Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Trefl Maxi jigsaw puzzle
Why is Fluttershy apparently trying to pick fleas off her hide?
To readers of a certain age (clue: older than most of you) that name means only one thing: the somewhat creepy masked bloke who appeared in the Children's BBC series Jigsaw. So I'm using it as a pretty feeble introduction to this post, which is about... a jigsaw! This is a 24-piece puzzle from the Polish company Trefl, and it's pretty big note AA battery for scale in the photo — with the completed picture measuring 60 by 40 cm. I picked it up here in the UK. The Entertainer at the Merry Hill Centre (near Dudley) had it for half price, ie a fiver. Yes, it's very childish of me. And your point is...?

Monday, 29 April 2013

Lauren Faust asking for bronies' help in wildlife fundraising push

Ours is a fandom that prides itself on its willingness to give to good causes, so here's another one — with a strong MLP angle to it, too! Lauren Faust is asking us to help the Wildlife Learning Center in California to raise thousands of dollars for its work in caring for rescued animals. So far, the campaign has raised just over $20,000 — but they'd really like to raise more than double that, which is where Faust (and therefore the fandom too) come in!

It's also where the pony angle comes in: when the total reached $10,000, they agreed to name a bunny Angel. Now that $20,000 has been achieved, a tortoise will be named Tank. If we can somehow get to $30K or even $40K, then there'll be an owl called Owlowiscious and even a gator named Gummy to add to the collection! Even if you can't spare money, you can still help by spreading the word — but if you can donate, here's the WLC's Indiegogo page.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Comic review: MLP:FiM Micro-series issue #3: Rarity

Micro-series issue #3, Cover B
Andy Price's totally fab and groovy Cover B
As promised, here's the second of this week's IDW comic reviews: issue #3 of the Micro-series. This one has been hotly anticipated, since it reunites the team of Katie Cook, Andy Price and Heather Breckel, who were widely praised for their work on the first arc of the main series. Once again, it's good to see Breckel gain a cover credit. And once again, I bought this for £3.15 from the good people at Birmingham's Nostalgia and Comics shop. Take a trip past the jump to see what this comic is like...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue 6

IDW MLP:FiM comic #6 cover A
Meet Fluttershy, earth pony wannabe...
This week, we've been blessed with not one but two issues of My Little Pony comicy goodness. I'll review Rarity's Micro-series appearance in a couple of days; today, I'll concentrate on the original series. This month, we've reached issue #6 of the ongoing (as comic people apparently call it) and colourist Heather Breckel gets a well deserved cover credit -- which also means she gets a tag here! (I bet she's thrilled...) I bought my comic for £3.15 from Birmingham's excellent Nostalgia and Comics store. Past the jump, we'll take a look at how well it does.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Two interviews with Mary Jane Begin

We seem to be on a bit of an interview frenzy around here just now! But yes, the author and illustrator of the beautiful new Under the Sparkling Sea book has been chatting away merrily. First, she tells Read Local: The Barrington Books Blog that the whole project took her about 18 months, and that her paintings will be shown at the National Museum of American Illustration at the end of June. Newport, Rhode Island is a little bit far for me, but if you happen to be in the area I'm sure Begin would appreciate it if you dropped in and had a look for yourself.

As if that wasn't enough, there's another interview, this time with GoLocalProv, a Providence, Rhode Island-based lifestyle website. In this one, Begin tells us that her childhood dream was to be a vet (Fluttershy would be proud!), that she's always wanted to illustrate Hansel and Gretel because of its dark undertones and that she loves to walk her dog (Chance) along the beach. Okay, these interviews aren't likely to make any national front pages, but it's always interesting to learn a bit more about the people behind the Pony stuff we buy.

