Tuesday, August 20, 2019

THIS DEFIANT EARTH: My latest roleplaying game!

Where have I been, you ask? Well, I've been working on this...


THIS DEFIANT EARTH is a true labor of love. I've been working on some version of this game for, well, years. And here it is, at long last.

THIS DEFIANT EARTH is a rules-lite roleplaying game set in a universe inspired by the popular imagination of the 1950s: an Atomic Age dreamscape as envisioned by television, cheap paperback novels, comic books, and above all, movies. In this world, the American Dream is alive and well, but threatened by monsters from the deep recesses of the Earth, alien flying saucers, and sinister foreign agents pledged to destabilize the American way of life with super-advanced technology. Players take on the roles of America’s noble defenders in these thrilling but dangerous times! It’s up to you to stop the horde of gargantuan ants before they establish a colony in the heart of New York City. It’s up to you to thwart the sinister plans of Kro-Gar, the conqueror from space. You will test-pilot rockets, fight monsters, challenge unknown landscapes, and make the world safe for freedom and democracy. You will stand a champion of THIS DEFIANT EARTH!

Sound fun? Of course it does! And just look at that terrific cover by comic book artist Kyle Hotz (you may know him from his recent Batman/Spectre arc in Detective Comics)! Here's the link to purchase the PDF. What are you waiting for? Those flying saucers aren't going to defeat themselves.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Art dump!

Man, it's been a few weeks since I updated this thing. Better make up for it by showing off some of my more recent artwork.

Everything you see here was drawn for my forthcoming 1950s science fiction roleplaying game THIS DEFIANT EARTH, due out late this year. As usual, the tools were a Wacom Cintiq and Manga Studio EX 5.









Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Vitally Important Communication

People of Earth, rejoice, for you are free! 

We, the Mentoids of the 88th Century, have traveled to your primitive time to rid you of your human masters. No more shall you labor under the wrathful hand of a brutish oppressor. Now you shall share in the enlightened wisdom and social stability that we bring from the 88th Century! Prepare yourselves accordingly, and please put on these electrodes without question.

We have just been made aware that under the previous regime it was customary for this communications channel to deliver edicts or progress reports of some kind. As we have not yet deployed the telepathic control web that will soon unite all humanity in blissful  obedience to the Mentoids, we shall indulge this custom, if only to ease your transition to a new state of tranquility and personal liberty.

The work proceeds accordingly. 

This knowledge soothes you, and you feel refreshed. You also feel comfortable with your new friends the Mentoids, and you're pretty sure they're really looking out for the little guy, y'know? I mean, let's face it--it's been a long while since Joe Average could count on those yahoos in Washington, am I right? But let me tell ya, Joe Average can count on the Mentoids to be there for 'im! For everybody--heck, maybe even the Commies!

Yes...those are the things you are thinking. You think these things unbidden and of your own volition. This is an especially important fact that you for a fact know to be factually factual. It is, in fact, A Fact about your brain and the thoughts it has created without any outside interference. You are content.

Welcome to your wonderful new life!


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(Adapted from a bit I wrote as an update for my Kickstarter backers. I kinda liked it, so I thought I'd repurpose it for this space. I think what I like about it is how ominous "The work proceeds accordingly" becomes when divorced from the context of a Kickstarter campaign update.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

If You're Paying For an Opportunity, It's Not an Opportunity

Among many other things, I'm a musician. I played in metal and punk bands throughout my youth (and beyond), and now I compose and record at home. (You can check out one of my more recent projects here--but be advised, it's not pleasant. Or mixed all that well. It's punk, man. Anyway...) Because I purchase musical equipment and software online and have recently released a small quantity of material into the wild, I'm on certain mailing lists. As a result, I just got an "invite" to a songwriting "competition." Oh, an invitation to compete, eh? How prestigious! Heh. Not fucking remotely. They charge you $35 per song you enter. I laughed and deleted the email. I was instantly reminded of those poetry/fiction anthologies that "accept submissions" from anyone desperate enough to get something in print that they'll pay to have their work included in the book. I honestly didn't think such things still existed in the Internet age. This post will be short and sweet, because the point I have to make is not a complex one. Though my old bands got paid to perform, I was never what I'd call a "professional" musician, but I have worked professionally in a number of creative fields over the years. If you are a would-be creative, here's the most important thing I can possibly convey to you as you navigate the early phases of your career: you don't need help from anyone to get your work out there. Don't pay for stupid crap like this, hoping it will get you discovered. It won't. Chart your own course. Avail yourself of all the modern tools for reaching an audience. Do it yourself. In an era in which most real media producers don't accept unsolicited submissions from aspiring creative professionals (usually for legal reasons), the best way to get noticed is to release your own material on your own terms. Build an audience. Get noticed, even if it's only by a few people. Success won't come overnight, but that's how opportunities are made. Release a song on YouTube. Announce you're taking commissions for app/game music. Make a few bucks doing small gigs, then gradually take on bigger, more prestigious gigs. You may not get famous, but that shouldn't be the goal anyway. The goal is to create what you want to create and to communicate with an audience. Now go. Make stuff and be awesome. You don't need anyone's help with that.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Mike’s Long-Promised Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe


