Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robin Hood: Books and Movies and Miniatures, Oh My!

Illustration by Howard Pyle

Over the past few weeks I've been on a bit of a Robin Hood kick. I reread some of Howard Pyle's stories from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, checked a few history and folklore books on the legends of Robin Hood out from the library, read the graphic novel Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, and saw The Adventures of Robin Hood, the 1938 film staring Errol Flynn, which (in a fantastic coincidence of timing) was screened at the Paramount Theater here in Charlottesville earlier this month. I highly recommend the film, it's a great swashbuckling adventure with one of the best sword fights in film, between Errol Flynn's Robin Hood and Basil Rathbone's Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

Along with all of these things, I managed to finally finish painting a miniature I started way back in the fall of 2009, but never got around to finishing. It's an old Games Workshop miniature I picked up in a clearance bin a few years ago. In the Warhammer world he's known as Bertrand the Brigand, but it doesn't matter what Games Workshop calls him, it's obvious that this is supposed to be Robin Hood.

The base was entirely made from scratch, the figure just didn't look right on a flat base. I found an appropriately sized stick of wood in the yard, cut and painted a small piece of it to look like a log, and added some other basing material. The lighting in the pictures is not very good, there are some bad shadows and the colors aren't showing up very well. The skin tone looks far more orange here than it is on the actual figure. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The post-Christmas post

We had a wonderful Christmas this year, it was especially nice to have almost the whole family in one place. It was my son's first Christmas, and he definitely won the Most Loot prize. It'll be a while before he can take full advantage of most of what he got, though, as he's still in the "grab it and stick in mouth" stage. Not quite big enough to use the building blocks or toy truck just yet. It certainly was fun watching him tear paper, examine things, laugh, and occasionally try to eat the wrapping paper.

I made out pretty well myself: a new iPod Touch, a Le Creuset dutch oven (I've been wanting one for several years but never expected to actually get one), some socksEpic Mickey, and a few books I was not expecting (but really wanted)-The Lego Book, The Secret History of Star Wars, The Making of Star Wars, and Prince Valiant, Volume 1: 1937-1938. I actually gave a copy of the Prince Valiant book to a friend this year, and was planning on getting it for myself at some point soon. What goes around, comes around!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lord of the Rings? Not in this class!

My well loved boxed set of The Lord of the Rings

Over at Professor Pope, the good Professor is facilitating a reading and discussion of The Hobbit, a few chapters at a time. Rereading the book and thinking about both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has me thinking of my first encounters with J.R.R. Tolkien's world.

In 1978 I was 6 years old. The film version of The Lord of the Rings by director Ralph Bakshi was released. A few of my aunts and uncles were Tolkien fanatics, and they organized a big party to go see the film (on what I suspect was opening weekend). I found myself with several of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and their friends, in a packed movie theater, watching an animated film that didn't make much sense to me but I loved it anyway. There were cool monsters, elves, dwarves, some little people called hobbits, and lots of sword fighting. For a long time afterwords, my cousin and I spent many days playing in the woods behind our houses, pretending we were Strider and Legolas, out hunting orcs and Ringwraiths.

At some point in the next year or so, I came across a boxed set of the novels at the house of some of my parents friends. This was a revelation, as I didn't realize that there were books that the movie was based upon. Now I could find out what happened to Frodo and Sam! Somewhere in all of this, I saw the animated version of The Hobbit, which I seem to remember watching on TV every year around Thanksgiving, just before the Christmas cartoon specials began airing. For my 8th birthday I was given the very same set of books I had found (apparently, I talked about it quite a bit to the owners of the books, and read a few pages of them whenever I was at their house), a well read set that I still own, in a great gold foil covered box. I immediately read The Hobbit that summer, and to this day it remains my favorite of Tolkien's works. While I love the fantastic and complex story of The Lord of the Rings, the intimacy of The Hobbit has always appealed to me more.

But the rest of this post isn't about The Hobbit. It's about the next one in that set of 4 books, and a particular event that can recall with clarity 30 years later...

So here I was, an 8 year old kid who was reading anything and everything he could get his hands on. I had just been given the 4 books that were the source of the movie that had captivated me a few years earlier (the only other movie to captivate me to this degree was Star Wars).  School started in the fall, 3rd grade. I used to get dropped off in the morning by my dad and I would sit outside the classroom and read until the teacher arrived. At some point I started reading The Fellowship of the Ring. Quite a massive book for a 3rd grader, right? It was slow going but I was making my way through it, trading it off with other, more typical, reading for a kid my age whenever I got bogged down with it and wanted to read something else.