Tara Strong talks to Comics Alliance

Her interview is quite wide-ranging, and it's worth reading all the way through. But let's face it, you want to know about the MLP-related bits, don't you? It's really one big paragraph, and very much about bronies rather than the show itself. But in a nutshell, she says that we're "hilarious and supportive" and "the greatest ever", and it's hard to feel anything but cheerful about that. We love you too, Tara!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Book review: Under the Sparkling Sea (Mary Jane Begin)

The book's front cover
Things you thought you'd never see, no. 82: Twilight doing press-ups
Yes, two reviews of official My Little Pony books in the space of three posts. You lucky, lucky people. Under the Sparkling Sea (pub. Little, Brown & Co.) is a very different kind of book from Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell, though. This is a large (slightly above A4 size) and fairly slim hardback written and illustrated by Mary Jane Begin, an award-winning illustrator from Rhode Island. At the time of posting, you can get it from Amazon UK for £9.44, though there's a 1-3 week wait. Come past the jump and we'll see whether it's worth it...

Friday, 19 April 2013

MLP:FiM coming to UK DVD at last!

Spike can't operate a film projector
"Sorry girls, I can't find the original Derpy scene anywhere"
One of the most annoying things about being a British brony has been the lack of (official, cough cough ahem) ways for us to watch Pony. It's not on the telly, we can't buy from iTunes — and while there are DVDs and Blu-rays available, they're American and German respectively. So the news from Licensing.biz that the British company Clear Vision has struck a deal with Hasbro is one of the best things I've heard in a long time as regards official merchy stuff.

The deal appears to be for only the first two seasons, which does seem a little bit odd; possibly S3 can't be released until after it has been in the US, though that's pure speculation on my part. We don't yet know whether this will be a purely DVD-based release or whether Blu-ray discs are also on the way. Nor do we know what extras, if any, will be included: I would certainly hope that the commentaries from the Region 1 release are there, since they're excellent.

I already have the American DVD set of S1, but I suspect I'll buy the British one too, as long as its release date isn't that far away. (That means no waiting till Christmas, Clear Vision!) Given how terrible UK TV coverage of MLP:FiM has been, this will constitute the best chance for the show to get itself more widely known in the UK. Clear Vision's website seems to be mail order rather than delivering to the high street, but still. This particular news deserves a Flutteryay!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Book review: Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell (G. M. Berrow)

The front cover
"Never mind that, what about the New Vector spell?"
We've had a lot of things over the life of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but one thing we haven't seen is an officially licensed novel. That's now changed, with the release of Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell by G. M. Berrow. Although it's an American book, Amazon is kindly offering it through the company's UK store, making things much quicker and easier for us in Britain. I paid £3.93, but it's currently a whole 1p off. Hurry, hurry, hurry! The usual spoilerrific review can be found beyond the cut.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Woo-hoo! I'm top of the Google hit list!

I think that's the first time it's happened for. Sadly, it's for the phrase pastel lanterns for sale, but you can't have everything! (And yes, there'll be a proper post along in the next couple of days.)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Classic episode review: "Friendship is Magic, part 2" (S1E02)

The Mane Six use the Elements of Harmony
Bright eyes, burning like fire
Gosh, I bet this choice of episode was a surprise to you after last time. We left our heroes at the mercy of Nightmare Moon, and the series itself at the mercy of Lauren Faust. (Actually, at this point it was probably mostly at the mercy of Hasbro, so I suppose we're back where we started, but still...) I can't claim to have found that first episode to be a classic, even knowing what we do now, but if you'll be kind enough to come with me past the jump, we can assess episode 2 — and the story as a whole.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Talking out of merch

It can't have escaped British bronies' attention that we don't do very well when it comes to My Little Pony merchandise. The stuff that's sold directly by Hasbro — the pony figures and so on — isn't too bad, even if we do miss out on the really unusual stuff. The Asda in Worcester, for example, has things like Luna brushables and the triple pack of Rarity, Hoity Toity and Photo Finish. (Actually, it's finally got Wave 6 blind bags in again; yay.)

