Monday, October 26, 2009

289 Days UP - "I can disappear any time I want to, time I feel you..."

(2/1/10 UPDATE: He totally a roundabout kinda way. I agree with him that C&H ended in a good place, but I'd still love to see something new from him at some point. Ah, well)

The follow is an open letter to Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson:

October 26th, 2009

Dear Mr. Watterson:

Good evening sir. My name is Matthew Shafeek. I'm 30 years old, and a longtime fan of yours. I own every single Calvin and Hobbes comic (though I haven't bought every single collection obviously, because - let's be honest - there's a lot of redundancy in there), and was truly sad when you retired it back in December of 1995. With just a few panels a day you managed to really inspire me and create a world that more than other fictional place I really want to be a part of. I am writing this letter tonight to inform you that sadly, after nearly fourteen years of waiting for your next work, you have officially let me down as a fan and as a fellow artist, and I think you have become, in my eyes, one of the biggest wastes of talent that I have ever known.

Let me take a step back for a second before I delve into the heart of the matter. Back when you were writing C&H, you made a lot of, shall we say, curious decisions that threw a lot of people off. You refused to license your property and denied any and all merchandising of your characters. A very bold move that few artists with the kind of sweet, sweet cash sitting in front of them have ever made. You also, for less obvious reasons, decided to prevent C&H from ever being animated. In the face of so much logic and money, you denied the evil corporate machine any claim over your beloved characters and comic strip. You kept them pure, and you kept them your own. And to that Mr. Watterson, I say kudos. You obviously have a very sense of integrity and you take your work very seriously.

Then after 10 years of wonderfully imaginative, funny, and brilliant content you decided to call it quits, and you sent the following letter to your fans:

Dear Reader:

I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.
That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Bill Watterson
Ok, so you quit the daily grind. Awesome, good for you. No more deadlines, no more artistic constraints, woot! So what did you do over the next 14 years?

"Since retiring, Bill Watterson has taken up painting, often drawing landscapes of the woods with his father. He has published several anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes strips"

Wow. Ok. Now, I don't want to devalue your wood drawings or anything, but seriously? That is what a man, with the ability to literally DO ANYTHING he wanted creatively and have throngs of loyal fans who were ready, willing and able to support him, chooses to do with himself, artistically?

Bill (can I call you Bill? If not, please indicate as much in your response), I want be clear here: yes, I feel burned as a longtime fan of yours. But I can learn to live without any new C&H comics, or any new work at all if you've really decided to just call it quits on any sort of public artistic offering. Hell, I'm reading plenty of new, great comics online right now that certainly fill the void you left me all those years ago. What I simply cannot understand is how you, as an artist, have no desire to create anything new for the world to see.

I don't see the PAIN in your eyes. DO YOU???

I have to imagine that Calvin and Hobbes wasn't a tortuous endeavor for you - that you really did enjoy making a boy and his imaginary-but-not-really-imaginary tiger friend come to life in newspapers every week, and that the joy it brought to the people who read them somehow made you happy. Have you no desire to create something to put out to the world ever again?

Let me give you a little personal history, since I realize you may not be as aware of my whole life as much as the average reader of this blog is (though honestly, clearly you're not too busy right now, so do me the courtesy of at least reading a few entries). On top of writing this blog I also perform at a local improv theater here in NYC. And while the dream is to one day get discovered and get my own sitcom - where I get to play a slightly more hilarious version of myself, I have a super hot girlfriend, and there's also a randy, incredibly overweight female next door neighbor who is obviously just me in drag - a long time ago I realized I'd be happy to get up on that stage and just perform in front of an audience forever. Because I love getting up on that stage and making people laugh.

At the end of every improv show the host always thanks the audience for coming, and says that "without you none of this would be possible, nor would it make any sense." It's kind of silly and obvious, but it perfectly encapsulates my feelings about art in general. If you're not creating something for people to see and enjoy, you're not really an artist anymore, you're just a guy standing up on an empty stage in an empty theater being ridiculous. And I simply can not wrap my head around the fact that you've made this decision voluntarily. People dream of being in your position, to have the clout and the freedom you have, and by all accounts you've decided you'd rather paint trees.

Sure, you have people like George Lucas who know all too well how to trade every last ounce of artistic integrity for another dip in the obviously infinite well of content that belong to their franchises, but goddammit Bill, he's still doing something for his fans and for the world (for better or for worse), which is more than can be said for you.

