Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Animated Thoughts: Moments of Serendipity

I needed more space in the bookshelves for my gaming collection. The plan was to buy a half-sized bookshelf and move my Dungeons & Dragons collection over to the other wall. Thus, I'd have almost an entire bookshelf where my BattleTech collection could expand instead of being split between two walls. Well, on Sunday, I purchased what I thought was a workable solution: a bookshelf with the correct height and width and more importantly a number of adjustable shelves. Only when I got it home and unpacked it, the shelving unit turned out to be scaled for DVDs or CDs.

Now normally that wouldn't be an issue since the bookshelves were adjustable. However, when I got it out of the box, both the sides of the unit and the shelves were only about six inches in depth. Therefore, my full-sized D&D books would stick out and would probably fall onto the floor.

Manga and Memories from R.I.T.
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that the bottom shelf would work for the full-sized books in my bedroom's bookcase and the upper shelves would fit my manga/light-novel collection perfectly (I'm keeping up with Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Delicious in Dungeon, and Restaurant to Another World). All I had to do was swap out the two bookshelves and I was back in business! Or so I thought.

Assembling the new shelving unit was an exercise in frustration as it broke several times during the whole process. However, it was corner clamps and Gorilla Glue to the rescue! And within two-hours, I had the display all put together and ready to accept books. 

Here's where the moment of serendipity occurred. Despite the disappointments and frustrations of the previous two hours, I soldiered on. And while the glue was setting on the new shelving unit, I removed all the books from the old bookshelf so I could move it to my gaming room. And there it was. On the bottom shelf, wedged between the inside of the bookcase and my oversized copy of the Red Cross First Aid/CPR handbook was my original copy of Jack Slutzky's book Mindscapes.

The cover showed no signs of wear or fading. It was as pristine and crisp as the day I had bought it, minus a little bending at the binding from its first reading. It now rests on the shelf in my office, with the rest of my textbooks from R.I.T.--right next to the autographed copy of Mindscapes which I bought as a replacement last December.

If I had taken the new shelving unit back to the store or if I had tried to use the new shelves for my D&D books, it might have been years before I found my copy of Mindscapes. If I hadn't misplaced it in the first place, I wouldn't have bought a replacement copy -- which turned out to be signed by Jack himself.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Annies and Oscars, 2022 edition

It was a good day for animation.

This weekend was the 49th annual Annie Awards, a celebration of animation's highest honors presented by ASIFA Hollywood. And it was also the day that animation luminary Ron Diamond hosted a private screening of the Oscar nominated animated short films -- and members of ASIFA were invited!

Given the restrictions that the DIA's Detroit Film Theater were still imposing on those of us who couldn't safely get the jab or had natural immunity, making my yearly trip to the DFT to spend a day appreciating some art before watching the Academy Award nominated short animated film program, well, it wasn't going to happen.

Fortunately, it was Ron Diamond to the rescue! Ron runs the Animation Show of Shows, a yearly curated program of animated short films that gets shown at arthouse theaters and colleges all across the country. So, this year he had a program dedicated entirely to the Oscar animated shorts. And as a member of ASIFA Central, I was sent a code to their website where Ron opened with a discussion about the awards and the films we'd be watching, followed by the program, and bookended with live interviews with some of the filmmakers. It was a good start to the day!

Later that evening, the Annies were streamed on their website. Everything was pretty much pre-recorded since they wouldn't be live streaming from the Royce Theater again this year. But, it is what it is. At least we were able to enjoy the show online rather than not at all. If you didn't get the chance to watch the show during the first broadcast(?), it can be viewed on the online in its entirety at: Annie Awards - Watch It Live and you can also download this year's program book on the same page.