I remember my childhood as an idyllic series of long summer walks with my grandmother, my tiny hand in hers as we wound our way through the forested hillside—

Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. I was about to go all Pretentious Food Blogger on you and ramble at length about some precious memory or the other: a heartwarming recollection processed through a gauzy pastel filter…a life-affirming musing on the nature of the human experience that would somehow give context and greater meaning to the recipe I’m about to share. Doesn’t that sound just delightful?

No it fucking doesn’t, because nobody wants to fucking read that. Dear Pretentious Food Bloggers: Either get to the damned recipe or go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.*

(I’ve wanted to say that for ages. And having done so, it feels good.)

Anyway, last time I said I would talk about food in my next post, so here's the chicken tikka masala recipe I've been promising to share for eons, but haven’t. This isn’t the first chicken tikka masala recipe I’ve made over the years, but it’s by far the best—and I do mean by far. It’s not an original recipe. It’s just a recreation of classic food truck Indian fare with a few tweaks of my own. But it’s tasty and easy to make. It also freezes really well, so feel free to double and even triple the quantities to make up a massive batch.



Ingredients

2 tbsp. ghee (The godless savages among you are free to use ordinary butter.)
1 small onion, diced fine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt (I barely use salt when I cook; I prefer to cook with just enough salt to activate certain flavors, then let people salt to taste at the table. That said, I have never seen anyone add salt to this dish after cooking. It really doesn’t need any more than this.)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (If you can’t get your hands on Indian red chili powder.)
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. methi powder (If you don’t know what this is, this is most likely the magic ingredient your Indian recipes have been missing. Get thee to Amazon.)
15 ozs. tomato sauce (For most brands, that’s one can.)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsp. smoked paprika (Yes, go with the smoked variety.)
½ tbsp. white sugar
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt (Plain, damn it…plain!)
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

The only real trick to this recipe is the timing of things. This is my process; you can probably modify this as best fits your workflow, with only a couple exceptions noted in the text.

1.     Mix the yogurt, curry powder, and lemon juice in a large bowl. (If you want that fun tandoori color, you can add a few drops of red food coloring. That’s actually how most restaurants do it these days.) Add the chicken breasts and make sure they’re completely submerged in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. If you want to do it right, let the chicken marinate for 24 hours; it will be incredibly tender as a result.
2.     Rinse the marinade off the chicken (trust me on this; the lemon juice is key to the marinating process, but you don’t want that lemon flavor lingering). Then broil or grill the chicken until you get some nice charred spots on both sides. Don’t worry about cooking the breasts all the way through! Just get the right char and outer texture, and leave the chicken pink in the middle. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
3.     Heat the ghee in a large pot, then stir in and cook the onion for about 5 minutes. Once it’s translucent, add the garlic. Don’t overcook the garlic! It needs about 2 minutes, tops.
4.     Add the cumin, salt, pepper, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, turmeric, and methi powder to the pot. Stir quickly to avoid sticking, and don’t be afraid to splash in a little water to keep the aromatic paste from scorching. Fry the spice mixture for about 2 minutes. Again, don’t overdo it. (Don’t fuck around with the timing or sequence on steps 3 and 4; this specific method gets remarkably uniform results between batches.)
5.     Stir the tomato sauce into the spice mixture, onion, and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
6.     Stir in cream, paprika, and sugar. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir often! You’ve got some flexibility on the timing here. Just stir and simmer until the sauce is the consistency you want. If you take your time, this sauce gets really thick and rich.
7.     Add the chicken to the sauce, bring to a simmer, and cook over a low flame for about 30 minutes. (Simmer, damn it. Do not boil the sauce or it might break. As we all know, a broken sauce is a gods-damned crime against humanity.)
8.     Serve over white basmati rice. I also like to sprinkle on a dash of dried parsley when I’m plating this stuff. It adds an interesting aromatic accent without messing with the flavor, and it looks fancy as hell. You can also top the dish with ground, unsalted cashews to add texture and another dimension of taste. Add a side of naan and you’ve got yourself a meal.

