dance at the end.

Then I’ll get to look back on the experience, nod with satisfaction, and say, “Hey, that was a pretty good scrap!”

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memes, whatever

The What is Your Spirit Animal Test from OkCupid.

Your spirit animal is: The Wolf

Your spirit animal has a Nobility ranking of 12 out of 18.

Your spirit animal is the wolf. It is a ferocious companion, and a loyal friend. It is both a respectable and noble creature; to have this spirit animal says good things about you, and that you are starting to figure things out. Wolves are rare spirit animals.

How you compared to other people your age and gender:

You scored higher than 99% on Nobility

Ehh, okay. Not very deep, but at least it feels like I got a cool one.

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