River Song Returns For The Doctor Who Christmas Special

So we’ve been following the adventures of Mr. Cantankerous, my pet name for the Twelfth Doctor, for a little while now and I know that I’ve always wondered just how his wife, Professor River Song, would handle him. I mean, we know she tends to pop up at the most unlikeliest of times but it wasn’t certain as to whether or not she would return after her appearance as a holographic psychic ghost in “The Name of the Doctor.”

Well, it turns out that we might get those questions answered after all. Alex Kingston is returning to her familiar role for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special. Of course, with the obligatory Who out of the way, we have to deal with the elements of What and How. What is going to happen in this episode. And how is River Song going to come back?

I mean, we know that hers and The Doctor’s time lines are generally parallel. He is seeing her from the supposed end of her biological life to the very beginning, and then all the Timey-Wimey, wibbly-wobbly in-between that would make The War Doctor weep about his midlives crises.

Almost any scenario could be possible at this point. She could appear as a psychic ghost in The Doctor’s head again, that much is true. They could run into each other in between encounters with monsters and other time lines, with her not knowing about his new incarnation as she’d still be with Eleven. But there is also the possibility that with being downloaded into the Library she has amassed all of its knowledge and simply waited and managed to create a new physical body for herself ala re-evolution.

I am just as curious to see what this Doctor Who Christmas Special will be about. I’d love to see her totally put Clara in her place with regards to The Doctor, or outright punch Missy in the face for messing with him. Maybe they will all have a tea party on the TARDIS together. And perhaps somewhere in there, River Song might help Mr. Cantankerous find Gallifrey or, at the very least, see how cantankerous he can remain around her?

I don’t know about all of you, but even at the end of summer I actually look forward to Christmas now.

Here’s Why You Should Be Watching Sense8

It’s hard to talk about a series like Sense8. I know that, when I first heard about it — this original series coming to Netflix about people whose perceptions were linked with each other — I didn’t think much of it at the time.  But in retrospect it makes sense that a series created by J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis, creators of Babylon 5 and The Matrix respectively, would be nothing short of brilliant.

Still, it’d be very easy to write it off a product of vague and exaggerated hype on first glance: especially with a name that sounds like a spell from Final Fantasy or a deadly weapon from science fiction like Ice-Nine. The introduction scenes have a lot going on: with various human activities all over the world that seem to have almost nothing to do with each other aside from the fact that people are doing them. In fact, the only thing that seems to unify these montages are the overall dramatic tones of the music in the background.

Even the premise: of people being able to get into each other’s minds simultaneously felt like more like a vague idea than an actual compelling story: the kind of thing that a director, or writer would use as a guideline into making an actual plot and could just as easily get lost in a desk drawer gathering dust.

Perhaps it’s due to the medium in which the series has been presented. As a film or a once-a-week television show, Sense8 might not have even been considered: or the resources available might not have allowed it to live to even its inherent potential in the first season. Think of an epic story — of reading A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings — and having to wait once a week, or a few years just to read the next chapter. Whereas with Sense8‘s model in Netflix, by June 5 everyone was capable of watching all twelve episodes at once: giving you that feeling of staying up late into the night reading “just one more chapter” to a good and multi-layered story. This form allows you to pretty much follow what is going on and keep it relatable.

Despite what I said earlier, the premise of Sense8 is not just a creative novelty: something that many powers in Hollywood might have just kept at the level of mere spectacle. And it could have gone that route had it not been for J. Michael Straczynski, known for creating indepth characters and complex story lines stepped in mythology and the human experience, and the Wachowskis and their penchant to examine themes of philosophy, metaphysics, and human consciousness.

One of the challenges is that there is so much to explore with the theme of sharing one’s sense of self with other selves. Sense8 manages to look at what is to be human: to have your own individuality and privacy, but also being inherently alone for it. For instance, you live in your own body and no one else can do that for you. But what happens when someone else can not only see you, but read your thoughts, experience your physical state, and feel your emotions? And vice-versa.

Lito and Wolfgang Sense8

And then take it a step further. Imagine you can not only draw on people’s knowledge, but their skill sets as well. For instance, Wolfgang Bogdanow is a safe-cracker who needs to bluff his way out of a situation and draws on Lito Rodriguez’s acting skills to do so, and when Lito needs to actually fight he either draws on Wolfgang’s skills in mayhem, Will Gorski’s self-defense skills as a policeman, or South Korean businesswoman Sun Bak’s martial arts. Or Capheus, a bus driver in Kenya, can draw on the research and skills of the hacker Nomi Marks, or Kala Dandekar’s knowledge to do something ad hoc with her knowledge of chemistry.

Being a Sensate — becoming “aware” in Sense8, is having access to a skills and knowledge pool of your cluster: of seven other people of various places, backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. But then there is the matter of memories and feelings to consider as part of the pool as well. Boundaries between individuals can blur in many ways. For instance, if Will gets injured on the job Wolfgang might feel it. The Icelander DJ Riley Blue could be taking some ecstasy and it could effect Kala at her job. And let’s not even go into what happens when the various Sensates in a cluster are having sex … or menstruating.

Season One of Sense8 mostly has the characters realizing just what they are, figuring out how they work, and how it’s played out is one of the most beautiful things of all. The whole Mary Sue moment of realizing that they are different is downplayed a lot by this intrinsic feeling of understanding: they are all interlinked after all. The hows and whys of it are almost secondary to that. Some of them accept it in a dream-like way, while others think they are suffering from hallucinations. But you can see it all coming together.

