Saturday 25 February 2023

Seductive Midjourney V4 Easy Bake Imagery

Midjourney is seductively easy. 

Write a prompt. Wait a minute and voila: result. Boom. Done. 

I stopped using Midjourney over the ethical issues, but it was damn fun. Midjourney creates a powerful and beguiling illusion of accomplishment, and every time I walked away I'd have another idea that'd draw me back in. 

There are really wonderful, idiosyncratic and inventive imagery being generated. Human users play the role of art directors and curators. 

The more I look at Midjourney imagery, easier it is to spot it in the social media wild. You have to dig into the history of visual arts and tailor your prompts to carve out a more distinctive, curated look. 

I didn't do much of that. My main interest was in sci-fi imagery, pictures to support stories I've either written or contemplated writing, as opposed to purely aesthetic explorations. 

If I ever go back to Midjourney, I'd like to explore aesthetics, and see if I can create a distinctive 'style' through advanced prompts. But I'd prefer the software to be ethically sourced before I do.

Anyway, these are some of the results I got:

A giant abandoned robot looking over an oasis
A derelict cyclopbot stands sentinel over a desert oasis in Nevada

Two abandoned freighters on a beach
Beached freighter hulks on a salt flat

Babylonian grand canyon tower
NeoBabylonian-Deco style tower over the Grand Canyon

A square pool in the desert
Desert spring pool

A horned troll hosting a market table
Mr. Moogles and his post-apocalyptic junk shop

Werewolf protesting the lack of dog food
Werewolf reacts to the lack of fresh dog food at the Quickimart

Nemo yacht
Captain Nemo's leisure yacht

A wizard sitting crossed legged and dressed in blue
The lonely Blue Wizard Otho Four Star Box

Blue wizard Methuseleh with three head vents
The most accomplished Blue Wizard was Three Cone Methusaleh, who feuded with his brother Otho for centuries

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Ukraine can’t win unless Russia agrees to lose

Biden meeting Zelensky in Kyiv

A year into the war and Ukraine has not only fought the Russians to a standstill, they've pushed Russia back across the Dnieper River and away from Kharkov (Okay, some say it was a tactical withdrawal to buy time, but my way sounds more dramatic). 


What Ukraine cannot do, however, is march upon Moscow and depose Putin. Even if they push Russian forces out of Ukraine, it won’t spell an end to the Russian threat. Putin can just take a few years to eat borsch and rebuild his armies and try again.  


The Russian army invaded with 190,000 troops against a Ukrainian army of 200,000, about a third of what Russia would need to win. Ukraine began full mobilization on day one, meaning that Ukraine may very well have had (at some point) more troops in the field than Russia did. 


Russia has taken horrific casualties (over 200,000) thanks to crude tactics. The invasion strategy was basically to pound a square peg into a round hole, and it didn't go well. Hundreds of Russian vehicles have been captured by the Ukrainians. Reliance on cell phones has helped Ukrainians eliminate Russian field commanders, while Russian logistics are so bad their Kyiv pincer ran out of gas, then food, and had to retreat, raiding convenience stores as they went. In their wake they left rape rooms, torture chambers and mass graves of the not-so-happily ‘liberated’. 


For all the labelling of the Ukrainians as Nazis, the Wagner mercenary group’s recruitment of convicted rapists and murderers is an echo of Oskar Dirlewanger’s charming SS brigade, a collection of thugs and criminals in WWII so odious even the SS distanced themselves from the unit. Which is surreal, as the whole purpose of the SS was industrialized mass murder. Maybe the Wangers were too ill mannered in their mass murderer. Convicts are notoriously ill disciplined and prone to committing atrocities, but it seems the regular Russian army is going to give The Wagner Wangers a run for their rubles.


Russia has mobilized 300,000 men, with another 500,000 more cannon fodder on the way. (Un)fortunately, these poor bastards (sorry, soldiers) are badly trained (or not trained at all) and poorly equipped. One video purported to show a Russian soldier armed with a pellet gun. At best, they’ll be using 60-year-old weapons and ammo that have been badly maintained (and may blow up in their faces). It’s Apocalypse Now meets a nightmarish and lethal version of Bugs Bunny.


