Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Part 1 and four reasons you may not care for it

And so the obsession begins again. You can also read my reviews of "Lord of the Rings" 1, 2, and 3.
You will consume the bulk of my thoughts and actions for the next three years.
 If you're hoping to go into theaters this winter and see "The Hobbit: A Thrilling Prequel to the Lord of the Rings," congratulations, I think you'll thoroughly enjoy about half of this movie. If you're hoping for "The Hobbit: An Adaptation of the Beloved Children's Story," you'll thoroughly enjoy the other half of this movie. The problem with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is that it can't commit to being one or the other, and the result is complete tonal whiplash between whimsy and aggressive grandeur.

But let's back up for a moment and talk about the eighties.

My main cinematic influences growing up were Disney, of course, and Jim Henson. Like many children, I watched a lot of Sesame Street, a lot of the Muppet Show and Muppet movies, "Star Wars," and the full battery of live-action fantasy movies with Henson's puppet creations, the most memorable in my mind being "Labyrinth." When you thought of live-action fantasy, you thought first and foremost of Jim Henson's beautiful and whimsically grotesque creations.
And David Bowie's magnificent package.
Fantasy didn't get much better than Jim Henson. That was the problem. I love Jim Henson as much as the next red-blooded American, but he was limited by budget and technology to movies and creations that looked fake. I'm not saying they didn't look good; he certainly knew how to make a fully-realized fantasy world and inhabit it with interesting-looking creatures. And the low-budget-ness art production of "Labyrinth" and "Dark Crystal" is part of their charm. Yes, the rocks are all clearly made of foam and the backgrounds are all matte paintings, but you can say the same of the original "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who" television series. Realism is completely beside the point of these creative properties. They're supposed to take place outside of the real world. It's okay for them to look fake, even aggressively artificial, because it fits thematically with stories set in the realm of pure imagination.
Imagine my slave laborers want to toil in my factory.
Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy changed all of that. He created the first live-action fantasy film that strove for verisimilitude (and he succeeded because he was given the time and resources to turn the nation of New Zealand into his own personal sound stage). The face of live-action fantasy when from this--

to this:

Not to be hyperbolic, but in terms of the evolution of film, LOTR was basically the moment when we started making tools and fire instead of just squatting in a dark cave cramming moss and raw lizard tails down our gullets.

So it's going to sound a little weird when I say that "The Hobbit" needed less Peter Jackson and more Jim Henson; it needed to be closer to "Labyrinth" than LOTR.

I can remember the exact moment when I had this thought. It was in the scene when the dwarves are captured and brought before the Goblin King in Goblintown. The King makes his "I got you!" speech and has his little minion take a letter, and then the minion goes zooming away down a zip-line in his little cage to deliver the letter. Right then I thought, "Jim Henson lives!" The design of the minion, the way he moved, and the whole concept of that pipsqueak goblin secretary zipping around Goblintown in his cage delivering the words of the Goblin King was straight out of Jim Henson Studios.

It was perfect. Perfect for an adaptation of "The Hobbit." Perfect for a live-action fantasy movie aimed at children. Perfect for the whimsical world of Tolkien's beloved children's novel. This was "The Hobbit" movie I wanted to see.

And there wasn't enough of that overall. There wasn't enough whimsy or charm. There was too much war, too much gravitas, too much--well, I felt like the old Reese's peanut butter commercials: "You got Lord of the Rings in my Hobbit!"

I'm not saying that I disliked the movie. As the BF said after our first viewing, "It wasn't a bad movie. It wasn't even a mediocre movie." It was a good movie (as you can tell by my use of the the phrase "first viewing"). It just wasn't a great movie, because it couldn't decide what kind of movie it wanted to be, or what demographic it wanted to appeal to the most.

Four main examples of where this movie went wrong, and let's put a big damn SPOILER alert at this point for both the movie and the books:

1) Radagast the Brown. Why? Just why? Ten years ago I read LOTR and thanked all the stars in heaven that Jackson didn't feel the need to immortalize Tom Bombadil on screen, but apparently he was just saving that nonsensical embarrassment of a character for "The Hobbit." The only people who would find Radagast the Brown funny or compelling, with the fidgeting and the capering and huge streak of bird shit down his face, are five-year-olds. And you can't take a five-year-old to see this movie! Right after Radagast saves his little hedgehog friend and dashes off on his bunny-sled, he's almost stabbed by a ghostly wraith and gets chased out of an evil fortress by an unholy abomination from the deepest pits of hell. You need to be at least ten, or a very brave eight, to see this movie without screaming and crying and demanding to leave the theater. And yet the rest of us have to suffer through several agonizing minutes with Radagast the Teletubby that don't even advance the main plot.

2) Speaking of things that don't advance the plot, why that long, boring scene of the wizards and elves sitting around a table talking to each other? Saruman, Gandalf, Elrond and Galadrial all gather in Rivendell to discuss the bad shit going down these days. This is the clearest thematic and story tie-in to LOTR, because of course they're really talking about the rise of Sauron, which is kind of a big deal in the other movies. But it's an awful scene. It's boring, grinds the story to a screeching halt, commits the fatal sin of telling rather than showing, and again, I can't imagine who it's supposed to appeal to.

If you read the books, you don't need to be told that the Necromancer is the first sign of the second rise of Sauron. If you only watched the LOTR movies and didn't read the books, you'd at least recognize that the evil ghost in the  big scary castle is one of the Ringwraiths that were heavily featured in all three LOTR movies. Gee, could there be a connection there? And if you didn't read the books and didn't watch any of the previous movies, then all this means nothing to you and will just leave you wondering why you're wasting your time with these tall magical people talking gravely at each other, when you paid good money to watch thirteen short hairy people and one short fussy person go on an adventure.

3) The subplot with the Pale Orc seeking revenge against Thorin made me roll my eyes so much they nearly fell out of my skull. The BF railed hard against this character. "So now we have to sit through this stupid son-must-avenge-the-father revenge story? It cheapens the whole movie! It wasn't in the book and anyway it's been done! It's been done to death, and it's not what "The Hobbit" is about! Why?"

The weird thing is, I can see the reasoning behind the character of the Pale Orc and his blood-feud with Thorin. It's meant to make Thorin more like Aragorn in LOTR (they even look alike, what a coincidence), to give him nobility and a higher purpose in this story than just reclaiming gold and treasure from Smaug the Dragon. It's also meant to spice up the story by giving Jackson an excuse to show some of the Dwarf and Goblin Wars in flashback, which, I admit, looked pretty cool on screen but don't otherwise figure into the main story at all.

But even though the Pale Orc subplot was much more interesting and advanced the story more than the two previous examples on this list, it's actually the one I hated the most. Thorin isn't Aragorn. He isn't the dark, brooding hero reluctantly stepping forth from his self-imposed exile to accept his great destiny. Thorin in the book is pompous, long-winded, a little arrogant, and a little too eager to call himself King and lay claim to greatness he doesn't necessarily achieve. He's not exactly a hero in the traditional sense, but he thinks he is, and that's what makes him compelling.

The problem from a movie-making perspective is that all of Thorin's best character development comes at the end of the book, when the dwarves have recovered the treasure and Thorin sits in his grandfather's seat as King Under the Mountain. And if you're a movie director making "The Hobbit" into a trilogy, you can't wait until the second half of the last movie to explore what Thorin Oakenshield is really about. Which brings us to...