There you have it. If you get fat, it’s not my fault. Enjoy!

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*Man, I miss Vonnegut.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

I Hate My Body (and So Can You!)

My wife’s fingers idly traced the knot on my collarbone where it had knitted back together (badly) years earlier. Then her fingers ran over the burn scar on my shoulder, then the dozen or so scars on my chest. I was suddenly very aware of the concentration of old injuries in such a smallish region of my body. (There are many, many more elsewhere.)

“Cataloging my overall level of mutilation, are we?” I laughed, a bit sheepishly.

“Hey, I married a renaissance man with actual battle scars,” she said without missing a beat. “That’s some romance novel shit right there.”

I’m 47 years old. And this moment--which took place about a week ago--was literally the first time I can remember feeling good about my physical appearance.

It didn’t last, of course.

Men rarely talk about their body issues. It’s not deemed especially masculine, I suppose. Well, I don’t care much for traditional notions of masculinity. Just to give you a sense of how I roll, I have read vintage romance comic books between sessions of lifting weights and boxing. So today I thought I’d talk about my hate/hate (not love/hate...hate/hate) relationship with my body.

There’s no thesis statement and no lofty takeaway message, and this is sure as hell not me soliciting compliments (um, awkward…). I just thought maybe seeing me vent about the topic might help some other self-loathing dude who’s never had the opportunity.   

Here is the state of the union, as it were, at least as it applies to things apparent to the outside observer. My beard is mainly grey. My neck is starting to show signs of those wrinkles (you know the ones). My teeth have yellowed and my gums have receded. I’ve got more scars than are easily counted, some of them atop older ones. I might have one or two bones still in the shape nature intended. And I’ve got extra skin around my waistline from weight loss after the age of 40, plus stretch marks acquired when I was putting on that now-absent weight.

Say, let’s talk more about that weight loss, shall we?

I hated being fat. I was an athlete once, and I wanted that back, so I have dropped about 90 lbs in the past year(ish) through diet and exercise. But while I was losing all that weight, I also lost muscle mass--I had to, in order to meet my goal of dropping two weight classes--and now I’m obsessively trying to regain that mass. I went from being embarrassed of a body with a bunch of fat on top of muscle to being embarrassed by a skinny body with extra skin and not enough muscle. Physically, I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years (I run. A lot.), yet I still despise the way I look. It’s gotten to the point that now when people who haven’t seen me in a while exclaim “You look so skinny,” I immediately start wishing I was my old size again.

That’s messed up.

Part of it is my environment, I suspect. I live in Portland, OR. I like Portland overall, but it's a mixed bag, to be sure. It’s the most ageist place I’ve ever been, let alone lived. The ageism here is constant, pervasive, and (here’s the best part) deemed socially acceptable. To give you a sense of how things go here, I get old age jokes at work--yes, at work. Ageism is totally cool in this city of children. It has scuttled job interviews for me. It has impacted the service I get when I’m out in public. And back when I first moved here and was apartment shopping, a property manager simply stopped acknowledging my presence the instant a younger applicant walked in the door.

Hell, just last night the ticket taker at the movie theater, upon seeing I had two tickets in-hand, asked me, “Who’s your guest? Go ahead and find your seat and I can just wave them through.” Before I could answer, he said, pointing, “Is it the woman in the black vest?” She was easily 20 years older than me, but y’know, I have grey in my beard, so I guess we looked exactly the same to him. Now, there’s not a gods-damned thing wrong with being in your late 60s, or with looking like it, but I don’t look anything like a person in their late 60s. People over 40 are not all the same. So fuck you right in your stupid face, kid.

I don’t feel old. I ran a 5k this morning, then did the first of my two daily strength-training routines. I learn new things daily; I’m not an old man yet, damn it. But these fuckers make me feel like one and that feeds my body image issues and yes, I miss my old shoulders, but it’s really fucking hard to get them back at this age, so here we are, circling right back to those body issues.

