Top 20 of 2016, Part One

Hello, everyone. It’s been a while and I’ve been quite busy! As per usual, I don’t feel like I saw enough movies, read enough books, or engaged with enough media that was specifically released this year to do a Top Ten List of any one thing – so instead, I’ve put together a list of my Top 20 Things of 2016, which range from my favorite new tv shows, things that happened on my twitter feed, concepts that I feel gained particular strength this year (even though they are definitively not NEW this year), and other odds and ends that I think were particular highlights of 2016.

One of the reasons I wanted to make this list was because, in general, 2016 was a pretty terrible year for a lot of people, especially the last few months. But there were also some exceptionally great things that happened, and I think it’s important to remember that, and not be ashamed to be able to think back and say “You know, maybe bits weren’t all that bad.” I’ll be releasing this list in four parts of five, so I don’t feel guilty about how much I’m about to say about the stuff I loved.

So, to steal phrasing from the inimitable Guy Branum of Pop Rocket (a pop culture podcast I have been devouring and cannot recommend highly enough, find it here), here’s what I was all about in 2016:

20. High concept folktale retellings in comics
Specifically, I’m talking about Klaus by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, and Toil & Trouble by Mairghread Scott, Kelly Matthews, and Nichole Matthews; this also includes the lovely Snow White: The Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, the newest Hildafolk addition Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson, and to a lesser degree Panther by Brecht Evens and Michele Hutchison, and The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. The folk and fairy tale genres really lend themselves to rich, luxe art and writing, and all of these are simply gorgeous books. I particularly appreciate the way that Morrison on Klaus and Scott on Toil & Trouble use the elements of the story we’re already familiar with (the Santa Claus myth and Macbeth, respectively) as a skeleton to hang new embellishments on – I can enjoy to comfort of a story I already know, while still being surprised by what I’m reading.

19. “Sorry” from Beyonce’s Lemonade
I was tempted to put the whole album on here, but honestly that felt kind of predictable – so I’m listing my favorite track as a stand-in for the album that came out of nowhere and changed the conversation around pop music. As a whole, I find the album breathtaking. The musical experimentation and sheer variety of things that Beyonce plays with is just wonderful to listen to, even when I didn’t particularly care for a specific track. “Sorry,” however, is just…it’s the best, you guys. I love the juxtaposition of the gentle vocals telling a guy to fuck off, I love the sneaky power anthem nature of it.

18. The way The Jungle Book re-imagines the music from the original animated version
I haven’t been crazy about the live action versions of classic Disney movies that have been rolling out (I watched the trailer for Beauty and the Beast recently, and was remarkably underwhelmed), mostly because I don’t understand the need for a shot-for-shot remake of something that already exists in a beautiful state. So I was pretty surprised by how much I loved The Jungle Book – both because of that, and because I have always been underwhelmed by the original. But the new live action version is vibrant and dark and kind of scary, and different enough that I get why someone would want to reinterpret it. And the best part, in my opinion, is how the music from the original (particularly “Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You”) was incorporated into this new version. It’s very organic, and says something very definitive about the characters doing the singing: Bill Murray is very laconic and daydream-like in the opening strains of “Bare Necessities,” while Christopher Walken turns King Louie’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” into a psychological nightmare. It’s wonderful.

17. How hard the cast is trying in Suicide Squad
Listen, Suicide Squad was a bad movie, and there’s really no way around that fact. It’s poorly constructed, makes less than no sense, and no one remembered to cut Jared Leto out of the final version. But the one thing you can say about it is that the main cast is trying so hard to make lemons out of lemonade – Margot Robbie and Will Smith in particular are wringing their terrible material for all its worth, which in the end did make for an enjoyable viewing experience. It makes me sad for the version of the movie that could have existed, with writers less concerned about giving Leto any attention or trying to cram 10 pounds of ludicrous story into a 3 pound bag, but I have to appreciate the enthusiasm and effort the main cast put forward and I truly look forward to watching the music video recuts that YouTubers will undoubtedly give us.

