Friday, April 27, 2012

Netlflix Friday: Eden of the East Update

Last week I talked about a cool anime that I'm watching called Eden of the East.  I was about midway through the series at that point and since then, things have changed a bit -- and with it, my thoughts about whether this is anime for people who don't like anime.

Around episodes 6 and 7, we get a strange tangent storyline that is definitely not suitable for kids and is not family friendly. It also ends in a weird scene that, although explained, sort of blows the whole "fairly realistic" comment I made about this show last week.

Takizawa is searching for the other "Saviors," that is the people playing the "game" to save Japan. In order to find more information about his own past (did I mention last week that he found out that he has amnesia because he purposefully wiped his own memory?) that he has started tracking down the other players in the game. One of them was crooked, another was actually a doctor who set up a free community for the elderly (and then met his fate because he spent all his money without playing to win), and then we find the next one.

She's a beautiful business woman who is  powerful and, welllllllll, she's a bitch. A mega bi-atch. She treats her staff like dirt and has the emotional depth of a drop of rain water. Oh, and she's a serial killer who, apparently, has kidnapped one of Saki's friends and is about to use the cigar cutter (see the picture below) in a way that should make every man reading this cross his legs.

You see, she's the notorious (some say urban legend) Johnny Killer. So named because that's what she cuts off. Takizawa tracks her down and confronts her, the two revealing that they are both playing the game. This is where the "realism" seems to take flight... literally as the killer sprouts giant black wings and flies off with her victim.

When I saw this happen, I thought that this was some sort of unnecessary twist and a nod out to the guys who like more fantasy in their anime. But at the end we catch a glimpse of her cell phone and it shows an expense for creating an illusion. Yup, an intense illusion of her sprouting wings and flying away.

Now I'm left to ponder if this was some sort of fan service (i.e. something gratuitous for the fans) to show a dark angel in her underwear, or is this some sort of preview of the sort of power that can be harnessed by whoever is running the game? In other words, will Takizawa need some sort of illusion in the future? Only time (and a handful more episodes) will tell.

BTW: Last week I gave you guys some bad info. I said that Netflix does not have either of the two Eden of the East movies. I was wrong. They have the first one.

See ya back here next week for more fun and frolic.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 5

One of the joys of cataloging my comics is finding things I had forgotten -- or that I didn't even know I had. There is a difference, you know. The former happens when you open a box of comics (in this case marked, "OLD" on the front) and finding those extra copies of Karate Kid that you had wondered why they weren't with the rest of the series in the "K" box.

The latter is when you find something that you're not 100% you've ever seen before, such as Dagar The Invincible #14. This was an interesting little title that I had probably picked up as part of a collection. Looking through it now, I don't think I've ever read this story before, which is actually pretty good. Writer Don Glut and artist Jesse Santos did a capable job with this sword and sorcery tale. It reminds me of something that would have been put out by DC Comics during their DC Explosion years. Thanks to, I can now look that up in my Barbarians box (that is to say, I have stored the location under the "Personal" fields listed in the software).

The "bad" part of cataloging comics is that it can take a lot of time. Tonight, for example, I manually entered 25 comics (mostly old Marvel Western comics from the 1970s that I inherited from my little sister, Lori). These are a lot of cool Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid and other classic titles that she bought in the mid 1970s when we were living in El Paso, Texas. At the time I preferred superhero comics, so although I read these, I didn't really "dig" them, to use the lingo of that time.

Click to see full-size image.
Now, of course, I really like them a lot and I'm very happy to have them in my collection. I also think it's cool to see her handwriting from waaaaay back when. Hmmm. I'm thinking she would have been in third or fourth grade at the time (this is from 1974, so she would have been about 8 years old at the time). Someone else do the math -- I'm just not sure what grade she was in. But whatever grade it was, she wrote her name in most of her comics, which probably meant she took them to school with her.

But I digress.

It took me about 30 minutes to enter 25 comics. Part of that time was spent tracking down an errant cover to a Lone Ranger comic. The other part was updating some of the cover price info on the Kid Colt comics. But still, even if that's one minute a comic (an average created from me having to fix things and submit corrections -- most of the titles were entered in less than 10 seconds), that could definitely add up over the course of entering another 7,500 comics (which is about how many I have left to go).

One way to theoretically speed things up would be to use a barcode scanner. Barcodes were added to comic book covers in the late 1970s. If memory serves me right, this happened in 1976. But I could be wrong, and a 2-minute google search didn't yield the results I wanted. Before then, comics were not cluttered up by the UPC barcode (like the cover to the might Marvel Western comic that my sister signed above). realizes that barcodes can be a useful way to enter titles, so they have a cool app called CLZ Barry to help you zap your books and have them show up instantly in the Comic Collector software.

At least that's the theory.

Using CLZ Barry
I don't like this software very much. As much as I love the rest of Comic Collector, I think this add-on feels buggy. It just doesn't feel finished. I'm actually a fan of minimalist software, but this crosses the line from minimalist to just flat-out incomplete.  I'll explain.

The software comes in two parts:

  1. An app for your smart phone (I have a Droid Razr, but I also used it on a Motorola Droid)
  2. An application for your computer
Here's the screenshot of the desktop application:

That's it, folks. There's nothing else. Just a connection screen. There's not even a link to the help file: You have to go to your Start Menu to find that. To me, that's just not how you make professional-grade software. I don't dig it, folks.

