Category Archives: Journalism

Review: ‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

Creating a biographical work in comics is a very distinct venture. It requires a fine agility as you’re balancing a myriad of facts, more than you will be able to neatly fit into one graphic novel. Any number of factors can add to the complexity, such as the writer figuring what to use if he has personally conducted interviews. David Kushner was one of the last journalists to interview D&D co-creator Gary Gygax prior to his death. He has now teamed up with award-winning illustrator Koren Shadmi on a nonfiction comic book chronicling Gary Gygax’s life and the creation of D&D: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, recently published by Nation Books. It is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind, and well worth a read.

Dave Arneson, a true dreamer.

Kushner and Shadmi do a wonderful job of laying down a behind-the-scenes narrative to Dungeons & Dragons, a pop culture phenomena that we all know to some degree. You may have never seen yourself as a role-playing game enthusiast, but you can’t help but get caught up in the details and history of a bona fide subculture. This book succeeds in putting a face to what has become known the world over as Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are two prominent faces involved here: Gary Gygax, the original guy to tinker with new ideas for role-playing games (instead of always military themes, why not include wizards?); and Dave Arneson, the guy next in line who refined what Gygax set in motion (don’t get lost in the rules and keep it fun!). Gygax was a middle-aged man with a family and Arneson was a young security guard working his way through college.

For the love of the game.

The best moments in the book are once we get to observe Gygax and Arneson just being themselves, warts and all. Gygax turns out to be more motivated towards turning his innovations into a profitable business. Arneson is far more the dreamer, only interested in refining the game. Arneson is so caught up in his own D&D world that he is left out of the burgeoning D&D business venture by Gygax and his associates.

“One day, you catch a break that will change your life.”

Kushner’s script places the story in various first-person points of views. At times, the narrative boxes are quoting Gygax or Arneson or simply become omniscient. While this narrative shift can be disconcerting at times, it’s understandable given the many segments to cover. You have a broad canvas to fill with this person saying this and that other person doing that. And, given the interview source material, there are times that you want to do a flashback scene and other times that you want the person to speak in the present moment. Overall, Kushner and Shadmi do a commendable job of bringing this tale to life. One thing is for sure, you will never look at Dungeons & Dragons the same way again.

RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, published by Nation Books, is a 144-page black & white trade paperback. For more details, visit Nation Books. You can also purchase the book directly from Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Games, Geeks, Journalism, Koren Shadmi

Book Review: ‘How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High’ by David Bienenstock

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a Seattle native, I have had a front row seat to the recent sea change we have seen with cannabis. But, even in this fabled region, you can experience two steps forward and one step back. All you need to do is see how the current state regulations have forced medical marijuana dispensaries out in favor of the more tax revenue to be had from retail marijuana shops. But these are still exciting times for an extraordinarily beneficial plant that has been so terribly maligned. A perfect guide for the times is the newly released book, “How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High,” by David Bienenstock, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

"How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" by David Bienenstock

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” by David Bienenstock

David Bienenstock is your uniquely qualified host. He is the former West Coast editor of High Times magazine and now a journalist and video host/producer at VICE, where he writes the Weed Eater column and produces a video series called Bong Appetit. He is the guy who will share a joint with you and, as the conversation rolls along, will segue into some history, some science, and some sage advice. The idea here is to show some respect for the plant and yourself. Bienenstock does a great job of balancing his content so it is not too light and yet easy to digest. A book like this can’t help but be a call to action moving along at a good, steady, and stirring pace.

What all the cannabis shops have done is not only bring a plant out from the cold. The shops have welcomed back numerous people who had given up ever again having reliable and trusted access. Many people are coming back who have not gotten high in many years, or who never did in the first place. So, a book like this truly serves any age. Bienenstock, like a good journalist, makes no assumptions on your experience or level or knowledge while, at the same, keeps advancing. If you don’t know the difference between indica and sativa, Bienenstock has got you covered. If you’d like a handy overview of cannabis chemistry, well, keep on reading.

