Tag Archive: Art Schmidt

Meeting Lee Majors

Hey, looks like we made it!

Five years ago today, Elizabeth C. Bunce, Art Schmidt, Jason McClain, and I had already spent a few months talking through the technical details for the launch of borg.com.  What should it look like?  What should we write about?  How do we get to there from here?  Then it all came together on June 10, 2011, and I sat down and just started writing.  Should this be a weekly thing?  Once I started I just couldn’t stop and we cemented borg.com as a daily webzine.  And readers started showing up every day.  Soon we had hundreds of followers, and hundreds of thousands of visits per year.

The best part?  Working with friends and meeting new ones each year.

We’ve had plenty of high points.  Cosplay took off in a big way in the past five years.   Elizabeth and I hit the ground running at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2011 with our Alien Nation/Chuck mash-up and you can find us all over the Web in photos taken by others at the show.  Our years were dotted with the random brush with coolness.  A retweet by actress Alana de la Garza, coverage of Joss Whedon visiting the Hall H line at 3 a.m. outside SDCC in 2012, Zachary Levi calling out Elizabeth for her cosplay at Nerd HQ, interviewing the stars of History Channel’s Vikings series, our praise for the Miss Fury series appearing on the back of every Dynamite Comics issue one month, tweets from Hollywood make-up artist family the Westmores commenting on our discussion of Syfy’s Face Off series, our Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (negative!) review featured on the movie’s website, that crazy promotion for the Coma remake mini-series, planning the first Planet Comicon at Bartle Hall and the Star Trek cast reunion, attending the first Kansas City Comic Con and the first Wizard World Des Moines Con, hanging with comic book legend Howard Chaykin, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniels, cast members from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Star Trek, bionic duo Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner.  And borg.com gained some well-known followers (you know who you are) along the way.

sdcc-whedon-c shot

We’re grateful for some great Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and other feedback over the years from Felipe Melo, Mickey Lam, Michael Prestage, The Mithril Guardian, Francesco Francavilla, Adam Hughes, Judy Bunce, Mike Norton, Jack Herbert, Mike Mayhew, Rain Beredo, David Petersen, Rob Williams, and Matt Miner, and for creators we interviewed including Mikel Janin, Penny Juday, Tim Lebbon, Kim Newman, James P. Blaylock, Freddie Williams II, Jai Nitz, and Sharon Shinn.

Bunce Alien Nation cosplay x

What did readers like the most?

We amassed an extensive archive of hundreds of book reviews, movie reviews, reviews of TV shows, and convention coverage, thanks in part to the good folks at Titan Books, Abrams Books, Lucasfilm Press, Weta New Zealand, Entertainment Earth, Dynamite Comics, IDW Publishing, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, BOOM! Studios, and several TV and movie studios and distributors.

McClain and EC Bunce

My own favorites?  Sitting down to come up with my own five all-time favorite characters with the borg.com writing staff.

Schmidt and Bunce at PC 2015

Thanks to my family, my friends, especially my partner in crime Elizabeth C. Bunce, Art Schmidt and Jason McClain, my support team, and William Binderup and the Elite Flight Crew.

Onward and upward!

C.J. Bunce


Review by Art Schmidt

Count Strahd von Zarovich is having guests for dinner – and you are invited.

The latest storyline in Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition debuts this Tuesday, March 15, 2016, and much like the three previous storylines (Tyranny of Dragons, Elemental Evil and Rage of Demons), it takes a tried-and-true theme from the original edition of the “world’s greatest roleplaying game” and re-vamps it, adding in more flavor, updating the theme, and expanding it with many more areas to explore.  Curse of Strahd takes one of the most beloved adventures from 1st Edition D&D’s Castle Ravenloft and presents a large, in-depth and exciting reincarnation of the classic adventure for players and game masters of all levels of expertise.

