Fixing a SpamAssassin false positive for a WordPress/MailPoet newsletter

With the possible collapse of Twitter on the horizon, I’ve become more obsessed than ever with shoring up my personal website/blog and email newsletter. So I was pretty distressed when my last two newsletters were only opened by 21 percent of recipients instead of the usual 44 or 45 percent.

I dug through my records and rediscovered the fantastic mail-tester.com website, which will give you a spam rating on a test email. I sent them my latest newsletter and got back a shocking rating of 6.9 (not so nice). The biggest deduction was -2.499 for “URI_WP_HACKED_2 – URI for compromised WordPress site, possible malware.”

Hacked? Malware? That’s terrifying!

But a quick search turned up a wordpress.org support page in which a MailPoet support person said that that flag “is a false-positive, probably because you included social icons in your newsletter or because it doesn’t identify the shortcodes added to the newsletter as valid URLs, for example.”

So I deleted the social icons at the bottom of my newsletter, resubmitted it to mail-tester.com, and got back a lovely score of 9.4! We’ll see if this really solved the problem when I send out my next newsletter — cross your fingers for me!

I’m very happy to have presumably figured out the problem, but this is also a good reminder that running your own website and newsletter isn’t necessarily easy! I absolutely think it’s worth the time and effort — even essential given how important crowdfunding independent projects has been to my career. But it’s only been feasible because I’ve had the time and inclination to turn myself into a kind of amateur expert in the technical issues involved with running my own website and newsletter.

We’re living in weird times, and they’ll continue to get weirder. I’ll keep posting here as I grapple with this all. At the very least, I hope these little tech support notes-to-self will be helpful to others as they stumble across similar issues.

Took a picture of the moon

Photo of the moon

Ever since I’ve gotten back into analog photography, I’ve had my eye on the various cheap 500mm telephoto lenses that pop up on auction sites all the time. I finally plunked down sixty bucks for a Tamron SP 500mm fixed f8 tele macro reflex Adaptall lens, stuck it on my old Panasonic DMC-GX1 digital camera, set up a tripod, and took a picture of the moon.

I’m still figuring out how sharp the lens really is. But I’m already thrilled — OVER THE MOON, if you will (AAAAAAH!). I’ve never been able to take a picture of the moon with anything approaching this kind of detail, so sixty bucks seems like a brilliant investment at this point.

I’m eager to try it out with an actual film camera. Weirdly, when I put the lens on my Canon New F-1, the camera’s shutter won’t fire. Seems to work fine on my Canon T60, though. I’ll have to do a bit more research and experimenting. I have another Tamron Adaptall to Canon FD adapter around here somewhere, so maybe just swapping that out will make a difference.

Tamron 500mm lens

UPDATE: Took another picture of the moon!

the moon

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at dusk

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at dusk

I’m really only comfortable shooting 35mm film with manual exposure. It’s just the way I learned, it gives me the most creative control, and it actually feels faster and more natural to me.

But I recently picked up a ridiculously cheap old Canon A-1 and invested a little time and love to cure it of a sticky mirror and the notorious “Canon cough.” As a result, I now have a brand new sentimental attachment to a classic camera that’s one of Canon’s first SLRs to feature aperture priority and shutter priority exposure.

Canon A-1

So I’ve taken this turn of events as a challenge to try shooting a few rolls on this camera with automatic exposure. It’s still weird for me! Still takes me longer than shooting with manual exposure on an old Canon FTb! But I like the feel of the A-1, I’m intrigued by the possibility of getting comfortable enough with this that it actually speeds up some of my shooting, and I like some of the results, like the image above of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at dusk.

Canon A-1, Canon nFD 28mm f2.8, Kodak Tri-X 400 (expired in 2020), developed with Arista Premium Liquid Film Developer.

