Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category.

Check out: A terrifying infomercial for Smart Pipe™

This isn’t a real product, but it’s feeling more real every day.

This video was made in 2014 and feels ripped from the headlines of about 2022. We’re pretty close to there.

(This video contains a lot of references to poop.)

Podcasts Well Worth Your Time for Sept. 2019

Podcasts Well Worth Your Time for Sept. 2019

I’m overloaded with podcasts! Take a few from me!

Here are a few more individual episodes from my recent listening that I enjoyed, and thought you might too.

(I could not find written transcripts for any of these, unfortunately.)

Decoder Ring: “Truck Nutz” (Website / Overcast )

…These plastic novelties have a powerful symbolic charge and are often associated with a crass, macho, red state audience.

But truck nuts are a surprisingly complicated signifier whose symbolic power is increasingly divorced from their real-world usage.

On this episode, we talk to owners and users of truck nuts, investigate the origins of the accessories, and deconstruct the meaning of these oft-joked-about symbols. We’ll also take a tour of other novelty testicle products.

Decoder Ring is a Slate podcast about “cracking cultural mysteries”.

In each episode, host Willa Paskin explores a common thing from our culture and figures out why it matters.

I have made fun of Truck Nutz before. I did not think there was much more to think about Truck Nutz. I dismissed them as coarse and stupid.

I am the audience, then, for this podcast. It turns out everyone else thinks they’re stupid, too, and that, indeed is the joke.

We, as a species, are bad at identifying when groups we don’t belong to are being serious vs. when they are being tongue-in-cheek. This is a compelling exploration of the way that boundary can be straddled by Truck Nutz.

(Sorry for any weird mental images there.)

The World in Words: “The Sci-Fi of Another Language” (Website / Overcast)

The meaning of science fiction stories are often tough to pin down.

Do they depict the future or the present? Are they personal or political? Imaginative or reality-based?

Also, is sci-fi global or local? Were H.G. Wells and George Orwell dreaming up specifically British dystopias?

Are the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick manifestations of American ideals and nightmares?

Reporter Lydia Emmanouilidou set out to answer some of those questions for The World in Words podcast.

Lydia has been reading Chinese sci-fi for several years and has watched it blossom from obscurity to worldwide sensation.

This podcast about language is less about etymology or word origins and more about language itself — particularly how the different languages we speak can affect our lives and filter our understanding of the world.

This episode explores how a story written in a particular language (and cultural context) can be freighted with meaning that is not always apparent in translation, or that can be impossible to translate.

Without Fail: “The Tragedy Expert” (Website / Overcast)

In the days after September 11, 2001, Kenneth Feinberg took on an unenviable task.

Congress had created the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and it was his job to figure out who should receive money and how much they should get.

But much of his time was spent doing something else: listening to people’s stories.

Nearly two decades later, he’s still the person we turn to in the wake of our worst catastrophes.

This is a podcast about 9/11. So it’s a bit of a downer in moments.

It’s not about the tragedy itself, but rather how Mr. Feinberg was tasked with choosing who got compensation for losses sustained in the attack.

He is an enormously compelling speaker, and his stories from that time are fascinating and moving.

Miniseries recommendation: “The Dream” (Website / Overcast)

What if we told you that with zero experience and only a few hundred dollars down, this podcast could change your life?

Well, we’d be lying.

This season on The Dream, Jane Marie dives into the world of pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, and all the other businesses that require their members to recruit their nearest and dearest in hopes of a commission. 

This mini-series explores a subject that’s truly an enormous piece of the national economy, but which is also a source of heartbreak for many.

Part history, part documentary, and part gonzo journalism, it’s a very compelling look at get-rich-quick schemes and the folks who pitch them at the needy and desperate.

Hope you enjoy the listens!

[Previous podcasts & articles worth your time.]

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

I follow artist Ian McQue on Twitter, and recently he posted about his work on the Mortal Engines series:

I’d heard the title “Mortal Engines” before, probably in relation to the fact that it was a book series, but didn’t know anything about it. I kinda conflated it in my mind with “Moral Instruments”, which is a different YA book series I also knew very little about.

But when Ian started posting illustrations like these:

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

…I became very interested. Old-timey-looking stuff and flying machines! Two of my key interests!!

Ian kindly responded to my above tweet and recommended the books as a good read, so I got the first volume from my library.

It was good! I liked it! It had lots of airships zooming around, which, as stated earlier, I enjoy.

Ian did the cover to a recent edition of the book too:

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

If you haven’t read it, the book (series) centers on the idea of “traction towns”, which are giant cities on tracks that roam around a post-apocalyptic wasteland and consume each other for sustenance. The main city in the story (featured on the cover there) is London.

I had the vague sense that there was a movie too, but I’d mostly missed it. So I looked it up! Here’s the trailer:

Looks pretty exciting, right? Here are a couple of shots from the movie — interesting, scope-y shots:

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

All right, fine.

Cool book, cool movie maybe. What’s the point?

The books originally came out when it wouldn’t be surprising that YA titles would miss me entirely, but the movie came out less than a year ago.

I was a bit curious why this movie never crossed my radar even a little bit.

And then I realized — I had seen the poster in a theater lobby.

Here’s the main key art for the movie, the most commonly distributed poster (and the cover of the tie-in edition of the book):

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

Here are some other posters:

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

The last one is definitely more interesting and/or typcical, but I’m mainly only seeing it with international logos on there — I don’t think it was heavily featured in the US marketing campaign.

