I recently had the opportunity to review Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. As a creative type and a fan of Jim Henson's Muppets, the book spoke volumes to me and I had to take the chance to speak with Liz a bit more about this creation. This book is available on Kindle Serial and I highly recommend it to anyone with creative passions, fans of Jim Henson, and especially anyone fitting both criteria. The book goes through ten lessons and gives great depth and insight into the mind of Henson and how he was able to live his life of pursuing art and make money at the same time. This discussion with Stevens for this extra helping goes into depth about the book, how she came to decide to write it, and how it can help you.

-Carlin Trammel

It's the triumphant return of the Nerd Lunch Podcast after their post-episode 100 hiatus. Jeeg, Pax and CT welcome their 50th guest to sit in the Fourth Chair on the show. Brian Heiler of PlaidStallions.com and the Pod Stallions Podcast joins them to discuss his origin story along with the myriad projects he's involved with. Inspired by his book Rack Toys: Cheap, Crazed Playthings, the crew invent their own ideas for rack toys they would love to see produced. Post-hiatus Nerd To-Dos feature Downton Abbey, Marvel Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fringe, and The Wire.

Next week, the crew returns with their first theme month. Come back for Brucetober, shows all built around actor Bruce Campbell.

Q: So what’s the premise of this new "Agent Carter" show?
A: Post-WWII, Agent Peggy Carter fights a secret war against the forces of evil, assisted by millionaire industrialist Howard Stark and two-fisted vet Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan.

Q: Is this gonna be cool?
A. See that picture?  That was the least attractive picture I could find.  If it were nothing but Halely Atwell saying the word “vibranium” for 45 minutes, it would still be the best thing on television.

Q: Isn’t this a lot like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
A: Yes and no. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is about the guys who show up when weirdness goes public, in a world where superheroes fighting alien invasions is now a fact of life.
“Agent Carter” can take place in a world where the forces of evil stay more covert and traditional spycraft rules the day. It’s dieselpunk “Alias.”

Q: What forces of evil?
A: Oh, all kinds.

Baron Strucker is helping what’s left of HYDRA make that awkward transition from Nazi super-science division to James Bond super-villains.

Baron Zemo is hunkered down in Brazil, performing weird experiments with . . . artificial life and youth serums and adhesives, I guess. He’s a different kind of crazy than Strucker . . . he wants to conquer the world, yes, but in order to SAVE it.

The Yellow Claw would also be acceptable, provided they borrow the recent bit from the comics establishing that (1) the proper translation is “Golden Claw,” and (2) he intentionally plays up the whole Yellow Menace angle, as it causes fools to fear him and wiser men to underestimate him. Sort of a riff on Iron Man 3's depiction of the Mandarin, in a way.

This is the Cold War, so we gotta have some Soviets. The Red Guardian is their version of Captain America — WWII hero / living propaganda. Could be an occasional ally, if they’re pursuing a common interest like Nazi-smashin’.

Q: Are there some classic stories from this era they could adapt?
A. No, sir. In the comics, Cap never even knew Peggy’s real name. She went crazy after he disappeared and spent decades institutionalized. Great storytelling, House of Ideas.

In the actual publishing history of Timely / Atlas / Marvel Comics, there was very little happening during that period. Superheroes were out of style, apart from a short-lived surge of female characters like Namora and Sun Girl, and Black Canary over at DC. So there’s an odd bit of precedent for a post-war crimefighting femme fatale.

This era gave us the aforementioned girl heroes, the short-lived All-Winners Squad (the Invaders, plus the Whizzer and Ms. America), the continuing diminishing-returns adventures of Namor and the Human Torch, and a series of replacement Captain Americas.

As we move into the 1950s, you’ve got all the stuff that later went into “Agents of Atlas” — Jimmy Woo vs. the Yellow Claw, Gorilla-Man, Marvel Boy, 3-D Man versus the Skrulls, etc.

