STRANGER THINGS: TOMB OF YBWEN makes Top Twenty bestsellers list for September!

Stranger Things Tomb of Ybwen cover by Kyle Lambert

I was thrilled to discover that STRANGER THINGS: TOMB OF YBWEN was the 13th best selling trade on the NPD BookScan Top 20 “Superheroes” Graphic Novel list for September!

The book was written by yours truly with interior art by Diego Galindo, colors by Francesco Segala, letters by Nate Piekos, and a lovely cover by Kyle Lambert (which you can read about more on Kyle’s site).

Writing this book meant a lot to me — on the surface, it’s a hugely fun ’80s treasure hunt, but under the surface it’s about grappling with bereavement, and it’s all heart, all the time. I loved working with editors Spencer Cushing and Konner Knudsen and the entire creative team and am so gratified the book’s resonated with readers.

Here’s the official solicit:

It’s January 1985, and the Hawkins crew survived their battle with the mind flayer, but Will and Joyce are still reeling from the recent death of Bob Newby. Will’s friends have been too busy with their girlfriends to notice how much he is struggling. After he and Mr. Clarke discover a mysterious map Bob left in a box of old nerdy memorabilia, Will rallies the crew to investigate. Collects the four-issue miniseries.

Please do feel free to ask your local comic shop to hold a copy of the book for you today or pick it up via Bookshop.org!

Cameras I Wanna Try

Look, I don’t NEED any more cameras. I got my beloved high school Canon FTb and Canon New F-1 repaired and I’ve fixed up a couple of cheap Canon T60s and a Canon AT-1 as wonderful take-everywhere cameras. I’m totally comfortable with Canons of this era and I love the images they let me take. But I’ve had a ton of fun over the past year trying out cheap vintage 35mm cameras from other manufacturers from the 1960s through the 1980s, and when I have a little idle time, I get the hankering to try out a few more. So here are a few of the cameras still on my mind.

Pentax MX

The Pentax MX is famously the lightest fully mechanical and manual 35mm SLR ever made. I’ve read multiple glowing reviews of how fantastic and huge its viewfinder is and how wonderful it is to handle. And it’s relatively cheap, with nice looking copies regularly selling for $70 or so on ShopGoodwill.com. But that puts it just a touch out of my typical comfort range for buying used cameras. As nice as a camera looks in online auction photos, you never quite know if it’s going to work properly until you get it in your hands. So I usually balk at spending more than $50 for a camera in these auctions. I’ve seen Pentax MX bodies go for that amount or less, but somehow I keep missing the deadline to bid. Some day!

Olympus RC and/or the Canon QL17 GIII

I grew up shooting single lens reflex cameras like the Canon FTb and Canon New F-1 and was barely aware of rangefinder cameras until very recently. But over the last year, I’ve been conducting a slow motion search for a cheap, super-light, take-everywhere camera to toss in my satchel while running errands in New York City. The Canon T60 has become that camera for me, but the Olympus RC and Canon QL17 GIII seem like serious contenders. Both cameras are compact and light with manual exposure controls and famously excellent lenses. But the Olympus RC tends to sell for $70 or so and the Canon QL17 GIII tends to sell for a bit over $100, which, again, is a bit out of my comfort range. However, there’s a Canon GL17 model without the GIII designation that’s pretty much the same camera as the GIII and tends to go for a lot less, so hope springs eternal!

Minolta ER

When I was in high school, I somehow got ahold of an old Minolta SLR with a fixed lens that I can remember fiddling with and keeping on my bookshelf but never actually shooting. I have no memory of where it actually came from. It might have been a camera my mom owned and used before she got her Canon FTb. Or maybe we picked it up at a yard sale or something. I noticed the camera in the background of a photo I took of my bedroom in high school and immediately felt the muscle memory of handling it. It was a heavy, solid, metal camera that made very satisfying clicks. It took a while to figure out what the make and model was, and now I’m a little obsessed with tracking one down. It’s a bit of a goofy desire — the camera’s too big and bulky for everyday use, and the chances that I can find an actual working model are pretty slim anyway. But I want to hold it in my hands again, feel that weight, and let that muscle memory take over. Nostalgia and sentiment are strong, y’all. Of course, the only samples I can find are over $100, so I’m not sure I’m going to pull the trigger on this any time soon.

