Princeless Volume One: Save Yourself

princeless-be-a-heroI grew up during the Disney Renaissance, so my favorite movies were Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. While the princesses in these movies were stronger and more independent than  earlier royalty, such as in the male-dependent stories of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, they are not perfect. Action Lab’s all ages comic Princeless takes the standard damsel-in-distress princess story we’re all familiar with and flips it on its head.

Written by Jeremy Whitley with art by M. Goodwin, Princeless follows Princess Adrienne, a black 16-year-old who despises the sexist traditions of the kingdom. She refuses to follow the same path as her sisters to be locked in a dragon-guarded tower to wait for a knight to slay the dragon and rescue her in order to be in line to be king. Unfortunately, her parents do not respect her wishes and Adrienne wakes up to find herself locked in a tower.

Determined to not just waste away waiting for someone to show up, Adrienne keeps busy by befriending the female dragon guarding her, Sparky, and writing in her journal. When she discovers a sword in her tower, things turn and she convinces Sparky to join her as she rescues herself and other princesses locked away.

In the first four-issue arc, Adrienne needs to remain out of sight. Her parents believe she is dead, and if they discover what she’s up to they will try to stop her from getting to the other princesses. This doesn’t mean she stays out of trouble, though; things just get complicated for her. Joined by her new friend, a half-dwarf blacksmith named Bedelia, Adrienne and Sparky set out on their adventure to prove princesses can rescue themselves.princeless-armor

Having a strong female character is not a new concept, but Whitley does a great job at making this story original. In addition to having the princess rescue herself, she’s also black, which is not common in a lot of comics for children. A lot of people are drawing comparisons to G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel with Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager taking over for Carol Danvers. I love that this series has diverse characters for children to see themselves in and see they can be strong despite what society tells them.

When I was a little kid, I remember reading the same books over and over again. Over 20 years later, I can still tell you lines from The Pokey Little Puppy. If I have a little girl, I would love her to read Princeless over and over and carry the message that she can be in control of her own future and she can do anything she wants to do no matter what people tell her.

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Princeless Volume 1
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Art by M. Goodwin
Published March 2014
Action Labs
Images taken from http://princelesscomic.tumblr.com/page/9 and http://www.actionlabcomics.com/shop-comics/
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Preparing for a Convention

The first San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) was held in 1970 with 300 attendees. In 2015, attendance was upwards of 130,000 people after reaching the convention center capacity. SDCC is the largest convention worldwide and is so popular tickets sell out within hours.

In addition to SDCC, many other comic conventions occur throughout the year. Some of the most notable in the United States are the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in downtown Chicago, and Wizard World, which is held in multiple cities across the United States. Conventions have moved beyond comics and embrace pop culture as a whole, including movies, television, gaming, and more, drawing in wider audiences.

If you’re one of the new attendees, you may not be familiar with the best practices for how to save money and get the most out of the convention. Having attended cons for the past seven years, here are my best tips for how to have your best experience:

  • Plan Ahead

    1. Transportation: If you do not live in the convention city, you will need to travel. Driving allows for more lodging options because you won’t need to rely on walking or mass transportation to get to the convention center. Plus, if you carpool you can split gas money. If flying is your only option, check shipping fees; it may be cheaper to mail your purchases home instead of paying extra baggage fees.
    2. Lodging: If you want to stay right next to the convention center, you will need to book your hotel months in advance. I prefer saving money over this convenience, so we’ve been creative in our lodging. This year, five of us stayed in an AirBnb apartment 15 minutes from the convention center. It was not as accommodating as we would have liked, but since we were in the convention hall most of the weekend, it didn’t matter much. Another time, we stayed at a hotel with a pay-in-advance discount. Shop around for the best option for you and your group.
    3. Tickets: A lot of local newspapers and comic shops hold contests for free admission passes. This year for St. Louis Wizard World, Gold’s Gym held an event where they gave out free passes via Facebook and at their superhero themed workout night along with a discount code for non-winners. Keep your eyes open in the months leading up to the convention for any opportunities like these. Some conventions, like SDCC and C2E2, do not have many giveaways due to high demand. Instead, you need to buy those tickets in advance to avoid missing out.
    4. Plan Your Schedule: Conventions post their event times the week of the show, so you can plan your schedule in advance for when you need to get to a panel, autograph, or tournament. Keep in mind these times are subject to change, so you need to check in when you get to the show.
  • Bring What You Need