One morning I was sitting in the hallway reading The Fellowship when the teacher arrived, about 30 minutes before the school day started. I recall this very clearly, as what happened next was at that point the biggest shock of my life. My teacher, Ms. Kohlman (a tall, wiry, gray hair in a bun lady who didn't seem to like kids very much), asked what I was reading. I proudly held the book up, smiling, expecting to be complemented for reading a book that was above my reading level. She looked at it, scowled, and took the book out of my hand, telling me "You aren't old enough to be reading that." She disappeared into the classroom with my book, leaving me standing in the hall, stunned with disbelief at what just happened. I went into the classroom, almost in tears, and asked when I could have my book back. Her response? "You won't. You aren't old enough." This was supposed to encourage me to read? A teacher punishing a kid for wanting to read something difficult, something that he obviously loved?

That night I told my parents, and I remember them being mad. Mad because she had taken it away and told me I wasn't getting it back, and even madder that she told me I couldn't read the book. My parents were always encouraging me to read, and the more challenging the book, the better. My mom, an elementary school teacher, was quite upset, as this was not just some random teacher telling a kid he couldn't read a book, but her kid's teacher telling him he couldn't read a book. I don't remember exactly what happened the next day, but I do know my mom went in and had a long talk with my teacher, and I got my book back that night. I was allowed to keep reading the book at school, and never heard another word from the teacher about what I was reading. Eventually, after quite a few weeks, I finished The Fellowship of the Ring. And even if I didn't understand some of it, or thought parts of it were boring, I loved it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Over on this shelf of the library...

Deep in the recesses of Cthulhu's library in R'lyeh, I'm sure these 4 books are sitting on the graphic novel shelf.

Take a look at artist Murray Groat's other work as well, he has some great stuff!

Thanks to Gamer-X over at Howling In The Dark for sending me an article from Comics Alliance with these images.

listening to: Bolt Thrower-...For Victory

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Desert Island Fantasy Books

A few weeks ago,  Risus Monkey posted the "10 Works of Fantasy Literature to have on a Deserted Island" meme. I thought it would be an easy post to knock out in an hour or so, but choosing only 10 books is quite difficult and I've spent more time than I should have swapping things in and out. Some were very easy to pick, but after the first few I had a very hard time deciding how to fill out the list.

So, in no particular order, here are the 10 books, limited to 1 volume per author (I did include a few omnibus volumes), that I would want to have with me if I was deserted on an island:

Listening to: Kreator-Enemy of God

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Introducing a Kid to Role Playing Games (part 1)

    I've been a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters for 3 years, all with the same boy (now 10 years old), whom I'm going to call E. In general, E and I have quite different interests. While at first this might seem to be a poor match, it has led to eye opening experiences for both of us. He's very different than I was at 10, but we stumble upon things that both of us really enjoy with increasing frequency.

    I have been waiting for the right time to try introducing him to RPGs, and have tried to laying some groundwork over time, seeing what other activities he liked that I could use as an introduction. We have played out big battles on the floor with my gaming miniatures, making up rules as we went along, randomly using dice for movement and combat. E refers to this as "our game"; it's sort of a wargamer version of CalvinBall. Last year for Christmas I bought Nerf swords, and we and ran around in the woodsattacking trees, bushes, each other, basically anything that was slow enough not to get out of our way as we fought off hordes of goblins and dragons. He's has a passion for reading, and both of us love taking trips to the library where we go home with more than we can reasonably read in the 2 week loan period.

    Other things have not gone quite so well-the copy of The Hobbit I bought for his 9th birthday is still unread, and various fantasy movies have been turned off in the middle in favor of Rock Band or other games on the Wii. A day trip to one of the caves in the area turned into a painful experience when he realized the tour group was, literally, a captive audience for his antics.

    But back to the more recent past. We were in a used book shop on a rainy day a few weeks ago, I was looking at graphic novels and sf novels, he was looking at the young adult books. E says to me out of the blue "Hey, when can we go out in the park and fight monsters again? Like in the myths?" referring to a book of Greek mythology he was reading. I smiled inside, seeing my chance to introduce him to RPGs. "Well, I think I know what we can do... Let's go home and I'll show you." 30 minutes later (after lots of "What are we going to do? Huh? Tell me!"), we were at my dining room table, with pencils, graph paper, dice, a copy of Labyrinth Lord, Stonehell Dungeon, my old copy of the D&D Moldvey Basic set, and we were creating his first character.