The beauty of the book is that Bienenstock’s good sense for storytelling wins out every time. In tune with his reader, Bienenstock presents a dazzling array of facts, heart-felt observations, and a humanity that should melt the heart of many a naysayer. Mostly, it’s a book there to provide a helping hand in appreciating cannabis. But, as Bienenstock joyfully sings to us, it’s also about a state of mind, dude! The goal is not to necessarily smoke each and every day. The goal is to savor those times when you do. And strive to tap into that bliss the rest of the time. That’s about as highbrow and proper as it gets.

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” is a 288-page paperback, also available as an e-book. For more details, visit Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Cannabis, David Bienenstock, High Times, Journalism, Marijuana, Penguin Random House, VICE

Open Letter to George Stephanopoulos: Time to Push Harder on Donald Trump, Don’t You Think?

(Why did the above train wreck of an answer from Donald Trump not derail the Trump campaign? The nuclear triad is basic knowledge but Trump had no clue.)

Dear George,

I write to you because you are in a unique position as someone a whole lot of people admire and trust. You’re a smart and capable person. Otherwise, why should I even bother? Alright, that said, I would like you to seriously consider pushing harder on Donald Trump as he edges closer and closer to a viable occupant of the White House. What do you think?

You played a hard-hitting journalist on “House of Cards.” Let’s do this in real life, “for reals,” as the kids say. You were interviewed on your own show, “Good Morning America,” about what was real on “House of Cards” and you responded that nothing on that show is real. Nothing? Not even being a hard-hitting journalist? Oh, the irony! Say it ain’t so, George!

Do you want to be like most of the American media and keep throwing softballs to Donald Trump? Why, George, why? Would you like to say that I am being naïve about this? Don’t worry, George, I know about your very special connection to the Clintons. That is hardly a secret, am I right? Nudge, nudge, your secret is good with me. Actually, just go for it, no need to be loyal to anyone. Be hard-hitting with your questions to Hillary too.

Here are some great examples to consider:

4 November 1979: Roger Mudd, CBS News, presses Edward Kennedy on why he is running for president and Kennedy, while eloquent, does not seem to warm up to his answer:

11 September 2008: Charles Gibson, ABC News, asks Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine, keeps his focus, and it quickly becomes apparent she does not know what the Bush Doctrine is:

30 March 2016: Chris Matthews, MSNBC, engages Donald Trump in conversation to reveal that Trump believes women should be punished for having an abortion:

Each of these interviews became a news story in its own right.

Focus every ounce of journalistic integrity you may have and help to steadily bring down Trump. He is such an easy target. Why not do this, show Trump for what he is, an ignorant irresponsible demagogue. Worth a try, don’t you think?

If you are scratching your head and wondering how to do this, which is highly doubtful, just press him the next time he gives a messy, uneven, and thoroughly unacceptable answer to a question. Yes, Trump has given some really odd responses comparable to Sarah Palin at her worst. (See the above video displaying Trump’s utter ignorance of the U.S. nuclear triad and his attempt to cover himself.) So, just keep that in mind. Trump can easily be toppled. Are you game? Surely, you have nothing to lose except perhaps some rating points but that is really Trump’s biggest bluff of all. It worked out alright for NBC when it fired him.

Here is what you do when you start to lose your nerve, just repeat to yourself this refrain, “Trump is not the boss of me! Trump is not the boss of me!” That may seem silly but I think it could work and you will help save our country from a Trump administration. Look, Katie Couric decided she just wasn’t going to go all warm and fuzzy on Sarah Palin and, well, you know, the rest is history. Check out the video below: here is a typical interview between you and Trump. You’ll note that when Trump feels the heat, he’ll deflect with a vague, “We’ll see what happens.” Or if called out on a fact, he’ll double down on his answer and just move on. Next time, don’t let him just move on. Act like you did when you played a hard-hitting journalist on “House of Cards.” And, by the way, Trump should never have been allowed to phone in his interviews.

