Category Archives: nerd

A Thing I Made For My Science Fiction Class

I took a class this semester called “Science, Technology, and Society: Examining the Future through a Science-Fiction Lens.” For our final project we were to answer, in the form of an essay or creative work, the question “How do scientific discoveries, technological advances, and society pressures drive human change?”  I wrote a song about language change on the internet.

It’s not great production value, the video is just an exported PowerPoint, and yes I know that ASL is not the same thing as English so I shouldn’t have included those visuals in the second chorus without making more of a distinction but I was trying to illustrate the “and/or sight” concept and also I was originally just writing about language in general but then switched the subtitle to be English-specific since all my other examples were and now it is too late to change it because I’ve already submitted the link.

Anyway. There are links in the video’s description.

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Yarn Craft in Catching Fire

There’s really not much doubt in anyone’s mind at this point that Catching Fire is a fantastic film, (it was the highest grossing film of 2013), but did you notice the knitwear theme to Katniss’ wardrobe?  The first time I watched the movie I was sitting next to my friend and fellow yarn-enthusiast bowrene (check out her etsy shop) and she kept hitting me in the arm whenever a new bit of yarn-crafted clothing showed up on screen, whispering things like “look at that cowl!”, “that sweater is gorgeous!” and “this movie is ruining my life!”  Tumblr user feminerds posted a collection of pictures of the knitwear from Katniss’ wardrobe in Catching Fire and captioned it with the brilliant pun “Katknits,” a term I am intensely jealous not to have thought of first.

Readers of the book will know that fashion is a big part of the Capitol audience’s focus surrounding the Hunger Games, and stylists play an important role in the strategy behind a Tribute’s (or Victor’s) public image.  Continue reading

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Only Six Months Until “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”!

This week we got to see the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just a puppet of the people who work in movie marketing, because I was totally focused on looking forward to Man of Steel this week and then Catching Fire in the fall, but about five seconds into watching this trailer all I could think about was “December can’t come fast enough! I need to start working on my costume! I need to start thinking of themed snacks I can bring to have while we wait in line for the midnight showing!”  And then I listened to the soundtrack to the first film for the rest of the day and re-watched the trailer dozens of times.  I mean, I’m not complaining, it was a glorious day, I just feel like I’m too easily manipulated into excitement over these things.  But I don’t care!  I love it!

GAH, so exciting, so lovely, so perfect!

Look, there’s Beorn in bear-form!  If you recall, I predicted that the visit to his cabin would be a good place to pick up the storyline for part 2 since it’s a natural refresher for the audience of the names of all the dwarves as they come in two at a time and Gandalf introduces them all to their host.

The barrel ride escape from Mirkwood is definitely being done differently from the book, because they’re not shut inside with lids closed for a silent ride, but honesty it’s going to be a lot more fun to watch this way.  I”m not totally sure why CGI-elves with bows drawn are chasing them, but I’m sure it’s for dramatic effect as I don’t recall Beorn attacking the dwarves in bear-form ever in the book, either.  I am a little more concerned about the elves chasing the barrels only because it’s going to make them look like poor shots when they miss them all, and I like to imagine all my elves with the ridiculously accurate aim that Legolas epitomized in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I love what we’ve seen so far of the new character of warrior elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily.   (I’ll be posting a preliminary analysis of her braid hairstyle later).  I can’t believe I’m even hearing rumors that some fans are objecting to her inclusion;people saying that do realize that there wouldn’t be a female character other than Galadriel in the whole trilogy if she’s not in it, right?   These movies, like all adaptations are not “the book” but their own version of the story, so just accept it and enjoy it.  Or if you’re going to say Tauriel is non-canonical and shouldn’t be included then you’d better complain about every single other element that’s been changed or added, too.

The peek at the dragon at the end reminds me of Gollum at the end of the first trailer for the first movie.  It’s the exact same format, a sinister scene right after the title.  But it’s a formula that works, and I love it.  I wish we could see more of Smaug’s body, because I need to start figuring out how it might be possible to make a dragon costume to wear to the midnight premiere, but I have a feeling they may want to save the full reveal for the movie.  At least I know what colors to use now, and the full shape of the head which is a lot more to go on than the eyeball shot we got at the end of An Unexpected Journey.

The best thing about this new trailer, though, is that director Peter Jackson shared a youtube video of some fangirls watching it for the first time, and then he posted a video of Evangeline Lily, Orlando Bloom, and Lee Pace in their Mirkwood elves costumes, watching the fangirls reaction and fangirling over the fangirls.  It might be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

I honestly think I may have watched the above video more times than I’ve watched the actual trailer so far. I get a vicarious thrill for the fangirls, (sisters who have a webseries called Happy Hobbit), being able to see that the actors truly appreciate their enthusiasm.  (The sisters later posted a reaction-t0-the-reaction, which has been dubbed “Hobbitception“)  The part where they thank Peter Jackson and the actors for watching their video and say “If we can give back an ounce of the joy that you give us through all of your hard work then we’re more than happy to play the part of the fool and have you laugh at us,” reminds me of the sentiment I tried to express when I posted about spending weeks crocheting dwarf beards for last year’s Unexpected Journey, and the part where they squeal “she knows we like her!” in regards to Evangeline Lily/Tauriel is delightful, and when one sister tries to calm the other’s freakout over the fact that Orlando Bloom comments on their attentive faces with “well, we’ve seen his face”, it’s all just pure fangirl gold.

I mean, this might be the only time we see Thanduril smiling, and he’s not only smiling he’s flapping his arms just like I and millions of other fans did when we watched the trailer.

And look at adorable Legolas imitating Smaug!

 

I’m serious, this is my new favorite thing, like, at all.  Of all books and movies and shows and songs that I love, this is my favorite.  Actors fangirling fans fangirling them.  In a Peter Jackson adaptation of Tolkien.  It’s a delight.

