29 November 2011

Marie Lu

You've probably seen Legend everywhere already, since it's about to blow up. I was a bit surprised it was coming out just now actually, as I thought it had been released awhile ago because I've been reading interviews and reviews for months. But no, Legend releases today and that's awesome news because it means nobody is late to the party!

I actually found out about Marie's work first on the art side. I'm always digging around for irresponsibly cute illustrations of animals and I somehow I stumbled onto Fuzz Academy and its selection of great animals. Snow tigers, sun bears, chubby mammoths, c'mon now, how can a person resist? Little did I know that the person behind Fuzz Academy was also a YA writer. Here's the synopsis for Marie's first book in her trilogy:
"What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets."
I believe Legend is already optioned by the Twilight producers and hopefully ready to hit the big screen soon. Fast track it guys, we need something for 2013's holiday season. In the meantime, since Marie's got serious drawing skills, she's done up some character sketches on Legend's Facebook page.

Did I mention she used to art direct at a video game company? And she name checks Ender's Game in her PBS interview? Her list of cool points just rises by the Google search. Immigrating from Beijing at a young age, Marie is giving us Chinese FOBs some serious shine. I feel like my mom is beaming, and she doesn't even know Marie!

21 November 2011

Show Me the Money

For some reason I completely missed out on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist last season. Well, there's probably a great reason, as I try to avoid TV when possible. However, I remain intrigued by a competitive reality show about producing art so I caught a few episodes of season two the other day.

Whatever you think about the role of an artist and their relationship to their work and the public, Work of Art doesn't capture it. Produced by the same people behind Project Runway and Top Chef, WoA suffers from something the other two do not: an end product you probably won't actually like. You can watch a fashion or cooking show and lust after the dresses or food, but with WoA, just seeing the finished pieces isn't enough to keep your attention.

I think this is because a show about art should concentrate more on process instead of result. Instead, the format of WoA's contrived weekly challenges tends to brush aside any possible insight by concentrating on interpersonal plot lines. Then again, how do you depict the creative process on-screen anyway? You could argue that it's an interesting show simply because it shows artists period. In order for people to support the arts, they have to know some artists maybe? Even under any microscope or format?

What will keep me coming back to Work of Art is the critiques which probably mirror real art school critiques in their harshness. Because I generally just viscerally react to a piece of art, I don't actually have the vocabulary to disparage something I don't like. Work of Art is helping me out in this regard tremendously. "This is so second hand surrealism. You failed to draw me in as a voyeur or a viewer."

The show also probably reflects a lot about the confusion of artists about how their pieces are judged. They think they went from concept to execution pretty well, and then get torn down by the panel. Inside the must be thinking "What do you know about art?!" In this case however, some of these judges purportedly do know a lot about art. Purportedly.
Most of the good art documentaries I've seen are retrospective, or have engaging protagonists or smart talking heads. Sadly some of the stuff I've been watching recently has been lacking. The short piece about the making of MOCA's recent Art in the Streets exhibit wasn't that good, despite my high expectations.

In that genre, I'd recommend Dirty Hands, the David Choi documentary ten times more. I'd also highly recommend checking out Art 21 from PBS, which is well produced and explores the working lives of contemporary artists. Start with this episode about Identity hosted by Steve Martin.

And I recently read this little book called "How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery" and while I have no aspirations on doing any such a thing (unless you want to lend me a few million dollars), it was a really interesting look into the commerical side of the art world. I'm always curious who owns art galleries, or how they make any money, this book shed some insight into that.

17 November 2011

Thanhha Lai

Since Lonely Comma is no more, I thought I'd continue the Asian American author spotlights here. I had Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again all queued up awhile ago because her cover was just so amazing. I mean, seriously, it's fantastic. Just look at it. It jumped out to me at the bookstore and I loved the title too.

Well, the content inside is clearly just as great because Thanhha just won the National Book Award for her debut. I've never read a novel in verse before but I think I'm going to start with hers. Here's the synopsis:

"For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by—and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape—and the strength of her very own family."