Can I tell you a secret? It's something I've told very few people. About once a year, every year since you stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes, I have a dream that involves me going to a bookstore (somewhere I don't spend a time normally in my waking hours) and discovering a brand new Calvin and Hobbes book. Yes, a new book written by you, and this is during a time my mind could easily be fantasizing about anything else - sex, space adventures, heck, even new Far Side comics. Of course, being a dream, and coming from my brain the new comics aren't very good, and usually leave me more confused than anything else. The point is - there remained in me, for a very long time, a very deep personal WANT for something more from you.

I guess I'm just disappointed more than anything else. Apparently you've become something of a recluse in general, so who knows what's going on in your life right now. And look, far be it from me to say you OWE me or anyone else anything after what you've already contributed. But consider this one man's last glimmer of hope that someday you'll reach your full potential as an artist and inspire him again like you did once before.

Matthew Shafeek
(You can call me Matt, or just "Shafeek", lots of people do that too)

PS: Congratulations on being the recipient of my very first open letter!

PPS: Have you seen any of those kinda gross comics of Calvin all grown up? They're even worse than all the ones of Calvin peeing on things! Oh, and did you know someone made a pretty strong connection to C&H and Fight Club? Crazy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

281 Days UP - "But now we spent the day so completely uninspired, askin' why oh why would I be tired?"

The Multiplayer Postcard. Still plenty of copies in stock!

Two years ago, before I became 'Paused' I wrote a one man show called 'Multiplayer' about 4 gamers and the world they live in. Writing it, putting it all together, and ultimately performing it for a few months at UCB Theater in NYC was what I consider to be one of the my greatest accomplishments and proudest moments, as well a wonderful convergence of my two biggest passions.

I finally got the show up on YouTube, and while there's certainly a bit of quality lost in live theater put to video, I think it holds us well enough to post it here. This'll also be a great chance for me to add some 'DVD Commentary' to my show as well. So without, further ado, I bring you Matt Shafeek's Multiplayer, circa 2007:

(JULY-ISH 2007

Part One - The Hump Day Challenge:

Fun Facts:
-This first scene was the impetus behind the entire show. While playing Halo 2 one day, I got the idea for a sketch centered around a guy in the most intense Halo match of his life having to contend with his teammate's mother while he played.
-The opening song, as well as all the music in between the pieces is courtesy of OverClocked ReMix, a video game music remix site that I highly recommend checking out if you're into that sort of thing. By the by, add 10 nerd points for each song you recognize.
-Any video game props, with exception of the Nintendo shirt in the second scene and the Luigi hat in the 4th I already owned. Hence, this is my original, crappy, taped-together original Xbox headset.
-It's very hard to eat and get out your lines when you already have a tendency to mumble on stage.
-All of the GamerTags mentioned except for my own (which I'm sure actually exists) are/were friends of mine on XBL.
-I think one actual Halo fan ever saw the show. He talked to me after the show and later friended me on XBL.

Part Two - Zack's 64-Bit Summer Vacation:

Fun Facts:
-This scene wound up needing the most work, and actually what you see here isn't the final version. I eventually made Zack put on a powerpoint presentation with real slides transitioning into his not so subtle video game slides which gave a much needed visual to what was going on on stage. The last slide featured an animated King Hippo gif that Zack put on boxing gloves and fought!

-The teacher's voice, done a la the Peanuts, are all sounds from Q*bert.
-Yes, that was my entire DS collection at the time.
-During one performance of the show I walked out without my wig, and had a silent mini-freak out. I wound up mumbling some line about "shaving my head" during my vacation and moved on, though it was definitely not my best performance of that scene.
-I want the Megaman 1 victory song to play for every one of my minor accomplishments throughout the day.

Part Three - Last Dance Dance:

Fun Facts:
-Yeah, I don't know what that accent is. I've been made fun of on more than one occasion for doing terrible accents in improv. This is probably as good as it gets for me.
-The dance is hard to see, but just know that it involved me sticking my ass out and in the air whenever possible.
-The song is actually not from any real DDR song. It's called "Burn The School Down" by Zebrahead, and it just so happened to be the song on my iPod that I was most able to envision doing this dance to.
-For you purists out there, yeah, there's no way anyone could actually play like that, but I DID make up a pattern to tap based on my limited experience with the game.
-I bet you're thinking: "Wow, such stamina! I'm surprised he didn't lose his breath!" Well...

