Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Using Powers for Good

A hundred years ago (give or take), before I moved to Colorado, I lived in Michigan and worked for a public television station. As educational outreach coordinator of children’s programming, I trained parents and preschool and early elementary teachers to use PBS programming as an educational tool. I learned an important lesson at that job. Children learn in various ways and it’s essential to provide educators with alternative teaching resources, especially teachers in cash-strapped school districts.

So what does this have to do with geekdom? I want to tell you about two great alternative educational programs started by comic book fans. I got excited when I interviewed to help with Denver Comic Con, especially when they told me that they were the fundraiser for Comic Book Classroom (CBC). CBC is an after school literacy program that gets reluctant readers interested in reading through comic books. The students don’t just read comic books; they learn out to create their own sequential art…that’s a fancy way of saying comics for non-geek readers. This seven-week program takes the budding artists through the process of creating a story and the artwork. After it’s all said and done, the students will get their own table at Denver Comic Con to show off their work and get to meet and consult with professional comic book artist about their creations.

I’ve always admired teachers who were able to recognize that sometimes they had to go that extra mile to find unique ways to reach their kids. CBC is in eight schools this semester, up from our first class last fall. We have three summer programs scheduled and a waiting list for schools for fall. Everyone involved volunteers, including the executive director, Illya Kowalchuk. It’s our hope that the success of Denver Comic Con allow us to expand into even more schools and offer our curriculum outside the Denver area. But we’re one small program and the need for this type of curriculum is huge.

So what does a superhero do once he or she runs up against a tough villain they can’t fight on their own? They team up with other superheroes. There’s a Kickstarter out there for a great project called The Graphic Textbook. The creator of the literacy program Reading with Pictures, Josh Elder, has brought together notable artists, like Katie Cook and Amy Reeder, with educators to create lesson plans for 3-6 graders. More and more educators are beginning to recognize the value for sequential art as a learning tool. And why not? Imagine, as a student, being able to see train A going 60 miles an hour heading west, while train B… You get the picture. I wish this had been available when I was a kid. I remember kind, old Mr Krietzinger telling me not to worry, girls weren't supposed to be good at math. But I digress, that's another social issue we can talk about later. The Graphic Textbook is another amazing option for teachers to reach kids. But they need help to get it published.

The cool thing is Comic Book Classroom and The Graphic Textbook project have teamed up! Comic Book Classroom is providing tickets to the new Denver Comic Con in June as a Kickstarter reward for The Graphic Textbook. And, it just happens both Katie Cook and Amy Reeder will be appearing there. You can use your powers for good by supporting two great children’s literacy programs at once and get to see great artists in the process. So if you're looking for a great destination Con or a great way to spend Father's Day and want to help kids, then check it out (they're over in the the Cool Stuff to Check Out menu)! And if you do purchase the DCC reward, find me when you get there, I'd love to say thanks for supporting a cause that's near and dear to my heart!!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Review (kinda): The Cabin in the Woods

I scored tickets to an advanced screening of The Cabin in the Woods for last night. As you might have notice, if you’ve read my other blogs, I don’t do scary and icky. What a dilemma. A movie co-written by Joss Whedon and, Angel scribe, Drew Goddard provides an obvious draw for any Whedon fan but it’s a horror movie. Whedonverse. Horror movie. Whedonverse. Horror movie. Tough call but the Whedonverse won out. It didn’t hurt that one of my all-time favorites, Amy Acker, would be there along with Drew Goddard, who also directed. How could I pass that up? So, I took a jacket to cover my eyes and braced myself.

As I said, I don’t do horror so I don’t have a lot to compare it to but I’m fairly certain that audiences aren’t usually laughing their asses off within the first minutes of most scary movies. And I’m going to guess that they aren’t still laughing their asses off until the very end. The chemistry of the five protagonists helped. You instantly liked all of them. Of course, they’re all token horror movie characters—dumb athletes, dumb blonde, and dumb stoner. Surprise—they’re all brainiacs, nice touch. Even the sexy blonde is a pre-med student. The banter between them is great but Fran Kranz’s comic timing really shined and he pulled it all together. Also, I think if this movie had come out in 2009, when it was supposed to, many would have noticed Chris Hemsworth and said “keep an eye on that one, he’s going place.” Since we know him, though, as George Kirk and Thor, we’re aware of his screen presence. The amazing supporting cast of Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Amy Acker has their own hilarious storyline which amps up the mystery and keeps the audience wondering how it's all going to fit together.

