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How to (Subtly) Nerdify Your Holidays

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Optimus Santa -http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcogomes/4159883203/

Optimus Santa -http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcogomes/4159883203/

In my family, I’m an acknowledged nerd. Everyone dear to me accepts my interests with responses ranging from enthusiasm to mild concern. Thus, no one would be particularly surprised to see me show up to our family Christmas dinner dressed as San from Princess Mononoke. Not surprised, perhaps, but not happy, either.

So I had to start getting a little tricky to bring some nerdy goodness into the holidays. If you’re like me, your nerd-dom cannot be contained. So here are some ideas for how to bring your hobbies to your holidays without having to explain to your grandmother what LARPing is.

Steampunk Santa - http://www.flickr.com/photos/segansca/6120791486/

Steampunk Santa – http://www.flickr.com/photos/segansca/6120791486/

Dress to Impress

One way that I’ve found to work my love of cosplay into my holiday season is to dress in an appropriate costume. You can be creative and delight the family by nerdifying any Santa suit- sure, someone might take exception to Sephiroth Santa, but no one can be mad at Steampunk Santa! Other options include any elf (like Legolas, Deedlit, or Link), Jack or Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas, and Jack Frost from Rise of the Guardians, who is great fun to lead merriment as. Of course, these all work best when there are children to entertain, but I wouldn’t be deterred by a room full of adults. Maybe it’s just me.

For anyone who wants to emphasize the “subtlety” that was promised by this article’s title, there are gads of restrained nerdy accessories that you can wear to get-togethers. From 8-bit hair bows to Rebel Alliance cufflinks to Game of Thrones pins, there are definitely ways to work your obsessions in without even the slightest bit of notice. Also at your disposal are Harry Potter leggings, Death Star dresses, and Doctor Who scarves and jackets. You can stylishly represent without any hassle.

Bring Activities

Especially if you’d like to corrupt your younger cousins and niblings into becoming as nerdy as you are (yes, yes, let the nerd flow through you), you can try bringing some fun pastimes with you.  While most folks will be watching the football game on Christmas Eve, you and the other super cool members of your family can slip away to play Minecraft. Bring along your Munchkin game and use mini candy canes as level indicators.

You might also ponder having some games that are friendlier to all generations. Playing Droidel (the R2 unit version of a Dreidel) is a fun way to unite generations over an ingeniously nerdy activity. Maybe go outside and make a nerdy snowman (Bowser’s a good challenge) with your parents. My favorite is to bring along materials for gingerbread houses, but bring blue frosting for a T.A.R.D.I.S. As a standby that my family enjoyed, bring along one of your cardboard cutouts (I chose Batman), pop a hat or garland on them, and have your family take posed pictures with it. The pictures are pretty priceless.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/crystaltips/5236919739/

Leia Tree Topper http://www.flickr.com/photos/crystaltips/5236919739/

Host the Celebration

If you’re at the point where you’ve established a home away from your childhood home, maybe you could offer to host the Christmas Eve dinner. Not only will your family be impressed by your put-together presentation, but they’ll also be wowed by your geektastic decorations. A Lego menorah? A Star Wars or Star Trek Christmas tree? A Cthulu wreath? There are plenty of ways to be festively geeky without shoving it into people’s faces.

There are also nerdy foods you can serve at your assembly. I find it amusing to turn the hummus bowl into a mini Sarlacc pit with a Lego piece in the middle. Rolls wrapped in leaf-shaped paper easily become Tolkien’s lembas bread. You can emulate Dr. Seuss’s roast beast by adding a couple of extra turkey or chicken legs to your roast. Of course, butterbeer is always a good choice for beverages, as well. Get creative and you’ll be showing your loved ones the best side of nerd culture.

I stalwartly believe that you should be able to be yourself and have fun when you’re with your loved ones. But sometimes, it takes a little discernment and nuance to make our favorite fandoms suit the occasion. Be mindful of and considerate to the tone that your loved ones want to strike for holiday gatherings, but putting a little extra fun into the festivities never hurt anyone. Long live the nerdy holiday!

 

Marie is a cosplayer and costume consultant who has found, through trial and error, that there are very few places that are not appropriate for nerdiness.