The campaign book for the Rage of Demons storyline, entitled Out of the Abyss, was an excellent adventure, but that manual is thick with rules and can be difficult to run in several places, lending itself to a more experienced game master and players.  Curse of Strahd is just as well thought-out and immersive an experience, but can be handled by those with less experience and even, dare I say, newbie game masters looking to cut their teeth on a meaty adventure.  And CoS has the meats!

Waaaay back in the first iteration of Dungeons & Dragons (before anyone thought to call it “First Edition” because, hey, that’s all there was!), adventures were typically narrow of scope and limited to a couple of locations.  They were meant to be played in a single or handful of sessions, and then the game master would have to look elsewhere for another challenge for their players.  And most of these adventures were the stuff of pulp fiction; simple goals, thin plots and lots of monsters to hack your way through in order to gain the treasure and gold.  And everyone loved that.


Then along came Tracy Hickman (of Dragonlance, Darksword Trilogy and Death Gate Cycle fame) and he had the audacity to think “Why are these monsters here?  Why are they trying to defeat us?  What’s their story?”  Tracy and his wife Laura came up with Count Strahd von Zarovich, a tragic but thoroughly evil and menacing figure modeled after the original vampires of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel and Nosferatu of early cinema.  Then they wrapped an immersive story around this figure, with NPCs (non-player characters, for the uninitiated), locations and lesser foes who made sense, who thoroughly belonged in the adventure and had more depth than a set of statistics to be overcome by the power-hungry party of adventurers.  To top it off, they added a groundbreaking 3D map (shown below) and guidelines for adding an ambience to the story that no other adventure had ever provided before.

Thus was born Ravenloft, one of the most popular and loved adventures (and then series) in all of tabletop role-playing game history.  It has been re-created and expanded in almost every edition of Dungeons & Dragons ever since, for better or worse (as these things always go, more worse than better).

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Jones 1

By Art Schmidt

Netflix debuted the first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones last Friday, November 20, 2015, in the same one-hour (roughly), thirteen-episode format as many of its other hit series including House of Cards and Marvel’s Daredevil.  The fourth official Marvel Cinematic Universe property to hit the small screen in live-action format since the success of the first Marvel’s The Avengers movie in 2012, Jessica Jones takes the edgy, sexy, delightfully menacing feeling of Daredevil and adds in more edge, more sex, and more menace.

And the result is more awesome.

FYI, from now on, we’re going to drop the “Marvel’s …” in front of every-friggin-thing because: A) Even Matt Murdock could see the heat from the Marvel logo coming off of a flat screen, and B) We get it, we even agree, Marvel has done a fantastic job with its properties these last several years, but even us ardent fans of all things Marvel are starting to get sick of seeing that red-and-white logo plastered in front of every-friggin-thing.

Whereas the well-written Daredevil series focused on a heroic figure trying to overcome the odds and clean up the streets in the neighborhood where he grew up, Jessica Jones is almost a character out of a bad crime novel.  She’s a borderline alcoholic private dick who huddles in alleys and hangs from fire escapes to get dirty pictures for the seedy, pitiful clients she gets from the law firm full of sharks she contracts out to.  She lives in a run-down apartment which barely doubles as her office, she turns to the bottle when she can’t sleep and then goes out late at night, not to fight crime but to take more pictures of people at their worst so she can make more money to buy more booze.

Jones 2

At this point you might be asking: Where are the super powers?  Where are the super villains?  What is this show?

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Atari box

Atari, the company that brought us the Atari 2600–the game system that revolutionized what it meant to be a zombie–offered families in the early 1970s the benefit of the neighborhood arcade without that annoying quarter-gobbling component.  Adults who shake their heads today at kids zoning out over their smartphone games forget what it was like when they first zoned out over  Combat, Air-Sea Battle, Duck Hunt, Asteroids, Yar’s Revenge, Berserk, Pitfall, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and all their pixelated friends.

When Space Invaders was introduced, kids lined up at Woolco stores for hours on end to play the in-store demo model to try to beat the current high score.  The earlier Pong and Breakout games were revolutionary–and addictive–but Space Invaders was exciting, nerve-wracking, and required a different take on an old skill.  Hand-eye Coordination became a new, finely-honed, almost magical power.  Wielded the best by teenagers.

