September 30, 2013

Review: Kami Garcia's Unbreakable

The realm of the supernatural has become a popular playground over the last five or so years. Just when you think all of the paranormal stories have been thoroughly explored, you come across an engaging story that makes you appreciate the genre in a new way. Kami Garcia's Unbreakable does that.

Mild spoilers in the review below.
I have to admit I've yet to read her previous novel Beautiful Creatures, so I didn't have any expectations when I picked up the book. Unbreakable focuses on Kennedy Waters as she learns her family history isn't what it appeared to be. Her mother was part of a secret society, the Legion of the Black Dove, people charged with keeping back the demons and now Kennedy has to step into her shoes. She learns the ropes from other descendants of the same group, and she has to absorb the lessons in a hurry because they need to save humanity as we know it.

The fact that Unbreakable has a female protagonist is already a plus for me. Even better? She's well rounded. She's eager to learn, has some guilt issues, and isn't afraid to show vulnerability. You care about her feelings from the beginning, and I developed a strong attachment to her in no time. Since she's new to the world where ghosts are real and demons need hunted, we learn through her questions and training.

If you've watched Supernatural or any ghost hunting series, you'll find a few familiar tricks but only a few. The overarching story is gripping, and the stakes are huge. It's not merely a soul at risk – it's the world. I admire Garcia for taking on a tale of such a big scope and building it piece by piece so that when things go wrong, you're legitimately worried about the end of the days. I put down the book feeling nervous about how we'd all survive. It's delightful to get so wrapped up in fiction.

And as far as the scare factor? I started Unbreakable late at night and probably should have stuck to daylight hours. There were some scenes with a cat which gave me chills, and plenty of creepy ghosts to make my heart race. Disclaimer though: I'm the first to label myself as a wus.

The remaining five members of the group are more than a support staff. Each comes with a unique skill set and specialty and a distinct personality. That doesn't always happen when you have an ensemble cast of this size, and I'm glad I was able to get to know the other members of the Legion – especially twins Jared and Lukas. I could have done without the eventual love triangle but since it's a young adult book, I recognize I'm not exactly the target audience.

It's the first part of a trilogy – the Legion trilogy to be precise - and I wanted the next installment as soon as I turned the last page. That's a good sign.

Overall, I found Unbreakable to be entertaining and a fun, fast-paced romp through the supernatural with extremely likable characters. Garcia did a solid job fleshing out the rules of Kennedy's world and remarkably, she made it feel fresh and also complex. She built up many layers of action, mythology, and emotions. And just when you think you know where the ending is headed, you're surprised.

Unbreakable is available tomorrow, 10/1. Visit your local book store or order a copy on Amazon.

Review copy provided free of charge.

September 27, 2013

Star Wars Reads Day

The second annual Star Wars Reads Day is just around the corner on October 5th! It's a celebration of literacy and Star Wars - in other words, a perfect combination. Publishers who release Star Wars books partner with Lucasfilm to schedule events and signings across the country. You can read one of the many novels in the Expanded Universe, pick up a comic from Dark Horse, enjoy some non-fiction "making of" books, or thumb wrestle with lightsabers. I'd say there's a Star Wars book or comic for just about every fan.

Be sure to look over the locations for the official events and see if anything is happening in your area. Gatherings are taking place at book stores and tons of public libraries. Some locations have author signings, and you can bet the 501st and Rebel Legions will make appearances at some of the events too. You also might find raffles, giveaways, activities, and more!

If you can't make it out or there's not any events happening in your immediate area, you can still celebrate. Here are a few suggestions:

- Have a read-a-thon with your favorite Star Wars books and comics.

- Get a Star Wars Reads t-shirt from sponsor WeLoveFine.

- Download an activities kit from the official site and craft, color, or bake - there are Star Wars books featuring each of those activities!

- Donate Star Wars books (or other books) to charities like Kids Need to Read

- Look around your neighborhood for opportunities to read to children (practice your best Yoda voice).

