SATORI now available on Comixology!

My co-creator, Mike LaRiccia, has put our 2008 comic, SATORI, on Comixology for $1.99. Since he mentioned this to me, I’ve just joined Comixology—I can’t say much about the PC version of the app, since it seems my information hasn’t cross-pollinated from the mobile app to the website, but the mobile reader is beautiful and there are a ton of issue #1s of great comics for free. So, even if you don’t want to read SATORI, and even—especially!—if you don’t like reading comics, I would strongly recommend joining Comixology and perusing the free issues. Here, I’ll even help you out with a few pointers:

  • SAGA: Fantasy space opera family drama. Seriously, do not even consider clicking away from this post before you download it.
  • THE WALKING DEAD: The state of the art in zombie survival horror; inspiration for the AMC show of the same name.
  • BONE: Reasonably funny screwball comedy, evolving over the course of 1000 pages or so into beautifully drawn and written (yet still funny) epic fantasy.
  • PLANETARY: A superhero team of fantastic archaeologists, striving to keep the world strange.
  • RASL: Dimension-warping soap opera slash conspiracy thriller slash love letter to Nikola Tesla.
  • WANTED: The logical, horrible extension of superhero power fantasies; inspiration for the really pretty different James McAvoy/Angelina Jolie movie of the same name.

an obligatory cavil


I haven’t read Warren Ellis’ GUN MACHINE, though now that he’s emailed his subscribers about selling out, I kind of want a first edition. I’m glad that he got a good review from the NEW YORK TIMES, and almost everything about that review makes me happy and excited to read the book. But I’m going to single out the one thing about it that, not having read GUN MACHINE and having read Ellis’ other work, still nags me like a hangnail:

Mr. Ellis, the British author of one previous thriller, “Crooked Little Vein,” was a well-known and successful writer of comics and graphic novels before turning to prose fiction. (The best known among them is probably “RED,” which was turned into a movie starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren.) There is nothing comic-bookish about his writing, however, which races along in crisp hard-boiled fashion, and the world of the novel is less cartoonish than just odd and pretty grim.

If I read GUN MACHINE, and I will read GUN MACHINE, it’s on the strength of Ellis’ comics—of TRANSMETROPOLITAN, which was my gateway, and then of GLOBAL FREQUENCY, of NEWUNIVERSAL, of NEXTWAVE, of BLACK SUMMER, of the never-to-be-finished FELL and DESOLATION JONES. I have nothing but respect for his turn to prose fiction, as I have nothing but respect for China Mieville’s work on DIAL H; but Ellis’ writing comes from comics, and there is not a shortage of comics writers as good as Ellis. (If you need a list: Carla Speed McNeil, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Matt Fraction, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Brian K. Vaughan; I know I’m forgetting some).

I know what Charles McGrath means when he says “comic-bookish.” But that word doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.


I read Brian K. Vaughan’s comic SAGA today. On finishing it, it occurs to me that I never caught any of you people sneaking into my room and trying to jam it into my brain, which is what a real friend would have done. So I’m just going to put it out right now: If you knew about SAGA and left me to discover it on my own, you’re dead to me. Petitions for reversal of deadness may be filed at my nuts. READ.

(Images courtesy of scans_daily.)


I read Penny Arcade for the comics; when I do venture into the commentary, I’m often impressed by Tycho’s writing, but I only rarely have any idea what he’s talking about. Which is to say I’m not anything resembling a hardcore gamer—but I’m following Gabe and Tycho’s development of Thornwatch with a lot of interest. At first it was the idea of a deck-based RPG that caught my attention; again, I’m not a serious gamer, so maybe this isn’t a new idea, but there’s something appealing about having a hand of semi-randomly-selected options that’s reduced as you take wounds. It seems to capture something about the pressures of the moment that you’d expect when you’re in combat—one of the appallingly annoying things about combat in high-level D&D, and sometimes even mid-level D&D, is the inevitable gridlock when a player takes minutes and minutes to decide on an action that, in-game, has to be decided and executed in seconds. So there’s something organic in the idea that your options change from moment to moment as combat ebbs and flows, and insight strikes.

