MalcolmLittle in "HardlyLand"

Dirty Deeds Square from World War Robot

When you grow older you find that there are few things that really excite you any longer. Being a teenager (and this might extend to being a very young adult) revolves in many ways around becoming a devout follower of something cool. There is some musical artist, author or political movement that just draws you in and begins to define you and your free time. The infatuation is intense and you find yourself a zealot who burns for the next release or happening, just so you can revel in the very thing that makes life worth living. This kinda subsides and slows to an eventual halt when you grow older. Well, it happened to me.

From being a person who constantly discovered new bands and musical genres I find myself becoming more and more nostalgic. I like to listen to albums I loved earlier in life. I keep listening to established favorites, finding it harder to put the work into listening through new tracks and artists. The prospect of sifting through the barrage of posts in Pitchfork’s Forkcast-feed to find something worthwhile is just too much. It’s not that I necessarily have become more snobbish or think “music these days…”, I just find myself more attracted to listening to something I already know, something I can hum along with. If there are any young readers present I can assure you that I know how horrible this sounds. It is the worst kind of lazy convenience.

The zealousness is missed, I can tell you. And it’s not just the fear of being unhip; life can be drab without joy and fervor. I long for that teenage feeling. It has haunted me. Where was that curiosity that defined me so? Well, I finally found something that injected a large dose of much-needed vigor.

The toy company 3A dares you to like them. If you are like me you have probably seen and may have even bought some cool designer toys from Kidrobot or Toy2r. Plastic toys are no longer just for children and the quality of the design and production far outshines what we were used to while growing up. If you go deeper into toy fandom you will find two things, figures in 1/6 size (think Barbie and old 1960’s GI Joe) and robots. Well robots might be one of the first things you’ll find but after a while you find really cool robot toys of intricate design and great articulation. 3A makes these kind of toys.

Weathered and beat up robots 14 inches tall, baby-faced samurais, and zombie-fighting emo kids complete with chucks, hoodie and skinny jeans. They sound enticing just on paper, but take a look for yourself:

WWR: Lunar Armstrong (prototype without decals

Adventure Kartel: Little Shadow

Popbot: Tomorrow Kings

At first I balked at the price tag. Paying 75 dollars for some of Kidrobot’s larger toys was one thing, but 120-225 bucks (or more) was a lot of money to put up for one package, big as they can be. But the character design and detail is exquisite, and fetching.

3A is run by toy creator Kim Fung Wong and artist Ashley Wood. They have taken 1/6 figures and robot toy design to an entirely new level.

Kim Fung Wong had earlier created toys under the moniker ThreeZero (and still does), often with great attention done toward textiles and toy clothes. Ashley Wood is an illustrator, comic creator and painter. He has worked on the comics Automatic Kafka, Zombies Vs Robots and his own creation Popbot and has illustrated for properties like Metal Gear Solid, GI Joe and Silent Hill. He has recently been concentrating on painting (oil-based) and on the designs of the toys for 3A.

Art from World War Robot

My interest started as a curiosity, a peaked interest. I had happened upon 3A while searching for Japanese sci-fi robot model sets. Models have no real weight to them and are way too laborious to assemble. The picture search did however lead me to the Bertie, a robot design by Ashley Wood and made by a company called 3A. The toys were apparently sold out.

The size of the robots 3A produces varies, and the scale can be both 1/6 and 1/12. Even the smallest of them are fully articulated and the weathering of the paint job matches the quality of their larger counterparts.

Finding the fans and collectors’ photo group on Flickr showed off the craftsmanship and it was fun to see the dynamic shots the photographers were able to pull off with the figures. And finally I succumbed when seeing the two N.O.M. commanders on 3A’s blog. They quickly sold out on 3A’s online store and I kinda freaked out. They went fast. 3A has limited resources and their toy runs sold out quickly in those days. Now the more standard figures can be up for as long as 24 hours. I was lucky that the commanders were also being sold through retaliers and I found an eBay shop based in Hong Kong that sold them at a reasonable price. Disaster averted. I realized that I had taken the plunge into high-end designer toys.