Learn more about the event from Star Wars authors in the following video:

September 26, 2013

Irvin Kershner Riding a Tauntaun And Other Awesome Star Wars photos

No matter how many Star Wars books I've flipped through, I'm always coming across new-to-me behind the scenes photos. They seem to come from a never-ending fountain that bubbles with memories from the galaxy far, far away. Archives are wonderful like that. I can't think of a treasure chest I'd like to explore more. I hope the making of the new sequel trilogy is documented to the very last detail so that 30 years from now we'll still be seeing images we haven't seen before.

I spotted a huge batch of photos from the sets of the original trilogy recently on Twitter, and they brightened my day. I bet they'll have the same effect on you.

This pic of Irvin Kershner astride a tauntaun is the definition of delightful:

 And I find all of these photos from The Empire Strikes Back to be completely charming.

Pics via Will McCrabb; follow him on Twitter for tons of behind the scenes photos from a variety of movies.

Geeky Burns

Wood burning is one of those skills I will always admire. Using a super hot tool to create art? It can't be easy and it comes with a constant risk of burning yourself. I wouldn't have the patience for it and I'm impressed by anyone who invests the time needed to learn. Etsy seller Geek Burning seems to have the hang of it though, and their shop is stuffed with cool offerings. I spotted them at Baltimore Comic-Con and had to hunt them down online to see more.

The shading in this Batman piece is a good example of how detailed and beautiful their work is:

I love the colors on this Cloud City etching!

Maul looks even sexier in wood (I know, I have a problem).

This art would make wonderful presents for others or for yourself. It's a great way to break up a wall full of framed paintings and add some texture. And if you don't see your favorite character or series in the shop, you can request a custom design.

Check out more beautiful pieces over on Etsy!

September 23, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Starting a Convention Sketchbook

I first heard of convention sketchbooks from an artist friend. He did free pencil drawings and if anyone came up with a book for him to draw in, he'd always say "Sketchbooks get more love" Sure enough, those pieces always got more details and time. It was cool, but I wasn't sure what the point of sketchbooks was until a little while later when another artist, Cat Staggs, showed me her gorgeous Batwoman themed sketchbook. Flipping through the pages was like going through a treasure box where artists had left different gems. I couldn't wait to start my own and begin collecting drawings from artists I admired, but I didn't know where to start.

It seemed straightforward - get a book, pay artists to draw in it - but I was concerned about getting a book with the right kind of paper and the proper size, let alone communicating what I wantd to artists. Luckily, it turns out that it's not too hard. I've started a few different sketchbooks over the past seven years and have picked up a few tips and learned some from artists along the way. In case you'd like to start a sketchbook, this information will help.

Let's define sketchbook. It's a book or notepad you take to conventions or sometimes mail to artists (I don't recommend doing so but we'll come back to why) to get drawings. Tada, simple. You leave the book at their table, and you get art. It's a fun way to collect different styles and unique drawings and sketches, I love going back through my sketchbooks and showing them to others.

Buy a sketchbook.
You need to think about paper, size, binding, and number of pages. I like Canson books and in particular like this 8.5" x 5.5" style. I've also used Cachet books.

  • Paper - Choose a book with thicker pages. No newsprint or notebook paper. It needs to be able to to take ink and marker. This should go without saying, but no lined paper. If you don't feel comfortable choosing one, go to an art store and tell them you need a sketchbook with paper for inks and markers and they'll give you guidance.
  • Size - Bigger is not always better in this case. With a smaller canvas, you're likely to get more detail and a background. A bigger piece of paper means more space to fill and when an artist wants to make sure to get your book back to you in a timely manner, you don't want them to worry about filling in an 11" x 14" area. As a general rule, I'd stick with 9" x 12" or smaller.
    • As mentioned, mine is 8.5" x 5.5" and I've found it to be a good size. Because of the smaller size, I've had two artists lower the commission rate from what's printed on their table since they are used to doing larger drawings on their own paper. 
  • Binding - I recommend a hard bound sketchbook over spiral bound. It's less likely you'll lose pages with a sturdier binding.
  • Number of pages - Are you the type of person who wants to finish one sketchbook before you start another one? Are you forgetful and won't remember to take the book to half the conventions you attend (like me)? If so, consider getting a book with less pages.
Once you've chosen a sketchbook, put the following in the inside cover in case it gets lost: name, email, Twitter name, and your cell phone number. Bonus: the artist can also grab your number and text you when your commission is done. 