And Sense8 has a plot.

Whispers Sense88

It’s hard to see and get a feel for it in the first episode. You still wonder where it is going but as you run with it you realize that there are people who knows that the Sensates exist: powerful people that want them dead, neutralized, or controlled. And the main antagonist is a cold and detached being that fits well into the story, even as a renegade Sensate helping the main characters explains that Sensates have existed throughout history: that they may not be the next evolution of humankind, but a throwback to how sentient life began: together instead of separate and isolated.

It leaves you with so many questions. Can Sensates block who sees or selectively reveal what in their minds? Can they control how they are perceived by others in the cluster? Just how far can they synchronize their movements and actions together? Are there ways to override one individual’s consciousness: to make someone into an extension of your will? And is there a danger in becoming too close: in becoming a melded together gestalt consciousness?

The implications and possibilities of Sense8 go much further than this. Imagine if Sensates had existed in history? If Alexander the Great and his inner circle had all been born in the same month and year? Or if there were clusters in the ranks of the Spartans? Or even if someone like Adolf Hitler was a Sensate? The point is, there are so many ways beyond even alternative fictional history to tell more stories with this idea.

Sense8 is also a tremendously geeky series. The concept of clusters some of the situations and events that occur on Sense8 are reminiscent of various polyamorous themes in Robert A. Heinlein stories, while you could make an argument that clusters are similar to the idea of the karass — a group of people linked together in a cosmic manner — in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

Lito Daniela Hernando Sense8

But for me, it isn’t so much the fictional and dramatic possibilities of Sense8 that appeal to me. We live in the Information Age: an age of wireless Internet where we communicate with people all across the world. A lot of us have friends, family, and other relationships in Europe, or the Middle-East, Asia, the Americas, and other places. In many places, we are becoming a long-distance species in a world becoming much smaller. This is definitely one theme that Sense8 is bringing to the fore and tapping into: something with which many people can relate.

Riley and Will Sense8

Certainly, there is a theme of loneliness in physically being around people while feeling more together with someone communicating with you halfway across the world. The best examples of this are when Riley Blue and Will Gorski are communing with each other while the latter is at a bar with his police friends. Will is a seemingly normal and straightforward police officer but it becomes apparent that he really doesn’t relate to most of his colleagues beyond a casual level while Riley, who is in another country can talk with him about the things with which he can actually begin to be himself. Or even how Sun, in one of the worst, most isolating situations of her life can have the seemingly physical and moral support of Riley as she herself is outside looking at the sun.

It’s these moments that really jive with me and they are captured well by the show. So, when all is said and done, if you are geeky in any way and you like diverse human stories and you have been that geeky person with someone you care for across a state line or another ocean — and you know this feeling — then Sense8 is the series for you: with some new seasons with which to look forward.

Also Freema Agyeman, who once played Doctor Who‘s Martha Jones, is an LGBTQ character and bad ass girlfriend of Nomi.

Amanita and Nomi Sense8

Enough said.

An Excerpt From The Winds of Winter

Many of us have been waiting for the sixth book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire for quite some time. And slowly, glacially — like the encroaching cold magic of the Others — Martin reveals chapters from The Winds of Winter piece by piece to us online.

Just recently, he revealed this chapter: Alayne.

Beware: there be spoilers here.

Alayne is the pseudonym given to Sansa Stark by the clever and manipulative Petyr Baelish and, my goodness, she is definitely coming into her own. The young, naive girl from Winterfell lost most of her innocence at King’s Landing and through Lord Baelish’s “guidance” is starting to truly learn “the game of thrones.” Her dark thoughts and cynical mockery of her interior monologue, in contrast to the silken demure veil of her public persona, is a nice little treat to read.

What’s more is that Sansa — or should I say Alayne — is realizing just what the game of thrones actually is and beginning to implement it. Alayne knows it to be all about interacting with people. It is about finding out what they want, suggesting it, being polite and cordial while inserting doubt and poisonous barbs in her words, observing others, and realizing that a tool in the game — a pawn — can very well be the real enemy that they pretend to be.

Even so, Alayne still has aspects of her original personality. She still enjoys lemon cake and appreciates acts of kindness. Westeros’ betrayals and intrigues have not destroyed the core of decency and idealistic dreams that was once Sansa Stark, but she has learned how to bury them down and not let others exploit them. Now we can just wait for the time when she can turn them on Petyr Baelish.

As for Petyr Baelish himself, his own grander plans are continuing to unfold and it only occurred to me, towards the end of the chapter, that he is well aware of the fact that “winter is coming.” I mean, it’s no stretch that with his network of spies, contacts, and agents that Little Finger would have influence in the Citadel of the Maesters. While the other Kingdoms had been fighting in the War of Five Kings, he kept the Eyrie in reserve: in both its military strength and its store of … food. Certainly the Tyrells and the Lannisters have not been as frugal with their resources and, for the long winter to come, that would be a game changer. Meanwhile Lord Baelish engineers the succession of the Vale and uses his “bastard daughter” to do so.

I think what I appreciate the most are the development of these two characters. When I was first introduced to Baelish and Sansa, I had very different opinions of them. While I believed Petyr Baelish’s skill at the game of political intrigue and social engineering was second only to Varys, I didn’t really think much of Sansa herself as a character. But while both the show and the books illustrate the depths that Lord Baelish aspires to — with still more information to come — to me it seems like Sansa is only starting to apply in A Song of Ice and Fire what she has demonstrated towards the end of Game of Thrones Season Four.