3A began with producing Ashley Wood’s own creations and properties. Characters from his comic Popbot figure heavily, plus what you could perhaps classify as his toy lines World War Robot and Adventure Kartel (although books, comic strips and art are included as well).

An ad for the first run of Tomorrow Kings.The setting of the comic book Popbot is difficult to describe but you could say the story revolves around a normal-sized house cat who happens to be a carousing and womanizing popstar. He has basically wronged one too many people and now needs the protection provided by his robot roadie/bodyguard Popbot. The stories also include an army of vengeance-seeking sexbots, cloned super soldiers (called Tomorrow Kings, one of 3A’s more iconic toy figures), giant robots (of course) and a blind yet sharp-shooting cowboy.

World War Robot, or WWR for short, is done as both paintings and toys, with some bits of backstory strewn about. It revolves around a war between a colonized Mars and the homeworld Earth. The Martians are atheistic and the Earth is inhabited by religious fundamentalists, and the war is stoked by the mysterious industrialist and arms dealer Rothchild, who sells weaponry and robots to both sides.

Adventure Kartel depicts a mad scientist who has unleashed a zombie horde upon the world and the band of arrogant heroes who oppose him. The heroes include a dreary emo kid, his ass-kicking on-and-off-again girlfriend, his indie rocking father and the martial artist and suspiciously Christ-like character simply called the Fighting JC.

Adventure Kartel's Fighting JC

In Popbot there are also Tomorrow Queens.

A collection of some of the early toys in the WWR setting.

3A have continued to expand, both in quantity of each release but also in the properties the are now licensed to produce. They have already started to create toys for the myriad of characters of 2000AD comics. Upcoming collaborations include with companies Bandai and Konami for their respective IPs Gundam and Metal Gear Solid.

The packaging is also an impressive part of the toys and Ashley Wood has written, probably only half-jokingly, that he creates toys as an excuse to release the boxes.

Here I have only selected a mere handful of the amazing photos taken by the fans, who call themselves the Legion. More can be found on the ever-growing and popular Flickr group.

'Blanc snow', taken by Lord Korvo featuring the toy Blanc de Plume

'Tomorrow King Oyabun Naga' by Fuuuuuunk

'Euro Bramble' by smokebelch

All the pictures in this post, excluding the three just above, are taken from 3A and Ashley Wood.

The website Penny Arcade is much larger than the sum of it parts. It consists of a web comic (which could be easily be seen as the main draw for the majority of the site’s visitors), the creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins’ musings/”blog” entries, an online store, a forum and a growing collection of web shows under the name “PATV”.

The creators of Penny Arcade have long been vocal about their opinions on video games, pop culture and pretty much what ever they feel like. Child rearing, psychopharmacology and the newest in gaming consoles are some of the varied topics that come up, both in the comics and their accompanying posts. During one of their podcasts (where you can listen in on the creation of a comic strip) late last year illustrator Mike Krahulik asked the writer Jerry Holkins whether shedding light on their lives as comic creators would make for good television. Jerry said that it likely would, at the same time being horrified at the thought of such an endevour. It was the first time Penny Arcade regulars were introduced to the thought of a reality/documentary series based on the pair.

Little less than a year later the show Penny Arcade: the Series was first shown on their site. It revolves around interviews with the creators, the myriad activities of their company and the creative process of the webcomic. The comic is central to the website but it is not the strips alone that creates the phenomena that is Penny Arcade. The genesis of a comic, often a three-panel humor strip that is heavily grounded in gamer culture, is the two creators going through recent gaming headlines from news outlets like Kotaku where they wonder if anything strikes them as interesting or something they can have an (often humorous) outtake on. As comics go it is often funny, the angle of gaming isn’t as simple or as one-note as one could think, and the art is competent. It is the tone of the entire site that is the draw. You get the creators’ viewpoints, their “philosophy”. They are to-the-point, unapologetic and crass. They curse. They often depict violence. They tell you their honest opinions on games, people and culture. The humor is cutting. Game creators have said that having a comic about their game can either make or ruin their day. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins are above all else sincere.

