Monday, 24 January 2011

WIZARD AND TOYFARE CEASE PUBLICATION

Wizard magazine, the comics industry bible, and its sister publication Toyfare are to cease production immediately, according to reports circulated today. They are to be incorporated onto an online magazine under the banner of Wizard World, so the content will continue, but no longer in the print medium.

On the one hand this is devastating news, as Wizard has been THE comics industry magazine since its launch in 1992 (alongside competitor title HERO, which quickly folded while Wizard went on to corner the market) and a mainstay of the scene for very nearly twenty years, while on the other hand it's cool to see that an online only version is being seen as a viable concern.

It's going to be interesting to see how both the industry and the fanbase reacts to this news, and if their migration to a purely digital platform will work out in the long run. After all, you can't build a collection of website pages the same way you can collect a magazine, and despite advances in e-reading, you still can't roll a site up and stick it in your back pocket, can you?

While I can understand the changes, it's still quite a shock to think that those two magazines, the one-time lynchpins of geekdom for many people, are now no more. A massive decline in readership is to blame, which was kinda inevitable really with the rise and domination of the internet. it makes sense for Wizard's operations to move online. Still, it's a sad day for many people to whom Wizard was more than just a convenient back issue price guide. I hope it continues for a good long while online.

Oh yeah, they'd better continue Twisted Toyfare Theater, or there'll be riots in the streets ;)

For more details on these events, check out this post at Comic Book Resources.

EDIT: so Wizard and Toyfare are dead, and now Kevin Smith announces his retirement after his next film? Wow... the pop culture landscape I grew up on in the 90s is finally dying out completely :(

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Train Journey + 99p iTunes Rentals= WIN

A weekend away beckoned for a family birthday visit, and thus two lengthy train journeys stretched out ahead of me. Travelling light was essential, so I couldn't laden myself down with stuff to keep me amused during the lengthy trips across the English countryside. Yes, I could have just appreciated the scenery as we passed it, but I've spent most of my life looking at it, so entertainment was needed. Thus iTunes was my saviour.

Filling my iPad with podcasts, videos, new music playlists and TV episodes, I thought it was time to take the plunge and finally try out an iTunes movie rental or two, just to see how it all worked. The experience is certainly one I'll be repeating. I rented two films for 99p each, namely Hunter Prey and Skinwalkers, good old fashioned b-movies that would be good fodder for my movie site.

While downloading such large files took longer than I'd have liked (more own to our home connection rather than anything else), transferring them was very easy and watching the films was a pleasure. While new releases and big movies are more expensive, it's easy to find something entertaining to watch for less than a quid.

The quality is passable, if not perfect, but for viewing on a mobile device such as an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, it's pretty sweet. Sound quality is excellent as long as you listen on headphones and not via the built-in speaker.

The files delete themselves after a month if you don't watch them, or after 48 hours once you've started, which gives you plenty of time to get through a flick without having to worry about taking up a load of space on your device for very long. I'm glad I tried it, and will be renting more as soon as I find something tacky enough to keep my eyes open the next time I'm suffering public transport. Give it a go- I mean, for 99p you can't really lose.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

About That X-Men: First Class Photo

So finally the first official cast image from X-Men: First Class has arrived online, and my initial reaction is a resounding 'Meh'. There's something about this project that says either 'TV Pilot' or simply 'Huge flop' all over it.

Of course, I have no basis for that, but the image just looks kinda like a cosplay photo and the concept of the film just feels rather weak. It'll be great for comics nuts to see Charles and Erik as friends and whatnot, but after X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were both less than stellar, do movie audiences still give a hoot about the X-Men?

Oh, and will this one somehow tie in with the Marvel Movie Universe that has been established?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Death of Rock? Not Bloody Likely

An article over at The Guardian is stating that we are witnessing the death of rock and roll as an art form. The piece goes on to explain that rock is accounting for a very small percentage of mainstream sales, and that these are the final days of the genre.

Quite frankly; No.