The smartphone app is worse. There's no documentation at all, and this is really important because the icons are very important, and I have to go back to the Website to look up what they mean. These should be documented right in the software and the smartphone.  By the way, here's what they mean:

Click on pic to read at full size

Using CLZ Barry
Once you have the software running on your PC or Mac (in my PC it is visible in the system tray next to the clock) and on your smart phone, it's time to get scanning. For this test, I chose the aforementioned issues of Karate Kid. I thought these would be a good test because they are DC comics, fairly mainstream, but also a little bit old. I thought this might be a good test of both the software and the database.

I activated the software on both PC and phone and then followed the instructions by opening the Comic Collector software and putting the cursor in a text field on the "Add Comics Automatically" pane with the "Search by Barcode Tab."

Click on pic to read at full size
When you hold the camera phone over the barcode it vibrates to let you know that it had taken the picture. Meanwhile, back on your desktop, the barcode numbers appear in the search box and... yield no results. Not one of the Karate Kid comics were in the database. Neither were three other DC comics and a Marvel that I grabbed. I scanned Action Comics #460 and got results... wrong ones. It offered several choices as being possible, but they were all wrong.

I then tested it with a handful of Archie comics that came out in the past year, and all of them were in the database (including a Jughead Double Digest). This gives me meager hope that this software will be useful for quickly entering comics that were released in this century. But, of course, since 90% of my collection is from before 2000, this could prove to be small comfort.

So, even though the software works in the physical context, the truth is that the database doesn't have the barcode info for the really old comics. Plus, entering single comics with this scanner is just so darned tedious. It's much faster to just enter them manually by selecting a series and then clicking on the issues you have.

But all that aside, I just hate using the smartphone app. I think the most annoying feature is that it scans for you the second that you put it over a barcode. I would much rather hit a button to click the photo myself. This would make it more intuitive and easier to use. At least for me, that is. But I think the real problem is that it just doesn't take into account the fact that different people enjoy using software in different ways. Having the option to be manual or automatic would be a great boon. As would having the meaning of the icons explained in the software itself. 

In short, even though the software works, it feels half-baked and not quite ready for prime time.

See you for Wednesday as I wrap up my review for Comic Collector with a final look at scanning multiple comics at once and my final thoughts on this great program.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Netflix Friday: Eden of the East

I like anime, but I don't love it. Most of the stuff that other people rave about leaves me indifferent. I tend to prefer light comedies like Oh! My Goddess! or Ouran High School Host Club (just try to get the cute pop theme song out of your head). I have a mild interest in Full Metal Alchemist -- but just mild.

Both of these series are available on Netflix and I'm planning to catch up on them -- particularly Oh! My Goddess, which is probably one of the most romantic and cute series ever made. If you are an anime fan and would like to get a girl hooked on Anime, this is the series you should use. It's about a loser of a college boy who lives in the dorm and, as an underclassman, is hazed by the older members. But he's a good guy, so the universe grants him a wish. A beautiful girl "angel" (they call her a "goddess" but she's much closer to what we would think of as an angel) comes down to grant it, but he thinks it's a joke so he wishes that she was his girlfriend. So, he gets his wish... sort of. She moves down to earth with him and then begins the long process of them living together in platonic bliss as he starts courting her. It's very sweet... until her sisters move in to make sure there's no hanky panky going on.

One of the few action series I like is Cowboy Bebop, which is about bounty hunters in the future. The series is named after the spaceship they roam around the solar system in while trying to make a living catching bad guys. It's a popular series with some of the best jazz music I've ever heard on a TV show. It's also the only anime that my wife ever watched without me. Years ago I rented the theatrical movie based on the series and my wife went to bed about two-thirds through the movie. The next day she actually put it back on to find out how it ended.

My wife said she liked it because, if it had been live action, it would have been a decent action movie. I totally agree with her. Cowboy Bebop would make a great series of movies because it has memorable characters and it's more-or-less grounded in reality. The characters have realistic abilities (if they run a long way they get winded, if they jump down from a high distance they might get hurt) and if they are injured in one episode they might still be healing those injuries in the next.

Eden of the East reminds me of Cowboy Bebop in that way: It's more or less realistic -- at least so far. This series (there are 11 episodes on Netflix and two movies, which are not -- I'll have to track them down elsewhere) seems to be set in the present day, or perhaps just a few years in the future (less than 10). There are no flying cars or space travel here. People move around by motorcycle and airplane.

Here's a description of the series from Wikipedia:

On Monday, November 22, 2010, ten missiles strike against uninhabited areas of Japan, claiming no victims. This apparent terrorist act is referred to as "Careless Monday" and disregarded by most people. The series begins three months later, on Sunday, February 13, 2011, when a young Japanese woman named Saki Morimi visits Washington D.C. as part of her graduation trip. When she gets into trouble, a mysterious Japanese man, who introduces himself as Akira Takizawa, helps her through it. The man appears to have no memory and is completely naked, carrying only a gun and a cell phone charged with 8.2 billion in digital money. While they are coming back to Japan, they learn that a new missile has hit their country.

