A Love Reborn

Those of you that follow my activities with stalker-like verve (all of you, right?) will know that I recently took on a part-time job at a Friendly Local Comic Shop (rhymes with lizard, uh, blomics).  They needed a till-monkey and I am a damn dirty till-APE, so it was a match made in dork heaven.  It gives me an opportunity to walk among my people, and slows my inevitable slide into Gollum-hood.

What I wasn’t quite expecting was how much it would reinvigorate my love of comics.  I’ve enjoyed comics since I was a kid, of course, though my ardour for collecting them was checked when my family’s house burned down.  The fire destroyed a great many things, but of course the tragedy to me at age eight was the loss of my comics.  I loved those books, not just because they were cool and fun to read, but because reading them brought back memories of family vacations and lazy summers.

So while I’ve kept reading comics on a semi-regular basis, they haven’t been a passion.  But two things have changed that.  The first, of course, is just working at the comic shop and my increased exposure to comic readers.  It is the nature of the shop that people will come in with questions about comics.  And since it is in my nature to provide answers, I have begun reading and studying comics more in the last few months than I had in probably the last year.  I’m not pushing things too hard with regards the studying; I don’t want this to feel like a job after all.  But I am paying attention to artist and writer names these days, which is something that never interested me before (all my comic loving friends just burst into tears).

The second thing that brought about my renewed passion for comics is my boss, Brandon (you may know him as @soupytoasterson on the Twitters).  Brandon so obviously loves everything about comics it is hard not to get a contact high.  More than that, he loves selling people comics; I’ve seen him get giddy because he managed to find a good fit between comic/reader, or turned a non-reader into a reader.  His love of turning people onto comics equals my love of turning people onto gaming, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch him to glean any tips or secret methods.  The thing is, there really isn’t any secret: enthusiasm is contagious and Brandon is Patient X.  We’ve really only known each other a few months, but if Brandon suggests a comic to me, I will read it.  And I will likely keep reading it.

So there it is, thanks to Brandon and Wizard’s Comics my passion for sequential art stories (or as we call them in the biz, comics) has been restored.  I’m now having to work a careful balancing act between picking out the new titles I want to start collecting, and which old titles I want to re-explore.  But even sorting that out is fun, and not for nothing but I have some decent advisers to help.

Also, if you love comics and you want to listen to other people who love comics, I cannot recommend enough the podcasts Scotch and Comics, hosted by my pal Devin (@Doctor_Teeth); and Podcast! The Comics, hosted by the aforementioned Brandon and his hetero-lifepartner James (@Leask).  Both are a lot of fun, both are available through iTunes and you won’t be sorry you gave them a listen.

I’ll post a little later about what comics I’m raving about these days.  In the meantime, why not drop me a line in the comments below and let me know what comics you’re reading?

Humpday Links for January 25

Happy Robert Burns Day!  While you wait for your haggis to cook I hope you’ll enjoy these wee timorous links…

– It is time once again for Paizo’s RPG Superstar Challenge, and the 32 competitors have been chosen!

– I’ve long suspected that Mark Wahlberg is America’s secret weapon…now I know for sure.

– Nothing I could say would equal the awesomeness of this, so presented without comment: the crowd-sourced fan film version of Star Wars: A New Hope.

– From The Mary Sue: This may just take the top spot as coolest engagement ring/proposal combo ever.

Dave Hewlett has a new web series and you should watch it.  Watch it hard!

– Apparently, scientists have been taking awesome pictures of space again.  Warning: this image is really big, so give it time to load. You won’t be sorry.

A side-by-side comparison of an average woman (plus-size model Katya Zharkova) and a “super” model.  Fascinating.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is turning 50.  Time to give it another read, methinks.

How did I not know about this Due South convention!?  How!?

– Courtesy of The Joe Shuster Awards, here is a pretty comprehensive list of current Canadian webcomics.  I…I might be away for a while…

Robin D. Laws has some advice for avoiding an outbreak of Foot-in-Mouth disease the next time you talk to your favourite creator.