 

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Fictional Green Eyes, part 3

Ever since I posted my first collection of green-eyed fictional characters (and commentary about how a disproportionate number of them are “evil” characters,) many of my friends have been been helping to point out green-eyed characters that they notice, and I’ve noted a few more on top of that, enough to have posted a second collection of green eyes, and now a third.  I’m pleased that this third collection includes more positive examples, because, if you recall, my interest in green-eyed representation in fiction is fueled by the fact that my own eyes are green.  And I am not an evil/jealous character, (usually).

I can’t believe I forgot all about James Cameron’s Avatar in the previous installments of my green eyes series!  All Na’vi have blue skin and green eyes, and are cat-like and awesome.  I especially love fierce Neytiri.  This definitely counts as a positive, big-screen glorious 3D example of green-eyed character representation, although there’s no quality ascribed to the eye color for the characters in the film itself.  But it’s still cool!

All Na'vi have "rikeana menari" (or, you could say "menari arikean"); "leaf-green eyes."

To describe her own eyes, Neytiri would say  “rikeana menari” (or “menari arikean” since word-order is fluid in Na’vi); “leaf-green eyes,” according to the bit of nerd-research I just did on learnnavi.org.

The title character in John Green’s Looking for Alaska has green eyes, that are mentioned by the narrator several times, (because he’s totally in love with her and notices stuff like that.)  Here’s one such description, from the first day he meets her:

But even in the dark, I could see her eyes—fierce emeralds. She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor.

This is a tough one for me to categorize as a “good” or “bad” green-eyed representation, because it’s hard to categorize Alaska herself as a “good” or “bad” character.  She’s…fickle.  Impulsive.   Hot and cold.  I think in this case, though, her green eyes are one of the things that set her apart as “different” and “desirable” and “mysterious” to the narrator, and I’m certainly not going to complain about that.

Lena Duchannes, as described in the book Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, has green eyes.  Movie-Lena, played by Alice Englert, has dark brown eyes, which I actually think fits the whole “Is she going to ‘go dark’ and destroy the world or not?” thing better.  But as written in the book, it’s another example of green eyes being somehow sinister and associated with witches.  I mean, Lena finds the term ‘witch’ pejorative, but that’s essentially what Casters are.  So it’s not a fantastic green-eyed representation, but I might be biased because I really didn’t care for the book itself.

After I posted my first two green-eyed collections, a friend insisted that I should watch Big Trouble in Little China, a cheesy 1986 movie in which an immortal Chinese sorcerer is targeting women with green eyes as a key element to his plan to “please the god of the east” and regain his mortal form.  There were several great quotes about green eyes being awesome in this film, but I don’t know if I’ll be adding it to my personal DVD collection because it was ridiculously cheesy.  Maybe even gloriously cheesy.  Maybe I do need to own it…

“All I need is a woman, a special kind of woman with dragon-green eyes, and I can be whole again.”

-evil sorcerer Lo Pan

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“She has green eyes, you know how rare that is, Jack?…Beautiful green eyes, like creamy jade.”

-Wang Chi, describing his soon-to-be-abducted fiancee.

Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law in Big Trouble in Little China.

Kim Cattrall as green-eyed Gracie Law in Big Trouble in Little China.

Another friend sent me a message to let me know she’d found another green-eyed character through her daughter’s love of Tinkerbell and friends.  As she put it, this is technically a “good” green-eyed character, but not necessarily the most admirable.

Rosetta, Tinkerbell's fairy friend.

Rosetta, Tinkerbell’s green-eyed fairy friend.

Although vampire Edward Cullen is mostly known for varying between golden/amber or black eye color, depending on how long it’s been since he last swallowed blood, when he was still human Edward Masen his eyes were green.  Bella learns this detail about the object of her obsession from Carlisle in New Moon, and of course she swoons over this fact like she does everything else about Edward.

“But [Edward’s mother] Elizabeth was alert until almost the very end.  Edward looks a great deal like her–she had that same strange bronze shade to her hair, and her eyes were exactly the same color green.”

“His eyes were green?” I murmured, trying to picture it.

“Yes…” Carlisle’s ocher eyes were a hundred years away now.

It’s hypocritical of me to say that Alaska’s green eyes count as a positive since they mark her as unique and yet be annoyed with Edward’s original eye color being colored green by the author with a possibly similar intention, but the Twilight obsession with unique eye colors and with Edward being totally perfect and different and better than everybody in every way makes me resent this particular instance of a green-eyed fictional character.  Maybe it’s just that I don’t like his character (and the way he obsessively and unhealthily controls Bella and their relationship), and that’s why I don’t want to share eye-color attributes with him.

I recently stumbled across a gifset of Pixar’s How To Train Your Dragons on tumblr, and realized that all the dragons have eyes that are shades of green.  That movie is adorable and dragons are awesome (and in this case, not really villainous) so I’m going to call that another positive.

I’ve saved my favorite for last; the main character in the recent animated film Epic has green eyes, and I mean really green eyes.  They are fantastic; bright and dark, complex, sparkling with flecks of gold towards the iris, just like what I picture when I read a description of a character that says they have green eyes, or in my head when I’m imagining a flawless version of myself.  Seeing them on the big-screen was a delight.  Unfortunately, the character herself was kind of blah, and the story felt a little undercooked, but it did have a lot of imaginative world-building elements and some great animated action sequences.  I mean, warriors riding hummingbirds?  Terrific!  And there was green and green eyes everywhere, and this might be my new favorite green-eyed representation in fiction.  For now.

Mary Katherine "M. K." of Epic, with her epic green eyes.

Mary Katherine “M. K.” of Epic, with her epic green eyes.

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Gandalf Beard Appreciation Post

Gandalf beard in progress

Gandalf beard in progress

I mentioned in my previous post on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical that I made a Gandalf beard to add to my collection of homemade Hobbit-inspired dwarf beards, but I wanted to give the Gandalf beard its own post since the other dwarf beards got one.

I made it very similarly to the dwarf beards, but I had to tie the mustache to the side (and then hide the fact that it was tied with more “hair” on top) so that it wouldn’t fall into the wearer’s mouth.  Most of the dwarves had braided mustaches so I was able to keep the hair out of the way by pulling it into braids on them.

