The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Status Update: The British Comic-Book Database

Posted by BigWords on February 7, 2020

There’s no easy way to say this, but I think I rooted the Database. Everything was fine when I confined myself to comics, but that wasn’t nearly clear nor informative enough – there were massive gaps in what was presented and the information didn’t entirely make sense without context. This isn’t a problem confined to my efforts, as every comic database online suffers from the same problem. In an attempt to plug this data gap, albeit an unadvised one, I began adding in information required internally (rather than, as Wikipedia and others do, by providing reference links), which meant the size began increasing dramatically.

To look at where things stand right now you need to understand the way it was put together – firstly, everything was hand-coded. This wasn’t, in retrospect, the brightest idea, but it afforded me complete control of what appeared on each page. Where something needed clarification it was possible to add that material to the page. Mostly my interjections were of a linking nature, passing people forward to more comprehensive pages, but sometimes there were factual points which needed to be made.

Anyone who knows anything about British comics will understand the intrinsic ties to popular culture and sporting achievements, though those who are only familiar with US titles might be a tad bewildered at the complexity of something like this.

Take sports comics, for instance – there were interviews with sportspeople (each of whom needed a page to list their appearances in comics), there were league table “ladders” (which required that year’s positions to be noted, along with pages for each team), and a multitude of pin-ups, posters, and other miscellaneous items which had to be appropriately linked and indexed. By the time I hit the original Eagle, and had to do lists of the cutaways – with pages for each machine – and the reprints (ye gods, the reprint index…) the number of pages had become astronomical.

At last count the Database was circling the 45 million page count, and so tightly interconnected that MAMP crashes while navigating more than three or four pages deep. This isn’t (I think) a problem with MAMP as much as it has to do with the unecessary complexity of the Database itself. Everything has a .php extension, therefore I can’t read the contents without either using MAMP or opening them in a text editor, so progress is painfully slow in every way possible. I hate myself a little right now.

What is really needed is something to hold it all together on the back end, while preserving the ability to include additional information where needed.

Even a moderately useful iteration is going to require thousands of hours of tweaking to ensure stability and comprehensiveness, which I would rather not take on right now. See, the Database hemorrhages money. It sucks up finances like there is no tomorrow, and investing time and money is something like that is, at present, on the list of Very Bad Things to do. I can’t justify the headache and financial committment without at least a modicum of income from it, and keeping it free of advertising has always been a priority.

I did tell everyone to download it when they had the opportunity, so you can’t blame me for not having a copy to hand.

Now, as to its return…

There’s a plan in place to restore all that information, but with a far wider scope than anything you could possibly imagine. That’s why the page count has bloated, and why it has been so long offline. It won’t be specifically about comics, though everything that was originally present will be included (and more), although I’m going to be requiring some more people to take care of the other factors – simply adding in all the films which were covered in Look-In and Eagle were enough to give me a headache, so being comprehensive – and including things which are, at present, almost entirely absent from the historical record – is a concern.

I’m not anticipating the restoration to be in any way easy – which would, lets face it, be really boring – and there are things which I’m not entirely certain can be done at present without uncovering a trove of information that has been elusive to date. The missing information is really rather specialized, and is likely going to take some time to gather the people who have this to hand, but on the off-chance that anyone has documentation which can corroborate the information that is – at present – indexed with lots of question marks peppering the text:

  • The first casualty of motorsport. The German count (or duke, or something), on whom I have absolutely nothing to go on, as whatever information is to be had seems to be offline. Idealy there would be a death certificate, though in lieu of that any documentation about the race – flyers, posters, a programme, anything – would be appreciated. Information on pre-F1 races in general would be wonderful to have, as almost every site I’ve looked at has a miserable time trying to deal with these. There are a couple of indexes which would be especially improved with this.
  • The MPAA certification list. There’s some headway on this, though only the first three thousand or so films have proper referencing. Unfortunately I still don’t have anywhere near a complete run of either Radio Fun nor Film Fun, so the question remains as to which films were adapted, mentioned, advertised, or spoofed. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, any kind of list anywhere which has an index of every film to appear in comics, so I want to plug that gap.
  • Likewise, a list of theatrical productions 1860-c.1920, and which were given space in proto-comics and magazines with comic strips. You can only imagine how difficult this one is…
  • Music lists. Everything mentioned post-c.1961 isn’t too difficult to deal with, but there are some comics which have what I initially thought to simply be jokey refrains, which then turned out to be lines from music of the period. Ugh. I sorta regret that that I don’t have any shellac, but… then I would need something to play them on. And then I would want something to play cylinders on. And it would escalate. You can see how this is another aspect of the Very Bad Thing I mentioned, right? Well, old music is something of a nightmare to get right, especially as I have no idea where to begin with some of it. Sheet music, in particular, is a complete monstrosity to deal with. I’m pretty certain that I would get a lot more understanding of the text pieces in Ally Sloper if the theatrical and sheet music lists were done.
  • Any television lists which have more information than is presently online. Specifically the earliest shows, broadcast live, which are so under-represented that it is difficult to see what is being talked about – were the condensed Shakespeare adaptations in the early years taken from specially-modified scripts, or were they the edited Victorian texts before the material was put back together again? And which plays – tantalizingly incomplete in most records, including IMDB – comprised series blocks?
  • Military figures. This is a whole section that is pretty much empty. For people who are wondering… Back in the day there used to be Real Life Stories which ran in a number of publications, adapting the lives of notable individuals in strip format – the lists of these people were easy(ish) to put together, as the comics had just enough information to start with, but getting more details on their lives… Not so much. The big names – Churchill, Rommell, and the like – were a piece of cake, but some kid mentioned in dispatches from the Boer War? No birth or death certificate, no contemporary account of their life, no photographs… For a while I was under the impression that at least a handful of these were heavily fictionalized, but I’ve tracked down most of the mentions in the Times to corroborate at least some of the information.
  • Sports in general. Cricket is a beautiful game to watch, but the rules seem to be written in Klingon. Or Kzinti, actually, as there are Klingon dictionaries which can make sense of the more obtuse terms. And football… I have no idea what is happening half the time, and amuse myself by imagining the ball to be one of those giant bombs in 1940s serials painted to look like a ball. So getting the facts on early football history is something of an impossibility when I’m not sure what is important and what isn’t. The indexes for Tiger and Roy of the Rovers is incomplete without an understanding of where the sport was at the time those strips were written, and it would make a lot of the text pices less difficult to follow.
  • The list of books featured in various and sundry recommended reading pieces (notably from Eagle, Look-In, and early 2000 A.D.) weren’t bad, but some of the books – especially the cash-in stuff which had a worrying tendency to appear and disappear overnight in the eighties – are giving me trouble. I’ve never seen some of the books online (eBay, whilst great for some things, is a pain when searching for a specific edition), and there are at least a few dozen titles the descriptions of which I have left as a couple of lines of question marks in exasperation. Any of the _____ Joke Book releases (it seems to be a line, but don’t quote me on that) are still proving elusive, and even a handful of relatively high profile books – at the time – are impossible to sort through properly.
  • Newspapers. Just… newspapers in general. Anyone? I thought that it would be a good idea (well, it seemed like it at the time) to sort through the paperback collections of strips and link them back to their initial appearances, but man, is that ever a pain in the ass. Adding to the problems, The Daily Sketch has strips which don’t appear to have been collected in any way, nor are some of the artists credited. When they are credited, they are usually given some acronym, alias, or merely their initials. Oh what fun and joy. A handful have been (tentatively) identified by style, mentions in biographies, or guesswork, but anything pre-1910 (or thereabouts) are beyond my reach. Anyone who appeared in Punch, Judy, or other publications, seem to be better represented in the historical record, but the others are a mystery.