Akira discovers that his phone is part of a game created by a "Mr. Outside," and that he himself is one of the participants. The game consists of twelve individuals, dubbed Seleção (Portuguese: "Selection"), who are given 10 billion to "save" Japan in some way. The Seleção are able to use the phone operator, Juiz (Portuguese: "Judge"), to fulfill any kind of order for a price. However, if the money is used up completely or for selfish purposes, the individual will be eliminated by the Supporter, the anonymous "twelfth man" of the group...

The series' first episode definitely caught my attention. Takizawa is an amusing character, yet obviously deadly. He finds he has multiple passports and some ability at fighting -- just as I was thinking, "Oh, this is like The Bourne Trilogy," he actually asked something to the effect of, "Am I Jason Bourne?" He isn't like Jason Bourne. Although he has a mysterious past (is he responsible for getting rid of thousands of people?) and why did he buy a shopping mall, close it down and move in? And what's with all the weird activities being enacted by the other members of this game? And then, of course, what is his relationship with Saki? Does he keep pulling her back into his life for romantic reasons, or is there something else?

A lot of this intrigue is hinted at in the opening sequence (here' it is from YouTube, but sorry I couldn't find a version with subtitles to the lyrics).

Right now I'm just about halfway through the series and will probably finish it this week (I only watch 2-3 episodes at a time). I have to give a little bit of a warning: The series starts off relatively light (if you consider a missile attack on Tokyo "light"), but around episode 5 things get darker as we learn that some of the other game players are not very nice people. There is no nudity or excessive violence (some, but it's not excessive -- it's in line with what you'd see on a gritty American TV show), but there is some implied sexual imagery and -- I don't want to give anything away, but there are some pretty intense moments when one of the character is abducted and threatened with  severe bodily harm.

If you like anime, you will almost certainly like this series. If you have an open mind  about anime but are turned off by excessive violence, magic/sci-fi, then this series is definitely worth checking out. If it were a live-action series, I think people would be talking about it. If you don't like anime, I think you should go back and start watching Ah! My Goddess! (sorry, it's spelled both Oh! and Ah!, depending on which edition you're watching).

As for me, I know what I'll be watching this weekend -- I'll be finishing Eden of the East.

See ya Monday for some more thoughts about Comic Collector by

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 4

So now that I've finally selected Comic Collector by to catalog my supposed collection of 10,000 comics, I've been steadily entering titles and issues. Since I started with Archie Comics, I don't have as many as I would have if I had started with Marvel or DC Comics.

If I had to guess, I would think that I probably had more Marvels than DCs, but I honestly don't know if that's true. You see, I go through periods where I buy more of one publisher than the other, but then change as my tastes evolve, and as the quality of the comics changes.  Among the titles I expect to have a lot of, there are the usual suspects: X-Men (at least 150 issues in a row with no breaks) and Daredevil (probably about the same, but there may be a few breaks after issue 300 when Frank Miller left to pursue Battier pastures with The Dark Knight Returns).

I also expect to find good runs of the following titles:
  • The Defenders (I've got almost the entire run of 150 issues, missing only a few early issues -- but not #1 because I've got that!)
  • Jonah Hex (original series, I have most of it)
  • The Warlord (probably just missing the early issues)
  • Knights of the Dinner Table (I'm probably only missing four or five issues -- they were destroyed in a flood)
Fortunately, Comic Collector has cool reporting tools to help me track what I have, and to make "Wish Lists" of things I need. Here's a breakdown of the main publishers I've cataloged so far (from Oct. 28, 2011 - April 8, 2012):

Click on image to see full-size.

  • 802 Archie
  • 574 DC Comics
  • 537 Marvel Comics
  • 95 Kenzer and Company
  • 41 Eclipse Comics
  • 29 Dork Storm Press
  • 28 First Comics
  • 25 Abstract Studio
  • 16 Harvey Comics
  • Many others

As you can see, Comic Collector does an admirable job of reporting what's in your collection. I may do another column on just the reporting tools. It shows both bar charts and pie charts, plus it has the ability to create custom filters that let you look for specific types of comics (for instance, I have 575 comics digests, of which 560 are Archie Comics digests -- the others are from DC Comics, Harvey Comics, and a few others).

Filters: Let's hear it for Al Milgrom
Filters may be one of the most powerful features of the reporting tools. In addition to finding out that I have almost 600 comics digests, I can create a filter to search for individual characters (Archie is in about 805 titles) or I can filter by creators. For example, out of the comics I've cataloged, 52 feature work by the incomparable Al Milgrom. Most of his work in my collection is for Marvel (including this cool Black Panther cover right here).

It's also possible to filter for specific characters, so if you want to know how many times Spider-Man appears in your collection, you can search for it. For example, Spider-man appears in 70 different titles. Or, that is to say, the word "Spider-Man" appears in the descriptions of 70 different comics. You see, although there is a screen for listing specific characters in a comic, these are often empty. Some people choose to mention the character in the text description of the title (it's that part that appears in the right-hand detail panel). So doing a full text search for Spider-Man seems like a better way to track down our friendly neighborhood Spider-man.

