Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-30

  • New post: Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-23 http://bit.ly/gXUaFC #
  • Is starting to think we're in a new golden age of American animation. #
  • New post: The Cape http://bit.ly/hn9IHf #
  • New post: A New Golden Age of American Animation? http://bit.ly/hA7E72 #
  • Post Edited: A New Golden Age of American Animation? http://bit.ly/hA7E72 #
  • Thundercats Ho! First images of new anime-ted Thundercats series- http://on.io9.com/dTuiiJ #
  • Question- What's the best widget for WordPress for advertising/promoting your e-books on your blog sidebar? #
  • I'm almost surprised this isn't an actual Doctor Who episode concept- http://bit.ly/e3sITZ #
  • Corporate bullying of Audio Drama producers under investigation by USPTO http://t.co/CWuiqpB via @AddThis #
  • A weird question for all you Twin Stars fans- what didn't you like about Twin Stars? I ask this as I'm thinking… http://fb.me/MHHWXP9s #
  • Kung Fu Action Tales- KFAT's short audio fiction podcast premiers Tuesday February 1st! #
  • RT @WNDRWolf: Just finished a long discussion with Kung Fu Action Theatre's own @rob_paterson Fun interview. Be on the lookout for it soon. #
  • CBC's Age of Persuasion show is now available on Podcast, and the one on Speedbumps is Hysterical! http://bit.ly/fhp9qN Highly recommended! #
  • Nifty Artist- http://bit.ly/eG2YOT #
  • We're 13 episodes in, and Kenshiro has just defeated the personification of Satan himself. Where do you go from there? #

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A New Golden Age of American Animation?

American Animation has always been cyclical in it’s quality, something that has driven myself and many people who see it as an art form more than a little nuts. You see, Animation is a medium, much like TV or Comic Books or Music, and for most of my life it’s been the poor abused cousin of Comic Books in the US and the English speaking world.

There have been several high points in American animation on TV, with the first coming in the 1960’s, then the second in the 1980’s, and another in the 1990’s. In the 1960’s you saw the first real TV animation happening, and people rushed into it with everything from Johnny Quest and the Flintstones on prime time, to Marvel Superhero shows and many Hanna Barbera shows like The Herculoids, Wacky Races and of course (in 1969) Scooby Doo. Animation was a new art form, and people loved it. It was busting out with ideas and new things were being tried.

Unfortunately, in the early 1970’s concerned parents groups attacked animation as unhealthy for kids, and so it went from being wild and exciting to being safe, bland and boring. So that was that end of that!

Then the 1980’s came, and with it we saw the rise of first-run Syndicated TV, which allowed for the producers of animation to shake off the shackles that the big Networks had to run under. To add to that, recent changes in the law allowed for toy companies to directly sponsor cartoons and have their commercials run alongside those cartoons, and so the animation industry was suddenly flush with cash!

As any child of the 80’s can tell you, the early and mid-eighties were a marvelous time to be a kid. You woke up to Jace and the Wheeled Warriors (Wheels Keep on Movin’!), The Galaxy Rangers and The Bionic Six, you ate your lunch with the Thundercats and when you came home from school it was a double bill of The (original) Transformers and GI Joe every weekday from 4-5. So many shows, so much animation, so many toys.

There was a problem, though. While they were free(er) of Network Shackles, these were still toy commercials and they were still pretty limited in what they could do and say. The writing was sometimes good, usually okay, and sometimes awful, and it was all still aimed at 10 year olds with nods towards their 12 year old brothers and sisters.

Eventually, this too faded as the animation boom of the early 80’s faded into the doldrums of the late 80’s when the parents groups struck again, and the cash and quality of the shows dropped quite a bit.

The 90’s boom was the result of the rise of the fledgling cable networks, and their desire for new shows to bring in young audiences. FOX, WB, and others brought out new lineups that included shows like Batman:TAS, Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, X-Men:TAS, and others. While their quality varied radically, and there was a lot of bad, there was some good mixed in the, and especially the DC Superhero stuff like Batman, Superman, and then finally Justice League really showed a new maturity level over the previous animated shows of the 1980’s as it led into the 21st century.