There’s more, but of an increasingly niche nature.

Would you believe that this was meant to be an easy project?

I’m looking at this as a long-term prospect, rather than something which needs to be ready ASAP. Having a plan in place to get x amount done in a specific timeframe is difficult without knowing what information is lacking, and… Well, the dominos will fall where they fall.

As an addendum, because it has been mentioned in passing, there are two add-ons to the site which I started without much thought as to their complexity – a dangerous thing, indeed. I kicked off a list of novels based on comics and comic strips here on WordPress (with more than a little gnashing of teeth), but soon discovered a trove of international efforts which had gone unrecognized.

But that wasn’t enough. One must also consider the records, computer games, radio shows, television series, films…

An area which, in the past decade or so, has exploded. I’m getting through that list slowly, but there are things in those categories which a) have never been translated into English, b) have never officially been released outside their country of origin, c) are hellishly expensive to acquire, and d) are not guaranteed to work on the equipment I have to hand. Which is all, frankly, par for the course. I don’t expect things to be too simple, but damn, the universe loves kicking me in the balls and laughing.

The other, slightly related, project, is perhaps more commercially-minded and would likely be the starting point for a relaunch of the Database as a whole: a comprehensive index of British magazines.

Now, hold on a moment there – isn’t that more difficult than the list of comics? Well… Maybe. I’m not sure where I’m going with it, but it is easier to pick up bound collections of magazines by year (the 70s version of the Movie partwork, computer game magazines, even the likes of Photoplay) than it is comics. Not sure what to do with this, in all honesty, but it is on the list of current projects. And there are enough connections with comics, especially regards creators and characters, that it won’t be too difficult to marry the projects in future.

I’ve already made some headway finding actual release dates for a number of magazines (rather than what is written on their covers), and I anticipate this being a relatively straightfoward piece to put together compared with other subjects – the credits are already in place, for the most part, and the high print runs for most titles are going to make tracking down missing issues less troublesome.

However… There had to be a glitch it there somewhere, didn’t there? It is getting to be annoying looking for generic titles when there are other magazines (largely irrelevant to this task) which share the same name. Doubly so when the title shares its name with things that are way, way out of the scope of any of my lists, or are plain impossible to find. Now!, the replacement for Look-In, is one such title that is beginning to make me annoyed. It should be a title that is available in sufficient quantities, but there’s little to zilch about it online. And no, the music compilation albums aren’t connected in any way as far as I know.

I’m ignoring zines for the moment as there seems to be renewed interest in them, though it would be nice to see soemthing better sourced and referenced available.

Posted in comics, Misc. | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The 2020 Project

Posted by BigWords on January 30, 2020

Hello darlings.

Sorry, that’s a bit Tom Hardy, isn’t it?

Well, I have a (somewhat) stable internet connection, some time free over the next few months (though not as much as I would like), and a hankering to do something ridiculous and experimental. The subject matter isn’t really suitable for this blog – albeit a creative endeavour, it falls outwith the scope of what is already here – so… a new blog, and a big project.

Exciting, isn’t it?

Everything else will be picked up in time, as nothing is forgotten, but right now you will have to wait. Things kick off next Saturday, though you are going to have to be patient. And, beccause I’m in that kind of mood, you are going to get things at the end of the process. Who doesn’t love free stuff? Not only that, there will be plenty of brain candy along the way.