    1.  Essentials: Every adult who attends a convention needs at minimum their ticket or pass, ID, cash, comfortable shoes, and a sturdy backpack. Cash is important because very few booths will take credit card, but there are usually ATMs on the floor so you can get money out if you really need to. Keep in mind these will charge you hefty transaction fees, though.
    2. Food: Purchasing food at a convention center is the same as at a sports stadium; it’s overpriced, and most of the time, the quality isn’t great. Pack snacks like granola bars and jerky in your backpack. If you park close enough, you can keep food in a cooler in the car and go there to eat lunch. If it’s not practical to walk to your car, pack something that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, like peanut butter and jelly. Most importantly, pack a refillable water bottle. Using a drinking fountain to fill up your bottle is better than waiting in line to pay five dollars for a bottle.
    3. Make a List: Conventions are the best places to find the rare comic issues you need. It was only from going to conventions that I was able to finish my entire run of Bone (which I still believe everyone should read). Make a list so you know what you have and what you’re looking for. We’ve upgraded ours from paper to an app called StoreIt which makes it much easier to find and update information on the fly.
  • At The Con

    1. Shop Around: It’s easy to buy the first thing you find, however that’s rarely the best choice. Booths don’t offer returns, so it’s better to see your options before purchasing so you don’t miss out on a better deal.
    2. Cosplay is Not Consent: Lots of people enjoy dressing up at conventions, but no one likes feeling victimized by having inappropriate pictures taken of them when they’re just trying to represent the things they love. I’ve yet to see a cosplayer turn down a picture, so just be sure to ask to take one and be respectful. This movement started a few years ago, and I’m happy to see conventions embracing and supporting cosplayers.
    3. Have Fun! Conventions can be overwhelming, but it’s a beautiful thing to see so many people gathered in such a welcoming and judge-free zone. There is something for everyone there, so relax and explore.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for attending cons? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Batman v Superman: Starring Wonder Woman

I had high hopes for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With all the success Marvel Cinematic Studios has had, I knew DC Comics and Warner Brothers was going to step up their game, and from the previews I really thought they achieved it. Many reviewers rated it poorly, but it still had a successful opening weekend at $170 million.

While there are a few parts that I did not like, overall I enjoyed the movie. Ben Affleck did a surprisingly great job as Bruce Wayne/Batman; Jeremy Irons played a wonderfully snarky Alfred; Doomsday looked phenomenal and intimidating; but the one who blew everything else in this movie away was Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.

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There are a lot of unanswered questions about Wonder Woman and her secret identity, Diana Prince. All of this is intentional, though, to build up for her solo film in 2017, and since she is not the main character in this movie, not knowing her answers left me with a thirst for more rather than left dissatisfied. Many reviewers have criticized her role stating the movie could have happened without her. I disagree with that because although she didn’t have the largest role, she was still very important both in the plot and in the film franchise.

One of the biggest reasons of why Wonder Woman is important is because she’s, well, a woman, and that brings in a new audience. When my five year old niece saw her introduced in the trailer before Star Wars, she yelled out in the theater “I HAVE to see that movie!” Many comic fans would still see Batman v Superman without Wonder Woman because they like those characters, but having Wonder Woman draws in people who typically would not see that film, either because they like Wonder Woman’s character or maybe they want to support a feminist icon in a blockbuster film. Her involvement with this film helps build the audience for the future Justice League movies.

In terms of the plot, yes, the whole basic premise would have still happened without Wonder Woman, but the final battle against Doomsday would not have been as successful without her. After all, Batman’s main move was using his grappling hook to get away from Doomsday. Wonder Woman is strong enough to attack Doomsday, slicing at his legs with her sword, and also survive his attacks back. One of the highlights of the movie is when she’s thrown back from the battle and has a small smirk, as if to say, “finally – a worthy opponent.” She never backs off from the fight and, along with Batman and Superman, is critical in the final moments of the battle.

