Black Panther

(NOTE: This review is a bit late, yes. My bad. I’ve been super busy.)

I saw Black Panther on Friday afternoon during its opening weekend, and while I really enjoyed it, I must acknowledge that my experience in the theater was different from the experience of a great many movie goers whose skin color is different from mine.

I identified most with Martin Freeman’s character, and loved the way he responded to being an alien in a world he didn’t know existed. Other viewers will likely identify more closely with Chadwick Boseman’s character, or Lupita Nyong’o’s, or Letitia Wright’s. I loved all the characters, but I don’t see myself in all of them, at least not to the same degree.

This strongly supports my belief that the stories we tell should reflect the diversity of us humans. It matters. 

To my eye, the film’s biggest weakness is the plot device it has in common with several Marvel films of the past decade: Iron Man fights a bigger, badder Iron Man. Ant Man fights a bigger¹, badder Ant Man. Hulk vs a bigger-badder Hulk. Doctor Strange vs. a bigger-badder wizard.

In short, Hero fights Villain who has the same suite of abilities as Hero, but is better equipped to use them.

It’s not a bad formula, but it’s gotten predictable. Fortunately, Black Panther had plenty of non-mirror conflicts going on, and the formulaic one, Black Panther vs Killmonger, served really well as a climactic statement of the movie’s central theme. Of the MCU² films using this device, I think Black Panther gets the most out of it.

Black Panther was great, and I look forward to adding the Blu-Ray to my collection for repeated viewings. It was also the first film I saw this year, so it takes my “most fun I’ve had in the theater this year” slot by default, which is a much lower bar than the film deserves to clear.

¹ Yes, both of them were pretty small, but the yellow one was still bigger. Also, weaponized.
² I’m looking forward to
Avengers: Infinity War, but what I really want now is the Shuri/Valkyrie/Gamora team-up.³
³ Directed by Patty Jenkins, obviously.

Find Sandra and Also Me at LTUE This Weekend

Sandra and I are participating at LTUE in Provo, Utah this weekend. This is our home town show, and we’re going to have a table in the dealers’ room. New items beneath the Schlock Mercenary shingle at this show include Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries and the Planet Mercenary RPG

Here are our schedules:



11:00 am, Cascade A (UVCC¹): Structuring Life to Support Creativity
5:00 pm, Canyon: Collaboration and Coauthors


1:00pm, Elm: Fashion and Clothing Through the Ages
4:00pm, Maple: Normal Child Development


9:00am, Arches: Balancing Platform and Artistry
10:00am, Ampitheater: How to Run a Killer Game Kickstarter²
12:00pm, Canyon: Working With a Freelance Editor



2:00 pm, Canyon: Mythical Anatomy 101


9:00 am, Canyon: Write What You Know (m)
12:00 pm, Elm: Emergent Narrative³


9:00 am, Cascade C (UVCC¹): Finding Your Audience
12:00 pm, Birch: Designing Spaceworthy Ships (m)
4:00 pm, Arches: A Serious Look at Comedy⁴

The full version of the LTUE schedule is available either as an interactive, mobile-friendly-I-hope page, or as a giant PDF grid.

¹ Unless otherwise noted by “(UVCC)”, all of the events listed here are being held in the Marriott Hotel’s banquet halls.  The Utah Valley Convention Center is across the street to the north
² Alan Bahr and Sandra Tayler have raised, between the two of them, close to a million dollars on Kickstarter.
³ This will be my first opportunity to be on a panel with Myke Cole. SQUEEE!
 Todd Gallowglas, a professional storyteller with mad crowd-control chops, and who has schooled Howard pretty effectively in past will be moderating. We have it on good authority that Howard has promised to “be good this time.”


The Illuminated Plasgun

I had an epiphany several weeks ago, a vision of sorts in which I could see very clearly what kind of lighting I needed on my drawing table. This led (hah!) to an investigation of LED strips, which in turn yielded better lighting in my office.

And then I turned my attention to the replica BH-209i plasgun that Doc made for me. The hardest part was threading two-conductor wire through it.