Amidst all this hoopla about authors needing an online presence, I can't find much about Thanhha to share here with you. (Except that she was born in Vietnam and didn't learn English until after she got here at ten years old!) No author website, few interviews, no social networks, no nothing. It just goes to show, if you got it, you got it.

11 November 2011

Friendship is Magic

Sometimes you just wake up on a Sunday morning and get caught up researching all the hoopla around men who obsesses over My Little Ponies. This article will shed some light on what I'm talking about, "Hey Bro, That's My Little Pony!"

For starters, doesn't everyone already love My Little Pony? George and I were blessed in our youth to own the MLP Dream Castle. She probably got it in response to me receiving a Castle Grayskull. Since our toys were often mixed together, I know there were probably some epic wars between our action figures, as mounted GI Joes faced off against Barbies astride Battle Cat and Panthor. Oh those were the days.

Basically most of my morning was spent watching the new My Little Pony series on one computer screen while exclaiming "Oh this was my favorite!" as I browsed through old toys on the other. Looking over these classics from the 1980's, I'm stunned (and a bit ashamed) by how many we had. Clearly we were suckers for every marketing ploy and our parents were easily cajoled into buying us things. If my child insisted on purchasing all this crap now, I would not bow down to their unfettered consumerism. Plus I probably couldn't afford it since I'd have to buy two of each; one for playing, one for saving.

While one day does not a brony make, I am subscribing to Equestria Daily, the main MLP blog. I need to keep tabs on this fascinating community after all -- I have already recruited a pegasister and chosen Rainbow Dash as my favorite pony. If you've forgotten the original series, I recommend you check out the pilot episode here. I think you'll be surprised at the dragons versus ponies plotline; it's like super violent compared to the new series.

Aside from the fantastic animation style, I also really appreciate the many horse puns in MLP: Friendship is Magic. For example, "Canterlot" is the capital city of Equestria and the villainous pony calls everyone "little foals (as in 'fools')." And if you want to insult a pony that doesn't have their cutie mark yet, you can call them a "blank flank." A hint for the pop quiz tomorrow, The Elements of Harmony are honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, loyalty, and magic. Study up kids.

10 November 2011

What is it you do exactly?

I spent an hour or so earlier playing this video game about making a video game. So meta. In Game Dev Story, you manage a studio by hiring coders, designers, sound engineers, developers, and writers. Along with selecting the right staff, you're in charge of advertising and picking the genre of game to produce.

My first attempt was to create a ninja puzzle. It pretty much got terrible reviews and bombed. Then I created a romantic action game that did slightly better. As my team worked to pump out some hits, I had to make sure they were paid on time, that they had energy to perform at their best, and also decide if we should pay out licensing fees and try to anticipate what our fan base wanted.

After reading Harold Underdown's "What a Publisher Does," I thought about how cool it would be if there was a publishing game just like this. I mean, unless you work in a particular industry, it's easy to overlook how complicated things can be. "Don't products just magically appear?" Even when I was in the gaming industry as a tester, I wasn't fully aware of what all the other departments did until after a few months. Imagine if a game could replicate the entire chain of decisions toward publishing a smash book. Or how bad you would feel when your company launched something without proper marketing and it struggled.

Heck, imagine if games like this existed for every industry. I have no idea what most of my friends do every day at their jobs. I'd love a game that showed me what someone in advertising does all day, or what sort of decisions go into investment banking and architecturing. I mean, I learned the basics about a fast food company's supply chain from the McDonald's Game!

Actually, the company that makes Game Dev Story already sort of does this. Kairosoft has simulation games for managing a cruise ship, becoming a music mogul, becoming an illustrator, running a sushi joint, and one that I'm eagerly waiting to be ported over from Android: being the dictator of a soccer team. Power over little people, it's the thing that makes me keep playing these things.

Growing up, I played this basketball simulation game where you managed your team over many seasons. Keep in mind, you didn't even get to play the games, you just lorded over them by trading players, substituting different lineups, and adjusting pre-game strategy. I probably went through a dozen consecutive seasons of this. Just sitting at my computer screen watching little basketball players play each other. And I wonder where my childhood went.

Of course, as an adult, one could just go work in these other industries to find out what they're like. Or you know, I could read a book, do an interview, and research or something. But where's the fun in that?