Lastly, put out of your mind any blowback from Trump. Oh sure, it will sting, whatever he does, whether in person or later on Twitter. But it is only a brief and temporary sting. Stay focused. Be friendly and respectful going into an interview. But at some point, George, pivot to the tough questions. Once you’ve caught him, don’t let him off the hook. Go to it, George!

Your friend,
Henry

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Filed under Donald Trump, George Stephanopoulos, Hillary Clinton, Humor, Journalism, news, pop culture

Tom Spurgeon Takes The Comics Reporter to Higher Level

Tom-Spurgeon-The-Comics-Reporter

Tom Spurgeon is one of our cherished chroniclers of the comics scene. The Comics Reporter is one of the go-to places for all things comics. There’s only a handful of us out there and I’m very happy to call him a friend and colleague. Right now is an exciting time for him, and all of us in the comics industry, as he takes things to a higher level. In August, he will launch a PDF monthly version of his daily blog which will showcase in depth exploration of the contemporary comics scene. This new magazine will be available to those who join his Patreon portal to help sustain all the good things he does at The Comics Reporter. Be sure to visit The Comics Reporter and become one of Tom’s Pateron patrons, for as little as $2 per month, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Journalism, news, Pateron, The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon

Whitney Matheson Completes a 15-Year Run with USA Today

Whitney-Matheson-Pop-Candy-Meetup-2011

A routine that was so essential to so many of us out there has come to an end. Whitney Matheson completes a 15-year run of Pop Candy, the pop culture blog at USA Today.

We will all miss Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy at USA Today but, of course, when one door closes, another door opens. September 3 was her last day as she was laid off from her post that she had held for 15 years. Of course, fans have been caught by surprise and are showing their support at Whitney’s Twitter.

Here is one from the archives: A CNN iReport put together by Jennifer Daydreamer and yours truly, this is an impromptu interview with James Sime, owner of Isotope, The Comic Book Lounge, that segued into an impromptu interview with Whitney Matheson. The discussion here involves the state of comics, which is always evolving, and how they coexist with Hollywood. This is from 2010, the year that “Scott Pilgrim” and “The Walking Dead” were big winners at the Eisner Awards at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Whitney hosted some awesome Pop Candy meetups through the years. Well, perhaps there will be something similar in the future.

Good luck to you, Whitney! We look forward to future observations and excellent writing! You are one of the best!

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comic-Con 2010, Comics, Entertainment, Hollywood, Isotope Comics, James Sime, Jennifer Daydreamer, Journalism, Media, movies, Newspapers, Pop Candy, pop culture, Television, Whitney Matheson

Review: ALL MY GHOSTS by Jeremy Massie

All-My-Ghosts-Massie-Alterna-Comics

For a relatively young country, the United States holds a tremendous amount of history, with much of it leading back to Ole Virginny. “All My Ghosts,” a new comic from Alterna Comics, is set in a small town in Virginia, rife with history, and ghosts. Our main character is Joe Hale, the editor and owner of The Wise Progress. This is likely a nod to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Given that this story takes place in Wise, a small college town up near the Appalachian Mountains, I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a nice quirky setting that adds some extra flavor.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, History, Journalism, mystery, Newspapers

Review: ‘Bohemians: A Graphic History,’ Edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger

"Where Bohemia Began," art by Summer McClinton, script by Paul Buhle

“Where Bohemia Began,” art by Summer McClinton, script by Paul Buhle

“Good morning, Bohemians!” So, the jubilant cry would have been heard in Paris, circa 1853. It can still be heard today from down the street where I live in Seattle and all across the globe. I am a bohemian. I’ve always identified as such as a writer, artist, and cartoonist. But what does it really mean and how did this concept come to be? In the new comics anthology, “Bohemians: A Graphic History,” edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger, we get a full history. These short works are created by some of today’s most accomplished cartoonists, who also happen to be some of the best examples you will find of contemporary bohemians.