Contaflex II

This was my maternal grandfather’s camera. He took hundreds of gorgeous, vibrant slide photos with it on Kodachrome during family roadtrips when my mom was a teenager. I dug up the camera after my mom died, and I love its weight and feel. But sadly the shutter’s gummed up and these cameras are notoriously over-engineered and difficult to service and repair. They’re not that expensive on auction sites, but according to various experts on the internet, the chances of finding a working model are extremely slim. I’d still love to shoot with this camera to get into my grandfather’s head for a bit. He was a quiet, meticulous man, and I have this strange feeling that learning to work his camera would help me understand the way his mind worked just a bit more.

Canon Dial 35

I became a bit obsessed with half frame cameras this year, and the Canon Dial 35 is a funky model that I’d just love to fiddle with. Half frame 35mm cameras take two 18×24 mm pictures in the space a normal camera takes one 36x24mm picture, which means you can get 72 frames out of a typical 36 exposure role of film. Each image is lower resolution, of course, since it takes up half the amount of film, but that’s part of the charm. The Canon Dial 35 stands out because of its strange form and clockwork mechanisms. Its unusual vertical orientation and funky crank knob make it look like something out of a 1960s science fiction or spy movie, and it was actually featured in The Prisoner television show. It’s a bit silly for me to want this camera — it’s an autoexposure only machine, and I only really enjoy shooting with full manual exposure controls. And I already have multiple great half frame cameras, including a phenomenal Konica Auto-Reflex that uses standard Konica SLR lenses and thus provides incredibly good image quality. But I look at the pictures of the Canon Dial 35 and I just want to fiddle with it. These are sometimes pretty cheap, so who knows!

Konica FT-1 Pro Half

Speaking of half frame cameras, the Holy Grail of the format appears to be the Konica FT-1 Pro Half, a full featured SLR that’s a variant of the full-frame Konica FT-1 Motor. Apparently Konica manufactured a small number of half frame versions of this camera that were given to special customers and executives around 1982. I don’t know if any other half frame cameras were being manufactured at the time, and I’ve never heard of a half frame SLR as modern as this one. I’ve only seen an active auction for one of these, and the asking price was $1399. So no, I’m not buying this camera. But boy, it’d be fun to try one out!

Olympus Pen F with an Olympus OM adapter

Okay, we’re getting into fanciful realms here. The only other half frame SLRs I know of besides the Konica Auto-Reflex and FT-1 Pro Half are the Olympus Pen F and FT. These are highly coveted, all manual, all mechanical compact SLRs with interchangeable lenses. I’d probably have managed to scrounge one up by now, but the big drawback is that the two most standard lenses for these cameras were manufactured with thorium glass elements, which means they’re slightly radioactive. Different people have different ideas about the actual danger levels of thorium in camera lenses, but I try to avoid it, so I’ve pretty much given up on chasing down these cameras. But there are lens adapters that allow you to attach Olympus OM lenses to Pen F series bodies. The trick is that the adapter itself sells for about $150. Add the camera itself and an Olympus OM lens or two, and the price starts to get pretty high up there. Again, not something I’m going to spring for any time soon, but fun to think about!

Canon EF

This is a strange, rare, but currently pretty cheap camera that was part of the Canon F line that included my beloved FTb and New F-1. The EF was built on the same basic chassis, so it’s a solid, heavy, classic-feeling Canon camera that takes FD lenses. But it’s got an electronic shutter and a shutter priority mode. Like the AE-1 and A-1, it also doesn’t show you your actual aperture in the viewfinder when you’re exposing manually — it just shows you the suggested aperture, and you have to lower the camera from your eye to make sure your lens is set properly before shooting. That should be a dealbreaker for me, but I got my hands on a non-working Canon EF and just like the feel of it. I’d love to try out a working version. But I haven’t yet committed to plunking down $60 or $70 for the privilege.