Rock music may well account for very little airplay on mainstream radio and next to no portion of mainstream charts, but to say that the genre is on its last legs is remarkably blinkered for such a respectable publication. Rock music is not dying. It is not vanishing. The genre, its bands and its fans just have no interest in appealing to an audience that is content to exist on a diet of X-factor winners and losers, novelty singles, insipid Hip Hop knockoffs and bland dance music with a short shelf life.

Rock music may have something of a lower profile in the UK, but that's largely down to the scene just getting on with releasing music and playing gigs, rather than obsessing over a celebrity ideal or relying on reality show votes. Charts mean nothing any more. After being actively shoved off the TV channels, radio stations and mainstream magazines, rock has developed its own world and is far from dead. In fact, it is more alive now than it has been in a long time.

Look to the festivals. I don't mean the festivals full of passing-fad bands like Glastonbury and suchlike. I mean the festivals that are global. The festivals that, in this age of rock's apparent death, keep on getting bigger. Download. Sonisphere. Wacken.

The piece brings up a lack of album sales and a lack of chart presence. Says who? The bands are selling their albums to the people that will appreciate them. Rock music has always had an underground mentality, and always survives no matter what the passing trends are. It changes, yes, but it doesn't fade away. As a genre it has been around for fifty years, evolving out of the blues, and it will continue to evolve for at least another fifty years. Rock is bigger than just this tiny island. In the grand scheme of the music industry, pop music from the UK is insignificant. The charts are even less so.

Check out the rock magazines, such as the one I proudly write for. Go to a rock gig. Go to a metal gig. Go to a rock club. Soak up that atmosphere. See how much the music and lifestyle means to people. Then tell me rock is dead.

Then apologize for being so wrong.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary to iFanboy!

iFanboy, the comic book discussion and review site that spawned the hugely popular iFanboy video and audio podcasts, is officially ten years old today. That's ten years of bringing comics fans news on new and upcoming titles as well as countless reviews and opinion pieces, interviews and features on the industry and the creators behind it.

The guys behind iFanboy do a sterling job, and their reputation speaks for itself, as alongside places like Comic Book Resources, iFanboy is one of the most important comics related websites and names in the world. So yeah, huge congrats to the iFanboy guys and here's to many more years of bickering, hyping and geeking out. Your audience is most grateful!

If you're into comics and haven't heard of iFanboy, then do yourself a favour. Visit iFanboy.com and/or subscribe to both the audio and the video podcasts that the place puts out. The reviews are honest and fair, and there is a genuine passion for the medium very apparent from each of their writers/presenters. Damn good stuff.

In fact, check out a recent episode to see for yourself:

Review: NECROGRINDER - 'Mangled Fetus Insertion' EP

Necrogrinder
"Mangled Fetus Insertion"
Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal Independent Release

Necrogrinder's new EP offers little in the way of pop hooks or sugary melodies, but for the devout connoisseur of blastbeat-laden grindcore, this may well be the aural equivalent of a well-used secret sock. That's to say, it'll make the crusty grindcore fans out there require a tissue. Violent, relentlessly brutal and more than a little deranged, Necrogrinder have created eight tracks of lightspeed nastiness that recall early Carcass, Sodom, Mayhem, Anal Cunt and Cattle Decapitation.

The band has their tongues wedged firmly in their collective cheeks, and the EP features some excellent examples of the genre in songs such as 'Chainsaw Brainsore' and 'Gorehammer', both of which only run to a minute and a half, which is almost epic by grindcore standards. 'Bummed by the Bin men' has one of the best titles in history, and the track itself is most fitting of its monicker.

While the vocals on the EP are completely unintelligible, that's not really the point of them. This is extremity that has been created with a sense of humour and shows off some vicious talents.

The band are on fine form, with deceptively simple riffs and crushing rhythms played tightly. The mix is less that perfect, lacking some weight to the middle frequencies, and the vocals are mixed too high, but it's a damn fine indie grindcore release that needs to be heard by more than just the immediate circle of local fans.

