Book Review–Tune: Still Life (2)

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 28-09-2013

Tune: Still Life (book 2)
Derek Kirk Kim and Les McClaine (artist)
FirstSecond
November 2013

This second volume is the series picks up right where the first one left off. Andy, the average guy, who is disillusioned with the lack of jobs, can’t seem to get his art going, and can’t work up the courage to ask out his art school crush has finally found that perfect job. He’s going to work at a zoo!…as an exhibit in an alien dimension. And while all seems great upon signing the contract, he quickly discovers there’s no way home and all of that money he’s making is useless in this dimension. And worst of all the aliens messed up on bringing Yumi, his art school crush, to him so he could say goodbye! Instead, he faces Yumi for an alternate reality…where things are a bit different. What’s a guy to do?

I’ve been following Tune since it came out in webcomic format and it’s quickly become one of my favorite webcomics to keep up with…although it’s on hiatus now pending sales of this book.  So people…go buy this book so we can continue the story!!!  Seriously.  Ahem…. What I like about this book is that for the most part, Andy is your average guy.  He makes mistakes (dropping out of school, not reading the contract that he signs with the aliens), but all in all he means well. And I can see elements of myself in his story, which of course makes me cringe at times (especially when he realizes that Yumi might actually like him) because I’ve made some of the same choices, the same decisions, and my life mirrors Andy in some ways. And that’s what makes this such a great story, that it is easy to relate to Andy. We’ve all mapped out our life and had it veer off into different directions (hopefully no one is an exhibit in a zoo though.) I like the sense of humanity and humility that Derek brings to the characters and I can’t wait to see where he takes them next.

Les McClaine took over the artwork in this volume so that Derek was able to put out the story more often. He has a similar style to Derek’s but he really makes the characters his own and brings a different style to them. For me the characters come to life more with Les than Derek. For one Les has a lighter touch, less of the dark heavy lines that typify Derek’s work and more of a sketch quality that loosely captures the characters movements and the shading that give them a bit of extra vitality. There’s also more of a rounded quality the faces, which does create a bit of sameness to the characters, but at the same time does away with some of the harshness of the earlier versions. Don’t get me wrong I love Derek’s art, but Les brings his own touches to this work and it adds a great deal to it.

This story has a nice blending of sci-fi and real life, which makes it easy for folks to dive into and read. It’s a story that I highly recommend and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review — Head First HTML5 Progamming

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, HTML5, JavaScript, o'reilly, programming | Posted on 25-09-2013

Head First HTML5 Programming 
Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Robson 
O’Reilly

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I’m looking for a book to help me learn more about a specific programming language, the first place I look is O’Reilly.  And no, I don’t say that because they give me free copies of the books (which I do like).  Instead I look for them because they have series, like the Head First series, that are written for anyone to learn from.  You don’t have to be a master computer programmer to pick up the book and understand how a topic, like HTML5 programming, works.  And that’s one of the great things about the Head First series, is that it’s easy to understand, easy to follow, and lively illustrations make it fun to learn how a new concept works.

This particular book helps walk the reader through some of the new concepts of HTML5 and how it works with JavaScript to provide a more robust and powerful programming language.  Such examples include using the canvas, which allows a user/programmer to create images on the fly, such as repeating circles in a random pattern on a background (the example from the book actually.)  Or utilizing the geolocation API to help figure out data on your users…probably not the best topic to broach with these days, but still could be useful.  This book is not meant to be a complete reference on HTML5 or JavaScript, but a guide to getting started with using the concepts together.

Where this book excels is providing an easy to understand concept of utilizing the new features of HTML5 in conjunction with JavaScript.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it’s written in a clear easy to understand language, it’s written for the novice programmer–one that’s still learning how programming works and for someone that’s looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation to walk through, such as a client that wants to be able to print customized tshirts, and gives you some exercises to walk through to begin understanding the processes that are needed.  Then, at the end of the chapter, they give you the answers and further explanation if one is needed.  By having a somewhat silly concept, I find that it often helps engage my brain into beginning to think about the specific code that I’ll need.  In addition, they also add in other learning concepts, such as using crossword puzzles or mazes.

The caveat of this book is that like every “Head First” title the illustrations won’t work for everyone.  I find it helps if you’re coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that the images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions.

Overall though this was an enjoyable book and one that I’ll keep around to help me better understand some of the concepts of HTML5, and even begin working with them to redesign my own webpage.  Even though it’s 600 pages long, it’s an easy read and helps build a good understanding of HTML5 programming.  I give the book 4 out 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Battling Boy

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 21-09-2013

Battling Boy
Paul Pope
FirstSecond
October 2013

On another world, in a universe far away heroes roam the world. They test their mettle and battle skills against monsters and villains across the universe. And when they reach a certain age, they go rambling, to test themselves and discover who they really are. And it Battling Boy’s turn to be a hero…or fall. In the city of Arcopolis, monsters stalk children in the shadows, swallowing them whole. Only one man has ever been able to stand up to them, the great Haggard West. But the monsters have killed him. It is here that Battling Boy will make his stand, against the greatest monsters the world has ever known.

Although I’ve heard his name off and on for the last few years, this is the first time that I’ve had a chance to read any of Paul Pope’s work. And it’s different than anything I’ve encountered before, in a good way. Pope mines the comics of yesteryear, from the Gold and Silver ages of comics to bring to life a more gritty and darker world. One in which children are tossed into battle and the villains play for keeps.  Even though Pope draws from other sources, Battling Boy is a unique creation. Often times with young characters they feel, think, and act like grown ups, never actually letting us see them grow. But that’s one of the great things about this book is that Battling Boy acts like a boy. He’s confused, scared, wants to call on his father to help him, but at the same time he wants to stand on his own. Even better, is that he doesn’t quite know how to act around adults that want to use him for their own purposes. He reacts as a young boy does, throwing things and glaring at them until they back down slightly, I mean he is a super hero after all.  And Pope’s writing, the action, the drama, it keeps you on the edge of your seat just waiting to see what will happen next.  And in this case we’re left with a bit of cliff hanger, waiting to see if Battling Boy and the friend he makes in Arcopolis can make it another day.

It seems as if most comic artists today prefer working with clean straight lines and crisp edges, but Pope’s work deviates from this pattern and goes back to 30+ years ago, with a hint of sketchiness to them, to add a bit of energy and vitality to the work. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Scott McCloud’s comic, Zot. The colors chosen for the characters are fantastic and more on a muted 80’s scheme, which helps add to the feel. My favorite scenes of course are some of the action scenes towards the end of the book where Battling Boy is getting ensnared by the monsters, including one that looks like a cross between walking slime and bubble gum.

This is the start to a great action series and perfect for teens and up and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond