Trying to Understand Comics

After reading some of Ryan’s posts about the state of modern comic books, I ventured, for the first time in probably 20 years, into a comic book store: the legendary Al’s Comics here in San Francisco.

I spent $30 on a variety of comics, from Fantastic Four to The Eternals to Ms. Marvel (probably because of this cover–holy cow–but more on that later.). Al even threw in a copy of a Superman comic because I told him I never liked Superman and he took it as a dare.

Holy crap: so much has changed. The sheer number and type of titles has completely changed. It’s bewildering and hard to simply get started picking up a comic book. For one thing, comic books seem like they have completely been overrun by fanboys over the last 20 years. Titles like the X-Men have splintered into a vast series of titles, many seemingly in different universes with different storylines that don’t mesh together. Characters who are alive in one universe are dead in others, or have a different name or are evil or good or both. It’s really confusing. Just check out one of the wikipedia articles to get what I’m talking about.

Comic books have ratings now??!

And why are the credits and title at the end now?

Boys, boys, boys. Nearly every female character in superherodom now needs a Brazilian bikini wax. I’m throwing away my Victoria’s Secret catalog for being too demure. Even poor old flat-chested Kitty Pryde and Sue Storm are now crazy hot.

The art in general has completely changed. The influence of anime and more experimental pieces from the 1980s are everywhere. The old Kirby style is definitely long gone.

Here’s some mini-reviews of the issues I bought, in case you are interested in checking these out:

  • All-Star Superman #1. Not bad. Comprehensible, with some neat riffs on the tired Superman cliches. Kind of a sci-fi Superman. I’ll probably pick up another.
  • Fantastic Four #30. Dull, except for the Namor-Reed tension. Pass.
  • Green Lantern #11 and Green Lantern Corps #1. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here. Seems intriguing and layered, but I have no way of getting into these.
  • Uncanny X-Men #475. Lame. Thin story, weak characters.
  • Astonishing X-Men #14-15. Ah, now here’s the X-Men I remember. Nuanced, emotional, with a core of humor and humanity. I’ll buy more of these, and go back and buy the old ones.
  • Ms. Marvel #1. Ok, but probably won’t continue.
  • Eternals #1. Interesting, but slow-moving. I’ll probably give this one more read and see if it picks up.

I realize after writing this (“Can you believe what the kids are reading these days?”) that I must sound like the most out-of-it old fart, and man, that sucks.

On Fireworks and Patriotism

San Francisco smells like sulfur. The Fourth of July fireworks display has just ended, the nighttime fog red from the bursts of the rockets glare. As with every fireworks display, people gather on roofs and hillsides (and there are many in this city) to watch. All kinds of people: families, hipsters, older folks, singles, married, partners, gay, straight, white, black, asian, hispanic. It’s a patriotic and, to me, American, scene that people in other parts of the country don’t expect of us San Franciscans–godless, liberal, and nearly treasonous as we’re supposed to be.

But there’s a different sort of patriotism here than is commonly espoused as “patriotism” in the US, a type of patriotism that borders on annoying, so filled is it with passion and conviction. It’s the patriotism of Jefferson and Paine–men who believed in the separation of church and state, local governments, and the need, occasionally, for revolution. Not the crazy, live-in-a-Montana-compound sort of revolution, but instead an activist revolution from within, arising from reason, from Common Sense.

San Franciscans are impatient and angry about the political life of the US because we see the US as it one day will be and it looks like, well, San Francisco, simply because one day it must be more like us lest it perish–more tolerant, more diverse, more ecologically-friendly. We can see it so clearly, but have thus far been so perfectly blocked in making the country more like us. In fact, the US seems to be slipping away faster and faster towards the other direction, away from reason and tolerance and individual rights.

This sounds arrogant, I know, but I truly believe that time is on San Francisco’s side. Eventually, issues like the gay marriage amendment and “intelligent design” will fade away, to be studied like Plessy V. Ferguson and the Scopes Monkey Trial. If it doesn’t, well, I’m not sure what kind of America this will be then. Certainly not the America of Franklin or Lincoln.

So on this, Independence Day, let us celebrate independence, and recall the words of America The Beautiful:

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

What I’m Up To

A bunch of stuff happening lately, most about the book and its workshops of course.

First off is a podcast of yours truly being interviewed by Brian Oberkirch talking about interaction design and stuff like designing for hackability.

Next up is a panel with Brian, Kit Seeborg, and Jeremiah Owyang about online participation at Webvisions on the 20-21st of this month in Portland, Oregon.

In August, the book comes out, and with it some interviews, including one in AIGA’s Voice and another from Digital Web magazine. If you’re an academic or reviewer and would like a review copy of the book for evaluation or review, please contact me and I’ll arrange it.

August is also UX Week and the debut of two introductory sections of the all-day Designing for Interaction Workshop: What is Interaction Design? and The Elements, Laws, and Attributes of Interaction Design. Use my discount code and get 15% off: FODS.

You can also use that code when registering for the all-day Designing for Interaction Workshop in San Francisco on September 20th.

The following week, I’ll be Down Under in Sydney, first teaching the all-day workshop at Web Directions on the 26th, then leading/participating in OZ IA, the information architecture retreat/conference on the 30th and October 1. It’s my first time in Australia, and I’m thrilled to be going. Should be a blast.

Now that you know my schedule. I hope to see some of you at one of these events shortly!