Just as I started to let my guard down, the scariness commenced. Goodard and Whedon display their admiration for the genre and gave a nod to lots of classics. I jumped, screamed, and hid my eyes aplenty. I also spent time trying to figure out what was going to happen and why. This wasn’t a single-track, monster, blood-a-thon movie, though there's plenty of that for serious horror fans. The complex narrative required paying attention. Not only was it unclear where the next bogeyman would come from, you weren’t sure where the story was taking you. I’m working hard not to give anything away. I’m just going to say, if you like to have your brain challenged while your heart is racing, then this is the movie for you. Ironically, because of the complexity of the story, I want to go back and see it again. As someone said to me last night, this might be my gateway drug to horror movies. Only if all horror movies are this smart and funny.

Finally, from a fan’s perspective, Amy Acker and Drew Goddard were wonderful. Besides the question and answer session after the movie, they both talked with every attendee that wanted to meet them and signed autographs. Drew Goddard went to school locally (didn’t know that) and could have excused himself. I’m sure he had friends waiting to see them. Instead, he answered all questions and sincerely thanked each person for coming. That’s very impressive.

So, go and see The Cabin in the Woods. It’s frightfully funny.

They took my ticket at the door, so I just had them sign this (geek squeal).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome to New Media: Geek and Sundry

This past year Google granted funds to 100 independent web-based production companies to create original programming for its new YouTube channels. One of the people to receive a grant is web darling, Felicia Day. For those not familiar, Day is the co-producer, writer, and lead actor of the web sensation, “The Guild” as well as acting in several Whedonverse projects.And, it turns out, a rather savvy businesswoman. Her grant resulted in the YouTube Channel Geek and Sundry (G&S) and they launched their first programming yesterday. 

Geek and Sundry caters to viewers who discovered Day on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” followed her to “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” and did a little happy dance with the introduction of “The Guild.” If you haven't seen "The Guild" then here's a little (very little) synopsis. The show follows the misadventures of Cyd Sherman, an dedicated gamer forced to deal with the hilarious fall out of her real and gaming worlds colliding. Get yourself over to YouTube and check it out as soon as you can. But, back to the matter at hand. Yes, geekdom has found it’s very own channel and here are my thoughts about their initial offerings.


First up, G&S brought on Wil Wheaton, who needs no introduction, to serve as executive producer and host of “TableTop,” which demos tabletop board games. He brings in three of his friends to try out that week's game. The games usually last about two hours, compressed into a 30-minute show, complete with instruction and helpful hints. There’s lots of kidding around and some bleeping of trash talk but it’s all in good fun. I liked the chemistry between the players, you can tell these people like to hang out after the cameras have stopped rolling. And the ‘sidebar’ graphics provide more detailed explanations of the rules. Granted, these games, if the first episode is an indication, are a little more complicated than toy store choices. They kicked off with Small World, a game full of strategy and fantasy characters. I would call this a two-timer, a game that would take my family and me two times to get the rules under our belt. As my nephews get older, our family games get more sophisticated. “TableTop” is a great chance to see what’s out there. The first person I recommended the show to was actually my sister, Carey. She’s our resident game master and is always looking for new ideas. I think a show like this gives people who maybe aren’t as adventurous about tabletop board gaming the guidance they need to explore new options. And Wil Wheaton is a hoot!

“The Flog”

Next up is a video blog hosted by Felicia Day called “The Flog”. She starts each episode with five different items she recently discovered like a new song or new website. Then she invites viewers to join her as she learns a new skill. In the first episode, Day explains that her avatar in the video game SkyRim is a blacksmith, so she decides to find out what it’s like to smith metal. She looks like she’s having a blast and that makes it a blast to watch. Now, I’m about to say something that I mean as a compliment and hope that it’s taken in that spirit. It reminds me of watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.” Do you remember when Mr. Rogers took us to the Crayola factory and we learned how to make crayons? Or when “Sesame Street” showed us how cheese went from being milk on the farm to cheese in the store? It’s a lot like that and that’s so cool. Wouldn’t it be great to wake up and say “I wonder what it’d be like to…” and you get to do that for a day job. So we get to live vicariously through Day’s adventures and share in the fun she’s having.