I may upgrade it with a warmer¹ set of LEDs, or perhaps some colored ones², but for now it’s just fine. Doc, thanks again for the gift that I didn’t know I needed until it arrived!

¹ I used a double-wide strip of 5000k LEDs, giving an almost blue-white color (described as “cool white.”) . Warmer would be 3000k, like this roll I just started playing with.

² Color-changing LEDs would require threading a 5-conductor wire through the plasgun, rather than the simple two-conductor speaker wire I used for this. Cycling between yellow and red-orange would be nifty, but I think I’d have to design my own strand for that.

Our Slightly Ambitious Goals for 2018

We just sent the files for Random Access Memorabilia: Schlock Mercenary Book 13 off to the printer¹. Yes, we sent those about three months later than we wanted to, but they’re off, and we know what went wrong with our process.

It’ll be the first book we publish in 2018. Our goal is to publish two more: Broken Wind, and Delegates and Delegation. The current plan is to gang those print jobs together, so that you can save money on shipping while still getting both books as soon as they release.

Sandra has the core content for those books—two and a half years of daily TIF files—at her workstation, and is laying them out in InDesign. I’ve got a stack of notes for making cover art, and we’re looking at bonus story outlines together.

Meanwhile, running in parallel, we’re planning a t-shirt project. Designs are being refined, and we’re maybe a month out from a shirt-specific Kickstarter. This was one of the stretch goals from the Random Access Memorabilia project, and we’re excited to make good on it. We’ve engaged a designer, and have budgeted for prototypes and all that other stuff that needs to happen in order to ensure that we only make the best stuff.

Alongside that we’re designing the Planet Mercenary 2018 GenCon Adventure, which will be a single-session module for four to eight players, similar in scope to “The Damaxuri Deception” and “Size Might Matter,” but along a different mission continuity².

And of course there’s the daily comic, which continues to update daily despite the universe’s best half-handed attempts to interfere with the schedule³. These daily installments are significant, because the current outline for the Schlock Mercenary mega-arc has the story of Tagon’s Toughs wrapping up triumphantly just two and one-half books from today. We’re about halfway through Book 18, and “The End” lands at the end of Book 20. We’re writing our way toward that point right now.

As I’ve said before, “The End” will not mean an end to daily updates. It will simply bring closure to most of the characters we’ve been following for (by then) twenty years. The next day there will be another Schlock Mercenary strip, but familiarity with prior art won’t be required to enjoy it.

This brings me back around to our 2018 goals. If we release three print editions this year, then the current online volume, Book 18, will end in the same calendar year as the publication of books 13, 14, and 15. Should the schedule work out well, we shall endeavor to do it again in 2019, with Book 19 ending online in the same calendar year as the print publication of books 16, 17, and 18.

You see where this is leading, right? Our ultimate goal is for the print editions of books 19 and 20, the final volumes in the twenty year (seriously, it feels weird saying that) telling of the story of Tagon’s Toughs, to be available at about the same time Book 20 wraps up on the web. Our 2018 goals are tied very closely to our goals for 2019 and 2020, and the next three years can be considered on some level as a single project which fulfills the past eighteen years of work we’ve done.

This is ambitious, but among the many things we’ve learned in the last eighteen years it’s that we can do difficult things, and things that younger versions of ourselves would have thought impossible are merely challenging.

New Year’s Resolutions are lovely and useful, but Sandra and I don’t currently have the luxury of planning everything one year at a time.

¹ The cover image here is not the final image. It just happened to be handy. 
² The cover image here is from the Planet Mercenary core book, and coincidentally depicts a bit of the landscape upon which the current outline places the adventure in question.
³  Aside from six bouts with pneumonia, a separated shoulder, and that one time the UPS exploded in the data center where lived, the universe hasn’t really been trying all that hard to stop the daily updates. And I’m quite happy for the lazy universe to keep not throwing meteors. The current difficulty level is just fine, thank you.

Writer, Illustrator, Consumer