My comic book dreams are entering the really real world

Three years ago, I completed my first legitimate attempt at a comic book script. It’s a 10-page, noir-driven, supernatural-infused revenge story that I thought was ready for prime time.

It was horseshit.

Thankfully, the time between then and now allowed me to read the plot and characterization with fresh eyes. I went back to the lab, tweaked dialogue, boosted themes that were far more understated than I remembered, and planted an additional seed for potential follow up tales. I’m really pleased. Though, I was pleased last go round, so what the hell do I know.

I don’t desire to become a comic book writer in the traditional fashion, but I do want to make this one-off story. Or a mini-series. It’s not one of those burning lifelong yearnings, but every person who’s read a comic book as a kid has fantasized about one day seeing their words or visuals in a series of panels. So, I figured, why not?

Recently, I’ve recently made the next step in the comic book creation process: having a talented artist design my lead character. He took my description and turned it into a reference guide for layout artists. The results are quite good. Even more recently, I’ve hired a studio to draw, ink, color, and letter my story. You’ll see the result of that soon enough.

Now, the hard work begins. And it feels damned good.

P.S. – The image above is a blurred version of the initial thumbnails. A teaser of what’s to come. I’ll share how the sausage is made after the comic is available for purchase.

Spinning old Brooklyn tales for Coney Island History Project

Amazing how life comes full circle.

From ages 12 to roughly 30, I lived in Coney Island, a neighborhood that was a far cry its heyday preserved in black-and-white photos and newsreels. I lived in the projects, surrounded by empty, junk-filled lots, rabid dogs, and the shadows of a once-cherished seaside destination. I left after establishing a career as a writer, but returned to it in verbal form courtesy of the Coney Island History Project.

The non-profit organization approached me to participate in its oral history series after reading my Coney Island memories in an esports article. I was interviewed on July 10, 2017. The interview posted relatively recently. I’d be very happy if you’d take 22 minutes to listen to it.

I’ve been interviewed many times over the years, but this is the one that meant the most to me. It isn’t very often that someone wants to tell your origin story, a process that truly makes you appreciate the journey from the past to the present.

Image courtesy of Coney Island History Project

Listen to me babble on the People Playing Games podcast!

Not too long ago, a Twitter survey shot through every Nazi’s favorite social network that asked a character-defining question: name the topics you can speak about for 30 minutes with zero prep time. One of my picks was video games. And I spoke about it for 35 minutes on the People Playing Games podcast. That extra five makes the world of difference.

In the pod, host Mike Andronico chats with me about fighting games and breaking into journalism. It’s a fun discussion that’s very much worth a play.

Catch me on The Dope Science Show podcast!

Remember that podcast I wanted to launch? The one I wrote about way back in 2015? Well, it’s coming…soonish. I’m still a few months away from a season one launch, but doesn’t mean I’m completely divorced from the podcast scene. I like gab and jibber jabber, after all.

I recently appeared on Stephany Lowe’s extremely cool The Dope Science Show after the host and I mixed it up and discovered common interests on ye ol’ Instagram. In this ep, we chat about many topics, including the declining bumblebee population, Nintendo Switch, and Black people in the sciences. It’s a lively discussion inter cut with some killer tunes.

So, do Stephany and me a solid by checking out The Dope Science Show at any of the links below!

Why I buy vinyl records

I collected many things in my youth, including video games, baseball cards, comic books, and action figures, but that all-consuming urge to own things has dissipated over the years. It’s something that comes along with maturation, I think, as financial stability becomes more valuable than amassing material items. Although I no longer have the desire to simply accumulate stuff, something deep within me misses the experience. It’s not the items. It’s definitely not the money spent. It’s the hunt.

Until very recently, man needed to stalk or trap prey to enjoy a hearty meal. Technological advances in the last couple of centuries have enabled millions of people to eat without lifting a club, tossing a spear, or firing an arrow. Still, our semi-monkey brains retain the desire to scour environments and return home with the spoils of the hunt. Buying vinyl scratches that itch without an animal bleeding out by my hands.

Although vinyl has seen a recent popularity surge, and perhaps reached its zenith, the discs are printed in relatively low quantities in comparison to CDs, and aren’t as readily accessible as streaming music services, such as Slacker Radio or Spotify. As a result, tracking down, say, The Dirtbombs’ Ultraglide In Black, a soul-rock cover record from one of my favorite indie bands, ain’t no easy task. Not impossible, just not easy. And that’s a major part of the enjoyment, besides the large and beautiful artwork, liner notes, lyrics, and vinyl-specific sound.

There’s an emotion that lies at the intersection of excitement, happiness, and dread that envelops the body upon stepping into a record store. On one hand, there’s the very real possibility that there are multiple scores laid out before you in alphabetical order. On the other hand, there’s the very real chance that you’ll exit the record shop holding a big, fat “L.”

Buying vinyl via an online source doesn’t replicate the brick-and-mortar experience, because you own the records as soon as you complete the checkout process; you simply await the wax’s arrival a few days (or weeks) later. In fact, Amazon immediately blesses you with digital versions of those albums, so you can listen to the music before the vinyl is at your doorstep. It’s a hollow victory, really, as there’s no pleasure in easily obtained booty.