And, thus, my yearly 'random thoughts I had while watching the show':

  • Still loving that zoetrope animation that opens the ceremony!
  • Best Short Subject: Night Bus had my vote to win. Saw it at the Ottawa fest... really quirky film that I found myself getting into for both the technical production and the story.
  • "2021 was a continuation of the ongoing pandemic stress, yet animation continued striving and successfully leading the entertainment industry. More animation is being produced today than ever before and that bodes well for all of us." Very encouraging words from ASIFA Hollywood President Sue Shakespeare.
  • June Foray Award: Was very pleased to see Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita get some recognition for all their work in the field of animation.
  • Best Production Design in an Animated TV/Media Production:  Arcane!!!!! A good start for one of the best animated series I've ever seen.
  • Best production Design in an Animated Feature Production: Y'know, I was really hoping for Belle.
  • I like how the awards are moving at more of a steady clip since we don't have to watch people walk down to the front of the Royce theater and accept their award--and give an extended speech before being played off by music--but the virtual format does seem to lack a little luster and the pomp & circumstance of the live awards ceremony.
  • Character Design in an Animated TV/Media Production: Arcane again! So happy to see them pull this award. So rarely do the films I love get recognition, I'm gonna start crying any minute now. :)
  • Glenn Vlippu received the Special Achievement award--and is very well deserved.
  • Really liked how Dina Sherman was in a different location every time when she announced the next award and its presenters. Seemed a little odd at first, but it really grows on you.
  • Character Animation in an Animated Television/Media Production: goes to Arcane!!!!! Wow. Just... wow! Wouldn't it be awesome if Arcane took home every award in all nine categories it was nominated in?
  • Hrm. Didn't realize that the Annies started back in '72. Knew June Foray was the driving force behind the awards, but 1972? Hrm. I'm sure I'd heard that before, it just never registered with me.
  • Animated Effects in an Animated Television/Media Production... Arcane wins again. My jaw is on the floor!
  • Yeah, I really need to watch the Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf animated feature and the Castlevania series this year... :o
  • Animated Effects in an Animated Feature Production... Please oh please let it be Belle... aaaand... nope. :(
  • Editing in an Animated TV/Media Production: What If...Ultron Won... My favorite episode from my favorite show in the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- So freaking awesome!!!
  • One of the Winsor McKay Awards goes to Lillian Schwartz -- Wow. So many years later, so many advances in computer imagery, and her work still holds up. The mark of a master filmmaker.
  • Another to Toshio Suzuki. Ah, the Annie Awards, one of the few awards shows where Anime actually gets some of the respect they deserve for their contributions to the art form. Toshio Suzuki. A titan in the industry but, like Isao Takahata before him, spends more time recognizing the people who work for and with him at Studio Ghibli. Man, such a class act.
  • And the third to Ruben Akino whose body of work embodies so many of the pivotal films from those years when I was studying to become an animator. Watching those clips, it was like I was sitting in the theater just off campus during college and grad school all over again.
  • Voice Acting in an Animated Television/Media Production: goes to Ella Purnell - HELL YES!!!!! Let's hear it for Jinx! Arcane is set to sweep the awards after all! Gonna have to watch the whole series again while I still have a little time before the Spring season of Anime is here.
  • Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production: was really hoping for a win for John Leguizamo, easily one of the best character actors of our generation. I can't think of a single film of his that I've seen, live action or animated, where he didn't bring his 'A' game and produced a stellar performance.
  • Writing in an Animated Television/Media Production: Another well deserved award for Arcane!!!
  • Writing in an Animated Feature Production: Nope. Still hoping that Belle would get 'some' love during the ceremony. But, there's still the best Indie Feature.
  • In Memoriam... always a tough segment to watch. Brenda Banks, Giannalberto Bendazzi, Jacques Drouin, we lost some real heavy hitters this past year and the community is diminished because of it.
  • Wow!! They got Momoro Hosoda (the director of Belle) to present an awards category. Very cool. Not "Belle wins some awards" cool, but still, a nice consolation.
  • Best General Audience Animated Television/Media Production: Hell yes!!! Another richly deserved award for Arcane!!!
  • Tomm Moore is presenting for the Annies. Very cool. I still have my drawing/watercolor of Pangur Bán that he sent me back when I purchased the PAL version of Brendan and the Secret of Kells and had it shipped in from Ireland (this was before GKIDS picked it up for North American distribution). Think I'll get it framed this year.
  • Storyboarding in an Animated Television/Media Production: Goes to Arcane! One more award and Arcane sweeps the Annies!!!!
  • Directing in an Animated Television/Media Production: AND ARCANE SWEEPS EVERY CATEGORY THAT THEY'RE IN!!! Would've also been cool to see Love Death + Robots or Invincible get some love, but I'm so blown away about all the accolades for Arcane. It's so well deserved. And so refreshing to see it happen.
  • So great to see John Leguizamo back at the Annies.
  • Best Indie Feature: And no love for Belle. What a disappointment. A somber reminder that my tastes are usually way different than most of the viewing public and that we've got a long way to go before Japanese animation fully receives the recognition that it rightfully deserves. At least the DVD comes out in May. I'll get to watch it again and again in the privacy of my home theater.
My 'Pangur Bán' watercolor by
Tomm More of Cartoon Saloon

