Video games

Owen Pallett on integrity, having his boyfriend as a manager, and the baroque pop of ‘In Conflict’


You probably wouldn’t assume that someone who’s been putting out solo material for nearly 10 years would be best known for their contributions to other artists’ work, but Owen Pallett shows us that it can happen, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.

If you were to break Pallett’s career down into a pie chart (similar to the ones Ann Friedman makes that he and I touched on during our chat), then the contents of said pie would be as compelling as they are diverse. At age 34, the prolific Pallett has fashioned string arrangements for acts ranging from Grizzly Bear and Beirut to Linkin Park and Pet Shop Boys. Super-producer Brian Eno is also in on the goods — he can be counted among Pallett’s fans and is featured heavily on Pallett’s new album, In Conflict. And then, of course, there’s the Academy Award nomination he and Arcade Fire’s Will Butler received earlier this year for scoring Spike Jonze’s nearly-reality-sci-fi film, Her. Pretty impressive pie so far — and it’s not even fully populated yet.

Pallett is currently on the road promoting that new record, his fourth solo work, which marks the artist’s second time releasing material under his given name. (He started his career performing as Final Fantasy and his appreciation of video games is only further established by looking at some of his early track names, like “Adventure.exe.”) Reviews of Pallett’s live performances have been almost unanimously blemish-free, and it looks like his most recent tour is no exception. In spite of being lauded for his complex arrangements as well as mastery of his violin and voice via loop pedal (think Andrew Bird), Pallett took a more minimalistic approach on In Conflict, offering fans a simpler and more languid listening experience. But this is by no means signifies a “normcore” album — Pallett is still safely within the bounds of baroque pop here.

He was in Chicago, his last week on tour with Arcade Fire, taking a break at the Soho House when we spoke on the phone. Regardless of the topic, you pick up on something after a few minutes of conversation with Pallett: He values integrity. In Conflict seems like a preemptive name for his most recent album, as there have been several moments of legal or moral discord in Pallett’s career — he refused to accept the money from winning the Polaris Prize in 2006 because of his “antagonistic relationship with the sponsors,” instead giving it to bands he liked that were in need of financial assistance. He also asked Austrian infrastructure service provider Wiener Stadtwerke to sponsor a music festival of his and his agent’s curation instead of taking the company to litigation when it used one of his songs without approval.

Pallett’s advantageous way of handling disputes could also be a reason why he’s such a desired collaborator, especially since his attitude toward differences of opinion goes beyond business — well, kind of. Pallett’s manager is his longtime boyfriend Patrick Borjal, and as one could imagine, Pallett claims they “fight more about work than (they) do about anything else, to be honest.” He adds, however, that “the way we deal with it, I’m very proud of, is that we don’t communicate verbally about work. All of our work related talk is done through email.” If we could all be so lucky.

The systematic way Pallett views the world is evident throughout our exchange, and beyond it — to get an idea, take a look at one of his pieces in Slate. When he weighs in on what it’s like to have his boyfriend be his manager, he acknowledges that “the division of finances is easy,” but that “having my boyfriend as my manager means you won’t see me on [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy] Fallon or anything…’cause we don’t know how to do that!” He laughs. “Like, we don’t know the number to call! How do you get on Fallon now?” I suggest Googling it.

Fallon or no Fallon, it appears that Pallett’s schedule is at capacity. “Ah, fuck! You’re so lucky!” he exclaims when I share my recent trip to LA’s FYF Fest. “That’s one of the few festivals I like…the bands and the lineup.” Undoubtedly one of the best acts that weekend was another frequent collaborator of Pallett’s, Dan Snaith, who performed as Caribou and Daphni. Pallett teamed up with Snaith on both his projects recently — he’s all over Caribou’s new album, Our Love, having done strings on six tracks, and he also worked on two Daphni tracks, “Julia” and “Tiberius.”

Pallett spoke modestly about how satisfied he was with the Daphni tracks, saying he “felt they were some of the best things [he’s] ever contributed to,” in addition to chuckling about the tour that never was. “A part of me was like, ‘Ehhh…In Conflict hasn’t been making that big of a splash, maybe I’ll just ask Dan to take me on tour in the fall instead.’” Luckily for us and unfortunately for Snaith, that didn’t come to the fruition.

Owen Pallett will be playing this Fri/12 at the Great American Music Hall. I suggest showing up at 9 when the openers come on, as they are “two of [Pallett’s] favorite bands at the moment,” and given his experience, I’m inclined to trust his tastes.


With Avi Buffalo, Foxes In Fiction
9pm, $21
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750


Pixilated joy




Platforms: 3DS/WiiU

Nintendo is ready to pull on our retro-gaming heartstrings yet again with the newest Super Smash Bros. The fan-service fighter pits four characters against each other in a battle royale, and the now-familiar Nintendo roster of Mario, Link, Starfox, Donkey Kong, and gang will be joined by new third party characters: the blue bomber, Megaman, and everyone’s favorite pellet muncher, Pac-Man. Online play and the ability to create your own fighters using the Wii and 3DS Mii system are enough to get any Nintendo geek doing a barrel roll for joy.

Release: 3DS, Oct. 3; WiiU, Holiday 2014



Platforms: Windows/Mac OS/Linux

Leonardo Da Vinci has discovered a way to transmute egg yolk into a super-powerful golden substance that jump-starts human intelligence and allows the manipulation of space-time (like you do). This strange, wonderfully chicken-laden concept launches the French Revolution into space, as Renaissance-era kingdoms wage war in a Real Time Strategy-style game. It’s like Age of Empires meets Starcraft meets chickens. This is the game no one knew we wanted until we saw it enslave fowl, and launch to the stars. Bawk bawk bawk la revolucion!

Release: Fall 2014



Platforms: PC/Mac OS

World of Diving is like a fish tank you can dive into, and just relax. It’s not a game in the traditional sense, rife with goals, action, or perilous adventure (though you must avoid the occasional shark). The game outfits the player in diving gear for a leisurely paddle through ocean reefs, sunken ships, and other underwater settings. Your mission? To look at the pretty fish, snap photos of them, and chill out. There are occasional checklists (how many lionfish can you find?), and the randomly generated maps are sure to keep things fresh, but this is definitely a placid affair. Bonus: The game is Oculus Rift compatible, if you want a dose of virtual reality swimming.

Release: Fall 2014 (demo available now)



Platform: 3DS

The Final Fantasy series is known for its stellar orchestral compositions, so it’s surprising so few games in the series have centered around music. But now that historic injustice has ended! TheaterRhythm is a rhythm game (like Guitar Hero), centered entirely around chibi-versions of well-known Final Fantasy characters. Okay, it is a little strange to avenge the death of Aerith while battling Sephiroth using hip-swinging dance moves, but still … Chocobos, dancing! The quest mode spans most of Final Fantasy‘s 13-plus games, giving every FF fan music to jam to.