There will be a few caveats regarding the freebies, but nothing which ought to dampen your enthusiasm. Keep a look out for the next post, where more morsels of information will be parcelled out.

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For the Benefit of Future Historians

Posted by BigWords on April 29, 2019

The Prelude

Because dates matter so much, and often the specifics are lost to time, it is important to make note of when certain ideas, decisions, actions were originated. This isn’t going to be a horrifically in-depth look at what I am doing – mainly because I am not quite at the point where I can happily lead you to the Brand New Thing with confidence (there is still a painful amount of Javascript and PHP to fix), but I can enlighten anyone who is wondering where certain things have gone.

Students of psychology, interested in how a person gets from point A to point B will likely be parsing this post with interest, as it goes some way to explaining why I’ve done certain things in the order in which I have. There are also going to be some (fairly common among creative people) incidents which I am going to be naming and using herein, so be prepared.

Don’t Press the Big Red Button

Lets start with the night of the 23rd of April. Nothing about that Tuesday is really important in and of itself, and it is only the chain of circumstances which exist outside of the day that makes it of note, but because so much focus is placed on when things happen we have to accept this as The Last Day for On This Day posts over on the Database. The date of note should properly be Wednesday the 24th of April, given when I made the decision to halt all pending posts on the Database blog, but I dislike stating the event took place on Wednesday when all the consideration and planning took place the day before.

It’s only slightly sad to see it go, but being buried among all the other things in the Database wasn’t helping On This Day reach its potential. The problem lay in its placement: without an identity of its own, it was only ever going to be an aspect of a sprawling mass of data. Don’t get too upset, if you happen to like that feature – there’s a twist coming. There’s always a twist. In many ways life is somehow more twisty than novels, as you never now where some ‘wham moment’ is going to come, out of the blue, to change things. You’ve got to keep a look-out for the wham moment… It shouldn’t be too difficult to spot.

There Are Two Kinds of Features in the World

There’s an important distinction to be made between the type of things which can only ever be used as part of a greater work, and those which can happily exist in isolation. A great example of this is an EPG – when you want to know what shows are on right now an EPG is a very handy tool to have on your television, but it isn’t something which has much (or any) use if you don’t have a television. How many people, bereft of a television, are going out to purchase a television guide from their local newsagents? Not many, if any, I’ll wager. The EPG is a feature which can only properly be used as part of something greater, in this case (in abstract) network scheduling and (in fixed form) a television.

Within the concept of an EPG there lies a whole bunch of other concepts, unimportant to this train of thought, but I might come back to those. The important thing to take away is that you can’t strip out an EPG and use it, for anything remotely interesting, without the surrounding technology and events which make it useful. It also, crucially, is location-specific. While you may not consider this to be a drawback, if you are using your EPG to find the latest episode of your favorite series, it hampers the use of EPGs globally – nobody in Australia is going to give a moment’s thought to what is currently showing on Norwegian television, and it is unlikely that an American would care what is on French television.

The basic format of an EPG, therefore, can’t be scaled up. There’s no way to deliver a single EPG to the world, and make it useful to all due to the inherent limitations.

We need another example, so how about we take a gander at maps.

Maps used to be considered as giant, unruly things, which needed to be manhandled back into a more compact form when they were used. Folded over and over, they rapidly made users lose patience when attempting to locate that one street, but have, in the modern age, ballooned into big business. Do an internet search for a company, and you will likely find a map in the top right of your screen which displays the location of the company. There are sites such as Google Maps, which attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to locations, and satnavs which guide people as they go about their work and leisure. There are a multitude of apps which have maps of various descriptions and levels of usefulness.

I’m sure someone, somewhere, has come up with an app which shows what the layout of your location looked like in the eighteenth century, telling you what companies used to exist in the buildings you pass every day without a second thought. History drips from each and every map, and that alone makes them an intriguing and possibility-laden tool. There is a lot more which can be done with maps, but we aren’t talking specifically about maps today.

The thing you should be seeing here is that maps are scalable – they transcend their use in other media.

The difference between maps and EPGs is how they can be exploited on a large scale, and this way of seeing things is something you should be looking at in everything you do, and in everything you experience. Can something be sliced out of its location and expanded in isolation, or is it best left as is? There’s usually a clear Yes/No answer to this, and if you can’t immediately see the way in which something can be utilized outside of its current use, then the answer is likely “no.”

A lot of people these days have many different things on their sites and blogs, and while I appreciate the convenience of having these disparate projects gathered together in one place it does mean that people wanting only one of these interests highlighted have to wade through material which isn’t of as much interest to them. By splitting things out, the material of interest can be intensified in its concentration on a specific subject. This isn’t something which will work for everyone, and I accept that some interest are only ever going to be marginal, though in this instance I think I’m on the right track.

Crowdsourcing in Meatspace

When people talk about crowdsourcing, they often use it as a term which exclusively applies to the internet. This is fine, as far as things go, but there is a lot which can be done in day-to-day interactions which go some way to answering the question of this having a real-life equivalent – let me start by offering a small piece of advice:

When surrounded by extremely talented people, it is common sense to make use of the wealth of experience and knowledge that people have.

While I’ll always be hesitant to flat-out ask for help, I have been picking the brains of some of the programmers who I have access to at the moment. It has been rather difficult putting into words some of the effects which I always wanted to achieve, and struggling through some difficult (and highly experimental) notions on my own hasn’t produced the results I’ve been after, which is why talking things through – however imperfectly, and however far from implementation – has been a great way to figure out the edges of the possible. These discussions have revealed hitherto-unsuspected means by which to completely alter the appearance of common utilities for rather dramatic effect.

