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<<August 2015>>
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1. Are Computer Generated Visual Effects Ruining Movies?

The best answer you'll ever hear to this question.

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2. Separated at Birth: The Hiketeia and The Paybacks

The cover to The Paybacks (left), a new Dark Horse series by writers Donny Cates and Eliot Rahal and artist Geoff Shaw bears a striking resemblance to JG Jones' covers for Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, written by Greg Rucka (right). Doncha think?

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The Temple of Doubt

by Anne Boles Levy

Fifteen-year-old Hadara and her mother Lia are technically committing a sin when they collect plants and make medicines. The priests of the Temple of Doubt use magic to cure people under the power of their god Nihil; natural remedies are heresy. But magic doesn't always work, and the priests usually look the other way and ignore the illicit medicines.

Everything changes when two powerful Azwans visit Port Sapphire. The Azwans are Nihil's highest priests, or "navigators," and they come seeking a demon that fell from the sky. Hadara and Lia are forced to guide the expedition to find the demon, because of their knowledge of the swamps and the secretive race called Gek who live there. But the swamps are dangerous and the Gek hostile to outsiders. Add in an arrogant Azwan who thinks he can take what he wants, and the expedition may not make it out of the swamps alive.

In The Temple of Doubt, Anne Boles Levy has created a beautifully detailed world, complete with three separate races and cultures, and a well-developed and unique religion. The religion is an amazing thing: Levy has obviously put a lot of work into developing it, including scriptural quotes at the beginning of each chapter. As you would expect, faith is a theme explored in this book. Although their religion is based on doubt and ambiguity, it seems like the followers of Nihil are not allowed any doubt or ambiguity in their faith, and are expected to conform and obey in all things. There are hints that there is more to this religion than it appears, and I look forward to seeing where Levy goes with it.

Hadara is a great character that teens will appreciate. She's bright and curious and bold in a culture which frowns on those characteristics, especially in a young woman. Hadara's impulsiveness gets her in trouble, especially her inability to stop herself from speaking her mind. Hadara has trouble with faith; as bright and curious as she is, she can't help asking questions, or thinking that the things she has to learn are pointless. She knows the names of a thousand plants and animals, but she can't remember the name of a single one of Nihil's wives, or their faults.

The relationship that Hadara begins to develop with one of the soldiers is disconcerting, but I think it was intended to be. Any relationship that begins with a power imbalance is bound to be uncomfortable, particularly given the destruction caused by the soldiers. Hadara holds her own, but even she feels discomfort and confusion about the situation, even as she begins to develop genuine liking for the soldier, and he seems to genuinely like her. It's interesting as a developing friendship dealing with differences in culture as well as the power imbalance, however I never really felt enough chemistry between them to make anything more than friendship credible.

The pacing is a little uneven, and although there are several exciting scenes, overall this is a book that you read slowly and ponder. I actually enjoyed it more on the second read because I picked up on more detail and development on the second time around. This is the first book in a series, and so in part it sets up the rest of the series. It'll be interesting to see how it develops.

Who would like this book?

Teens who like richly developed worlds and strong female characters. This is a book that will appeal more to teens who like their fantasy slower-paced and thoughtful.


Hadara and her people have bronze skin, in contrast to the Feroxi soldiers accompanying the Azwans, who are described as being very fair. One of the Azwans has ebony skin, and is described as handsome.

Buy The Temple of Doubt from Amazon.com

FTC required disclosure

Review copy sent by the publisher to enable me to write this review. Anne Boles Levy is an online friend whom I've met several times in person. We've worked closely together on the Cybils Awards. However, I don't write biased reviews even for a friend. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. None of these things influenced my review.

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4. Writing Words of Wisdom

Fifteen tips about writing from an author who's been writing fifteen years.


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5. Digitizing the Iraqi national library

       Vivian Salama's AP story -- here at the Daily Star -- is, as so much news about cultural preservation from this part of the world over the past decade-plus has been, deeply depressing, as she reports on Facing ISIS threat, Iraq digitizes national library.
       Preservation, good, yeah, but .....
       (Other recent efforts -- "Earlier archives from 1920 to 1977, including sensitive Interior Ministry documents, had been stored in rice bags and survived the blaze" -- can only be relied on so far .....)

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6. Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

Imagine there is someone you like so much that just thinking about them leaves you desperate and reckless. You crave them in a way that's not rational, not right, and you're becoming somebody you don't recognise, and certainly don't respect, but you don't even care. 
And this person you like is unattainable. 
Except for one thing . . . 
He lives downstairs.

Abbie has three obsessions. Art. The ocean. And Kane. But since Kane's been back, he's changed. There's a darkness shadowing him that only Abbie can see. And it wants her in its world.

A Gothic story about the very dark things that feed the creative process, from the winner of the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for young adult fiction.

This is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. The novel is atmospheric and spooky and the cover suits it perfectly. This novel is weird, which I love, dark and strange and interesting. Abbie is not always a likeable character, or a good decision-maker (she is obsessive to an incredibly worrying degree), and Kane, with whom she is obsessed, is often downright awful. It's paranormal, I suppose, but not your typical paranormal - there's not clear-cut romance or predictable plotlines. It is both real and unreal (and quite surreal, too, now I think about it).

It's distinctly different from both of Eagar's previous novels - Saltwater Vampires is more paranormal and more humorous, and Raw Blue is much more realistic and written in a more straightforward style. I think there are quite a number of writers from whom you can generally expect something similar with each book - whether that's the writer's doing or the publisher's is hard to tell. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good in that if you discover a book you love, then there's more where that came from in the writer's back catalogue, and it makes it easier to clearly define a writer's style. It's bad in that some writers can become predictable. What I think is obvious from Eagar's novels is that she's a writer who is constantly developing and challenging herself, and as a result each of her novels published so far is unique. So I can't necessarily say if you loved Raw Blue, you'll love Night Beach, too - the writing style is more complex, the plot is supernatural, and the central character is far less sympathetic - but I can say that Night Beach is brilliant.

My greatest disappointment with the novel (look away now if you want to avoid a spoiler, though it's not a major one) is that a dog is killed, which I didn't think was entirely necessary. There are certain things in novels that I can't stomach, and this is one of them. (Though it speaks to how involved I was in the story that I found that event so horrendous; if it were a poorly executed novel and it had felt inauthentic, it wouldn't have bothered me as much.)

This book was published three years ago, so I'm a little disappointed I didn't read it until just recently - I think I have a tendency to favour contemporary in my YA reading. If this sounds like the sort of novel you'd like (weird/dark/intense) then do not skip over it. It is beautifully written, and very compelling, and different and strange and so worth reading.

Night Beach on the publisher's website.

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7. Publishing Jobs: Macmillan, University Press, Weldon Owen

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8. The Boyler Kat; Process Pics

via Emergent Ideas The Boyler Kat; Process Pics

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9. The Boyler Kat; Process Pics

The Boyler Kat a illustrated response to my MFA related New York City visit last November. These are some some pictures from the creative process.

via Studio Bowes Art Blog at http://ift.tt/1T1lnd0

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10. Popping Off About Comics and Reading Level

Yes, indeed I am talking comics, reading level, and what's "appropriate." But I'm not doing it here. No! I'm over at the Darby Pop blog, Beyond the Cover.

Go on, check it out - Ka-Boom!

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11. Face-Lift 1269

Guess the Plot

Antonov's Diamonds

1. Ruthless Russian Colonel Antonov makes off with a fortune in gems from a diamond mine in the Ural Mountains. It's a case too tough for the FBI, so they call in pawnbroker Flynn Christopher to help them devise a plan. Also, a pair of nitwits.

2. Sixteen-year-old Cam has seen a lot as the daughter of an unorthodox archeologist. To keep him out of trouble, she travels with him on his latest quest to find Antonov's Diamonds. Cam is concerned this will turn out like the times when he went searching for those damned yellow moons, pink hearts, orange stars, and green clovers.

3. Joe Singleton is struggling mightily to start his own jewelry shop in St. Louis. His fast-talking brother-in-law points out that every other successful jeweler has an exotic foreign name. Joe googles "Russian boy names" -- and he doesn't even need to search beyond the A's for a new business name. The trouble is, "Antonov's Diamonds" is also the code term for a super-secret remotely-guided nano-weapon that the CIA has been tracking, and Joe is sucked into a world of international intrigue.

4. When four-time World Chess Champion Vladimir Antonov is involved in a fatal car accident, he doesn't think twice about challenging Death to a game with eternal consequences. He couldn't have known that Death would pick bridge instead of chess and partner up with Satan, or that his own partner--a 206-year-old babushka--would promise to make his death a living hell if his incompetence ruins her winning streak.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

For your consideration:

Pawnbroker Flynn Christopher is enlisted by the FBI to help ensnare the cold blooded and ruthless Russian Colonel Alexei Antonov and recover untold millions in stolen diamonds. [On the off chance that the cold blooded and ruthless Russian Colonel Alexei Antonov comes in here to pawn millions in diamonds, we need you to stall him until we get here, okay?]

Flynn's pawnshops are entertaining, you never know what's coming through the door. Stun guns, diamonds, sharks teeth or a pair of nitwits. Hey, it's a job... [Usually it's after describing a crappy job that you make the comment Hey, it's a job. Not after describing a job as wildly entertaining as Flynn's.] 

Flynn meets a mysterious FBI agent while playing golf who asks his help in recovering a diamond once owned by Peter the Great. [Were they playing golf with each other, or was the FBI agent waiting on the 5th tee when Flynn got there?] [Also, you might want to mention why the FBI wants Flynn's help. Was Flynn chosen at random or because he's a pawnbroker or for a reason you're ill-advisedly keeping from us.?] Mayhem ensues at Baltimore's Inner Harbor when Flynn comes face to face with the thief. [And? Does he get the diamond?] Meanwhile the FBI is running a sting on Colonel Antonov in Philadelphia that ends with two dead[.] Antonov returns home to his store, Satchels and Sandals, a mecca for ladies shoes and handbags, [You pretty much have to be cold-blooded and ruthless if you're a ladies shoe salesman.] but their [there] is an evil secret in the backroom. Once again the irreverent Flynn is recruited, [Is there no case the FBI can solve without the aid of Flynn the Pawnbroker?] [Also, when did Flynn become "the irreverent Flynn'?] this time it’s more deadly. [This time he must try to get Mrs. van Pilson's size nine feet into a pair of size eight pumps.] Antonov orchestrates the takeover of a secret diamond mine [Secret from whom?] deep in the Ural mountains of Russia. [He orchestrates this from Philadelphia?] He makes off with incredible wealth and the death toll rises. Back in Baltimore, Flynn and the FBI devise a plan to outwit the maniacal Antonov [The FBI agents need a Pawnbroker to help them devise a plan to outwit a maniac?] and recover the diamonds before the unsuspecting Flynn becomes [one] of Antonovs victims.

I managed jewelry stores in the Baltimore Washington area for twenty years before becoming a pawnbroker, owning and operating my own stores for fifteen years. [So this is autobiographical. How much will you give me for my VHS player?] I am a jewelry expert, a certified diamontologist, gemologist and appraiser. [If Flynn is a diamond expert and the FBI needs his expertise to outwit Antonov, say so. I would expect the FBI, if they don't have their own expert, to seek one at a jewelry store rather than a pawn shop (or golf course).]

ANTONOV'S DIAMONDS is a thriller of 95,000 words.

Evil Editor, thank you for your consideration and time, I can be reached at ____________.

Warmest regards,


Not clear why the FBI is involved in recovering diamonds taken from a mine in the Ural Mountains. Or what Flynn brings to the table. Or why Flynn is approached on a golf course. Actually, this is so all-over-the-place that nothing's clear. Maybe you should focus the query on one case, either recovering Antonov's diamonds or Peter the Great's.

No need to waste space with a one-sentence summary of what we're about to read.

Start with a brief setup of Flynn's situation: You never know what's going to come through the door of Flynn Christopher's pawn shop. Stun guns, shark's teeth, banjos . . . But even Flynn is surprised when a pair of nitwits try to pawn a diamond that once belonged to Peter the Great.

Then tell us what happens: Turns out the diamond is the real thing, and the FBI is using it in a sting operation against Ruthless Russian Colonel Alevei Antonov. They want Flynn to take the stolen diamond in hopes that Antonov will be lured into the pawn shop. Antonov has his sights set on bigger game--a fortune in newly mined diamonds--but he can't resist a diamond that's part of his homeland's history.

Then finish with Flynn's decision, the one that determines whether he wins or loses. I'm not sure what he wins or loses, maybe a job as an FBI consultant or the reward money for recovering the diamond.

Focus on Flynn, what he wants, what's keeping him from getting it, how he plans to overcome this, what happens if he screws up.

 Also, I recommend using the details of my plot summary rather than yours.

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12. new & improved

Welcome to my WIP--a combined blog and website!  Please bear with me while I get it all set up, and here's a poem about the process to keep me going...this one pretty much records my edit >update>preview>edit loop.

from constant change figures | Lyn Hejinian

constant change figures
the time we sense
passing on its effect
surpassing things we've known before
since memory
of many things is called
but what of what
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we call
since memory
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we've known before
constant change figures
passing on its effect
but what of what
constant change figures
since memory
of many things is called
the time we sense
called nature's picture
but what of what
in the time we sense
surpassing things we've known before
passing on its effect
is experience

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13. How to Foster a Love of Reading

93% of educators and program leaders use books from First Book to develop a lifelong love of reading in their students.

