Amazing Arizona Comic Con 2014 took place at the Phoenix Convention Center last weekend, January 24-26. I represented BOOM! Studios at our booth, along with writers Paul Jenkins (“Deathmatch,” “Inhumans”) & Eric M. Esquivel (“Bravest Warriors,” “Loki: Ragnarok and Roll”) and artists Wook-Jin Hunter Clark (“Adventure Time: Flip Side,” “Megagogo”) & Missy Pena (“Bravest Warriors”), plus BOOM!’s Marketing Assistant, Stephanie Hocutt. They’re all awesome people! Below are some memories from throughout the weekend.

What’s the best idea you’ve ever had? Regale us with every detail of the idea — the idea itself, where it came to you, and the problem it solved. Photographers, artists, poets: show us BRIGHT.

Hollywood / Western, Los Angeles

Hollywood / Western, Los Angeles

The best idea I ever had was to make the cross-country move to Los Angeles, California from snowy Buffalo, NY.

After graduating from University, I knew I wanted to travel and I did just that working as an actor in the professional regional theatre scene. It was an amazing, eye-opening two and a half years of my life. But like any actor eventually experiences, there came a time in late 2009 where I had no gigs lined up. Instead of waiting around a half-year for the big regional auditions, I decided to bring myself closer to the entertainment hub.

So I considered my options: New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles.

To be honest, I was initially leaning towards NYC, but an hour-long conversation with one of my best buds who had moved to LA immediately after graduating gave a convincing argument. Then one of my other best buds who had lived in LA close to a year was also persuasive.

So I took a swing and moved.

But I didn’t come alone! My now-fiancee and mother of my daughter joined me in the adventure (we were only dating a few months at the time) and now almost five years later, it’s clearly the best decision of my life. I’ve unexpectedly changed fields (but not before booking a lead role on Spike TV’s “Deadliest Warrior!”) as I now work in publishing, but it still fuels my creative spirit being around passionate, energetic people who share a common interest — to make awesome comic books! I didn’t just jump in to a career shift, rather it was the result of energetic networking, going with the flow of life and not hesitating when opportunity arose. Luckily, living in LA still provides plenty of performing opportunities, but at the moment my focus is on improving myself in what I now do for a living.

I do miss the charm of my hometown — yes, Buffalo certainly has its charm — as well as the family and friends I had to move away from, but Western New York didn’t offer a whole lot of upward mobility in what I wanted to do with life. I’m not the type of person who’s ever content with where they’re at — I’m always trying to get to the next level and Los Angeles provides endless opportunities to reach those power-ups.

Plus, there’s something seriously therapeutic when you walk outside in the middle of January and it’s 72 with clear skies and a bright, warm sun.

French/Freedom fries beware — my daughter is coming to CRUSH YOU!!

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My first ever NBA game was unforgettable — not only because the home team Los Angeles Clippers won in dramatic fashion (120-116 in OT), but it was an experience I shared with my Dad, a man who has taken me to more Buffalo Bills/Sabres/etc. games than I can count (when I lived back east, he used to have season tickets). Add to it the fact that he attended Buffalo Braves games in the ’70s (who eventually moved to San Diego and became the Clippers, later relocating to LA) and hasn’t attended an NBA game since, I could not think of a better way to commence this Holiday break!

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GO CLIPPERS!! (I now own a hat)

This weekend was the 5th annual Long Beach Comic & Horror Con at the Long Beach Convention Center in California. It was a mellow show with a consistent stream of excited fans who were interested in the BOOM! Studios and Archaia line-up, and indie stuff in general. Below is a small gallery of my favorite photos of the show, taken from behind the BOOM! booth!

I’m not sharing this Huffington Post article so much for the headlined story, but the slideshow that follows the main article. It lists 48 cases of teachers committing sex crimes against their underage students. What threw me is only 3 of the offenders are men.

I did not expect that.

Last week my fiancee and I looked at schools for our daughter to start in January. I remember thinking about one particular school, “I feel more comfortable all the teachers here are women.” I think I thought that because there’s a deep-seeded paranoia all fathers exhibit against all men regarding their little girls. We just assume the worst to better defend against it. That slideshow really caught me off-guard. Despite our most certain convictions, you just never know. People are fucked up.

This got me thinking — why do we as a society assume in most cases sex offenders are men? I suppose random or public offenses would point mostly to men since they have the physical strength or prowess to pull something off. Same with controlled environments mainly populated by adults, such as the workforce — men can manipulate and force other adults into situations easier than women, and the offenders are often in positions with resources to cover up misdeeds.

Why is the ratio so diverse when the main environment is schools? 48-3 tells a disparate story.

My main hypothesis is men go through a more scrutinizing hiring process, be it by design or otherwise. Upon entering the education system, a man’s background check is likely more rigorously examined than a woman’s and the screening process is more intense. If true, this is only part of the answer why there are drastically fewer male offenders than female in schools — they’ve been weeded out through the system. Beyond that I don’t really have any answers. Unfortunately, all parents deserve them.