Really, Alayne is becoming one of my favourite characters and I look forward to seeing her skills improve in the game: assuming, of course, that she survives. This is Westeros after all. But tell us: what do you think of this excerpt? And where do you think it will all go?

The Walking Dead’s Gale Anne Hurd Producing MANKILLER

As the end of The Walking Dead‘s fifth season approaches, the Kickstarter campaign MANKILLER also nears a crucial point.

Mankiller is a documentary about Wilma Mankiller: the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. While Mankiller itself is partially funded by Vision Maker Media for PBS, the purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds to complete production and post production on the project that already contains over twenty hours of interviews. In addition to Valerie Red-Horse being its director and producer, the film’s other producer is none other than Gale Anne Hurd: producer of the Terminator trilogy, Aliens, and of course, The Walking Dead.

As such, potential backers of Gale Anne Hurd and Valarie Red-Horse’s Kickstarter campaign be expect to receive some very impressive rewards: including Walking Dead DVD collections signed by the comics series creator Robert Kirkman and Gale Anne Hurd, lunch and coffee with Gale herself, signed blue-ray copies of The Terminator and Aliens by Gale and James Cameron, a Terminator 30th Anniversary Poster signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and company, a regular VIP pass to the sold-out Walker Con Event, a ten minute call with Steven Yeun — Glenn from The Walking Dead, and interactions with Norman Reedus (Daryl), Michael Rooker (Merle), and Melissa McBride (Carol).

And for those of you who are fascinated with activism, and aspects of aboriginal or First Nations history and culture, there are other rewards to consider as well: including art, interaction with Valarie Red-Horse (who has created other documentaries with Gale Anne Hurd such as True Whispers and Navajo Code Talkers), and conversation with Wilma Mankiller’s husband Charlie Soap and their daughter Gina Olaya. And none of this is, by any means, an exhaustive list of what you might find if you back this campaign.

So please: take this opportunity and support Mankiller or go on Twitter and Facebook and let people know this is happening through its hashtag #Mankiller.

More Leda and Castor in Orphan Black Season Three?

It took me a little while to get into watching Orphan Black, but I wasn’t disappointed. This Canadian-made science-fiction and intrigue series drew me in with its unfolding levels of mystery, its interpersonal relationships, and the brilliance of the actress Tatiana Maslany as she plays several clones — each one a different flawed, strong, and complex woman — in a dangerous world of shadow games: where the stakes are freedom and the semblance of a normal life.

Above is a spoiler for some of what is going to happen in Orphan Black Season Three. But for those of you who have been following the show (or binge-watching both preceding seasons on DVD and cable), there are some other interesting, small, little snippets that function as both character sketches, and just what may well go down.

But first, let’s deal with the main clip and seriously take a look at it. Last season, Sarah Manning discovered that the DYAD Institute was not the only organization dealing in clones. While the Proletheans are an extremist religious sect or series of cells that believe in destroying synthetic biology or subordinating it under a belief in God — and they have utilized Sarah’s fellow clone and sister Helena for these purposes — they have not created clones.

The military, however, has been creating more clones: or least they did at one point in time. If you go back into the show’s chronology, you will find out that DYAD or its predecessor had a deal with the military to create the clones for some unknown reason. However what we, the viewers, did not know at the time was that not only was the military continuing its work with cloning, but they seem to have created male clones in counterpoint to DYAD’s female cloning project. Whereas the experiment that made Sarah and the others is referred to as Project LEDA, the male clone project is called Project CASTOR.

But, as usual, there is so much more that we don’t know. However, there are some clues to be had.

Here we have what we already know: that Sarah has been introduced to a captive male clone that Marion, one of the most powerful figures behind DYAD keeps in her mansion. But, very clearly and as per usual, Sarah is her usual gritty and rebellious self. Yet what’s really interesting here is that the male clone, whether he is the captive or one of his brothers working in the military, seems to know that she is one of the renegade among her sisters: that one who didn’t seem to have a DYAD Monitor. Perhaps Sarah is meeting this clone in order to find out where Helena is being held.

There is Alison Hendrix who is facing more kidnapping issues and may well have a reason to want to “kick some boy clone butt”: if the military is now after the female clones in addition to DYAD (assuming DYAD still isn’t, but that is another story entirely).

Of course, there is Helena whom, the last we saw, was “sold” to the military by Siobhan, Sarah’s foster mother, and Paul, Beth’s former boyfriend and Monitor and Sarah’s former lover,  for some reason: perhaps to guarantee Sarah’s safety. It should be noted that Helena has been rather unstable in the past and is trained to be a master assassin by the Proletheans. Maybe Siobhan saw her as a threat, given some of the things she has tried to do to Sarah and her other sisters. But seriously, god help those soldiers that have her now — and the people that handed her over — given the sheer amount of destruction she’s capable of inflicting.

Finally, there is Cosima. It seems as though she and her assistant and friend Josh are attempting to decode the late Professor Duncan’s handwritten notes on their genome in an attempt to reverse its degradation. It should be noted that, perhaps by understanding Duncan’s notes they might also begin to figure out just how just why they were created, and how they relate to the existence of the male clones.