Release: Sept. 16



Platforms: Linux, Mac OS, OUYA, Windows

The life of a cat seems easy, but this game will convince you otherwise. Cats have goals, dammit, and in Catlateral Damage you must knock over as many of your owner’s possessions as you can within the time allotted. Look, a perfectly whole coffee mug! It’s an obvious invitation for a swat of your paws. The satisfying crash signals gaming success. The demo, out now, features cel-shaded cartoon graphics à la Zelda: The Wind Waker, and your kitty avatar seems to be able to jump with super-feline prowess. But don’t hiss over the small stuff, because you’ll have too much fun swatting the big stuff, like that TV on the dresser.

Release: Fall/Winter 2014 (demo available now) *


Peculiar thrills


FILM Documentaries are often the best section of any given film festival. But even die-hard fans admit to occasional Social Issue Fatigue — that feeling you get when you’ve just seen too many all-too-convincing portraits of real life injustices, reasons why the planet is dying, etc. “It was great — I’ll just go kill myself now” is a reaction few want to experience, you know, three times in one day. Yet it’s a typical plaint heard on queue at events like Toronto’s Hot Docs, let alone the touring United Nations Association Film Festival (a virtual global wrist-slitting orgy).

You’d be hard-pressed to have such a hard time at our own SF DocFest, however. For 13 years it’s managed to emphasize the entertaining and eccentric over grim reportage. To be sure, the latest edition, opening Thu/5 (with programs primarily at the Roxie and Oakland School for the Arts) has its share of films on topically important subject themes. Centerpiece presentation The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz poignantly recalls the short history of the brilliant young programmer-activist whose fate is especially chilling given the potential imminent death of net neutrality. Of Kites and Borders examines the harsh lives of children in the Tijuana area; Goodbye Gauley Mountain has Bay Area “eco-sexuals” Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens uniquely protesting the mountaintop removal industry in the Appalachians. But among 2014 SF DocFest’s 40 or so features, only Ivory Tower — about the increasingly high cost of higher U.S. education — offers straight-up journalistic overview of an urgent social issue.

More typical of DocFest’s sensibility are its numerous portraits of peculiar individuals and even more peculiar obsessions. In the jobs-make-the-man department, there’s An Honest Liar, whose magician subject The Amazing Randi has made it his personal mission to expose those who’d use his profession’s tricks to defraud the vulnerable; The Engineer, profiling the sole criminologist working in gang crime-ridden El Salvador; Bronx Obama, in which one man’s uncanny resemblance to the POTUS sets him on a lucrative but discomfiting career of impersonation for (mostly) audiences of hooting conservatives; and Vessel, whose protagonist Dr. Rebecca Gomperts sails the world trying to make abortions available to women whose countries ban the procedure.

There are no less than three features about people trying to succeed among the professionally tough: Fake It So Real (the South’s independent pro wrestling circuit), Bending Steel (a Coney Island performing strongman) and Glena (struggling mother hopes to hit paydirt as a cage fighter).

On the obsessive side, Wicker Kittens examines the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling. Jingle Bell Rocks! examines the netherworld of serious Christmas-music aficionados; Vannin’ observes the 1970s customized-van culture still alive today. Magical Universe is Jeremy Workman’s very first-person account of his friendship with an elderly Maine widower who turns out to have secretly created epic quantities of bizarre Barbie-related art. Hairy Who and the Imagists recalls the somewhat less “outsider”-ish achievements of Chicago’s ’60s avant-garde art scene, while Amos Poe’s 1976 The Blank Generation, DocFest 13’s sole archival feature, flashes back to punk’s birth throes at CBGB’s.

Another legendary moment is remembered in Led Zeppelin Played Here, about an extremely early, ill-received 1969 Zep show at a Maryland youth center that few attended, but many claim to have. Portraits of artists expanding their forms in the present tense include Trash Dance (a choreographer collaborates with truckers and their big rigs) and When My Sorrow Died (theremin!).

Exerting a somewhat wacked fascination is the cast of We Always Lie to Strangers, which is somewhat spotty and unfocused as an overall picture of tourist mecca Branson, Mo. — Vegas for people who don’t sin — but intriguing as a study of showboy/girl types stuck in a milieu where gays remain closeted and Broadway-style divas need to keep that bitching hole shut 24/7. Further insight into your entertainment options is provided by Doc of the Dead (on zombiemania) and self-explanatory Video Games: The Movie.

One pastime nearly everyone pursues — looking for love — gets sobering treatment in Love Me, one of several recent documentaries probing the boom in Internet “mail order brides” from former Soviet nations. Its various middle-aged sad sacks pursuing much younger Eastern bombshells mostly find themselves simply ripped off for their troubles. Those looking for quicker, cheaper gratification may identify with Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story.

Of particular local interest is the premiere of Rick Prelinger’s No More Road Trips, culled from his collection of nearly 10,000 vintage home movies. A preview screening of First Friday offers a first peek at this forthcoming documentary about tragic violence at the monthly arts festival in Oakland last year. True Son follows 22-year-old Michael Tubbs’ attempt to win a City Council seat and reverse the fortunes of his beleaguered native Stockton. The “Don’t Call It Frisco!” program encompasses shorts about the Bay Bridge troll, a Santa Rosa animal “retirement home,” and a salute to South Bay hardcore veterans Sad Boy Sinister.

DocFest ends June 19 with that rare thing, a documentary about downbeat, hard-to-encapsulate material that’s won considerable attention simply because it’s so beautifully crafted and affecting. Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos’ Rich Hill focuses on three kids in worse-than-average circumstances in a generally depressed Missouri town of 1,400 souls. Harley is an alarmingly temperamental teen housed on thin ice with his grandmother while his mother sits in prison for reasons that explain a great deal about him. Potty-mouthed Appachey is a little hellion perpetually setting off his exasperated, multi-job-juggling single mother, living in near-squalor.

Still, both are at least superficially better off than Andrew, an almost painfully resilient and hopeful boy constantly uprooted by an obscurely damaged mother and a father who can’t hold a job to save his life. “We’re not trash, we’re good people,” he tells us early on, later rationalizing his continuing dire straits with “God must be busy with everyone else.” He’s the heartbreaking face of a hardworking, religious, white American underclass that is being betrayed into desperation by the politicians who claim to share its values.


June 5-19

Check website for venues, times, and prices


GameShop Classic


One of the original Internet viral videos, the “Nintendo 64 kid,” features a familiar Christmas scene cranked to 11. A pajama-clad brother and sister jointly tear open a wrapped box sitting under the tree, and the present spurs a sudden, joyous, but frighteningly excited squeal. “IT’S A NINTENDO SIXTY-FOOOOOOOUR!” the brother screams, at a pitch that’s not-quite human. “OH MY GODDDDD!” His eyes nearly pop out of his head.

