Category Archives: Crossposted

Force Multiplication almost ready to go to print…

Sandra and I have been grinding hard for the last week in order to get Force Multiplication out the door to the printer.

Cover Rough 0409-5-FRONT-thumbnailSaturday we¹ arrived at a final cover. Monday we got test prints, in color, for the whole book. Today? Well, today is spent fixing things².

Our goal is to send this to the printer on Friday. Pre-orders won’t open for at least 45 days, though. Be patient!

¹Me, Sandra, and K.B. Spangler, who drew some amazing circuitry for the cover texture.
²Including the cover.


Sunset Is a Pretty Word, But…

SunsetSansAppWhen I worked in the software industry a decade ago there was this lovely term we used when a particular product or code-base was being terminated. We called it “sunset,” and that lovely, red-orange noun with its purple shading would get verbed, and we’d say we were “sunsetting” something, because that’s so much nicer than “terminating.”

On to the point, then. The Schlock App for iOS and Android is being sunsetted, put out to pasture, end-of-lifed—pick your favorite word, there’s no truly nice way to describe this. Let’s talk about what it means, and why it’s happening.


rssHere’s the short version of the rest of this post: we can’t afford to continue supporting the app. If you’re using the app, we recommend that you switch to an RSS app, and use that to consume the Schlock Mercenary RSS feed.

Why Sunset?

Ultimately it comes down to time and money.

In the early days the Schlock App was a labor of love, and Gary Henson’s passion for a clean interface gave thousands of Schlock fans an unparalleled reading experience. We were never able to successfully port that experience to Android, and as mobile devices matured, we became increasingly unable to comprehensively test the app on the wide range of devices where it might be run. Bugs proliferated.

And then, two weeks ago, I crashed the app by putting a frame in a blog post. Gary discovered that in order to identify the problem he would first need to update the entire app for iOS 9, which is only a very small step away from rewriting it, since it was originally coded for iOS 3. As last straws go, this was a hay bale, or perhaps a cord of firewood.

Gross revenue from the Schlock App has been about $2,000 per year, which is less than 10% of the total ad revenue generated by the comic. The time spent managing the Schlock App is twice, or three times the amount of time spent managing ads on the main site.

By that math alone, the Schlock App is a time sink that does not pay for itself. Consider, however, that the gross revenue is split between us and Gary. $1,000 per year comes out to far less than minimum wage for Gary.

I asked Gary what it would cost to re-code the app, assuming a fair hourly rate for his engineering services. Without divulging his rate, let’s just say that the app is nowhere near justifying that level of investment, and that’s not even taking into account the drudgery involved in rewriting 5-year-old code.

I can divulge that after shopping around other app studios we learned that an app coded natively for iOS and Android, portable across and tested against the most recent 3 years of devices and OS releases, and designed to read via a hybrid onboard/online cache of comics would cost between $80,000 and $250,000.

But, The App Is AMAZING!

It sure is.

Unfortunately we could not get people to support “amazing.” Less than 1% of Schlock Mercenary readers use the app, and less than half of the app users bought subscriptions. Ultimately we have to come to grips with the fact that in demographic terms, the app isn’t actually something the fanbase wants.

That’s kind of harsh, I know, and it will sound the harshest to that tiny¹ group of devotees who appreciate the Schlock app for what it is: the best way to consume a comic strip on your phone. No other app comes close.

Beyond the Schlock App

If you’ve been using the app, you may have noticed that we’ve turned off the subscriptions. We obviously won’t be taking money for something we’re not going to continue supporting.

We haven’t decided when we’ll be turning the Schlock App server off, but we’re 100% confident that the app server will not be running in 2017. It’s likely we’ll pull the plug this summer. Once the server is off, the app will no longer be able to pull down new comics, and it will instantly go from “unsupported” to “unusable.

There is a Schlock Mercenary RSS feed that you can consume on your mobile, and both iOS and Android users have a wide range of RSS reader apps available to them. Here’s a short list²:


  • Free RSS Reader
  • Feedly
  • Newsify
  • Byline
  • Feeddler


  • Feedly
  • Flipboard
  • Newstand
  • Press
  • Digg

The new Schlock Mercenary website is much better than the old site for mobile users. It’s not as lovely as the app, but frankly, nothing is.

At the end of all this, the one bright piece is that Schlock Mercenary itself is here to stay. Apps, browsers, and operating systems come and go, but with each sunrise³ there will be another Schlock Mercenary strip.