It’s a fascinating situation all around: especially when you consider what Projects LEDA and CASTOR might actually be. Both are tied into ancient Greek mythology. Leda was the queen seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan: upon which she carried two eggs that hatched into four children. Two of those children were Zeus’ while the other two belonged to her mortal royal husband. Her two sons were Castor and Pollux (or Polydeuces).

There is a lot of fan speculation as to what Leda might represent in Orphan Black: not the least of which being that the clones are the result of advanced science and were fostered with normal families in most cases. Castor himself was a warrior along with his brother and it makes a horrible kind of Clone Wars sense for the military to want to mass produce legions of male soldiers.

But perhaps there is more involved here. Is it a coincidence that there were two cloning programs for two separate sexes? And why? Were they supposed to be the first stages of a genetically enhanced breeding program? And, here is something else for you to think about: Castor’s twin brother, Pollux, was Zeus’ son — with immortal or superhuman potential given his lineage — in some mythologies while Castor was just a mortal man. Is it possible that the idea of Pollux might actually play a role in what is to come with regards to these two Projects?

Either way, I have to say that my own speculation aside I very much look forward to Orphan Black Season Three on April 18.

Also, to those who can’t wait for April, IDW Publishing will be releasing an Orphan Black comic book February 25 apparently expanding on the clones’ back stories. Personally, I would love to see more story on the clones that have either already died, or had short thrift so far. Many times the fun.

An Interview With Angel of My So-Called Secret Identity

Did you know that comic books can have internships? I can imagine that many of us can only dream of having a job that revolves around helping others create comics. Today we at GEEKPR0N have with us Angel, an intern for Will Brooker’s My So-Called Secret identity series, contributor, cosplayer, and geek to ask more about the comic, her role in its process, and just what it entails to be a comics intern. 

GEEKPR0N: So Angel, can you tell us more about your background and interests? 

Angel: I’ll start with the obvious: I am a comic book junkie.

That’s probably my mum’s fault; she brought me up on a slightly unconventional diet of Star Wars, superheroes, and Scalextric cars (while also imbuing me with an appreciation for fluffy toys and musicals), all still interests.

At the moment I’m studying International Relations at university, with the hope that I will eventually work for an international NGO. The plan (a very loose plan) is to emulate the superheroes about whom I read, and help to eradicate injustice throughout the world. Baby steps though…

GP: How did you become an intern for MSCSI?

A: You might learn a bit about me when MSCSI Volume 2 comes out, via Radhika Shere. When I found My So-Called Secret Identity I was immediately attracted to the setting and the characters. However, the issue that I have with pretty much every form of media, whether it be books, films, TV, etc, is that I am either able to relate to a character’s background and personality, or to their physical appearance, never both. Obviously I don’t want to look at a comic book and see a world populated entirely by me, because as my sister would tell you, that would be horrific. Despite this, It would be great to see just one female character of Indian descent whose life and traits aren’t stereotypical. I’m very lucky to have been raised to believe that I can be whoever I want to be, regardless of what other people automatically assume. That said, there are other young, brown-skinned, female comic book fans out there who don’t see themselves reflected in their favourite shows or books.

Additional Text: Kat Poole and Tracey Ramsden
Additional Text: Kat Poole and Tracey Ramsden

Positive representation is hugely important, everyone needs someone to relate to and for inspiration. Anyway (rant over!), I badgered the MSCSI team to design a non-stereotypical Indian woman. To my immense surprise, Dr. Will Brooker replied and gave me the unbelievably cool opportunity of creating such a character. I took the whole thing really seriously, wrote out pages of backstory, and worked with Dr. Brooker to perfect her appearance. And so Radhika Shere was born.

After that, I guess Dr. Brooker thought I was sufficiently invested so as to want to be more involved in MSCSI, and he offered me a role interning as Kickstarter manager.

GP: Can you tell us about what it is like to be an intern for a comics project? And what have been some of your most notable experiences in that role?

A: My role includes helping to run the Kickstarter and social media pages, sending out all the digital rewards, and making lots of lists – of backers, of the rewards, of sponsors and their messages. AND IT IS AWESOME. Even the email chains discussing funding and page counts were enjoyable because the MSCSI team is so inclusive and encouraging, despite the fact that they’re all professionals and I was initially just a super eager fan… The best part has to be that I get to glimpse sneak peeks of the story and art before other fans. Reading Radhika Shere’s first scene made me giddy with excitement.

GP: What are some aspects of MSCSI that stand out for you the most? 

My So-Called Secret Identity Cat's Life

A: My So-Called Secret Identity is such a powerful comic book because it’s so relatable. Cat stands for every woman who has ever been looked down on in a professional situation because of her sex, every child accused of cheating because their work is unexpectedly above average, every individual who has ever personally wanted to improve a society that they see as inherently corrupt. The beauty of it is that there isn’t just one feminist icon in MSCSI. Cat may be the protagonist but Dahlia, Connie, Kyla and Miss Sparkle are all strong and flawed in their different ways. No tired tropes here!

GP: What would you — as a reader — like to see in future issues of MSCSI?

A: I would like to see more backstory, more about the Major and the Illinois Serum, and more about Doll’s Eyes. The antagonists’ actions drive so much of the happenings in Gloria, and it would be interesting to know the bigger stories behind the glimpses we got in Volume 1. Like all MSCSI fans, I would also like to know what’s going to happen. I’m rooting for Good to triumph, but with villains like Carnival chaos is a pretty appealing prospect too…

GP: At one point you cosplayed MSCSI’s Miss Sparkle in her tiger aesthetic. Do you cosplay regularly, and was there a reason you chose to make yourself up as this particular character?  