This is not the most fertile soil from which to grow a TV series in the year 2014, and it is all terribly obscure stuff. Now some of the more recent comics where we find out that the Order of the Shield goes back to ancient Egyptians defeating the Brood invasion and such . . . that’s all great stuff.

Q: So is Captain America in this?
A: I think Chris Evans eventually drops in. Maybe some flashbacks, maybe some imposter stuff, maybe some dream sequence stuff. I am assuming that he’s a pretty good guy, and is also willing to take a good-sized check to kiss Halely Atwell.

But in the comics, there were three replacement Caps during this period: Willam Nasland, then Jeff Mace, then William Burnside. Obvious story potential here — are they just new guys hired to wear the suit? Super-Soldier experiments gone wrong?

Q: This has lots of Iron Man and Cap stuff. . . where’s Thor?
A: He’s like 1500 years old. He could show up at any time. And you can’t tell me that Tom Hiddleston wouldn’t guest star as Loki. He would be all over that.

In the alternative, I’d like to see Dugan and Volstagg get very drunk and fight, like, a Communist frost giant.
In the further alternative . . . maybe something with Peggy teaming up with Sif? There’s a book out right now where Misty Knight and Valkyrie team up . . . something like that.

Q: Where’s Black Widow?
A: Not born yet, but . . . in the comics, they’ve set up that (1) the Communists have been running a “Black Widow” program of scientifically enhanced secret agents for decades, and (2) Natasha is much, much older than she looks, because Science.

While I think the Infinity Formula has its place in this series, I don’t think they’d go the route of mentioning that Scarlet Johannsen has been 70-some all this time. For Agent Carter purposes, just give her as a recurring nemesis / frenemy a redheaded Russian superspy, the first graduate of the Soviet’s Black Widow program, aiming to put some red in her ledger.

Q: Where’s Hawkeye?
A: Also not born yet, but if you wanted to have your era-appropriate Hawkeye tie-in . . . Jacques Duquesne, master sword-fighter and knife-thrower, guerilla fighter in Indochina, occasional circus performer. He could be a regular or recurring character with shifting loyalties. He ends up working for the good guys, and 50 years later, S.H.I.E.L.D. still sends youngsters like Agent Clint Barton to train with the boozy old French guy they call the Swordsman.

Q: Where’s Nick Fury?
A: I am all for including Agent Fury. Four options:

1.      Jake Fury is a decorated African-American combat vet moving into intelligence work, recruited by proto-S.H.I.E.L.D because they see ability, not color. His baby boy wears black diapers and an eyepatch.

2.     Nick Fury is a decorated African-American combat vet who was part of the Super-Soldier experiments during/after the war. Might’ve given him a little boost in his physical attributes, but nothing like Steve Rogers. Only as the decades pass does he realize that his aging has been slowed down. In 1948, he was the rookie . . . sixty years later, he’s running the place.

3.       If you really want to mix things up . . . do a classic Nick Fury, white guy with an eyepatch and a cigar. Eventually Sam Jackson’s dad. That would be weird.

4.     Or hell, just use Nia Jones. In the comics, she’s a recently introduced character who was the lover of the original recipe Nick Fury, and mother of Nick Fury, Jr. So, an African American female superspy in the late 1940s. Bet the Soviets never saw that coming. Make her the sister of Gabe Jones from the Howlers.

Q: Where’s Hulk?
A: We have several ideas for a Hulk tie-in, but they are mostly pretty crummy.

In this extra special helping of Nerd Lunch, Pax celebrates the 25th Anniversary of Run-DMC's fourth album, Tougher than Leather. For this episode Pax is joined by show regulars Tim Lybarger and Matt Ringler. We all discuss our history with rap and Run-DMC, we talk about our favorite albums and songs and we even discuss the forgotten Tougher than Leather movie.

Referenced in this episode:

A few months back, ComiXology had a sale on some digital Superman comics. There were a lot I was contemplating getting, but I decided to wait one more day to mull over my decision because it would have been a pretty big purchase. The next day, I went back to the app to buy the comics and the sale was over. I couldn't figure out what happened. In the end, my wallet appreciated it.