As I said at the outset, I don’t need any of these cameras. But it’s fun to learn and think about them, and it’s fun to have a little list of things to look out for when I pass a stoop sale or flea market. Simple pleasures, right?

Fixed a sticky aperture on a Canon FD 135mm f3.5 breech mount lens!

I spent an hour tackling one of the most challenging camera repairs I’ve dared so far, and it worked! Check out the clean, smooth action on this previously oily, gummed up aperture assembly from a Canon FD 135mm f3.5 breech mount lens!

Since I’ve gotten back into 35mm photography this year, I’ve been itchy to get my hands on a Canon FD 135mm f2.5 breech mount lens like the one my mom gave me in high school. As it turns out, that f2.5 lens is considered to be one of Canon’s best vintage primes, but the aperture on mine became unreliable in high school and I eventually gave it away in the early 2000s. I’ve kept my eye open for a replacement, and I thought I found one in a cheap Canon FTb lot from an auction site. But when I got the package, I discovered the lens was a f3.5, not a f2.5, and it was full of fungus and the aperture wasn’t working. Aaaah!

The first day I got the lens, I opened it up and cleaned the glass. I was able to get rid of the fungus, but it’s still pretty dusty — there are just a lot of flecks in there I can’t quite get out. I strongly suspect they won’t affect image quality, but I wasn’t ready to test the lens yet because the aperture was stuck wide open.

This morning I had a spare hour, so I finally opened up the lens again, removed and opened up the aperture assembly, and carefully used isopropyl alcohol to clean the housing and blades, which were indeed oily and sticky. Huge thanks to mikeno2, whose video about cleaning this model of lens was incredibly helpful.

The toughest part of the job was reassembling the aperture assembly.  Tiny pegs on the bases of the blades fit into tiny holes in two different parts of the housing, and the blades overlap in a circular pattern, and the very last blade has to tuck under the very first blade, which is a tricky maneuver. But it all worked out, and now I have what looks like a working Canon FD 135mm f3.5 breech mount lens!

This is a lot of effort for a lens that can be bought in good condition for under $40. But it’s enormously gratifying to fix up something that came to me in such bad condition.

Yes, I’ve still got my eye open for the f2.5 version of this lens, but for now, I’m going to have a lot of fun testing out my repaired f3.5 in the field.

2022-10-18 – DUO #6 hits comic shops! Check out the preview!

Duo #6 Dike Ruan cover

The final issue of the DUO series hits stores on October 18! Written by yours truly with pencils by Khoi Pham, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Chris Sotomayor, and letters by Janice Chiang, the series has followed a pair of lovers who share a single body and grapple with eerie immortals and a possibly evil genius. This issue’s main cover is by Dike Ruan and the variant is by Cathy Kwan.

You can check out a lettered preview of the final issue here and please feel free to ask your local comic shop to hold a copy for you!

From the official solicit:

In this climactic final issue, Kelly and David fight a war on three fronts! On one side there are malevolent immortals hungry for vengeance. On the other, Dr. Tinker, who will let those immortals rip the city apart to get his hands on Kelly and David’s nanotech. But the real war is Kelly and David’s fight with each other for control of the body they share…and their fate will, in turn, decide humanity’s!

Duo #6 Cathy Kwan cover

No spoilers, but…

She-Hulk season finale credits detail including names of Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan in the "Thanks" section

Just a detail from the SHE-HULK season finale “Special Thanks To” credits — which includes me and my frequent HULK collaborator Carlo Pagulayan.

What a world.

2022-10-19 – DARTH VADER #28 hits comic shops – check out the preview!