16. Pitch
I don’t remember when I saw the first article about Pitch, the new Fox drama about major league baseball’s first woman pitcher, but I’m not ashamed to tell you that I was super punk’d: for about three heart-stopping moments, I thought Ginny Baker was real and I thought a major league sport had actually decided to let a lady play in the big leagues. Alas, this was not the case, but the fledgling drama is so delightful that I’m willing to backburner that for a few more years. I love absolutely everything about Pitch: Kylie Bunbury as the unsure firecracker new pitcher of the San Diego Padres, Ali Larter as her acidic agent, Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the jaded, burned out mentor figure; the unabashed feminism of the show (the pilot is riddled with little girls holding up signs saying “I’m Next!” and I cried so much); the earnestness of the storytelling; the way the producers have gone out of their way to make all the game sequences look like actual sports tv. It wobbles in some places the way a new show will, but I am desperately hoping it finds the audience it needs to keep it on the air. I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies, and this is the long form version – I cannot get enough.

Part Two of my list will go up in a few days!

Comic Women Collective

Thor.0.0One of my co-workers at the library worked part-time at a local bookstore until very recently, and one of the things she was in charge of while she was there was coordinating bookstore events.  Things like summer activities, storytimes, and book clubs. Before she left the store, she came to me and said that they were interested in starting a new book club, for teens, focused on comics, and would I run it?  It could be themed around whatever I wanted, they planned to meet once a month, and I could pick any books I wanted as long as they were in print and easy for the store to get.

Do I have to tell you how fast I said yes?

I decided that, since superheroes are really chic right now, that I wanted to focus on tights and capes books, but that every title we read would star a female character.  New Thor, Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl…I told them I wanted to explore the lady side of the Big Two, and the store loved it, and last night we had our first meeting.

I was a little anxious about it, since there were some snafus getting the Thor book in (I picked Thor: Goddess of Thunder to start us off because I felt like the controversy surrounding the switch from classic Thor to Lady Thor would be a good way to introduce some central themes), but after a quick discussion with the store owner we decided that the first meeting would be more of a meet-and-greet to introduce ourselves, talk about what the club would look like, and introduce ourselves, and to also let me get a sense of the teens who’d be coming and what topics were important to them. Luckily, we got the books in, so everyone could grab a copy to read for the next time we meet.

It went GREAT! I had seven girls, who had varying degrees of exposure to superhero books, but who were all enthusiastic about trying something new. Most of them had been watching the Marvel movies, and a couple were tumblr users, so even though they hadn’t read much in the way of comics they knew who the characters were and had some great things to say about comic culture, representation, and which characters they already had an affinity for (all of them wanted to know why the heck Marvel hasn’t made a Black Widow movie, which, right? That was the moment I knew we’d all get along just fine).

One of the best things about having our first meeting not be about a particular book was that it gave me a chance to bring up what I think will be the central questions of our meetings (representation and diversity for diversity’s sake vs. thoughtful character choices, mainly) and it also gave the girls a chance to let me know what’s going to be important to them to talk about (costume and character design came up a lot, as did questions about family and support structure. Also the “fake geek girl” fallacy, which made me sad that they were already running into that so young).

Lessons Learned From C2E2, Part 2

Now that the con is over and I’m back to the real world, here are a couple more hints, tricks and lessons to maximize your con-going experience.  I had a lovely weekend and can’t wait for next year – C2E2 is one of the best cons I’ve been to for a lot of reasons, and from what I can tell, that’s not going to change any time soon.

(Read Part 1 here!)

5. Pay attention to social media

When I’m going to a con that I know Gail Simone will be at, my priorities for what I want to see are usually: 1. Any panel she’s speaking on; 2. everything else.  So it behooves me to check her twitter feed occasionally, because Simone uses it to announce what panels she’ll be on and to promote panels she’s attending.  This is important because the con schedule doesn’t always have a complete list of the guests that will be speaking: as far as I knew, Simone had one panel on Friday and that was it (the panel was on Dynamite Comics and their upcoming projects, and if you’re not excited about the Aliens/Vampirella crossover happening, I don’t think I want to know you). If I hadn’t checked twitter on Saturday morning, I wouldn’t have known that she would ALSO be sitting on a panel on the Trickle-Down Theory of Diversity (which I had had on my schedule but was ready to bump to see a Scott Snyder Q&A). I’m not saying you should spend the whole con on your phone, but there will be updates and changes that will impact your schedule, and social media provides a really convenient tool for keeping track of them.