When I added the hair on top, I tied it to the side in a similar way to the mustache so it wouldn’t fall in the wearer’s eyes.  You can see the knots on the part pretty easily, but I knew they would be covered by a hat so I wasn’t too worried about it.

 

Completed Gandalf beard

Completed Gandalf beard

Gandalf beard

Gandalf beard

And here’s the actor in his test fitting, wearing his stilts so he’s towering above the doorframe in the background.  Not wearing his hat here, but it still looks pretty great, I think!  You can see him in full-Gandalf garb in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical that I posted about earlier.

Gandalf beard in action

Gandalf beard in action

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical

A couple of months ago, some friends of mine (withVintage Faith Students in Manhattan, KS) demonstrated their immense creativity by writing and performing an original re-telling of the first third or so of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as a musical.  It was amazing.  They modeled the aesthetic on Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and used the beards that I had made for their dwarf costumes, and commissioned* a Gandalf beard and Bilbo wig so they would all match.  They stayed a little closer to the book than Jackson’s film, and they went a little further into the book than the movie left off.  No word yet on whether they plan to follow up next year with another installment, but even if they don’t, the videos I’m posting below of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical Journey might be my favorite adapted-from-literature performance ever.

My signed script

My signed script

*By “commissioned” I mean “asked me to do for free as a favor,” since this was a production by volunteer college students for their non-paying friends.  For my troubles I received a copy of the script signed by one of the masterminds behind the project, who plays Thorin, a CD of their practice songs, and the immense pride of knowing that I contributed to this awesome play.

Bag End

Part 1: the dwarves arrive at Bag End where an unsuspecting Bilbo is about to be swept up into an adventure.  The first song is verbatim from The Hobbit, and the second is from The Sound of Music with some lyrics changed to make it more Bilbo-y.  (For each of these videos, if you click to watch them on youtube you can find all the lyrics in the video descriptions).  How much do you love super-tall Gandalf?! He’s wearing stilts.  Also, check out Thorin’s elaborate armor–it’s part spray-painted catcher’s leg gear, part woven placemats spray-painted silver so they look like chain mail.  So creative!

Names and Faces

This was one of my favorite parts–this song kills me!  It’s so funny, and so perfect!  It’s to the tune of “Doe Re Mi” from The Sound of Music, but with all the lyrics changed so that it’s about teaching Bilbo the names and attributes of all 13 dwarves.  It’s pure amazingness, and totally catchy.  Song starts at 3 min.   (Again, the lyrics are all in the video description on youtube).

Home is Behind

This scene picks up right after Bilbo rescues the dwarves from the trolls, (which happened off-stage in this production to avoid having to come up with a way to portray giant trolls that turn into stone).  Bilbo misses a few lines in the song, but it’s based on “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, except instead of “cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles” he’s singing about “bacon with eggs and toast buttered like crazy, Snapdragons, lilies, laburnums and daisies.”  (Song starts at 2:35).

At the end, there’s a new interruption–a tra-la-la-ing elf!

Rivendell Revelations

In a meeting with Elrond and Gandalf at Rivendell, Thorin finds out about the true fate of his father.  Gandalf has to convince him not to try to avenge his father’s death, and to seek to reclaim his birthright at the Misty Mountain instead.  The dwarves set off on their renewed quest to the tune of “Be a Man” from Mulan, but of course in this version it’s “Be a Dwarf.”  This is easily my second-favorite song, after the “Names and Faces” one, and it was my favorite part of the script because of this hilarious note on the choreography:

IMG_1380

I also loved how they told so much of the story through this song, (which starts at 3:50), like Bilbo getting the ring from Gollum, fighting the goblins, and escaping the wolves.  You can see an eagle flying in to rescue them at the very end right before the lights go down.

(To be a dwarf)
You must be strong as an iron anvil!
(Be a dwarf)
Defending family with every bone!
(Be a dwarf)
And grow a beard of unrivaled thickness
Enduring the storms like polished granite stone!

Mirkwood Melodrama

This is where Jackson’s movie cuts off, but An Unexpected Musical continues, with the dwarves entering Mirkwood forest sans Gandalf, who warns them not to leave the path.  Bombur falls under an enchantment, and everyone gets hungry and homesick, which they sing about to the tune of “Red/Black” from Les Miserables.  Maybe I was lying earlier when I said “Be a Dwarf” was my second-favorite, because I really love this one too!  The re-working of lyrics so perfectly fits the characters and their backstories as told in the book.

BILBO
What would my parents think if they could see me now?
Mr Baggins was such a predictable man
But my mother the Took lived her life on the edge
And their tension continues inside of my heart
The colors that they loved, now pulling me apart

Red – the sunsets in the Shire
Black – the Burglar’s road to walk
Red – my nice chair by the fire
Black – I can’t even pick a lock!

(The song starts at the 3 minute mark, and the full lyrics are available in the video description on youtube.)  In the end, the dwarves are temped to leave the path to try to crash the enchanted elvish party they think they can see in the woods, with disastrous results.

Greater Adventure

Everyone has been captured by giant spiders except Bilbo, who finds himself alone with a dazed wood-elf.  The elf scampers off muttering about unwanted party guests, and it’s up to Bilbo to face his fears and rescue his friends from the spiders, which he does after reprising bits of “Be a Dwarf” and “I have Confidence”.  (I so love the fishing-pole-spiders, and the leotard boss-spider!)  A rescued Thorin is grateful for Bilbo’s help, and gives a rousing speech about looking forward to adventures yet to come as they continue their quest.  The whole group joins in a word-for-word singing of the finale from Les Miserable, asking:

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barren waste
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!

So amazing.  I’ve watched it dozens of times now and I still can’t believe how much work they put into this just for the fun of it, and how well it turned out.  I love it, and I hope you did, too!