Then something strange happened.  We got distracted by something else.  Most of us didn’t even notice when Atari vanished.  When modern video games playable on PCs via compact discs came around we all went searching for the original Atari games and for years, nada.  What happened to Atari anyway?

Pac-Man game over    ET video game

If you didn’t track the business pages for Atari back in the 1970s and 1980s, a new documentary will get you caught up.  Atari: Game Over is a nostalgic look back at the first video game designers and how one designer created the first great game for Atari, and later the last, and then vanished into anonymity.  His journey parallels several die-hard fans’ strange and curious search to prove or disprove an urban legend–that Atari lost so much money on the E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial video game for the Atari 2600 (thought by many to be the single worst video game of all time) that Atari dumped at least a million of the unopened boxes in a desert town landfill back in 1983.  It’s also a story of one of the first Dot Com economic busts long before there were Dot Coms.

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Ant Lucia

In addition to great creators from outside the Midwest, like Black Widow artist Phil Noto (as we mentioned here at borg.com yesterday), the great thing about returning to a Con year after year is running into all our friends who write, sketch, or paint incredible works for a living.  Planet Comicon 2015 was no different.

Take for instance Des Moines artist Ant Lucia (pictured above).  Three years ago Ant was just beginning to put together great genre characters like DC superheroes and Star Wars characters in a unique retro style of poster art.  Flash forward to 2014 and an entire month of cover art at DC Comics was devoted to his creations, and statues based on his DC Bombshell designs are selling off the shelves in every town across the country.  Ant’s beautiful designs are second to none, and there’s not a more deserving guy to achieve such success from his ideas.

Other creators at Planet Comicon this weekend with national success included Jason Aaron, who had his own rock star sized line of fans getting his new Star Wars series autographed, as well as artist Freddie Williams II, drawing sketches for fans and signing copies of his Legendary Starlord series, among other works.

Jordan and Fyffe

Pictured above are artists Damont Jordan and Bryan Fyffe.  Damont had a new “spirit fox” print available that blew us away, and he churned out sketches for fans all weekend long.  And we noticed other artists at the Con were coming to Bryan’s booth to buy his framed art for their own homes.  Bryan has the best eye for design of anyone we know, and creates a variety of inspired multi-media works.  His most recent commercial illustration was for some major franchise properties, as well as the cover of John Renehan’s new novel The Valley.  Check out some of his work at his website here.

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Pic 1

Review by Art Schmidt

Peter Jackson’s final installment of his screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit is a breathtaking piece of film which aspires to the almost insurmountable heights that his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King achieved.  The goal is a worthy, if almost unrealistic one, and Jackson spares no expense in trying to soar to those heights where he took us ten years ago.

I’m of two minds about this movie, and have been struggling to combine them into a single piece for you, our faithful readers.  But like Jackson with this trilogy, I am not quite up to the task.  And so, like Jackson, I will split something that should be in a single piece into multiple pieces, and although I am aware that they will likely not equal the sum of what a whole, single review should, I will try nonetheless because I have too much to say on the subject and am utterly unable to edit myself.  Much like a certain director we all know and admire.

Review by a fan of fantasy cinema

The Battle of the Five Armies is a really good film.  Is it great?  Well, that will be up to each viewer, honestly.  It is big and bold, and gives good screen time to the multitude of characters we have come to know over the course of the last two films in the trilogy.  The movie opens where the previous film left off, a different approach from other films in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, which tended to open with flashbacks or clever recaps to bring the viewer back into the world of Middle-earth which may have faded slightly since the previous film.  Not so here, as the audience is plunged directly into the story right where we exited it last year.

Pic 2

The dragon Smaug, scary and crazy in the second Hobbit film which bears his name, is magnificently rendered and feels vibrantly alive in the dark theater, the screen aglow with dragonfire and the air electric with his howls of rage and vengeance.  Benedict Cumberbatch captures the right amount of menace and vanity, bringing the drake alive in ways that superb CGI just could not do on its own.  The poor people of Laketown would surely stand in awe of Jackson’s creation if they were not fleeing for their very lives before it.