The two character posters have at least a little daylight in them (and there are a couple more in that basic style, with other characters), but in particular the close-up of the face communicates nothing about the movie. So it’s no wonder I’d skimmed past it without being interested.

The decision to make the main poster look like that puzzles me. Absolutely nothing that seems interesting (to me) about the movie is on the US posters — even granting that one of the posters shows a bit of the city.


1. The movie’s target audience is fans of the books, and with the close-up of the Hester Shaw character in the red scarf, they’re saying “IT’S A REAL LIVE PERSON” — emphasizing the fact that the thing you recognize (the title) has now been adapted into a movie.

2. The things that I like — weird airships and so on — don’t test highly on posters for general audiences, because most people aren’t dumb nerds like me. (But could the face close-up really be that much better?)

3. They were trying to sell this to a teenage female audience, and they felt the action stuff skewed too male.

4. They just honestly, legitimately felt this was the most compelling image to sell a movie about enormous carnivorous cities on tank treads??

I should also not gloss over the fact that this was marketed as a “girl power” movie in a post-Hunger Games movie environment. And there were some character close-up posters for Hunger Games. But there were a lot of action shots too.

In my research, I also came across this — an art contest in the leadup to the film’s release:

To amplify the launch of the film in December 2018, Universal Pictures is creating an art activation campaign leading up to this film’s release, and they want to collaborate with you!

Artists, designers and illustrators from around the world are invited to create one-of-a-kind static artwork for Mortal Engines inspired by the latest imagery, trailers, book series, and the film’s themes.

“Art activation campaign.”

I’m pretty against this sort of thing on principle, but there totally were some good submissions — at least representing a wider variety of approaches.

(In fact, it looks like the IMAX one above — with the icon of the tread in the background — came from this contest as a submission.)

All of this made me think of other times when poster art chose to rely heavily on close-ups of faces. Did they work? What do each of these posters communicate, I decided to muse about, and is it plausible that a studio could believe each would be enough to sell a movie?

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MINORITY REPORT: “Tom Cruise is in this movie. There’s a tech theme, and probably a theme about secrets and hidden information? Steven Spielberg directed it.” (Note: This is also an international poster, not the main key art that was used to sell the movie domestically.)

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION: “This is a sequel to a movie that, if you saw it, you know what this one is also about. And this time, there is snow.” (There was also an additional, more action-y poster for this film, too.)

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA: “This movie is DEFINITELY about a geisha. It will be largely about that and all that implies. There is no need to also include pagodas and tea sets and Mount Fuji in this image. If you recognize the title, you might know that it’s based on a book that was very popular and successful.”

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

SCREAM: “This is a horror-style movie. But we have taken the liberty of explaining the twisty premise of the movie as a very lengthy tagline. At the bottom you can see this is also a Wes Craven movie, and we are foregrounding that it is already ‘highly acclaimed’ and a ‘thriller’ so you know it’s not a throwaway spoof movie, like the many that will follow in its wake.” (This was also accompanied by a full cast poster, among others.)

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: “This is going to be creepy and probably involve death. Maybe you recognize the book title? If we try to include some plot hints such as implying it’s about cops and a serial killer, is that really MORE interesting than just being creepy here?”

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

BLACK SWAN: “This movie has Natalie Portman in it, and you know it’s gonna be weird, and maybe creepy? It’s a fancy film that has been to festivals, and it’s directed by Darren Aronofsky. So just prepare for something weird and probably creepy. Won’t it be wild to see Natalie Portman be creepy?”

MORTAL ENGINES: A baffling movie marketing case study

SALT: Okay this one is worse than Mortal Engines.

Roll-a-Sketches from SDCC! & This week: GEN CON

This week I’m at Gen Con in Indianapolis! I’ll be with the Blind Ferret crew at booth 1537.

The booth will probably look something like this — this is last year’s setup:

Roll-a-Sketches from SDCC! & This week: GEN CON

It’s pretty colorful.

Here are a few of the Roll-a-Sketch drawings I made for folks at San Diego Comic-Con last week! Click any drawing for a closer look.


Roll-a-Sketches from SDCC! & This week: GEN CON


Roll-a-Sketches from SDCC! & This week: GEN CON


Roll-a-Sketches from SDCC! & This week: GEN CON


Roll-a-Sketches from SDCC! & This week: GEN CON

The word balloon in this last one reads: “I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do is rule the land of pumpkins with an iron fist! That’s got claws sticking out of it!!”

Also, a brief housekeeping note. I apologize for the somewhat sporadic comics of late. We’ve been dealing with a very sick kitty who’s required a lot of care over the last few weeks. Sadly, we said goodbye to our buddy over the weekend.

All proceeds from sales of Feral Cat jigsaw puzzles go to the Charlie’s-vet-bills fund. As well as everything else I sell, I suppose.

(Feral Cat herself is fine; she has graciously donated her likeness to this cause close to her heart.)

THIS WEEK: San Diego Comic-Con!

THIS WEEK: San Diego Comic-Con!

It’s time once again for Comic-Con! This year I’ll be sharing the TopatoCo booth (#1229) with old pals Sam Logan and Kory Bing.

I won’t have the newest Wondermark collection there — it’s not quite finished being printed — but I will sign a sticker you can take home and put in the book when you do get it! Or any other book you own, or whatever!

I’m not doing any panels this year, so I’ll just be at the booth the whole time, staring quietly into the middle distance until someone calls my name three times with increasing sharpness. Hope to see you there!