Always a good read, with great comedic phrasing, the comic is is really at its best when it is not “gamer topical”. The comic has always had a touch of reality to it. Since the beginning the comic characters Tycho and Gabe have been alter egos for Jerry and Mike. Their real lives bleed into the comics and with the addition of the blog posts, and now the documentaries, you get a context that leads to more than just a joke in the second or third panel.

The short documentaries have shed further light on the going-ons at Penny Arcade and have finally made these voices manifest. You can see them fidget and laugh. You see how the comics come to fruition at their desks, and how their personalities cope with having to be “on” for the cameras. They are even funnier and more earnest on television (or webcast, to be correct) than in their comics.

The show displays nicely what a intriguing workplace Penny Arcade must be. You see the employees, with mastermind Robert Khoo in command, detail how such an work environment affects them and what a generally cool place it is.

PATV houses also the animated series Blamimation, created by webcomic artists Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub.

I recently helped record and release a newly started Swedish podcast about literature. It consists of two bloggers and the set up, for the time being, is to discuss Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel “Jane Eyre”. The first 94 pages are covered in the first episode. The bloggers are Åsa from Kafka på Jobbet and Sophie from Projekt Pretto. The episode is our first try at podcasting so the audio is kinda shabby. It isn’t even normalized. I did however manage to remove all the awful hissing from the microphones. It is in Swedish so it’s sadly not for everyone.

The file can be found here.

Chris Ware’s upcoming graphic novel “Acme Novelty Library No. 20” will be released shortly and original pages from the book will be shown at The Adam Baumgold Gallery in New York City. The exhibition began September 16 and the gallery can be found at 60 East 66th Street.

No. 20 will focus on the Rusty Brown story-line. More information about the exhibition can be found here.

I remember hearing Chris Ware say that he didn’t really care for showing his work in such an unfinished state, and especially without color, and that the books were what he saw as the intended medium to see his work. The illustrations were meant to visualize a story that was to be read.

Chris Ware’s illustrations are breath-taking in how well they are constructed and how the panels are laid out on the page but it is the emotional impact of the stories and the characters that really makes his books dear to me.

One small part in the Acme Novelty Library collection called “The Acme Novelty Library Annual Report to Shareholders” is Chris Ware’s brief history of art. In one strip called The Hopeless Romantic a painter tries to make a perfect portrait of a lost love (who, of course, dies shortly after the angst-ridden and self-loathing man finally dares to express his feelings). After countless tries he manages to capture the woman’s likeness and he is of course over-come with sadness and joy. He however wakes up the following morning finding himself struck blind. He fumbles around his home trying to find the correct portrait but never knowing which is the right one. He grows old surrounded by his paintings, endlessly trying to figure out which one is his love.

“Until, one afternoon some young moderns, bouyed by the boredom born of their age, pay our hero a visit.”

The young moderns walk right into the old artist’s house, take hold of the paintings and begin to destroy them, stomping on them and throwing them out of the house.

“The more anguished his cries, the more hearty their laughter.”

The young men leave and the old man, infinitely small, is outside his home, crawling in the wilderness by the mountainside.

“The shards of his work scattered in the sun, he left to seek them among the stones, sticks and dust. But soon he loses his way, and, unaware that he is inches away from her true likeness, cries out in loneliness, and dies.”

Here are some images of Chris Ware’s original illustrations that has been shown at the Adam Baumgold Gallery.