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USS Loma Prieta and Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator: A Must for Star Trek Fans

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A couple of weekends ago I had the great privilege of hanging out with the crew of the USS Loma Prieta (http://usslomaprieta.org/), a Star Trek-centered science fiction fan club based out of San Francisco. I attended their Battlestations event, which was a fundraiser for the club featuring game play of the Artemis star ship bridge simulator (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/). My donation to the club got me a crew assignment on an Artemis voyage and two drink tickets!

The event was held at WeWork Labs in SF, which was a nice space and perfectly suited to the event. The space allowed for two full Artemis crews to work together and co-op a mission. There was also a set up for a training bridge to help people new to the game get acquainted with the controls. The Artemis stations are very similar to the standard Star Trek bridge stations: Captain, helm, science, weapons, engineering, and communications. Each game takes 6 players on networked computers to work together with both their consoles and their physical communications to beat the game.

The simulation is awesome. That is actually the best word to describe it. Each console UI looks very different from the rest, and the game play itself is very realistic (based on my experiences as an actual starship captain). I suppose the next step in making it even more realistic would be to sync the Artemis game with a motion simulator under the bridge to simulate ship movement and enemy hits. Each crew member has a different, yet important job. Just like a real starship voyage, the crew is conducted by the captain.

IMAG1081-1One of the missions I played had my crew protecting our space stations from enemy attacks. I manned the communications station, and shouted incoming messages to the Captain through a microphone. I also participated in the Artemis version of Star Trek‘s “Kobayashi Maru” training exercise, which if you’re familiar with Star Trek, you will know is a no-win scenario. Needless to say, we didn’t win. My crew did last 7 minutes against the enemy ships, though!

The USS Loma Prieta puts on these events periodically for the public, but they also run Artemis sims as well as other Trek-related activities at their meetings. You can follow the USS Loma Prieta on Twitter at (https://twitter.com/USSLomaPrieta) and on Facebook at (https://www.facebook.com/UssLomaPrieta) for more information about the organization and how to participate.

If you’re interested in the game but want to play at home or aren’t located in the Bay Area, you can purchase Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator for yourself! There is a free demo available on the Artemis website as well (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/). There are a variety of ways to set up the game and play, including remote networking. Artemis is available for Windows PC and iOS. I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself if you are at all interested in any of the things I have described.

For the curious, here is a video from last year interviewing some of the USS Loma Prieta crew and showcasing some Artemis game play. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Q2X32hZNk)

Jenn Marshall

Friday Night Magic

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About a month ago, my friend asked me if I would be interested in learning how to play Magic: The Gathering with her. I excitedly said “heck yes!” for a couple of reasons. First, my friend is new to the nerd world and I’m delighted to show her around. Second, because I have wanted to play Magic for a LONG time.

Flash back

Once upon a time when I was a little girl, I would hang out in my science teacher’s classroom during lunch. There was a group of boys who would play Magic in there. I would watch them sometimes. I liked the art on the cards and it looked like they were having fun. One time I suppressed my social anxiety enough to ask them if I could play. It was a big deal in that I was a seventh grade girl pioneering her way into this secret boys’ club. I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t think the answer would be anything other than, “sure, join us”. I was expecting the wedding scene from Fiddler on the Roof when the men and women started dancing together. What I got was, “No, that’s weird. This isn’t a girls’ game”. Yes, I’m serious. But, being 12 years old, I was only initially disappointed and then just took their word for it.

Fast forward to now, when basically all I do is sleep and play games of both the video and table top variety. Until a month ago, I still hadn’t played Magic. I had heard the unfortunate stereotypes of the players being angry rules-lawyers who spent way too much money and time on their hobby. I still kind of wanted to play, but I was worried that the rules might take a while to master (like Dungeons and Dragons) or that I would have to spend a lot of time studying strategy (like League of Legends). I didn’t have the time or inclination for any of that. My friend pointed me to the free Magic 2014 tablet game (also available on Steam), which actually taught me how to play really quickly. I like to describe the game play as “a more math-heavy version of chess with pretty pictures”. The full version of Magic 2014 is $10, but the free version is definitely enough to get you started. The tutorial was easy to get the hang of, and the game does a good job gradually increasing the difficulty as you play. After I’d become confident playing the tablet game, my friend and I went to our first Friday Night Magic draft.