4) This movie is too long for the amount of story it tells. As soon as the credits started to roll after almost three hours of footage, the BF and I both said, "I want to see a theatrical cut of that movie." We wanted "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" with the fat trimmed off, without Radagast, the mini-Council of Elrond, or the Pale Orc, which really belong in the extended edition of this movie, not in the theatrical release (if they even have a place in this movie at all, which I don't think they do). If this is what Jackson created with the extra time and breathing room he has by making "The Hobbit" into three movies, I'm thinking that he should have stuck with his original plan to just make two. Almost everywhere he's added to or deviated from the source material, it was intended to make "The Hobbit" more like "Lord of the Rings" in either story or tone, and those were inevitably the worst parts of the movie.

Because here's the thing: "The Hobbit" can clearly stand on its own as a movie, without allusions to the rise of Sauron or parallels to LOTR characters. The parts of this movie that were done right, that made me smile and made my heart soar, were lifted straight from the pages of the book: the party that Bilbo reluctantly hosts for the rowdy dwarves in his hobbit-hole; the scene with the trolls in the woods; and the whole glorious sequence in Goblintown where the dwarves and Gandalf fight their way out out of the mountain while Bilbo trades riddles with Gollum beside the subterranean lake. Those were all in the book and they all translated perfectly to the screen.

Jackson didn't need the extra stuff, and he should have known better, considering what and who came before him. The elements that make "The Hobbit" a great fantasy story on the big screen are the same elements that Jim Henson & Co. were using in their movies for years, probably because they were influenced by "The Hobbit"! Watch "Labyrinth," "Willow," or "Legend," and you'll see traces of "The Hobbit" everywhere: the reluctant every-man leaving his/her comfort zone, the bumbling but well-meaning sidekicks, the dragons and goblins and trapdoors and slides through caves (lots of cave-slides, it's one of the more random fantasy tropes). That was why I wanted more Jim Henson in Peter Jackson's "Hobbit," because Henson already knew that whimsy and charm and erudite villains were what made Tolkien's book a classic, not monsters holding aloft bloody severed heads or politicians sitting around tables talking about war. That's what LOTR is about, I'll grant that; but that's not "The Hobbit."

I want to stress again that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is not a bad  movie. It's a good movie, a damn sight better than any other live-action fantasy ever made before LOTR. If LOTR hadn't been made and all we had was "The Hobbit," I'd say it's the best fantasy film ever. I feel the same way about "The Dark Knight Rises," that if it was the only superhero movie to come out after Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" it would be the best superhero movie ever. But I wrote such a scathing review of "The Dark Knight Rises" because it followed a couple of truly stellar superhero movies ("The Dark Knight" and "The Avengers") and a decade of not-stellar but still-good superhero movies, starting with "X-Men" in 2000 and "Spider-Man" in 2002.

It's no longer enough for fantasy and superhero movies to be good-enough, they have to be better-than. We've gotten fat and spoiled on the geek offerings of our age, loath to accept whatever scraps are tossed our way now that we've feasted at the table of billion-dollar Oscar-winning blockbusters. I feel a bit bad about tearing this poor movie to shreds because it doesn't meet my completely unrealistic expectations for being the best thing ever. I've seen it twice, after all, and enjoyed myself both times.

So in my next post, I'm going to list the things I liked about "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," because there was a lot to like and I don't want to be the kind of critic who can only criticize.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Appreciating the Season in New York City

I lived in Hawaii for 22 years and never went to Pearl Harbor. I've lived in New York for four and a half years and have never been to the Statue of Liberty.

But on that same note, I went to the volcano in Hawaii more times than I can count, and I've been to see the great big Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center twice, the second time being last night.

It wasn't something I would have done on my own. Like most New Yorkers, I see more of my city when I'm showing it off to out-of-towners. This weekend, my lifelong friend C is visiting from Hawaii, which means it's time for adventuring!

Yesterday was a big day for us. C and I took the bus out to Gowanus to the Brooklyn Craft Fair. The address took us a street that was mixed residential and warehouses. At first we thought our event must be in the abandoned water tower, since it couldn't be in the office supply warehouse, but then C spotted the food trucks selling gourmet Chinese dumplings and we knew we were in the right place.

"Way different from the koa wood stuff you see in Hawaii," she remarked as we browsed booths of hand-printed stationary, knit caps with ear flaps that looked like big headphones, silk-screen t-shirts, and watch gear jewelry. We each both a small gift for someone in our family and then had fancy cocktails with gin and vodka, very tasty.

After that, we left Brooklyn on the subway and met up with the BF in Chelsea, where he gave us a walking tour of the neighborhood that included the Hotel Chelsea and London Terrace. I'd told C earlier in the day, "He's going to tell you about windows," and sure enough, the BF had a lot to say about the evolution of windows in those historic buildings.

I finally made it to the High Line Park that day, after nearly two years of promising myself I would go to the park on the old elevated railway. It's clearly changing that neighborhood quite a bit, and not just because everyone whose apartment windows face the park now have thousands of strangers looking into their living spaces. We saw a lot of construction, and it remains to be seen how it will change the still-industrial feel of the buildings between the High Line and the Hudson River.

Since we were in Chelsea, we decided to have an abridged tour of the art gallery scene. We only visited three, but I feel we got a pretty good cross-section of what's going on in the art world right now. The first gallery was full of pieces made with leather instead of canvas, mixing Japanese Buddhist and Catholic imagery. The colors were rich, the leatherwork was amazing, and I would have liked to take home one of the artist's works.

I can't say the same for the work we saw in the second gallery, which was weird and disturbing. It looked like huge photographs of extremely realistic plastic molds of people's faces and bodies that the artist had smashed. We all had the same reaction: "Where are that woman's nipples?!" We didn't even go inside; seeing it from the street was enough.

The third and final gallery was part of a printmaking school, so it was an interesting mix of student pieces that varied in quality and subject matter. I fell in love with a set of six prints that were just black trees on a white background. But the trees were the tiny little ones the city plants on sidewalks and holds up with wires and stakes, so that one day they'll be great big trees that give shade and fall down on cars during hurricanes. There was something so hopeful about those tiny trees. I identified with them. I am those trees.

Plus the elevator up to the gallery was an old hand-operated one with the folding cage door, and I always like those.

But wait--there's more! C wanted to see the big tree at Rockefeller Center, so we jammed ourselves into a crowded F train and entered the even more crowded Midtown tourist crowd. If the BF hadn't been there to show us the shortcut through 30 Rock, we wouldn't have made it. I almost abandoned our mission twice before he led us through the lobby and out the revolving doors to the foot of the tree itself. It was magnificent.

And then we fled back to Brooklyn, where the buildings are lower and the crowds are thinner. C and I have been on trips to Europe together, and we both agreed that none of those capitals, not even London or Rome, feel as big and busy as New York City does. It was quite the day, and I'm glad we did it. Even when you live in one of the most exciting cities in the world, you tend to get into a little rut going between your sleeping place and your working place, day after day after day. Sometimes it takes a set of fresh eyes to get you out and about, and appreciate the splendor right outside your doorstep.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Working Late

There's a new moon tonight, so it's very dark over Brooklyn. A couple of weeks ago when I was coming home from the radio show, there was a laser sculpture over the city, a prism of colored beams in honor of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

There's no laser sculpture for me to see from my building tonight. There is the Chrysler Building, though, with its yellow scallops of light at it's peak. It was designed by one of my company's graduates, so it always gratifies me to see it in the New York skyline. There's also the Empire State Building, green tonight with some red trim on the spire, for Christmas. Tonight is the fifth night of Chanukah; I feel like ESB should be blue and white for that, but so it goes.