– As a writer, I need to take much of the advice on this list.  Maybe you do as well.

– It has been said that Mal Reynolds is the Han Solo of a new generation; this shirt proves it.

– We’ve touched on ridiculous female “armour” before, but this article actually examines some of the issues faced in properly armouring women.

– A bit behind the curve, but in case you missed it Hasbro has been hit by sweatshop allegations.  What price, Transformer?

– Courtesy of GeekDad, his picks for Top 5 RPGs of 2011.  I agree with them all, and I’m glad to see Microscope made the Honourable Mentions list.

A very good interview with James L. Sutter on writing and RPGs, courtesy of SF Signal.

– And finally, if you are starting any kids out with 4th Ed D&D, I highly recommend these character sheets.

Okay, your haggis should be done by now; time to eat!  Join me tomorrow for more nerdery, and please do share any of your own links in the comments.

Top Three Fictional Worlds I’d Live In

When I first read fantasy and sci-fi literature as a boy (as opposed to the man-boy I am now) I would often get drawn into the worlds of the stories.  When I wasn’t reading I would spend many an hour daydreaming of a life in those worlds.  I have fished in the Shire, attended concerts at the Harper Hall and drank the night away with my fellow cut-throats at The Vulgar Unicorn (granted, I only had a vague idea of what alcohol tasted like at the time. I assumed wine tasted something like Tahiti Treat. Talk about disappointment.)

I’ve never really stopped thinking about these sorts of things, of course.  But I’ve always had the “what if” program running quietly in the back of my mind, and I’d check in every once in a while to see how it was running.  So when a recent conversation with a pal on Twitter got me thinking about fantasy worlds I have known and loved, it seemed the perfect time to look at the front-runners for my fantasy home.  I present to you my top three fantasy worlds I would live in if the TARDIS* ever offered me a lift:

#3 – Thieves’ World:  If you are familiar with the shared world of Sanctuary, created by Lynn Abbey et al in 1978, this may seem an odd choice of locales for setting up a fantasy home (if you aren’t familiar, follow the link).  But Thieves’ World makes the list in large part because of the people.  Don’t get me wrong, I would be excited to live in the city of Sanctuary at the arse-end of the Rankan Empire.  The setting has a gritty, down-trodden feel which, to me, signals the opportunity for success.  After all, if everyone is at rock bottom, there is no where to go but up, right?  And that’s what makes me love the characters.  Jubal of the Hawkmasks, Hanse “Shadowspawn”, Cappen Verra the minstrel, Tempus, Prince-Governor Kadikithis, Hakiem…oh, Hakiem!  I would spend days plying the irascible old story-teller with wine and listening to his tales!  But Sanctuary is filled with so many interesting characters, I honestly don’t see how I would ever be bored.  Given the cut-throat and criminal nature of many of them, my life might not be terribly long.  But boring?  Not possible.

#2 – PernMy love of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is not a secret.  So is it any surprise that Pern makes my top three fantasy homes?  What actually tears me when I think about living in Pern is, when would I want to live?  Do I want to arrive with the original colonists, live sometime during the “interregnum”, or live in a Hold or Weyr during the Pernian “renaissance”?  Yeah, trick question.  I want to ride a dragon!  As a kid it never occurred to me that I would not be a dragonrider.  As I’ve gotten older, I have softened from that stance; I would also settle for bonding with a fire lizard or three.  I’m not greedy.  But beyond considerations of dragons, there is something very appealing about the society of late-period Pern.  It has a simple, pastoral quality in which I could immerse myself.  Would I like to work out of a weyr or Harper Hall? Sure.  But anywhere in Pern would be an adventure I’d be happy to live.