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It’s difficult to blame the school for letting Cook go, but either she and her fiancee should have been fired or neither.

It’s no secret on this blog I’m a longtime “Dune” fan. This year I decided to try my hardest to read every “Dune” novel in chronological order, beginning with the first book of the second prequel trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert — “Dune: The Butlerian Jihad.” Taking place thousands of years before the original “Dune” novel by Frank Herbert, this book focuses on the galactic struggle of mankind vs. the evil thinking machines! I finished it back in March — this is my review.

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Off the Shelf: “Dune: The Butlerian Jihad” by Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert original article link on ComicAttack.net (3/13/2013)

Back in 1992, the original Dune novel was my personal gateway into adult science fiction. First published in 1965, I was about eight-years-old when I read it cover to cover, and while most of the philosophical stuff went over my head (although it did make me start asking questions), much like a spice trance, Frank Herbert’s Dune opened my eyes to a much bigger literary world. I went on to read through Dune MessiahChildren of Dune and God Emperor of Dune, but only made it about 100 pages into Heretics of Dune (thus missing Chapterhouse: Dune altogether) before I became engulfed in the first wave of prequel novels written by Kevin J. Anderson and Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert.

Some time after the death of Frank Herbert in 1986, his son and other members of the Herbert estate uncovered notes by the author regarding extra Dune stories set outside and within the timeline of the first six novels. These notes were used as the outlines from which Anderson and Brian Herbert would write a dozen Dune spin offs (with a 13th installment teased for 2014), the first called House Atreides was published in 1999. Atreides begins a trilogy immediately preceding the first Dune book, starring the familiar cast of characters. Then the writing duo released a second trilogy, this time taking place thousands of years before Paul Muad’Dib and the Atreides’ rise to power, focusing on the fabled Butlerian Jihad where mankind wrested their freedom from the tyrannical thinking machines. If one were to read the Dune franchise in chronological order, this is where they’d begin.

Now, over ten years after reading any Dune books (save a joint reading of Dune with my fianceé three years ago), I have the urge to revisit the Dune universe from the beginning, and that means reading Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, published in 2002.

For Dune fans, this is a guilty pleasure read. It’s enjoyable and fast paced, but the philosophy is thinly veiled and the meta-messages aren’t nearly as layered as those in the original novels. This also makes it more accessible for the casual Dune fan. For people new to the franchise, Butlerian Jihad is a story of man vs. machine — artificial intelligence is massacring humanity with every opportunity, and only in the novel’s final act does mankind deliver a blow that resonates. It’s a prequel story, so we ultimately know how the events play out, but here we’re given the details…which are mostly grisly and traumatic.

The leading men are Xavier Harkonnen and Vorian Atreides — two notorious surnames found throughout the Dune mythos. In this story the antecedents of Paul Atreides and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen come from polar opposite backgrounds and are two different hearts after the same woman in Serena Butler, whom the Jihad is named after. Vorian’s story is one of redemption, while Xavier’s is that of the tragic hero. While the Atreides banner is the one I’d pledge allegiance to in the later Dune stories, here the Harkonnen name bears more honor and Xavier is certainly a guy you root for. Vorian on the other hand begins as a servant of the machines, who quite frankly comes off as a tool. He becomes more likable as the story progresses, but Xavier is definitely the man who evokes emotion — especially considering the constant stream of tragedy he’s forced to endure throughout the book.

Comparatively, the other male characters are hit or miss. Ishmael and Aliid, the two slave boys on the planet Poritrin, are one dimensional, whereas Selim Wormrider of the planet Arrakis is a guy you eagerly await getting his due vengeance. Aurelius Venport and Tuk Keedair — two businessmen who deal in drugs and slaves, respectively — are there simply as plot devices. Keedair is a slaver who stumbles upon Arrakis and the spice. He then sells it to Venport, who specializes in the drug trade. The two men are obviously there to give reason for the spice Melange making it off of Arrakis and into the hands of the League of Nobles, eventually leading to a larger demand of the product that’s a staple theme in the original stories.

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“Machine Crusade” & “Battle of Corrin” complete the “Jihad” trilogy

Similarly, Norma Cenva and Tio Holtzman, the science minds of Jihad who create weaponry and tech to combat the thinking machines and improve the human way of life, have interesting moments but mostly are another duo plot device. They create glowglobes, suspensor fields, and most notably in the Dune jargon, the Holtzman Shields where fast movement won’t pass through them but slow movement will. Norma Cenva’s blunt appearance and humble love of science makes for an interesting dichotomy with the eccentric, fame seeking Holtzman. Unfortunately, for a scientist, Holtzman’s character makes some strange common sense decisions not fitting a man of his intelligence, most notably purchasing a cadre of slaves from Keedair — these slaves were described in the book as an unruly, aggressive sort, yet Holtzman bought them to work in his laboratories anyway without thinking this may come back to bite him down the line. Which it does. Too often the pair’s scenes read like, “Hey, there’s all this tech that transcends throughout the entire Dune franchise. So who invented it all? These guys!”

