I am the new Number Two

or ... Why I Love the WGA

So I got the keys to my study carrel (#2) today; it is sort of the academic version of a cubicle, with a wooden desk built in and a separate, rolling bookcase (called, for some inexplicable reason having nothing to do with whiteness, a Moby) which I pull in and out of a big lockable dockable ... thing. Seven or eight of these academicubes are open for any grad student to use at any time, but the rest (about a dozen) are assigned to specific people.

Now you may be asking, why DO I love the WGA? I shall tell you.

Monday: "Hey, let's watch Chuck and Heroes." "It's in reruns." "Oh. Well, I guess I'll go work on my dissertation."
Wednesday: "Hey, let's watch Bionic Woman." "Reruns." "Oh. Well, I guess I'll go work on my ..."
Thursday: "Smallville?" "Reruns." "Dissertation."

This strike is going to triple my productivity.

And Another Thing...

Another welcome bit of news last night. I have gotten a graduate student study carrel in the library on campus. At the moment, I share an office with 4, count'em, other people, and it's not a big office. There are fewer desks than there are instructors. Even this perk will be denied me come December, since I will be officially on leave until June when I graduate.

I don't get much work done at home; for years my work habit has been to write in public places with a lot of busy people (none of whom are paying attention to me). Now I will have a space to work in the library on campus, all the way through graduation. It's got a lockable book-case just for me and my stuff, which I look forward to loading up, and will be just a floor down from the comics collection. My laptop will plug in, etc.

And the new policy in the library will allow me to bring in some snacks and drinks. So I can work the hours away, type-type-typing my medieval comic goodness.

We are a Go.

Got my Spenser chapter back from Stewart today with only minor corrections. This is a great relief, since the rest of the diss is pretty much going to be more of the same. This means I can relax about the overall direction, style, and composition of the thing and focus on just writing it.

Pendragon to Paper

This morning I got to read the first 8 issues of a series called Knights of Pendragon, published in 1990 as part of Marvel UK. It had British writers, artists, and editors, and was -- despite the appearance of an occasional superhero -- really more of an ecological thriller/horror story.

The first 6 issues tell a fairly unified origin story, quoting liberally from the Penguin Classics edition of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight. In this tale, the Green Knight is no less a figure than the Earth itself, who taught Gawaine that no one should take more from the world than they're willing to give back. Centuries later, mankind has strayed from the path of righteousness, the environment is being plundered, and the Green Knight is pissed. He demonstrates his ire by going medieval on an evil corporation before our heroes -- including a reincarnation of Gawaine -- track him down at the Green Chapel in the middle of the South American rain forest. Gawaine's modern surrogate, a Welsh detective named Dai, forges a new pact and, for the moment at least, the Green Knight stops murdering poachers.

It's an interesting tale and Arthurian scholars have known about it for years, but no one has really given it any time. It's never been explicated beyond a few brief summaries in places like Alan Stewart's wonderful Camelot in Four Colors site. I look forward to giving it at least a few pages. I wanted to read all 18 issues, but it is time to meet with Stewart and talk about the job hunt.

Good Day

You know, it didn't really take me that long to write a chapter of that damned thing once I sat down and did it. It was very easy to put off. Very easy indeed. Today was a good day, as I passed it off to Stewart and we talked about the job search process.

Tonight I ordered the six volumes of The Invisibles that I did not already have. Years ago, when I was writing the comics chapter of King Arthur in Popular Culture, I wrote to Grant Morisson and asked him if he was consciously using the Arthurian Round Table as a motif when he was writing Justice League. He wrote back (posted on his blog really) yes, but not only that, he had been consciously trying to re-imagine Arthurian archetypes in the second volume of the Invisibles. At the time, I had no space to pursue that lead.

Now I do.

So I'll be starting with Camelot in Comics, that chapter I wrote so long ago, and adding to it some long examinations of Arthurian play done in books since that chapter was written. Rick Veitch's Aquaman will get the long nod, and Grant's Invisibles, and maybe even something of Captain Britain, if I can figure out what books need to be read to do it. Due date: Dec 1.

Spenser's Double Identities: Arthegall and the Yron Man

Tonight I finished the first chapter of my dissertation. Well, it will actually be one the chapters in the middle, but you know what I mean. I'm on a chapter-a-month plan now, if I want to finish by May, and I must finish by May because I have already told my mother I am graduating in June.

No force is more compelling than disappointing your mother. I encourage the use of this tactic, but only as an absolute last resort.

The endnotes and bib stuff still need to get fleshed out, but it's the 34 pages of text that I am worried about. I'll turn it in to Stewart tomorrow. Oh, and it's got 16 pages of comic art illustrations. Hopefully this will make the diss a bit more fun to read.

I cannot wait to put Spenser behind me and move on to Malory.

October, 1307

Friday night I was pressed into emergency GM service when the scheduled Saturday entertainment proved untenable. Inspired by the date, I took the opportunity to do a story I have wanted to run for a very long time.

It was seven centuries ago, on Friday the 13th of October, 1307 that secret orders sent out by King Phillip V of France were opened, leading to the arrest of nearly all the Knights Templar in that country. The arrests were made under cover of tax-inspections, and most Templars went peacefully, but at least a dozen were said to escape. I used the rules for Pendragon to set up a story in which agents of the King and Pope meet up with a Templar informer to root those last dozen heretics out of the chapel where they have dug in.

The story was intended to be Medieval Horror, but it really turned out more like moody action-adventure fare. About six hours of writing went into it, about half that time making the five player characters and the other half sketching out scenes of moral depravity which tested the heroes' virtues at the same time as their stalwart sword arms. Pendragon proved a perfect match for the game; I used rules from the "Tournament Period" of the game to simulate early 14th century arms and armour, and gave everyone at least one special ability written out on a note card which they could use a few times during the session. Daniel played King Phillip's man, a Chivalrous Knight; Mark was his Religious counterpart, the Knight Hospitaller. Nicole took the Templar Informer, rounding out the plated contingent. Two people came in about halfway through the story: Michael got stuck with the Dominican Inquisitor when his young son picked the Squire -- who turned out to be a Satan worshipping inside man.

The reason Pendragon is such a great system is because it doesn't try to do everything. It's a game of knightly adventure and because it focuses on those stories the system is brief and elegant. There was plenty of differentiation between characters and everyone quickly grasped the way Passions buffed up their combat ability while Traits served as roleplaying aids and occasional moral challenges. Because this is not D&D, hit point damage slowly accumulated through the night, until at the climactic fight with Sir Gerard, the Preceptor of France, Mark's Hospitaller took enough punishment to fall to the ground unconscious. We had just gotten him back on his feet for the final encounter (with a Wyrm whose combat abilities were boosted by every spiritual trial the heroes had failed) when his ride showed up and off he went. Pity, as the story ended pretty well and everyone seemed to have a good time.

I ran Pendragon several times in college and afterward, and it's easy to remember why I loved it. It's a game that is seemingly blockhead simple, but like any simple intruction, actually empowers you to say things of surprising depth and complexity.