A: I’d never used face paint before, but my friends had some left over after our Halloween party, and it was Body Confidence week at my home university (I’m on an exchange in Paris at the moment). So I decided to try to paint my whole body to show how I feel when I’m at my most confident – fierce! In the end I looked like Miss Sparkle, so I sent a photo to Dr. Brooker as Cat’s the only character that we know to have been cosplayed so far.

My So-Called Secret Identity Sekhmet and Miss Sparkle

Although I love dressing up, and I’m planning to go to a Comic Con next year with some friends, where I’ll definitely cosplay, I haven’t actually done it before. Unless fancy dress parties, school plays and World Book Days count, in which case I have been many different characters, most notably Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Zazu from the Lion King.

Comics intern Angel cosplays as Miss Sparkle: a hero that we will hopefully learn more about in the next volume of My So-Called Secret Identity.
Comics intern Angel cosplays as Miss Sparkle: a hero that we will hopefully learn more about in the next volume of My So-Called Secret Identity.

GP: Who are your favourite MSCSI characters and why?

A: Radhika Shere! Cat’s brilliant, I can even relate to the little things she does, feeling proud of her not just for joining the superhero game, but also for things like telling Enrique that she didn’t agree with his homophobic comment. In addition, the way she’s portrayed, not as a super-slim, busty crime fighter, but as a normal, intelligent student, makes me über-happy. She’s someone who eats doughnuts, finds it difficult to walk up 44 flights of stairs even in an emergency, and mixes up her words at important moments. What’s not to love?!

Moreover, it would be so easy for her character to lapse into a pity party about not living with her family and having to do things alone, but she doesn’t throw tantrums or give up.

She also doesn’t aggressively assert her independence at the cost of all her relationships. Don’t get me wrong, Cat’s flawed – for one thing she repeatedly ignores Dahlia’s advice. However, she does, admirably, accept help from her friends. For me, that’s what the last page of Issue 5 is about, how even though Cat, Enrique, Dahlia, Kit and Kay are strong separately, in a team they’re unstoppable.

MSCSI Team Cat

And too so seems to be the creative team behind My So-Called Secret Identity: with Volume One launching sometime in Spring of 2015. And we too, at GEEKPR0N, also look forward to the beginnings of Volume Two.

Their Voices Are This Film – Review: She Makes Comics

She Makes Comics is a documentary directed by Marisa Stotter, and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect! Films. It is also executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and comics librarian Karen Green of Columbia University.

It’s hard to review a documentary. I think it’s even more difficult review a documentary that you like. In the interests of full disclosure, I backed the She Makes Comics Kickstarter. I even wrote about it twice here on GEEKPR0N and promoted it before I knew what film I was going to see. I was utterly fascinated with the concept of a documentary that focuses on not only the past, but the present history of women in comics: as creators, publishers, and fans.

Unlike other documentaries I’ve seen, the interviewers aren’t present. There is no presence of a single interlocutor or a primary voice. In fact, there are several voices that create the narrative of She Makes Comics: both in terms of the film’s structure and the history of women in comics. What I found fascinating was how each figure interviewed not only seemed to bring a particular topic or issue, but they interlapped with each other, and sometimes talked about one another in each cut, and even attempted to give a voice to the women in the comics industry who had long since passed. While the first and middle part of the film focused particularly on creators and historians and women who are, and were, in the industry, this gradually gives way to a multitude of newer and more contemporary presences in comics.

Also She Makes Comics was edited extremely well. Sequences with interviewed figured were accompanied by cuts of these creators interacting with their fans, of cosplayers at conventions, of segments of historical filming and popular cultural scenes, and even dramatic re-enactments. I do feel that the section about a woman feeling uncomfortable in a comics store, while definitely a valid experience, was overwrought and could have been portrayed much more realistically: though the discussion about it made up for that somewhat jarring, almost kitsch portrayal.

There were different section in this documentary, though the segues to each were so smooth and organic that it takes more than one viewing to identify where the topic begins to shift. Roughly speaking, She Makes Comics starts with the history of women on comics, the formation of Comic Cons and women trying to find a place in them, a powerful section on X-Men and its inspiration on female creators and fans, women in comics publishing positions, difficulties dealing with the insular chauvinism and misogynist mentality of “all-boys clubs” shops, the advent of groups supporting women in comics, some insights into the creative processes of the female artists that make comics, the treatment of female characters in comics in relation to their male counterparts, the importance of discussion of sexism and an emphasis on diversity in the comics medium, the importance of Internet communities, the acceptance of the graphic novel in mainstream culture but women still not being taken seriously in that field, the cultural difficulties of women pitching comics ideas in the industry, the creation of female comics spaces, a section focusing on harassment, and a final segment ending off with a focus on female-led or created comics and geekdom.

As you can see, this covers a lot of territory though by no means is it exhaustive: and these places definitely interlap. There were many things of note, but here are some of the few that stood out for me. The earlier history portion of the film particularly focuses on Jackie Ormes: the first female African-American cartoonist who will actually be getting her own mini-documentary by the creators of She Makes Comics due to them meeting their Kickstarter goals.

Jackie Ormes: creator of the Torchy Brown strip and the single-panel cartoon Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger.
Jackie Ormes: creator of the Torchy Brown strip and the single-panel cartoon Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger.