I still can’t reshape tags and categories into something useful – and I doubt either will improve any time soon – but there is real headway happening.

Before I get any further into the main thrust of crowdsourcing in everyday life, addressing the limitations of tags and categories is important.

Grab a book – any will do, so long as it has chapters, sections, segments, or its contents are otherwise separated somehow. A film guide, cookery book, or any index is perfect for this. I want you to loo through the contents for a moment, and see how things are laid out in a very specific manner. Most film guides (or guides to musical artists, television series, novels, or other media) is usually handled alphabetically, with – in certain instances – a small section at the back of the work ranking these by ratings, or years released, or some other metric.

Now take a look at any blog doing much the same function as one of these guides. Take your time and work out what is different about the two media.

Anyone with a sense of order and logic will note immediately that the online versions of these guides aren’t (usually) presented alphabetically. In order to have an alphabetical list you need some side-scripting in play. However, when using tags or categories to search through a site’s contents the material is presented in a ramshackle manner, with no sense of planning at work. Tags and categories are even worse when the important aspect of a post isn’t the entire post, but merely a small portion of that post. Then the tags and categories are next to useless, returning a great amount of useless (and counter-productive) material.

We can consider categories to be a top-order sorting method, sorting posts into a handful of groups which have a specific area of interest. If you look at blogs which focus on pop-culture, you will likely see a Music category which returns reviews of albums, singles, and possibly live gigs, as well as noting where interviews have been published. You might get posts dissecting promo imagery, noting which posters are for sale, talking about merchandise, and other results. If you are only looking for reviews this can be annoying. Worse, when a review is buried in a post which covers other things a reader might not look all the way through the post, preferring to go elsewhere to read a standalone review.

Tags a second-order sorting method, able to look at specific things – a particular band within the music category, say. Narrowing down the number of results to those which comply only with the specific area of interest required. There is, however, a problem with this method as well – if someone is covering things as they come across information the results will tend to jump around the timeline of the band: making note of the release of their second album, then covering their formation, then looking at a reunion tour, then a review of their first album, before covering the childhood of the lead singer, then noting their break-up. There is (currently) no way to sort tags by the date the material covered occurred, only by the date the piece was published.

What we need, then, is a more refined third-order sorting method, and one which doesn’t rely on the whole post being considered important.

Sections have long seemed the method by which this can be accomplished, though I am skeptical of their backwards-implementation – who has the time (honestly) to go through everything they have written and objectively look at each paragraph, then place code detailing to which larger work it belongs, and where in that work it should be placed?

Lets say, for argument’s sake, that someone has written extensively on television. Their content might be broken down in Categories by the nationality of each series broadcast (ignoring the thorny problem of joint productions), with each series earning its own tag. Maybe, in this scenario, there are some posts which cover rarely seen television shows, or which cover those which are no longer extant (in whole or in part), though by looking at the categories and tags it is difficult to see in which order the events took place.

What would be required is a way to:

a) return only the information pertinent to the subject of lost series or missing episodes.
b) arrange the order into a timeline of when each show was initially broadcast.
c) split out only the information about the show (ignoring commentary and personal updates)
and d) join the information seamlessly so that it appears to be a longer work split for internet publication.

Almost everyone ought, in this day and age, should be familiar with the big names in CMS . Instead of looking at these as cheats (which I often do), I’ve been attempting to ponder the ways in which they operate, and how they could be radically improved for the benefit of readers. Considering the range of subjects which can be covered in a single post – especially from anyone with eclectic tastes – this might be something best handled by an overlaid application, able to be accessed by a blog’s creator while viewing the resultant pages without going into the control panel to make alterations.

By selecting a section of text, one ought to be able to give the highlighted material a meta-tag related it specifically – perhaps “Everything I’ve Written About John Coltrane” – before highlighting other paragraphs and tagging them as being specifically about Tim Buckley, or Iggy Pop, or Linda Ronstadt, or Robert Johnson, or whoever else. Then, because selecting individual paragraphs on a given page to return isn’t going to magically sort them into order, there needs to be a secondary action where the (rough) chronology of the event can be indicated. It would make sense to have the ability to override this, however, to place it within the collected material in a specific place.

Once enough material has been properly curated (at least a few thousand words) in the prescribed manner there should be a place on the dashboard to further fine-tune what is a single work. each paragraph able to be grabbed and moved up or down in placement in the collected document – though not edited, as this would also change the original post. Having placed the “collected highlights” in order, the same software which allows for the tagging and ordering of the text really needs to do something with the results. My initial thought was that there should be a generated page presented to the reader, giving them only what they came looking for and nothing more, but something else occurred to me…

What if the completed document could automatically be pushed to, say, Smashwords?

Crowdsourcing in Meatspace (second attempt)

I seem to have got sidetracked. I’ll attempt to remain on-topic, but don’t hold your breath.

As I was saying, there’s a lot to be said for asking really smart people their opinions on attempting something before you go ahead and do whatever stupid thing you intend to do. It isn’t a way of proceeding that I have ever really thought about, preferring to leap first then check out where I’m likely going to land. It has worked in my favor as much as it has been a hindrance, and the mixed results really should tell you that getting someone to check over your plans is probably a good idea.

Some things have proved utterly impossible even using the full range of tricks, but – in almost every conversation – there have been nuggets of information I’ve been storing away. Small details which, when placed together, are enough to provide me with a rough guide with which to proceed. There are things which, although they might prove difficult to implement, are very tempting… Almost enough to justify doing something crazy with the bones of the Database. I didn’t want to tread over old ground without a notion of how to make it work perfectly, but the On This Day feature – so cramped and neglected within the guide – was the perfect thing to expand and nurture into something greater than itself.