Martin Freeman knows how to play the everyman, which is essentially what Bilbo Baggins represents.  An everyday man who is snatched up from his comfortable if boring life and thrown headlong into the exciting, unpredictable and oft-times dangerous unknown.  His subtlety and good humor shine through his portrayal of the Hobbit and it is to Freeman’s credit that he can simultaneously stand up to the chiefest and greatest of calamities and also stand up for himself to Thorin, pointing out the sickness that everyone else can see but dare not mention.  The dwarves are also a humorous, entertaining lot, but far too much time would be required to provide the multitude of them a lot of individuality or backstory.  The few who are selected for the spotlight are well worth the time.  Lee Pace, Richard Armitage and Luke Evans play three leaders of different races whose loyalties lie to their people but with widely different styles and personalities.  As with the previous films, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and even Christopher Lee as Saruman himself all put in appearances, though not in a way most might expect!

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DM Guide

Review by Art Schmidt

Every gaming nerd in the world has stories about their first D&D game, their first (and usually favorite) edition played, their first character, first group, etc.  I won’t bore you with any of mine (I’ve got some pretty awesome ones, though!) but suffice to say I have been playing D&D since before the hardbound books, so it’s been a long time.  My first Dungeon Master’s Guide was the 1st Edition book, all two hundred and thirty-two glorious, black and white, densely packed pages of it.  It opened up worlds of possibility for my friends and me.  We spent endless hours exploring magical realms of perilous danger and heroic adventure.

I ran most of the games, as I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide (or “DMG” in gamer parlance) and a burning desire to create my own worlds.  We played the printed adventures, or modules, and then I created my own.  The DMG was a great help in this, chock full of tables, charts, and endless descriptions of magical items, weapons, ancient relics and fearsome villains.  I do not know how many tablets of graph paper I went through in my teenage years, but I always had some pages tucked in my text books, my folders, or folded up in my pockets, covered in lines and boxes representing mines dark and deep, full of orcs and dragons and swords of flame.

First Ed DMG

Remember 1979? We didn’t even have Atari back then. This was the BOMB!!!

Having spent the majority of my gaming years running games, versus playing characters, I have owned and used every edition of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (except for 4th Edition, and to be honest that’s not out of any dislike for that system but due to a lack of desire of any of my gaming group at the time to make the move from 3.5).  And I’ve loved them all, though at varying levels of love.  The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide (note the lack of the possessive apostrophe; this was 1981 for sure) was a genuine first love, wide-eyed and unjudging and incapable of believing we’d even been blessed with such a magnificent gift.  It literally opened up worlds of imagination for millions of gamers world-wide.  Never mind that the book itself was a jumbled mess of disparate information, random thoughts shoveled into a solid form so quickly that no thought was given to organization or flow.  It didn’t even have chapters, but did we notice or really care?  Heck no!

2nd Edition was more like Puppy Love; it all looked good on the outside and added in a lot of things we thought we wanted, and we knew we were supposed to love it because we loved the game.  But the mechanics weren’t completely sewn together and there were some issues with over-powered spell casting classes.

DMG version 3 dot 5

If they made a Guide to all of the 3.5 Edition rule books, it would be thicker than the DMG.

3rd Edition was a nostalgic love; it was a brave new departure from the old standard but the system was broken from the get-go.  The wildly popular Edition 3.5 was a rebound love;  3rd Edition was dysfunctional and a rough break-up, and 3.5 was a welcome bowl of ice cream and a warm blanket.  And it worked very well.  But after years of fluff and bloat, the system became unwieldy and overly complicated.  Especially so for players and DMs who wanted to focus on story, but had to acquiesce to players who wanted to min-max their way to a War Hulk or Shadowcraft Mage build which everyone knew would eventually break the campaign (and the story!).