But I’ve also enjoyed Tycho’s development of the mythology of the whole thing. There’s something wonderfully creepy about the idea that anyone could go into the forest and summon a hero at some unknown but probably dire cost. You almost want to play the summoner rather than the hero, really.

The cards look great, and Gabe’s art in the three recent Thornwatch strips is amazing as well. Plus, you know, wolfbat. Wait, they have t-shirts? SQUIRRELAnyway, I’m thinking seriously about whether I want to pay $60 for prints. We’re already so behind on framing the art we already have, though, and doubly behind about hanging the art that is framed, and possibly triply behind on even having enough wall space to hang all of it.

Still, though. Wolfbat.

Christ, I’m tired.

sinfest has gotten really good, you guys

I read Sinfest during my brief webcomic-reading phase in college. It was fun to read, but not so much fun that I was motivated to check it all that regularly or subscribe to it via RSS.

Then Pat Rothfuss pointed me to this strip, and I started poking back in the recent archives. I’m to maybe the middle of 2011 now and it’s excellent. Political but not partisan, probably even funnier for its new seriousness, and beautifully drawn and colored. Some of the silent Sunday strips, like the one linked above, are absolute gut-punches. Please, please check it out.

dual-tasking and the psychology of aesthetics

Seth Roberts has observed that doing two boring things simultaneously is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I do most of my walking in Philadelphia, where it’s a bit dangerous to study Chinese flashcards at the same time. However, it’s occurred to me that the same theory might make predictions about the pleasurability of various art forms. Reading comics requires simultaneous comprehension of word and image; listening to popular music requires simultaneous comprehension of word and tone. In technical terms, the best comics writers and artists are not as good as the best novel-writers or visual artists; likewise, the best popular lyricists and musicians are not as good as the best poets or classical musicians. But these art forms are at least as vital as their (let’s call them) unimodal counterparts (prose, poetry, fine art, classical music).

You might be able to make the same argument work with TV and cinema, although an interesting difference is that cinema (at least) is a critically respected art form, whereas comics and popular music are mostly not. (TV is mostly not, and to my mind the best TV shares more with novels than with cinema.) To stretch it even further, you might try to explain the popularity of less-well-written genre fiction — e.g. poorly written science fiction is saved by the simultaneous task of understanding a novel-level (i.e. superficial) description of some technology, likewise poorly written epic fantasy and learning (at a relatively superficial level) about the setting and/or magic system the author has created. That might be a bridge too far, though — it seems reasonably likely that even the best-written novel is forcing the reader to keep track of many things at once.

One problem with this observation about art is that it isn’t obviously explained by Seth’s theory. If there is a theory behind it, it’s something along the lines of a flow state — i.e. something that would be boringly simple to do on its own is improved to just the right level of difficulty by the addition of another simple dual task. (Actually, there are probably ways to make Seth’s theory work for me, but I’m pressed for time.) If that form of the explanation is right, then it would suggest that comics and popular music actually select against virtuosic practitioners in single modalities (because simultaneously comprehending virtuosic art in two modalities is too hard), while unimodal art forms select for them. I’m using “virtuoso” in a fairly specific sense here — I certainly don’t mean that comics and pop music can never be any good, or that most people are too stupid to appreciate good work in those media. More that “good” may mean something surprisingly different in multimodal versus unimodal art. Another prediction of the flow theory is that appreciation of multimodal art may be influenced by working memory capacity. But I imagine that WMC has socioeconomic correlates that would make that hypothesis hard to test.

productivity update

On Day 30 of my “twelve sentences” resolution, I’ve finished the “second draft” of SATORI. It’s a second draft inasmuch as there was a first draft, but in fact I wrote the last 6 pages of Issue 3 plus all of Issues 4 and 5 de novo — I have some memory of what I wrote originally, obviously, but no text from the first draft has been retained. (And, yeah, 57 comics pages is a lot more than 360 sentences, if that was at issue.) This may change — there are at least three loose ends in the current version, not to mention plenty of panels with nothing but a line of dialogue and a notation to the effect of “insert visual description”… so there’s some editing to do before the script goes to Mike.