But how can we help kids develop this love of reading? First Book hosted a Twitter chat last week wherein educators around the country convened to discuss their experiences and tips for fostering a love of reading in the kids they serve.

Here are some of the highlights from our chat. To see full answers to all six questions, visit the hashtag #FirstBookEDU on Twitter or read our full recap on Storify.

Why is it important for kids to love reading?

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14. Fifty Cents an Hour

When I was a teen, to earn some cash
I babysat at night.
I watched their kids, they drove me home;
It all turned out all right.

My asking price was 50 cents
(An hour) if before
The clock struck midnight; then I could
Request a quarter more.

They often gave a tip besides,
Perhaps an extra buck,
So I could bring 5 dollars home
If I had any luck.

The going rate today, I heard,
Is 12 an hour or more.
The earnings from a single night
Add up to quite a score.

They do not get a bonus, though,
If parents stay out late,
A point of pride when for that raise,
I did negotiate.

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15. TUT Audiobook is Now Available!

Being a *huge* audiobook fan, I am really excited to announce that the audiobook for TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE is now available. 

I know I am a bit biased, but I've listened to over 300 audiobooks in the last fifteen years, and this book seriously tops the list of my favorite audiobooks. I am so proud of it! And I swear, it is not just because I wrote the book.

Why, you might ask? Let's see...

1) The narration is spot on. Every character. Every joke. Every serious moment. They are all executed perfectly by narrator Ryan Borses. If you haven't checked out this seriously talented guy, then you are totally missing out.

2) Music? TUT has it! Not only is narrator Ryan an amazing voice actor, he also composes music, and thus, at the beginning of each chapter is one of seven original compositions just for TUT. They fit the mood of the chapter, and really tie it all together.
(*squee* that TUT has music!!!)

3) Gil sounds just like Lego Batman. I love that! Because Batman.

So if you're looking for the perfect road trip book to finish off summer, if you enjoy listening to audiobooks with your kids, or if you are simply an audiobook fanatic like I am, I'd love if you'd check out TUT! I promise that you won't regret it. :)

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16. Max and Bella at Port Solent RuffLife Mascots

Check out some of Max & Bella's, Rufflife Mascots, fun experiences on tour in the South of England.

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17. August Reading

At the beginning of July I was astonished at how fast June went by, now here we are in August and it seems like July flew by even faster. How is that possible? I had better get to work on building that chicken coop or I will be SOL when the temperature plunges and the snow begins to fall and frantic to get it done in the uncertain spring weather. Of course, the chickens have to be about 10-12 weeks old before they can be moved outside, but I’d rather not have to feel rushed. Have I mentioned I borrowed Building Chicken Coops for Dummies from the library? I have always looked down my nose a bit at the “Dummies” books but no more! This is one fantastic book! So much useful advice on every aspect of building a coop. Of course it has a basic plan as well, and while it is not exactly what we are planning, it is still very useful. So yay!

July didn’t afford long hours on lazy hot days for reading. Instead I was sweating in the garden or sweating on my bike or collapsed on the sofa recovering from said activities. August will likely follow the same route. Does that keep me from planning all sorts of reading? Of course it doesn’t!

I am currently in the midst of and almost done with a bunch of books. I am about 90 pages away from finishing Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. This is one fantastic book! I am on tenterhooks about the ending. It feels like there is something ominous ahead. If this turns out not to be the case, I won’t be disappointed because the anticipation has been sweet and I really like Isabel Archer.

I am also very close to finishing a review copy of a book called Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor. It is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of an Irish maid-of-all-work to the Dickinson family and Emily herself. Once I finish it, the publisher has kindly offered a second copy for a giveaway. So look for that, probably next week sometime.

A third book I am almost done with is The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. This is one of those slim books you have to read slowly. It is a mixed genre sort of book written in an episodic/collage kind of style. It is thought provoking in all kinds of ways and I am liking it very much even if sometimes I feel like I am not quite getting it.

I am still enjoying The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. Sadly when a book needs to be set aside, this seems to be the one. I don’t know why but that is how it is. Hopefully I will be turning the last page by the end of the month. It is time to set something else aside instead if I have to.

I am not close to finishing but am in the middle of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I’ve not read Bear before and am greatly enjoying this steampunk tale with sassy women and no good politicians.