Also, cut a piece of cardstock or Bristol the exact size of your sketchbook to use as a bleed sheet so when artists add ink and marker it doesn't go right through four sheets of paper.
Choose a theme (or not).

You have a sketchbook full of beautiful blank pages. What do you want on them?

One way to go is an overall theme. It can be specific or broad. For example, I have a sketchbook that is all Captain America and only Captain America. I just started a Daredevil one encompassing anything Daredevil related so that instead of just a bajillion portraits of the Man Without Fear I can also include Elektra, Black Widow, Stilt-Man, etc. I've seen a Doctor Who themed sketchbook which leaves the doors wide open for aliens, the TARDIS, companions, and more. I've seen Disney villains, women of Marvel, cats, zombies, DC villains, and the list goes on. Think about your favorite movies, books, and comics. Can you see yourself filling up a whole book with the characters?

If not, no worries. It's your sketchbook and it can be completely random. Don't be afraid to ask for obscure characters either. Artists usually enjoy drawing something off the wall.

Whichever way you go, make a reference sheet that stays with the sketchbook. Asking for Electric Blue Superman is awesome but print out an image of the character just in case the artist doesn't have access to the internet. Signals aren't 100% reliable at conventions; tons of people are using the network and sometimes conventions happen in basements or several stories underground. Include references for your themed books too. I'm making a sheet with a whole cast of Daredevil characters just to help provide some inspiration.

Don't hesitate to ask friends if they have a sketchbook and ask if you can see it. Looking through several of them will give you ideas.
by Cat Staggs
Find artists.
Now for the fun part: start adding art. You can go about this in a completely organized fashion or you can also just see who you find at conventions. Both ways work. If you want to try to get a big name to add a piece though, you definitely want to plan ahead.

Artists only take a certain number of commissions during conventions. Some renew their list every morning and some work through one list for the entire show. Look at the convention website and see who's attending. If you see an artist who you really want a drawing from, visit his or her website, blog, Tumblr - wherever he or she seems to be updating information about convention appearances. Most people post what sort of sketches they'll be offering as well as the price or they'll have it stored in a FAQ. Sometimes they'll give you the option of getting on their list in advance. If they don't have info posted online, send them an email. If they don't reply before the convention, make sure you visit their table as soon as the show opens.

If you'd rather wander and see who has an art style you like (my preferred method), start in Artists' Alley. Remember sketchbooks are different from other commissions in that while an artist is working on your sketchbook, it's unavailable to others. It forces you to be more choosy. If you see an artist who has work you like, see if they have a posted sign about how much they are charging for commissions. People usually have options for pencils, black and white, and colors. Some may charge differently for head and shoulders vs torso. Think about what you want and what you can afford. If a sign's not posted, ask politely.

Once you've agreed on the price and talked the drawing over with the artist (never assume they understood, it's okay to clarify - just be nice), manage expectations about when you can pick it up - especially since it's a sketchbook. Ask when you can come back to pick it up and come back at the agreed time. Expect to pay up front and have cash with you because even if Squares seem to be common these days, not everyone takes cards.

If you can, pay a little more to make sure the first entry or couple of entries in your sketchbook are by someone really good. An artist once told me they're a competitive bunch and if they see amazing drawings, they're likely to up their game.

Speaking of money, set a budget. I set a sketchbook limit per show. I've paid $0-$60 for sketches so far. The neighborhood of $30 seems to be average, and some artists will sketch for nothing but encourage a donation to Heroes Initiative or a similar organization (Amanda Palmer does this). If you're unsure, just ask.