6. Plan time to eat

Frequently what happens to me is that I’ll realize I’ve planned panels back-to-back-to-back, and haven’t left myself any gaps to get food or even just to rest my brain for a while. Cons are strenuous! You need time to recharge, relax, and eat in order to maximize your enjoyment of the experience. Prioritize your events, or, if you absolutely cannot miss something, plan ahead and pack your lunch. Note that this might involve looking up whether the convention allows outside food (some don’t; McCormick Place does).

7. Stick to your budget

I have trouble with this one, but I’m getting better. The thing about cons you want to go to is that they’re usually full of things you like, including art, books, merch and other swag. Unless you have unlimited resources (I do not), it’s good to decide your budget BEFORE getting to the exhibit hall, and making the effort to stick to it. How I manage it, is I withdraw in cash the amount I’ve decided is my budget for the weekend, and once that’s gone, that’s it! Remember that you’ll have to plan for things like food, parking, beverages, and other unexpected expenses. (Also remember that if you’re getting signatures and sketches in the artists’ alley, that it’s a good idea to tip if you’re not buying other merchandise.)

I was holding off on posting this to think up a couple more bullet points, but honestly, going to cons doesn’t have to be that complicated! Pick some stuff you like, try something new, be flexible. Remember to plan for downtime, keep your eye on the schedule for changes, and remember: anything you miss you can probably read about online.

Lessons Learned from C2E2, Part 1

Hello friends! I am resting my feet at the moment because I just got back from Day 1 of C2E2 (Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo).  I’ve been going to this con for a few years now, because it’s local for me and because lots of writers and artists and other people I respect and whose work I enjoy are always there.  For the next three days, I thought I’d share with you some keys to getting the maximum success out of your con experience, while also sharing some stories of my own.

(These hints will apply to any con, not just C2E2!)

1. Get a Pro Pass, if you’re able

Starting last year, since I was actually employed at a library, I was eligible to apply for a Pro Pass to the con, which I HIGHLY reccommend you do if you qualify (to qualify you must be one of the following, as per the C2E2 website: an artist, buyer, creator, editor, educator, librarian, licensor, producer, publisher, retailer, or writer. As you can see, it’s a pretty open category). In addition to making the weekend cheaper, it also gives you access to the exhibitor floor one hour before the general public on Friday (10 am as opposed to 11 am).  One hour may not seem like a lot of time, but it was AWESOME – I wasn’t able to enjoy that perk last year, but this year I was on that floor as close to 10 am as I could make it.  I got to walk around the hall with no crowd, see exhibitors setting up, and chat with some lovely people from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Quirk Books.  I was going to try to use it to get some comics signed before the creators I wanted to meet grew huge lines, but even though that wasn’t possible, the rest of Artists’ Alley was also wonderfully uncrowded. It takes a lot of the stress of the first part of your day.

2. Plan for a lot of options, but don’t try to see everything

I always note down a ton of panels to go see, which frequently end up overlapping; obviously this means I don’t get to see everything I might want to, but it gives me lots of options. This is important because something might happen which prevents you from getting into a panel; for example, I had Scott Snyder’s Q&A on my schedule, but I dropped that real fast when I saw the line and realized I’d spend the first ten minutes just waiting to get in. No thanks.

3. Don’t be afraid to make conversation with the people you’re there to see

There might be creators out there who are brusque and more interested in moving people through their line than actually meeting their fans. Luckily, I’ve never encountered one. Just today, I met Gail Simone (writer of DC’s Batgirl, Birds of Prey and Secret Six; Dynamite’s Red Sonja; Dark Horse’s Tomb Raider; and others); Greg Tocchini (artist of the incomparable Image series Low), Nick Dragotta (artist of Image’s East of West), Ant Lucia (he did all those amazing DC Bombshell covers) and Jonathan Hickman (writer of East of West and Image’s The Manhattan Projects), and they were all not only extremely nice people, but more than happy to answer my questions and chat a little while they signed my books. Dragotta answered a question I hadn’t been able to ask at the EoW panel I saw, Gail Simone and her husband were happy to chat about my work at the library and my friend’s experience playing Tomb Raider, and so on. Don’t be afraid to let creators know that you appreciate their work and are happy to see them.