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Monster Manual cover

Wizards of the Coast gets an “A” for effort

Review by Art Schmidt

So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?  Your time is valuable and so are your hard-earned gold pieces, unless you are a thief, in which case let’s face it, it’s not really your gold no matter how hard you “worked” to pick that fat merchant’s belt pouch (c’mon, be honest, we both know it’s true).  The 5th Edition Monster Manual from Wizards of the Coast (or WotC, for short), which goes on sale on the 30th of this month, is a well put-together book, with tons of classic monsters in it, and is really a must-have for anyone looking to run a homebrew 5th Edition game, or looking to convert any of their existing modules/adventures to 5th Edition.  Go out and buy it, though please do not pay the $49.99 suggested retail price.  Most game stores and online retailers will have it for around $30, including Amazon.

Okay, so… if you are still reading this then I will assume that: (A) you don’t fit the Dungeon Master description I used above, (B) need some more convincing, or (C) you have some time to kill right now.  Either way, cool.

The book itself is nicely bound with thick high-quality covers which are a must for a book that’s primarily going to be hauled around from game session to game session in a book bag, backpack, plastic tote or other means.  So, it’s going to see a lot of handling and miles (unless you are nice enough to be hosting the game, in which case, Huzzah to you!!!), and it should take the abuse quite well.

Monster Manual excerpt A

“Knock, knock.” “Who is it?” “Land shark.”

The pages are also high quality, thick glossy paper stock and the book is lively and colorful throughout.  I was not a huge fan of the background on every page which was introduced in 3.0, but in this series of books (the Players Handbook and Monster Manual so far, anyway) WotC is not placing thick borders on every page which in previous versions squeezed the content and gave it a skimpier feel (lots of artwork, less content).  The Monster Manual is chock-full of good information and continues their current trend of combining good humor and retro-elements into the content, as was done in the Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook.  The references to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Emirkol the Chaotic and the Demi-Lich Acererak are nice touches and an appreciated wink to both older gamers and the previous creators and contributors who have helped keep the game going for so many years.  I especially like the disclaimers at the beginning of each book so far, which are quite humorous and show that while the WotC Team took its work seriously, they didn’t fall prey to taking themselves so.

You will find nearly every classic monster you could ask for in the book.  And while at 350 pages it is a hefty brick of a book, its usefulness to the Dungeon Master can’t be denied.  From the mandatory entries of giants, dragons, fiends, elementals, constructs, undead and humanoids of all flavors, to the more exotic modrons, yuan-ti, the warring githyanki and githzerai, and the ever-present but rarely used axe beak, the book has a ton of monsters across the spectrum of challenge ratings.  (Seriously, how many times have you encountered an axe beak in all of your adventures?)

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By Art Schmidt

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).

But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was.  Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow?  Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature.  And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes.  And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.

Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point.  The evolution of the superhero sans costume.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

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Creepy Little Girls part 11

The writers at borg.com have one fear in scary movies that seems to trump all others–creepy little girls.  From The Shining to The Ring to the new gothic horror flick We Are What We Are, we’d all just as soon duck in the corner and cover our heads than to watch another movie with the single element that makes you run out of the theater or jump out of your seat every time some evil filmmaker writes them into a script.

We’ve discussed this strange horror element before here at borg.com, with Elizabeth C. Bunce’s review of The Alphabet Killer and her list of Halloween video recommendations, in Jason McClain’s preview of The Woman in Black, in my Halloween recommended viewing list, in Art Schmidt’s favorite horror film list, and Jason McClain’s video recommendations.

We Are What We Are

All in, we’ve logged 11 scary flicks with one or more creepy little girls–enough so that we think it qualifies as its own sub-genre–and not only do we acknowledge them we recommend them, too.  They are The Ring, The Exorcist, Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, The Alphabet Killer, Turn of the Screw, The Others, and The Woman in Black.  Yes, they give us the heebie geebies, but if we want to see something that gets us to lift up our feet in the theater seats, it seems the secret weapon for filmmakers is clear.

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