Walking into GameShop Classic is just like that.

Old-school video games line the walls, from the common to the rare: a Magnavox Odyssey 2 (circa 1978); the NES classic, Duck Hunt; a Sega Genesis CDX (built to resemble a DiscMan); and even an Atari Lynx (1989), one of the last console creations from the company that started the video game craze.

Gene Pereverzev, the owner, is humble about his store’s collection (first derived from his personal collection). Through trades and Internet hunts, he’s built a small arsenal of retro-gaming goodies.

For now, he said, GameShop Classic is a pop-up inside of his store on Taraval Street, nestled in the sleepy, foggy, Sunset District. But even a fledgling startup is worthy of note.

The video game industry’s emphasis on major titles and blockbuster sales have all but demolished mom-and-pop video game stores. San Francisco is littered with Gamestops, a national corporate behemoth filled with pushy clerks selling unnecessary video game warranties, stocking only the newest and bloodiest digital creations.

GameShop Classic harks back to a time when daring digital stories were lovingly told with pixels so few they could be counted with the naked eye. Pereverzev, 28, has high hopes for GameShop Classics’ future: Soon it may play host to classic video game tournaments (Soul Calibur! Smash Brothers!). He wants to bring the video game community together.

And should you want to re-create one of the Internet’s first viral videos, Pereverzev has you covered. In the window of his store sits an originally boxed Nintendo 64.

2101 Taraval St. 415-242-9990

From brushes to bytes


CAREERS AND ED Matt Burdette is a video game environment artist, crafting expansive alien vistas by tapping out ones and zeroes the way a painter flourishes a brush. But unlike paint on canvas, Burdette’s vistas are meant to be explored by video game avatars hunting computerized enemies.

He’s crafted trees and bushes, and paid loving attention to every stem and every leaf, but his proudest project was not nearly so serene. While employed at LucasArts he worked on a later-cancelled project: Star Wars 1313.

Burdette was tasked with blowing up a spaceship.

“They said to me, ‘This needs to look photoreal,'” he told me. “I was all, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do that.'” The video game trailer that played at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo featured a laser toting hero jumping through a burning spaceship. It was hailed by the national press as the most impressive looking new video games on the horizon.

But Burdette was not always a digital craftsman. At one point, he was a pencil and paper artist.

For artists facing hard times in a dwindling San Francisco art scene, the Bay Area’s burgeoning video game industry is rife with possibility. About 100 video game studios call the Bay Area home, according to Game Job Hunter, from Electronic Arts to Zynga. And many of these studios need artists and composers. Burdette made the digital leap from traditional art by studying film visual effects at Savannah College, in Georgia.

Above is the E3 trailer for Star Wars: 1313. 


“To bring a more artistic sensibility to what is maybe a technical, rigid kind of space is valuable and a lot of fun,” Burdette, 28, said.

Disney later bought LucasArts and laid off many of its staff, and Burdette found a new job at Visceral games crafting environments for Battlefield 4. But despite the video game industry reputation for grueling work hours, he still manages to find time for personal art.

Lately he’s slowly built a virtual island, like a hobbyist building a model ship during off hours.

“It was nice to come home and think, ‘I’ll make a tuft of grass today,'” he said. He then plugged his island into a new virtual reality device known as Oculus Rift, VR goggles that show the player a 3D world that looks eerily real, sensing the player’s head movements and portraying a sense of depth.

“I put on the Oculus and thought I was going to cry. You are there,” he said. “I walked up to a bush and felt physically uncomfortable, like this is impugning on my personal space.”

Burdette may get to play inside virtual worlds some artists haven’t dreamed of, but his reality is the same: Business can be tough.

He noted that many video game designers and artists are laid off after projects are complete, a standard industry practice. Most industry workers, he said, “are very much more mercenaries now.”

Some opt out of the boom and bust system altogether. Liz Ryerson, 26, is an independent game designer, visual artist, and music composer. She’s had hard times, crashing on couches and bordering on homelessness, but found a new way to raise money for her work. She now solicits support on Patreon, a Kickstarter for artists.

Thanks to contributions from fans, she has a spiffy new place by downtown Berkeley where she crafts her indie games.

“Indie game” is a nebulous phrase, of course. But if the multi-million-dollar video game Halo is comparable to the blockbuster film Avatar, Ryerson’s version of indie is closer to the DIY digital videographers of the local Artists’ Television Access. She makes video games for expression’s sake, not necessarily for profit.

Not to say Ryerson isn’t successful. She composed music for the immensely popular Dys4ia, a flash game detailing the lead designer’s gender transition. Ryerson’s own game, Problem Attic, tackles her own personal demons.

Floating crosses pursue the avatar, a stick figure, across a 2D plane. The game world resembles an 8-bit rendering of a brain merged with a nightmare, and the player must traverse frightening but intentional digital glitches. In an industry filled with shoot-’em-up games, it’s esoteric and strange, and that’s how Ryerson likes it.

“The game is definitely David Lynch-inspired, without a doubt,” she said. “Things that are more indefinable, with more of a sensibility to them. That’s what I respond to.”

A trailer for Liz Ryerson’s game, Problem Attic.


She’s mostly self-taught, sometimes building games in flash, and scoring the games using computer software like Reason. Though her design ethos couldn’t be further from Burdette’s blockbuster Star Wars games, they share a common bond: They were artists before they were game makers.

“I used to record songs and play guitar,” Ryerson said. “That was one of the biggest things I wanted to do, was be a pop musician.”

Eventually she started remixing video game compositions and posting them to the web via video game music website OCRemix. She studied film in school and made a documentary. The music from a Gus Van Sant film, the visual presentation of comic books, and the movement inherent in a game controller — all of these concepts inspire her work.

“That’s what you can do with video games, you can create these abstract, very different worlds,” she said. “You can do this more easily with video games than you can represent reality.”

Consumers spent over $20 billion on video games in 2012, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But for artists looking for an easy transition to an industry flush with cash, Ryerson and Burdette made one thing abundantly clear: The video game industry is extremely competitive.

“It’s hard to make games,” Burdette said. “You’ve got to want it real bad.”


Boss fight


GAMER Imagine Mario telling Nintendo to piss off.

Fed up, he gathers his fellow video game characters for a venting session: Princess Peach, Master Chief, Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Sonic the Hedgehog, and other characters, waxing philosophic about more inclusive video games. Games where the damsel isn’t stashed in a castle, but included in the hero’s journey. Afterward, inspired, they go back to the digital world and make those games a reality.