Let it all hang out (online, that is)
Since I purchased this software, they have actually added a feature that makes it even cooler than it was. They have provided us PRO users with the ability to post our collections online via Sync & Share. Here's what it says about this service at their Website:

  • Sync & Share is a basic Connect edition, created for desktop users who just want to sync their collection online and share it with friends, but wish to keep using their desktop software (Windows or Mac) to manage (add/edit) their database.
  • Sync & Share includes all browsing, viewing, sorting, searching, sharing, Facebook, Twitter and statistics features of Connect. But NOT the Add feature and NOT the Edit feature.
  • In other words, you will be able to upload your collection online, access your own collection from anywhere, any device and share the list with friends. However, you will need to do your data additions and modifications offline, with your trusted desktop software, then re-sync to Connect.
  • In short, Sync & Share is Connect without the adding and editing features.
  • A full-featured Connect subscription is available for US $19.80 per year.

I didn't review their Connect service because, as I said before, I was only interested in a desktop solution without annual fees. But this addition actually fills in one of the minor gaps in their software: An online component that I can use to track what's in my collection so that I can avoid buying duplicates when I'm at my friendly local comic book store.

This feature was added in March 2012, and it's fantastic. In addition to being viewable on my computer, it also has a cool smart phone interface, which is perfect for that comic book store scenario I described above.

If you're interested in seeing my collection, you can take a quick peek right here:

By the way, the online system has reports, too, including this cool chart with a percentage breakdown of my comics by publisher (the percentage is available when you rollover the pie slice: I added them to the graphic so you can see them here).

There's also a bar chart showing the my comics ranked by title. Here's my top 5 series (so far -- keep in mind, I have not yet entered most of the Marvel of DC comics):

  • 89  Archie's Pals 'n' Gals Double Digest
  • 84  Jughead's Double Digest
  • 83  Knights of the Dinner Table
  • 74  Archie Double Digest
  • 68  Betty & Veronica Double Digest

Finally, there are a few other cool features that bear discussion, such as the smart phone tools that let you browse your collection and use your phone's camera as a bar card reader: Yes, there's an app for that! As we'll talk about it next week as I finally conclude my series about the totally cool Comic Collector by

And see you back here to launch the weekend off in style with another edition of Netflix Friday.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 3

One of the more difficult things about cataloging a lot of comics is that, well... there are a lot of comics! I don't just mean in my collection, but just out there. There's more than just Marvel, DC, Archie, IDW and Dark Horse. There are also defunct publishers like Atlas, Charlton, Gladstone, Disney, Dell, Harvey (old and new) and more. And don't even get me started on the US/UK differences or the titles published in Spanish or Norwegian (yes, I have one Norwegian comic -- it's a Donald Duck comic and I bought it just for the sole purpose of having a comic from Norway).

I added this scan to the database
Although the database that powers the Comic Collector software is fairly complete, it does have gaps. Most of the time, it's just a missing cover that can easily be tracked down and added to your local database. Most covers are out there just waiting for Google to pluck them out of the aether, but sometimes you have to scan a cover yourself and then add it to the title. That really isn't a big deal because I'm good with Photoshop (I've actually taught it in college) and it doesn't take very long. Once the cover is scanned, you can also upload it to the Collectorz database so it can be shared with other collectors.

Missing covers is one of the reasons I started cataloging my Archie Comics first. You see, I knew that the database would do a pretty good job with DC and Marvel Comics. There are tons of fanboys out there just scanning and indexing and obsessing over every little detail (including variant spelling of creators names).  The Archie stuff, though, is missing quite a few covers and even a few series.

I had to add the series for Jughead's Pal Hot Dog (a weird little series about Hot Dog's adventures in space and on earth using high-tech gadgetry). I also had to add Archie's Explorers of the Unknown (and even had to point out that, although Archie's name is on the cover, it is not inside the indicia (that small block of type at the bottom of the front page of the comic) because that's the sort of stuff we fans obsess over).

I added this scan to the database
For example, this issue of Thunderbolt #57 was in the Collectorz database, but it had the wrong cover. You see, in the waning days of Charlton Comics, they reprinted a handful of their titles under the name "Modern Comics" so they could bag them and sell them in K-Mart and other stores. Their database correctly listed that this issue was the Modern Comics variant, but it had the Charlton Comics cover.

I quickly scanned the cover and, in the Comic Collector software, corrected the cover and added Dick Giordano as the editor. Once it was correct in my listing, I selected the "Submit to Database..." option under the edit menu. The software quickly uploaded the issue to their system so it could be processed and everyone could have access to my scan.

As a follow-up to the upload, I usually go to the forums and mention my update to the moderator who goes by the name of "Rowdy." Rowdy is dude in charge of actually making the changes to the database, so giving him more info about what's going on is a good idea. He is always courteous, professional, and helpful. In fact, he was one of the customer service factors that helped me decide that was a product I would be easy to maintain.

Click to view full-size image
I've made around 40 change requests/submissions since I started using this software back in October 2011 (yup, I've been working with the database for about four months now and have entered about 2,300 comics).

So far, I think I've added more than 100 covers to the database, which is why it's taken me this long just to get 2,300 comics into my system. I thought about skimming along and ignoring the blank covers (when it has the issue but no cover art, it has a placeholder that you can see in this screenshot). But I quickly decided that I didn't want to do that.