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Animated Thoughts: Musing about organization (or: getting the most use out of that OCD)

I like things organized. Doesn't matter what system is used or what is being organized, I just like being able to walk into a room and going to exactly where the thing I want is stored. DVDs, art supplies, paperwork, books, tools, anything. So long as I don't have to hunt for it, we're good. It wasn't always that way. I was a very messy child. My room, my clothes, my schoolwork, it was always a mess. 

Something happened when I hit my late teens and then went off to college that caused me to become a neat-freak. I think it was learning that rooms don't magically clean themselves... and perhaps some latent OCD on my part. Over the following years, I developed a habit of pruning my possessions. I'd look at something and if I couldn't see myself using it in the next year (and hadn't used it in previous years), I'd get rid of it. Some things I kept due to the nostalgia value. Only once or twice has it bitten me in the ass when I got rid of something and within a year I realized that I needed it. But for the most part, the system worked. As I was moving in and out of dorms twice a year and travelling between states, it helped to keep my load light.

Then I bought a house.

The Struggle is real!
The first thing that started to pile up in my storage closet was old, outdated computer equipment and boxes of software. Then my collections started to grow: gaming systems, DVDs and VHS tapes, books, and lots of hand-me-down kitchen supplies and appliances. Some of this stuff made sense--when I rebuilt my archive of animations and classwork from grad school, having computers that could run the software I used at R.I.T. was invaluable since many of those files couldn't be opened or read using current software. Backwards compatibility apparently only goes so far.

So, I've slowly but surely been inching forward, building order out of the chaos. All my art and animation supplies are organized (mostly) in my studio. All my gaming material is now in a series of bookshelves (yes, I still play Battletech and Dungeons and Dragons, though not as much as I would like to nowadays). The DVD collection spans a couple bookshelves, however they are all alphabetized and are slowly being digitized as I'm building a home media server--don't want to spend time hunting for something when I want it, remember?

This weekend, the organizational bug bit me and my comic book collection was the target.

Comic books, RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, and the miniature wargame Battletech were a tremendous help in navigating an unhappy childhood. Being a geeky introvert, I didn't have many friends growing up and was often the focus of bullies. But even though I've always been a solitary person, having something that I could escape to did wonders for my mental health. Having learned how to read at the age of two, I had already read many of the great works of Western literature by the time I was in middle school and that was when I started seriously exploring other avenues of American literature and art: namely comic books. I remember that the Marvel comics were much more relatable to me as a person as their characters seemed to have real-life(ish) problems, compared to DC comics  heroes--which seemed stuck in the realm of the idealized modern "god" who stood above the mortals and had little if any real-world difficulties. Seriously, has there ever been an issue where Batman is grousing over being stuck in traffic? No, Spider Man was always behind on his rent and struggled at his job. The X-Men were feared and persecuted for being different from the rest of society. Captain America was a transient superhero but he still had to support himself by drawing the "Captain America" comic book. Iron Man struggled with alcoholism (okay, maybe that wasn't relatable to me, but it is a real human problem). During those days, it became easy to escape into books and their world of fantasy after a difficult day, enjoying the fantastical adventures of a life I could never have (as far as I know, humans can't teleport or fly), and then reemerge when my emotions were on a more even keel and I could deal with my problems in small, manageable chunks.