Darth Vader #28 cover by Rahzzah

DARTH VADER #28 hits stores on October 19 – featuring the terrifying confrontation between Sabé and the Emperor! We’ve been building up to this moment for quite a while, and you are not prepared.

The stunning cover above is by Rahzzah; interior line art is from Rafaele Ienco with colors by Carlos Lopez and letters from Joe Caramagna.

Check out a lettered preview at StarWars.com and ask your local comic shop to hold a copy for you today!

From the official solicit:

THE SHADOW IN THE FIRE! For decades, Sabé, Handmaiden of Padmé, schemed to assassinate Darth Vader, whom she believed murdered her queen. But Sabé has learned Vader’s greatest secret, and now she fights at his side, believing that someday, she may prove there is still good in him. What happens when the Handmaiden finally comes face-to-face with the Emperor, who knows all of her secrets? The Queen’s Shadow enters the crucible! Will Vader let her burn?

2022-11-02 – FIREFLY: RETURN TO EARTH THAT WAS – DELUXE EDITION!

Firefly Earth That Was Deluxe Edition cover

Happy to report that the giant collected edition of my last year of FIREFLY stories is being released as a giant hardcover that hits comic shops on November 2 and traditional bookstores on November 8!

This deluxe edition also includes a never-before-seen short comic book story written by yours truly with lovely line art by Jose Johann Jaro. It’s my very last FIREFLY story and features Mal finally doing something incredibly huge and brave that we’d been teasing for at least a year. Dontcha dare miss it!

Here’s the official solicit copy:

A new crew of the legendary Serenity face new enemies, reunite with old friends, and travel to the EARTH THAT WAS for the first time in Firefly history!

Firefly jumps forward in time after the battle with the Reavers that left Wash & Book dead. Serenity soars again, with Kaylee captaining a crew including River, Jayne and the bandit Leonard Chang-Benitez. They’ll soon find themselves drawn into a shocking conflict that puts them on an interception course with old friends… and new enemies! In an attempt to evade the Alliance the crew of Serenity find themselves stranded on The-Earth-That-Was, a strange world filled with ancient artifacts, a new civilization and…maybe some semblance of hope. As strangers in a strange land they encounter individual and shared challenges galore! The groundbreaking future of Firefly by New York Times best-selling writer Greg Pak (Darth Vader) and an all-star group ofartists including Pius Bak (The Magicians), Ethan Young (NANJING: The Burning City), Simona Di Gianfelice (Power Rangers), Jordi Perez (Queen of Bad Dreams), and Jahnoy Lindsay (Marvel’s Voices) is collected for the first time in a special deluxe edition hardcover! Collects Firefly #25-36.

Ask your local comics shop to hold a copy for you today!

Or buy it from Bookshop.org (full disclosure: I get a small commission if you use this link to buy the book)!

I did the Minolta X-370 capacitor fix! (And then I discovered the REAL problem!)

Minolta X-370

A few months ago I picked up a old Minolta X-370 for less than $10.  This is a bit of an underdog of a camera, overshadowed by the X-700, the full-featured flagship of its line. But I like the simplicity of the X-370 — it’s a very light, efficient machine with manual exposure controls that don’t require you to lower the camera from your eye when you’re shooting. I thought it might be a good candidate for a cheap take-everywhere camera, and it cleaned up nicely and worked great — for two rolls. Then the mirror got stuck in its flipped up position and the camera exhibited the classic symptoms of the capacitor failure that plagues Minoltas in this line.

After reading a bunch of message board posts and watching this excellent video from Matt Originals multiple times, I decided to embrace the challenge of replacing the capacitor. I visited Digi-Key, spent a few bucks on the exact part Matt Originals recommended, and dug up my soldering iron.

Long story short: I replaced the capacitor! And the camera’s working now! But I’m not entirely sure the capacitor was the actual problem!