The Lost Levels un-conference — the brainchild of indie game developers Harry Lee, Fernando Ramallo, Ian Snyder, and Robert Yang — is just like that. Gamers, mainstream developers, and developers-in-training sit in the grass of Yerba Buena Gardens to brainstorm ways to make video games more inclusive for women and other oft-ignored groups in the gaming industry. March 20, it marks its second year, though its location this year may change.

The renegade gamer gathering is held in the shadow of the bigger, better-known Game Developers Conference, a mainstream video game industry meetup at the Moscone Center. Thousands of game developers flock to the annual event, ready to hear ideas from the biggest names in the industry. But an oft-leveled critique of those big-time game developers is that, in America at least, they are often male, straight-identified, and white.

The differences between the two conferences are defined by who’s talking, and who’s listening. “Lost Levels is a place for those who don’t have access to GDC but still need a voice,” said Mattie Brice, a newer addition to the Lost Levels organization. GDC’s passes start at $195, but seeing all the panels will set you back a cool $1,495. That’s a daunting chunk of cash for the classic garage-start-up gaming developer, bootstrapping his or her way into the gaming industry. Lost Levels, by contrast, is free.

Fringe indie developers often push boundaries, making games about queer culture or including main characters from different ethnic backgrounds. But Lost Levels talks aren’t just limited to ideas on diversifying games. Gamers are invited to jump in with any idea for a presentation. Having one’s say about the future of video games is as easy as penning an idea on a bulletin board with a sticky note.

Last year the ideas ranged from outlandish to just the right amount of wacky — say, if the Madden series is getting stale, why not create a fusion football-dating simulation game?

Sometimes the talks were just about getting to know each other. “Whenever we got pizza as a kid, my brother and I would rush to eat it so we had this whole cardboard land,” said one scruffy-haired game designer at last year’s Lost Levels, speaking in a video on the Lost Levels website. “We’d take a sharpie and fill it in to make our own legend of Zelda map. We’d make our own weapons. I started programming at 14 and made games similar to that.”

A peek at 2014’s presentations ensures one thing: Talking about the future of games doesn’t have to be all that serious. “Sound as a Commodity: I rant about music and how sound is employed/how to employ sound in popular music because MUSIC, GAMES, IT’S ALL THE SAME IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT!” video game composer and sound designer Liz Ryerson writes. And this, from presenter George Buckenham: “I dig eSports and I don’t care who knows. I’ll talk about how rad they are in some capacity.”

Some discussions branch out beyond games, but all are welcome. Few subjects are taboo, and that’s the point, Brice says. “The best way to get people speaking about what they really find important is to just let them do it.”

The growing interest in Lost Levels, and the issues it and other alternative conferences (like GaymerX, a San Francisco convention aimed at LGBT gamers) raise, may be having an influence on GDC. The event tends to center around technical improvements, but recently made tip-toe advancements into realms of inclusivity. This year, Brice, a noted LGBT gaming advocate, will speak at GDC in a workshop entitled “How to Subversively Queer Your Work.”

GDC is making strides in including women as well. Anita Sarkeesian — famous in the gaming world for calling for better representation of women — is slated to receive an award for her “Tropes v. Women” YouTube series. But though the award is nice, mistreatment of women is still a large part of video game stories today. In the mainstream, at least, the tide is far from turning.

To that end, one indie designer is sitting out GDC this year: Anna Anthropy, designer of Dys4ia, The Hunt for the Gay Planet, and others. This year she’s focusing her energy on Lost Levels. “I’ve been invited to give several talks at GDC and I’ve turned them all down,” she says. “It’s stressful and corporate and exclusive.”

At Lost Levels this year she’ll touch on shifting queer games’ focus away from coming-out narratives. Though she’s careful to say she doesn’t speak for everyone, those in the queer community “play games not to re-experience their victimization, but to escape it,” she says.

Last year she tried to encourage GDC audiences to think more about their role in equality, reading from her poem “John Romero’s Wives,” named for the creator of the classic shooting games Doom and Quake. It read, in part, “Had to be mistaken for a booth babe. Had to be told to stop talking about it. Had to be the indie game developer who told my friend she could give him a blowjob. Had to hate other women because you were taught to. To call us “females” like we’re another species. Had to be John Romero’s wives.”

When we asked about the audience’s reaction, Anthropy told us many women came up afterwards, telling her they were affected by her reading. The men? Not so much, she said. *


Lost Levels will be held March 20, tentatively at Yerba Buena Gardens. Check out for location updates.

A personal goodbye to Bush Man 2, RIP


San Francisco has lost one of its own. Gregory Jacobs, KTVU confirmed today, passed away of heart failure last Sunday. 

He’s less known by his full name, but better known by his moniker, “The Bush Man.”

No, he’s not the original Bush Man. That would be David Johnson, who’d been there for 36 years, compared to Jacobs’ 30. 

Little matter. Jacobs was a San Franciscan through and through. Like many San Franciscans, he came here from somewhere else, in his case the “somewhere else” was Arkansas. But Jacobs was known and loved here in The City. 

The man was dedicated to his work: sitting along Jefferson street and spooking tourists by shouting “boo!” from behind two large and bushy tree branches. 

From the KTVU story:

Jacobs’ cousin says he was a father and brother and a man who always wanted to be in that spot down on the Wharf. And even in his final days he took every opportunity he could to come back.

“Yeah every time he got out of the hospital he would come straight out and sit down (at the Wharf) with his hospital ban (still on his wrist),” Jacob’s cousin Chris Tolbert told KTVU. “He got in his spot as if nothing was wrong with him.”

His family says they just hope people remember him and that what he loved to do was to make people laugh.

Many will share their favorite “I got spooked so bad!” memory, but I want to share a more personal story about Gregory Jacobs from my time working on the streets of the wharf. 

At age 17, I was living with a friend after irreconcilable differences with my mother led to too many shouting matches. The day I turned 18 I tried to go back home, but my father’s death years ago put too many strains on my relationship with my mother. At the time, we couldn’t coexist.

So I set out to live with my friend Morgan, who stayed in an in-law apartment in her family’s home in the Marina. Three kids, two parents, a grandmother living upstairs and a golden retriever named Indy welcomed me with open arms (and paws). The house was in the family for generations but the Blackburns were not Marina wealthy, and this wasn’t charity. I needed to pay rent, and I needed to do it fast. 

I went to the Wharf. 

Where better to earn rent money in a hurry, in summertime? On my own and a little confused about what life beyond high school should be about, I found the Wharf a somewhat daunting place. Beneath the facade of smiling tourists and the scent of tasty clam chowder lies a cutthroat network of businessmen, fleecers and street traders — all looking to make a buck. 