When it comes to licensed merch, though, things get rather more ugly. Hasbro themselves announced in October last year that there would be new products "across Europe" in spring 2013. Okay, it's now spring, so where are they? I have seen suggestions that the company takes what might be called a Ukip approach to the matter, treating the UK and Europe as separate territories. Even if that's the case, why do we have to be the poor relation?

I was in the local discount shop today looking at stationery. There were basic packs branded with the likes of Ben 10, Spongebob Squarepants and Deadly 60. Was there any Pony? Actually yes... but only the colouring book that's been around for ages. It's surprising, to say the least, that there isn't an MLP stationery set too. Or a lunchbox. Or anything else much, really. Almost every other brand of even remotely comparable significance has something.

Of course, I'm not privy to Hasbro's financial calculations, and maybe nobody wants to license such products in the UK. Perhaps it's relevant that the backpack is frequently heavily discounted in Toys R Us, and that I've never seen a child wearing one. Maybe it's simply that old bugbear, a lack of even remotely adequate TV coverage for the show in the UK — and there seems absolutely no sign of movement on that front.

Let's not get too downhearted about this. Amazon.co.uk has obliged by stocking most of this year's MLP book releases. The wonderful IDW comics can be bought easily enough at comic shops or via eBay. And we can import things from Germany simply enough, without the worries over duty you can have with American merch. Even so, it's frustrating: I want to buy Pony merch in UK shops, and all too often I can't.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Classic episode review: "Friendship is Magic, part 1" (S1E01)

Nightmare Moon appears
"What do you mean, not until season two?"
I've been thinking for a while now that it might be fun to go back and take another look at some of the older episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I've actually been doing it in one or two places on a small scale, but as I don't have to keep to a regular schedule here, I can fit things in with my other commitments rather better. It seems only fair to begin with the story that started it all: the Season One pilot, written by the great Lauren Faust herself. There's plenty to interest us, so join me after the jump for more!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

March IDW comic sales figures: steady as she goes

Stephanie Buscema's Cover B for issue #5 of the IDW MLP:FiM comic
...presumed fabulous?
It's time for us to take a look at the comic sales figures for March, and once again the news is pretty good. The estimates from Comichron tell a story of a title which remains, by a long way, IDW's best seller. In fact, the company has three books in the month's top 100 — and every single one of them is a Pony comic. At the top of the heap, we have issue #4, the conclusion of the widely acclaimed Cook/Price arc. It stands just outside the top 50 (at no. 55, to be exact) and sold:
An accident of the calendar this time around means that there are two issues of the main series eligible for inclusion in the March figures. I've been waiting with great interest to see how the Nuhfer/Mebberson arc would fare in comparison to the immensely satisfying story that launched the comic. Many fans (including me) feel that issue #5 is very good, but not quite up to the amazing standard of some of its predecessors. It charted at no. 65 and sold:
So, there's been a significant fall in sales from issue #4, but not a huge one. Finally, there's issue #2 of the Micro-Series. I expected a substantial drop here from the first (Twilight) spotlight, since just that happened after the debut issue of the main series too — but given Rainbow Dash's popularity I wasn't sure how great that drop would be. In the event the comic hit no. 91 and sold:
Now, what have we learned? Loss of control. Of course it's very early days still, but there does seem to be a gentle downward trend in the sales figures: issue #5 is the lowest-selling and lowest-charting of all five main-series issues so far. It will be interesting to see what happens a) with the three forthcoming issues in this arc and b) when Cook and Price return for the third arc later in the year.