An aborted attempt at dumping a bunch of stuff online brushed up against the possibilities of the feature, though my considerations there hardly covered enough to justify immediately proceeding, and when work interrupted the process I put the thought to one side. Now, with things more or less settled for the moment, it is time to reassess the concept of expanding and refining the concept. This led to the first of two things which would prompt my decision to remove the feature from its current home – the scripting required.

Having adequately covered how my brain processes what should be achievable with current technology, I’ll move onto the suggestion of doing something with a proper platform…

There are days where you find the perfect thing you need for the work you have to do almost just sitting there, ready to be plucked up and used. Then there are days where no matter what you do, or where you look, the perfect tool for the job remains ever out of reach. There’s a few things which, despite rarely being used, are essential to have in your toolkit for the moments where they come in handy.

Here’s another piece of advice for you – never turn down an opportunity to play a game. If someone suggests you might want to turn up to play a board game with a handful of interesting people don’t immediately write it off as something which isn’t for you… Grab these moments, as they often work on the parts of your brain which need a little oiling once in a while. I spent a very enjoyable evening, and, for a small while enjoyed a game of Trivial Pursuit.

On Monday the 22nd this game led into a conversation regarding the way in which certain television series have seemingly been completely ignored by the internet, and how the lack of information perpetuates the lack of awareness – it is a problem that can only be solved by presenting information about these series into public awareness, but tracking down such information is hardly profitable when so little is known about the series. A classic Catch 22 situation. If someone was to systematically present these forgotten series in some way, the audience might (generously) be a small, devoted one. That isn’t what most would want for their work, although generating enough interest to garner a large audience of the curious is quite possible.

Not only is it possible, treating the information surrounding these series with a splash of magic – tantalizing snippets of history focusing on the ingredients which are sure to bring in the curious – might lead to such a resurgence of interest that the near-invisible series from not-too-long-ago might, eventually, be released to the public either on a physical format – a dedicated DVD or Blu-ray, or as a special feature on a computer game – or even on a digital platform somewhere. The starting point for any of these shows to gain traction these days is repeated exposure to their existence, and that requires a special kind of presentation.

By the morning of the 23rd I had a list of around fifty shows which, for various reasons, have never been repeated nor released on DVD. That it is possible for me to do this without a great deal of effort – merely searching for the shows through Google and clicking through two or three links – should tell you something about either the woeful treatment certain series receive, or will merely confirm the depth of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. When I covered the Compact Annual, noting that I had no idea what the show was about, I never suspected that things would lead me to deliberately uncovering more information on shows which had disappeared from public view, though in retrospect my frustration at the lack of adequate information being readily available must have lingered in the recess of my brain.

It was working out the breadth of productions absent from any retailers’ lists which, combined with the interest of people who had heard of some of the shows, that the second thing to push home the notion of repositioning On This Day happened.

With people who knew code to hand, and with suggestions for shows that ought to be better remembered, things began to snowball. On the 23rd I decided to register a domain on which to place day-specific comic-book information, and – the next day – I picked up three more domains on which to detail the history of television series, films, and music. Every time I think I’ve covered enough to justify a launch I’m confronted with another coding challenge, and when I think that the code is (more or less) stable and cohesive enough to launch I pick up more information which needs to be added. I’ve been very conscious of certain failings which exist in similar things, deliberately avoiding the common pitfalls.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Some News of Minor Importance

Posted by BigWords on February 4, 2019

Having kinda, sorta, almost got the computer working, for the moment at least, there’s a few things which can’t be put off any longer. Having already lost a great deal of the technology I was counting on coaxing through until overcoming events, it looks as if I’m going to have to replace more than anticipated. This is problematic given my circumstances…

It has become apparent that no matter how many hours I put in, there’s simply no way I can make enough money to keep everything going, so – although I am loathe to do so – the only recourse left is to consider additional income. Things need to change. No matter how many hours I put in, and despite stretching myself across various jobs, money is an ever-present problem. Regardless of any attempts to improve matters already made, there is always another bill, another unexpected expenditure, another emergency.

For the past few weeks I have actually had stomach pains because of the stress, which (added to other lingering problems) is as distracting as all hell. This is a new thing. New things are meant to be nice – new things should be treats, not torments. The hours are killing me, and there’s little time left to think at the end of each day, never mind carry on with insane non-profit-making ventures such as the Database.

So I’m going to do something radical to rectify the situation.

Those of you who have read my thoughts here (and elseweb) will be aware that I am entirely disparaging of advertising. I really dislike the intrusion of irrelevant content alongside information, which is the essential definition of advertising. There are, admittedly, instances where the inclusion of such material adds something intangible to a work – such as in Victorian novels – though modern advertising is so often ugly and lacking in nuance as to completely turn me against its intrusive nature.

I’ll be cracking open the files and notebooks, and presenting a bunch of writing which really deserve their time in the sun. Better still, there will be complete explanations of how I work things out. All the secret tips and tricks I’ve accumulated over the years, with which I have made my writing appear slightly smarter than it actually is. There will also be a few new things which I’ve had bubbling away at the back of my brain for a very long time.

All manner of creations will be covered, and – as soon as there is enough money to purchase a fully-working computer, scanner, and hard drive – start to get some of the artwork uploaded as well as the writing. If things go really well, I’m planning on expanding to cover videos and other goodies.