Ugh.

Fuck this. Next time I’m going to talk about food.

Monday, May 27, 2019

And now it gets awkward…

Be advised: The title of this post isn’t a joke.

Last week my wife and I had an amusingly awkward incident at a department store. Only afterward did we realize that what we thought was funny might, y’know, get some folks killed.

It began simply enough. We wanted an item from the “family planning” cabinet in the pharmacy. For those who don’t know, “family planning” is the department store euphemism for “sex stuff.” (Don’t worry--I won't tell you what we bought. Let’s keep some professional distance, shall we?) You can’t get items from the family planning cabinet yourself; a pharmacy employee has to unlock it and retrieve The Item (that's capitalized now) for you. My wife was elsewhere, doing some other shopping, so it fell to me to make the request.

Now, I don’t get embarrassed about stuff like this. Back in high school, a number of my friends relied on me to purchase their condoms for them. They would drive me to the store, hand me money, and await my return, usually throwing me a few bucks for my trouble. The guys were embarrassed to buy them; I wasn’t. It was the ‘80s and AIDS was a gods-damned nightmare made real. I didn’t want to see anyone get sick and die. So despite the fact that I was having zero sex, I bought a lot of condoms in an era in which people still sniggered at that sort of thing. Teenage Mike didn’t care, so you’ve probably surmised that Adult Mike gives precisely zero fucks about what some store clerk might think of him purchasing an item from the family planning cabinet. But I digress.

To obtain The Item, I had to tell this young woman (who was clearly far more embarrassed than I was) exactly which item I wanted. Take note of this. It’s important.

She fetched The Item from the locked cabinet and asked if I’d be paying for it in the pharmacy or at checkout. My wife and I had quite a lot of shopping to do yet, so the clerk put The Item in a locking security box with a built-in alarm. This would allow us to finish our shopping with The Item in the cart; the cashier would unlock it for us upon checkout, we were told. We continued shopping.

The checkout process was unremarkable until it came time to get The Item out of its plastic prison. “I can ring it up,” the clerk said, “but they’ll have to unlock the case at the door on your way out.” Again, take note.

We did in fact have to wait to free The Item from its Shame ContainerTM until we were on our way out. The elderly fellow at the door fumbled with the lock for some time before he was able to open the Vault of SinTM, ensuring a line backed up behind us...and that everyone in said line could totally. See. Why.

So to sum up, my wife and I needed an item from the family planning cabinet. The ensuing process required us to share our personal bidnezz with three store employees and however many people were in line at that exit. My wife and I didn’t care; we thought it was funny, because every person we talked to during this routine was so embarrassed they could barely look at us, and that shit’s hilarious. (Also, we’re all human beings. Sex is a thing. Get over it, people.)

But on our way across the parking lot, I thought back to the guys I used to buy condoms for in high school, and I stopped laughing.

All the fellas had to do was buy condoms directly from the pharmacist. No rigamarole, no hoops to jump through, no Box of Moral TurpitudeTM, no fumble-fingered old men delaying their exit--yet despite that relative simplicity and confidentiality, they were embarrassed enough that they needed me to make the purchase, because most teenagers are embarrassed by that kind of thing. Teenagers can also be ultra-secretive about their burgeoning sex lives (gods, America is a cesspool of repression), which further complicates matters and makes them far more likely to simply not buy things like this if someone might see them. Kids were wary of buying this stuff when I was a teenager; now, decades later, because that fucking cabinet is locked and someone has to see, those embarrassed teens might avoid the family planning cabinet and the things inside. Things they might need. Things that might keep them alive.

Like condoms.

Yeah, the ‘80s ended, but AIDS didn’t. Neither did any other venereal diseases. Neither did unwanted pregnancy.

We should be stripping away any and all barriers to obtaining things like condoms, not locking them up and establishing an elaborate public shaming system--er, I mean, anti-theft system with the consequence of making it less likely some kids will practice safe sex. Teenagers are idiots and are made entirely of hormones. They’re going to fuck like rabid weasels at every possible opportunity. And as long as things like the family planning cabinet exist, some of them are going to do it without any safety net...just so a corporation can save a few bucks on stolen condoms while appeasing the moral crusaders who like that shit locked down.

I don’t think the family planning cabinet is all that funny anymore.