4. Be conscientious about their time 

At the same time, be aware that they are professionals and their time is valuable. Tip well if the sketches and signatures are free. Buy some art! Don’t overstay your welcome! Simone is well known for signing as many things as people bring her; don’t be like the guy in front of me who brought 25 issues and had her sign each one (and didn’t tip for her Hero Initiative fund jar). They’re people, not machines!

Tomorrow I’ve got more panels on the schedule, and I’ll be in cosplay (Gogo Tomago from Big Hero 6!), so expect some words of wisdom about those topics tomorrow night. If you’re in the Chicago area, consider checking out the con!

Top Ten Female Comic Characters – 5 Through 1

Here we are – my (current) Top Five Female Comic Characters (that is a super clunky list title and I’m sorry about that).  You may have noticed that there are some traits and characteristics that will quickly endear a character to me – supporting other women, being pragmatic, being problem solvers, having flaws, but being smart about them.  These women largely encompass all of these things and more, and are written by people who are just as amazing and admirable as the characters themselves.

Without further ado:

5. Dee

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Rat Queens is everything I’ve ever wanted from fantasy comics, you guys.  It’s fun, dirty, clever, and features a cadre of bloodthirsty women.  The Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder allusions push it in front of Red Sonja for me (although I am also VERY MUCH enjoying that book right now), and the clever way those allusions are incorporated into the story make it tops (ever wonder what a glut of adventuring parties in the same town would do to that town? Wonder no more!).  Of the four main ladies, all of whom I love, Dee wins ever so slightly because of the dichotomies in her character. She’s a cleric! Who’s an atheist. Her parents are cult members! Who worship a squid. She’s an adventurer! Who kind of hates being around people. She’s also the sanest member of her crew, the mother hen to a bunch of crazies, and the way she takes care of Hannah, Betty and Violet is just so wonderful (women supporting women is going to be a theme of this list).

4. Snow White

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There are a couple of female-centric tropes that I am incredibly partial to: Bitches Get Shit Done, very classy ladies being secret badasses, and monster boyfriends, to name just a few that are embodied in Snow White of Fables fame.  She’s one of the main forces that keep Fabletown together, she’s instrumental in their defense and upkeep, she becomes a wife and mother without sacrificing one iota of her identity, and she tames the Big Bad Wolf.  She’s beautiful and a princess, but she can take care of herself – Bigby may come to her defense a few times, but she’s always the first to remind him that she can solve her own problems (one of my favorite scenes between the two of them has them arguing over who gets to kill the evil prince who kidnapped her).  She has seven kids and keeps on rolling, even though they end up being shape-shifting demi-gods.  If I can be half as capable as her when I finally become a grownup, I will consider myself lucky.

3. Kitty Pryde

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My favorite female X-Man, by a lot (I think the one who comes close is Emma Frost).  I like Kitty because I relate to her; in the comics she’s been the shy newcomer to the boys’ club, earning their respect through her abilities and leadership until she’d worked her way up to headmaster of the Xavier school.  She’s sweet and thoughtful, but pragmatic, and her relationship with Colossus might be my true forever OTP.  I love that she’s friends with a dragon, that she’s pretty much the most powerful X-Man alive but hasn’t let that go to her head or overpower her common sense (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, CYCLOPS).  She’s a leader and a problem solver, but she’s also very human; she can let her personal feelings overwhelm her common sense, she gets afraid, she makes mistakes.  And then she fixes them because she’s a boss.

2. Kamala Khan

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Kamala. Kamala. Smart, fearless, overly brave; can I tell you how much I adored it when Lockjaw, this giant mutant dog that makes no sense, barrels into her life and her first reaction is to fling herself around his neck?  Kamala FEARS NOTHING, except normal teenage things like upsetting her dad.  She loves her family and doesn’t want to disappoint them, but knows she has this thing now that can help other people.  She meets Wolverine and fangirls over him.  She does the right thing because it’s the only thing she can imagine doing.