The subject of income has always been a problem. As much as there are things I want to do, there needs to be some additional income otherwise I’m going to perpetually be in the situation I find myself in at the moment, struggling to keep afloat week by week (which is, I have to admit, my own fault for following what I deem to be interesting ideas rather than seeking lucrative assignments), and of the ways to bridge the two is Patreon.

While it isn’t a perfect solution, it is a way to (hopefully) stem the amount of money I am hemorrhaging.

On that subject, I’ll also add that I’m not taking any more “helpful advice” from family and friends, as every time I listen to suggestions on how I should be doing things, my life merely gets more difficult and expensive – as much as such “assistance” is appreciated, for the thought if nothing else, it isn’t doing me any good. While I’m not going to go into specifics, I am, at this point, too tired – and in too much pain – to keep going in this manner.

There was a while there when it seemed like everything was going wrong, but a few jobs going I’m *almost* making enough to cover expenses. “Almost” being the pertinent word in that sentence. It doesn’t leave me any time to write, or – if I am brutally honest – time to consider anything save for getting through another week. It isn’t the best place to be, and I’m really, really missing the time to do interesting things.

Which brings me back to what I am beginning:

Gary James Presents

Egotism much? Well… Yeah. Deal with it.

You’ll probably be wondering why I didn’t merely use this blog, and that’s a good question – I don’t want people to be frustrated by the posts being locked to non-Patreon subscribers, which might be seen as an annoyance, and I don’t want to force people to subscribe to something which is going to cost them money. It is rude to presume that people will want to have another commitment, and regardless, I’ve plans to eventually cover some things here that wouldn’t sit well with the purpose of the new blog.

That purpose, in case the name didn’t give it away, being to present all of the material I have written.

It may take a lot time to get through everything…

That I intensely dislike the notion of asking people to pay for blog content should be obvious from comments I have made. This isn’t a decision which I have made easily, and it isn’t one which I particularly care for, but I’m at a loss as to how I can break away from endless hours of toiling. The worst thing about the way things are, beyond a general lack of working equipment, is that there is nothing to show for the weeks as they pass. I’m getting no closer to any goals.

Because I’m planning on posting every day it doesn’t make sense to ask for money on a per-post basis – for as little as a dollar you can follow along as I disassemble storytelling techniques, slam genres together, arrive at strange and unsettling conclusions, and point out where things come from. While I’m doing that, I’ll also update the material which has appeared elsewhere (including here) to include some insights I’ve had in my time away.

If that doesn’t work, I’m going to be wearing a sign reading “Will write for food.”

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All the Myriad Ways

Posted by BigWords on September 18, 2018

Firstly, I apologize for any worry that my not-being-online may have caused, and it’s all my fault.

Things didn’t go well, and it seemed better to not expend energy thinking of things which I should have been doing. Looking back over the last year, especially, it is obvious to see that it wasn’t a strategy which was ever going to have a wonderful and happy-ever-after resolution, and any excuse that I was (and still am) feeling crappy probably doesn’t cut me any slack.

The fallout from the implosion of Trinovantus’ launch took five months to get myself clear of. It took almost everything I had left, and I was burned out, exhausted from the constant fighting against cold logic. I’m not 100% sure what properties are free to use, and the thought of dealing with more of the same fills me with dread.

After so long dealing with other people’s agendas, I needed something that was entirely mine. There was a long time when all that I did was fill page after page with notes for the database, hunting down small snippets of information. And making lists, as I have pointed out, seems to have a calming influence.

It was pointed out to me that existing and living are not synonymous. It took a few days to consider the way I could use my time better, which was when I decided to go for broke and seriously update the database. Things aren’t quite at the point where I am in an optimistic mood, but we’ll see how things go. I haven’t thought about The Enchiridion in an age, and the way the comment was worded had something which rung a bell.

The things in my control…

There are things which are completely within my control yet I feel like I ought not to do. Or can’t. While I fully intend to (or at least attempt to) get my head together for long-standing commitments, I’m not ready to jump back into the fray. I’m going to take a little time to work out how I’m going to accomplish some things which have been playing on my mind.

When I was out walking there was a little kid, probably only three years old, who was trailing behind his mother. He had one of those little orange plastic-string bags of chocolate coins – the kind with bright illustrations. His hands were barely large enough to hold them, and as he stumbled on his way managed to drop a couple. Off he went, oblivious to the coins, and when I handed them to him he looked genuinely surprised.

Through all this his mother was attempting to rush off somewhere, yelling at him to keep up, and the thought occurred that maybe looking after her son’s interest should be her priority. The principle of ‘doing good wherever possible’ has been playing on my mind.

I’m too tired (constantly, and in no small degree of discomfort) to make much sense, and should probably be concentrating on things which are entirely within my control.

Everyone had better be good – healthy and happy.

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On Design

Posted by BigWords on April 17, 2016

As I write this, the cold winds of winter still brushing against the land, the paperwork hasn’t all been signed and filed and the preparation of some basic material is still pending, but… I am really excited at the prospect of not having to rush things. Yes, there is a date picked for the launch of the madness train, but it is more of a celebration of publishing as a thing that exists rather than a point at which material must be produced by.

I’ve been poring over old titles to see why literature makes me so happy (I had fourteen books in the caravan, and all of them were read multiple times), and the realization that everything has a place in the grand order came to me. Like an insight which should have been obvious, but needed pushing towards in order to be uncovered.

It is simple to see, looking back, that the Penguin titles were the foundation of color as a brand. The use of bold color to indicate genre was not new to marketing, with the most visible use being vinyl records, but books feel different – less readily catalogued, more unwieldy. While a simple border color can hint at things being part of some larger scheme, it doesn’t readily follow that it would work for every title.