Speaking of spires, I also see the unfinished 1 World Tower, which replaces the destroyed World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower, as it's sometimes called, is already the tallest building in the city, unfinished though it may be. It's covered in twinkle-lights right now, bare construction bulbs strapped to the exposed beams that make it unique in New York's nightscape. And speaking of spires, the Freedom Tower got one of its own recently. The added height will make it the tallest building in the Western hemisphere. Here it goes, on its way up for installation.
And in the student housing across the courtyard from my desk on the 6th floor, I see two girls decorating a Christmas tree that must take up the entire floor space. Well, there's less than a week left in the semester, so why not?

That's what's going on outside the windows tonight. It's quiet here when I'm alone. Except for the damn air vents that make it sound like the building is a 747 about to reach its cruising altitude.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A few regrettable instances

Here are some--I don't want to say "stupid," because I like to think of myself as a rather clever woman--so we'll just say some "regrettable" things I've done lately, in no particular order:

During yoga class, I was so startled that I actually managed to get into a hand stand that I let my arms collapse and crashed back onto the floor head-first

I got a box of mixed nuts at the grocery store and dumped the whole thing out onto the counter trying to find the macadamia nuts promised on the ingredients label. There were no mac nuts.

I lost my menorah. How does one lose a big brass religious candelabra in an apartment that's smaller than your average Starbucks?

There was some dust in the bottom of a coffee mug, so I blew into the mug to clean it out and all the dust blew up into my eyes.

I called Tom Waits' "Rain Dogs" album "Singapore," which is the name of a single song on "Rain Dogs." I thought Iggy Pop and The Ramones were British. I thought David Bowie was American. And I didn't realize that Iggy Pop is gay--or that David Bowie isn't. (This all happened in a single conversation in the radio station. I may not be allowed to go back.)

I lit a cinnamon-scented candle to make my apartment more "Christmasy" and had to open my window in the middle of a rain storm to get the stench out.

I found my menorah. It was on the window sill.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sick of chocolate now

It didn't take that long. As soon as I walked into the Hershey Lodge in Pennsylvania, into the muggy fog of artificial chocolate scent they pipe into the lobby, chocolate ceased to be a treat to enjoy and more a challenge to endure. I threw away the second half of my check-in Hershey bar, and didn't even partake of the baskets of free fun-size Hershey products the Lodge puts in every conference room. By the end of my business trip, after using the Lodge's soap, shampoo, and lotion, my whole body smelled overwhelmingly of chocolate and I was ready to go home.

Fortunately, my apartment no longer smelled overwhelming of pork sausage, otherwise I might have spontaneously combusted from the hideous combination of fumes as soon as I walked in the door.

Then yesterday, I hosted a party for a bunch of departments at my company and crammed my cakehole so full of cookies and brownies and--well, cake, that I'm pretty sure my sweat would give a butterfly diabetes. (Butterflies like sweat. And poop. Look it up.) We put ice cream in the eggnog, for heavens sake! Do you know how dense eggnog is with ice cream in it?

How dense is it, Big Island Rachel?!

Hey, I've warned you about that sort of behavior. Don't make me get Security.

But to answer your question, the eggnog was dense as reading "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" while watching the second season of "Game of Thrones" at the same time. 

Fun fact: the briefcase I was so excited to use on my business trip? It had been so long since I'd used that thing--

How long was it, Big Island Rachel?!

I'm getting a blunt object. You'd better start running while you still have use of your limbs, because I'm going to do to you what Maui did to the sun.

It had been so long since I used my briefcase that there were resumes inside of it. Don't struggle, you'll just give yourself internal bleeding.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Foolish questions

Last Tuesday at my radio show, I was talking to the monitors L and C, student workers who handle all of the technical aspects of the Rodent Hour, such as "are we broadcasting?" "can you actually hear us?" and "we have a band, make it so everyone can hear them." In other words, they do most of the actual work. I mostly just talk, tweet and blog.

C and I follow each other on Tumblr, so we were chatting about our various social media projects. L asked me, "You have a blog?"

"Many of them," I replied, "for the Rodent Hour and for myself."


I was confused. "Why what?"

"Why do you have a blog? What do you write about?"

C and I looked at each other. Then we looked back at L.

"That's the most foolish question I've ever heard," I said.

And the topic was closed.

I reviewed Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" over at my book blog, by the way.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Delay and Business Trip

I probably could have written a post yesterday, on my regularly scheduled day. But I got home from spending the holiday weekend uptown, sat down on the couch, took my pants off, and that was basically the end of everything I had planned for my Sunday. I think we all know how that goes.

There's a new book review over at Big Island Rachel's Books. I read "This Side of Paradise" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Short version: no short version! Don't be lazy! You can go over to the other website and read the whole review if you're curious.

My next post pay be late, too. I'll be away this Wednesday for a conference in Pennsylvania. That's right, I'm gonna put on my big girl panties and go on a business trip! I'll wear a suit, and carry a briefcase, and save my receipts for reimbursement, and I'm going to be so fucking grown-up I can't goddamn stand it! Woooooo! BUSINESS TRIP!
Where's the business beers and business water-park? I'm here on business!
How far I have come from the early days of working in New York when I couldn't even wear a pair of black trousers without wanted to punch my face full of holes and stick safety pins through them.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No parade, just pork sausage

Two years ago, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade went right past the BF's bedroom window. The balloons floated past at eye level while we had our morning tea and my mom in Hawaii watched from my laptop on Skype.

I can confidently say that I will never again watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The route has changed and the BF has moved apartments, so I'd have to either watch it on television or stand out in the cold sandwiched between Midwesterners and their sticky, screaming children. Both choices would sully that one perfect Thanksgiving morning when I got to laze around in a comfy bed, waving to Hello Kitty and Spider-Man as they floated past me.
No, Thanksgiving 2012 begins with me sitting in an apartment that has smelled overwhelmingly of pork sausage for the last three days. I don't know what to do about it. I've windexed the stove, the counter, the floor in front of the stove, the top of the fridge and microwave and kitchen cabinets, and the outside of the toaster. I even opened the window one evening and turned on the ceiling fan, 45 degree windchill be buggered, but I woke up this morning, took a whiff, and sure enough--stale pork.

This is why I hate cooking meat.

People sometimes ask me if I'm a vegetarian, especially at work when I warm up my lunch in the microwave. They see the brown rice and steamed broccoli and assume I'm on some sort of moral and nutritional high ground, looking down on the peasants with their take-out meatballs and shredded beef.

But the truth is that I'm just cheap and lazy. I cook all of my own meals because it's cost-effective, and I cook mostly vegetables because clean-up is easier when you don't have to deal with hot grease and bits of animal flesh. If I don't cook meat, I can put off taking out the trash for days before the fruit and vegetable rinds start to stink.

That's not to say that I don't know how to cook. Every time I went home to the Big Island for a summer break in college, I would cook up a storm. I was finally a big enough Big Island Rachel to be trusted with all food gathering and preparation, and since I never had a kitchen the whole time I lived in Honolulu, I tended to go a little nuts in my mother's kitchen.

I experimented. Many batches of hummus and falafel with varying degrees of success; lots of butternut squash soup and fish-and-bacon chowder, I perfected those recipes early on (the secret is half a pound of butter); creme brulee, scones, and a sort of tropical fruit tart that I drizzled with 151 rum and set on fire to impress the neighbors; cold pasta salad loaded with olives and palm hearts; eggs Benedict and Florentine; omelets.