 

RONIN ISLAND and MECH CADET YU make list of Best Graphic Novels (You’ve Never Heard Of)

Ronin Island #1 cover

Bookriot just published a list of the Best Graphic Novels You’ve Never Heard Of. While you, dear reader, have undoubtedly heard of all of my work, I’m happy to report that Mech Cadet Yu and Ronin Island have both made the list!

I’m ridiculously proud of these books, both of which were originally greenlit by BOOM! Studios as four issue all ages minis, but both did so well they were upgraded to 12 issue epics. Mech Cadet Yu was drawn by the great Takeshi Miyazawa with colors by Triona Farrell and Jessica Kholinne and letters by Simon Bowland. Ronin Island was drawn by the awesome Giannis Milonogiannis with colors by Irma Kniivila and letters by Simon Bowland.

And right now for just a couple of weeks, you can buy signed copies of the first volumes of both books for cover price at the Greg Pak Shop! Please do check ’em out, and thanks as always!

Shooting 35mm cityscapes in New York City

Back in 1986 when I was a high school senior in Dallas, Texas, I had a vague thought of driving around town at night and photographing the funky neon signs that towered over so many of the city’s corner shopping malls. Even then I had the sense that they weren’t long for the world and that as a 35mm photographer, I actually had the means of preserving their memory.

But high school was a pretty busy time and I never got around to it.

Decades later, I’ve fallen back in love with 35mm photography. Now I live in New York City, which isn’t particularly known for suburban shopping malls with funky neon signs.  But I’m more conscious than ever of the fleeting nature of our surroundings, and I’ve developed a habit of carrying a camera whenever I’m running errands in the city and shooting images of any bit of the landscape that catches my eye.

I’ve shot plenty of photos of some of the city’s biggest landmarks, with a special emphasis on the Empire State Building, probably my favorite building in the city. But other shots feel like my modern day version of the Dallas neon sign project I never started — such as photos of graffiti or old painted company signs on the sides of buildings that might be gone in another decade or two.

Here are some my favorite shots of the year with a few thoughts. I hope you’ll enjoy them, and I’ll be thrilled if they inspire you to take a little time to document your own surroundings.

In my first month of shooting film again, I shot this image with a Canon FTb, a Canon FD 50mm f1.8, and a yellow filter on Ilford HP5 400. This remains one of my favorite images I’ve shot all year. I never used filters in high school and college, so it was a revelation that I could pull so much more detail out of the sky with a yellow filter. But mostly I just love the way the framing and light work here. In film school at NYU in the 1990s, our cinematography teachers taught us to use light to direct the eye within the frame. I think this photo achieves that. For a fleeting moment, the sun glanced off of the Empire State Building in a lovely way, making it pop in the middle of these dark canyons of tall buildings. I also remember being dazzled by that famous shot in Rosemary’s Baby in which the camera ramps up the subliminal tension by not quite showing all of Mia Farrow through the doorway. Similarly, I love the way the framing here leaves the Empire State Building partly hidden by buildings in the foreground. It’s not a horror movie tension like Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s a bit of drama that pulls me in.

Canal Street scene shot with a Canon FTb on 35mm film

I shot this photo with a Canon FTb and a Canon nFD 50mm f1.4 lens on a 20 year old roll of Kodak High Definition 400 ASA film. It’s just a shot of Canal Street. But I freaking love it. The frame feels just right to me. I spent so many years shooting thousands of images with a 50mm lens; my eye just knows how to frame things with that focal length, and it feels so good. I also love the way this expired film renders the light, especially on the side of the building in the middle of the frame. It’s so crisp and cool and fresh. And the film holds the colors together in a special way, as if the entire scene were art directed. There’s a coolness to the sky and buildings that lets the red details of the signs and the Chinese medallion pop in a subtle, lovely way. Again, a simple image, but it makes me happy every time I look at it.