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MIND MGMT Movie

It was recently announced that there will be a movie adaptation of Matt Kindt‘s Mind MGMT series, (published by Dark Horse Comics.)  This is a great article about it that includes an interview with Kindt from just before the news was announced.  (This, meanwhile, is a terrible article that repeatedly mis-spells Henry Lyme as “Henry Lime” and inaccurately summarizes Meru’s connection to the amnesia flight.  Come on,  Hollywood Reporter, put a little more effort into your work!  Although now I kind of want to draw a lime wearing Lyme’s sunglasses…)

Anyway: This.  News.  Is.  Fantastic!

As I posted in my piece on learning how to read comics, I’m totally into this series.  It’s exciting to be “in” on a fandom like this from early on, and I can’t wait to be able to boast about how I was into Mind MGMT “before the movie.”  (It’s similar to how I feel about Veronica Roth’s Divergent, which I picked up in the first month it was published and then got all my friends to read, and now a movie adaptation is underway for it, too.)  But mostly I’m excited to see a Mind MGMT movie because the story and characters are so great, and I can’t wait to see how the film medium translates them.

Like, can you imagine how much fun they could have with the advertising campaign alone?  Oh please don’t just make generic posters, please please make references to Mind MGMT‘s style of advertising, and make me want to see the movie but at the same time paranoid that I’m being mentally manipulated by a secret government agency, please!

I think I’m most excited to see who will be cast as Meru, but that may be because I’m fascinated by her character the most.  In issue #1 I actually wasn’t sure whether I liked her much, this sloppy slouching mess who can barely seem to keep her life together and doesn’t even wear pants.

Meru in Mind MGMT issue #1.

Meru in Mind MGMT issue #1. (credit Matt Kindt)

But she’s scrappy and persistent, and there’s so much more going on than meets the eye, and as it turns out Meru is full of unrealized bad-ass potential.  What I particularly love about Meru is that she is potentially one of the most powerful people on the planet, but she looks so ordinary and even kind of scrawny.  I hope the movie doesn’t try to make her look like a badass, or too glamorous.  I like that she’s badass without outwardly appearing to be.  Isn’t that part of the allure of the whole idea behind Mind MGMT, that the power of the mind could be so much stronger than all the muscles and weapons in the world?

Meru in issue #6

Meru in issue #6, (credit Matt Kindt). This is my favorite page in the series so far.

What fantastic character development–and that’s only the first few issues!  I mean, have you read #7 yet?  **SPOILER ALERT**  When I got to that last panel and she just nonchalantly drops that oh yeah, I must have subconsciously warded off an assassination haiku, I was all OMG!  Because I had been reading the side story about the assassination notes in the bottom margins as I went, and until I got to that last panel I just thought she was tough for having touched the envelope without being hurt!  And my next thought was, if it’s so easy for her to protect herself without realizing it, how long before she unintentionally kills someone, like a subconscious reflex?  Judging by the next issue’s cover, maybe not very long.  It’s the first cover so far that doesn’t feature a single-character headshot, and it looks very chaotic.  It comes out in two days.  Omg, I can’t wait!  **END SPOILER**

Henry Lyme is a fantastic character, too.  His enormous and deadly power could have made him overwhelmingly frightening, (like the way he appears in the #0 story “The Bear”), but the tragedy of losing his family and the struggle to know what’s real in a world he so easily manipulates humanizes him.  I didn’t realize until I read the aforementioned interview that there was debate over whether Meru or Lyme is the main character.  I had assumed it was Meru, but maybe I was just unconsciously rooting for the girl to be the hero.  There’s obviously a much bigger stage with many more players than were introduced in the first six issues, but I’m still sticking by my Meru.  It seems like she’s somehow key, especially since she wasn’t trained by the agency.  But then again, there’s the danger that without training, her powers will be too destructive.  But then again, Lyme had all the training and his powers were still too destructive!  But then again, maybe all of it is more complicated than I think and I’m being tricked by Mind MGMT “advertising” into thinking what they want me to think!  Or not think!  I love it.

I’m really curious to see how the movie will tell this story; there are so many ways it could frame it.  Will they copy the comics exactly, with the “how can your own mind surprise you” prologue that’s echoed later in Lyme’s re-telling of the Zanzibar tragedy, or will they do a prologue of one of the inner-cover side-stories or case files, just to set up the idea of the agency and what they can do, or will they have the whole thing be related as history by a monk in one of the psychic libraries?  And I wonder if they’ll uncover revelations in the same order, or mix it up?  I hope they keep Meru’s trajectory pretty much intact, because I want to watch that transition from barely-in-control to crazy-powerful, and then back to frustratingly disorganized and disoriented, but stomping blindly back to power…at least that’s what it seems like her path is, so far.

Stuff I can’t wait to eventually find out about in the ongoing comic series in the meantime: (might be some **SPOILERS** if you haven’t read any of the comics yet, and if that is the case I suggest you go read them immediately because they are awesome, then come back and see if you can think of more things to add to this list.)

  • How are the children with Mind MGMT aptitude recruited?  Like how does the agency figure out which kids have aptitude, and how to they coerce them away from their parents, or do they wipe the parents’ memories?  Has a recruited kid ever tried to escape and go home and then the parents just don’t recognize him or her?
  • If both sides knew about Meru all along, does that mean her foster parents are in on it?
  • I want to see more of the historical Mind MGMT files, like how they were involved in instigating, averting, or covering up major wars and events.
  • I want to see more of the story of The Animal Kid and the Black Ops dolphins she frees, and find out what the dolphins are up to now.  Are they coming back later or are they going to stay isolated?
  • I need like a whole arc about the monks.
  • I might need a Perrier twins flashback, mostly just because I want to see them together again and in happier times.
  • Basically every two-page Case File and inside cover story tucked into each issue, I would love to see expanded.  There’s just so much going on in this world, so many characters and storylines, that even though I gobble them up each month it just makes me hungrier for more.
  • When does my brain explode?