That was just summertime cooking. Coming home for winter breaks meant cooking for the holidays, and say what will you about the New York party scene, nobody parties like the Big Island at Christmas. I cooked a picture-perfect turkey with the lightly browned stuffing spilling out of its ass; lamb roast with rosemary-red wine marinade; filet mignon with wasabi-sesame sauce; deep fried coconut shrimp; dressing with smoked oysters, celery and craisans; deviled eggs; stuffed mushrooms.

All of this to say that I can cook like a 1950s housewife whose only worth is measured in how well she can stuff the cake-holes of her womb-worms. I just choose not to.

When I started working full-time, cooking became more of a chore than a hobby. It has to be done every day without fail, and then I have to clean up without the help of party guests or family members. Because I'm using my own money, or lack thereof, I can't experiment or cook anything I'm not certain will come out perfectly edible. And after being let off the hook from holiday party cooking for four years, I've grown accustomed to sleeping in on Thanksgiving and not walking around with blisters on my fingers, stains down my front, and the smell of cooking oil in my hair.

Which is not to say that my cooking phase was wasted. Although my meals have gotten a lot less elaborate since college, the skills I picked up serve me well in my daily life. Cooking can be very intimidating if you don't know what you're doing. Even a simple meal like baked chicken with green beans and potatoes will undo you if you can't tell when the food is finished cooking but not over-cooked, and you'll quickly lose interest in the few things you know how to prepare if you don't know how to mix it up a little. Mix the leftover chicken with penne pasta and Parmesan cheese; chill the green beans and eat them with salad dressing; put a fried egg on the potatoes.

Once or twice a year, however, the time does come when I'm called on to bring a dish to a party. For this occasion, I have one recipe stashed away in my memory bank that never fails to impress: stuffed mushrooms. I like this recipe because it combines many of my favorite things: not measuring ingredients, doing most of the cooking the night before, easy vegetarian and carnivore versions, and the illusion of something difficult and expensive that is actually neither.

I'm about to give away my secret recipe! Nations will crumble under the weight of these revelations.

Stuffed mushrooms require largish mushrooms; cream cheese; onions; red bell peppers; and hot Italian sausage. (I used to put bleu cheese in the mixture, too, but I don't actually like bleu cheese, and why would I cook something I don't like?) I mince the onion and pepper, saute them over low heat until they soften, mix them with cream cheese, and put a spoonful of that mixture into a mushroom cap. That's my veggie version. For the meat version, I take the sausage meat out of the casings, brown it until it's cooked through, and mix that into cream cheese with more of the onion and pepper. This is all done the night before. The morning of, I put them in the oven for about half an hour to cook the water off the mushrooms, and there you have it. Big Island Rachel's stuffed mushrooms, perfect for the office Thanksgiving party.

And that is why my apartment currently smells of spicy pork.

From all of us at Big Island Rachel and the Rodent Hour, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

My media empire:

The Rodent Hour on Pratt Radio:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silence! The Musical

Autumn is the only season worth having. If you have to have seasons, I mean, and not just live in the bliss of eternal summer where the year cycles through in a blur of seasonal fruit and flowers. Hawaii has no spring or winter, just coffee blossoms and coffee cherries, Ka'u oranges and ripe mangoes, waves on the south shore or waves on the north shore.

I don't much care for winter, but autumn almost makes up for it. Leather coats, soft scarves, leaves shruffing underfoot like a brochure for a small New England liberal arts college. I visit a lot of bookstores in autumn, stocking up for the winter, and make vague plans to visit museums with friends. Museums look tempting in the cold weather, big and warm and slow-moving like hibernating bears.

But enough with the metaphors and similes! Onto the weekend round-up.

I went to see "Silence! The Musical" with friends on Saturday. This was supposed to be our Halloween activity, but we all know how that turned out. "Silence!" is a musical based on "Silence of the Lambs," and yes, it's fully aware on the inappropriateness of its subject matter. When the male lead reprises "If I could smell her cunt" twice, it's safe to say that the camp is intentional. The music was done by Jon and Al Kaplan, who you may recognize as the people behind the Arnold Schwarzenegger musicals if you spend as much time on the Internet as I do.

How does it compare to say, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"? That greatly depends on your tastes in musical theater and how funny you find tongue-in-cheek re-imaginings of movies from 20 years ago. I almost wrote that the Internet invented this genre, but then went away from this page to watch a live-streaming video of a litter of kittens jumping around their pen, and realized that the Internet didn't invent this genre at all. Mel Brooks did it back 1974 with "Young Frankenstein," a tongue-in-cheek re-imagining of
James Whale's classic 1931 "Frankenstein" with Boris Karloff.
Because when I think kittens...
So if you liked "Young Frankenstein" and you're okay with seeing a man tucking his penis between his legs while singing "Would you fuck me?" then I think you'll like "Silence!" The songs are catchy and the actors are all professional and having a good time. I'd recommend watching the movie again before you go, especially if you haven't seen it in a few years; the jokes and songs are very specific to the movie. And seriously, prepare yourself for that penis-tuck, because it's a shocking thing to see in real life, no matter how many pictures of naked people you look at on the Internet.

I'm not ending with a picture of a naked person. Shame on you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Death of a vacuum

I get a day off work today. A friend asked me what I was going to do with my free day, and before I could answer, she said, "Don't say something like laundry." Which was exactly what I was thinking of doing. I promised her I wouldn't do laundry, but damned if I didn't wake up today after a delicious extra hour of sleeping and decide that not only was I going to do my laundry, I was going to vacuum, too!

My life is such a strange mixture of the enviably hip and the excruciatingly boring. Just goes to show that one can live in Brooklyn, work at an art school, host an indie radio show, and still have to deal with mundane shit like dirty clothes and broken vacuum cleaners.

To be fair, this particular vacuum cleaner was the walking undead to begin with. I was walking R to subway station one night a year or two back, and found the vacuum in a pile trash in front of a brownstone. Without breaking stride, I swept it up and hoisted it over my shoulder. "This is mine now," I informed her. She was slightly horrified but appreciative, I think, of my scavenging skills. It was in fine shape on the outside and started right up when I plugged it in. Sure, it smoked a bit after it had been running for a while and smelled like burning hair, which is probably why its previous owner had thrown in away. But my apartment is tiny and doesn't take long to clean, so zombie vacuum smoked and smelled, whatevs, it was free.

This afternoon, I plugged it in and started on the bathroom, and my poor vacuum promptly shrieked, had a seizure, sprayed dirt everywhere, and died for good. Of course, my cleaning appliance couldn't just quietly stop working when my apartment was clean. It had to puke a mess EVERYWHERE before it went. I'm cleaning dirt off the top of my medicine cabinet and bathroom counter, and I'm trying to clean up piles of dirt and hair with my little handheld broom and bent, useless dustpan.

The worst part of this is that I hate, hate, HATE cleaning floors. It's my least favorite chore and I only do once every six weeks or so. So now that I can excuse myself from my duties by saying, "I don't have a vacuum cleaner," it is going to be months before my floor is clean again. The dust bunnies will be biting my ankles as I wash dishes.

Fortunately, I live so far away from the subway that no one ever comes to visit me, so I don't have to worry about the filth scaring away my friends. Well, the BF comes to see me pretty regularly, but he's the one person who is obligated not to judge me and the living conditions in my squalorous pit. That's why they call it love.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Special Day! Blobs!

Today is a very special day for me, so there will be no regular blog post. Instead, enjoy a slide show of the band Grace McLean and Them Apples, who were our guests on my radio show last night. The Rodent Hour is on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10PM EST. Locally sourced music from Pratt Radio online.