Now, this is just personal opinion, but I wasn’t very impressed by most of the stuff that came out in early and mid-2000s. Leaving the DC Universe stuff aside, about the only show I can think of offhand that showed real style and wit was Avatar:The Last Airbender. There are few that weren’t bad, but pretty much anything half-decent on the air was usually a Japanese import, and the American industry was back into the doldrums again. I can’t say I watched everything, but I do keep an eye open on the American stuff, hoping beyond hope for a little quality that I know they’re capable of but rarely provide.

I’d say those doldrums are now officially over, and the results are sight to behold. For the first time in literally two decades, I find myself anxiously awaiting each weekend for the express purpose of watching cartoons, and ones that actually aren’t Japanese! It’s shocking when some of the better written stuff on TV (I mean, period) are cartoons for once! I suspect this is largely the result of the fact that Gen X finally has the reigns, and they’re using their power to make the shows they wanted as kids.

So what shows am I talking about? Well, I’ve already let it be known that I’m a fan of the Star Wars:The Clone Wars, which despite the awful character designs is pretty much the only Star Wars thing I like outside of the original trilogy. (Surprise, it’s also produced and directed by the team who did Avatar:The Last Airbender for Nick.) And, I’ve also made reference to the new Sym-Bionic Titan series that I can’t believe how much I adore for what it does with such a tired out old genre.

But, those aren’t the only shows on Rob’s Must-See TV List….

The Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes is a show that I checked out on a lark because I happen to be a fan of the old Avengers comics. (When I say Old, I mean 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, ending there.) I watched the mini-sodes like the one above they put on Youtube and thought it looked okay, the animation was so-so, and the writing and acting weren’t bad. So I watched more when the full show came to TV, mostly just to see how it would come together.

I have to say, this is probably the best superhero team TV series ever done, and I say that as someone who really enjoyed the Justice League cartoons. They took 40 years of convoluted, complex comic-book history and created a show that both sorted it all out (kinda like Batman:TAS did for Batman’s history) and made it all fit together incredibly seamlessly. The show just keeps getting better and better as it goes, with one thing evolving from the next and the storylines getting progressively more and more epic as the show is building. Combine that with a real humour and wit in some of the writing, and you get a show that I wish was more than 52 episodes long. This really is the show I dreamed of as a kid, brought to life, but I’m glad I’m now old enough to appreciate it.

I still can’t believe that a) this is a Marvel show (and it’s good), and b) it’s produced by Disney.

GI Joe: Renegades is a show that I found recently, but quickly grew to like. Simply put, they took the best parts of the GI Joe concept and combined it with The A Team and produced something that seems to have the best elements of both. What surprised me was (again) how good the writing was, and how seamlessly they were letting this play out on a big canvas with serial stories and interesting characters. (If not character designs, which I find kinda plain and ugly, despite the good animation quality.) There is a sense of wit the show is written with, and it all comes together in a way that I wish most of the prime-time shows were done. I’ve only seen a few episodes, and the show may go downhill, but I already have high hopes for it. (Unlike Transformers Prime, which has double the dimensions and half the excitement.)

The final show, which I’m still deciding on personally (but impressed with at least the quality of) is the new DC Universe show Young Justice, which is holding up the torch of quality as far the DC superhero shows go. It’s written in a mature manner for a teen audience, and the animation itself is gorgeous. I don’t think I will like it as much as I do the others on this list, as I find the characters a bit dull in some ways (they were done better in the previous Teen Titan series on WB) but I think that’s more of a personal issue, and the show itself is well done overall.

Anyways, with a lineup like this filling the American airwaves, it looks like we might just be having another upswing in the quality of American TV animation. I just hope it lasts!

The Cape

There is an old saying to the effect that he who tries to do everything does nothing well and I think that would be my major criticism of the new superhero TV show The Cape. It’s really a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be, and as a result it ends up being a muddled mess IMHO.

Does it want to be a family drama? Is it a superhero show? Is it a comedy? Is it an action-adventure show? Who knows? I don’t even think the producers do.

I’ll give a perfect example of what a muddled mess it is from the second episode. The villain of the episode (a guy with lizard skin) is thrown into a cage at the end of the episode by members of the Carnival of Crime (who are heroes, but they’re not…) and as this guy who we’ve been made to hate for the episode is being marched into the cage at gunpoint we’re suddenly given flashback to his days in a freak show and how much his life has sucked. (As justification for him hating being put in the cage, I guess.)