There was mention of the fact that there were more women creating comics when men went off to war and how female readership began to decrease after the Comics Code was enforced and superhero comics were supported over other genres. It was interesting to learn about the Marvel and EC comics artist Marie Severin in addition to Ormes, though I would have liked a little more information on Miss Fury creator Tarpe Mills.

The discussion of Comic Cons and cosplay is really timely, however, based on the recent flak the latter has been getting from some industry artist. Wendy Pini hits home the fact that, as a cosplaying pioneer — specifically of Red Sonja — she managed to create the persona for herself necessary to make her art, get into the industry, and essentially become completely independent with Elfquest.

Wendy Pini and so many others after her identify so much with their cosplay and fandom that they create works and spaces for others.
Wendy Pini and so many others after her identify so much with their cosplay and fandom that they create works and spaces for others.

She is an interesting parallel to Gail Simone who got into comics through her critical work in Women in Refrigerators: analysing how dead or traumatized female characters were used to advance male plots and eventually making nuanced female heroes herself. Both creators got into the industry in different ways through geek culture and their insights and I just thought it was truly awesome to have that reminder that fandom and criticism can lead to creation.

Some male figures in comics were also interviewed such as Chris Claremont, Paul Levitz, and Richard Pini: but the focus was on them in relation to their female influences, employees, and creative partners. Certainly, Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson, both editors of Claremont’s X-Men run, influenced his work considerably: a series many of us have related to as marginalized geeks and nerds in our time. And Nocenti’s anecdote about initially thinking she was tapped to help write porn was rather hilarious. Karen Berger was also interviewed and her comment about liking “psychological stories and weird shit” as inspiration for what she helped to promote and publish in her Vertigo imprint made me smile as well.

Even though queer creators in comics were mentioned in the same place as online spaces, I feel there wasn’t as much focus on them. In addition, there were a few creators I was hoping to see such as Alison Bechdel and Aline Kominsky-Crumb that didn’t make it into the film: though the former was mentioned. Carla Speed-McNeil and Hope Larson made brief appearances, which was nice to see.

According to Kelly Sue DeConnick, there is even a rocket scientist in the ranks of those who idolize Carol Danvers and what she represents to them.
According to Kelly Sue DeConnick in She Makes Comics, there is even a rocket scientist in the ranks of those who idolize Carol Danvers and what she represents to them.

But there were two things She Makes Comics truly did for me. The first is that it introduced me to all-female fan groups like the Carol Corps, organizations that support women reading and making comics such as the Friends of Lulu, and even spaces like the Brave New World Comics Geek Boutique that challenge the very form of what a comics store is. And I want to read Marjorie Liu, G. Willow Wilson, Gail Simone, and Kelly Sue DeConnick. They are not talked enough nearly enough in mainstream comics geekdom, even now, and while I was curious about them before, I’m definitely inspired to look at Birds of Prey, Captain Marvel, Ms. MarvelPretty Deadly, and others now.

I feel as though, even and especially if, you are a comics aficionado you will learn a lot from She Makes Comics. And if you are completely new, this is even better for you: for while it doesn’t give you everything, it is an excellent starting point into some works with different perspectives and interesting stories.  I would definitely like to think that She Makes Comics hits home the fact that not only have women contributed to comics and geekdom, but they still do and they will.

Wendy Pini at one point shared an anecdote about a young woman who, despite her skill, didn’t have the confidence to acknowledge her art work as good: and even had difficulty presenting it to her without urging. Janelle Asselin, former editor at DC, mentions that she had very few women give her pitches. I hope that this documentary — and other works and groups and people of similar spirit — help to change this climate and culture, and make something as multifaceted as the film I had the privilege to finally see.

She Makes Comics is now available in both digital and DVD form.

From The Book Circus: Amanda Palmer’s Art Of Asking Book Tour

A few days ago, a friend of mine let me know that Amanda Palmer was coming to Toronto on the last leg of her Book Tour. Unfortunately, by the time I got the message she followed up on it: informing me that the Lee’s Palace venue tickets were sold out. I’m not exactly sure why I did it. I had a suspicion and I applied for a ticket on Ticketfly: just to see if I could. It was this same hunch that had me standing in a line outside of Lee’s Palace for over an hour with the rest of Amanda Palmer’s fans: again, just to see if they would accept this ticket and let me in.

We all stood out there for a while: waiting for the doors to open past their 8 pm deadline. A fellow fan was nice enough to pass around free doughnuts: which was pretty good indicator of just what kind of crowd was gathered there. In all honesty, when the line started moving I was a little bit stunned that the establishment let me straight through.

Once we came in, we took the seats that we could while Amanda Palmer’s assistant Whitney Moses, dressed in her Erika Moen’s Anal Safety Snails shirt, came on stage to do some maintenance while leaving a glass of wine for Amanda. The event had a great turn out: made all the more evident by the teasing that began.

At one point Amanda herself appeared in the window above the stage and everyone cheered. During more preparations, as more people kept coming in, the music playing at Lee’s Palace would pause just long enough to get everyone to think that their night had begun: to revving them up further.

But it wasn’t long until Amanda herself finally came on stage, tossing flowers to the audience, strumming her ukulele and as she talked it got more difficult to describe the night in linear detail as I got caught up in the palpable joy of the crowd. She came onto the stage with another Amanda: a sign-language interpreter whose translations of Amanda’s words and songs were just as beautiful and interesting to watch as Amanda herself. In fact, sometimes it was good sort of challenge for me to split my attention in focusing on either one or the other.