The Rodent Hour's social media empire marches across the land like a ravenous gelatinous blob, absorbing all coolness and lesser independent online college radio stations in the nuBrooklyn area! You cannot resist our blob! We ooze over all and absorb nutrients through our plasma sac. So sexy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tea, Chocolate, Gasoline

New York City is slowly grinding towards normality after the hurricane. Yesterday, R and I went walking around the East Village and the Lower East Side, and despite a somewhat higher-than-usual amount of blocked sidewalks and backhoes, I think we're going to be okay.

Except for the gasoline situation, which remains terrifying. One of our student workers said there was a line of cars outside her apartment waiting for a gas station two miles down the road.
Helicopter attacks have skyrocketed on the Long Island Expressway.
As of Friday, we're on Jimmy Carter solutions: odd and even numbered license plates get gas on different days. (Incidentally, I saw the movie "Argo," so I may be throwing in a lot of Jimmy Carter references until I see "Wreck-It Ralph.") Of all the things I imagined going wrong in my Hurricane Sandy worst case scenarios, a gas shortage didn't even crack my top ten worries list, one because I don't drive a car, two because NYC has the best public transportation system in the country, and three because nobody drives in New York, there's too much traffic.

I'd like to believe that a car-related clusterfuck of this magnitude, in a region of the country that is supposed to have the public transportation infrastructure that would prevent this from happening, will lead to an honest conversation about our dependence on fossil fuels and solutions to combat said dependence. But I don't think it will. Too much money on the other side of the argument.

With that fun thought, onto the weekend round-up!

R and I visited St. Mark's Comics in the East Village and said hello to my friend there, who used to work at the St. Mark's Brooklyn location, but got a bit of a promotion to Manhattan, so good on her. We also checked out Forbidden Planet's new location, which is right next door to their old location but has a hard-wood floor and higher ceilings. Anything that makes a comic book store feel like a legitimate place of business and not a front for the one unpopular mob family that nobody ever invites to parties is an improvement.

We walked down to Allen Street to Bluestockings Bookstore, a fair trade cafe and radical activist center that sells menstrual cups and Marxist literature. My kind of place. I've been meaning to go there for a while, because why live in New York City if you aren't going to avail yourself of the awesomely specific sub-genre bookstores? It was everything I ever dreamed of, down to the guy with dreadlocks who served me my fair trade Ceylon tea au lait. I was actually scoping it out for a location for my upcoming birthday party, but not everyone I invited menstruates or is a Communist, so party favors would be a little difficult.

Instead, I'm going to celebrate my birthday at The Chocolate Room, right here in Brooklyn. Everybody likes chocolate! R and I went there after lunch to sample truffles and order a chocolate pecan pie, to be served in-house at my birthday party.

I was hoping I'd come out of there smelling delightfully of chocolate. But the BF hugged me and said I smelled like hamburgers. I had to remind him that when there's a gas shortage, death is listening and will take the first man that screams.
Just another Saturday night on the East River.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Homesick Hounddogs on the Rodent Hour

Last night was Election Night. Fortunately, my radio show is on Tuesdays and it gave me something a lot more pleasant to think about. Politics hurt my stomach. It's too much like listening to your parents fight: people holding your fate in their hands that don't even have enough on the ball to hold a civilized conversation, let alone guide a civilization.

There, I was topical. Now, the music!
ROCK-pical. And next week's guest is Rock Pickle. Weird.
Homesick Hounddogs are a Brooklyn-based Americana/bluegrass band. Two thirds of them came into the studio last night and played a great set for the Rodent Hour. They're actually the second vaguely folk-ish alterna-rock band that's been on the show this season, the first being The Tres Amigos, who were so good they made me want to be a better person. I'll give them another plug. Here's a slideshow of their appearance set to their song "Fiddleheads."
I had to put this up because we haven't made the video for Homesick Hounddogs yet. As soon as that one is up, I'll post it here. I also wanted to mention The Tres Amigos in this post about Homesick Hounddogs because I see them both as part of a movement taking place in music right now. I think it may have started with "O Brother, Where Art Thou," which came out in 2000 and seemed to revive interest in folksy Americana, especially among my generation.

I see it as part of the same fashion and cultural movement that's appropriated the aesthetic of the pre-war years. For brevity's sake I'll use the term "hipster," though I hate to pull out that word unless I'm referencing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Hipsters dress in outdated clothing, adopt the hairstyles of their grandparents, and fetishize the objects and technologies of a bygone era, like typewriters, fixed gear bikes, and Mason jar drinking glasses in order to project an image of authenticity (which is kind of an oxymoron, but I think they know that). The appropriation of this folksy aesthetic among the young and educated urbanite could be behind the resurgence of bluegrass/folk/roots inspired music.

And I am loving it!

That's right, you sit on the floor and jam with your mandolins and your harmonicas, you angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.
This fall season, we've had three bands who fall into this old Americana sub-category of music: The Tres Amigos, lushTongue (they do Indigenous-inspired a capella, not vaguely folkish alterna-rock, which is why I didn't mention them earlier), and Homesick Hounddogs. Not coincidentally, they're all my new favorite bands. I would actually go out to see any of them play live, and if you read this blog, you know I literally have to get paid to go out and see live music in this town. I've set up my life quite nicely so that the live music comes directly to me. But The Tres Amigos are playing a gig at Columbia University on November 30th, so the BF should be prepared to get his ass dragged to a social event, because I want in on that sweet, toe-tappin' all-American action.

It's easy to be down on hipsters because they're mostly young, which means they're somewhat powerless (no one claiming the hipster label got elected last night) and therefore a safe target to mock. And I won't lie, they are so eminently mockable.
Wonder Woman sneers at your mainstream fashion sense.
But I think there's real value in attempting to preserve and perpetuate our own cultural history. Using a typewriter or knowing how to can your own vegetables serves as a tactical bridge to the past, to say nothing of the heritage explored and experienced when musicians mine America's past for inspiration. Is it fashionable? Of the moment? Yes, but it's also of the past, and therefore timeless.

And for my money, it makes for a way better evening than a political rally.
Chelsea is looking at the election results as of 9PM last night. Don't be sad, Chels, Obama wins in the end!
Are you a fan of my radio show? The Rodent Hour is on Tuesdays from 8 to 10PM EST, on Pratt Institute's online radio station, The links to our various social media sites are below. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Tumblr, and listen to past guests on YouTube and Soundcloud. All free, all awesome, and all for one and one for all! (Wait, I think I got off topic...)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Storm

I stuffed plastic bags and duct tape into the cracks of my window frames, turned the fridge down as cold as it would go, packed my little blue suitcase, and left my apartment on Sunday afternoon at the same time as my upstairs neighbor S and her cat. It all felt very familiar. Didn't we just evacuate for a hurricane last year? S said that she was taking her cat to her sister's place in Brooklyn Heights, but that she might come back herself and weather the storm in our building because Irene hadn't been that bad. On the one hand, that is specious reasoning and I did not agree with her with her logic--on the other hand, I left my laptop computer and all my jewelry in my own apartment, so I guess the specious was going around. 

I stood at the bus stop and watched the restaurant put tarps and sandbags down over their cellar doors. Two bulldozers were parked on top of the giant pile of salt across the street. The East River is right on the other side of that pile. Clearly the dock workers thought that shit was about to get real.

Won't the salt just dissolve in a flood?
A guy with a thick beard and horn-rimmed glasses came up next to me evacuating with nothing except a Scrabble box under his arm. He didn't even bother to pack a change of underoos. Hipsters and hurricanes, I thought. He's either the smartest or the dumbest person at this bus stop right now, but there's no way to tell until the storm actually hits. The bus pulled up and away we all went, leaving Flood Zone A and heading for the hills.