Now the reason this is a perfect example is this- so the show has made us hate him, but now as he’s getting his comeuppance for his evil deeds suddenly we’re supposed to feel sorry for him? What the hell? What do you want your audience to feel, producers? Do you even know? Was there a reason for this? No, I think you were too busy thinking how to insert flashbacks to the hero’s son every five minutes which generally served no point except to have a cute kid on the screen. Hell, the kid, who actually has nothing to do with anything in the story of the episode almost gets as much time as the hero guy! (Yes, I know, the hero is doing this for his kid, and he misses him, that’s fine, we didn’t need to be reminded of it every five minutes!)

Speaking of our hero, I get that he’s supposed to be a “normal guy” (who once was a superbadass commando and police officer) who’s been thrust into the role of superhero and is now waging a one-man war on crime. But every time I see him in the costume I cringe and think about how I’m looking at a guy wearing a bad carnival costume. Now, that isn’t entirely the costume’s fault, a lot of that is how they use it and how the lead character moves in that costume.

Have you ever known a martial artist? I mean a real one, not your cousin who took a few classes for a couple years, but maybe the guy who was teaching him. A martial artist doesn’t move like a normal person, there’s a smoothness to their movements that comes from the sheer amount of time they spend honing their bodies and practicing hand-eye co-ordination. The smoothness is the result of them making very little wasted movement, and they do this subconsciously in their normal lives. If you want to see what I mean watch a Bruce Lee movie, or a Jackie Chan flick and pay attention to how they move when they’re not fighting. They’re bundles of control, and this reflects in everything physical they do. This, by the way, can also be seen in many polices officers and is definitely a trait you’d find in a real superbadass commando as well. (Both things our hero is supposed to be.)

So, how does our hero in The Cape move? He moves like your cousin who took the lessons for couple weeks from the real martial artist down the street. I don’t mean the fights with the stunt double whose probably a real martial artist, but when he does simple things like jump around or even climb a ladder. There’s no smoothness to his movements, and the people filming this aren’t even smart enough to cut around it like they do in movies.

I was also going to go into the whole stylistic approach to superheroes as well (superheroes exist in hyper-reality, and by making this “real” every chance they get they ruin that) but I don’t even think it’s worth it.

The sad thing is, Smallville is doing superheroes better than this, and it’s Smallville!

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-23

  • New post: Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-16 http://bit.ly/gV0pMs #
  • Free Audiobook, Paid eBook? Or Free eBook, Paid Audiobook? That is the question! http://bit.ly/fxz1sZ #
  • RT @KChmils: @theatreinlondon I go to Fanshawe for TV-looking for 5 volunteer actors for a short film. 3 females, 2 males needed! (25-55yrs) #
  • Another Little Gou short story- "Yellow Ribbons, Black Death" – completed! Time to relax. #
  • "You are already dead." – Watching Fist of the North Star TV. #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-16

  • Busy updating the KFAT site, including every WuXia link I can think of. #
  • New post: Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-09 http://bit.ly/ekwg59 #
  • New post: Little Gou hits the Kindle! http://bit.ly/e8LLtU #
  • The first KFAT Little Gou short story- Hot Soup! Is now available on Smashwords! http://bit.ly/fvar4a #
  • New post: Adventures in making an E-Book Cover. http://bit.ly/hJ69oG #
  • RT @kunlunjournal: That makes sense, it paces really oddly too. Some of it's interesting, but a lot is boring. Get it cheap if you want it. #
  • RT @thecreativepenn: The top ebook self-publishers http://dld.bz/Fd9H via @teleread Holy crap! Those are some good numbers! #
  • Watched Avengers:EMH episode The Man Who Stole Tomorrow. Great episode. This show just keeps getting better and better as it goes. #
  • This Will Change Everything: Google Translate Android App Translates Real-Time Speech http://t.co/jmOsqcN via @gizmodo #
  • WSJ.com – Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior http://on.wsj.com/gJPP44< An interesting perspective, although a little extreme. #
  • New post: Movie Night- The Green Hornet http://bit.ly/eh7Sy7 #

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Movie Night- The Green Hornet

So, tonight the wife and I trundled off to see The Green Hornet, which admittedly I didn’t have a lot of hope for (based on the reviews) but which my wife wanted to see because his sidekick Kato was played by Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou. (My wife, for those who may not know, is Taiwanese.) She’s actually not a huge fan of Jay Chou himself, but he’s a hometown boy making it big in Hollywood, so she wanted to support him. I could respect that, so off we went, despite my worries that I was walking into a train wreck in glorious 3D. (3D being something that stopped impressing me when I watched Gorilla at Large on WUAB Cleveland when I was 12.)

