The foxes that visit my backyard finally returned this week. The other morning I could see two of them playing behind my the fence at the back of my yard. I’d see them race from left to right, out of site, then from right to left. This morning when I woke up one was lounging around on the deck out back.
It was a slow reading week for me, partially because I was starting serious prep for my next RPG campaign. Our group was finishing up our current adventure this weekend, and I wasn’t sure how much time we’d have to get started making characters for the new campaign (it turned out, none, but I had to be prepared at least a little). I’m running a sci-fi campaign using Stars Without Number (SWN) that is based on the basic premise of the tv show (sadly, now cancelled) Dark Matter (worth checking out for its three seasons, on Netflix as of now). Basically the PCs wake up from stasis pods on a ship and realize they have no memories. They retain all their general knowledge and skills, but not who they are or how they got there. The campaign then becomes about the situation and them discovering their backgrounds.
Character creation will be rolling attributes, picking a class, and creating a physical description. We’re skipping the Background aspect of SWN character creation as that will be part of the campaign itself. I’m going to bring the skills/attributes you get from your background into the first session by giving the players a few times where they get to pick options of various objects. Each object will give them options of skills or attribute bonuses. So, for instance, when they first wake up from the stasis pod I will give the group 6 notecards with images/descriptions of small objects/features they have on them when they wake. They will then pick them amongst themselves and get the skill/attribute associated with the object. Those objects will also be clues to their background and for future sessions. Later when they find their cabins on the ship they will get another selection of choices for something unique in their cabin.
In that way they’ll be picking their backgrounds kind of abstractly and via those choices they will be assigned one of the real backgrounds I’ve generated, which are basically brief dramatic/traumatic events in their past that somehow shaped their situation. Via the player’s choices in the first session I’ll tailor each of these backgrounds to fit.
Hopefully this will end up being interesting for my players (they like background storied for their characters) and me (I like making stuff up on the fly). I’m also fleshing out the larger situation that lead to their memory loss, which will be the primary conflict in the campaign.
Some notes on some reading.
Minor Leagues No.7 by Simon Moreton (Lydstep Lettuce, 2019)
A few years back Simon started up this zine, and it has proven a great medium for his artistic growth. His drawing style has been changing and he’s been adding more prose into the mix. This latest issue is part two of four in the serialized "Where?" story which mixes memory, geography, and history as Simon writes and draws about his father’s recent death from cancer and the geography and history of an area of England where he lived as a child and where his dad worked at some kind of radar station on a hill. Prose is the primary form here, with typeset chapters alternating between an ambiguous present of the narrating and a few different strands of memory/past. Interspersed with the prose are illustrations of different sorts: drawings, photographs, scans of items/papers. These illustrations occasionally appear as sequences (i.e comics!). It creates an interesting hybrid of forms that Simon handles quit effectively, especially via the intermingling of documentary type evidence and short comic sequences with the longer prose.
Simon’s drawing style has also grown a lot from his older Smoo zine, where formally his art was a lot of thin lines and occasional pencil shading, the drawings herein have a dynamic range of lines from very thin to large swaths of black brushwork all with a rather frenetic energy to it, even in scenes of calm. It’s like the world is constantly in motion even when one is standing still.
Buy Minor Leagues from Simon.
Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection v.1 by Leiji Matsumoto (Seven Seas, 2018)
Last week, I mentioned first getting an issue Appleseed, around that time I was reading an American version of the manga/anime Captain Harlock from Eternity/Malibu Comics (which, according to Wikpedia, was an illegal adaption because the person who sold them the rights was a fraud). Around that time I also found the Arcadia of My Youth anime as a VHS in a toy store for a couple bucks. It’s an early anime movie about the character. Matsumoto, the create of Harlock, is also the creator of Space Cruiser Yamato (well known in the US as Star Blazers, which I remember watching as a kid) and Emeraldas (whose manga has also recently been translated).
This is the first volume of the original 1977 manga by Matsumoto. The style feels very much of the time, simple cartoony characters, limited use of screentone or other effects, a lot of 70s influenced clothing. Matsumoto, in all the work I’ve seen of his, seems to have about 4 or 5 character designs that he just reusing for minor tweaks. There are the tall thin male (usually a protagonist); the short round male (most of the men); the short thin male (usually the requisite boy protagonist); and then all the woman are extremely thin, tall, and willowy. Surprisingly, it is rarely problematic telling the characters apart (it helps that of the two main female characters one Harlock’s ship, one is an alien with no mouth).
Harlock as a character is of the brooding male hero with a code of honor type who loves to pontificate in a way that sounds deep (but isn’t so much). But, still, this is a fun sci-fi adventure comic with a rather maudlin mood. There are some interesting ideas in it (the alien race are plants but somehow look like human women), though occasionally the story feels like it is eliding important parts, and spending too much time on unimportant parts (also the space battles are occasionally incomprehensible).
Will I read more volumes? I don’t know. Seven Seas is putting out the Space Cruiser Yamato manga this year and I’m a bit more curious to see what that one is like.
League of Extraordinary Gentleman: The Tempest No. 5 of 6 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf, 2019)
What is even going on in this comic? I have only a vague idea anymore, as Moore adds more and more characters whose reference I do not get, and I’ve never found it easy to differentiate even the characters I do get in O’Neill’s angular drawings. Well, at least there’s only one issue left. I have a feeling Alan Moore’s swansong to comics is just a big mess.