There are a lot of comic book and game stores in the area who participate in Friday Night Magic. The reason we chose Space Cat (http://superspacecat.com/Gaming/index.htm) was because they had a 50% discount incentive for new players. We got to the store and filled out our new DCI cards. Everyone was very welcoming and happy to see new players. There were a couple of other first timers besides my friend and I, including someone who had never played the game at all before. A few veteran players volunteered to help and answer any questions they could. The whole atmosphere was so friendly and welcoming that I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t expect it. We drafted, and I chose my cards from the new packs. I got some helpful tips on building a good deck from a couple different players. By the end of the night, I had a pretty brutal green and black deck populated by some hard-to-kill creatures and even a Planeswalker. I even won a couple games!

Magic 2014 was recently released in card-form, as opposed to the tablet game, and I was able to draft with the new set this past Friday. There are some new creatures, some game-changing artifact cards, and a new group of Planeswalkers to get a hold of. It’s a great way to spend a Friday night, and I’m now on a mission to spread the good word of Magic: The Gathering to the rest of my gaming friends.

Jenn Marshall
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Review: First Year of GaymerX

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This past weekend marked the first year of GaymerX, previously Gaymercon: “the first LGBT gaming convention focused on the queer geek culture” (http://gaymerconnect.com/). The con took over Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown for the weekend. There were some great special guests as well as several really fun activities, including a room full of every kind of gaming console available for con-goers to play. Having recently come back from SDCC, I was still kind of in that mode. However, I was pleased to find out that I could just decide spontaneously to attend GaymerX and that I could register at the door. The full-schedule of panels was accessible to both the hardcore fans and the casually curious. The floor was populated with artists peddling their creations, giveaways and demos.

I had never been to a convention’s first year, and it was really interesting. The programming declared that the convention knew who it was, and the vibe was all welcoming community and excitement. The staff members and volunteers were impressively organized. If there were any snafus, I never noticed one. It was small, but I think that “intimate” is the more appropriate word. You’re not going to get the big Hollywood exclusives at a small con like GaymerX, but that’s not why it exists. It has a higher purpose: starting a dialogue and connecting members of a community. When I got back from SDCC, I stated that it was powerful to be around hundreds of thousands of people that I had at least one thing in common with. That feeling was amplified at GaymerX because despite, or perhaps because of its smaller population, the whole experience is tailored more specifically. In this case, it was tailored to queer gaming geeks and allies.

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I was impressed at the intellectual level of the programming (http://gaymerconnect.com/panels). There were lots of meaningful discussions about building online communities, gender and sexuality in games, and LGBTQ inclusiveness in gaming. There were also panels on cosplay, breaking into the industry, and of course: special guests. Notable guests included Ellen McLain (the voice of Glad0s in the Portal series), David Gaider (lead writer of the Dragon Age series), and Pandora Boxx (RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant). I was unable to go to Ellen McLain’s panel, but I heard she led the audience in a sing-a-long of the Portal song “Still Alive”. I was so excited to see Pandora Boxx in person, as I am a huge Drag Race fan. I was especially excited that she walked into her panel as drag Harley Quinn. She talked about her love of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dragon Age, and Alice: The Madness Returns. There was some Q&A that led to Pandora doing an amazing impression of what it would be like to have Grace Jones play Storm from X-Men.

David Gaider spoke on navigating gender and sexuality in video game characters. Dragon Age 2 is notable for having every follower be a romance option for the player character regardless of gender and sexual orientation. Bioware is consciously expanding the world of video game heroes to more than just straight white men. Mr. Gaider discussed how some of those strides are still difficult, and some are surprisingly easy. With him at the “Meet Bioware” panel was Bioware community manager Jessica Merizan, who spoke about what Bioware is doing to create a more inclusive and welcoming gaming community. That Bioware is aware and doing anything at all to combat the vocal minority of ignorant haters on the internet is both hopeful and encouraging.

Having spent Saturday having meaningful conversation and amusing interactions, I am home now and incredibly inspired. I had only been aware of the Gaymer community, but now I feel a part of it. Not only do I want to find more niche conventions, but I look forward to attending GaymerX again next year. Hopefully it only gets bigger!