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One of my favorite parts about Wonder Woman’s role is she is not sexualized. Gal Gadot is beautiful and the costume and makeup department are sure to embrace her looks when first introducing her. However, after she catches Bruce Wayne’s attention before stealing the information he was trying to steal from Lex Luthor, she is no longer seen as just a beautiful woman. Wayne recognizes her as a respectable and worthy partner and works with her to uncover further information. When she is in battle, she dons her armor and spends most of her time in close combat with Doomsday, not being thrust into awkward positions to make her look more attractive to the audience.

Seeing Wonder Woman portrayed so positively renewed my hope for women in superhero movies. I’m looking forward to her solo film in 2017 and for the positive influence I hope this will have on other superhero movies.

Did you see Batman v Superman? What did you think of her role?

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The Black Tapes Podcast

blacktapesWhether it’s the NPR quiz show Ask Me Another or keeping up-to-date with Adnan Syed’s case in Undisclosed and Serial, podcasts are always playing while I’m in the car, doing dishes, or just hanging out around the house. My future brother-in-law enjoys a lot of the same ones I do, so when he recommended The Black Tapes, I took his advice and started listening. Having finished the first season, I’d like to encourage others to check it out.

The Black Tapes started in May 2015. From their website:

The Black Tapes is a weekly podcast from Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale, and is hosted by Alex Reagan. The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.

Journalist Alex Reagan focuses on Dr. Richard Strand’s work as a ghost hunter who doesn’t believe in ghosts. He runs The Strand Institute, which offers a one million dollar reward for anyone offering proof of the supernatural. In over 20 years, he has never had to pay out because he proves them false, however there are a number of cases he is not yet able to resolve with his current technology. He keeps these case files in black VHS boxes, and when Reagan discovers them, she names them The Black Tapes. Strand allows her to investigate the tapes with him and see what they can uncover.

In addition to the tapes, Reagan also focuses on Strand himself. As a non-believer, he is not welcome in the ghost hunting crowd, and as a person, he’s more than a bit abrasive. There’s also the mystery behind the disappearance of his wife, Coralee, and Strand’s inability to give straightforward answers about it. Reagan balances her work with Strand on the cases with her opinions of him personally, struggling at times with knowing whether or not she can trust him.

Does this all sound real? It’s not. The creators have mimicked the format of Serial in that a journalist is researching a story and relaying it as she discovers information, but it’s not a true story. The creators, however, are committed to depicting it as if it is real. If you visit any of the websites for The Black Tapes, its producing company Pacific Northwest Stories, or even The Strand Institute, you will not find anything that relays these are fictional stories. As one reviewer says, “Ever wonder how people tuned into War of the Worlds and thought it was real? I kinda get it now.”

A typical episode concentrates on one Black Tapes case. Reagan will investigate, sometimes with Strand and sometimes alone, and interview those involved to learn the truth. Strand will repeatedly argue against the supernatural aspect of the case, offering unprovable theories that usually sound valid. As the season goes on, however, it’s hard to be convinced that all is natural with these cases.

If you enjoy stories and the paranormal, I highly recommend listening to The Black Tapes. Some people describe it as Serial meets X-Files or Welcome to Nightvale, but I definitely see hints of Supernatural in this as well. It takes you up and down along their journey with haunting shadows, exorcisms, demon portals, murders, and more. Each episode has a new twist and will leave you wanting more.

You can subscribe to The Black Tapes on iTunes, or you can also listen on theblacktapespodcast.com.

Deadpool – Maybe R Rated Superhero Movies Are Worth Making

I, along with over a million other people, saw Deadpool this past weekend. Before seeing it, I had very basic knowledge of the character: he’s a sassypants “merc with a mouth,” he knows he’s a comic book character, and he breaks the fourth wall by addressing the readers directly. Because Deadpool is such a different character than the superheroes currently in the theaters, I thought it was strange the studio would take a chance on him, and even stranger they agreed to make the movie R since that severely reduced the number of viewers. Deadpool took over 10 years to make because Fox feared producing an R rated superhero movie, but Ryan Reynolds, who both produced and starred in the movie, fought to have it stay true to the comic book character, which meant blood, sex, and profanity. Thankfully, Reynolds won.