    To be continued...

    Listening to: Candlemass

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    15 Games in 15 Minutes

    This is as good a post as any to restart the blog. Let's see how long it lasts this time. Ha. Ha. Ha. Sigh.

    To follow on the meme that's going around on blogs like Risus Monkey, Grognardia, Huge Ruined Pile, etc., listed below are the first 15 games that come to mind in 15 minutes.

    The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen games you've played that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

    1. D&D (rpg, all editions)
    2. Marvel Super Heroes (rpg)
    3. Civilization/Advanced Civilization (board game)
    4. Call of Cthulhu (rpg)
    5. Gammarauders (board game)
    6. Car Wars (board/miniatures game)
    7. Savage Worlds (rpg/miniatures game)
    8. Star Frontiers (rpg)
    9. GURPS (rpg)
    10. D&D: Pool of Radiance (computer rpg)
    11. INFOCOM text computer games (Zork, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Planetfall, etc)
    12. Ticket to Ride (board game)
    13. Fluxx (card game)
    14. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (computer rpg)
    15. Stop Thief (board game)

    Yes, I'm cheating a little on #11, but I played a bunch of the INFOCOM games all at the same time, switching back and forth as I got stuck in different spots in each one. It's sort of my "text based computer game period", rather than a single one of them. As for the other games, wow, there are some pretty big games that I loved that are missing, and some odd ones that came to mind first-Gammarauders? Yeah, I liked Gammarauders, but didn't play it all that much, although the concept was pretty neat. Others, particularly computer games like Bard's Tale and Kings Quest, didn't come to mind until a while after I completed this list. and I'm sure a few others will come to mind later tonight and I'll wish I had them on the list.

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    50 books. Where do I stand?

    At the last check in for my 50 Books in 2010 goal, I was at 3. That was on January 16. Today, on February 8, I'm at 7. Not bad, I'm slightly ahead of the minimum average I want to keep (1 book each week) to meet the goal by the end of the year. This is good, as I know that my reading will drop once the baby arrives in June.

    Since my last update, I've read the following: The Pine Barrens by John McPhee, a history and memoir of the New Jersey Pine Barrens; The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, a childrens book that is part fairy tale and part complex poetry for adults; The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs, an author I read another book by recently (The Face in the Frost) but didn't realize he was the same person who wrote one of my favorite books from when I was a kid; and Dark Entries by Ian Rankin, a John Constantine (Hellblazer)graphic novel set in a haunted house that was somewhat curiously published in the Vertigo Crime series for no reason I can figure other than the author is primarily a mystery writer.

    Next up: a new take on vampires in The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (thanks to Tim for the recommendation!)

    listening: nothing at the moment

    Manhood for Amateurs

    I completed the first book of my "50 in 2010" on New Years Day-Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Fathr, Husband, and Son by Michael Chabon. I actually started it a while ago, getting about 1/3 of the way in, but it was a library book and was recalled before I had a chance to finish it. I checked it back out a couple weeks ago, and decided to kick off the new year by finishing it. I've read some of Chabon's work before-a few short stories, a couple essays, and his fantastic tribute to the pulp adventure stories of Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard, Gentlemen of the Road.  

    Manhood for Amateurs is a collection of essays about being male, and the roles in life that men play-son, husband, father, brother, son-in-law, and so on. Chabon is definitely a geek-comics, sword & sorcery, science fiction, to name a few typically geeky things that had (and continue to have) a major impact on his life. Between the writings about being male and those about interests that I share with him, I found myself relating to almost all the essays one way or another.

    Reading these essays made me think a lot about who I was growing up, where I came from, who the male figures were that influenced my life, and where my life is now. As I read about his life as a father, especially the birth of his first child, I was thinking to the future. Who will my child be? What will they be like, and what will their influences be? I am looking forward to sharing the things I liked as a kid-Lego bricks, Star Wars, comics, playing in the woods, and so on. Will my son enjoy the same things I did? Or will we be strangers to each other, not able to comprehend what/why we are different?