Re-reading my copies of all the issues out so far has just made me that much more excited to read the rest of the series, and then I remembered that I started this post to talk about the movie!  It’s a good thing there is a new issue coming out this week, or I might explode from anticipation.

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2012: the year pagelady got into Comics

Prior to 2012, I had only read a handful of comics.  I mean besides the ones in the newspaper on Sundays, which my siblings and I used to fight over, (and I have a video recording of one of my sisters bidding me farewell when I left for college saying she was glad I wouldn’t be around to “hog the comics” anymore.)  No, I’m talking about actual comic books.  And trade paperbacks, (a term that I learned to distinguish from “graphic novel” this year, in my evolution of becoming a comic book nerd.  A graphic novel is a book-like comic that was published as one whole.  A trade paperback is a book-like collection of weekly or monthly issues of comics from a particular storyline.  The term “graphic novel” is a little more general and is sometimes used to refer to trades, but my new-found comic-world sources say there’s a distinction and this is it.)

Before I got into comics for myself, I had really only read Watchmen and V for Vendetta, reluctantly and at the insistence of my husband.  I enjoyed both stories, but I found it difficult to read the comic format.  My brain was so accustomed to becoming fully engrossed in worlds built exclusively from text that it couldn’t quite make sense of this hybrid word-and-image realm.  My eyes jumped from word bubble to word bubble automatically without taking time to process the pictures that went with them, and then I’d have to go back and see what I’d missed.  Instead of processing the images and words together as a storytelling whole, I was tackling them separately, a distracting and disjointed method that left me frustrated and unenthusiastic about the comic format.

I felt less dumb admitting the format was challenging after realizing that it does demand substantial mental energy:

“Comic books make the brain work in a very interesting way,” says [Seattle Public Library librarian Blythe] Summers. “You are reading, but you are also filling in the ‘gaps’ in the story that occur between pictures.” -(source)

“Comics…stimulate both sides of the brain simultaneously: the right side processes pictures and the left side processes words. These operations reinforce each other, and readers get a double whammy of images and phrases that convey important information.”  -Glenn Herdling, (source)

That last quote is an overly simplification of how the brain works, because virtually any processing task lights up multiple locations of the brain and very little is handled exclusively by either the left or right hemisphere, but it’s still true that reading comics requires an ability to decode meaning from written words AND from non-linguistic images at the same time.  Recent  research by Neil Cohn actually indicates that images in comics are processed very similarly to sentences, and “we depend on a visual grammar in comics in order to make sense of them.”  (You can download Cohn’s paper, “Linguistics, Comics, and Visual Language: the past and future of a field” here, or any of his other papers here.  It’s all very interesting, especially to me with my background in linguistics, and I’m glad I chose to blog about this topic because I might not have found his work otherwise!)

Anyway, I eventually got over my inability to read comics smoothly.  And I can’t really point to one epiphany moment when I suddenly “got it,” I just adjusted as I read more comics.  My brain became more skillful at the simultaneous processing of linguistic and non-linguistic visual input, and I discovered that comic books are just like the traditional books that I’ve always loved; worlds of rich imagination and complex characters, relate-able villains, idealistic heroes, metaphors to process reality, alternate realities to escape to, adventures to experience, lessons to learn, lives to live; magic enchanted on a page.  The main difference between comic books and text books is in the format used to transmit the story from the mind of the creator to the mind of the reader.  (You could also argue that there is greater homogeneity in the fictional worlds derived from the story that live in readers’ imaginations, since comics provide visual representations instead of just occasional physical descriptions.  Do comic book readers argue about which actors could best resemble beloved characters as much as fans of something like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter do?)

One of the first comics that I read and enjoyed fully the first time through, (I don’t want you to think I didn’t fully enjoy Watchmen or V for Vendetta when I eventually re-read them!), was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales.  I burned through all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD a few summers ago, and it was a lot of fun to revisit that universe and add depth to the story even though there were no new episodes.  Of course, you can really revisit Buffy and the whole gang by reading the continuation of her storyline in seasons 8 and now 9, released exclusively in comic format.  And I did read all the season 8 comics for Buffy the Vampire Slayer this year–I didn’t totally love them, but that’s not the important thing.  The important thing is that I was able to read them because I discovered that my local library has a collection of comic books!!

This was truly a thrilling revelation.  Like, not quite as good as discovering that libraries exist and that you can borrow virtually anything from them to read, but pretty close.  I don’t have to be able to afford to buy everything in order to read it!  (Which is fantastic, because comics are expensive, and also, as someone new to the genre I’m still getting caught up and sampling storylines, authors, and artists to find what I like).

Thanks in part to the library’s collection, (but also in part my wallet,

pic of civil war, the shepherd's tale, and the guild: the knights of good

I added these treasures to my personal collection in 2012.

my birthday giftcards, recommendations from comic-savy friends, and the Alan Moore/Batman obsessions of my husband), these are the comics I read in 2012:

Volumes 1-6 of Mind MGMT.

Volumes 1-6 of Mind MGMT.

Mind MGMT is a brand new comic, by Matt Kindt.  The first issue was published in May 2012, but I didn’t read it until July.  (Still, I feel like that is pretty dang close to getting in at the beginning!)  There are six issues so far, but then there’s also a #0 and some digital comics that tell little side-stories, too.  I picked up the first issue because by that time I had started following @DarkHorseComics on twitter, (step 2 in my evolution towards comic book nerd), and I was browsing in the comics section at Hastings, (step 3), and I saw Mind MGMT and remembered all the tweets praising its creativity and depth that I had flicked through in my twitter feed and decided to check it out.  (Good job with your social media marketing, guys!)  It’s about mind control and a secret organization and a novelist hunting down leads on a mysterious case of mass amnesia, and it is worth reading in the monthly format rather than waiting for the trade collection because 1.) it’s an experience that is another step in my evolution towards comic book nerd, and 2.) the story is so dense you get more out of it each time you read it.  The more that is revealed in later episodes, the more significant little things in the first pages are.  And each page has Mind MGMT “field guide” notes in the margin, that add another dimension to the story like tantalizing breadcrumb clues (!).