Jenn Marshall
@jennnmarshall
jennnmarshall.tumblr.com

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Star Wars Celebration Europe II – Essen, Germany … in a country far, far away.

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July 26-28, 2013 marked an awesome time for many Star Wars fans in Europe. It happened right in the center of Europe, in Germany’s Ruhr valley, in Essen, the European Cultural Capital of 2010. Fans from around the globe gathered to celebrate a unifying cultural and intergalactic phenomenon: Star Wars.

Three days after the con and I am still on adrenaline. Surely many convention attendees know this feeling, the mix of exhilaration and exhaustion that follows you around for days after an amazing con. I was lucky to be there as a fan, a stormtrooper and a crew volunteer. My ‘work’ started on Thursday: before any visitors had the chance to even see the exhibition halls, I was able to take a first look, and I was speechless, blown away, stunned. This was going to be awesome. Apart from loads of merchandise, the Celebration Stage, the Autograph hall, and other show and exhibition locations, there were many fan-built props and sets, like Jabba’s Palace, Vader’s TIE fighter, a part of the Millennium Falcon, a huge AT-AT, the Endor Bunker with a Speeder Biker to climb on, and the part of the Cantina where Han shot first (yes, I know). I spent my first day just walking around, gazing in awe at all the amazing things I was going to see.

971214_10201923354432135_77485731_nAnd then it started.

I guess a lot of people, celebrities and exhibitors included, hadn’t had the slightest idea how much the people of Europe, and Germany in particular, love Star Wars. I helped with line management for the main stage and it was amazing to see the vastly different people who attended. We were an international team, and we had international, and probably intergalactic, visitors to deal with. I was glad to be able to communicate in various languages and happy that my still-not-fluent Klingon wasn’t needed.

Most Main Stage events were hosted by Warwick Davis, and I had the chance to see him preparing for the shows. A perfectionist, he is smart, witty and nice. His ‘assistant’ was an R4 unit built by Dan Sczudlik, one of the R2 Builders.

All the panels had a lot of spectators but there were of course some highlights. The first one was Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who announced that legendary composer John Williams will return to score the highly-anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII.

Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine/The Emperor) was surprisingly funny on stage. During the panel, which was more of a talk show, Warwick Davis – aka Wicket – and McDiarmid re-enacted the fight between Yoda and Sidious. Guess who played Yoda! It was hilarious, and could have been entitled “Sidious vs. Yoda and the vicious swivel chair”. McDiarmid even mentioned that Seth Green wasn’t exaggerating when he staged the swivel chair scene in Robot Chicken. The panel ended with a lot of, perhaps evil, laughter.

Anthony Daniels was great too, as was Carrie Fisher. Dave Filoni, the Executive Producer of Star Wars Rebels, talked about the genesis of the upcoming animated series and a lot of young German fans loved to see him, though there was no interpreter helping those who got lost in translation. Overall, I don’t think there was any panel that wasn’t worth visiting.

My personal favorite panel was Mark Hamill’s, who took the stage on Sunday. He was very relaxed and talkative and his imitation of Harrison Ford was really funny. He told a lot of stories from behind the scenes and enjoyed the cheering crowd in the almost packed hall of nearly 7,700 superfans.

In the end though, the Celebration Stage was just one part of the whole Celebration experience and I must admit that even though it was great to see and meet the celebrity Star Wars heroes, my true heroes were to be found among the fans, fan groups, staff and crew – all the people who made this happen and put a lot of energy and time into this event. It was great to see the 501st Legion in attendance, with garrisons from various countries, and so many ‘bad guys doing good’. It was also fun to see all the cosplayers and the kids admiring them. It was awesome to be a part of such a great event and meeting many wonderful and awesome people from all over the world.

If you want to have a look at more of what CEII offered, go to the official webpage (http://www.starwarscelebration.eu/Home/) or check out #starwarscelebration on Twitter.

 

Hope to see you at Star Wars Celebration VII in Anaheim, CA in 2015.

 

May the Force be with you, always!