Of course, I realize this is coming from a man who has several physical record stores within walking distance of each other, including Generation Records, In Living Stereo, and Village Music World. It is, dare I say it, a privileged perspective. But in a world in which clothing is just a few mouse clicks away, celebrities exist within a 140-character radius, and food is delivered to your doorstep, the challenge of collecting vinyl is laced with cheap thrills that stimulate an ancient area of my brain. 

Though I wonder what will serve as the next big hunt once all my desired wax is procured.

Image courtesy of shin_gallon.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe movie power rankings

Doctor Strange, the most-recent film in Marvel Studios’ Phase 3 story arc, recently hit theaters and concluded the movie house’s 2016 cinema offerings. I enjoyed magic’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the trippy visuals, and all-around solid performances, but the story felt a bit rushed in places (particularly in regards to the not-so-good doctor’s origin and mystic training) and the humor fell on its face. In short, Doctor Strange is a movie that tried to dabble in the dark recesses of the MCU, but suffered from Disney’s family friendly movie constraints.

Now that the Doctor Strange #content is out of the way, I’ve decided that it’s time to update my Marvel Cinematic Universe Power Rankings. I’ve watched every Marvel Studios joint (the films, not the television properties), and placed each flick into one of three categories: Main Eventers, Mid-Carders, and Jobbers. No complex mathematical formulas, no deep thoughts. This was all based off feels.

Here’s how things turned out. Continue Reading →

The 5 best beers at NYC Craft Beer Festival (Fall 2016)

The NYC Craft Beer Festival has proven itself one of New York City’s most consistently enjoyable events, as it encourages beer fans, both novices and die hards, to step outside of their malted comfort zones to sample new beverages—even those that appear unappealing on the surface. I’m a prime example of this of this idea. I really, really hate IPAs, but will give one a chance if it carries a particularly interesting flavor hook. Plus, to quote the great Space Ghost, “I will put anything into my mouth that is given to me. Whether it’s supposed to go there or not.” Such gusto opens the door to many discoveries. 

Fortunately, the event boasts dozens of tasty, sample-ready craft beers, including ales, lagers, porters, and stouts. My 2-ounce tasting glass leaned heavily toward the heavier brews, but I made certain to sample as much as I could before Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared throughout the Lexington Avenue Armory, signaling the festival’s end. I admit to a certain bias for drinks with gimmicky flavors, which is evident in my five beers-of-the-show picks.

Abita Peach
It’s difficult to find a brewery that crafts a truly excellent fruit-based beer, as many overwhelm you with sweetness or skimp on the flavor so that you can barely recognize the fruity elements. Yet, Abita finds that balance with this peach lager, a refreshing treat that’s brewed with fresh, handpicked Louisiana peaches.

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter
I didn’t know what to expect from a vanilla porter, but Breckenridge Brewery delivered a pleasant surprise with this excellent blend that combines the chocolate and roasted nut flavor of a classic porter, with a vanilla punch.

DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus
Sweet Baby Jesus can be summed up in four words: Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Oh, and “delicious.” It’s smooth and thick, with a creamy chocolate, coffee and peanut butter flavor that makes for a perfect after-dinner drink. Pairs well with vanilla ice cream, too.

Guinness Antwerpen
The Guinness brand is forever associated with its classic stout, but the company has made strides in the last two years to expand into the craft market. The result is handful of flavorful beers, with Antwerpen being one of my favorites. Light and creamy, this sweet stout boasts vanilla, butterscotch and dark fruity flavors.

Southern Tier Pumking
I’ve professed my love for this gem last year, so I won’t do so again here. Just click here. And then buy a six pack. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE.

Sweet beers ruled my tongue this time out, and will probably do so again when the NYC Craft Beer Festival Spring 2017 show rolls around.

Happy trails, Harpoon Arctic Ale

My experiences with Harpoon’s brews amount to nothing more than bad luck.

The first time I sipped one of the company’s beers, its delicious Chocolate Stout, I learned hours later that it had been retired and the last batch that was in the wild was truly the last batch in the wild. I was incredibly disappointed.

Harpoon Arctic Ale

Pictured: Harpoon Arctic Ale, a rich combination of coffee, chocolate, and fruit flavors.

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that my second Harpoon beer, Arctic Ale, a delightful drink that blessed my tongues in ways I didn’t know it could be blessed, was also retired. That’s not misfortune; it’s a hop-infused curse.

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, a sentiment that rings true in this scenario. Harpoon’s Arctic Ale is one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. To the eye, Arctic Ale’s dark body may recall a chocolate or oatmeal stout, and it certainly possesses those flavors, but when the liquid hits the tongue, the beer shines with cherry and raisin notes. Each sip brings multiple flavor layers and, due to its fruity elements, lots of sugar. Arctic Ale is a quite a sweet drink.

Yet, Arctic Ale isn’t particularly heavy. It doesn’t have a Pumking-like mouth feel; it’s thinner, but certainly not light. Bud, Arctic Ale is not.