The purpose of this initial test was to see how easy it would be to add my collection, and that meant taking the time to do it right. My goal here is not to have a rough guess of what I've got, but an accurate count. And part of that means getting the covers and other info right -- even when it means scanning and submitting all the info I have on an obscure comic like this one-shot of Pixie and Dixie from 1962.

I'm expecting the pace to pick up quickly as I move into my Marvel and DC comics. I have a lot of long runs (like X-Men #143-305, or something like that), plus lots of Daredevil and other titles that go for years without a break. If they are all together (and many of them are), then I will be able to add hundreds of comics at a single time.

After that, of course, I'll finally be able to get a grip on what I've got and where it is.

Next Wednesday, we'll take a final look at's cool reporting features, and the ability to put your collection online! Yes, you'll finally be able to get a glimpse at what I've got stuffed in all those boxes.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Netflix Friday: Godzilla vs. Gamera

I think the words of Blue Oyster Cult say it all:
With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound He pulls the spitting high-tension wires down 
Helpless people on subway trains Scream, bug-eyed, as he looks in on them 
He picks up a bus and he throws it back down As he wades through the buildings toward the center of town 
Oh, no, they say he's got to go Go go Godzilla Oh, no, there goes Tokyo Go go Godzilla
-- Blue Oyster Cult, "Godzilla" 
Courtesy Monster Island News
I love monster movies! Particularly Kaiju Eiga: That is to say, Japanese monster movies featuring guys in rubber suits smashing buildings and other monsters. There is just something primal about seeing someone knock over model buildings. I think it comes from my childhood -- I would make Lego buildings and smash them down. It made me feel like a giant!

Now, I already have most of the Godzilla movies on DVD. I've also got a nice selection of other Japanese monster movies on tap. All in all, I've got a whole DVD cabinet full of them. Since I'm trying to get the most bang for my buck, though, I thought I'd do a search and see what they could offer me in the way of rubber-suited mayhem. Here's what I found featuring the king of monsters himself, Godzilla:

  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956) The first and best of the movies, in my opinion. And yes, I prefer it to the original Gojira... which they also have.
  • Gojira (1954) - The original in the original language. I think some of the edits, and Raymod Burr's narration in the American dub of this movie, actually improve it.
  • Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965) One of the better monster vs. monster movies in the early cannon: The Big G fights Rodan (and I don't mean the guy who sculpted The Thinker)
  • Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964) I love Mothra, particularly in her later appearances. Still, this one features a pair of diminutive fairies that are mega hot in a tiny chick kinda way. BTW: This is also known as "Godzilla vs. The Thing
  • Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Okay, I don't really like this movie very much, but it's nice to know it's here.
  • Godzilla's Revenge (1969) This movie is the Yoko Ono of G Films. It's so bad it could almost kill the franchise. This is the movie that features a kid on Monster Island hanging out with Minya... Godzilla's son. And no, his son was NOT "Godzuki." That was just from the crappy Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. His real name is Minya.
  • Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) AKA "Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster." Yup, this is where we meet the Iron Man version of The Big G.
  • Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster (1964) Monster mayhem ensues when Godzilla and Rodan team up to battle the cosmic bad-asssery of the three-headed space dragon, King Ghidorah.
They also have both of the animated Godzilla series -- the one from 1978 and the modern one from 1998.

FAIR WARNING: These films rotate on a regular basis. For example, last month they didn't have as many Godzilla films, but they had a lot of Gamera movies available. Aside from a bunch of cheesy Sci-Fi Channel movies (oops, I mean SyFy movies), there's not much else up at the moment except for the 1966 War of the Gargantuas. Even Mystery Science Theater 3000 is missing from the fray this month.

Korean monster movies are fairly well represented:
  • The Host (2006) This Korean film offers a fairly modern and somewhat realistic view of what would really happen if a giant monster suddenly appeared in Asia.
  • Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967) Old-school weirdness about a boy who likes monsters (and even dances with one)
There's also an odd sounding film called Monster (2008) "Emerging from the rubble after a massive Tokyo earthquake, two American filmmakers realize they've accidentally captured a 200-foot monster on film." I added this one to my Instant Queue and will be watching it soon.

That's one of the cool things about Netflix. If you don't see something you like this month, just come back next month and check again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 2 definitely had the main features I was interested in: Software stored info on my hard drive (not just an online service), it had a modern loo, it provided stats on my collection and individual series, and it was at a price I could afford ($30 for standard version, $50 for pro) for a collection of unlimited size. It also has a comprehensive cover database and the ability to add custom fields to each comic.

Click on image to see full size view
In addition to's Cover Flow which we looked at last time, there are two other views that are very welcome when dealing with a lot of comics. This Image View is very useful for looking at your collection as a whole. You can quickly glance at covers throughout the run to see what you've got. But sometimes you need to see a lot of info at at time, including cover dates and other info.

Click on image to see full-size view
In this screen shot, I'm showing the Publisher, which really doesn't help matters when dealing with this particular run of comics. However, when looking at some older titles that hopped around a bit (like Donald Duck or Godzilla), that info could be helpful.