 

Petra B. Schubert

Twitter: @TrixyTonks

 

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Guest Post: San Diego Comic Con 2013

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IMAG1043-1I just got back from the busy, insane, stressful, mind blowing, amazing, expensive anti-vacation that is San Diego Comic Con International and it was absolutely wonderful. Since coming back from my trip, a lot of people have asked me, “How was Comic Con?”. It’s almost impossible to answer that in short form. My initial response is usually either a one-worded “amazing” or “tiring”, but then throughout the day, I’ll supplement that with “Oh, I saw so-and-so. S/he was RIGHT NEXT TO ME OH MY GOD”. That’s kind of how it is: it all happens so fast and then you gradually process how awesome it was. In a week’s time you can turn to your friend and say something like, “remember that time we saw Spiderman and Deadpool talking smack about Superman’s costumes in the middle of the DC booth?” and then your friend will go, “Yeah,” and then with satisfied grins you will both kick off your shoes and enjoy a couple of cold ones.

There were panels and lines and celebrities. Panels full of celebrities and lines for the panels. Exclusive parties, impromptu parties, line parties, and booth parties. There were toys, games, cards, prints, t-shirts, and of course: costumes. There were plenty of polished costumes that clearly cost a lot of time and money. I have a thing for the costumes made of bed sheets and duct tape, the costumes that announce, “I don’t really art, but I just really love this character and I’m super excited to be here.” Walking around on the convention floor, I heard nothing but positive comments from con-goers to cosplayers. I love watching a cosplayer strike a pose when asked for a photo. That’s when the costume turns into a persona and it’s fascinating. I wanted to make it to the Masquerade this year, but like a lot of the plans I made prior to getting to SDCC this year, that fell through. Plans have a way of doing that at SDCC, but between backup plans and spur-of-the-moment adventures, fun has a way of happening anyway. I was thrilled to meet the well-known cosplayer Yaya Han (http://www.yayahan.com/), who was very friendly and gracious about signing prints and posing for photos. She was excited to talk about the upcoming SyFy series “Heroes of Cosplay” in which she is one of the judges. I got the chance to talk to reps from the Star Wars Rebel Legion (http://www.rebellegion.com/and MadalorianIMAG1040 Mercs (http://mercs.firespray.net/forum/index.php) and the 501st (http://www.501st.com/costumer guilds. They came to SDCC with binders full of photos and information for aspiring costumers and potential members. All of these organizations are very involved in charity appearances and eager to talk to people about their work and appearances. Whether you’re a beginner or a skilled costumer, there’s a place for your in the Star Wars costuming ‘verse. I tried to keep it together when I was chatting up the 501st, but I think I still fangirled all over them. It happens.

I’m still getting the hang of panels. This is my second SDCC, and my first year with a 4-day pass. It’s easy to get intimidated by the sheer volume of people and the ever-present long lines. It’s like Disneyland for nerds, but without the rides. Unless you count the shuttles from the convention center to the hotels. My friends and I put together the most intense, detailed, hour-by-hour spreadsheet of all the panels and events we were interested in doing. I think I actually got to maybe 10% of them. We didn’t factor in the travel time, which turns out is a factor even when the panels are on the same side of the convention center. We had this idea that we would get in the famed and feared Hall H line on Saturday at 3am to see the back-to-back Supernatural, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, and Community panels. That idea seems more adorable than practical now. I talked to someone in the Hall H line who said they lined up for Sunday’s Hall H programs at 1:30pm on Saturday. I stumbled into a panel discussing the upcoming Ray Bradbury documentary “Live Forever.” The clips from the film and the crew’s experiences with Ray Bradbury were great to hear, and bonus: Edward James Olmos walked in right behind me and I totally played it cool. I saw the first US screening of an upcoming anime series called Star Blazers 2199. I am new to the world of anime, but this show was hitting all the right notes for me: spaceships, alien war, and apocalyptic science fiction. The Nerd HQ is a great alternative option for panels. Organized by Zachary Zevi (the star of Chuck), Nerd HQ sports a lounge full of game demos, couches, phone chargers, and an intimate 250 person panel space. I attended the “Mystery Panel” which included Zachary Levi, Rob Kazinsky (Pacific Rim), Nathan Fillion (Dracula 2000) and Alan Tudyk (A Knight’s Tale). This year’s lineup also boasted Joss Whedon, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock, and Tom Hiddleston among others. This year the “Conversations for a Cause” cost $22, all of which goes to help Operation Smile: a charity that provides surgeries to children suffering from cleft palates.