After a request from a fan, we got to learn that out of the one hundred and ninety songs Amanda has created, she has apparently only memorized ten of them. She read from parts of her book The Art of Asking, while letting a fan perform an act of bibliomancy and selecting a passage for Amanda to read: even as another came on stage and choose a few sentences that Amanda decided to put into vocal music. In her book, she referred to a bit of history from Richard Zack’s An Underground Education with regards to Henry David Thoreau and how, while he made his hermitage at Walden Pond, he visited his rich friend that owned the property and accepted baked goods from his family.

The moral of the story is the core of The Art Asking: namely, don’t feel bad about taking the doughnuts. This is the second time I’ve mentioned doughnuts at the Book Tour. Very soon, I will talk about it for the last time.

There were a few particular parts of the Toronto Tour that particularly stuck out for me. Amanda began the event by playing her version of “Fuck The Police” — a day after the Ferguson verdict — and informed us that she was Toronto’s peace protest before this part of her tour that day. I have to admit, it did make me pause and it brought up some very uncomfortable issues for me: of the violence, of expression, and of cultural appropriation.

She also played a vocal duet of Dresden Doll’s “Delilah” with Whitney — who is a talented musician in her own right — while on her keyboard. This led to another difficult subject. It was after this song about an abusive relationship that she invited Sasha Manes of the Toronto YWCA branch on stage to talk about the importance of women’s and children’s shelters as well as her own organization’s charity initiative. Amanda’s Book Tour shared the same day as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

And both on her own initiative and when asked by her guest Eric Alper the Director of Media Relations for eOne Music Canada, Amanda also didn’t shy away from talking about Jian Ghomeshi. She talked about how many of her fans didn’t want him to be there and how, in the end, she didn’t want her Book Tour in Toronto to be overshadowed by, or all about  him. At least, that was my understanding of the matter.

Eric Alper himself covered a fair bit of ground in more ways than one. Remember how I mentioned doughnuts twice? Well, Alper decided to distribute seven hundred Timbits to the entire audience while he and Amanda kept talking. They talked about a range of topics: from the dangers of all music being placed under digital rights management again and no longer available to share freely online, to Amanda’s hopes on what crowdfunding might do to free more artists and their audiences from the influence of an unchanging music industry.

I was particularly intrigued when Alper asked Amanda just what she cut out from the final draft of her book. She mentioned two anecdotes: one about the fact that her programmer mother’s team worked with and accepted the identity of a transgender member as a given in the 1960s, and another about a woman thanking her for her work as a living statue in representing “white power.” Certainly, these are stories in and of themselves.

At one point, Amanda’s friend Anthony was brought up. Anthony Martignetti is a psychotherapist, but to Amanda he is her life mentor and friend. He has been suffering from cancer and, as of this post, has gotten a bone marrow match. He has written two memoirs about his family life and his own: and as someone who has reviewed both of his books, I can’t help but think to myself that when Amanda at one point began to sing Dresden Dolls’ “It’s All In The Family” that she was referring to Anthony as much as to herself. Indeed, at one point when she was reading an excerpt from her Art of Asking, I realized that it was actually the preface that she wrote to Anthony’s Lunatic Heroes.

After Amanda took some questions from the audience, she proceeded to wrap up the night with two songs. The first was “Bigger On The Inside,” which aside from the coincidental geek reference is also a song she played for the first time at Anthony’s Beloved Demons book launch. It is a raw, poignant and very real song written from a dark place in an attempt to grasp at meaning.

Of course this prepared the way for “The Ukulele Anthem” finale: a triumphant and passionate song about expression and hope.

Finally came the book signing part of the night. The line became something of a spiral and given the fact that I’d rented Uzumaki a few hours before, I almost wondered if everyone was going to become enmeshed into a great pattern and be stuck with each other, in a more positive way, forever.

I hung back for the crowd to die down a little more but I still managed to make some friends at the end of the night. I’m told that this is not an uncommon occurrence during one because there is just something about a fanbase or community of geeks and survivors that Amanda Palmer’s music and sheer presence brings together. Even looking back at the people who hummed and song along to her songs, it made me realize that many of them had memorized them by heart. For a while in time, it almost felt like the Fraggle Rock world promised to me as a child that never panned out into adulthood.

By the time I came to Amanda Palmer with my copy of The Art of Asking, my legs hurt from a combination of the hard raised benches of Lee’s Palace and standing when the discomfort grew too much: a minor version of the story Amanda recited from Anthony about a dog that won’t move off of a nail because it doesn’t hurt enough yet. Amanda herself looked utterly exhausted. From the blurry pictures taken faithfully by her awesome assistant Cat, you can glean that she was barely awake and I was not particularly that coherent.

All I said to her was that my friends said hello and that, if she remembers, to tell Anthony I said hello as well. And that was pretty much it. I wrote this whole account by hand initially: one on the back of my Porter Square Books receipt from Amanda’s local book store Porter Square Books, when I couldn’t get it from Amazon due to its issues with the book’s publisher Hatchette, and the ticket that I wasn’t sure would even let me into the building.