Nothing new for Russia: in WWI, they used human wave attacks, and sometimes only 1 in 2 had a rifle; the other was to pick it up after the bearer was killed and carry on. Doesn't exactly instil confidence in the system. Many wars start out badly for Russia, though; then they course correct and plow over mountains of corpses to the win. 

This won’t end until the Russians (Putin specifically) decides to give up. 


How likely is that?

About the same as me winning the lottery.

Don't hold your breath: I don't buy lottery tickets.


And while Putin ponders, Ukraine is being wrecked. No doubt part of Putin’s plan: he wants a weak Ukraine, a neutered buffer state between Russia and NATO. Destroying Ukrainian infrastructure potentially increases pressure on Zelensky to seek accommodation. Yeah: won't work. The Ukrainians have no interest in ceding territory and NATO is pouring weapons in. Mass famine will hit before Ukraine ever considers surrender. 


Negotiation for Zelensky now would be political (and possibly the more existential variety) suicide. Arafat had the same problem. 


John Mearsheimer doggedly asserts that the war is being fought to the last Ukrainian, that they are puppets of the West, cynically manipulated into burning their own country to the ground. I am not so sure I buy that, whatever the folly of Bush pushing Ukrainian NATO membership. 

However much the United States relishes the opportunity to thwart Russia (and they do), it's the Ukrainians who are fighting. People who don't want to fight don't fight, no matter how many weapons you give them. The US provided billions in arms to South Vietnam, and they promptly collapsed after US withdrawal. Same with Afghanistan. They didn't want to fight, not on their own.

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, are fighting like demons in the defence of their country. Effectively. Resolutely. There are even partisans fighting in Russian held areas. That does not happen if there is no will to fight. 

After The Holodomor, back room interference and annexing Crimea, many Ukrainians just don’t want to be ruled from Moscow, and I can’t say I blame them. 

True, Western Ukraine is more anti-Russian than the East, which has a large Russian speaking population. Even given that, there doesn't seem a lot of support for the invasion in Eastern Ukraine. There have also been Russian atrocities in Eastern Ukraine, and the Donbas paramilitaries have been used as disposable cannon fodder. Is there not a point where you look at your rescuer, who's willing to throw your life away like it was a piece of toilet paper (and I'm talking post-Covid toilet paper crisis here), and question their benevolence? 

When someone says you are a brother, and then bombs, rapes and murders your fellows, do you believe they have your best interests at heart? 

No, the United States does not have the best interests of Ukraine at heart, either; they are first and foremost pursuing their own, yet these can align with Ukraine. So could Russia's, but since they've been flying hypersonic missiles into apartment buildings and flattening whole cities with artillery fire, I admit I am more dubious of Russia's motives than I am of the Americans. 


Russia is in stage five of demographic transition, they will eventually run out of soldiers, unless they want to roll in geriatrics. That bodes trouble for the Russian Empire down the line, as many ethnic groups in Russia have more robust demography and aren't keen on being ruled from Moscow. More regions may secede if Russian dominance falters. That'll be fun.


All the lives Putin is throwing away in human wave attacks means fewer potential fathers and fewer potential Russian families with fewer potential children. Same goes for Ukraine, which also is in stage five. There may be no one left to inherit their earth, which would be the ultimate tragedy for both sides.


Eventually, Putin will die, too. Mearsheimer and other poli-sci experts’ claim this will not change anything: Russia must dominate Ukraine, as an existential issue, and any Russian political leader who follows Putin will also be compelled to attack.

Maybe, maybe not.


If Putin is the driving force behind the war, it could end with his death. If the driving force is great power politics (the need for Russia to seize the gaps on either side of the Carpathian Mountains, north to the Pripet Marshes and east to the Black Sea), then Putin's death won’t mean jack. But it would also mean that Russia is likely to try and close the gap to the north of the Pripet Marshes (to the Baltic Sea) by invading Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. All NATO countries... so let's hope not.

Putin has not drafted enough troops to overwhelm Ukraine. He'd need a few million men, but he doesn’t have the ability to supply or equip that many. Such a vast mobilization might even provoke civil unrest. So instead, Putin’s drip feeding young Russians into the meat grinder of an unwinnable attrition war. 