All in Color for a Dime
Click on image to see full-size view
So the software had decent reporting, sorting and detail features. All of that is nice, but the main thing I need to do with this software is enter my collection, which is something this software did better than the other two I looked at.

If the series does not exist in your collection, you start by typing in the title. This brings up a list of titles that match your criteria. In this example I search for the title "Avengers" and get all the various Avenger titles out there (I blew the text up in this image to make it readable in the thumbnail). Since I've already added a few titles, you can see them in blue text. As you can see, the Publisher info is a little more useful here because it helps you distinguish between the US and UK editions.

Click on image to see full-size view
 Next to each title is the number of issues in that title. This is very useful info. Take, for example, the West Coast Avengers title. You can see that there are two identical titles, but the first one only has four issues which helps me identify that it's the original four-issue miniseries from 1984 and not the 102-issue series that started the next year.

Once you select a title, you can expand it and then select all of the issues in that run (as shown in this screenshot) by clicking on the checkbox next to the title name. Or you can add individual issues one at a time. Or you can click on the series, add all the issues, then go back through and unselect any issues you don't have. This entry method is one of the things that definitely set this software apart from ComicBase 15, which required that you enter the entire run at once and then go back and pull out the issues you didn't want. To me, that was one of the two deal breakers (the other being the price).

One thing I didn't like at first about's entry system was that when you clicked on an individual issue in the treeview, it didn't automatically bring up the cover. There was a link in the right-hand pane where you could click to see the cover (alternatively, you can double-click on the name of the comic and the detail info will come up. As I said, I didn't like this at first, but after the buggy downloading and scrolling issues I had with ComicBase, this turned out to be much less annoying and much faster because I wasn't waiting for covers that I don't need to download.

Click on image to see full-size view
In this example, you can see that I brought up the cover (and details) before adding the issue to my collection. I had to make sure which of the two variant covers for this issue was the one that came with my Kevin Keller subscription (again, I've increased the type size to make it easier to read).

That's an area where Comic Collector shines. It handles variant covers, editions and even variant publishers with ease (a variant publisher might be someone like Diamond or Wizard who reprints Action Comics #1 as a promotional comic, or DC Comics reprinting Police Comics #1 to celebrate the first appearance of Plastic Man).

Click on image to see full-size view
It also has the ability to handle (and enter) a lot of detailed info, such as cover price, release date, creators, characters, publisher, story title, and it will even track cross-overs (like those big summer blockbuster mega series that hop around from title to title). It also tracks info about your copies, specifically how many copies you have, condition, and (super important to me) it lets you create individual fields of info, such as Location. This helps me track which box has which comic. The ability to edit several comics at once (once the comic is entered, you go to the List View and click on multiple comics and then you can edit all of the info for the titles selected -- in this case, the Location attribute).

As you may recall, the custom field option was an absolute must have on my Wish List for comic book database software. After all, what's the point of having a lot of comics if you can't find your copy of Joker #1? These features combined to make this a product I like using. And these are the main reasons I selected the Pro Version of's Comic Collector as the software I am now using to catalog my collection.

Check back Monday for some closing thoughts on's software, and stay tuned for more adventures in collecting.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 1

Let's recap: I am looking for a database to catalog my estimated collection of 10,000 comic books. So far I've looked at Comic Collector Live and ComicBase 15. Both are solid programs and I think many people would be happy using them -- but not me. Let's recap:

  • Comic Collector Live was a bit clunky for my taste. I specifically found the cover browser to be unwieldy and slow. It also seemed to be set up for people who wanted to sell their comics online through their storefront. Finally, is subscription based and would have run me about $30 a year. 
  • ComicBase 15 is the most powerful of the two and has online reports regarding comic values and a nice, modern interface. But it uses a weird subscription-based pricing system that has some sort of limit or threshold for the number of covers you get. Honestly, I never did understand that part of their software, which is definitely a reason to pass. Most of all, it was too expensive. I suspect the version I need would run about $130.
The next product on my list was Now, I had some exposure to this product line in the past, as my friend Paul (the nicest guy on the face of the earth -- and I totally mean it, I don't care what the petting zoo police say about him) uses one of this company's products to track his DVD collection (this has the option to publish your collection to the Web, and here's his DVD collection). Yup, Collectorz has multiple products for tracking your collections. And each one is a separate product -- there is no unified interface with add-on modules: each piece is separate and distinct:

  • Movie Collector
  • Book Collector
  • Music Collector
  • Comic Collector
  • Game Collector
This separation of programs is a good thing, as it allows each product to focus on what it does best, rather than trying to find some common one-size-fits-all model that would just leave me frustrated and wanting more.

Taking it for a test ride
At first, this diversity in their product line concerned me because I collect comic books and I want someone who knows about comic books. There are things about comics that are very different from DVDs and CDs. It turns out that my fears were not necessary. These guys know comics.

Like most products, this has a free trial download of the PRO version. The trial is limited to 100 comics and that is enough to kick the tires on this to see if you're interested in buying it. There are two versions available:

  • Standard Version: $30
  • Pro Version: $50
The differences are spelled out here, but it mainly comes down to the ability to edit multiple comics at once, customize which fields are shown, and customizing (&exporting) reports and lists. Most of the other features are shared between the two editions.