The big question, though, is where my daily tithe of words goes now. The novel is so scattered that it doesn’t seem like this would work — there are lots of internal contradictions, I’m not sure exactly where it’s going, but I have written an ending… etc. And “Incunabulum” is obviously just hanging around waiting to hear from me. But (a) getting a readable draft of the novel is my next big priority and (b) a month ago, I wasn’t sure that doing the comic in longhand was going to work either. So there are reasons to think I should try it.

Related, there are a bunch of short stories hanging around my computer that I’ve been meaning to submit since the beginning of the fall. I guess the smart thing to do would be just to spend a few hours rounding them up and figuring out where each one ought to go. I’ve been dragging my feet on this not so much because it’s time-consuming as because getting short stories published in magazines is not what I really care about. I think it’s great that short fiction magazines can survive, but no one I know, including me, actually reads them with any regularity. I’m happy to submit to magazines, but the goal is to get my work in places where people who don’t identify as SF fans will come across it. (I realize this goal is not utterly realistic — the population browsing the SF shelves at bookstores is probably not wildly more diverse than that reading STRANGE HORIZONS, and in any case there are lots of people, some of them really good writers, whose work hits those shelves and is ignored and forgotten. And, by the way, I’ve only published two short stories totaling about 3000 words in professional venues, so it’s not absolutely clear that anyone really wants to read my work anyway. All fair enough. Nonetheless, the goal abides.)

Finally — I’ve arguably buried the lede here, but the ordering reflects my sense of accomplishment — I am the lead author on an upcoming paper in the journal NEUROPSYCHOLOGIA, titled “Predicting judged similarity of mammals from their neural representations.” It’s taken so long to get accepted that I’m not as happy about it as perhaps I should be; however, its importance on my future ability to feed my future family is probably much greater than anything fictional I have published or ever will. I’ll post the link to the article when it comes out.

a sneak peek at the cutting room floor

I don’t think this monologue is going to make it into SATORI, but I like it, even if it is an obvious product of my saturation in Warren Ellis and Hunter S. Thompson (I’m claiming affinity only here, not quality).


You’re fired, Cletus. You have two weeks to clear out of the satellite or I’ll have my good friend Don Rumsfeld shoot you from the sky. He’ll do it, too — ever since they shitcanned him, they keep finding him sitting on the new classified weapons, clad only in a raw bearskin, pretending to fire great flaming boulders of napalm at France and Amsterdam and Berkeley. He’d leap at the chance to turn you into a smoldering crater in the middle of some Stalin-worshipping mudhole in South Ossetia, mark my words.


Fuck the HR department! My hiring decisions come from the principle that preserves the universe! Have you ever heard of Vishnu, Cletus? Vishnu fires you!

I am not the first person to have this problem, I guess, but it’s a little disappointing that the main character never gets any good lines. There’s a whole Scott McCloud riff one could do on simply designed protagonists encouraging identification and so on… but Scott McCloud already did it, and I don’t really have anything to add.

… well, except the obvious literary analogue, right? McCloud is talking about art, but less articulated personalities are easier to identify with as well — every new quirk is a new chance to realize “that’s not me.” (I doubt that extension is original to me; McCloud may have proposed it himself, although I don’t remember that he did.) A person who wasn’t supposed to be writing comics right now might go in a few directions with this — for example, note that novels, at least in the literary mainstream, are usually praised for highly articulated characters. Could this give us any predictive leverage on why literary fiction is often harder to appreciate — more of an acquired taste, let’s say — than genre fiction? There are lots of confounding factors, naturally, but I’m willing to accept the premise that genre characters are often more sparely drawn than literary characters. Depending on your persuasion, you might think that this is because genre writers are hacks; or because genre is often preoccupied with conventions of plot (mystery, romance, thriller) or metaphysics (science fiction, fantasy, horror) that draw the writer’s resources away from fine characterization; or because genre writers are actually more aware of the uses of spare characterization than literary writers.

To put a fine point on it, since I really ought to be writing: Is literary fiction somehow actually less interactive than genre fiction?