To complete the transparent trifecta are Zufa Cenva and the psychic sisters of the planet Rossak, where Venport also resides. These women possess immense telepathic abilities and focus on selective breeding to produce near-perfect humans of maximum potential. What group from the original Dune novels does this sound like? The women of Rossak are not as mysterious and cryptic as the Bene Gesserit, although their combat scenes are intense. Conflictingly, the women of Rossak are described as gorgeous whereas the Bene Gesserit sisters, save Jessica and the less apt Princess Irulan, all reminded me of the nuns who stalked the hallways in my elementary school.

Fortunately, Butlerian Jihad bookends its protagonists Vorian and Xavier with a strong core of villains. Omnius is the computer evermind throughout the Synchronized Worlds who leads the crusade against humanity, and Erasmus is his number one. Erasmus is unique in that he’s the only robot to develop an independent personality. The machine is obsessed with understanding humans, to the chagrin of Omnius, and in doing so performs some sick experiments — the one that resonates most is when he dissects the brains of two twin little girls. This is but a glimpse of the horrors he concocts throughout the book and he creates the inciting incident which sparks the Jihad — a shocking and devastating scene handled extremely well by the book’s authors. In short, Erasmus is a sick, twisted bastard whose intentions are questionable, lacking any moral code or sense of sympathy.

A majority of Erasmus’s scenes are with leading lady Serena Butler. The underlying terror that grips Serena in her conversations with Erasmus, who only wants to better understand mankind, are some of the highlights of the book and the most anticipated scenes; this is where the most compelling dialog is found, complete with a sense of impending tragedy. The way Serena steels herself in the presence of the robot makes you really want her to make it out of her captive situation intact. She’s a strong character — more clever than, say, Princess Leia, but with less combat prowess.

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Frank Herbert’s “Dune” from 1965 & my personal copy of “Jihad”

The best villains of the book, though, are the Cymeks — human brains contained inside machine battle forms. The leading Cymeks are known as the Titans, who are thousands of years old. Long before the events in Jihad, the Titans were a group of ambitious people who led a revolt against lazy humanity — mankind had come to rely on machines to do everything for them, becoming complacent, and the Titans swooped in to conquer humanity. In becoming Cymeks, they preserved their own minds in immortal metal bodies and ruled over mankind until their ambition eventually got the better of them, leading to the robots becoming cognizant and the eventual thinking machine takeover. Omnius allows the Cymeks to live due to a programming clause keeping the machines from turning against them. The Cymeks are truly terrifying — they have the durability and firepower of any thinking machine, but the cunning and deception of a human. They’re ruthless and serve as a wild card in the war in that they hate humans, but they hate Omnius, too.

The leading Cymek, General Agamemnon, is the father of Vorian Atreides, who was grown in a lab from preserved sperm samples of the general before he was converted into a Cymek. One of the creepiest scenes of the book is when Vorian ceremoniously cleans his father’s brain canister. It’s equal parts erotic, reverent and just plain weird. It’s bizarre to think, too, that Paul Atreides and his father Leto come from the same stock as Agamemnon.

Finally, Jihad introduces the Cogitors — human minds who have been detached from their physical bodies, like Cymeks, but who only wish to live in peace and ponder the existence of the universe. Overall, these circular talking brains quickly become annoying to both the characters in the book and the reader with their indecisiveness. A cogitor plays a key role in the development of Iblis Ginjo, a slavemaster on the Omnius controlled ancient Earth, as it fuels the man’s rebellion against the machines. Gingo reminds me a lot of Borsk Fey’lya from the Star Wars expanded universe lore. He’s a politician who believes in good but uses his power and position to serve his own means.

Considering this is the introductory novel in a trilogy, there is a lot of exposition and therefore the experience is mostly sensational as opposed to lasting. The book makes the immense Dune universe feel small — readers familiar with the first three Frank Herbert novels may find many correlations with characters and themes in Jihad that often tiptoe along the line of being too conveniently connected. The reader’s willing suspension of disbelief is tested when contemplating why the machine evermind, Omnius, doesn’t obliterate mankind outright. The reasoning provided is porous. Additionally, there are moments of robotic emotion from both Omnius and Erasmus that seem to contradict the overall “mental mechanics” of the machines.

All this being said, Dune fans can appreciate and enjoy what this book accomplishes in expanding the Dune mythos. I had a lot of fun reading it; the future Earth setting that expands throughout the cosmos is cool, and regardless of where you stand in terms of your Dune knowledge, this is an accessible read for any sci-fi fan. If you like stories with themes of evil robotic characters in a dystopian future haloed by the hope of the human spirit, then Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is for you.

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