Indeed, it can harm future titles if a books performs remarkably badly, hinting that the rest of the works accompanying the title follows in the same direction. It also makes it difficult to see the movement in genre styles which come with the passing of time, putting older works and modern into a great stew which makes discerning patterns – ironically – more difficult.

Using specific fonts is another way in which a line can stand out, but this creates the same problems. Design? House designs tend to skew towards the old ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ mindset, and even though a great number of iconic, timeless titles originally appeared under basic covers, I am less than enthused about the use of strict house styles. Maybe it is a way of preparing books for the world which has had its moment

When the future chroniclers of the state of ebooks come to talk of design, what will be the consensus on design quality? Will there be gushing commentary regarding the chances taken, or will there be mockery. I am worried that we are all going to look like cavemen when historians living on the moon begin to disseminate their masterworks on literary history.

There is already a Tumblr about bad Kindle covers, and while I feel bad for those covered, it might be the impetus to shake up their process. Hell, it could drive people to pick up one of the books to see what the contents are like, but I might be wrong about that – if anyone has had a title mentioned there, they might want to mention how it affected their sales, if at all.

There are a few things which I look for when I am out at bookshops, but with the notion that everyone is different, please note: this is a personal observation. Woodcut prints stand out, block colors work if the story is easily conveyed, and painted covers can hit or miss depending on the artist used. Simple color schemes are dramatic in isolation, but among a variety of similar imagery gets lost easily.

And here’s something weird: In the last decade, but especially so in the last few years, the trend of using iconic schemes from other media seems to be picking up. Covers which mimic old computer game releases, or video cassettes, or even audio cassettes, are on a bit of a wave right now. I’m not sure if that is retro-love or laziness, but it amuses me to see throwaway culture being immortalized now.

Where are we going? Well, there are still plenty of uncharted atolls we can reach by getting an overall sense of the map. Which is a growing trend, apparently. Books about maps, that is. I’m not a great fan of the introspective titles using maps as metaphor, but straight-up map books? Hell yes. I may be in the minority when it comes to those, but they always seem so optimistic to me. Maps as a way of looking at the world.

I’m not sure where this post was heading.

I started with something about books being awesome, but got turned around.

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The What For The What

Posted by BigWords on April 16, 2016

There’s a whole list of things which are pending, though the most useful – for most people – is going to be the uploading of the majority of non-fiction reference material. Covering literature, film, television, music and more, the material is all of the information which is currently difficult to easily access and utilize. I’ve tried looking, especially for the film and television references, but it seems that the oft-used line “everything is online these days” simply does not hold up. The majority of the material is on the ‘weird and esoteric’ end of the scale, and I’m not entirely sure what can be done with the majority of the facts there are, so people can get access to that as soon as I get time to convert everything into a format that isn’t painful to deal with.

A make-or-break part of my decision to step back into the fray was centered on this. Information. Some people have an instinctive recoil when there is talk about putting a lot of information online, as if the dissemination of materials intended to educate, enlighten and enrich was a bad thing. Well, those people are going to have a hard time over the next year or so, because there are a few hard drives which are full to bursting with reference material.

Along the way I also managed to get a lot of the comics scanned and cleaned up a little – there are about two hundred thousand scans so far, and I expect that to increase a lot once I get through a lot of the things which are sucking up my time at the moment. Those are likely going to find a home on an image hosting site which doesn’t have restrictions of the amount of material one person can upload, but I’ll look into ways of getting a torrent up and running from the HQ. Maybe a cloud hosting thing for the zipped files – that’s for once I have free time, and at present there is no free time.

Something which was suggested in passing, and which I heartily approve, is an easier way to look up books. I have lists and lists and lists here, and there are titles which not only aren’t mentioned on the internet, but whose authors appear to have been ignored completely – I found passing references to some of the books in BMC back-issues, and there are a few reference encyclopedias which have (concise and rather terse) entries for the authors. Given that they deserve some love, I’m going to see if I can get a bunch of the public domain texts up online for free use – I checked PG for the titles I am thinking about, and there aren’t copies available there.

Almost What With The What?

There are times when I have mentioned “almost free use” here, and I want people to note that it doesn’t mean people will have to pay for things that I am making available online. The phrase is merely the easiest to put together, otherwise I would trip myself up in the technicalities and have a massive headache. Better just to go with the phrase as is, however cock-eyed that may be. So yeah, it isn’t an indicator that there is going to be anything more than “when used, this needs credit given and a link placed to source.” It’ll save me trying to figure out various rights uses and blah-blah-blah. Do what thou wilt.

People wonder why I am so stressed all the time – so many things to do, so little time to get everything done.

The Thing For The Thingamajig

At some point I am going to sort out the website, as that is on the list as well. All the information is still here, along with a whole bunch more. I pulled a lot of the biographical material from my handwritten notes rather than using what was present in books and magazines about comics, which have an error rate that makes my head hurt too much thinking about. There’s a duplicate copy of some information lurking on the deep web – and no, I have no idea of the .onion address – but that is an unofficial reproduction rather than an official mirror.

Until things get back to normal…

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Posted by BigWords on April 15, 2016

There are compelling reasons to seek out an original title for a book – a clear title – rather than slipping into the habit of a clever quotation or a well-used phrase. While many, many more people might search for the more familiar phrase, how many of them are going to find their way to a publication rather than sites explaining the origins of the phrase. A clear title isn’t just something no-one else is using, it should be immediately transparent from looking at the name what genre and tone the book is going to have.