Bush Man was there of course, but also many more: Kenny the Clown, a mute magician with “mystery” rings, the Latino graffiti artists, caricature painters, a homeless man begging from inside a trash can (ala Oscar the Grouch), Mary the juggler, and even a fire-eating local comedian who walked barefoot on glass. They, the weird, the bastard stepchildren of Emperor Norton. 

Desperate for money, I joined their noble ranks. 

A friend set me up selling tickets for the nearby Blue and Gold fleet. Wear some slacks, he said. Clean yourself up, he said. I did both, and with a Gavin Newsom style hair slick and ferry tickets in my back pocket I stood on the sidewalk across Ripley’s Believe it or Not to ply my trade.

I couldn’t have screwed up more. There are rules to the sidewalks, invisible rules you learn only by pissing off the wrong people. I was a newbie, a fresh fish with no claims. 

The Wharf buskers let me know that right away. 

A jazz musician with an electric keyboard tore me a new one. “This is my spot, damnit!” is the effect of what he said over the course of five minutes, through the haze of a decade-ago memory. It was akin to a dressing down from Kenny G, and just as surreal. I moved 20 feet East to the front of Boudin’s, only to be slapped back by a homeless man in a cowboy hat named William. “Get your own damn spot!” he said. The look on his face went from genial-change-collector to “I’ll kick your ass, kid” in under a second, his fists cocked for a brawl. 

This, if you haven’t guessed, is where Jacobs the Bush Man comes in. Intimidated and confused, I wandered to his spot near the Anchorage Mall. He sat perched on a crate, jumping up and shaking his branches like a madman to scare the folks walking by. 

I always preferred his style of showmanship to the “original” Bush Man’s — Jacobs had attitude.

“Bet YOU never made her scream like that sir!” he’d say to the husband of a shrieking blonde. “Welcome to America!” he’d say to an Asian family he made jump (who could easily have been from Arkansas themselves). “If you’re havin’ fun, put a tip in the can!” he’d say to the crowd nearby, who applauded approvingly of his spook and scare routine.  

And his laugh, god his laugh. You could hear his cackle halfway down the block, and you knew his salt and pepper eyebrows were arched up as he laughed it up at his own jokes. 

Gregory Jacobs asked people to call him “G,” at least when I knew him. G showed me the ropes, told me when I could occupy certain spots, and how to get on the other buskers’ good sides. I even took cues from his showy style. 

“YOU sir, you look like you could use a bay cruise,” I’d say to a passing tourist with inflections reminiscent of my favorite Bush Man, and at a vocal volume that was similar too. “Don’t you think you ought to take your gorgeous girlfriend on a cruise around the bay?” 

Bush Man’s sales tips helped. I was rakin’ in the cash, at least, for an 18 year old. G made much more, pulling in hundreds of dollars a day during peak time in the summer. 

G wasn’t a saint for sure. More than once I saw him fist fight with the “original” Bush Man, David Johnson, who told me once that he taught Jacobs everything he knew. They used to split the proceeds, only Johnson claimed he was double crossed later on when Jacobs went off on his own as “Bush 2.” 

I don’t know much about all that. All I know is, G was kind, and I liked him. 

The Wharf liked him too (for the most part), and he was considered a local luminary. A year after I was selling cruise tickets, I started selling video games at a shop right by the In and Out Burger. One day walking out of my store I was startled, but not surprised, to see G judging a wet T-shirt contest starring the nearby Hooter’s girls.

He paced up and down, taking a good gander, pondering like a man with grave concerns on his mind. He took his job very, very seriously. Everyone watching smiled wide. 

Yeah he was ornery, cranky, and loud. But Jacobs had heart, and he looked out for his fellow Wharf folk. G once protected me from the wackier buskers out there on the sidewalk. 

One day as I strode down Jefferson street, Kenny the Clown (who ran for mayor at least once, and somehow obtained Steve Jobs’ stolen iPad) decided he thought I needed a hug (and more). If clowns aren’t frightening enough, Kenny is at least 6’5” — he’s a large man. Maybe he was harmless, but I didn’t want to find out. 

As Kenny chased me down the street, G took me by the shoulders and said “Run! I got this, I got this!” Swirling around on one foot he raised his palms up to Kenny’s sky high shoulders. “Kenny Kenny Kenny Kenny,” he said, “slow down man! Let’s talk.”

Sometime shortly after that, I sleepily walked to work to inventory the stock of Nintendo games. The sun was still rising. Keys in hand, my mind drifted to the stillness of the street, how early morning Fisherman’s Wharf belongs to the buskers, fishermen and shop owners getting ready for the day. Most of all, I loved how the scent of sea air is easier to detect when you’re not distracted by hundreds of loud tourists. 

I breathed in the air absentmindedly, enjoyably, as I reached out with my keys to unlock the gate to the store. 

“BOO!” shouted G from just behind my ear, and I jumped halfway off of my skeleton. 

“Holy crap G what’d you do that for?! I work here man, I’ve lived here my whole life, I thought you only did that shit to tourists,” I said, a little startled. 

I still remember what he said. “Hey man, everyone’s got their time.”

That they do G. I will miss you, and so will San Francisco.  

England made him


FILM Swinging London had a brief, faddish life in movies in terms of actual representation, far more fleeting than its influences on music or fashion. But the general cultural shift it signaled did bring some lasting changes to English cinema, notably a new kind of leading man — the period’s celebration of youth and dandyism made it OK for men onscreen to be coltish, vulnerable, androgynously attractive. The prime specimen was Michael York, unabashedly pretty and a bit of a toff — certainly no working-class rough like Angry Young Men Albert Finney or Michael Caine.

The Oxford grad joined Olivier’s National Theatre in 1965, getting cast in a production directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who then put him in his filmed hits The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Romeo and Juliet (1968). But it wasn’t until 1972 that he was seen by everyone as the Christopher Isherwood figure in Bob Fosse’s exceptionally sharp Cabaret, the Broadway musical drawn from that author’s fictionalized memoir. Never mind that he (nor Liza Minnelli, for that matter) would never really be a box-office star; as a name, he was made.

York had a good run through the 1970s. He was D’Artagnan in Richard Lester’s Musketeer films (1973 and ’74), the titular tunic-wearer in 1976’s Logan’s Run, among the stars committing Murder on the Orient Express (1974), John the Baptist in Zeffirelli’s 1977 TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, and straight man in both The Last Remake of Beau Geste and the hardly-last Island of Dr. Moreau remake (both 1977).

But the favorite film he’s chosen for his in-person tribute this Saturday at SF’s Mostly British Film Festival is comparatively little-remembered. You could view 1973’s England Made Me as riding the coattails of Cabaret — after all, here he is again as another affable, genteel but cash-poor temporary English émigré to Germany just as the Weimer era is getting tramped by the stormtrooper boots of National Socialism. But the Graham Greene source material (first published in 1935) is strong stuff, intelligently handled by director and co-adaptor Peter Duffell.