And if you're less shy than I am, you can always ask for a free sketch. You might not get it, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

Finally, I recommend taking your sketchbook only to artists at conventions. I've heard a story about a well known artist who has let fan sketchbooks pile up in his studio for years. Years. Plural. Not okay. You might not get it back and while it's away, you can't get any new sketches added to it. If you really want to order a commission by mail, I recommend letting them do it on their own paper rather than sending your sketchbook.

That covers the important things. Go forth and collect drawings!

Do you have a sketchbook? Please share links to your pics.

September 19, 2013

Find the Entire Alphabet In Each One of These Geeky Drawings

When I walked around Baltimore Comic-Con a couple of weekends ago, I came across several new-to-me artists and crafters and creators whose work made me stop and take a second look. Bradd Parton of Alpha-Sketch is one of said artists. I spotted some Star Wars art on his table and that was enough to pull me in. Then I noticed something unusual - there were letters of the alphabet hidden in the art. Cool! Typography art is fun! But, that wasn't all.

Each drawing has all 26 letters of the alphabet! Parton explains in his Etsy shop, "Every line you see in the drawing is a letter of the alphabet! Each letter is used once and only once."
Gah, it's so clever. See for yourself

As you can see from the pictures, his illustrations run the geeky gamut. There's Batman, My Little Pony, Star Wars, and Legend of Zelda and you'll find even more in his shop - like The Walking Dead and Doctor Who and The Muppets. Trying to figure out how Parton designs the images is just as fun as searching for the letters. His prints would make great gifts for anyone who likes puzzles

Visit Alpha-Sketch on Etsy!

September 18, 2013

Review: Star Wars Empire and Rebellion: Razor's Edge

Razor's Edge is the first installment of Del Rey's Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion series. The books take place in the original trilogy era and the events in Martha Well's Razor's Edge occur in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back. Even though it is part of a series, it's a stand-alone story focusing on Princess Leia. Yes, that's awesome.

Check out my spoiler-free review below.

Razor's Edge is pretty much all Leia all the time which is as fabulous as it sounds. And in my opinion, it's in the sweet spot as far as the timeline. We get to spend time with a Leia who has helped build the Rebellion, who has had her home planet obliterated, who has assisted in the destruction of the Death Star, and who has the weight of a galaxy on her shoulders. Because of Well's wonderful interpretation of the Princess, I feel like I've seen Leia in a new way.

Leia is in the midst of a mission to help the Alliance secure supplies for their new Echo Base home. She's accompanied by Han as well as some new faces. Things are going smoothly, but you know that's never a good sign. Plans go awry and a fun and entertaining plot ensues.

I found a lot to enjoy in Razor's Edge. I've just barely dipped into the Expanded Universe on the books side (I've read around 7-10 from various series), but this is the Leia I always wanted to hang out with. She's well rounded and none of it is forced or stereotypical. And even better? She's far from the only female in the book.

She's surrounded by a diverse crew, allies, and opponents, and it just so happens many of them are also ladies. It's probably sad that I have to call this out, but from what I've read in Star Wars and in science fiction in general, this isn't so common I can go without remarking on it. The skills and traits of the supporting cast are also different and at no point did I feel the "insert strong female character here" template that happens more often than it should in media.

Initially I was a little concerned Han was in the book because I worried he would steal scenes. He gets some time in the spotlight, but he doesn't take it away from Leia. They have some wonderful exchanges that made me hear Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford's voices in my head.

Finally, the tone is spot on. The story felt adventurous and had the same cadence as the original trilogy films. It made me happy.

Overall, Razor's Edge is an engaging book that showcases Princess Leia's skills and personality in a new way fans of the character will appreciate. It's got Leia in a variety of situations which highlight her quick thinking, humor (I love Leia's sarcasm so very much), ability to kick butt (not in a Pepper Potts suddenly knowing martial arts in Iron Man 3 sort of way either - realistic fighting), and more. I especially appreciate seeing her diplomatic skills in action without the story even leaning towards boring. You don't have to rely on my word - check out the first 50 pages of the book over at Del Rey Spectra.