On the other hand, Russia has almost four times the population of Ukraine, so in an attritional war, Ukraine will run out of bodies first. Casualty estimates for Ukraine are more difficult to come by: they vary from one third to over 100%. Bakhmut may be the new Verdun: designed to bleed the Ukrainian army dry. As German Commander-in-Chief Falkenhayn famously said, the point of his attack was not to capture Verdun; it was, instead, to 'bleed France white'. Japan resorted to the same strategy at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It's a workable, if utterly ruthless, path that will consume plenty of Russians, too. 

Perhaps the much talked about summer offensives will tip things in Ukraine's favour. 

With China now threatening to supply Russia with lethal military aid, US-China relations may go from bad to abysmal, and tough sanctions on China would cause even more economic disruption as we head into a recession. 


There is another unsavory issue: grain and fertilizer exports to Africa, Brazil and China have been blocked by the war. That will impact marginal farmlands (which require copious amounts of fertilizer to be productive), which will lead to large scale famine(s). 


As Hawkeye Pierce might say, "Just end the war!" He was always light on the details but I get the sentiment. 

Monday 20 February 2023

Nil, Rebel Angels and possible book looks for The Future

For the Nil short film, I added in gradients and cloud backgrounds to enrich the scenes. I rather like the result; it enhances the style. 

Earlier I'd tried with Rebel Angels to combine photographs of classical art with the flat graphic environments, but the result was not received well. 

Still, be interesting to try again. 

Nil had a very flat, graphic style, with no gradients at all, originally: just flat fields of white, black and grey. Character designs were simple and iconic, the backgrounds ultra-detailed:

Picture of character on a steam engine going past a vast graveyard
A page from the original Nil graphic novel; I loved playing with the layouts and merging illustration and design. That was a happy place for me, and I'd like to go back there. The subsequent books were all less 'designy' or abstract, and more attempts to describe environments.

A vast cityscape with Proun Nul in foreground
Elements from the book, cityscapes and impossible buildings, covered with blends to knock them back and emphasize the character in the foreground. The haze also softens the scene. 

A squad of Nihilean soldiers in a field being reviewed by their officer
Soft background clouds give the scene greater depth and a stronger sense of desolation and vastness.

When I got to Rebel Angels, I'd been doing graphic novels for awhile, and had Nil, Rex Libris, and Warlord of Io under my belt. Rebel Angels was actually an outgrowth of Nil, but during development became completely disconnected from the source material. 

I had a young female punk rocker who was wrongly condemned to Hell teaming up with Muk to overthrow Satan, but at the time I really didn't want to draw humans. Just monsters and demons, so I cut her character. Maybe not the best of choices. 

But you can only do what you can do.

The characters in Rebel Angels became more animated, a little more in line with cartoons: a clean outline and flat blocks of tone over more complex backgrounds. It was more sophisticated in some ways, yet less experimental than Nil.

I'm happy with the visual result. The story itself got away from me and I burned out finishing the book. It would be almost ten years before I attempted another graphic novel. 

Beware of burnout, man, and pace yourself. When it hits you, it really, REALLY hits you.

Hell Lost / Rebel Angels is still up on my website and can be viewed here.

A demon flying above the river Styx lined with buildings
A ridiculously detailed version of the cover for the online version of Rebel Angels.

Characters climbing on skulls past statues
Skulls used as texture over the graphic elements.

A dragon chasing a ball
Again with the clouds; they really assist in creating a sense of space.

Classical art adapted to flat graphics
Polarized photos of classical art I took in, I think, Paris. The figures were embellished with nosed and horns and swords. I thought they added an interesting, almost Boschean aspect; nobody seemed to like them though so I abandoned the approach. Sometimes feedback's a bitch.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Max Zing / Warlord of Io screens

I've been digging around in my archives and found fab forgotten things. These images are from a presentation in The Before Time:

A group of cute aliens under the banner Max Zing

A comic strip from Max Zing

A Max Zing comic strip

Max Zing (it's currently on Drunk Duck) was an outgrowth of the graphic novel Warlord of Io, and put the eponymous character into comic strip format. 

It's like poetry: one, two, three-joke! One-two-three-punchline! 

I pumped out some 75+ strips before moving on to other things. 

I had some fun doing it, and enjoyed playing with a new (and challenging) format.

The earlier graphic novel was also a great visual exploration. The images are made entirely with blends, no lines (well, a few for emphasis at times, but no outlines). Don't think there's anything else out there quite like it, even to this day.

That may not be a good sign. 


But it was a novel look!