York’s Tony Farrant is a pleasant, callow young failure, hopeless at any endeavor that might pay the bills. Having lost yet another job (this time in the Far East), he blows into Berlin to visit Kate (Hildegard Neil), the sister whose queasily inappropriate affections he’s oblivious enough not to have recognized as such, yet. She’s ensconced herself as mistress and second-in-command to Krogh (Peter Finch), international financial titan skating on thin ice amid Hitler’s increasingly nationalistic economic policies.

Once again in need of employment, Tony looks to get fixed up by big sis — in fact, his pleasing, sociable English manners could be quite useful to a man as brilliant yet uneasy with people as Krogh. Then again, his gabby naiveté could also jinx matters much bigger than he grasps. It’s inevitable in Greene’s universe that cruel fate should choose the least guilty party in a web of corrupt intrigue to fall upon, like an anvil from a rooftop.

The role could hardly fall more squarely in York’s comfort zone. Yet it would be a mistake to take the seeming ease with which he delivers Tony’s very easy personality as anything less than very deft work. No wonder it’s a personal favorite — you can sense his engagement in a hundred fresh, surprising, perfectly in-character touches.

After his Seventies peak, York remained busy. But his type began working against him — an ingenue’s worst enemy (even a male one’s) is the onslaught of age — and he didn’t transition as well as some peers to character roles. He slid down the ranks via such odd stints as a short run on Dynasty knockoff Knots Landing and playing Dario Argento’s Phantom of Death in 1988 (the director saving the word “opera” for a later movie). Eventually he was seldom used save to personify old-school Englishness as a joke or fossil, whether visibly (as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers series) or as a voice actor (as a Transformer, in Star Wars and Batman cartoons, video games, audio books, etc.) In recent years he’s also written several well-received memoirs and lectured extensively on acting Shakespeare.

England Made Me is not the only older film in Mostly British this year, though it’s the only one that comes with a living star in person. No one will be resuscitating the recently decreased Peter O’Toole, memorialized with a screening of 1982’s My Favorite Year; nor will there be any thawing for Richard Burton as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, 1965’s faithfully bleak adaptation of John le Carré’s breakthrough novel. The latter film plays a “British noir night” with Stephen Frears’ bizarre and rather brilliant 1984 The Hit.

Otherwise the focus, as usual, is on new (or new-ish) films from the UK and beyond. Some have already played theatrically here, like Neil Jordan’s middling vampire opus Byzantium (2012), Beatles-related documentary Good Ol’ Freda (2013), and Michael Winterbottom’s biopic about the UK’s sultan of 1960s and ’70s smut, The Look of Love (2013).

Coming soon to theaters — sooner still if you catch them as part of the festival — are director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi’s excellent seriocomedy Le Week-End, as well as Mumbai-set The Lunchbox. Speaking of the colonies, outback thriller Mystery Road and kidnapping drama Last Dance represent Australia.

If you appreciated Will Forte’s turn in Nebraska (2013), it’s worth seeing Run & Jump, in which he’s equally effective as an American doctor whose emotions unfreeze while doing research in Ireland — also the setting for Stay, a drearier piece distinguished by Aidan Quinn’s fine take on the stereotypical Irish rascally charmer. What Richard Did is a quietly intriguing melodrama about middle-class teenagers shaken by the aftermath of a fight outside a house party. Farther down the socioeconomic scale, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant offers a portrait of children involved in petty crimes that’s as potent as the best of Ken Loach or the Dardennes. *


Feb. 13-20

Vogue Theatre

3290 Sacramento, SF


This Week’s Picks: January 15 – 21, 2014


Word spears to pierce the stoniest of hearts



“Ravishing, Radical, and Restored: The Films of Jack Smith”

Legendary underground filmmaker Jack Smith gets the Technicolor-red carpet treatment in this series co-presented with the San Francisco Cinematheque, which screens sparkling 16mm restorations of his films, plus two Smith-centric documentaries. First up is his best-known work, Flaming Creatures (1962-63), a film so “obscene” and “orgiastic” it was, of course, banned upon release. Upcoming programs include Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2006), Mary Jordan’s excellent doc, and unfinished extravaganza Normal Love (1963-65), which just may convert you to the church of Maria Montez — Smith icon and star of 1944’s lavishly camp Cobra Woman. (Cheryl Eddy)

Through Jan. 30

Flaming Creatures tonight, 7:30pm, $8-$10

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Reflecting China in a California Vision

Tired of hearing the same old techno-dystopian nay-saying about San Francisco’s growth? Get thee to our dear city’s urban planning think tank, SPUR, for some solutions-oriented and original thoughts about how we might skim some brilliant urbanization ideas for another booming place — China. For anyone who’s keeping score on high-speed rails: China, more than 6,000 miles of active tracks; California, zero, but maybe 520 miles in 2029 if we’re lucky? With our state’s population projected to grow about 30 percent by 2050, it’s time we start taking notes. (Rebecca Huval)

6pm, $10 for non-members/free for members

SPUR Urban Center

654 Mission, SF



Fresh and Freaky Fiction

George Saunders sits on a make-believe throne as the king of the short story of our time. His writing often takes us into a futuristic, dystopian Midwestern America, where completely average and unusual events converge in dry, hilarious, and sometimes disturbing ways. Karen Russell dances ahead of the Pied Piper to the lyrical composition of her own prose, which flows and sings and rushes like water. Her writing lures readers into her wild imagination, be it the marshes of the deep South or the thorny forest behind Madame Bovary’s backyard. Together, these authors create dynamite, discussing their out-of-bounds genres, surreal realities, and literary inspirations. (Kaylen Baker)

7pm, $25-45

JCCSF Kanbar Hall

3200 California, SF





YBCA presents Wayne McGregor

I can’t think of a choreographer, besides Mark Morris, who so easily moves between Ballet — SFB will reprise his Borderlands on Feb. 18 which is influenced by Josef Albers’ color studies—and Modern Dance—he has his own Random Dance Company—as Wayne McGregor. His work is conceptually so far out that your brain begins to vibrate; his dancers are out of this world and yet so very human. It’s a fascinating approach to what the human body—the complete dancer—can do. For its second SF appearance, Random will present the West Coast premiere of Far, based on McGregor’s reading of a historical analysis of the Enlightenment. No need to get out your history books, just stay tuned. (Rita Felciano)