It wasn't until a little while later when another sale came along that I realized what had happened. Many of the ads in the app announcing the sales gave an end date or a date range. A sale starts on 7/5 and goes through 7/7 so the ad says "7/5 - 7/7." But I began noticing that the ads for sales on DC Comics did not include an end date, but rather gave the duration and start date. Having studied usability in grad school and worked in the area of info architecture, design, and usability since, I thought I'd pass along some feedback to ComiXology figuring they'd appreciate it.

No response. No worries. They're busy. But then there was another sale from DC and the same thing happened again. And I got to thinking, maybe these ads are supplied from DC or their marketing firm and it's not a ComiXolgy issue. So I tweeted them again and this time copied DC Comics on it.
This tweet was also overlooked. No big. Maybe they saw my tweet and took care of it, but just didn't let me know. Nope. It happened again. So I mentioned it again, this time calling out DC. And maybe I also came across a bit more stern (okay, whiney).
After this tweet, ComiXology got back to me:
I replied again, but I don't think the Twitter venue appears to be the correct venue for this with the 140 character limitation. And I honestly doubt ComiXology or DC cares at this point (and perhaps any other readers who have been sucked into this now), but I feel like I should at least make a case since for whatever reason it's got me worked up. So to sum up, here are 3 problems I have with the DC ads on the ComiXolgy app and site.

1. The information given is not vital to the end user.
Once a sale begins, it no longer matters when it begins. It only matters when it ends. If I go to a grocery store, see that they're having a sale on corn and I want to buy corn, I have just a few things that I am looking for information on. I want to know how much the corn is, what I am getting for that money I'm spending, and how long I have until I need to make a decision. Once the sale has started, I no longer care when it began. Giving me that information as a prominent point in a graphic is wasting my time.

2. Not giving me the end date makes me do the work.
We live in a culture where things need to be force fed to us. Giving me two pieces of information and then making me have to figure out a math problem to get the information I actually need introduces frustration and potential errors. Look, I'm a smart guy. I've got a Master's degree. And I'm not horrible at math, but I can still make silly arithmetic mistakes. Way back when I wanted to buy those Superman comics and went back to check on them and they weren't on sale anymore, I realized it's because I had to add a certain number of days to the start date. But I did that math wrong and thought I had one more day to make a move when I actually didn't. And when I did that math wrong, DC and ComiXology lost out on the purchase.

When I tweeted yesterday, I got a funny response back from Twitter pal Elliott Serrano. I think he was trying to be a little snarky back at me, but all he did was prove my point.

Funny. Except he's wrong. The sale doesn't end on the 17th. It ends on the 16th. The seven days begin on the 10th. We have to count that as one of the days. And you'd think that adding 10 to a number is easy, but what about a sale that starts on August 27 and goes 7 days? Now I'm not only doing math, but I've got to back up and remember how many days are in August then do the math.

It sounds absurd because these are such simple tasks that we should be able to do and can do, but when "average user" is assaulted by thousands of tweets/posts/ads/calls/texts/interruptions a day, is "average user" going to put that much thought into it and do the little story problem correctly? I'd guess not.

3. "Why make a fuss? If you want them, buy them when you first notice the sale. Problem solved."
Right. Except some of us have budgets and paychecks we have to wait for, or spouses we ought to consult, or myriad reasons why we can't pull the trigger right then. Or maybe we bought the first three issues early in the sale to check it out and make sure it's something we'd like. And then we want to go back to buy the rest later if we like it. If you're going to set up a sale to be a predetermined amount of time, then the end user should fully understand what that time period is and get a chance to use it how they'd like.


Okay, I'm probably making a mountain out of a molehill, but I really think I have a valid point and quite frankly ComiXology, I expected better from you than your flippant response. I think what you do is great. And overall, your usability and design has been phenomenal. But your tweet seemed to indicate that you wanted to better understand what my problem is...so here you go. I hope I have sufficiently explained it.

Alright. I'm done on this topic.