    So, as not to stray too far from the original point of this post, I highly recommend Manhood for Amateurs. Knowing a number of people who read my blog, I have a feeling they will relate to, and enjoy, Chabon's essays in many of the same ways I did.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    3 Down, 47 to Go

    Just a quick update on my reading goal for the year. I've finished 3 books so far. Not a bad start. I'll be posting my thoughts some of the books I read, but not all.

    I've got a post on the first, Manhood for Amateurs, coming up shortly. Second was The Eyes of the Dragon, and third Lyra's Oxford. Lyra's Oxford was really only a short story with a very nice woodcut map (and some other random items) that fleshes out the world of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but I'm counting it anyway, as it's a stand alone book. I've also read a comic collection that I'm not counting towards the total, Invincible volume 11: Happy Days.

    Up next? I'm not sure, but I think I'm going to go for some non-fiction.

    Listening: Dark Ages by Soulfly

    Thursday, January 07, 2010

    What To Read?

    In my previous post, I mentioned one of my goals for 2010 was to read 50 books. 50 doesn't really sound like all that many books, but I don't think I've read 50 books (not counting graphic novels) in a single year for quite a while. I got the idea for this goal over on LibraryThing, where there are a variety of book challenges going on: 50, 75, 10 books in each of 10 different subjects, books you already own but haven't read, and so on.

    I've set a few limits and guidelines for myself, in order to help me focus and keep on target for making my goal this year.
    1. Only 20 graphic novels count towards the 50 books: This is to keep me from choosing the easy way out, and finishing early. I tend to read at least 2-3 graphic novels or comic book collections a week, sometimes many more than that. Since I read them both for pleasure and for work (I'm the graphic novel subject librarian for the library where I work), I'll quickly hit 50 books without reading anything but graphic novels.
    2. Graphic novels that do count must be complete, stand alone stories: A large percentage of the graphic novels I read are simply compilations of a run of comics. In order to count, the book must be a stand alone story. Titles like Batman: Year One or Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 would count, but Invincible Volume 11 would not. 
    3. Focus on books I own, have checked out from the library, or have wanted to read for a long time: I have a very long "To Be Read" list, and it grows longer each week. Instead of reading from this list, I just add to it, and never seem to read what I have already put on the list. Instead I read whatever I saw most recently that struck me as worth adding to the list, so the longer a book is on the list the less likely I'll read it. By trying to read mostly books that I already want to read or own instead of whatever I come across new, I hope to make a small dent in the pile. I'm sure I will not stick to this 100%, but that's fine. 
    4. Mix up genres a little: I tend to read the same genres over and over-fantasy, science fiction, horror, and similar. I'm going to make an effort to occasionally read something different, just to make my list a bit more rounded. I'm sure the bulk of titles will be in these areas, though.
    With those ideas in mind, here is a quick starter list of potential books, taken from my book shelves at home and in my office at the library. A few of these I've owned since high school, yet have never read. Others I've picked up in the last year or so. Any could be next, so could something not on this short list. As of this writing, I've actually completed one (Manhood for Amateurs) and started another (Eyes of the Dragon) from my list.

    See anything that I should read right away?

    A Feast for Crows
    George R.R. Martin
    Clive Barker
    Anno Dracula
    Kim Newman
    Tim Powers
    Everyday Life in Early America
    David Freeman Hawke
    Expiration Date
    Tim Powers
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    J.K. Rowling
    Into the Heart of Borneo
    Redmond O'Hanlon
    Magician: Apprentice
    Raymond E. Feist
    Manhood for Amateurs
    Michael Chabon
    Moving Pictures
    Terry Pratchett
    Neil Gaiman
    Orchid Fever
    Eric Hansen
    Return to Lankhmar
    Fritz Leiber
    The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier & Clay
    Michael Chabon
    The Blade Itself
    Joe Abercrombie
    The Bloody Chamber
    Angela Carter
    The Bridge of San Luis Rey
    Thornton Wilder
    The Children of Hurin
    J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
    Robert E. Howard
    The Crystal World
    J.G. Ballard
    The Elric Saga: Part I
    Michael Moorcock
    The Eyes of the Dragon
    Stephen King
    The Good Life
    Helen and Scott Nearing
    The Jungle Books
    Rudyard Kipling
    The Land that Time Forgot
    Edgar Rice Burroughs
    The Pine Barrens
    John McPhee
    The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
    Robert E. Howard
    The Scar
    China Mieville
    The Traveling Vampire Show
    Richard Laymon
    The Truth
    Terry Pratchett
    Voice of the Mountain
    Manly Wade Wellman
    Witches Abroad
    Terry Pratchett
    Wizard and Glass
    Stephen King