The download and installation on my Windows 7 laptop was a cinch: fast and no problems encountered. Opening the software gets you a start-up screen with their sexy mascot (see above) and then opens to a nice, modern program. There are three basic panels where you can access your collection and detailed information.

Click on image to see full-size screen.
The left pane is a standard tree-view that can be sorted in multiple ways. I prefer the most obvious sort: By Publisher. The middle pane shows either folders, covers, images, or lists (I'll cover these more later). The right pane is for details. In this case, you can see that I've got up the basic stats for my entire collection, again, sorted by publisher. In the image above, you can see the Folder View, where each publisher is represented as a folder. This is one of the few things I really dislike about this software: I really want customized icons for each of the publishers. This would make it a lost faster (and let's face it, cooler looking) than having to read the text under the unified parade of yellow folders.

Click on image to see full-size screen.
But the blandness of the Folder View is bypassed by the coolness of the Cover View.  There is just something super cool about seeing all the comic covers represented with a neat, Apple-like reflection below them. It looks slick and modern.

As you can see, when you're looking at the parade of covers, the collection statistics are replaced by the details of this issue. In this particular base, there aren't a lot of details available. This is one of the minor shortcomings of the database, but one that is also shared by the other products I reviewed: Sometimes the info is there, and sometimes it ain't.

Click on image to see full-size screen.
As you might imagine, some subjects are better covered than others. There's a lot of info about recent comics published by DC and Marvel, but it gets rather hit-or-miss when it comes to old comics from second-tier publishers like Archie, Gold Key and Whitman. Take a look at this issue of The Avengrers from 1968. There is so much info that you have to scroll down to see it all (the cover has scrolled up, out of frame). This particular issue has a plot summary, characters and even a detailed creators list that includes cover artist, cover inker, interior artist/inker and even the letterer and colorist. Pretty detailed stuff.

In addition to issue details, there are series and collection details available in the status bar at the bottom of the screen. If you look at the Pals 'n' Gals cover screen shot above, you'll see that I've got 2319 comics in my collection and 89 issues of Pals 'n' Gals. Looking at the screenshot directly above, you'll see that (so far) I've only entered 7 issues of the Avengers (I've got a lot more Avengers comics, folks -- they just haven't been cataloged yet).

And that brings us to the next issue (pun intended): Entering comics into the system. And we'll cover that on Wednesday.

Come back Wednesday for Part 2 of my review

Friday, April 6, 2012

Netflix Friday: Miranda & Mad About Men

As I said last week, Netflix Streaming is not your best bet when you're looking for a specific movie. Last night, for example, I decided to look for some of the weird I had watched during my college years (I think I was curious to see if they made any more sense now than they did then). Alas, none of these were to be had:

On the other hand, they did have the original Andromeda Strain (1971), but not its 2008 remake -- which I might have been interested in watching just to contrast to the original. Amusingly, the listing for the 1971 version features updated artwork that looks very modern. I suppose it's to entice younger people into watching it.

Gathering vs. Hunting
I ran a version of Friday's review of Netflix Streaming over at a friend's blog: Budgeting in the Fun Stuff. One of the readers there commented that it was nice "if you weren't picky about what you watch." I have to take that to task: It's not like we're not picky (in fact, my wife and I are both very picky about what we watch). It's more like the experience you get when you go into a video store or a book store to browse the stacks and see what you can discover. This, by the way, is something I used to do for hours and now still do, but on a smaller scale (and now I'm such a coach potato that it's done from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy). 

One such treasure I pulled from the depths was an old movie that I had never seen before: Miranda. This is an adorable little comedy from 1948 that was based on a play. Here's the description from the Netflix Website:
After an alluring mermaid rescues a physician from drowning, she insists that he take her to London -- but soon begins pining for her watery home.
The film stars the wonderfully quirky Glynis Johns, an actress you'll instantly recognize from having been in numerous films -- and after a few seconds it will click that you know her as the mother, Winifred Banks, from the movie Mary Poppins. Speaking of that classic movie, look for David Tomlinson (the father from Mary Poppins) as the chauffeur who is smitten by her beauty and charm. I think this is the first time these two ever appeared together in a movie.

Glynis has that characteristic lilt to her voice that always reminds me of Glenda the Good Witch from The Wizard of of Oz. The physician referenced above is played by Griffith Jones, an actor who looks vaguely familiar but doesn't ring any bells. The wife (yes, he has a wife and he brings home a beautiful woman to stay with them!) is played by the wonderfully named Googie Withers. For me, however, the breakout character was Margaret Rutherford, who is easily recognizable as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple from a series of films in the 1960s. She was an absolute treat in this movie and pretty much stole every scene she was in.

Diving into the Movie

I don't want to go into the whole plot because, honestly, it's rather thin: A doctor goes on a fishing trip, falls almost drowns, is rescued by a mermaid and she gets him to take her home with him so she can alleviate her loneliness as his house guest for a month or so. The problem is, they have to hide the fact that she's a mermaid (so they put her in a wheelchair like Superman's college girlfriend, Lori Lemaris, and yes, he dated a mermaid -- I suppose when you're an alien you swim in a different dating pool).