Becoming hooked on a monthly comic (and resigning myself to happily parting with a few dollars every time a new issue comes out) was a pretty significant step in my comic book reader evolution.  Additional steps I experienced this year included: one time I went to pick up the latest Mind MGMT and they were sold out of the issue I needed!  I had a minor panic attack and rushed home to order it online.  Afterwards I felt like I could legitimately say I had leveled up in the comic-reading world.

Somewhere along the way this year I created accounts to be able to read Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse comics online, and get e-mail updates about new releases.  Another step occurred on a recent trip to Chicago, when I visited not one but two comic book stores, and added some more treasures to my collection.  (I most excited about picking up a trade of  Captain America: The Death of Captain America.)   And finally, now I have an entire shelf devoted to my collection, complete with plastic protective covers and everything!   (Just one shelf, though, for now.  I’m still evolving.)

I solve the DC vs. Marvel quandary by maintaining Dark Horse Comics as my favorite publisher.  They do a lot of television and movie tie-ins, which is how I really started getting into comics in the first place, (Felicia Day’s The Guild comics were some of the first I purchased,) and besides that they publish Mind MGMT.  So, yeah, I’m a Dark Horse girl.

And now it’s time for the next step in my comic-book nerd evolution: what recommendations do you have for me?  What are the classics that you would assign if you were teaching a college literature class devoted to comics?  Or, what is something you’ve read that has an excellent story arc or beautiful illustrations or both?  I know I can get recommendations from goodreads.com or wikipedia or something like that, but I like hearing suggestions from real people on stuff they’ve actually read.

Also, can someone explain to me how canon works with these long-running comic characters?  Like, I know there have been other people besides Bruce Wayne who acted as Batman at different times.  So are they all Batman, like is there a continuous lineage that you can trace and say at different times who Batman’s alter ego is, or do they overlap?  And if there are multiple origin stories, then which one is definitive?  Or are they all canon and you just have to specify whether you’re talking about, for example, Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe or the Marvel Ultimate Universe, etc.?

*update* Okay, so this totally has to count as leveling up again, right?  Legit twitter recognition from my favorite comic publisher?  SQUEE!

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The Hobbit: A Meticulously Prepared-For Journey

I did it!  I finished the 13 dwarf beards in time for the midnight premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  It took me five and a half weeks overall, but I didn’t work on them every single day during that time.  I didn’t do much of anything else in my free time, though.   All the hard work was definitely worth it; they looked great, (not 100 percent accurate, but overall pretty close), and wearing them with a big group while in line for the midnight showing was just as much fun for everyone as I had hoped it would be.   This is going to be an image-heavy post, but I’m just so proud of the work I put into this event, I want to be sure it’ s documented.  And if anybody is planning a Hobbit- or Dwarf-themed party, maybe this will give you some ideas.

Kili.  I gave him a goatee because I wasn't sure how to crochet a five o'clock shadow, and I didn't want him to be the only one without a beard section.

Kili. I gave him a goatee because I wasn’t sure how to crochet a five o’clock shadow, and I didn’t want him to be the only one without a beard section.

Fili.  Originally wanted to untangle the yarn on top that is pulled back, because movie-Fili's hair is kind of wavy there, but I ran out of time.  Love his braided mustache.

Fili. Originally wanted to untangle the yarn on top that is pulled back, because movie-Fili’s hair is kind of wavy there, but I ran out of time. Love his braided mustache, and I love this yarn color.

Oin.  some of his mustache strands have craft wire in them.  The lighter gray strands of unbraided mustache on top are actually hot glue-gunned onto the braid beneath them to keep them in that round shape circling the mouth.  I noticed during the film that one of the dwarves had a kind of spiked curl in the back of their head, and I think it was Oin, so I might need to add that for next time.

Oin. some of his mustache strands have craft wire in them. The lighter gray strands of unbraided mustache on top are actually hot glue-gunned onto the braid beneath them to keep them in that round shape circling the mouth. I noticed during the film that one of the dwarves had a kind of spiked curl in the back of their head, and I think it was Oin, so I might need to add that for next time.

Gloin.  I realized after I finished this one that those three small bundles on either side of his mouth should actually be braids, not loops.  Love this color of yarn, though--I used the same color for Nori and Ori, and working with it always made me want to eat a pumpkin muffin, because the color is called Burnt Pumpkin.

Gloin. I realized after I finished this one that those three small bundles on either side of his mouth should actually be braids, not loops. Love this color of yarn, though–I used the same color for Nori and Ori, and working with it always made me want to eat a pumpkin muffin, because the color is called Burnt Pumpkin.

Dwalin.  Couldn't figure out how to add tattoos to the scalp part.

Dwalin. Couldn’t figure out how to add tattoos to the scalp part.

Balin.  I curled the ends of the beard by dipping them in a mixture of water and glue and wrapping them around wax-paper-covered rolls of toilet paper to dry.

Balin. I curled the ends of the beard by dipping them in a mixture of water and glue and wrapping them around wax-paper-covered rolls of toilet paper to dry.

Bifur.  I don't think his beard cuffs got enough silver spray paint, and I didn't manage to figure out how to include the axe head that is supposed to be imbedded in his forehead. Maybe I can work something out by next year.

Bifur. I don’t think his beard cuffs got enough silver spray paint, and I didn’t manage to figure out how to include the axe head that is supposed to be imbedded in his forehead. Maybe I can work something out by next year.

Bofur.  The braids have craft wire in them, and the mustache was formed separately with glue and let dry, then hot glue-gunned onto the upper lip crochet base.  You can't see it in this picture, but he's got another braid hanging down in the back.

Bofur. The braids have craft wire in them, and the mustache was formed separately with glue and let dry, then hot glue-gunned onto the upper lip crochet base. You can’t see it in this picture, but he’s got another braid hanging down in the back.