In hurricane preparedness, you learn that the most important aspect of surviving a hurricane (after you get to high ground, of course) is to keep yourself occupied. Panic is your biggest enemy. So for all of Sunday and Monday, while the BF and I were crammed into his little uptown studio, I read my books, did yoga, took baths, and groomed like a nervous cat until I'd shed my long hair in every corner of the apartment. And then it was time for a walk.

This was before the storm had made landfall. No one really knew what was coming, so attitudes ranged from the blase to the barely-sane. Vans full of police officers cruised the streets, looking very official and prepared. A crowd of them (what do you call a group of police officers? A pod? A pack? A pride?) came into a pizza place and the BF looked at me with his I-didn't-do-nuttin' face, but they were just getting their lunches. As if they'd be coming for him. They're coming for me if they're coming for anybody. I come from interesting stock. Parents have been warning their children not to play with my family for generations.

After lunch, we went to a grocery store thinking we might pick up a sack of clementines, but the lines were crazy-long and the shelves were almost cleaned out. Almost. Apparently when the end is nigh and civilization totters to the brink, people look at turnips, pineapples and cranberries and say, "Fuck that noise, leave it for the looters."

We got our first hint that this whole storm thing was serious business when the crane blew over backwards in midtown and the BF's family had to evacuate their building.

That was Monday afternoon. On Monday night, the tide came in, the hurricane hit, and our troubles began. We didn't know it at the time, though. The BF closed the curtains, turned on the white noise machine, and we had a quiet evening at home ignoring each other while we read our respective books. The lights flickered once or twice and he filled up the bathtub just in case, but we woke the next morning to heat, power, and Internet as if nothing had happened. Our biggest concern was if we'd get the day off or not.

Then we turned on the television.

Breezy Point, Queens. Anyone who makes a Call of Duty or a Mad Max joke is going to hell.
And checked the New York Times online.
Subway station in the Financial District.
 And Googled images of my area of Brooklyn.
Red Hook, the neighborhood just south of my own.
I tried to adhere to my Girl Scout training. We turned off the news and read our books some more. We watched Golden Girls and a re-run of Beetlejuice on television. We even went outside for a walk. Damage was minimal on the Upper West Side, a few downed trees and a lot of untidy leaves in the gutters. But the air pressure was still all weird from the storm and it felt like someone was jamming chopsticks into my eardrums. We went back inside and tried to stay busy, but I was starting to worry about what had happened to my building.

I live in a funny little neighborhood that no one really knows about. Google searches for my street just kept pulling up images of flooded Red Hook, the neighborhood immediately south of my own, and with all public transit shut down and all the bridges and tunnels closed, there was no way for me to get home and check my apartment. Important lessons were learned that day about getting my neighbor's phone numbers and not being so anti-social.

Wednesday was worse. My office was open, but there was no way I could get off the island of Manhattan. The BF got to go back to his normal life because he can walk to his school, but I was stuck in his apartment watching re-runs of X-Files and another round of Beetlejuice when I wasn't watching the news. It was Halloween and I had my costume with me, but I knew there was no way I was going to celebrate. My heart wasn't in it. I couldn't read, do yoga, or even groom. I just sat on the bed and wailed to no one in particular that I wanted to go home.

Fortunately, that was when R called me. "Are you coming over?" Fuck and yes, I was coming over. She lives across the park from the BF, and buses were running again, so I peeled myself off the mattress and hit the road. Traffic was Independence Day gridlock. I hopped a crosstown to the east side, but around Frederick Douglass Blvd my patience ran out and I just decided to walk. I got as far as 96th and 5th Ave. before my patience for walking ran out and I decided to get back on a bus. And it was the exact same bus I'd gotten off of half an hour before. (I recognized the driver and the Halloween costumes.)

When R heard my wailing about not knowing what was happening at my building, she stuffed me full of cookies and tea and we played Scrabble for a few hours. I think that hipster at the bus stop was on to something, because I felt a lot better afterwards. The BF joined us, we ordered take-out, and watched Spirited Away with her neighbor's cats, which is almost like Halloween.
He's dressed as Charlie Chaplin!
Thursday. My fourth day of evacuation. I was determined to make it my last. The night before I'd called the restaurant in my building and asked them what had happened on my street, and the hostess said they were dry, powered, and open for business. That was as much information as I was going to get without being there in person, and public transit was slowly coming back to life, so I put my books and teddy bear back in my little blue suitcase, kissed my BF good-bye, and started off across Manhattan.

I figured I could take the subway south, take a cross-town bus east, another bus south again, and catch one of the shuttle buses that was taking people between Brooklyn and the blacked-out parts of Manhattan. Even in daylight, it was eerie to go below 34th Street and see block after block of dark traffic lights and shuttered stores. It felt like a movie set before the director yells "Action!"
A city divided.

The bus spit me out at Jay Street and I began my walk home because I have never been able to find the start of my bus route in Downtown Brooklyn and the aftermath of a hurricane was a bad time to fight that battle again. Atlantic Avenue looked all right, streets clear, no windows broken or awnings down. I decided to be optimistic and stopped at the grocery store, and then I got pessimistic and stopped at the liquor store.

The bulldozers were still parked on the giant pile of salt, just where I'd left them on Sunday. The bookstore and the restaurant were both open for business, and the super of my building had put away the sandbags. The front door pushed away drifts of leaves when I opened it, but I didn't smell any sewage or mold and there was no mud on the floor. Apparently--impossibly, miraculously--my neighborhood hadn't flooded at all.

My own apartment was toasty as a hippie at Burning Man and everything in my fridge was frozen solid. The bonsai had shed some leaves but was otherwise fine. Every light turned on and the Internet fired right up when I plugged my router back in. I can't be certain, but I think that the heat and power and water was on the whole time I was gone. Would you believe I had more clean-up to do after Irene than I did after Sandy? I had nothing worse to deal with on Thursday than a carton of half-and-half that froze while I was gone and got all grainy when it thawed.

Considering the devastation in other parts of the city--and the lack of power, water, and heat to tens of thousands of people across the state--and the billions of dollars of damage we'll need to repair the damage--and considering that I live a block away from the East River and less than a mile away from a neighborhood that was under 6 feet of water on Monday night--I am one absurdly lucky Big Island Rachel. 

I made my triumphant return to work on Friday and immediately got in a fight with a customer over the phone. It felt good to be back to normal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Regular Service postponed

This is it, folks. It's the end of everything! The storm cometh, leaving a wide swath of destruction through the middle Atlantic states. Hurricane Sandy brings the wrath of God upon the hapless citizens of the coastline! Rain! Snow! Waves! Floods!
Birds! (Probably!)
Regular service on Big Island Rachel's media empire is postponed until we are no longer doomed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Another Hurricane

Oh, now this is just getting ridiculous:

Hurricane Sandy may reach the northeast early next week, making this the second hurricane I've endured since moving to New York.

Excuse me, is this where you keep your fragile constructs of misguided human superiority?
Hurricane Irene barely scrapped by us last August as a downgraded tropical storm. A quick refresh: Girl Scout badge in Hurricane Preparedness, living in the flood zone, had to evacuate, Daddio told me not to do that thing everyone in our family always does by refusing to get out of the way--it's all a rich tapestry of funny observations and drunken street dancing, you should read it again.

Maybe Sandy will hit us, maybe it won't. I don't know because I'm only psychic with cats and the living dead. But even though Irene spared New York City from anything much worse than snarky Village Voice articles on how to get laid during the storm, parts of Jersey and Vermont were hit pretty hard. So I won't lie, I'm a little nervous.