I wrote this from my new friends’ house where I stayed for the night after we all left together, frazzled from meeting a celebrity, for drinks. They are in the process of moving out of the country. It’s funny how things can work out that way. Just as this was Amanda Palmer’s first Book Tour, this was my first ever somewhat musical concert or event I actually enjoyed. It was my first Amanda Palmer event. Actually, Amanda had another term for her Tour. She actually called it a Book Circus.

So this was my first Book Circus. And a good circus delivers excellent food and entertainment, but this one also makes you see the uncomfortable things, the difficult questions, and the fragile strength of tired, blurry figures in the night.

This is the clearest picture I have. And yes, my hair is down too.
This is the clearest picture I have. And yes, my hair is down too.

Either way, it is already an unforgettable experience.

 

Super Zero: It Gets Better

“You never hear about how the apocalypse smells like total ass. But it does.”

And so do some stereotypes. We all know this one: about the geek who thinks they are so prone to so many physical and emotional weaknesses that they will slow down everybody else if they are even noticed at all.

Mitchell L. Cohen’s short zombie film Super Zero starts off just like that age-old trope. You know the one: about the stereotypical geek boy whose crush and attractive female love interest doesn’t seem to notice him, who he doesn’t have the courage to even talk to, and who views himself as almost completely useless. It’s a story told so many times by our culture and literature that it is essentially a very typical narrative. But Cohen adds two more elements to this story.

Josh Hershberg doesn’t view himself as that passive-aggressive stereotype of “the nice guy.” He doesn’t think he is owed anything by Page Reynolds or even society. In the year 2017, as a sample of water is discovered and taken from a Mars expedition, he can’t even enjoy this development of science in his geeky life. Why?

Because is geeky is going to be over in a very terminal sense. In the society that exists before the apocalypse, Hershberg has brain cancer: the kind that doesn’t have a cure. Hershberg ends up quoting Theodore Roosevelt when he states “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” in a self-derisive way: because he doesn’t have that much time left. The initial tones of Hershberg’s first-person narration in Super Zero are laced with an irreverent black humour and an infusion of despair as he decides to end his story.

It’s funny, however, just how the reminder and slogan of “It gets better” becomes so prevalent as the zombie apocalypse part of the story begins.

It gets better ... at least for some.
It gets better … at least for some.

Cohen plays up Hershberg’s adaptation to a foul-smelling post-apocalyptic world with a slow and careful pace. You wonder just how a slow-moving cancer victim with seemingly no fighting or survival experience would even last a minute after an outbreak of fast moving zombies: yes, that kind of zombie. Certainly the stock survivalist jock Nate Bishop and the wise-cracking obnoxious Gary Amante characters see him as more of a liability even though Page, who has survived this far, seems to be a popular girl with a “heart of gold” or at least common human decency. In fact, from the very beginning you see that she does indeed notice that he exists and has an inkling of what he’s capable of even before he reveals it.

Because when you realize that Josh Hershberg is a hard-core engineering geek genius and you see just what he can do with a brain disease that makes him unpalatable, a walking stick and something that looks like a flux-capacitor, you will not be disappointed. All in all, I think that while Super Zero does use some age-old high school zombie survival group stereotypes — complete with the compassionate woman, the stoic jock, the annoying and loud meat-shield, and the nerd — it has the potential to utterly subvert them. In our day and age, we’ve seen a lot of bad-ass geeks and nerds of all genders, so to some degree we are rather spoiled.

And wow is that musical score ever bad-ass.

After watching this film I want to see what happens next as Cohen wants to grow Super Zero into a series. Does Josh Hershberg’s biological advantage overcome him in the end? Would that affect any relationships that he may make? What happens if the group loses him? Will he leave a legacy or will this all get changed somehow? And would we see more development for the other characters?

And as a geek, how do you think you would survive a zombie apocalypse? Personally, my fantasies have wavered between learning necromancy and controlling the zombies, dying first because I slowed people down, or finding my way to a group of my friends where I can tell stories for morale. But while I don’t know about myself or the rest of you, I do think that if Josh Hershberg could give this film a subtitle it would be the following:

Who's Useless Now?
Who’s Useless Now?

An Early Christmas Present: A Preview of A Doctor Who Christmas

What is a preview to a seasoned time traveller, or Whovian, but an eye-blink in the future before a Weeping Angel temporarily sends you on your way? In this case, Christmas came early yesterday as BBC One made good on its promise and delivered a preview of the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas Special.

For someone who once knew Father Christmas to the point of calling him Jeff (whether or not this was a Time Lord joke or not is another matter entirely), The Doctor does not seem pleased to meet Santa Claus this time around.  In fact, Clara herself doesn’t really look like a regular old bouncing ball of wonder when Santa and his elves are meeting her on a rooftop: for some reason.

I like how the story gets turned around: how parents giving their gifts to their children in lieu of Santa is the real story while Santa — whoever or whatever he is — seems to be the reality. It’s a pretty clever twist: especially when you consider how eerie it must feel for Clara when the elves are detailing elements of her childhood that only she would know, and Santa in particular asks an uncomfortable question.

I have to say that right now in this preview they look anything but friendly: sort of like a mask of innocence worn by a hint of menace. And there is one more thing to remember: Santa may generally be considered a benevolent figure, but does keep a list — which he checks twice — of who is naughty, and who is nice.

And, of course, there is the Krampus part of the Santa story that generally gets left out nowadays: much in the way that most fairytales — most ancient folktales — have become sanitized.

I’ll just leave you with that thought. Think of it as an early Christmas present.