Replacing the capacitor

The message boards were right — if you can solder, this is a very manageable job! First, I removed the batteries and the four tiny screws on the bottom plate of the camera to expose the capacitor. It’s the blue thing on the left. As recommended by various online guides, I took note of the plus sign on the right side of the capacitor — I’d need to make sure the new capacitor was installed with its plus side in the same place.

Minolta X-370 with bottom removed to show blue capacitor

Second, I removed the old capacitor by carefully melting the solder attaching the capacitor to the circuit board, taking care not to melt the thin plastic of the board itself. I then cut the wires extending from the new capacitor to match the length of the wires on the old capacitor.

Old and new capacitors for the Minolta X-370

IMPORTANT: the specs for the new capacitor note that the longer wire is the positive terminal. So it’s key to remember which side that is before you trim the wires so you can make sure the positive wire of the new capacitor is attached to the same spot that the positive wire of the old capacitor was.

Then I soldered the new capacitor into place. I haven’t soldered anything for years, so I was pretty pleased with the outcome!

New capacitor in place in the Minolta X-370

Finally, I screwed the bottom plate of the camera back into place, reinstalled the battery, and fired up the camera… and the camera wouldn’t advance, the shutter wouldn’t fire, and the mirror remained stuck. Oh no!

The real problem?

I started googling again and read the message boards very carefully. According to Minoltafan2904 on Photorio.com, the capacitor problem is characterized by the shutter not firing, the film advance lever not moving past 30 degrees, and the LEDs in the viewfinder illuminating briefly, but going out when you press the shutter release button. All of those things were happening with my camera — but in addition, the mirror was stuck in an upright position.

Stuck up mirror on a Minolta X-370

So I started searching specifically for the mirror problem, and eventually I found this post by John Koehrer on Photorio.com, who suggested that a stuck mirror might be due to a shutter curtain not completing its cycle. The curtain on my camera looked fine to me. But on closer inspection, I saw just a bit of the black metal edge of the curtain on the far left. So I very carefully and gently nudged that metal edge to the left… and the mirror released!

Nudging the edge of the shutter to release the mirror on the Minolta X-370.

Now everything works properly! The LED viewfinder lights stay on and function correctly and the film advance and shutter advance work. The mirror got stuck again a few more times as I tested the camera, but I just nudged the shutter to release it and after a few dozen more firings, it doesn’t seem to be getting stuck any longer.

So was my problem all along just a shutter issue? Or did I have both a shutter and a capacitor issue? I suppose I could get a definitive answer by reinstalling the old capacitor to see if the camera still functions. But that feels like begging trouble. At least I know that I rose to the challenge of soldering and correctly installed the new capacitor (whether or not I needed to), which makes me pretty proud.

I still need to load the camera and test it in the field to see if the sticky shutter and stuck mirror problem recur. It could be that the camera needs a good old fashioned CLA (clean, lube, and adjust). But that would probably cost four or five times the price of a new used X-370 body. If we get to that stage, I might just do some more googling to see if I can figure out how to CLA an X-370 myself.

Maybe this seems like a lot of effort for a $10 camera. But this is one of the glories of analog photography for me. It feels absolutely fantastic to crack one of these problems and actually fix an old camera, and the photos I take with this junky beater will always feel extra special.

A little story about a Canon TLb and letting things go

Canon TLb

I gave away a camera this week, and it felt great.

When I was plunging back into 35mm film photography earlier this year, I discovered that the shutters on both of my high school cameras needed repair. So I bought a used Canon TLb, which is basically a simpler version of my beloved Canon FTb, and fell in love immediately. The TLb felt fantastic and familiar in my hands the minute I picked it up and I had a tremendous time learning how to do basic maintenance like replacing its foam light seals.

Tiffany Lamp at the Queens Museum
A Tiffany lamp at the Queens Museum shot with a Canon TLb and a Canon nFD 50mm f1.8 on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200.