Check them out at the Necrogrinder UK Myspace Page

Friday, 7 January 2011

Short Science Fiction: A Market On The Rise?

Short stories were once the bread and butter of the science fiction industry. Some of them, such as Isaac Asimov's legendary Foundation stories, were collected into book form and became some of the most respected works of fantastical literature ever committed to paper. Since those golden days that are so highly regarded even now, the short story has seemed to slip by the wayside to a certain extent. The magazines that have traditionally published short science fiction and fantasy stories have been struggling in recent years, but the online market for short-form fiction has been growing at an incredible rate. The difference? Price. Much of the content online has been available for free, on websites or as PDFs, audio podcasts and more, and the magazines have struggled to stay afloat in the face of all this free content.

How can the balance be redressed? I'm not entirely sure. Publishing is in the midst of a transitory phase, with consumers getting used to the idea of ebooks much quicker than most publishers can (or are willing to) keep up with. But ebooks aren't the whole future of the publishing industry- more an adjunct that will eventually match paperbacks for sales. I don't see them completely replacing printed books any time soon, but what I do see on the horizon is the continued rise of print-on-demand books.

That aside, the short story market is something that has been of great interest to me for many years, and with the death of many magazines (as well as the inability to get any - apart from the wonderful ANALOG - in the UK without a subscription), it looked as though short SF and fantasy was a dying breed as a market for new writers and readers. But things seem to be on the up at last. More magazines are starting to emerge, and the old titles are hopefully starting to see an upward turn in fortunes too. I think that readers are now starting to get the hang of shorter fiction again.

How can the market make this work in its favour though? Giving fiction away is a great way to get people to visit sites, become aware of authors and suchlike, but there has to be some level of monetization in there to make it feasible for creators and publishers to do so. Donations buttons are a good idea, but low-priced short stories and novellas are even better. Michael Stackpole, famed SF and fantasy author, is the king of this. His website (www.stormwolf.com)is awash with very reasonably priced short fiction that has proven to be very popular with readers.

Check out the iBooks store for iPhone and iPad, for example. You can find a wealth of fiction there for a low price from writers both new and established. The Kindle store is a good place for fiction at a low price, too. As for printed fiction, try looking towards independent publishers as well as the big names, as there is a massive amount of fiction out there that goes unread, which is little short of criminal. There are some true gems being published by indie presses, and isn't it worth a little effort in order to get hold of something wonderful?

Yes, I'm biased regarding this matter as I write and am always looking for a new creative endeavour, but the reader in us all can gain a huge amount from short fiction. It's important to the continued evolution of every kind of literature - not just genre fiction - that short stories, novelettes and novellas continue to find their way to publishers and readers the world over. Check out websites such as 365tomorrows.com for free flash fiction, or podcasts such as Podcastle, Escape Pod or Starship Sofa for free audio fiction (or the brilliant Dragon Page: Cover To Cover or Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing for publishing chat) and when you read or hear a story you enjoy, seek out what else the writer of the story has done, and make it known that you want more. That's the only way to help the short story market grow and develop further- make it known that you want the content, and content you shall have.

(Expect links galore to the best fiction available online and elsewhere in the near future, along with more opinion on SF and publishing)

Sunday, 2 January 2011

I: A Newspaper For The Blogging Generation

I've started picking up the I newspaper of late, the abridged version of the Independent. When it was first starting to circulate, I didn't really see the point, but now I'm sold. For one thing it's only 20p, so that instantly appeals to a lot of people, but the content is actually pretty good.

It kinda feels like the Metro, but without all of the Daily Mail style nastiness. While it does lack the delights of the Nemi comic strip (the only thing worth getting a Metro for), it does supply a nicely concise overview of the day's news.

I would liken it to a printed version of a news blog, without the hastily worded articles. It's a good read and easy to carry around, with journalism that is straight to the point. It's worth 20p, if only to avoid having to be seen with the Mini Mail that is the Metro. Give it a try.