Boris Frumin, one of my brilliant NYU directing professors, used to list things that were cinematic, including flags and water and smoke. I’d absolutely add steam to the list, and was thrilled to find this great cloud rising from a grate in the Village this March. I shot this on Ilford HP5 with my old high school Canon New F-1 (newly repaired!) and, if I remember correctly, my mom’s old Canon FD 28mm f2.8.

New York City just screams for vertical shots. I was pretty thrilled with this angle on one of the entrances to Grand Central Terminal. The symmetry of the buildings is offset in a pleasing way by the car on the bottom left and the light reflections on the upper right. Just feels right to my eye. Shot on a Nikon FG with a Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8 on Kodak Tri-X 400.

Another vertical shot that feels very similar to the Grand Central image. This is that fantastic United States Post Office building on Canal Street, but it felt like it wanted to be framed to emphasize the buildings overhead and that lovely shaft of angled light. Shot with a Canon A-1 and a 50mm Canon lens on Kentmere 100. This image really works because of the light. It’s creating the angle on the building on the right that makes the frame work in an interesting way, and it’s making the flag pop out from the foreground.

One of my ongoing themes has been the sky between buildings in New York City. I just can’t get enough of the shape the buildings make of the sky, and this image kind of epitomizes that interest. Shot on a Nikon FG with a Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8 on Kodak Tri-X 400.

This is my NYC equivalent of my never-begun Dallas neon sign project — shooting old painted signs on the sides of buildings. I love everything about these old signs — the textures, the way the paint has weathered, the glorious old fonts, the brand names and products advertised. An added bonus is the old school water tower on the building. I love it when I shoot a photo that at first glance you think might be decades old. Shot with a Canon AT-1 with a Canon FD 135mm f3.5 on Arista Ultra EDU 400.

I shot very little color film back in the day. I just loved black and white and had the most control over its look since we had a small darkroom and I could make prints on my own. So I’m still figuring out what I’m looking for when I shoot color film these days. This image felt like it worked — with lovely detail and color in the sky while maintaining detail in the buildings. Shot with a Canon AT-1 and a Canon nFD 24mm f2.8 on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200.

Another color shot that felt good. If the previous shot was all blues, this one’s all reds, and I dig it. Shot with a Bell & Howell FD35 and a B&H/Canon FD 50mm f1.4 on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200. Back in the day, the widest lens I had was a Canon FD 28mm, so this 24mm feels considerably more funky and dramatic to me, but I think the Ghostbusters building earns the treatment.

IFC

Just an absolutely everyday image of the IFC Theater in the West Village. But in five, ten, or twenty years, this might become a treasured record of the way things were. I’m trying to shoot lots of photos like these, and I feel good every time I get a keeper. Shot with a Canon A-1 with a Canon nFD 50mm f1.8 on Kentmere 100.

Sign up for my email newsletter and get a 20% discount code for the Greg Pak Shop!

Hulk with letter, drawn by Marie Severin

Some big news – I’m going to reopen my online store for a couple of weeks so you can buy signed books for the holidays!

And if you sign up for my email newsletter today, I’ll send you a 20 percent discount code that you can use for your first purchase at the store when it reopens!

We’re living in a strange time that’s exposing the fragility of the social networks we use to connect. But even if ever social network falls apart, I’ll still be running my own email newsletter and website as long as I’m working. So sign up today and you’ll always have a way to find out what I’m up to!

And the store’s gonna be filled with awesome signed stuff that you’re gonna want, so that 20 percent discount will be pretty nice!

Thanks so much and stay safe out there, as always!

Jimmy Aquino interviews Greg Pak for Comic News Insider

In the wake of the New York Comic Con, my friend Jimmy Aquino interviewed me for the Comic News Insider podcast! We talked about a new comics project I’m working on for the NYC Department of Education, Planet Hulk Worldbreaker, Skaar, Darth Vader, Duo, and analog photography, accompanied by the glorious ambient sounds of Bryant Park in New York City. Check it out!