Jan.17/18, 7:30pm, $30-60

Jan. 19, 2pm

Lam Research Theater, YBCA

700 Howard, SF



Bad News

Replicant Presents’ electronic and experimental noise reaches into Oakland again with a dose of “weird core,” industrial and straight-up sounds out of a horror-film soundtrack. BR-OOKS will have the home-court advantage and push the boundaries of any genre, then the more palpable Names will bring a dancier, more rhythmic approach, while maintaining roots in the realm of noise. But the true industrial strength will be heard when Bad News takes over. This commanding SF/LA guitar and synth duo, composed of Sarah Bernat and Alex Lukas, should whip you into shape with sounds of precision and perfection. But before they totally slay you, you’ll reflect on any angst past or present and why it feels so right. Look for their new material in 2014! (Andre Torrez)

With Names and BR-OOKS

9pm, $7

The Night Light

311 Broadway, Oakland



Big Trouble in Little China

Once upon a time, a big-mouthed big-rig driver named Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) barreled into San Francisco’s Chinatown on the Pork Chop Express — and blundered into a strange world controlled by Lo Pan (James Hong): crusty old businessman by day, evil magician by night. And thus begins Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter’s wacky, Western-comedy-martial arts extravaganza, which was way too high-concept (or just too insane) for audiences in 1986 but achieved immortality thanks to the wonders of home video and late-night cable. Fittingly, it has a three-night stand in the Clay’s midnight series, so you’ll have plenty of time to prep your favorite quotes. “The check is in the mail!” (Eddy)

Through Sun/19, midnight, $10

Clay Theatre

2261 Fillmore, SF





Edwardian Ball

Legendary illustrator Edward Gorey created a delightfully ominous world full of creepy curiosities out of pen and ink, inspiring and entertaining generations of fans. Celebrating and honoring his work, the 14th Annual Edwardian Ball & World’s Faire offers revelers the chance to travel back in time. Partygoers dress in fantastic Edwardian period fashion, gothic attire, and steam punk costumes that look like they could have stepped from the pages of Gorey’s books. Expect a wide variety of live entertainment, including music, dancing, games, circus performances, and even a stage show re-creation of one of his stories at this truly one-of-a-kind event. (Sean McCourt)

8pm, $40-$95

The Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF



An Evening with Big Tree, Idea the Artist, and The Parmesans

They may hail from Brooklyn, but Big Tree members have taken root in the Bay Area if the latest single off of their EP My, How You’ve Grown is anything to go by. With the song recorded at Tiny Telephone and the music video shot and edited by local media group Three Thirds Visual, “Like a Fool” is the product of an inspiring setting, as well as the inspiring emotion of frustration. The band is releasing the track for the low price of free, and what better way to say thank you than to join them for a night of some of the best indie music the Bay Area has to offer? With Idea the Artist’s tremulous, heartfelt melodies, and The Parmesans’ harmonious, bluesy folk on strings, listeners are in for an evening of moving tunes. (Kirstie Haruta)

8pm, $7-10

Brick & Mortar Music Hall

1710 Mission, SF





“In the Name of Love”

Music played a key role in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings, and today, amid his legacy of nonviolent protest and charismatic speechmaking, songs like “We Shall Overcome” remain an important part of his civil rights message. Appropriately, much joyful noise will ensue at Living Jazz’s 12th annual tribute to the humanitarian. Talents on tonight’s bill: “rebel soul” singer-songwriter Martin Luther McCoy; the acclaimed Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra with guest vocalist Faye Carol; the 55-member Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir; the 300-member Oakland Children’s Community Choir; and the Oaktown Jazz Workshops. (Eddy)

7pm, $8-$23

Oakland Scottish Rite Center

1547 Lakeside, Oakl.



Queer/Trans* Night

Celebrate being queer in the New Year with Gilman’s first Queer/Trans* Night of 2014, when MC Per Sia hosts a night of hard-hitting punk from some of the coolest queers in Bay Area music. The show features masked trio Moira Scar, San Cha, DADDIE$ PLA$TIC, Oakland punks Didisdead, post-punk duo Bestfriend Grrlfriend, and Alice Cunt all the way from LA. Show goers can also look forward to DJ Johnny Rose and a video booth by Lovewarz. This is a safe and sober show, so leave the booze and drugs at home, as well as any racism, misogyny, transphobia, or homophobia. (Kirstie Haruta)

5pm, $5 + $2 membership

924 Gilman St.

924 Gilman, Berkeley






Winter Fancy Food Show

Three Twins sea salt caramel ice cream. Fava Life hummus. Bacon Hot Sauce. Camembert from Caseificio Dell’Alta Langa. Moon Dance biscotti. Amella caramels. Drooling yet? We’ve only just begun — these food items represent just a handful of the 13,000 producers coming from all over the globe to display their edible wares at the 39th annual Winter Fancy Food Show. This year, 360 food artisans represent California, showing off everything from luscious micro-greens to rainbow-colored, homemade kombucha. Whether you’re a home cook or a Michelin-starred-restaurant buyer, this market is great for stocking up on strange, rare, and quality food items, discovering in-state artisans, and creating new ideas for your next cooking adventure. (Kaylen Baker)

10am-5pm Sun-Mon, 10am-4pm Tues, free entrance

Moscone Center 747 Howard, SF Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you want to feel the power of King’s legacy on MLK Day, look no further than the fierce spoken word from literary organization Youth Speaks. These teens spin rhymes that will make you bristle at the sorry state of the world and might even inspire you to start a protest. They’ll also have you wanting to smack your younger self around for playing video games instead of forging word spears sharp enough to pierce the stoniest of hearts. See the future of activism for yourself at this annual celebration. (Rebecca Huval) 7-9pm, $5 youth/$10 adults Nourse Theater 275 Hayes, SF TUESDAY 1/21 Armistead Maupin “Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.” So begins the famed Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin, originally a serialized fiction project for The San Francisco Chronicle, depicting the impressions and day-to-day discoveries of a fresh young newcomer to San Francisco in the ’70s. Amassing fans through its humor, quick chapters (the perfect Muni bus-stop read), and on-point depictions of diverse, vibrant characters in three decades and eight novels, Maupin has finally drawn the story to a close, in the recently published The Days of Anna Madrigal. Find out how 92-year-old transgender landlady Anna Madrigal has been keeping busy by coming down to Book Passage, and get a copy signed by Maupin himself. (Kaylen Baker) 12:30pm, free Book Passage 1 Ferry Building, SF

Local heroes


LIT Comics have grown a lot since their humble early days, when superheroes seemed confused as to whether their underwear belonged on the inside or the outside of their tights. Now anti-heroes and tales of personal tragedy guide the ink on the page as often as not, and Berkeley-based publisher Image Comics leads the pack in pushing comic stories to wonderfully dark places.

This year’s Image Expo is an opportunity to rub noses with comic authors whose work is still cool, dammit, even if their work is crossing into the mainstream. We’ll forgive Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman for letting his comics get turned into a TV show and videogames, if only because they expand the captivatingly complicated, zombie-infested universe he first created on paper.