Remember, though: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is still a very, very big sales hit by IDW standards, and even issue #5 sold more than twice as many copies in March as the company's most popular non-Pony comic book. (TNMT issue #20, since you ask.) If the "difficult second arc" can be negotiated well, and my feeling is that it will be, then this comic should be set fair for a long and happy life.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Self-promotion is magic (yes, it's my fanfic, I'm afraid)

The title pic for The 20 Percent Solution
The 20 Percent Solution, as mixed by Pinkie Pie. Run for your lives!
Look, this is my blog, all right? If I can't be annoyingly biased once in a while here, then where can I do it? Therefore, you can all put up with me blathering for a little bit about the pony-related fanfic that I've written. I may not be famous or influential in this fandom. Or indeed any good at writing. But that's not the point. I need something to post about, and this is it. Yay. Normal ramblings will be resumed next time, I expect. So here we go. All of these are suitable for all ages, if not all levels of sanity...

The 20 Percent Solution
This comic story involving the Mane Six (but mostly Pinkie, Twilight and Rainbow) and Equestria's first energy drink is my most popular fanfic, which is to say that it has close to 400 views on FIMFiction. Hey wow, I've just realised that that's very nearly 1% of the views "Sunny Skies All Day Long" has got, and by my standards that's amazing. It's probably the story that will appeal to most people, or at least repel the fewest, and it doesn't need much background knowledge. It contains some truly awful jokes, too.

Clouded Minds
This is my most recent tale, and it's very different in tone. A quiet, reflective and somewhat sad vignette, it's a two-hander (two-hoofer?) starring Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, with the former confessing something to the latter about their days at Flight Camp. It's very short (well under 2,000 words) and the ending is rather abrupt, but that's how it's meant to be: you're supposed to be left wondering. I'm actually rather pleased with the way most of this turned out.

The Ballad of Wyverns' Rock
Of all the things I've written in the pony fandom, this piece has the most chequered history. It's something that (surprisingly) seems to be very rare: an epic poem; five thousand words in fourteeners. It's the only thing I've ever submitted to Equestria Daily... and it was rejected with a resounding thud. Not just on quality grounds (which would have been fair enough) but also because, apparently, their readers don't like poems. Well, I do, and I wish we saw more of them. So there.

So Many Different Ways to Prey
This verse, on the other hand, should be rejected by anyone who comes within a hundred miles of it. 1,500 words in iambic pentameter, this is a crossover between FiM and... wait for it... G3.5. Yes, that's right, Newborn Cuties. I suspect it's one of those pieces that people describe as "an interesting technical exercise, but not a lot more than that". It makes me laugh, though. And cry, though that's mostly from having to think about G3.5 at all...

Friday, 5 April 2013

Second time BUCKy

BUCK ticket
And yes, my name is indeed [grey smudge]. Why do you ask?
I did warn you about the puns, so no complaints! Anyway, after a bit of a (late) winter mess-up on PayPal's part — which can be summarised as imposing conditions that would have made it impossible for the BUCK organisers actually to pay for the con — the only option has been for them to refund payments made up to the 29th and ask attendees to go through the purchase process again. The new setup uses Stripe, which is brand new to the UK, and judging by my experience should do okay for itself. As you can see, Ticketbud's services have been retained, since they did nothing wrong.

PayPal does seem to be dragging its feet just slightly over processing people's refunds, but the word is that money should be back in accounts by early next week. The BUCK team have guaranteed that anyone who bought a ticket the first time will be able to get one this time, so you don't have to fret that your PayPal refund won't be processed in time. The guarantee is limited to a "reasonable" period, but that's fair enough: you can't really expect to suddenly decide you still want your ticket on 22 August! Anyway, things seem to be getting back on an even keel. Good show, BUCK.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Review: Double Rainboom fan-made episode (by FlamingoRich)

Double Rainboom has been keenly awaited by our fandom for many months now — and, at last, it's here. It was long advertised as the first fan-made episode, but there's a fair case for saying that in that it's been pipped to the post by last month's Snowdrop. Another option is to call Double Rainboom the first full-length fan-made episode... but even that is doubtful, as you'll see if you click past the jump. However, what's unarguable is that this is the first officially sanctioned fan-made episode: creator Zachary Rich has the go-ahead from Hasbro to do this. Was it worth it? Let's see...