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Celebrities are everywhere at Comic Con. Like, you really don’t need to worry about whether or not you’ll see anyone famous, because while you’re worrying about that, Nathan Fillion will make out with Zachary Levi and then hand him a $50 bill when you’re not looking (true story). I suppose there are varying degrees of “celebrity,” but I find it thrilling to see the people whose work I enjoy on a daily basis nerding out about the same things I do. I saw Steven Moffatt walking the exhibit hall floor and then I proceeded to flip out. Adam Savage is known to walk the exhibit hall floor in full costume, giving out prizes to those who guess his identity. Comic book and webcomic authors and artists were abound, signing prints and merch. I love seeing my favorite web artists booths get busy. It’s like, yeah, the big movie panels are pretty cool, but I just talked to Brandon Bird (http://brandonbird.com/) about his artistic process, so I win. At one point I looked to my left and I saw Edward James Olmos for a second time and still totally kept it together, by the way. Then, I walked around the Quantum Mechanix booth, looked again, and I saw John Barrowman. That’s when I totally lost it. Oh, the best thing that’s ever happened to me happened this weekend at Wil Wheaton’s w00tstock. I walked in expecting the usual lineup of Wil Wheaton, Adam Savage, and Paul and Storm with maybe some special guests thrown in because we were at SDCC. Honestly, I was expecting Felicia Day and that’s pretty much it. Well, Felicia didn’t turn up, but while I was waiting in line, George R.R. Martin passed directly in front of me, which caused me to simultaneously squeal and spurt things like “THAT’S THE GUY” and “THRONES” until my friends understood what I was talking about. Once the show started, this happened: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5vw9RTVky4&feature=youtu.be) And that’s the story of how I died. Seriously, I doubt my voice will ever sound the same again. Once Neil Gaiman showed up, I screamed like a teenage banshee at a One Direction concert. You probably can’t hear just my screaming voice in the video, but I bet your dogs can.

I’m already planning for next year. SDCC is a thing I simply have to go to now every year for the forseeable future. It’s like a condition. It’s why the convention gets bigger every year. Sure, the crowds can be a pain, but it’s an amazing feeling to be among literally hundreds of thousands of people who have at least one thing in common with me. It’s a rare thing for us nerds/geeks/whatevers to have an in-person community, and I think that’s a big part of the magic of the con. The rest of the magic comes from booze-filled Camelbacks. See you next year at SDCC!

Jenn Marshall

Hippy Johnny and the banality of life

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From time to time we here at Nerds in Babeland will have a guest blogger, and sometimes that guest is a guy. Below is a review, written by Rodney Stanton III, of Hippy Johnny and the banality of life.

 

 

Hippy Johnny and the banality of life is an (auto?) biographical tale filled with pop cultural references that addresses the questions of middle adulthood; more clearly, the questions that many face when adult life didn’t go well.  Ryan Dodd pulls together a story worthy of television and movies, and enhances the mood with liberal use of ink.   While some of his influences may take issue with the term “graphic novel” to describe this book, Dodd fits an interesting, complete story in the 88 pages of this book.

 

The story is told in a format reminiscent of a comedy movie.  The standard elements we expect in an 88 minute comedy fit into these 88 pages.  The focus is on Johnny’s struggle with identity after a failed career.  Also presented are descriptions of his close friends and their tales.  The love interest is brought in and built up over time, something Hollywood could learn from.   This book could work well as the first of three parts but also manages to stand alone as its own short story.

 

Hippy Jonny

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Movie Review: The Lorax

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The Lorax (released March 2nd) is a delightful expanded version of Dr. Seuss`s 1971 environmental fable. It`s directed by Chris Renaud, who also helmed 2010`s Despicable Me, and this film shares some of DM`s off-beat humor and kid-friendly supporting characters. The story takes place in the Jetsons-esque town of Thneedville, a bright, colorful burg which boasts futuristic cars and happy inhabitants, but nothing natural. No trees, grass, or organic material exist there. The city is surrounded by a huge metal wall which protects citizens from the polluted outside world.

Young Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) decides that he must find a genuine Truffula tree in order to impress budding artist Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl of his dreams. At first, it seems hopeless, as the Truffulas have been extinct for ages. But then his feisty grandmother (Betty White) clues him in about the Onceler (Ed Helms), who lives outside the wall and may hold the key to his dream.