Set in the current X-Men cinematic universe, Deadpool went the route Batman Begins, Iron Man, and so many other superhero movies have and told the origin story of his character. Reynolds is Wade Wilson, a former special operative who is now a mercenary in New York City. While he’s not a great guy, he’s happy with the life he has and the woman he’s going to marry, but that’s all ripped away when he’s diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer. Desperate to try anything, Wilson agrees to an experimental treatment plan proposed to him by a guy in a bar.

The treatment is designed to unlock any mutations people already have inside of them. The process works better on some people than others, and unfortunately Wilson falls into the challenging category. With each failed attempt, Wilson learns more about Ajax, the doctor in charge of the experiment, and finds that this experiment doesn’t actually have the good intentions he believed. When Ajax finally unlocks his mutation of accelerated healing, Wilson cures himself of cancer, but at the price of disfiguring his face and body. Ashamed, Wilson refuses to return to his fiance until he can track down Ajax to force him to fix the damage.

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The rest of the movie consists of Wilson taking on his Deadpool persona and going after Ajax. It is formulaic and predictable in that a guy was done wrong and seeks revenge, so it depends on character and dialogue to set it apart from other movies. The main way it does that is by Deadpool talking directly to the audience

Deadpool: [looking into the camera while slicing off his own arm] Did you ever see 127 Hours? Spoiler alert.

and making comments that allude to the fact he knows he’s just a character in a movie even if the others don’t.

Colossus: You will come talk with Professor Xavier.
Deadpool: McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines can get so confusing.

(While at the Xavier Mansion)
Deadpool: Wow, this is such a big house, but I only ever see the two of you here. It’s like the studio didn’t have enough money for any more X-Men…

Both these comments are in reference to the X-Men movies. For those of you not familiar with those films, Professor Xavier is played by Patrick Stewart in the first films and James McAvoy in the later films as younger Xavier. Deadpool is probably correct in saying the studio couldn’t afford any of the popular movie X-Men characters, so they went with two less popular ones: Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played by Brianna Hildebrand). Both of them brought their own highlights to the movie between a physically large Colossus peacefully trying to convince a murder-happy Deadpool to join the X-Men, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead acting like a stereotypical teenager who doesn’t care what anyone says and spends excessive time, even in battle, on her phone.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, Deadpool is rated R for “strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity.” That description sounds tame after seeing the movie. There are even some trailers labeled NSFW that require viewers to enter their birth date in order to watch. One scene that sticks out as being graphic is  IMDB has a full list of reasons for the rating here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1431045/parentalguide. They range from describing how and why people are nude to what scenes have frightening or intense moments to counts of how many times the F-word or its derivative is used (84 times).

Deadpool performed better than anyone expected; according to Box Office Mojo, it made over $132 million domestically in the opening weekend and by the end of the second weekend grossed over $246 million, putting it as the most successful movie in the X-Men series and most successful movie release for all February, Winter, and President’s Day Weekends. It is also the number one R rated comic movie to ever come out, beating 300 and Watchmen.

Marvel has proved recently there is a market for R rated superhero content with the success of the Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones. R rated superhero movies prior to Deadpool, however, have not always fared so well. Watchmen and Kick-Ass are liked by fans of their comics, but the general public did not go to see them. With the success of Deadpool on the heels of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, I expect to see a lot more R rated content for superheroes coming to the big screen.

I personally would love to see an R rated film of Batman’s The Killing Joke. Are there any characters or story lines you would like to see in R rated movies?

Crowdfunding 101: Backing on Kickstarter

Shadows-of-the-Past-boxI finally did it; I jumped down the rabbit hole (or in my case, the manhole) and supported my first crowdfunded project: IDW Game’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past Board Game. It was my fiance, Jake, who suggested backing the project, and as I know his lifelong affection (obsession) with the Turtles and board games, I happily agreed and we started a Kickstarter account so we can be part of bringing the game to fruition.

Kickstarter was founded in April 2009. Since its start, 11 million people have contributed, funding over 103,000 projects. Projects range from board games to comics to restaurants to computers to stage plays and more, so there’s likely at least one project on the site that can appeal to someone.

TMNT: Shadows of the Past isn’t the first project I’ve wanted to support, however the uncertainty of the process kept me from participating. Giving my credit card number out to a project I’m not sure to have a return on made me nervous, plus I didn’t understand the process of how it works. What if it doesn’t reach the goal? What if the product is never delivered? Why would I support something I could eventually just buy in the store?