As time moved on, I kept reading comics, though my tastes matured and changed. I followed several Marvel and DC creators to Image Comics when Marc Silvestri (along with brother Eric) started Cyberforce and Codename: Stryke Force. I was also drawn into new stories when Whilce Portacio started his horror/sci-fi comic Wetworks. And I enjoyed the artwork and the stories that J. Scott Campbell was creating through his comics Gen 13 and Danger Girl. But my interest in comic book series waxed and waned over the years. Around the end of grad school, I lost interest in the direction that the X-Men storyline was progressing. New releases of Wetworks became sporadic as Whilce Portacio was helping his sister battle cancer and he put the series on hold after issue #43. It seemed like most of the Image (and their subsidiaries) crew moved on to other projects with other companies. No worries. Life is full of changes.

When I moved back to Michigan and bought a house, I finally had a place to store my old comics and had lots of room for new ones. I got back into reading some of the more mature stories of Heavy Metal magazine. IDW and Dynamite Entertainment both got their shot at the license to produce several runs of Red Sonja comic books. And most enjoyably for me, Marvel recently brought back a number of the old writers and artists for the X-Men (and spinoffs) and started publishing one-off side stories that took place during the 1990's run of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men--in my opinion, the period of time where the X-Men stories hit their peak. Unfortunately though, most of the series that I really got into over the past twenty-or-so years weren't popular enough to keep them going or were designed to be limited series. The issues I was able to find of Nick Schley's comic Abiding Perdition were enjoyable as was Humbertos Ramos' modern-day vampire/monster hunter series Crimson. And IDW's Transformers: Windblade and Transformers: Combiner Hunters have to be my favorite stories out of the Transformers franchise.

So, my collection continues to grow, albeit at a snail's pace. Dynamite's relaunch of Sheena Queen of the Jungle didn't do it for me and I stopped buying issues after reading #3. I'm still following a couple of Dynamite's Red Sonja titles (could use a little more 'Conan' in them, but Marvel's got that license at the moment--that and I wish Dynamite would do another run of 'Steampunk Red Sonja' like they did in the Legenderry series). I still peruse the shelves at Summit Comics and Games every Wednesday night to see if there's a title that catches my eye (Frank Cho's Fight Girls was entertaining, as was the D&D comic Mindbreaker).  And I'm using sites like MyComicShop.com and MileHighComics.com to fill gaps in some of the more obscure series--like First Adventures #1 which has a side story featuring the giant robot adventures of Dynamo Joe.

But how do you keep track of everything you've bought and read over 45 years (and stuffed into almost twenty boxes)? Well, I played with different apps and spreadsheets over the years. None really worked for me. That was until I created an account on the LeagueOfComicGeeks.com website. I was previously using their site to learn what comics I could expect to see in the stores that month (helps to budget out that entertainment dollar). So I decided to take the plunge and explore some of their other options, like managing my pull list with Summit Comics and Games. Then I decided to take their iOS app for a spin. I had tried to use another app to index my collections, and while it worked great for DVDs, it wasn't robust enough to handle my comic book collection. That's not to say that the LoCG app/website is perfect, it isn't. But it works well enough for me to have processed five boxes containing 850 comics over three days. Clearly, I have a long way to go before my entire collection is indexed. But I have to say that I'm really enjoying the walk down memory lane as I process each series and enter them into the database.

The thing I like the most about the app? It's that my comics are no longer sitting in boxes, languishing in that 'out of sight, out of mind' headspace. At a moment's notice, I can pull out my smartphone, load up the app, and browse through forty-five years of collecting comic books, having a smile as I reflect on a story that touched my heart or a panel of artwork that made my jaw drop at its beauty or a great character that inspired me to be a better person.

Someday, I will die. I've already made provisions to leave my comic collection to a library. So hopefully, years from now (well, hopefully many, many, many years from now), someone will sit down at a table with a stack of comic books from my collection and enjoy reading them as much as I have.

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