Live 105: Kill the Tagline

Warning: SF Bay Area local rant post.

San Francisco’s Live 105 is a radio station that has the tagline, “Fighting to Keep Alternative Music Alive in the Bay Area.” This irks me to no end.

In the first place, positioning yourself as an scrappy little alternative radio station when you are owned by CBS Radio aka Infinity Broadcasting is a little disingenuous. Secondly, making this your slogan makes the station seem like a loser, like it is on the fast track to becoming a jazz radio station. Wouldn’t a more positive or even a neutral tagline such as “San Francisco’s Only Alternative Music Station” position it better? By making yourself seem like a loser, you drive away listeners and advertisers. How about “The Bay Area’s Best Music?”

Thirdly, even if Live 105 went under (which seems unlikely since it’s been around since 1986 when I was a teenager (RIP KQAK The Quake)), alternative music would hardly vanish from the Bay Area, in the same way it hasn’t vanished from New York City, where there is no alternative station. Alternative music lives on the edges, on college radio stations, live shows, podcasts, and whathaveyou. There’s lots of places to find it now. It doesn’t depend on a single radio station, not even LA’s influential KROQ.

Look, I like Live 105. I’m glad we still have an alternative radio station here in San Francisco. I listen just about every time I’m in a car. But enough with the martyrdom.

Measure Map Leaving the Nest

By now, you might know that Adaptive Path’s first product, Measure Map, has been sold. I’ve been a MM addict user for about eight months now and my blog was one of the first 20 or so that was tracked by the service. I’d use it even if the people who made it didn’t sit a few feet away from me. And I’m not alone. I’ve yet to hear of someone who didn’t like the service, except to want more of it.

MM is a great example of a problem most people thought was solved–site statistics–rethought and designed. I’m proud of it even though I didn’t have much to do with it. It’s a fantastic achievement for Adaptive Path.

A year ago when I was interviewing for a job at AP, “The Product” was an ultra-top secret experiment to see if we could eat our own user experience dog food. A year later, Adaptive Path is closer to being what was described to me as a “worktank” (not a thinktank), where our ideas about design and about products are built, not just discussed. The launch of MM and the prospect of more products to come affirm that I made a good choice last year.

Although it was always part of the plan, I’m sorry to see Jeff go along with MM, but he’s the product manager and I know my Google pals Chad Thornton and Elizabeth Windram will enjoy his company as much as I have. I wish him, and MM, well.

Technology Mania: You’re Soaking in It!

One of the things I was unprepared for when I moved back to San Francisco after a nearly 20 year absence was how much of a one-industry town the city has become. It’s now a lot more like Los Angeles (movies/TV) or Washington (politics) than it is like, say, New York or Boston, which have much more diversified industries.

A map of the mile around the Adaptive Path office with the names of technology companies and design firms on it would be a massive cluster. That map of the Bay Area might even be crazier. You don’t have to find people in the tech field here, they find you. Other parents at my kid’s school, people you meet at parties and at the park…it’s all tech tech tech. We went to a client’s office and realized we had another client in the same building and one in the building around the corner. This is probably not an unusual circumstance.

While this is interesting–the person next to you might be someone you’ve only read about–it also creates a (dare I say it) bubble effect. We’re so over hyped trends before non-geeks even register them. We get wound-up by companies and technologies that don’t affect anyone outside our technology circle.

It’s easy in SF to fall into this trap. The harder part is to look beyond the Bay Area and find real applications for the technology and design ideas we’re having. We need to apply our talents to where they are really needed–most of which aren’t a mile from our offices.

Blog Time

One funny thing about blog entries is that they are designed to be timely one-offs, and yet every time I’ve posted something with a relative time reference (“Yesterday, I…” or “Last week there was a discussion about…”), I’ve regretted it. Most of the people who visit my blog (and probably yours too if you have one) don’t follow religiously every day and likely stumble onto your site via a Google search.

Search destroys time. Sure, “date posted” could be part of the search algorithm, but that could be good or bad depending on the situation. People searching for “mood boards” (my #1 hit for some reason) don’t care about what happened three days before I posted that entry.

The temporary, the timely, ends up being permanent. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

Vetting for Competence

Perhaps I am naive about this, but I feel it’s the job of Congress, specifically the Senate Judiciary committee, to examine presidential nominees to the bench for competence and extremism, not ideology. If an nominee isn’t unqualified (Harriet Miers) or a demagogue (Robert Bork), the nomination should pass. After all, there is no guarantee how a justice will vote once on the Court; some of the most liberal justices have been nominated by conservative presidents, and even Sandra Day O’Connor has moved to the center over the years.

From what I’ve read about them, John Roberts and Samuel Alito seem like reasonable, conservative choices, as well as honorable men with solid records. I do not agree with their judicial philosophies, per se, but I agree even less with the Democrats’ knee-jerk reaction to block both nominees. We should be grateful these nominees have been as moderate as they are.

I understand the concern about rolling back Roe v. Wade and I share it. But there are many, many other complicated issues going to face the Court in the next, oh, 25 years, and having qualified, reasonable jurists there able to handle complexity is terribly important. For now, all we can hope for are qualified candidates who don’t adhere to strict ideology and who are able to take nuanced views. People unlike Clarence Thomas, in other words.

Our day will come again.

Update: As I semi-predicted yesterday, Alito is finding support among liberals who are able to look past the man who nominated him.