Cover of issue no. 1Nothing really new again, but illustrator and pop-culture enthusiast Bill Mudron has begun to produce a self-published comic book on the history of the biggest game company in the world, namely Nintendo. He has already published the first part and there are still a few copies of the first issue available at his shop.

Mudron often draws on imagery from video games, movies and comics. At the bottom of this post is an image of popular video game side kick characters Elena from Uncharted 2 with Alyx from Half-Life 2. More imagery can be found on his livejournal.

Nintendo through the eyes of Bill Mudron

Characters from the games Half-Life 2 and Uncharted 2

There is a game I love to read about. I have yet to play it. It is called Dwarf Fortress. The basic premise is that you have a small group of dwarves at your disposal and you need to build them a home. You decide what skills/occupations to give them and you order them around, telling them to dig, build and produce items. The dwarves have wants and motivations and they need to be kept (reasonably) happy, (preferably) sane and alive (for as long as you can manage).

An artist named Tim Denee has illustrated two different attempts at bringing prosperity to his dwarves. Tim, an obviously skilled player, creates advanced and intricate fortresses but doom is always looming near in Dwarf Fortress. The life of a dwarf is a life of strife.

The game is hard. The complexity is mind-blowing. The interface is dense, almost esoteric. Just placing your fortress in a favorable spot on the map (randomly generated by the game, complete with thousand year history and scores of denizens) is a tough choice, seeing as you need your base to be near mountains (for ore and for shelter; the dwarves shun sunlight), large bodies of water (above- or underground) and forests (for wood). It is in every way a strategic simulation game but it shares a lot of with a RPG sub-genre called “roguelikes“. Like many roguelikes you need to study a lot before even attempting to play. It is daunting. It is why I have yet to try the game myself.

Another similarity it has with the roguelike is that it has practically no graphics; the visualization is done through ASCII characters symbolizing the different items, surroundings and creatures in the game. One reason for this is probably so the developers of the game do not have to bother with graphics. At all.

One aspect that makes Dwarf Fortress truly great is that playthroughs leave great anecdotes. Similar to the Sims, Dwarf Fortress gives players such experiences that the retelling of these tales of legendary triumphs (and legendary defeats) are genuinely interesting to people who haven’t played the game. A friend of mine told me in an off-hand manner that goblin raids often attack his fortress and sometimes manage to steal away a few of the dwarves’ children. The children often return when fully grown and attack my friend’s base with the rest of their new goblin comrades.

Tim Denee’s illustrations are quick and to-the-point. They show nicely how he envisions his game sessions, which is what makes a game with basically no graphics so magical. You get stories like this. Hilarity ensues.

1: Denee’s first illustrated fortress “Bronzemurder” [Updated link]

2: His second chronicled fortress “Oilfurnace

This might be a tad old but I recently found the November-December issue of the literary magazine The Believer (no. 67 to be exact), with cover by comic creator and master illustrator Charles Burns (as is often the case for The Believer). He does a version of Edward Hopper’s “Cape Cod Morning” depicting characters seen in the respective comics of Chris Ware and Jerry Moriarty.

Chris Ware interviews the painter and sometime comic artist Jerry Moriarty in the issue. They talk about Moriarty’s artwork and the recently reissued collection of Moriarty’s “Jack Survives” comics. Chris Ware, describing Moriarty’s work, writes that “it’s poetry—I believe the first that comics has ever seen—and poetry as fresh and affecting now as when first drawn”.

Jerry Moriarty explains his own views on “Jack Survives”:

At forty-two I was part of a community of catoonists who were the smartest people I had (and have) ever met. True artists. But the wannabe hero-painter in me resisted the cartoonist label. I spent five years dedicated to Jack Survives with side trips to refresh my painter’s “chops”. Once I left the comics world and, in time, looked back, it was clear that Jack was my first truly original art. Everything I did before Jack had the stink of PAINTING.

Comic artists Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Peter Blegvad are also interviewed in the magazine (the interview with Blegvad can be read in full at The Believer’s website).


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