Bombur.  Hard to tell in this picture but he does have a "bald" spot on top.  I ended up making another ,bigger neck-braid too, but that part was pretty simple.

Bombur. Hard to tell in this picture but he does have a “bald” spot on top. I ended up making another, bigger neck-braid too, but that part was pretty simple. And I know for a fact that Stephen Hunter approved of this creation, because he favorited my tweets of it.

Nori.  Definitely the most complicated design, so I was the most proud of how this one turned out. The cones are crocheted and stuffed with batting.  He's the only one I made eyebrows for, since they had to be braided back into his hair!

Nori. Definitely the most complicated design, so I was the most proud of how this one turned out. The cones are crocheted and stuffed with batting. He’s the only one I made eyebrows for, since they had to be braided back into his hair!

Ori.  This was the first one I added extra yarn "hair" to, and I was originally planning to do this de-tangling of the yarn for all of them, to make them look more like hair.  But it took way too long, so I didn't do it on the rest of them.

Ori. This was the first one I added extra yarn “hair” to, and I was originally planning to do this de-tangling of the yarn for all of them, to make them look more like hair. But it took way too long, so I didn’t do it on the rest of them.  Adam Brown re-tweeted a picture of this, too, so it must have turned out good enough for the real Ori!

Dori.  Had to show off the multiple angles!  This was one of my favorites.  I just think it looks so cool!  I don't have the braids replicated exactly right but I'm pleased with how it turned out.

Dori. Had to show off the multiple angles! This was one of my favorites. I just think it looks so cool! I don’t have the braids replicated exactly right but I’m pleased with how it turned out. The silver cuffs on all of these were made by first squiggling designs with Elmer’s glue onto white cardstock to create texture, then after the glue dried I spray-painted the whole thing silver.  If I had more time I might have tried to match the actual cuff designs, but the random glue squiggles still look pretty cool.

Thorin Oakenshield.  Should have made his braids a bit longer, and I noticed while watching the movie that it looks like maybe he has a bigger braid or two in the back?  But I love the gray streaks that I included at his temples and forehead.

Thorin Oakenshield. Should have made his braids a bit longer, and I noticed while watching the movie that it looks like maybe he has a bigger braid or two in the back? But I love the gray streaks that I included at his temples and forehead.

Our company of dwarves was first in line at our chosen theater, although not all 13 dwarves were there right away.  After the sun went down it was pretty cold, but the beards helped keep our faces warm, and I had arranged for a friend to deliver us hot pot pies, (because it sounded like a hobbit/dwarf-ish food), when there were still about four hours left before the show started.  We also had somebody bring us hot chocolate, which we shared with the people behind us in line.

Themed activities that we did to pass the time (and to give me an excuse to hand out prizes) included an archery contest, (we shot at a goblin target with a toy bow and arrow, and the grand prize was a Kili action figure), a warrior attack contest, (charging at the same goblin target with a chosen fake weapon from our stash and seeing who had the best style), playing a dwarvish rune-based memory game (I made the cards based on the movie’s “dwarvish word of the day” from the facebook page), riddles, and trivia.  And anybody that could correctly name/identify all 13 dwarves got an edible pipe.  We also traded some edible pipes for lembas bread from some elves that were a few groups behind us in line.  We also had an on-going burglary competition, but the caveats were that you had to be wearing your beard at the time and you couldn’t actually steal anything serious.  (The winner ended up being a sneaky little dwarf who drank half of somebody else’s soda before they noticed, and the prize was a Bilbo action figure.)  Other prizes were posters, some of them small ones that I made by cutting up a Hobbit movie calendar–I don’t exactly have an unlimited party-planning budget.

Front and back example of easy-to-make Sting prize; hold it silver-spray-painted side out when all is safe, but flip to blue cardstock/candycane to signal that orcs or goblins are near!

Front and back of Sting prize; hold it silver-spray-painted side out when all is safe, but flip to blue cardstock/candycane to signal that orcs or goblins are near!

Edible pipe, made from brownie cooked in mini-muffin pans with reeses peanut butter cups at the center for the "tobacco."  I stuck pretzel sticks in the reeses when they were still warm so that it would harden around the pretzel, then dipped the "bowl" in almond bark to reinforce it.  A little tedious, but they turned out great!

Edible pipe, made from brownie cooked in mini-muffin pans with reese’s peanut butter cups at the center for the “tobacco.” I stuck pretzel sticks in the reese’s when they were still warm so that it would harden around the pretzel, then dipped the pipe “bowl” in almond bark to reinforce it. Tedious, but they turned out pretty well and they were a hit.

Another snack idea that I thought of but didn’t have time for was stone trolls; I was going to make rice crispies and cut them out using a gingerbread-man cookie cutter, then dip them in white chocolate almond bark with a little bit of candy food coloring to make it gray, so that they resembled Bill, Tom, and Bert after they were turned into stone.  I thought about dipping all but their feet and calling it “Trolls at Sunrise,” but I didn’t end up having time to do any of it, and that’s not a snack that will be appropriate next year for part 2 since the trolls are only in part 1.  I can re-use the pipes and candy-cane Stings ideas, though.

Ori enjoys an edible pipe.

Ori enjoys an edible pipe.

Fili sneaks up on the goblin for a surprise attack with a glowing Sting, (which I got over at thinkgeek.com).

Fili sneaks up on the goblin for a surprise attack with a glowing Sting, (which I got over at thinkgeek.com).  I painted the goblin based on the Grinnah action figure.

The Dwarven rune-based memory game cards; basically I copied the runes, pronunciation guides and meanings provided by the official Hobbit movie facebook page, and found pictures to match the meanings. I put the runes and the pronunciation on the cards with the pictures too so that anybody could make a match regardless of previous rune knowledge. The cards are printed on colored cardstock so that you can't see through them when they're flipped over to cheat, and laminated to make them more durable.