Well, I wasn’t wrong, The Green Hornet IS a train wreck in terms of plot, casting and on many other levels. It never quite flows together as a story, takes weird turns of logic, Cameron Diaz is a total waste in the film (it’s like she has a “why am I here?” sign hanging over her whenever she’s briefly on the screen), and the guy who cast Seth Rogan in this film should be run out of Hollywood and told never to come back. (On penalty of death!)

But, the truly weird thing is that despite all of that I actually enjoyed myself. The guy who barely speaks English (Jay Chou) runs acting and charisma rings around everyone else in the film, and totally steals it. If it wasn’t for him, this film would have been a forgotten flop (just like the original Green Hornet TV series would have been footnote without Bruce Lee doing the same thing!) and thanks to his presence holding the film together and some nifty action sequences it actually manages to be 2 hours of entertainment. Not good entertainment, but a film that kept me from being bored (which isn’t easy these days), had a good laugh every couple minutes, and was generally fun to watch. Actually, I should correct myself. The film had two real stars, Jay Chou, and the car. Both of which managed to out-act Rogan and Diaz.

I think if they’d replaced Rogan with any number of leading men who have actual charisma, and given Diaz’s tiny part to some other actress who needed it, this film would have been a lot better. It reminded me of Iron Man 2 a lot, actually. A glorious mess of a story that was held together by the charisma of Robert Downey Junior, but in this case it was the “sidekick” whose charisma made the movie work, so the whole thing is off-balance and off-kilter and never quite manages to get itself on track.

Oh, and the 3D is totally wasted. You can tell they added the 3D in post production (not filmed it in 3D) and you both forget it’s there and wish it wasn’t. For example, there’s a lot of scenes where you’re supposed to read text on notes on the screen, but thanks to the 3D glasses being dark they’re actually hard to read. I commented to my wife that everything Jay Chou’s character built was labeled in Chinese, and she didn’t even notice because she couldn’t read it clearly enough to tell!

I expect this film will do reasonably well here (off-season, good opening weekend) and will probably do Gangbusters in Asia, both because of the Asian connection, and because the style of humor is more Asian than Western. It reminded me a lot of the humor you tend to find in Hong Kong films. This will result in a sequel, god help us all. But who knows, if they actually have a writer, it might just work.

In the end, I suggest it as a rental, not a theatre movie unless you’re really curious.

One other note, I think they showed a series of trailers before the movie.

I say “I think” because apparently while I stopped watching films for a while (my last one was during the summer, I think…) somebody changed what constitutes a trailer on me. Last time I checked, a trailer was a 2-3 minute mini version of the film that usually even gives away the ending if you’re paying attention. I hate that about trailers, and find that really annoying.

However, now they’ve actually managed to come up with something even more annoying! A new trailer consists of music and a series of super-fast clips, that are so short they almost constitute stills, being flashed at you for 30 seconds and then it’s over. WTF is that? Did someone decide that blipverts were a good idea while I wasn’t looking? And the worst part is that I can’t really tell you what trailers I saw, because they were all exactly the same! There was a guy from hell, and explosions. A guy fighting vampires, and explosions. Aliens invading and explosions. And something else, and explosions.

It’s like they now have a computer program that you feed a film into and it makes these things, but nobody realized they were all using the same program and so all the trailers look exactly the same!

Or maybe it’s that all those movies are exactly the same. Either-or.

Now I remember why I don’t go see movies much anymore.

Adventures in making an E-Book Cover.

So, as anyone who reads this knows, I just released my first E-Book (actually E-Short Story) called Hot Soup, which I plan to be the first of a series of stories I release to the E-Book world. I mean, I know I can tell a good story, it’s a new storytelling frontier, and it’s free! So why not?