    Listening:  Muse-Origin of Symmetry

    Friday, January 01, 2010

    Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010

    2010-Another year down, and the start of a new one

    2009 was a pretty big year for me: 10 years living in Charlottesville, 5 years married to Laura, and the biggest event (for me, at least) that began in 2009 is still yet to come-we are starting a family! (If you haven't heard this news yet, it's because we only began telling people outside our immediate families over the past 2 weeks) This still several months down the road, in June, but it's a big event that is taking up a fair amount of my thoughts lately.

    2009 also brought the first of what is hopefully the start of an annual event, a "guys only" trip with two of my closest friends, Nakia and Tim. This year we spent a long weekend camping.
    I began taking pottery classes at the McGuffey Art Center, which I'm enjoying quite a bit and plan on continuing in the future.
    An attempt at guitar lessons wasn't quite as successful-I enjoyed them but found that I don't have the determination to practice on a regular basis. When a gap of a few weeks between lessons hit, I stopped practicing and never started again. Maybe I'll find the drive in the coming year (I hope that I will).
    I saw a number of concerts this past year-Metallica, U2, Municipal Waste, Bruce Springsteen, Phish, and several others, all of which brings my list of bands I can remember seeing to 233 (many of them multiple times).
    I lost 25 pounds, then gained 10 back.
    I didn't do all that much gaming this year-a fair amount of Rock Band/Guitar Hero, several board game nights with friends and coworkers, but only a few rpg sessions.
    I started using Twitter, then stopped. I didn't post a single blog post. I spent a lot of time on Facebook in the first half of the year then trailed off over the summer, never really going back to it with the same determination to keep up. I lost track of some friends (online and IRL), hopefully we'll reconnect in the new year.
    We went on a big vacation this year-a cruise to the Greek Islands, Croatia,  and Venice, Italy. A trip I'll remember for a long time to come, as we saw some amazing things I never expected to see in person.
    I cut my comic book pull list down quite a bit, but I still find that I'm not really enjoying reading comics as much as I used to. I still enjoy them, but I'm finding that I'd rather read them in big chunks, full stories instead of 32 pages at a time in the monthly format.

    So, 2009. Lots of positive, some negative, and a little neutral. I call it a positive year overall.

    What does 2010 bring? Change, for sure. I'll be a new father, which I am very excited about, and very scared as well. More live music, hopefully. Maybe some more gaming, at least in the first half of the year. Increased communication with people I lost touch with over the past year. Bigger projects at work. A new start at the gym, and hopefully lose some more weight. More pottery to bring home and find places for around the house. Maybe I'll stop buying monthly comics and go over to all trades and collected volumes? I hope to make blogging a more regular thing (if I can find a theme that keeps me coming back to it). I want to read more, especially books that have been in my "to be read" pile for a long time. I'd like to spend more time outside-hiking, gardening, whatever.

    Here's a short list of goals for 2010, something I can refer back to in the coming year and measure myself against. Am I just optimistic right now, or can I actually meet most of these? 
    • Read 50 Books: only 20 graphic novels count towards the 50, focus on my "to be read" pile, not on new books
    • Loose Weight: 15 pounds will put me at 185, my goal from last year
    • Prepare for fatherhood: Lots of things here-combining the office and guest room, taking stock of what we have vs. what we need, deciding what I can get rid of to make more room, etc.
    • Spend more time outside: hiking, walking, gardening, biking, whatever
    • Pottery classes: Make more useful things, and less random bowls, flowerpots, and boxes
    • Blog: find a theme? I need something that makes me want to come and write more-games, books, music, maybe reviews of the things I am reading/listening to/playing?
    • Game more: I love playing and running RPGs, why don't I play them more?
    • Paint 26 miniatures: finishing 1 miniature every 2 weeks should be doable
    • Movies with Laura: I enjoy movies, Laura loves movies, yet we seldom watch the same ones. I'd like to make more of an effort to watch them together
    That's 9 goals (so far) for 2010. Let's see how I do.

    Currently listening to: the dog snoring on the floor next to me