Great post from Andy Daly about turning from tweeting to blogging (or “twarting”)

Andy Daly's website graphic

Andy Daly, a brilliant comic and an old acquaintance from my New York City improv days, has written a very funny and thought-provoking post about his decision to step the hell away from daily posting on Twitter in favor of blogging — or “twarting,” as he puts it.

I very highly recommend you click away from this page and go read his post right now. Then come back for more of my brilliant thoughts!

Andy does a great job of describing the social and political pitfalls of Twitter. But this passage hit me particularly hard:

It seems that after 12 years of tweeting, I have quietly trained my brain to compose tweets all the time.  In the early days of my Twitter self-banning, I kept coming up with dumb, trivial, concise notions that were designed to be shared with the world.  I kept thinking “well, maybe I’ll tweet just this one thing”, but instead, summoning really very impressive will power wouldn’t you say, I opened the Notes app on my phone and tapped my tweet in there.

I strongly suspect that as as a fellow person in comedy, Andy, like me, spent years of his youth coming up with jokes and one-liners all the time and scribbling them down in a little notebook. So Twitter was perfectly designed for us, and we were/are pretty great at it! But posting jokes on Twitter serves masters other than ourselves and can create a less than healthy dynamic of approval-seeking that Andy wryly refers to when he “praises” the site for allowing him to “most meaningfully, [attract] attention to myself whenever I needed some.”

I missed Andy’s post when he published it back in September, but strangely, right around the same time, I was undertaking a similar project, revamping this website and amping up my blogging — mostly by going into excruciating detail about my renewed obsession with analog photography.

So I love Andy’s new (old) blog, and I particularly dig the fact that he’s letting himself write both longer posts and short bon mots he’s dubbed “twarts.” I’m not going to use his terminology, because he strangely insists “twarts” is a combination of “tweets” and “darts” instead of “tweets” and “farts,” and that’s a little too classy for me. But I am going to take inspiration from him and let myself write more very short posts on this blog about whatever, because that seems like fun.

This is also inspiring me to do a bit more research into finding a good old-school blog reader. If I can get a few more cool blogs like Andy’s into a nice app, I’ll have a great place to go other than Twitter when I want to read some funny/insightful stuff, and that’ll be a good thing.

So thanks, Andy! Also please join my web ring?

Skaar, Son of Hulk, to appear in PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER #1!

Planet Hulk Worldbreaker #1 cover - Skaar variant - Camuncoli

Interested in Skaar, Son of Hulk? Dontcha dare miss PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER #1, which hits comic book stores on November 30! The variant cover above is by the great Giuseppe Camuncoli.

The main story of PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER, drawn by Manuel Garcia, takes place a thousand years in the future on Planet Sakaar. But in a very special bonus story drawn by the great Ramon Bachs, we’re also revealing exactly what’s going on with Skaar in the here and now on Planet Earth.

Whether you’re a long time Skaar fan or intrigued by the character after the developments in REDACTED, you do not want to miss this book!

Ask your local comic shop to order a copy of PLANET HULK WORLDBREAKER #1 for you today!

2022-10-19 – STRANGER THINGS – AFTERSCHOOL ADVENTURES OMNIBUS

Stranger Things Afterschool Adventures cover by Ron Chan

Over the past few years, I’ve written or co-written three middle grade Stranger Things comic book stories that have now been compiled in one big volume called the Stranger Things Afterschool Adventures Omnibus — which hits comic book shops on October 19!

The stories include “Zombie Boys,” “The Bully,” and “Erica the Great,” the last of which was co-written by Danny Lore. Dan Chan drew the cover, Valeria Favoccia provided line art, Dan Jackson colored, and Nate Piekos lettered.

All of these stories were a blast to write and all have a ton of heart, telling stories in between pivotal moments and seasons of the show. Please do feel free to check out the preview pages and ask your local comic shop to hold a copy for you today!

Writer of over 500 comic books, including PLANET HULK, MECH CADET YU, FIREFLY, and DARTH VADER