However, the beer is heavy in one area: alcohol content. Arctic Ale weighs in at a very respectable 13 percent ABV, which means that this isn’t a session beer. In fact, I sipped it. Between the alcohol volume and sweetness, Arctic Ale is a beer that you proudly nurse.

So, if you can find Harpoon Arctic Ale in the wild, grab it and down it. The brew is remarkably smooth and potent, which is what I consider the twin winning elements of an alcoholic beverage. And enjoy it while it lasts.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show power rankings

A rainy New York City weekend, and general laziness on my part, helped free the time needed for me to kick back, grab a snack, and dive into Luke Cage. We live in super-sensitive spoiler culture, so I won’t dive into many details about the show. I’ll say this, however: It’s pretty entertaining, despite some of many massive beefs in regards to Cage’s motivations and “reluctant hero” shtick. Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, and Alfre Woodard absolutely slay on screen, and keep the boat from sinking into the Sea of Mediocrity.

But Luke Cage isn’t Marvel’s only TV series. In its extremely brief period of existence, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has radically transformed how Hollywood makes movies. The big studios now seek to emulate Marvel Studios’s comic book-style, interconnected formula with Cinematic Universes of their own; there’s talk of several unified movie series, including those based on G.I. JoeGodzilla, Universal’s monsters, and other hot, and not so hot, properties. A 21 Jump Street and Men In Black crossover, Sony? Please send that uncooked duck back to the kitchen.

The Negative Zone-sized gulf between the MCU and those hastily cobbled together universes has grown, and continues to grow, because Marvel Studios gives a damn about the small screen. Yes, DC has Arrow, Gotham, Supergirl, and other programs on the air, but those shows don’t all exist within the same universe. Here’s a bit of info that’s even more bewildering: Warner Bros, DC Comics’s parent company, has confirmed that the small screen properties won’t tie into the big screen story lines, and that the company will likely recast, say, Oliver Queen if that character movies from TV to feature film. The lack of cohesion is quite perplexing.

Marvel Studios’s “everything’s connected” game plan, however, means that a blind vigilante operates in the same universe as a gun-toting raccoon-like creature. It means that a legendary super-soldier lives in the same world where a super-strong PTSD sufferer battles her demons. The comic book-style cross-pollination ensures that geeks have some Marvel merriment in their lives between the tent pole movie releases, with the potential for big gun characters or story beats to appear on television, and vice versa. Who didn’t love Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury appearance in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the fallout of Captain America: The Winter Soldier?

Now that Marvel Studios has five TV properties scattered between ABC and Netflix, the time has come for me to rank these sum’bitches. As with my Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Power Rankings, this Marvel Cinematic Universe TV Power Rankings stack-ranks Marvel Studios’s properties from best to worst across three categories: Main-Eventers (the must-watch shows), Mid-Carders (flawed, but recommended, shows), and Jobbers (A.K.A., don’t waste your time).

Let’s get the party started.

Continue Reading →

Discover Gifu Saké Brought a Taste of Japan to NYC

Saké, the Japanese rice-based alcoholic beverage that’s brewed like a beer, escaped my purview until recently. I sampled the drink in the past, usually in very small amounts during masterful K-town karaoke sessions, but didn’t bother to learn more about it until I received an invite to attend the Discover Gifu Saké showcase. It’s one of the benefits that living in New York City affords.

Discover GiFu Saké was held in Astor Center, a space above NoHo’s excellent Astor Wine and Spirits. Japanese Brewmeisters and their assistants were in attendance to talk saké, drum up buzz for their brews, and hopefully sign deals with American distributors. In a way, the event was one part introductory class, one part media event, one part business meeting. I learned about the brewing process, fermentation, and what’s required to sell saké in the United States. That said, those elements never got in the way of the showcase’s core: The saké tasting.

I won’t get into the saké basics, as a site superior to mine does a fine job of explaining the beverage. Instead, I’ll touch upon the three drinks that I enjoyed the most. 

  • Junmai Yuzu Sake by Nakashima Saké
    This 8.5-percent liqueur is made with fresh yuzu juice and Kozaemon junmai saké. It’s an excellent blend that creates a delicious lemon-lime flavor that’s incredibly sweet.
  • Shirakawago Awa-Nigori Junmai by Miwa Shuzo
    This carbonated saké is created with an in-bottle fermentation technique known as the “Champagne method” that produces a refreshing, satisfying finish. It boasts an 11 percent alcohol volume.
  • Cody’s Saké Junmai Ginjo by Watanabe Saké
    Masterfully brewed by Darryl Cody,  the first American saké  brewmaster, to commemorate his 10th anniversary as the big dog. This Junmai Ginjo has a 15 percent alcohol volume and a wonderfully smooth and clean taste.

Whittling down the selections was difficult, because there were so many excellent selections. But, by god, I found the will to drink and drink and drink until the top three were determined.

So, my big takeaway from the Discover GiFu Saké event is this: I like saké quite a bit! I will add it to my drink catalog, as I prefer to down the Japanese brew instead of, say, wine or hard liquor. It’s lighter, cleaner (the filtered variety, anyway), and the taste is like a kiss from a rose.

Now I just need a set of those cool saké drinking cups.