Part Four - Teeger's Baggagecast:

Fun Facts:
-...Yeah, I'm still catching my breath at the top.
-This character is probably the least far removed from the real Matt Shafeek. In fact, over the course of writing this scene I fell in love with the fictional Katja and have yet to really get over her.
-I was so into this character and his relationship with Katja that I was tempted to shoot a quick video to play in between the sets of a snippet of a previous episode of the podcast to establish more history. Ultimately the idea was scrapped...because no girl could ever live up to the Katja in my mind.
-Note the portending PAX reference!
-I'd like to nominate myself for best portrayal of Luigi in any medium, ever. Again, note the amazing accent work!
-Some of the slides are not entirely visible in the video, but I have to say, I'm pretty proud of the whole motiff. It was basically a loading screen with some tips of being good to your game consoles. And boy oh boy did I have fun shooting pictures in all kinds of wackadoodle poses with game consoles. Amongst them: Waking up in bed with my GameCube and an unopened condom wrapper, being run over by an Xbox, and coming into a run with a R.O.B. robot that had hung itself with a letter reading: "See You In Hell."

Special thanks again for everyone who helped make that show possible, Rob Morrison, Dan Fairall, Pat Baer, Anthony King, and especially my brother Mo for doing the recording and eventually importing onto YouTube. And thanks to everyone who supported it when it went up. Special thanks to Robert Astley from A Life Well Wasted for lighting the fire under my butt and getting me to finally get this on my blog.

Seeing this show again makes me want to put together something else, something new. During production of Multiplayer I got so busy I mostly stopped playing games, and that's when I got the idea to go Paused. Maybe posting this video is completing the circle of creativity, and starting tomorrow I'll be in the market for my next big project.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

274 Days UP - "It's the only way I have learned to express myself..."

(Update - Here's an interesting addendum to my post from Kotaku. I can safely say that with Batman - it was 95% enjoyment, 5% compulsion - those last few challenges were really annoying)

I start all of my blog entries off with a snippet from one of my many favorites songs - either currently loaded up on iTunes or from a quick google search, but today I want to use a much longer section, because despite whatever the song might actually be about (I'd prefer it if all bands just explicitly listed the backstory/details of what they're signing about in all their songs, but it would seem they all prefer that we foolishly speculate), I happen to think it works REALLY well as a metaphor for a gamer, and for my life in general. Here's the snippet, from the song "Let's Get Fucked Up And Die" - already getting excited, right? - from one of my favorite bands on the planet, Motion City Soundtrack.*

Let's Get Fucked Up And Die (snippet)

Let's get fucked up and die..
I'm riding hard on the last lines of every lie,
And the BMX bike of my life is about to explode, I'm about to explode.
I'm a mess, I'm a wreck.
I am perfect, and I have learned to accept all my problems and shortcomings,

'Cause I'm so visceral, yet deeply inept.

I want to thank you for being a part of my forget-me-nots and marigolds..

And all the things that don't get old..
Is it legal to do this? I surely don't know.
It's the only way I have learned to express myself
through other peoples' descriptions of life..
I'm afraid I'm alone and entirely useless...
(In this department)

Explaining what every little line in the poem means to me would be kinda lame, and is something I have to fight the urge to do right now (but I'd be happy to tell you if you really wanted to know. You see, Regina Spektor, was that SO HARD?!?) - however I'll say one thing: the use of the word visceral sealed the deal for me.

Actually, all I wanted to post today was my latest gaming achievement, something I haven't accomplished in quite some time:
Say, what's Batman looking at over there?? Is there villainry afoot?

Oh no, it's just my PERFECT F-ING SCORE CARD!!!

I feel like the most definitive way to judge a game's a quality is to give it to a 30 year old gamer with a full time job, outside hobbies, and a generally busy schedule, and see how much he plays it. If he likes it, maybe he'll put in enough time to beat it. If he LOVES it, maybe he'll power through many many BRUTAL and nigh-RIDICULOUS challenges outside the main game in order to do everything there is to do, and just keep playing it because he's having so much goddamn fun.*

So there you have it folks. My first official review on this blog. I, Matt Shafeek, have 100%-ed Batman: Arkham Asylum. If you are a gamer, you need to play this game if you have not already.


PS: Slightly cold off of the presses, but still just as entertaining, I have two more episodes of Extremely Local News for ya!

*They are a fantastic band, in general, if you're in the market for some great music I am in no position to try to describe other than 'kick-ass'.
*Or maybe, you know, that one gamer just happens to be awesome at video games in general.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

270 Days UP - "Can't tell the difference between myth and man..."

Above: not my kitchen

I've discovered a new sanctuary in a place that for 30 years I actively tried to spend as little time as possible - my kitchen. Up until this year I knew how to make a handful of meals, all with probably less than 4 ingredients usually requiring minimal preparation time and a lot of sauce out of a jar. This year a couple of factors - lengthy unemployment and my "Dinner and Games" experiment - changed my perception of cooking, and as a result, I can safely say I now rather enjoy the process of making food.