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Filed under Anthologies, Bohemians, Book Reviews, Books, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Journalism

Review: THE CARTOON PICAYUNE #5, Edited by Josh Kramer

The-Cartoon-Picayune-Josh-Kramer

“The Cartoon Picayune” has hit its stride with its latest issue and is poised to become a leading voice in comics journalism. These things take time and I’m sure that has not been lost on its editor, Josh Kramer. He began by himself, covering local stories in Vermont and New Hampshire. And now he has contributors from around the world. This is a unique anthology that lives up to spirit of what used to be called literary journalism. And we have reached a point now that finds comics journalism to be more readily accepted and understood. It is a subset of comics that has been steadily developing over the years and The Cartoon Picayune can be relied upon to add to this tradition. Issue Five features two full length stories and two brief stories, each exploring the theme of work.

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Filed under Anthologies, Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics Reviews, Comixology, Comixology Submit, Journalism, The Cartoon Picayune

SEATTLE INTERACTIVE CONFERENCE 2013: TIME magazine and The Future of Journalism

Jonathan Woods TIME.com Senior Editor, Photo & Interactive

Jonathan Woods TIME.com Senior Editor, Photo & Interactive

What will it take for TIME magazine, the landmark newsmagazine, to survive for another one hundred years and beyond? Well, no one can say that TIME is not synonymous with quality journalism because it certainly is. It has a long history that led it to that level. One of the factors, no doubt, was its vigorous, even legendary, competition with Newsweek magazine. But it’s a whole new game today. One thing is clear and that is that nothing is clear. TIME is in the midst of a revamp. Of all the Seattle Interactive Conference sessions this year, the session on TIME and its future provides the biggest glimpse into a brave new world we are all interacting with.

TIME.com‘s Photo and Interactive Senior Editor, Jonathan Woods, led a discussion about this brave new world. Instead of being overwhelmed by the shock of the new, TIME appears to be standing tall about its legacy and looking forward with confidence. Woods came across as a man very much in charge, even if he is entering uncharted waters. To help steer the mighty vessel, TIME is working with Big Human, known for its work with startups; and Blink, a web and mobile solution for finding and managing freelance media professionals worldwide. Media professionals upload their location data on the Blink mobile app to a website that media companies use to search for talent to work on their stories. Managing Director Steve Spurgat was there to speak for Big Human. He used to be CEO of the now defunct VYou, a social media platform once used by Oprah’s Book Club.

Founder/CEO Matt Craig was there to speak for Blink. Blink is online with many active users on the site. People who are interested in joining the beta site can sign up here. The Blink app is available on iTunes and Google Play. Craig worked on Page One of the Wall Street Journal for five years before founding Blink.

Steve Spurgat Big Human Managing Director

Steve Spurgat Big Human Managing Director

Big Human’s Steve Spurgat set the tone for the discussion by bringing up The New York Time’s “Snow Fall,” a feature story about avalanches that employs innovative use of photos and interactive. The title of the story became its nickname when referring to its storytelling features. Spurgat’s reference to Snow Fall was a way of hinting at what TIME might do differently. “A show of hands for those who have seen Snow Fall,” said Spurgat. A majority of hands went up. “Alright, now how many of you remember anything you saw?” said Spurgat with a decided sneer to test the attendees. There was some nervous laughter from the audience, probably unsure of how to respond. Instantly, just to balance things out, Blink’s Matt Craig offered: “But Snow Fall did scratch a certain itch.” So, where do you go from there?

Of course Snow Fall seems to be an easy target because of the controversy related to naysayers, particularly Medium.com’s attempt to undercut it. You can read a good recap on all the fuss here. Essentially, someone at a startup can deny that Snow Fall is much of a big deal since they believe they can offer something similar. And so a process of kicking the original around ensues. Someone at another relatively new site pokes at it and someone else comments on it and so on. Hey, give yourself some time and go read the original Snow Fall here. What you’re looking at is an excellent in-depth feature, something TIME really can’t quarrel with over quality. You are free to read, and skim over, whatever you want, just like you would any special feature that has ever been created.