And of course I love this particular camera for kicking the door to 35mm photography back open for me. Shooting with it was an absolute pleasure. My eyes are terrible and I hate peering through the small viewfinder of my digital SLR. Looking through the big viewfinder of the TLb made me feel like I could actually see again.  And it was a total thrill getting my first rolls of film back and seeing such lovely results, particularly with color film, which I never shot much of 20 years ago.

New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Shot with a Canon TLb on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200.

But over the next few months, I picked up several more used cameras and got my original Canon New F-1 and Canon FTb repaired, so the TLb ended up spending most of its time on the shelf. I’d somehow become a vintage camera collector, so I liked owning it — it’s part of a fantastic line of classic Canon cameras that includes the TX, the FTb, the F-1, the New F-1, and even the Bell & Howell FD35, and I entertained this vague notion of trying and owning them all.

But in recent years, I’ve been trying to simplify my life and possessions in other ways, finding places to donate hundreds of books and other physical objects I just don’t need any longer. So while I’ve loved every cheap vintage camera I’ve picked up this year and become even more attached to them after fixing them up, I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t really need all of them and could benefit from clearing some space on my shelf and in my mind.

So when I found out that a friend was very interested in 35mm photography, I was thrilled to pack up the TLb for him. A number of friends and family members have given me old cameras over the last year, so it felt like continuing a fine tradition and passing on a kindness.

And cameras are meant to be used. I believe that analog photography is a beautifully slow and human undertaking that can bring more beauty into the world and more peace in the hearts of those who practice it. So I love the idea that new images will be made and experiences had because this camera’s been put back into use. I’ve got a few more cameras I’m planning to spread around and I can’t wait to see what new pictures result.

But as I told my friend, it made happy on yet another level to pass a camera to a new home before I’d become so sentimentally attached to it that it was hard to let go. I love my high school FTb and New F-1 not just because they’re great cameras, but because my mom bought them for me. At the time, they were the most expensive single items anyone had ever given me and represented tremendous trust and hope and love. Since my mother’s passing, they’ve become almost painfully precious to me. I’m so incredibly grateful for everything they represent and so happy to still have them. But I could see myself finding a way over time to attach the tremendous connection I have to those specific cameras to all my other cameras, which doesn’t feel like the most emotionally helpful of all paths to take.

This is a little story about a little thing. But in the end, we give up everything, whether we’re ready for it or not. So I’m grateful to my friend for letting me practice giving something up in a happy way by taking my pretty little TLb before it became too much of a treasure. I feel like we’ve dodged a tiny, silly sadness and turned it into a tiny, lovely joy. And my mom would definitely have approved.

Three Good Things: Jook, FEELING GOOD, and blogging

Been a while since I posted three good things. Today felt like a good day to exercise that muscle again. So here we go:

Jook, a.k.a Korean rice porridge

ONE: Jook.

One of the easiest and most comforting meals I know how to make is jook, a.k.a. Korean rice porridge. The only ingredients are chicken, water, garlic, rice, salt, and whatever garnish you feel like adding. So simple, but it always makes me feel about three times better. I’m making some even as we speak, and just the smell is already shifting my world in the right direction.

Feeling Good by David Burns

TWO: Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns.

October 10 is World Mental Heath Day. So here’s a plug for Feeling Good, an incredibly practical introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy, which has absolutely helped me feel good from time to time. The book was originally written in 1980, so the social context of some of the scenarios may feel a bit dated. But I’ve found it to be hugely helpful and I’m deeply grateful for it.

Full disclosure: the link above will take you to a Bookshop.org page – if you buy the book there, I’ll get a small affiliate fee.

TWO: Blogging.

I spent more time today than I care to admit fiddling with this site to update the way menus and navigation work, and it’s reminded me all over again about how much I value having an actual independent personal website in these days of ephemeral (and often destructive) social media. I’ll probably write about this in more detail later, but posting on a blog feels a bit like shooting analog film to me these days — a conscious, deliberate way of slowing down to appreciate the process of creation and maybe make something lovely. Feels good!

 

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