“Dark Horse Motion Comics”

The final new show is “Dark Horse Motion Comics.”  I don’t really follow comics and I don’t really like horror. But I was curious and decided to check it out the first two episodes. I’m assuming ‘The Secret’ series is a horror tale because it begins with a bloody hand and a woman’s scream. The telling has been more suspense and less gore, which is a relief to this big chicken. Artist Jason Shawn Alexander’s striking artwork creates the backdrop to the typical teenage-prank-gone-wrong story. The suspense builds as a group of high school students attempt to solve a mystery after getting no help from local authorities. It’ll be interesting to see if any twists develop in the story, so far it seems a little predictable. I like the overall of aesthetic of motion comics and want to see how it works for other artists. Surprisingly, in the end, I actually found that I'm looking forward to catching the upcoming episodes of 'The Secret' later this week to what happens next.

Overall, I like the communal feel of G&S programming and am curious to see where they take it. I'm really excited about the children's show, "Written by a Kid," for several reasons that I'll explore later. If you haven’t seen these shows yet, I have a link for Geek and Sundry over in the Cool Stuff to Check Out section. I look forward to watching the other programs as they come available.


Coming soon!
  • More Geek and Sundry shows
  • A review of Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Let's get started on the next chapter

Okay, I’m ready to admit it. I’m a geek.

There have been times in my (cough) forty something years that I suspected it but, upon further analysis, I didn’t think I fit the bill. No pocket protector, I’m terrible at math and science, and I’m not male. Yes, I’ve always been a little (another cough-moderately) socially awkward and gravitated to sci-fi but really, who hasn’t. It wasn’t as if I had a comic book collection that took three rooms in my house. I didn’t even up level from Pong to Space Invader back in the day. So, I was obsessed with medieval history at an early age and could tell you all of King Henry’s wives by the time I was 15, who couldn’t at that age. So I read my grandmother’s World Book Encyclopedia collection from cover to cover the summer I turned nine. It wasn’t like I was a straight A student. I can’t even spell encyclopedia without a little help from a dictionary (or spell check).

So for decades, I lived a life of denial and called by myself a film buff that prefers sci-fi and fantasy or a history enthusiast. But I wasn’t a geek or a nerd. Yet, for all my protestations, I heard the siren’s call.

I always wanted to attend a comic con and get to meet my heroes of film and television. My bubble quickly burst when I looked into attending THE comic con. Besides the cost to get there, the cost to get in was, well, more than I could afford. Then I realized, there isn’t just one comic con, there are many comic cons scattered throughout the country. So I proceeded to investigate the possibilities of what was available in my neck of the mountains. What did I find? There is no comic con in my neck of the mountains. Serendipitously, however, there was one coming and they were looking for help. Better yet, they needed help with something I knew a little something about. They needed a volunteer coordinator!

So I signed up and I got on board. It quickly became clear. I had found my Island of Misfit Toys, my Serenity, my Cheers, and my Hall of Justice… all at one time. I was welcomed, not just as someone with experience they needed, as a kindred spirit. I belonged. Of course, my friends and family weren’t surprised at all, except maybe at how long it took me to figure it all out (I've always been a late bloomer). But I quickly realized something else.

Being a geek isn’t necessarily about what you’re in to. It’s about a feeling. Recently a rather famous geek said, “No matter what I do with my life, or how successful I am, I will always be a socially awkward penguin inside. That shit runs deep, man.”[i] I realized, no matter how old you get that feeling never really goes away, that sense of loneliness and isolation, but then you stumble upon a group of people that make you feel like you belong, that you have a common purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I have an amazing family and great friends but still something was missing. Part of my identity.

Oh sure, we can get all philosophical about creating our own identity and living outside the box as prescribed by social constructs determined by an artificially developed “they.” But isn't that the paradox? Standing on top of that box and shouting, “I am who I am so deal with it!” can be a lonely place. And so I begin my adventure into self-discovery by bonding with other individuals who stand on top of their boxes and shout instead of trying to live in it. I hope that you come along on the trip, the more the merrier.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries about myself in the last couple of months. One, the aforementioned “I’m a geek.” Two, I’m not a girl and I haven’t been one for many years. It's not like I came into this as a girl and outgrew that; I came into this at forty-six. It seems weird to call myself a geek girl. So, I’m a geek…woman. I hope that understanding gives this blog a unique and interesting perspective along the way. There will be book, television, webisode, and movie reviews, personal observations, what it’s like to work inside a Con, conversations with other geek women in the business, and probably a bunch of stuff that will allow my adult daughters to have a Twitter page about the dumb stuff their mom says. There won’t be zombies, though. Ew, they creep me out.


Coming soon!
  • My take on the entertainment offerings of the new You Tube channel Geek & Sundry.
  • A review of Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods
Stay tuned!

[i] Okay, I’m not sure about the proper protocol of citing a Tweet but Wil Wheaton said this on March 22, 2012.