#1 – Tolkien’s Middle Earth:  This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me.  I want to live in Middle Earth so bad, the ache of loss sometimes wakes me in the night.  I’d get myself a nice little hobbit-hole near Bree and spend my nights in The Prancing Pony (are you sensing a drinking theme?).  When I needed a bit of adventure I’d go camping on Weathertop or  journey to The Last Homely House (yes, I know the elves would be gone, but it would still be a wonderful place to visit).  For a change of pace I’d visit Gondor and poke around on the other side of the river, maybe go spider hunting with friends.  In short, Middle Earth would be a non-stop fantasy geek party, and I want to go to there so, so bad!  And the best part?  Once I got tired of things I’d rig up a ship and sail into the West, hang out with Frodo, Gandalf and the gang.  In short, Middle Earth ftw!

Sometime down the line I’ll post the top three RPG settings in which I’d like to live.  Bonus points if you can guess which ones they are ahead of time.

So what are your top fantasy worlds?  Drop me a line in the comments…

Back in the Saddle Again…

Okay, that was a nice little “vacation”.  I promise not to let too many more of those happen, but believe me when I say it was needed.  But I’m back and working on some new Renaissance Dork goodness for the new year.  Let’s get started.

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I have toyed with the idea of recording a podcast for a while.  I took some steps toward doing that back in August, and spent the last 4+ months getting some technical and support aspects in place.  I am pleased to announce that you can expect to hear my mellifluous tones soon; the countdown clock has started on the first podcast release, slated for February 15.  The plan right now is to record a 3-5 show buffer, and release a new episode every two weeks.  Each episode will run 20-30 minutes in length, depending on that episode’s subject or feature; local nerd topics, interviews, reviews, discussions.  I’ll bring in other nerds when I can, so we can speak of dorkiness and give you a bit of a break from my voice.

The blog isn’t going anywhere; to start the podcast will supplement the blog, since one post during release week will be show notes and links.  That still leaves me with plenty to write about, so you’ll still be subjected to my meandering typings here.  But while we’re talking about the blog…

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I am looking for guest posts on Renaissance Dork to fill out my schedule.  If you have some nerdy thing you want to write about and can keep it in the 500-600 word range, drop me a line at brent.jans(at)gmail.com, subject line GUEST POST.  I’ll answer any questions you might have, and then all the fame my tens of readers can provide will be yours!  Don’t be shy; I’m not looking for perfection, enthusiasm for your nerdery goes a long way with me.

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This may still be news to some, but just before Christmas I started working part-time at Wizard’s Comics.  I am having a great time so far, learning the peculiarities of the comic shop biz.  I am on the staff unofficially as the store’s game expert; I keep up on the new boardgames and RPGs and advise the manager on what the store might like to stock (and yes, the store has begun stocking Pathfinder on my suggestion, so come get some).  The job is doing a few things for me: getting me out of the house on a regular basis, supplementing my freelance earnings very nicely, and expanding my education about comics.  That last is thanks in large part to the efforts of Brandon (@soupytoasterson on the Twitters). His enthusiasm for comics is contagious and his knowledge quite formidable, and I have begun learning much as his padawan.

Okay, that’s me up-to-date.  You’ll see regular posts in this space from now on, so keep stopping by for the latest from my nerdy brain.  Until tomorrow…

No More Junk Food

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  I agree with the common wisdom, which states that all such promises made under seasonal duress are doomed to fail before they are even uttered.  I think that promises to myself need to be made freely, for good reason and without real or perceived outside pressure.  I mention all of this because this post’s title might imply I was making just such a doomed resolution.  But junk food and its implications have been on my mind for a while, and it therefore does not fall under the resolution heading.  This is more me coming to a conclusion and taking action based on it.

So, junk food.  It’s no secret that I am over-weight.  It is something that I have worked to fix, off and on, for the better part of three years now.  While I have been successful to a point (although I am still 100lbs or so heavier than I want to be, I was once 100lbs heavier than this), I have remained plateaued for a while.  In the last few weeks I have resumed my workout routines, and I am bringing my eating habits back in to a healthier line.  Doing this has had me thinking a great deal about the foods I eat, specifically my, “I’m too lazy to cook” go-to foods.  And I’ve realized that 80%+ of that list is comprised of junk food.