The Onceler`s backstory is the heart of the film, as it is tied to the tale of Thneedville. In the Seuss book, he`s shadowy and mysterious, a pair of long arms attached to a face that one never sees. In this movie, he`s still tall and long-armed, but we learn a lot more about him. The Onceler starts out as a likeable neo-hippy who is idealistic about life and just wants to be good at something.

He travels to the idyllically beautiful valley of the Lorax and sets to work on his dream product, the “Thneed”, which is made from the soft leaves of the Truffula trees. But his plans are temporarily halted by the appearance of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a bold walrus-like creature who “speaks for the trees.” The rest of the Onceler`s tale hinges on the conflict between his friendship with the Lorax (and the valley animals) and his desire to make money quickly.

As you can easily guess, he goes with the second option, and the industrial wasteland that this choice produces leads to the creatures leaving and the evantual creation of the Thneedville wall. It`s up to Ted and his fellow citizens to try to restore the area to its former natural beauty.

The movie handles the Onceler`s hard-earned lessons about the environment in a creative way, showing the effects of his actions rather than becoming preachy. Strangely, the film often feels like a much older one in terms of ideology. Despite its lavish use of CGI and bright color palette, it reminded me of thoughtful 70`s animation like The Point (1971) and various after-school specials.

The animation is gorgeous: especially well-done is the lush green land of the Lorax with its Truffula trees and bright orange Humming Fish. Although the movie is being shown in 3-D. you don`t really have to pay the extra cash: it`s a lovely sight in 2-D. The script is witty and fresh, though it only quotes from the source material a few times.

Danny DeVito does very well as the voice of the Lorax. He plays him as somewhat lighter in tone than he is in the book, but it works out: the comic aspects of the character balance the serious plot points. Helms seems perfect for the Onceler. He captures both his younger self`s enthusiasm and the regret-laden sighs of the adult. Also of note are Swift`s cute yet sweet Audrey and the great Betty White as Ted`s active grandma.

To sum it up. this is a Seuss adaptation that both entertains and educates. It`s always a joy to find an animated film which has a solid story behind the visuals, and The Lorax is such a film.

Review by Guest Blogger, T. Johnson

T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was  starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced  that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

Image Courtesy of warhol.org. Alex Ross, Mythology: Superman, 2005. Collection of the Artist. SUPERMAN, ®, ™, and © DC Comics.

Alex Ross Art at the Warhol

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Image Courtesy of warhol.org. Alex Ross, Mythology: Superman, 2005. Collection of the Artist. SUPERMAN, ®, ™, and © DC Comics.

Guest Post by T. Johnson

Heroes and Villains, an exhibit featuring the art of comic book great Alex Ross, is currently at Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum.  It includes over 130 works, including paintings, drawings, small sculptures, and even childhood material.  I recently visited the Warhol to check it out and was awed by the skill and incredible range of Ross’s work.

I’ve been impressed by his painted comics since reading the graphic novel series The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes some years before, especially enjoying the JLA: Secret Origins story. This show has a lot more Justice League stuff, plus a generous helping of Marvel characters and miscellaneous drawings.

Fans of Ross know that he depicts his hero subjects in a hyper-realistic yet idealized fashion.  You can tell right away that this is the work of someone who has always loved comics.  Like many artists (and fans), he became interested at a young age, and one of his first drawings of Spider-Man (done at age 4) can be seen at the exhibit.

By age eight, he was drawing his own books, and he eventually studied formally at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Ross was initially noted for Marvels (1994), a re-telling (by Kurt Busiek) of the origins of Marvel Comics characters  as witnessed by news photographer/Everyman Phil Sheldon.  A group of sketches  and actual covers for Marvels is in the show, including  a poignant painting of the X-Man Angel protectively holding a child in his arms while anti-mutant protestors rage below him.

It was the artist`s life-long love of the Justice League which inspired  DC series Kingdom Come (1996) and Greatest Super-Heroes (1998-2003). The show is heavy on DC characters: detailed portraits of nearly every JLA member are the first works one notices. There`s even a section on 1970`s Hanna-Barbera  TV show Super-Friends, an early influence on the young Ross.  Super-Friends episodes play on a small screen near sketches for Kingdom Come.