Image publisher Eric Stephenson attributes the company’s success to its creator-owned model, which might explain why the Telltale-made Walking Dead video games are so good — Kirkman owns the rights to his Walking Dead, allowing all the creative control that entails. Though Kirkman may be one of the shiniest stars at the expo (he gets his own panel, by his lonesome!), he’ll be one of over a dozen comic creators to nerd out over.

Heavy-hitters like Jonathan Hickman (East of West and The Nightly News), Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals and Satellite Sam), Nick Dragotta (East of West), and Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly) will all be on hand. East of West in particular has garnered critical acclaim, and made the New York Times best seller list in October. It has much to love, but the setting is as interesting as any of its characters. It’s an alternate reality-history-dystopian future yarn pitting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse against the president of the United States. What’s not to love?

The expo also offers a good opportunity to meet newer artists too, if only to say you knew them before they were a big deal. Ales Kot is one of those up and comers, and his series Zero is an espionage and war story in the near future with disturbing echoes of the present — from Manning’s leaks to our near constant state of war. It’s frank about its brutality, neither glorifying nor hiding it away.

Locals are making their mark with Image as well. Bay Area author Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood’s Fuse concept is “what if a detective story was set on Battlestar Galactica?” (Thanks Johnston, you’ve got me frakkin’ excited now.) It won’t be out until February, but a preview of the comic had my sci-fi loving self drooling over a Babylon 5-like cylindrical space station — but the story is almost Sherlock-like, a genuine whodunit.

With WonderCon’s recent move to SoCal, Image Expo’s Bay Area foothold is more vital than ever. But though it will no doubt yield a handful of cosplayers and swag-hunting fans, Image’s event — now in its second year in its current format — tends to be a lot cozier than WonderCon (or the mightiest behemoth of them all, Comic-Con). With just 600 attendees in 2013, compared to Comic-Con’s 100,000-plus, the comic creators were able to chat with readers at length.

Image’s Stephenson will be my main reason for bum-rushing the expo. Taking time away from his duties as publisher, he penned the recently anthologized Nowhere Men, which rocked, hard. The story of a Beatles-like group of scientists (because science is the new rock ‘n’ roll), it tells a tale similar enough to Frankenstein’s monster — but watching the characters justify their choices is fascinating. Sure, they end up ruining the lives of their test subjects and turning them into twisted super powered monsters, but they meant well, right?

The series will continue through the year, but it can’t come soon enough. (Maybe new Nowhere Men developments will be revealed at the expo?) Though there are only a dozen comic-creator attendees listed on the event’s website, an email from Stephenson hinted that unannounced surprise guests would bring the count of artists and authors to over 20. The slated panels center around the comic artists, the “eccentric” lives of comic authors, and an “interrogation” whose purpose is to deduce where comic creators get their inspiration.

“We have a very ambitious year ahead of us in 2014, and I think some of what we reveal at Image Expo is going to surprise a lot of people,” Stephenson said. *


Thu/9, 9am, $20-$50

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

Pros and cons(oles)


GAMER The next generation of game consoles is officially in stores and consumers demand to know — definitively — which is the superior console. Is it the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One?

Unfortunately, the comparison isn’t that simple. Although both are sleek, state-of-the-art devices that play video games, we’re talking about two machines with different aims. Sony hopes the PS4 will lure back gamers that it disenfranchised with the expensive, non-intuitive and difficult-to-love PlayStation 3 by making things simple, fun, and focused on playing and sharing games. Microsoft is high on the success of the Xbox 360 and looking to dominate home media on all fronts, creating in the Xbox One an all-in-one device that allows you to control your TV, movies, and other digital downloads.

Strictly speaking, if you want to just play games and have an experience that is the same but prettier, Sony has your interests at heart. It’s the more powerful machine, current games look a bit better, and navigating the PS4 generally is an all-around smooth experience. Upon booting the system up, you’re greeted with soothing music and a fairly straightforward, simple interface. I was able to find all my games, apps, and settings within seconds, rather than minutes. The new DualShock 4 controller has a touch pad and a light bar for motion gaming (provided you have a PlayStation camera) and it performs these new functions with a minimum of hassle.

The most “next gen” aspect of the PS4 is the share button. A new button on the DualShock 4 is dedicated to sharing your experiences with friends, whether what’s being shared is video clips or actual streams of gameplay that can be viewed on another PlayStation, computer, or phone. Game streams and Let’s Plays have become their own genre on YouTube, and, by giving people that experience on day one (Xbox One’s streaming services are set to launch next year), Sony has a real upper hand on conquering the online gaming community that enjoys watching other people play games.

The PS4 is a machine that plays games, plain and simple, and right now the games it plays are only so-so. You’ve got a new Killzone, Shadow Fall; first-party beat ’em up Knack; and a few multi-platform — and cross-generationtitles that are likely to do well, but the must-have next-gen gaming experience just isn’t here yet.

The Xbox One is not nearly as intuitive as the PS4 and your first few hours with the machine will require patience and a bit of learning. Applications and settings are hidden in sub-menus and the revelatory Kinect voice commands are exhilarating when they work and aggravating when they inevitably do not. Growing pains were inevitable; Microsoft is attempting things that have never been done on a gaming machine before — like the ability to route your cable box into the Xbox One and change channels with your voice — and, if their history of iteration is to be trusted, it’s likely that the issues with organization and un-matched voice commands will melt away sooner rather than later.

Xbox’s launch games are favorable only in comparison with the PS4’s meager lineup. Forza Motorsport 5 is a wonderful showcase for what the Xbox One is capable of, and the best buy on either console so far, but the other exclusives are essentially limited to Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome, which are fun in spurts but offer nothing you haven’t hacked or slashed before.

Which leaves the question, what do you want from your “next-gen” console? If you’re in the market for a new device, you’re not wrong to expect improved graphics or increased resolution and frame rate. You want games to look better. And that’s at least partially there if you want it, but it doesn’t seem to be the current focus for either machine. Even on the PS4, the visual leap we’re seeing right now isn’t worth the $400 asking price, and the lower-spec’d Xbox One is tagged at a whopping $500 for a system bundled with Kinect.

In spite of all the internet furor spouted by gamers in the past few months about sub-standard resolution and graphics, perhaps Microsoft and Sony both realize the real coup is getting people who aren’t gamers to buy these consoles. In that area, Xbox One’s ambition to do more than play games is a risky pursuit, but one that could make all the difference for consumers who have only a passing interest in traditional gaming.

Time will tell which console resonates more with the public and some day financial reports aplenty will give us a definitive resolution on which console is more successful. But calling this a “console war” is more than a little sensational. Both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One currently offer incrementally better experiences than their previous-gen counterparts, and the world of popular consumer electronics has proven a little better is often just enough. *