Let me be clear about what I consider junk-food.  Yes, things like potato chips and tortilla chips are on that list. Chocolate bars, check.  Anything that is by name or definition considered candy, also on the list.  Sodas, you bet.  But I also consider things like Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and most canned pastas/stews junk food.  Basically, any food that goes through a high level of processing before I can eat it, that falls in my definition of junk food.

My issues with junk food are many, but I can boil it down to two main points.  The first point is personal: junk food is just no good for me!  High in the unhealthy fats, loaded with carbs, salt and preservatives, often with added sugar…nope, none of it is even remotely healthy.  Damn tasty, no question.  But I pay a high health cost for that taste, with no real dividends, as my “washing machine abs” can attest.  And now that I am back on my work-out routines I can’t afford to eat foods that don’t pay out for me.  I need food that helps me with little luxuries like repairing muscle tissue, lowering bad cholesterol and maintaining a healthy metabolism.  And junk food, for all of its delicious taste, does none of those things. It in fact does the opposite of those things in many cases.

So obviously the personal reason would be enough to make kicking junk food to the curb a good idea.  But what I’ve been considering lately is the broader social issue of junk food and its production.  And I’ve come around to the idea that overly processed foods are bad for us on a societal level, not just the personal health level.  I haven’t found hard numbers to back this up (and if you do, or find numbers to refute, please drop a link to that info in the comments section), but I am willing to make the sweeping statement that North America consumes more processed food than any other part of the world.  My issue goes a little something like this:

– between fast food restaurants and processed foods available in stores, North America has massive quantities of processed foods available at all times.

– in order to maintain those massive quantities, North America first has to acquire even more massive quantities of raw materials for processing, or what we might call “real food”. For instance, if you want a bag of tortilla chips you first need large amounts of corn to render down.

– this quantity of raw material is in addition to the large amount of “real food” North America consumes outside of processing.

– So we are basically double-dipping into the world’s food supply.  Not only do we demand enough regular real food for everyone, but we also demand enough real food for processing.

And this is why I have an issue.  There are 7 billion+ of us kicking around this planet now, and there were food shortages well before we reached that worrying milestone.  What kind of sense does it make to allow companies like Frito Lay to buy up massive amounts of corn and potatoes to turn into chips, when there are parts of the world where people would sometimes literally kill to get their hands on those “raw materials”?  Because if it makes any kind of sense at all I’m not seeing it.

Before you start to worry this is turning into a “F%@& the Man!” rallying cry, let me be clear.  I’m not here to make you do anything.  These two points, one personal and one broader,  were points I pondered to choose my path, not yours.  I am the only thing in my life over which I have complete control and responsibility; I have no interest in trying to control anyone else.  Frankly, that would likely prove boring and frustrating and it doesn’t excite me.

So based on my conclusions, for weal or woe, let me tell you what I am doing.  I am giving up junk food.  Starting immediately, no more chips, sodas, chocolate bars, KD, pizza pockets and so on.  No more fast food of any kind; sorry, Pizza 73 driver, we can’t see each other anymore.  Basically, if it has an ingredient list longer than “egg” or “tomato”, I’m not buying it.

What do I hope to achieve?  Well I hope it helps to reduce my circumference at the equator, for one.  Second, I hope it results in me spending more time in my kitchen, cooking.  A lot of the processed foods I bought up to this point (salsa, hummus, tortillas and so on) can be made quite easily at home, and with healthier ingredients.  And cooking is just fun for me, so the more I get to do the better.  Third, I’m hoping to see an effect on my finances, as money that would have been spent acquiring pizza or wings stays a little longer in my bank account.  And given that 2012 is also my Year of the Con, extra money in the bank is not a bad thing.

Obviously I can’t tell you what to do.  You’ll eat junk food or not as you will.  But I do hope that my non-resolution resolution will make you think a bit about junk food, and whether it really deserves a place in your life.  Maybe ask yourself what its done for you lately…

Comments? Questions? Rebuttal?  Fire them off below!