At least I still have the pint of leftover corn liquor in my cupboard from the last time this happened. It's totally un-drinkable, but I'm set if I need to disinfect any wounds or make Molotovs for the looting that inevitably accompanies the complete breakdown of civilization. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Here are a few things I will never talk about on this blog: sports, reality television, New Wave cinema, architecture, entymology, beer brewing, and politics.

Here are a few things that we all I know I talk about ALL the time on this blog: feminism, comic books, regular books, and cats.

Guess which one I'm talking about today!

This is a very important feminist issue.
I wish I had a little kitty of my very own to stroke and cuddle and squeeze 'til it grunts. But I don't have one of those things because my apartment isn't well-suited for a pet, unless you count that nasty little fucker of a squirrel that's storing acorns in my ceiling. I can hear them rattling around up there!

So this week I'm cat-sitting for a co-worker. There are three kitties. None of them are squeezable--one is grumpy and the other two are a bit too old and dignified for that sort of nonsense--but I can stroke them gently and give them little treats from my purse, which pleases me greatly.

*le sigh* No-kitten ennui has set in.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My 3 least favorite things about New York ComicCon 2012

This is going to be my last post about New York ComicCon for this year. A fabulous time was had by all and I wish it could go on and on, but alas, a week has gone by since the con's official end and I've drawn out the denouement as long as I can. It's time to pack away the toys and costumes, store the comic books under the bed, and get back to my real life of being a tattooed writer and college radio personality working at an art school and  living above a famous restaurant Brooklyn.
Good thing I'm awesome, or else this post would be really depressing.
Last week I posted my 7 favorite things about New York ComicCon. This week I'm going to talk about my 3 least favorite things, because the Internet is fueled by pictures of funny cats and the keyboard-smoking rage of nerds who think a little too hard about the logistics of comic book superheroes.
They're just GLASSES! How can NO ONE see that he's Supercat?!
3) The crowds. How I loathe crowds. I'm not talking about New York City crowds either, which tend to move so quickly and efficiently that it's harder to stop than it is to keep going. And as long as I'm outdoors and stay to the edges where I have a clear escape route, I'm okay with crowds that gather in one place and stay there, like a concert or Occupy Wall Street. What I dislike are crowds that are a mixture of these two types, where people have some half-assed notion of where they want to go, but at the same time, they're also kinda already THERE. This sounds a lot more Buddhist and calming that it really is.
Move it, chuckleheads, you're not achieving enlightenment, you're just holding up the line.
I got to the Con late on Friday night, hoping to catch just one panel before the Javits Center closed. It was, in fact, the panel that I was most looking forward to out of the whole Con: The Venture Bros. panel. The best part about the creators of that show is that they almost NEVER talk about the actual show at their Con appearances. They talk about music, pop culture, candy, who has the nicest legs on the creative team, which hand they'd hold a gun in if they were firing out of a moving car--its the freestyle jazz of panel discussions and it's always fun and funny as hell.

But I missed it. Because of the crowds. I just couldn't get to the screening room early enough, so it filled up and there was no room for Rachel. R even saved a seat for me and tried to flag me down, but there were too many people around for me to see or hear her.

I appreciate that so many folks want to come to a comic book convention. I like seeing my pet cultural movement go mainstream, because that leads to more output of product and more diversity of product, which means more of what I love. I accept this means bigger crowds and longer lines. But that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.

2) Missed the Dracula panel.

This one was my own fault. R and I had a choice on Saturday to either see the Weighthacking panel (tips for turning your geek lifestyle into a weight loss tool), or to see the Dracula 150 years later panel. I decided to be responsible and go to the Weighthacking panel, because who couldn't use a brush-up on healthy eating habits, she said as she pushed her glasses up and tightened her sensible ponytail. R basically said, Fair fucks to y'all, you do you what like, I'm going to learn about vampires.
Weight lose tip 1: more peasant babies.
She flounced away on her four-inch heels and proceeded to have the time of her life listening to Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew and the screenwriter of "Hook" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (the one with Keanu Reeves and Gary Oldman) discuss the history and evolution of one of literature's most famous monsters. I, on the other hand, watched a PowerPoint about responsible weight maintenance, even though I've been at the exact same optimum weight for the last seven years and already live off steamed vegetables and brown rice.

Considering that R was the one who suggested both the archery and the Kill Shakespeare reading, where she won a prize for nailing an obscure Shakespeare question, I really should have known better than to separate myself from her. She was on Con-fire on Saturday.

1) No R on Sunday. She got sick and couldn't join me for the last day of the Con, and it made us both very sad.
Obviously I don't mind going to these things alone. I do it all the time. But I'd much rather share the experience with a good friend, and R, as I said, brought her A-game that weekend. She was winning ComicCon. It was a huge bummer that she couldn't be there.

Although, confession time, I was kinda thrilled to not wear my costume two days in a row and just hang out at the Con in my street clothes. Classy Catwoman may be classy, but she looks pretty stupid without a Classy Poison Ivy at her side, and that corset-bra rubs my armpits raw after eight hours, to say nothing of the punishment my feet take in those heeled dominatrix boots.

So you see, silver linings everywhere! R and I can't wait for New York ComicCon 2013. Only 358 days to go!

See you at the Con.
And you, and you, and you, and you, and...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My 7 favorite things about New York ComicCon 2012

My last post about ComicCon wasn't really about the Con itself, but more of an end-of-the-Con gush of emotion. An emotional oil derrick, if you will. I felt sappy, melancholy, and maybe a little defensive of the vaguely subversive and tawdry things I'd said and done. I think we've all had weekends like that.
I'm looking at you, Hedonismbot.
My sordid personal life aside, I did have a great time, so great that I'm going to count down my top 7 favorite things about my trip to ComicCon 2012.

7) The layout of the Javits Center.

When I went to the Con in 2010, it was the first year that New York ComicCon and New York AnimeFest had a shared event. Regular readers may remember that I went to the AnimeFest in 2009 when it was still it's own separate little convention, tucked away in the basement level of the Javits Center to prevent any high-falutin' ideas in attendees' minds regarding their social acceptability. This tradition continued in 2010, when the AnimeFest show floor and artist displays were crammed into a single hall in the basement while ComicCon got the entire top floor for their show floor and artists, with sunlight and everything. There was some definite stigmatizing of the anime-fans going on that year. And grown-ass adults dressed as cartoon characters shouldn't be casting stones at other grown-ass adults dressed as cartoon characters.
Glass fucking houses, nerds.

Social commentary aside, the arrangement also made for terrible traffic flow in the Javits Center. This year, the organizers wised up and had a fully-integrated Con. There was one show floor on the top level, one Artists Alley on the ground level, and the basement level was only for panels and screenings. Even though over 100,000 people attended this year, traffic flow was kind of okay. I only had one panicky moment where I was afraid I'd be crushed into a fine red paste on the show room floor, and that was my own fault. I should have never tried to get into the most popular part of the Con during peak hours.

6) Archery.

First thing we did on Saturday morning after changing into our costumes. I didn't have my glasses on, so my first two arrows didn't even hit the target. I pulled low and to the left, which is actually the same problem I have when I shoot guns. My third and final arrow I WAY overcompensated and hit the bulls-eye.
Like a boss.
I won a limited edition Tomb Raider print, which thrilled me a lot less than getting to keep my target. Incidentally, does anyone want a limited edition Tomb Raider print? I don't play Tomb Raider and I try to surround myself with art that doesn't depict fiery doom.
Just screams relaxation. Or maybe just screams.