I have Kelly Link’s newest collection Get in Trouble from the library and didn’t think I would actually get a chance to read it before having to return it and get in line again. But as luck would have it, the holds queue completely evaporated by the time the book came up for renewal so I renewed it and should be able to finish it. I have read one or two stories and they are typical Kelly Link weird.

One book I have from the library I know I won’t be able to read is Mark Danielewski’s newest, The Familiar. It is a big fat book and like his past books it is not a straight forward text. It looks interesting but I haven’t had the chance to spend much time with it to know whether I actually want to read it. If I do decide to read it I will have to buy my own copy so I am not forced to rush through it.

I have also begun a little study of Elizabeth Bishop. I have her Poems and finished the first volume of her published work, North & South, last week. Already I like her much better than Keats. I also have One Art, a collection of her letters and have begun reading that. What a good letter writer she was! So smart and funny, a completely different voice than in her poetry. And as luck would have it, there seems to be a bit of an Elizabeth Bishop revival in the works. I’ve seen numerous articles and essays about her around the internet in the last several months and the inimitable Colm Tóibín has just published a slim book called On Elizabeth Bishop. I just borrowed it from the library yesterday and am greatly looking forward to reading.

That should keep me going for August and into September too! Any good books on your plate?

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Whoever said summer was for hours of lazy reading didn't live in a four-season climate with long cold winters

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18. tuesday's tools....

a weekly peek at some of my "tools" of the trade. from my happily overly worked paintbrushes to my beloved derwent graphitint pencils...they all play a part in my creative bliss. :)

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19. Up in the air I go flying again



Screenshot 2015-08-04 16.51.57

Writing so much about my early life recently has brought back a slew of memories, and with them some of the first poems I memorized at school. I taught this one, by Jessica Nelson North, to Autumn when she was a girl, and she loved it.


Three Guests


I had a little tea party
This afternoon at three.
‘Twas very small—
Three guests in all—
Just I, myself and me.


Myself ate all the sandwiches,
While I drank up the tea;
‘Twas also I who ate the pie
And passed the cake to me.

I haven’t thought much about the other that’s been knocking around in my head — Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Swing” — since I learned it way back when. Now I can’t wait to teach them to my niece (three) and nephews (both four) the next time I visit.

Also, to try to describe a swing with a view of “Rivers and trees and cattle and all / Over the countryside” — an exotic thing to imagine even when I was young.


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20. Vicious review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Xurxo Borrazás' Vicious -- somewhat surprisingly, the first translation-from-the-Galician under review at the complete review.

       This is published by Small Stations Press, which is the kind of undertaking that can make you believe that even the most far-fetched publishing across borders and languages isn't a pipe-dream: here's a publisher specializing in translations from the Galician (number of native speakers: 2.4 million, according to Wikipedia's generous estimate) based in ... Bulgaria. (Yes, they also publish in Bulgarian.)
       If that doesn't bring a smile to your face and make you believe anything is possible ..... Read the rest of this post

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21. Kickstarter Spotlight: Supreme Team Takes on the Rise of Hip-Hop and Drug-Culture

Comics Beat contributor Seth Ferranti has had a long and storied past.  A writer well and truly familiar with life on the streets, Ferranti began picking up the craft of writing while serving a 25 year sentence in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for acting as the kingpin of an LSD empire. Ferranti released his first […]

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22. NEA translation fellowships

       The (American) National Endowment for the Arts has announced its Fiscal Year 2016 NEA Literature Translation Fellowship Recipients (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) and there are a lot of neat projects here, including:

  • Philip Boehm for his translation of Ilija Trojanow's EisTau (see e.g. the New Books in German information page) -- working title apparently: The Lamentations of Zeno

  • Michael Leong for his translation of Vicente Huidobro's Sky-Quake

  • Michael F. Moore for a new translation of Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed

  • Kit Schluter tackling some Marcel Schwob

  • Donna Stonecipher translating some Friederike Mayröcker
       All in all, a lot of great stuff being supported here.

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23. Disney Explains Its Powerful New Hyperion Rendering Engine

Disney Animation made a fun and informative film explaining the new renderer it used on "Big Hero 6" and the upcoming "Zootopia."

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24. ‘My Africa’ by Sariel Keslasi

Sariel Keslasi animates a song from the new double album of Gilad Kahana.

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25. MATT CHATS: Thomas Boatwright on Puppets, Patreon and a Transition from Comics

Rarely do I get to learn the story of people who have moved away from the comics industry. Artist and creator Thomas Boatwright is an interesting example of someone who did the comics thing for awhile but eventually, initially not entirely by choice, moved on to other ventures. As a fan of his comics I’ve been […]

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