¹Tiny is relative. At its most popular, the app had 500 paying subscribers. Today there are half that many. A group of 279 is an impressively large number at a wedding banquet, but is tiny when compared to 100,000 monthly readers.

² I have not provided links to these because I would prefer to not to be the one who vets the software you’re putting on your handbrain. If you use a mobile device, you probably already have a standard by which you decide what to install.

³ If the sun stops coming up,⁴  our plans will change. 

⁴ Contrary to popular opinion, I cannot stop the sun from coming up by ceasing to update Schlock Mercenary. If I had that kind of power, rest assured, we’d still have a Schlock app, and I’d have a great many things besides.


Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

This review can be summed up by giving it a different title.

Batman vs Superman: It’s Not as Bad as All That, But Please Can We Have Some Color?

Original movie poster on the left, saturation-adjusted poster on the right

Here are some selling points, although based on the film’s domestic gross, Time/Warner/DC does not need my help selling the movie to an English-speaking audience:

  • Very long, but not boring
  • Luxuriously paced, and every scene matters
  • Very good performances from the principals
  • Great soundtrack
  • Solid story
  • Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is delightful
    • Maybe—maybe—even perfect

The biggest downer is the absence of color. It’s like Metropolis, Gotham, and DC are all perpetually overcast. Even indoors. There are a few scenes that feel like they could have been set in our world, like an early scene in the Indian Ocean that had the blazing cerulean, teal, and green colors we associate with the tropics, but for the most part everything was muted to the point of being largely desaturated.

Here are a couple of examples:

The Daily Planet - original still above, saturation boost below
The Daily Planet – original still above, saturation boost below
Is it sad that the crowd hates him? Yes. Can he be both colorful AND sad? Also yes.
Is it sad that the crowd hates him? Yes. Can he still be colorful and sad? Also yes.

I’m reminded of a line from Trumbo, in which the titular character says “if every scene is brilliant, your movie will be boring.” By the same token, if every scene is bleak, we lose the sense of what “bleak” means. Yes, it’s pretty dark when a genuinely nefarious plot results in two powerful men with genuinely good intentions attempting to kill one another. But for that to really leach hope from us, there needs to be some color beforehand, a visual representation of the hope that is drained as the plot unfolds. And if we’re going to stand up and cheer at some point, if there’s going to be triumph—even one coming at significant cost—the color should flow back into the film.

VideoLab said this pretty well already when they gave us some Man of Steel shots with the color restored. Their conclusion: “Superman should fly in blue skies, not grey.” I agree.

Does the film have problems besides color? Oh, absolutely! Other critics have explored a great many of these in detail. All I have to say here¹ is that most of those didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. They may have prevented it from clearing the Threshold of Awesome (on the “fun” scale it’s very middle-ground) but, for me at least, they didn’t drag it across the Threshold of Disappointment and into the abyss.


¹Okay, not quite all. There’s a moment of absolute Bechdel failure² in which the film’s two dominant women—Wonder Woman and Lois Lane—don’t even speak. They just share a look, and yes, it’s totally about a man. And it’s their only communication in the film.

²Bechdel failure is not automatic film failure for me, but it’s a solid indicator of something being deeply wrong.


Javelin Rain, by Myke Cole

JavelinRainJavelin Rain is the sequel to Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell, and if you thought the first book was riveting, you’ll likely find Javelin Rain to have even more rivets, and maybe some arc welding. “Gripping” is a word that gets used a lot. Javelin Rain was definitely that.

Myke’s Shadow Ops series is shelved as Urban Fantasy, which is the bookshelf genre that bookstores use to tell people that the book features our world, except with magic in it. Bookshelf genres only really tell you what group of readers the booksellers are trying to aim the book at, and Javelin Rain could be very accurately aimed at fans of thrillers, horror stories, and science fiction—not to mention aficionados of military fiction, and anybody who likes to see a moral quandary laid bare on the page.

If you like any two of those things, you’ll enjoy Javelin Rain. If you like some of those things, and hate some of the others, Javelin Rain may force you into that uncomfortable place where you have to reconsider your tastes before growing a bit as a reader.

Myke’s debut novel, Control Point was described by Peter Brett as “Blackhawk Down meets The X-Men.” The best mash-up logic I can come up with for Javelin Rain is “Steven King and Brandon Sanderson perform necromancy on Tom Clancy.”