Which all goes against me writing something which has a name dripping with history. Yes the book called Red Cough-cough-cough.

Yes, I suck at taking my own advice. Then again, if I was all that smart I would be living in Maui.

The notion of the Big Six making copycat covers amuses me – people acting like it is a surprise that they don’t have the budget to go and do some amazingly original things. It has prompted me to look at what I hunt for when I go to purchase a book. I’m not sure there is ever going to be a consensus on what counts as original, but I like that such conversations can be mooted.

And then there’s this…

For a song called Originality, there is a distinct lack of it. Does familiarity in the materials being utilized towards a goal lessen the impact, even when then are put together in a new and unusual way? It plays into what I have been considering, and I like the idea that there are only a finite number of ways to present a title to readers – the individual elements coming together each time in a (hopefully) new way.

Everyone knows what Lego is, so it is a perfect analogy for the basic building blocks of cover design. You can switch the colors around, pull out an eight-stud block for two square four-stud blocks, or dare to live dangerously and fill the space with single-stud blocks. The best part of Lego is the lack of rules when it comes to design and structure. Sure, you make sure that there are overlapping elements to keep it from falling apart, but other than that the only limiting factor is imagination.

Of course, there is no such thing as truly original, is there?

No, really. We can go ahead with that as a real question.

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The Goodies

Posted by BigWords on April 14, 2016

I am working on getting a bunch of custom materials together for (technically) free use by any small or self-publisher. Fonts, backgrounds, illustrations – all the goodies that will enable some kick-ass covers. I’m getting tired of seeing the usual suspects (Impact, TNR, Arial, and all the rest) being used again and again on covers, often without an idea of what such typefaces might represent to the reader. The overabundance does not bode well for a title standing out, especially at smaller resolutions.


Nu Gods, whose title should come as no surprise to geeks. A heavily simplified Blackletter design, which takes a lot of cues from seventies and eighties science fiction lettering.

Part of putting together links, fonts and images in a communal pool is to see what people can do with the tools – a dozen people are going to come up with a dozen designs, even if the titles are remarkably similar in tone and audience. The idea of people pushing off against the ideas their contemporaries are providing, and stretching out in new and exciting ways. Like evolution, only not.

Ten Free Image Sites

ISO Republic
Pic Jumbo
Wikimedia Commons

Check the licenses before using, and do what you can to support free image hosting.

Custom Logo Design

When I have things settled into a groove, there will be time to create cover logos for people who need them. I haven’t got it all worked out yet, but I am hoping that it can assist with under-perfomrming books. A great graphic can be enough to get someone to pick up a title they might otherwise overlook.

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For Entertainment Purposes Only

Posted by BigWords on April 13, 2016

Has anyone else been watching the various programs on the supernatural currently doing the rounds? Have you noticed anything strange in their presentation to a (presumably) intelligent audience? If not, then this is where you start paying attention to the way in which you are led through the problematic area of “shows which we have to apologize for.” It is an annoying subset of programming etiquette, and one which needs an immediate reappraisal.

If you have been watching these shows and are at a loss to pinpoint any unease in the lead-in to these shows, then let me elucidate some of the lingering hesitation inherent in their showing.

Ever since the first ghost-hunting shows appeared, there has been a distinct lack of conviction in putting them in front of an audience. You may have noticed that message flashed up on screen stating that what follows is for entertainment purposes only, but… Why is this required? Do we get this before sitcoms? No. How about game-shows? Uh… Not there. Maybe kung-fu films, because we certainly wouldn’t want people getting kicked in the head because someone saw it done on television? Sorry, nope.

It is a form of discrimination, and one which continues to baffle me in how arbitrarily it is applied. Do we get the message before religious shows? If you know the answer to that question, then you know that there is a problem at the root of the phrase’s use. It’s too easy to take from the application of the statement that what follows such an announcement that there is a disconnect between broadcaster and program. Shows which air sans statement can, therefore, be taken as fact.

There are people reading this who, for whatever reason, aren’t going to care about the tradition. Some might expect it, and others may ignore it, but the fact that such a blatant distancing is still in effect needs at least a little examination. Surprisingly, when I was putting together my thoughts for this, the BBC – of all places – highlighted the problem in an unexpected way. The comment is at the bottom of this page.

I have long believed that mainstream news should have a label “for entertainment purposes only”.

You can’t argue with that.

Okay, so it is a comment on the internet, and we all know how easy it is to rattle off something when faced with a well-rounded, insightful article. But it got me to thinking about what else should be relegated to the status of ‘entertainment’ – why, for instance, don’t we get this before sporting events? Surely, if there is one category of broadcast which practically cries out for such a disclaimer it is the area of sports broadcasting. There’s little to no educational merit in watching horses running around a course.

And soccer. And, for that matter, F1. Really, we should just go whole hog and stick it in front of everything which appears on the idiot box. All of those police shows, the endless, mind-numbing antiques shows (yeah – nothing in those are raising the bar any), and even medical shows if the standards aren’t going to rise above mediocre. I could go on, but you can probably tell by now where this is going…

We need to talk about MTV. Long ago, hard as it may be to remember, they used to show music. Does anyone else remember that? It is in the name – that’s what the M stands for. I know they are doing lots of original programming, but that doesn’t excuse them from abandoning their core reason for existing. Why, I ask you, aren’t they flagging the message up at the end of every advertising break?

Man, this was meant to be a neat little break in the serious.

Okay, video time again. Just remember, these are all for entertainment purposes only…

Heh. Nobody else will be sleeping tonight.

Just sharing the love, people.

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