Ross emphasizes the positive qualities of comic book heroes. His universe is one of moral absolutes, with little room for ambiguity. Yet the triumph of good over evil he portrays feels fresh and optimistic rather than cliched. In fact, I got a sense of this optimism just by observing the delighted reactions of viewers. Whether devoted older fans or very young children, everyone was excited and chatting about the art.

The exhibit also has a small selection of works by Ross’s other influences, 1940`s illustrators Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker.  And there is art by his mother, former fashion artist Lynnette Ross. Appropriately enough, this includes a charming pencil drawing of a model dressed in a “Bat-lady” outfit with wings and a cowl!

It`s hard to not be enthused about this detailed and well-curated retrospective, and the added bonus is that Heroes and Villains is done with such respect for comic book art. This is truly an unusual show which is well worth the trip for any fan.

T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was  starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced  that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

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Review: Forever Barbie by M.G. Lord

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If you self-identify as a nerd, your favorite childhood toys may have included chemistry sets, board games, and the ever-popular action figures. I was obsessed with my superhero action figures and some of them (including my beloved Catwoman doll) even managed to survive my childhood. But since I’ve always loved fashion, I liked Barbie dolls a lot as well. Barbie played a big part in the formative years of hundreds of kids: say what you will, she’s a true cultural voice.

Writer M.G. Lord explores the many aspects of the toy in her book, Forever Barbie (1994, updated 2004). Though it’s been out for a while, it remains an interesting and well-researched look at the archetypal Mattel doll. With Barbie’s recent 50th anniversary (2009), there’s no better time to examine her complex legacy.

After a brief overview of a Barbie convention, Lord devotes several chapters to the story of her creator, Ruth Handler. During the 1940′s , Handler and her husband Elliott progressed from selling Plexiglas furniture to plastic toys, finally forming Mattel in 1945. She got the idea for Barbie from watching her daughter and friends play with paper dolls, noting that they would have the dolls “reflect the adult world around them”. She wanted to “take this play pattern and three-dimensionalize it,” producing a doll geared toward children envisioning themselves as adults.

Handler finally saw the type of figure she wanted on a 1955 vacation to Switzerland- the long-legged and voluptuous Lilli doll, basically Barbie with “racy” clothes and black pumps for feet. Lord provides a detailed account of how Mattel’s artists and manufacturers adapted the Lilli features for the first Barbies, and how ad agency Carson/Roberts crafted her role as a fashion model. Early market research showed that girls were wildly enthused about Babs. Some moms were not, complaining that she had “too much of a figure” and could be a “cute decoration for a man’s bar.” Nonetheless, Barbie was a hit. Her success made the Handlers and Mattel the leaders of a toy empire for years to come.

Forever Barbie is extremely readable because the author skillfully blends facts to delight the average toy geek with a variety of cultural ways to view Barbie. There are chapters on the doll`s status as a “transitional object” to help the child recognize the boundaries of self, her relationship to class issues, and a great analysis of the 1960′s Barbie novels.  One of the best chapters- “Our Barbies, Our Selves”- is all about the Barbie/body image controversy. Lord gives the problem an objective look, citing commentary from eating disorder sufferers and therapists, while noting that most eating disorders probably spring from a combination of family and cultural disorders. She also acknowledges the importance of Todd Haynes’ 1987 short film Superstar, a chilling look at Karen Carpenter’s anorexia made entirely with Barbie and Ken dolls.

My only real caveat about this book is that not a whole lot of space is devoted to how kids actually play with the famous doll. There are isolated anecdotes, such as the one in the preface in which Barbie is summoned as doctor to an ailing Bratz doll. And RuPaul is quoted on her childhood play with Barbie.  It would have been fun to hear from more of the toy’s gay fans.  I’m sure many of us will suddenly recall their long-ago play patterns as they read. I certainly did as I was reminded of how my Barbies fought battles, dated superheroes and GI Joes, and played jungle explorer. Forever Barbie is also chock-full of photos of vintage dolls and Barbie art, though regrettably none are in color. In summation, it’s rare to find a fun and intelligent read about a favorite toy, and Lord’s opus certainly fits the bill.

Guest post written by T. Johnson. T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

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