When we backed Shadows of the Past, it had not yet reached its goal of $250,000. A few hours after donating, I received an email announcing it hit the goal, so all backers at our level received Kickstarter exclusive figures and game expansions. This meant I wouldn’t have been able to purchase this in the store. My interest was piqued.

Later that day I received another update from a stretch goal. Then another. And another. Over the 30 days of the campaign, email after email announced new game components, bonus lithographs, expansions, and more with some of them being enhancements for all games and some being exclusive to backers. I found myself checking the website throughout the day to see just how close we were to the next stretch goal and what the new bonuses would be.

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While I don’t always support trying things out by jumping in with both feet, it worked out in this situation. As the campaign progressed for Shadows of the Past, all of my questions that had previously prevented me from supporting projects were answered.

If you haven’t supported a project on Kickstarter before, the process is simple:

  1. Sign up for an account.
  2. Choose what level to back a project (you get different rewards based on the amount you contribute).
  3. Enter your credit card number.
  4. Watch as the project meets its goal and your rewards come in!

Since backers only pay if the project is funded, Kickstarter waits to collect the money. This gives backers peace of mind because they know even if a project is fully funded early, cards will not be charged until the funding deadline.

For this particular project, IDW is expecting to ship the game and all the bonus content in July of 2016. Other projects vary depending on the amount of work left to go into them. Video games, for example, typically take much longer because of the amount of programming required. There is a slight risk involved that a project creator may not deliver on a finished product, however this is not the norm for Kickstarter projects. You can reduce this risk by investigating the creator and the project to make sure it is something you’re confident in.

I underestimated how exciting it would be to contribute to a crowdfunded project. Since IDW spent time on the forums with backers, they found out what backers were interested in and adapted the goals and game expansions to fit their interests. Had this not been a crowdfunded project, it would have been very different from the resulting product.

Have you participated in crowdfunding any projects?

 

March Books 1 & 2 by John Lewis

Most of the time, comics and graphic novels are a media used to tell larger than life stories, such as Superman taking down Doomsday or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles facing off against the Foot. I love these stories. I hope they never stop making them.

In addition to these works of fiction, I think graphic novels should also produce more memoirs and historical books – like Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Palestine by Joe Sacco, and countless more that give the personal accounts of people experiencing historic times. These books give a more personal connection between the authors and the viewers because they are not only telling the stories of their lives, but recreating the scenes from their views and emotions.

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I was just able to read March Book 1 and written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. Lewis is a congressman from Georgia and is the only one still alive of the speakers from The March on Washington in 1963. Aydin is one of his aides. After learning about the influence of the comic Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story had on a young Lewis to get involved in the peaceful protests, Aydin encouraged Lewis to write his own graphic novel to try to give the same influence. Lewis agreed, and together they wrote Lewis’ memoir, giving details from his childhood, teenage years, and young adult life, while juxtaposing Lewis’ presence at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009.

The book starts out giving some details about Lewis’ childhood. His affection for the farm animals he takes care of and his love for school make him a likeable character for many readers. It ensures we’re on his side when he grows older and tells of his time at college, his involvement with the sit ins at lunch counters, his time with The Freedom Riders, and many other peaceful protests which were often met with a violent response from many white people and police officers.

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In school, I learned about the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. I know about Rosa Parks. I know about Martin Luther King. I know the basics. What I learned was a group of people were being discriminated against and had to stand up to fight for their rights. What you don’t understand in school is how individuals were affected by these events. When Lewis recounts the attacks he and his fellow protestors endured, you can see his face bloody and beaten, and one of the other Freedom Riders beaten to the point of being left paralyzed. This invokes a much more personal and emotional response than just hearing the general overview.

March is being used as required reading in college courses now. As a former intern with The Institute for Comics Studies, which promoted the use of comics and graphic novels as educational materials, I’m very happy this change is happening and that people are appreciating the art and story of graphic novels as much as regular text. I hope this trend continues and we get more and more material integrated into schools.

What graphic novels do you think should be used in schools?

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March Book One
Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
Published August 2013
Top Shelf Productions
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March Book Two
Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
Published January 2015
Top Shelf Productions