5) Kill Shakespeare: A Live Stage Reading

Second thing we did on Saturday. "Kill Shakespeare" is a comic written by Anthony Del Col and Conner McCreery, and drawn by Andy B. They projected panels without word bubbles on a screen behind a table of actors, who provided the dialogue. There was also one very busy prop man making all of the sound effects with plastic wrap, spoons, and buckets of water. The story is about a bunch of characters from Shakespeare's plays, some of whom believe Shakespeare to be a god, and some of whom want him dead because of the threat he represents to their power. It was a good story with memorable characters, and it's always fun to see something in one medium make the transition to another.

The best part, though, was that R won a copy of Kill Shakespeare: Volume 1 by answering a Shakespeare trivia question, and it was a doozy. "What Shakespeare character has the most lines in a play not named after that character?" R's hand shot up so fast she almost knocked my mask off. She was in there like swimwear. "Iago!" Iago in "Othello" has the most lines of any Shakespeare character in a play not named after him. Now that is some hard-core nerd knowledge. In my opinion, R definitely won the Con for Saturday.

4) ComicCon Comedy

In 2010, I only saw one stand-up comedian, doing just a single 15-minute set. It was great. This year, there was so much comedy to choose from that I didn't get to see it all. First was the Nerdologues, "a comedy show that explores nerd culture through hilarious sketches and personal stories." Then we saw an hour-long set by Uncle Yo, seen here leering from behind a monocle.
Classy, Yo.
It's pointless to recap a comedy routine, firstly because I don't want to plagiarize the comedians, secondly because I don't want to make you laugh using someone else's material, and thirdly because I don't even think it would be that funny. You just had to BE there, man!

3) Saga panel

"Saga" is a comic written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, and it's currently the best-selling independent comic after The Walking Dead, in addition to being my favorite comic on the stands right now. I was on the fence about whether or not to go to this panel. Panels with creators are hit-or-miss. Just because you're good at writing or drawing doesn't mean you're a great public speaker, and nothing makes me cringe like seeing some poor creator bomb on stage because s/he can't work the crowd. But Brian K. Vaughan killed it. I laughed almost as much as I did at the actual stand-up comedy. He was charming, friendly, foul-mouthed, cheeky, and just humble enough to be endearing.
Not even trying to hide the bald.
My favorite quote: "I remember asking Fiona not to make Alanna [the heroine] a redhead, because I thought there was a glut of redheads in fiction right now. And she said to me, 'You know, she doesn't have to be white.' And I said, 'Of course, I'm an IDIOT!'"

My other favorite quote: "I had an idea about this guy and his monkey being chased by women with one boob on motorcycles and I thought, Did I just shit myself? Or was that a real idea?"

Fiona was nice enough, but Brian K. Vaughan owned that stage. Cool for him, slightly problematic for her (see number 1 on this list). Plus I got some artwork!
My copy smaller.
2)  Geek Thoughts panel: Top blogs discuss writing about science fiction, fantasy, and fandom

This is the meat-and-potatoes stuff of conventions. Writers from, Boing Boing, The Mary Sue, The Beat, and Bleeding Cool talked about what it means to be a fan and what it means to be leaders of fans and fan forums. Honestly, this one is a bit of a blur because it was late in the day and I was really tired, but I remember feeling like I was more informed about the way information is disseminated through my community, and that made me feel smart.
Smart enough to finally make the connection that the guy who ran a website called Bleeding Cool would, of course, be British.

1) ComicCon Women

So I attended two panels, back to back, by and about the women of the nerdly underground. The first was GeekMoms: Raising Young Padawans, held by the women who write Wired's GeekMom blog. I only caught the second half of this one, and it was entirely by accident. I wanted to attend the panel right after GeekMoms, which was being held in the same room, and I was so tired after two days of walking the Javits Center that I decided to just to the room and sit through whatever was there, just to SIT. And it turned out to be a very interesting discussion about how these women were passing their interests along to their children. They talked about what properties were appropriate for kids in terms of gaming, books, comics, and movies, and how much the landscape of childhood has changed since they were nerdy little girls who had to hide their interests from classmates, both because of their gender and the actual interests.

I'll just say I'm into leather. No one will suspect a thing.

I had a moment where I drifted off because they were discussing how to pick the right schools, and suddenly heard one of the panelists mention the Girl Scouts, so I whooped and clapped and completely threw her off track. I don't think she was expecting that much love for the Girl Scouts, but gang, I loves me the Girl Scouts. I loves them a lot.

The second panel was even better, Getting Graphic with Girls: Empowering girls and addressing issues through paneled pictures. This was a younger set of panelists whose moderator cancelled at the last minute, leading to a lot of very funny "Unmoderated!" jokes.
Look how unmoderated they are. Scandal!
Something magical happens when you get some confident women in a room together and ask them to talk about their careers. There was so much confidence radiating from these individuals, and they all had so much respect for each other, it was mesmerizing. Maybe they all knew each other already, maybe they all happened to be great public speakers, but they were far and away the best panel of the Con in terms of flow, diversity of topics, humor, intelligence, and exuberance. They were just so much FUN. One of the presenters even said, "Girls writing comics just have more fun with it. Guys feel the need to be all dark and gritty and serious, but maybe because we're outsiders in the genre, we can just have fun with our comics and not have to worry about that."
She doesn't give a damn if you like her duckies or not.
All of the other panels I'd attended to had just one or two women presenting, and while I wouldn't say they were drowned out by the men, the men spoke a lot more and there was a slight hesitation on the part of the women when it was their turn. It wasn't obvious, and I may even be imagining it in hindsight. I don't think anyone is surprised that a woman who spends her weekends like THIS can mistake fantasy for reality every now and again.
Sh! I'm feeling the curvature of the earth.
But dudes, DUDES, the contrast between the way women spoke on the panels where they were outnumbered and the way the women spoke on the all-women Graphic Girls panel--you can't witness that without feeling both empowered and stripped of power, all at the same time. Empowered, because hearing women talk about their art and passion is awesome; and stripped of power because you don't really get to see that when you add men back to the equation.

And I swear I'm not making this up. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that her colleagues will sometimes just straight up ignore her comments during conferences. "When I will say something -- and I don't think I'm a confused speaker -- and it isn't until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point." Women are ignored. My Big Boss commented as I revved myself up for the Con that he always thought the BF was the one who got ME interested in comics. A student worker followed up with a comment about how you don't meet a lot of girls who are interested in comics. And this wasn't about the comics, not really. Cultural and political movements are almost always dominated by men. Democracy: "Oh, women want to vote, too?" Art: "Oh, Virginia Wolfe, you want to write, too? Oh, Frida Kahlo, you want to paint, too?" Girls can be geeks, too?

Do we need to see the evidence again?
If something is important and destined to have impact, women have to scrape and scramble to make certain they're a part of it, and everyone is always surprised to see us there. They shouldn't be. ComicCon is amazingly diverse. There's an even 50-50 gender split, and a huge range of ages, races, and level of mobility represented. Sadly, you wouldn't know it to look at the "Special Guests" list for New York ComicCon: a bunch of middle-aged white dudes with a scattering of Asians and women shuffled in at the bottom. I'm not saying that those people didn't work hard to get where they are or that they aren't talented. I'm just saying that the people who consume the product don't have much of a voice in the group of people who produce the product.

And it's that sort of dense brain-food that makes the ComicCon Women my number 1 favorite thing about New York ComicCon 2012.
Next Sunday, I'll count down the list of my least favorite things about New York ComicCon 2012.