I do want to say that the character of the wife (that wonderful Googie)  is surprising in a wonderful way. At first she seems to be a one-dimensional angry wife, but then she changes and acts more realistically like a woman who's been married for a long time and does trust her husband. She adopts an attitude of bemusement, one that I think most older married men have seen in their own wives when they are caught looking at a pretty woman in a movie or on TV. And yes, I mean an older wife who is secure in the knowledge that her husband loves her and isn't going to cheat -- he's just a man and he can't help looking. Younger wives, for the most part, tend to get jealous, but an older wife just gets that "Yeah, like Angeliina Jolee would ever have anything to do with you," look.

But I digress.

The movie plays well and was a nice diversion. Nothing great, but worth the investment of the 80-minute running time. You can watch a scene here on YouTube:

There's also a sequel: Mad About Men, that was released six years later in 1954. Whereas the first film was based on a play, this was an original screenplay. The plot is, again, a bit thin, but it serves its purpose and gets Miranda back on land and suitable love antics ensue. This time from IMDB:
Flirtatious mermaid Miranda swaps places with a schoolteacher who has gone on holiday. All is well until she falls in love with a human.
The schoolteacher, by the way, is also played by Glynis Johns. It's sort of a Patty Duke/Parent Trap thing going on with her playing two parts via split screen. I think the thing I love best about this sequel is the return of Margaret Rutherford who returns as the nurse who knows Miranda's secret -- and loves it. I also love that they didn't waste time with any sort of pretense about how they got Margaret back into the movie: there was no plotting or scheming, they just called her up and she happily joined in the fun.

By the way, that is one of the things I loved about the sequel to Sister Act. Rather than find some lame scheme to get Whoopie Goldberg back in the habit, they just dove in and had the mother superior ask her for help. Perhaps not the most realistic thing (I find it hard to believe that they would have her disguise herself as a nun, rather than just bring her in as a secular adviser, but what the heck, it got the movie moving and that was a relief.

You can see a clip here (in fact, I think the whole movie might be available on YouTube). As I said, these are not great movies, but they are solid, good entertainment. At only 85 minutes, this pleasant B-movie is a worthy sequel and my wife and I enjoyed both of these movies. I recommend them.

See you Monday for the review of the software that I finally selected to start cataloging my comic book collection.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Comics: Blackmark Review Update...

Why do I seem to be taking forever to getting around to finishing my review on Gil Kane's Blackmark? It's not like I'm writing a masters thesis on it and need to dig out a few hundred resources or interviews. This is not going to be the definitive review that will lay the groundwork for scholarship on this book for generations to come.

No, it won't be any of that. I just want to do a little work to compare the three versions of the material:
  • 1971 original paperback (pt 1)
  • 1979 Marvel Premier Magazine (pt 2)
  • 1992 Fantagraphics book (pts 1 & 2)

But, the fact is, I only had the latter two of the pieces until last week (thank you ebay -- I picked up the paperback last week and it should be here soon). You see, I was going to scan a few pages from the Fantagraphics book and compare them to how they were reformatted for the magazine -- or as Gary Groth says in the essay in the back of the Fantagraphics book, "mutilated."

You see, I take task with his use of that word. True, the material was changed, but I don't think it was "mutilated." In some ways, I think it was "liberated" from the tiny paperback book size. And that's what I want to talk about -- along with some scans that I have not yet made. So, once again, I'm putting this off while I wait for more time and for the paperback to arrive. Thanks for your patience.


In the meantime, I suggest you check out Permanent Damage #101 for a discussion about Graphic Novels in general, and what elevates Blackmark to that level, whereas other books don't quite make it.

Come by to get ready for the weekend with another edition of Netflix Friday

April Fools Day - Gaming Themed Whiskey

Yesterday was April Fools Day, and as I explained last week, I enjoy creating pranks for the holiday. Since 2006, Hawgleg Publishing has honored the spirit of the day by announcing the release of a fake product.

This year, our product was gaming-themed whiskey. That is to say, a boutique line of whiskey with a 25mm Western miniature in each bottle. We release the story at our Website ( and TheMiniaturesPage. The story is a bit naughty, but for the most part it's workplace safe -- and it was a BIG hit at TMP. In fact, since April 1 fell on a Sunday, we were apparently the only company that took the time to create a joke (some years at TMP, there are easily a dozen fake products, but this year we were the sole provider, which actually helped us pull the wool over people's eyes more effectively than usual).

I also think the quality of our artwork helped sell the joke:

I created this image in Strata 3D, which is a 3D illustration program I've been working with for a long time (probably more than 10 years). It's a powerful, but lesser-known tool with a lot of horsepower there waiting to be unleashed -- as I hope you can see in these images.

I think this time I came very close to achieving photo realism with these images. They're not quite 100% perfect, but they definitely do a good job of looking like real product artwork. I also got several complements on the quality of the label:

I even had a few people ask for a full-size label so they could print it out and put it on their own whiskey bottle. As one guy said, he wanted to see if anyone would notice. If you'd like to see the full-size label, you can get it by clicking here. I wish I could take all the credit for the label, but I did start off with an existing label from a Chivas Regal bottle. You can compare them by clicking here to see what I started with.

See ya Wednesday for an update on the Blackmark review.