One of my first unexpected challenges (along with the horror that is formatting it for e-readers), however, was trying to come up with a cover for the thing. When you think of an E-Book, usually the last thing you think about is the cover, but it’s really the most important piece of marketing tool you have in your arsenal to attract reader attention. I had thought I could just whip something off and be done with it, and thus my first attempt looked like this:

Which I thought wasn’t bad (at least it didn’t look totally generic) and when I uploaded the story to the Kindle this was what I submitted as the cover. But, after I’d submitted it and thought about it for a while, I realized that if I wanted people to actually give this story a second look then something flashier was required.

So, digging out my incredibly meager artistic skills, I sat down with MS Paint and tried to put together something more evocative:

Well, I did say my skills were meager, didn’t I? It looks like art from a 1st edition D&D book, only worse!

Okay, that clearly wasn’t going to work. (And that was one of the better tries!) So I finally gave in and decided I needed to be more professional about it and sink a little cash into this project. I began to trawl the stock photo sites online like iStockphoto (not bad, but a bit pricey), Photos.com (I tried to register here TWICE but got rejected both times for an unknown system error), and finally settled on Fotalia.com which both offered a good price, and some great pictures. I was especially impressed by one photographer named Liu Xiang, and their pictures of a Chinese warrior princess.

So, after a long debate over which picture to use (I gravitated between that Chinese princess picture and one of a some Chinese soup pots boiling) I decided to follow the oldest advice in the advertising game- sex sells!

So I bought the picture, whipped it into photoshop elements, cropped it to make more room for text in the picture, and then added said text after finding a font I felt worked. This was the end result, which I have I have to say I’m quite happy with…

Quite a difference, isn’t there? I now have a Fotalia account, and will probably just go straight there whenever I need a new book cover from now on! Making a cover for ebooks isn’t hard, you just have to know when to lay down the cash and do it right.

Little Gou hits the Kindle!

Well, it finally happened. 🙂

My first Little Gou short story -Hot Soup- has been published on the Kindle. The story itself is an adaption of the very first Little Gou adventure- Little Gou and the Emperor’s Cousin. Although much expanded, I used the original story as the template, and somehow a 10 page script turned into 26 pages of action, comedy and adventure!

I plan to do a reading of the story for my new KFAT Audio Fiction segment on the Podcast in February, but anyone wanting to get a jump on reading it is welcome to check it out. At 99 cents, it’s a steal!

For those who don’t own a Kindle, I’ll be putting it on Smashwords soon as well, which will get it out in the other e-book formats. I also plan to do a number of other stories this year, and similarly release them in e-book format as we go. It’s a new frontier, and I’ve decided to saddle up and take a ride out to see what I can find.

Wish me luck!

Rob

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-09

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The Great Tokyo Manga Kill-Off Begins!

There were those who said there was nothing to worry about, after all, it was only the dirty and perverted stuff that would be reclassified as adult, right?

Nope. Anything with a hint of sexuality has just zoomed from the normal racks into the porno section. It’s simple really, the store owners don’t want to be charged, but under this new vague law they don’t know what will really get them in trouble, so they solve the problem by dumping almost everything into the adult section! So much for the world’s largest comics industry!

Tokyo manga fans are disgusted to witness their beloved manga already being dumped into the porno corner en masse in order to comply with Ishihara’s twisted manga ban.

Some explanation may be required – in Japan, convenience stores usually sell adult (porn) magazines in an out-of-the-way corner, with the shelves marked off with a “成人向け雑誌” separator and minors prohibited from browsing the shelves or buying anything therein.

Similar arrangements exist in other shops for DVDs, eroge and so on, often with curtained off areas of the shop or otherwise. However, many outlets will not stock anything which needs to be separated into an 18+ section at all.

More details here, along with comments from local manga fans.

Now, on the “plus” side, I’m sure the industry will respond quickly and create some sort of comics code authority which will review and put it’s stamp of approval on “safe” manga to keep the peace. Of course, certain things will have to change as to what can and can’t appear in manga, but it’s all for the children, right? After all, manga’s for children, and no adult reads it? ^_-