What makes all of this all the more surprising in that besides just being generally lazy (something I'm sure more than a few men can be considered guilty of), I realized recently that when it comes to the finer details of a lot of man's greatest inventions/triumphs - architecture, machinery, the Kama Sutra, I generally don't spend more than a few seconds going "Gee, that seems complicated!" and moving on. For some reason the only things that typically catch my attention are mysteries, the unknown phenomena that still have people scratching their heads.
Please explain this in one word or less...

When I was a kid I remember reading about Stonehenge and being absolutely fascinated with it. I even planned a hypothetical trip there to go and not just see the site, but to solve the mystery that at the time was still plaguing scientists. Of course, after analyzing the stones, their size, their positions, and their age, my best guess at the time would probably have been "magic." And that's probably getting to the heart of it - I was interested in something so long as it was possible that the only explanation for it could be something mystical. I was never one for deep analysis or study. As soon as scientists get down to the nitty gritty and figure out exactly how or why something works, it becomes a snooze-fest for me. (Side note: it's funny - as a lifelong agnostic/atheist, I NEED science to explain everything that's out there, but so long as it eventually gets explained, somehow the actual details typically don't interest me)

With games, I only learn what is necessary to play them. It's more a means to an end than something to ponder. And even then - as my two failed attempts into programming have proven - I simply don't have any interest in learning specifically how to make them.

Back to being in the kitchen - cooking real adult meals involves forcing yourself to become one of those lame-o programmer/designer/
scientists, and fully committing yourself to the tiny little details that go into the creation of something. You can't help but get invested every single detail of the process - from purchasing the ingredients, to preparation of each portion of the dish, to the actually cooking of the meal - and notice how small changes anywhere affect the final product. Since the results are going to be your sustenance for the next few hours, it definitely pays to not half-ass your way through it, (as is often my instinct) lest your taste buds and stomach suffer as a result.

The best part about all of this is that you quickly realize the FUN you could have improvising a meal once you get good enough at the basics. When I first started I was following cookbooks as strictly as possible, but as time went on I developed an instinct as well as a taste for what I wanted. I'm a big quesadilla fan (its basically an E-Z-P-Z pizza, because yeah, I am still kinda lazy - but in my defense, they're delicious), and I've made a different version of it every time I've decided I wanted to eat one. And recently, long time friend and new time favorite blogger Matt Stillman showed me true versatility and confidence in the kitchen when he told me to pick up a protein and vegetable and we cooked one of the best dishes I've ever had, Chicken Rollatini, on the spot using just what I had in the kitchen.

Food I helped (and learned how to) make!

So cooking has opened my eyes in more ways than one. Not only that, but it's obviously saved me a pretty penny as well. I recommend spending more time in the kitchen to anyone who:

A) feels like they are bored with everything they eat (I had a rotation of Chinese Food/Pizza/Fast Food/Pasta Dinner that I went through for what I'm sad to admit was most of my 20's)
B) feels like they aren't particularly great at anything (not so much my problem, because, you know, I'm totally awesome, but whipping together a nice meal definitely makes you feel like you accomplished something - and more like an adult, too!)
C) wants to lose weight (its MUCH easier to keep track of what you're eating when you're making it)
D) wants to save some $$$ (this is well known)

And if you don't fall under any of those categories, then hey, pat yourself on the back there, mister - life's going pretty ok for you and your non-cooking ways!

Thanks to everyone who's been a part of my "Dinner and Games" experiment this year - I hope to continue it indefinitely, and I also hope to spend lots of time in the kitchen on my own, allowing myself to discover what 'real magic' is like. Since I've decided against blogging after each D&G, I'm going to post them all here (eventually) and update as I do more and more of them. I'll list the meal, the people who taught it to me, and what we played.


Currently Playing: My gaming time at home has been split between defending my cores in Defense Grid: The Awakening, and Shoryukening some skulls in Street Fighter IV, while my gaming time away from home has been split between solving some puzzles Professor Layton (and the Diabolical Box)-style, and saving the planet, Final Fantasy VI-style. I have to say, it's a nice balance. I recently secured a free copy of Fable 2 from a friends who apparently hated it so much he felt the need to get it out of his house, but I'm sitting on it for now, afraid of the hours I anticipate it sucking up. Still awesome to get it for free though!