1. Barbara Gordon

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Look, guys, she’s a librarian (or she has been in some iterations).  As Oracle, Babs knew everything and what she didn’t know she knew how to find out.  Gail Simone’s Batgirl arc for the New 52 is what got me hardcore into comics.  She’s joyful, she’s funny, she’s smart, and reading her book made everything else feel more accessible.  Getting to know her as Batgirl made me seek out stories of her as Oracle, and there are few things as satisfying as watching her crush people with knowledge (except watching her kick people in the face, but I love that we can see both). I’m not as in love with the Batgirl of Burnside, but I love that DC is using her to welcome a younger, more diverse audience.  She’s cute, she’s earnest, I love everything Barbara is and chooses to be.

Top Ten Female Comic Characters – 10 Through 6

I’m working on a post about running teen book clubs, but until I finish dotting those i’s I thought I’d talk about my tumblr project again, Favorite Ladies of Comics.  On Saturday, I hit #25, and I thought I’d celebrate that lovely number with the demi-goddess herself, Diana of Themyscira.

At that point, I found it important to reiterate that my list was not meant to be taken as any sort of ranking – these are female characters in comics from all over that I enjoy reading for one reason or another.  They are not listed in order of my favorites, nor are they listed according to any criteria other than “I want to make sure this list includes women from all kinds of comics, not just Marvel and DC.”  Because of that, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about who my very favorites actually are – if I was going to distill this down into my top ten favorite female comic characters, who would those be?

Behold.

10. Lucifer

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Is it weird that I kind of love that there are currently multiple, fabulous females in the comic world named Lucifer? Regardless, I’m referring specifically to the Wicked + The Divine incarnation, who’s part Bowie, part Tilda Swinton, and all badass.  But more than I love her devil-may-care attitude (pun intended, I assure you), I love the moments where we get to see her uncertainty.  I love the moments when things don’t go as she’s planning, and she kind of hesitates, and you know that under all the bravada and posturing part of her is still the teenage girl that was chosen to be the god.

9. Emma Frost

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My favorite Ice Queen.  I love women who get to be bad, and while I do think some of Emma’s redemption arc has detracted from the gloriousness of her unapologetic bitchiness (ew, Emma, Scott? Really?), I do love that she’s retained her iciness and absolute competency. This is a woman who you never doubt is in charge. She never apologizes for who or what she is. She’s powerful, in control, and even when she’s coming around to the good side she does so without losing the core of who she is. It’s not very often that you get to see women be bad, and Emma makes it look oh so stylish.

8. Selina Kyle

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I have a great fondness for all three major Gotham villainesses, but I think Catwoman comes out on top for similar reasons to why I like Emma Frost so much. Unlike Harley and Poison Ivy, Selina isn’t mentally damaged in any way. She’s a thief because she likes the thrill and she likes pretty things. She’s smart enough to thwart Batman, and recently her skills and capabilities have brought her up to mob boss status.  Selina is a classy lady who knows how to shape circumstances to her advantage.

7. Zatanna Zatara

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It’s kind of hard to vocalize my love for Zatanna, since I haven’t actually read much of her literature.  I think what draws me to her so strongly, though, is the fact that her character is such an odd one – she’s a mystic, but she’s not a witch or any kind of fantasy sorceress, she’s a stage magician.  She’s a performer; I love the idea of this incredibly powerful, true magician being the beautiful woman, when normally she’d be the assistant.  I love that even though the world she lives in is magical, she’s always very grounded; in Justice League Dark she’s frequently the problem-solver, helping the group out of the messes that can happen when Constantine gets them in over their heads. I love that she’s sassy, and that she’s friends with Black Canary (ladies supporting ladies! More of that!).  I also love her character design, which is sexy and cheesecakey but also totally appropriate (she’s a performer, remember).

6. The Lumberjanes Crew

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Am I cheating by having all five girls in one slot?  Yes.  Do I care?  Not even a little.  One of the best things about Molly, Mal, Jo, April and Ripley is their friendship; when they’re not all together you can feel something missing.  They love each other, they support each other, they recognize and encourage the individual skills they all have.  They’re a family, but the more intimate bonds that exist within that group (Mal and Molly, Jo and April’s friendship) are just as important and contribute just as much to the group as a whole.  Plus, they’re not afraid to get silly; they can get too intense sometimes (April!) but know when to pull each other back; together, they’re fearless.