The Dwarven rune-based memory game cards; basically I copied the runes, pronunciation guides and meanings provided by the official Hobbit movie facebook page, and found pictures to match the meanings. I put the runes and the pronunciation on the cards with the pictures too so that anybody could make a match regardless of previous rune knowledge. The cards are printed on colored cardstock so that you can’t see through them when they’re flipped over to cheat, and laminated to make them more durable.

I’m definitely going to save the beards for next year when part 2 comes out, although personally I’d like to go to that one in a Smaug costume if I can, although I have no idea at this point where to begin crafting on that.  I’ll probably tweak the beards to improve them before then anyway, especially now that I’ll have a lot more reference pictures from multiple angles to work with from the first film.  And we didn’t have a Bilbo or a Gandalf this year, so maybe they can be added as well.

13 dwarves wearing pagelady's beard creations at the theater for the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

13 dwarves wearing pagelady’s beard creations and 3D glasses in the theater for the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

This project was a lot of work, and sometimes it seemed ridiculous or frustrating that I was putting so much effort into something that might seem silly or fleeting.  But if you watched the Hobbit production videos like I did, you have an idea of how much work by how many people goes into making these movies that we love.  And I think this is the best way to honor and appreciate the hard work that those people did–not just Peter Jackson and the cast, but also the people who did make-up, lighting, sound editing, digital enhancements, and every little step along the way, for months and months–by putting in a lot of hours myself to enjoy experiencing their work to the fullest.

And the highlight of the night for me was when the official Hobbit movie twitter account acknowledged all my hard work with a “so great!” stamp of approval.

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NaNoWriMo Fail, Midnight Hobbit Showing Win?

There’s no way I’m going to reach 50,000 words in the few days remaining this November NaNoWriMo month.  I’m okay with the failure, though.  I intend to keep plugging away at my story on lunch breaks and weekends that aren’t already full.  I just wasn’t able to get much writing done at all in the last week, because as I predicted, my dwarf beard project took over.  One cannot commit to two massive time-consuming projects concurrently with any success, or at least not if one also wants to continuing such habits as “sleeping at night.”  So, yes, I chose to crochet dwarf beards and sleep when I wasn’t working this last week.  The beards have a December 13 deadline, and even though I did nothing but work on them through this whole four-day Thanksgiving weekend I only have 1o of the 13 crocheted, and then there’s still the additional, who-knows-how-much-time-it-will-take step of adding yarn “hair” to be braided and styled for each character.  I’m pretty sick of yarn at the moment, and depressed about the likelihood I will be able to finish or that they will turn out looking great.  But, extreme pessimism is a natural phase of my party planning method.  I come up with great ideas, I start executing them, and in the middle I think it’s all total crap and too much work and why do I even bother, but then (usually) it turns out fine.

This is basically what the crocheted structure looks like for all of them, in various colors depending on the character. I think this is Oin’s.

This is Kili’s; I’m cheating and just giving him a goatee because, really, how does one make a 5 o’clock shadow out of yarn?!

Bless you, Balin, and your lack of a mustache, which makes it so much easier!

The one that’s worrying me the most right now is Nori, because I’m just not sure how I’m going to do the three cone things with the hair on his head.  I’m also going to have to crochet eyebrows for that one since his eyebrows are braided back into his hair, which is just so…dwarfish.

Nori character poster from The Hobbit.

I hope the 12 friends that will be standing in line with me will have fun wearing these beards and keeping occupied with themed activities while we wait for midnight.  I’ve started collecting Hobbit-related prizes for people to win, so I’m trying to nail down what sorts of competitions we can have to pass the time.  (I’m also hoping they release some movie-merchandise stickers or buttons or some cheap tokens like that; I bought a calendar thinking I could cut it up into 12 small posters to give out as individual prizes, but the design of the calendar is making that difficult as each picture overlaps onto the date-page beneath it!  Tricksy hobbitses…)

Activities I’ve thought of so far include dwarf markmsanship, (recycling my toy boy and arrow from The Hunger Games premiere and aiming at a goblin target; potential second round could be throwing a foam axe at the target, assuming I can make a foam axe in time…), riddles in the dark, (obviously! Although it probably won’t be dark, and I’ll just have people pull a random riddle out of a jar to test their opponent with so it’s fair and they’re all guessable), a rune memory game, (I’m thinking I could use the Dwarven Word of the Day posts on the official The Hobbit facebook page to create cards where you have to match the runes to a picture of their meaning; I could include the runes in smaller print on the picture cards to make it do-able for anyone regardless of rune knowledge, but people who studied up would have an advantage), and then maybe something like who can pose for the best picture or who can read a passage from The Hobbit in the best dramatic voice.  I want to do something with music, too, especially since the soundtrack will be out by then, but how do you make that a game?  “Describe what you think is happening during this song”, most creative answer wins?  Maybe we can all just sing the Misty Mountain song from the first trailer together.  And for that we all win the prize of being awesome.

As far as themed snacks, I’m trying to come up with a way to incorporate Sting with something blue, like maybe blue raspberry candy canes with handles attached to make them look like swords?  I’m definitely going to have an accomplice bring us hot pot pies to eat at some point, possibly with runes carved into the tops for air vents.  Maybe I could do something with the trolls or the ring, since they’re sure to be in this film and I haven’t incorporated them yet…or Gollum, for that matter.  If I can’t come up with something better, I can always just make sugar cookies in whatever shape is needed, but sugar cookies are so unimaginative!  Maybe there’s a way I can make dwarf axes out of, like, pretzel sticks with candy bars on top?  Help me out–if you have ideas for Hobbit-related snacks, (other than the infamous Denny’s menu), let me know in the comments.

Despite the temporary depression I’m feeling due to the intimidating amount of preparation I need to accomplish during the next three weeks, I’m incredibly excited for this movie to come out.  I watched the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings two and a half times each this weekend while I crocheted, first just with the film, then with cast commentary, now I’m halfway through the director and writer commentary.   I love these filmmakers and I love this franchise, and I can’t wait to see their latest portrayal of Middle Earth while I sit with my face covered in a yarn beard surrounded by fellow nerd friends.  It’s going to be awesome.

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