Matt Craig Blink Founder/CEO

Matt Craig Blink Founder/CEO

It’s not like TIME doesn’t have some very cool features of its own. There is “Timelapse,” in partnership with Google, Landsat, and Carnegie Mellon University, that presents a 30-year look at global climate change through satellite images. View it here. Woods also cited a feature with an infographic by Jeffrey Kluger and Chris Wilson mapping out the best places to live in the U.S. according to your mood. Read it here. Woods was asked a number of questions that kept coming back to whether or not there was a formula to follow to maximize readership and to this, over and over again, Woods was clear that there was no formula. “I want the right amount for a story,” was Woods’s steadfast response. To this, Spurgat could only agree with, “A story is as long as it needs to be.”

Getting back to basics on compelling content, Woods pointed with pride to the newly launched Red Border Films at Time.com. This new documentary series debuted on August 15, 2013 with “One Dream,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. View it here. The first profile is of Bobby Henline, an injured Iraqi war veteran who is now a stand-up comedian, directed by Peter Van Agtmael. It will debut on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2013.

Here are a couple of other interesting observations, considering that Big Human and Blink have TIME’s ear. Blink’s Craig referenced Vice.com as a leader in original web content. The VICE audience expects great video, photography and stories. At this point in the conversation the discussion had turned to long form vs. short form media and the issues surrounding user generated content. Craig believes UGC is useful in some instances but great brands will always need to produce high quality original content. VICE is a great example of a media outlet that does it well. Craig stated that he gets his news from a wide variety of sources with the most alternative source being Vice.com. And Big Human’s Spurgat wasn’t too keen on Medium.com’s tracking of how long it takes a reader to complete reading a post. “It’s documented that people don’t always read things to the very end,” said Spurgat. “News is very fragmented today,” he added. We do, however, come back to the fact that web content is free of the restrictions of print. Web content is free to be as long as it needs to be.

Snow Fall is both derided and admired in the same breathe but it is not the problem. As much as we want instant gratification, we appreciate a feature that provides thoughtful analysis and greater detail. Have we seen the last of Snow Fall? No, instead we’ll find our way out of a free fall. Journalists will continue to pursue a good story. Stories will continue to be told, short ones and long ones. And one thing is certain: we will continue to see more competitive, and excellent, journalism ahead, no matter what the medium.

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Filed under Internet, Journalism, Media, news, Newsweek, Seattle, Seattle Interactive Conference, TIME Magazine, Web, Web Content

Marina Shifrin, the “I Quit” Video Star

For many reasons, it’s important to post about Marina Shifrin, her heroic dance moves and her Norma Rae rallying call for justice! She’s on the side of quality over quantity. She’s on the side of clarity over market share. It’s no wonder that, only a few days since her very public resignation, she has none other than, the very smart and talented Queen Latifah, offering her a job!

There’s a lot more going on here than just the latest video that has gone viral. Why did Marina go into journalism in the first place? Well, she’s passionate about the art of expression that involves sharing with others what she’s discovered about the world around her. This particular discipline involves words, well-thought-out words. Yes, it involves a lot of thinking, not just for art’s sake but for the sake of meaning! When I consider the big picture to this story, I want to believe this is what Marina is all about.

I relate to this particularly well. But, God, you would think everyone would. I am passionate about words and expression. For a time, I had set foot on a path squarely towards being a journalist. And, all thing considered, I have done my share, and continue to do my share, of journalism.

But, when I was young and uncertain, I was really conflicted because I wanted to do all manner of creative endeavor and had no idea where to begin. Pretty natural, when you think about it. And then life’s realities, which don’t much care about your vision or your whatever, take over. That’s when you have to hold on for dear life, your life! You do whatever it takes. And that’s what Marina Shifrin did. And, you can bet, she will keep on doing that. But not on Queen Latifah’s watch. No, that would be just so wrong.

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Filed under Journalism, Marina Shifrin, Media, pop culture, Queen Latifah, Social Commentary, Social Media