Razor's Edge is available on September 24th! Pre-order it on Amazon now.

Note: Razor's Edge was provided to me free of charge by Del Rey for review purposes.

Interview with Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Razor's Edge Author Martha Wells

The Star Wars Empire and Rebellion series of books from Del Rey is kicking off with Razor's Edge by Martha Wells. The purpose of the new series is to jump back to the classic era, during the original trilogy and tell stories about characters we hold close to our fandom hearts. Each of the three books in Empire and Rebellion will focus on one of the big three - Han, Luke, and Leia. Razor's Edge is Leia's book, and I was excited to get my hands on it.

I asked Martha a few questions about Star Wars and writing such an amazing character as Princess Leia. Check out her responses below!

GwC: What is your first memory involving Star Wars?
Martha Wells: Finding the novelization in a bookstore, sometime in the summer of 1977 when I was 13.  I think the book was released before the movie, but my parents didn't really like to take me to movies so reading the book was my first experience with Star Wars.  I finally got to see the movie itself around nine times, but that was later in the summer.

GwC: Leia is a wonderful role model but also one of few women in the original trilogy. How does that fact change the way you approaching writing her or does it?
Wells: I didn't really change how I wrote her, but I did want to add more women characters, and for them to have big parts in the book.  I wanted Leia to face a female antagonist, and have female allies, too.

GwC: Leia has often been shown as the leader and diplomat, but what other sides of her personality did you make it a point to show in Razor's Edge?
Wells: I always liked the fact that her sense of humor was on the sarcastic side, like Han's, so I wanted to show that.

GwC: What was the most fun part of developing Leia's story for Razor's Edge?
Wells: I think it was fitting the story I wanted to to tell into the Star Wars universe, and figuring out all the details.  Creating the settings is always one of my favorite parts of writing a book.  And also writing the original characters interacting with Leia, Han, and the others.

Thanks to Martha and Del Rey for making my blog a stop on the Razor's Edge tour! Be sure to like Star Wars Books on Facebook to keep up with excerpts, live chats, and more.

Come back later today for a full review of the book.

September 17, 2013

Brian Michael Bendis Slaps Down Dudebro Griping About Women in Comics

Women like comics. It's not that hard to understand but an astounding number of fans, creators, and publishing companies are clueless. Either with their promotion strategies, ads (like this fake geek girl one), or content - more than a few people in powerful positions just don't get it. However, some do. In fact some companies understand and make an awesome decision like an X-Men title that focuses on the women of the group.

While it's not all ladies all the time, the issues I've read (just the first few) have showcased the strengths of the characters I love. But not everyone is happy. Check out this question posed to Brian Michael Bendis on Tumblr and be sure to read his scathing response:

I understand trying to make comics female friendly, but aren't you guys worried that you're going to lose your core audience which is male? In the X-books you've had more focus on the likes on these females like jean and kitty while it should be Cyclops who has been the star of the X-Men comics for years. What warrants these characters more page time than him? Jean and kitty are secondary characters. You guys listen too much to women bitching. They cause so much freakin drama in comicdom.
Wow.  you are the first person who I am kind of glad asked your question anonymously because I don’t want to know you.  
 as a reader of my work I want you to listen to me very carefully: you have major major issues. almost every line of your question reeks of complete misunderstanding of yourself as a man and of women in general.
 it’s okay to find yourself more interested in something than others, of course it is,  it’s okay to like Cyclops more than Jean Grey, but for you to draw the line at women characters not being interesting to you because you are a man or that you think I am being manipulated by some bitching women is really out there.
 and as a reader of the X-Men whose entire philosophy is about tolerance and understanding… you are missing the point.

Slow clap, Bendis, slow clap.

September 16, 2013

It's Almost Time For Keen Halloween!

If you've been to any major store recently, you probably noticed Halloween is almost here. Of course, some stores have had Halloween decorations out since July, but now it's really almost here. Just a month and a half away! And if you're near the Phoenix area, you can attend a convention all about getting into the Halloween spirit. No, it's not a horror fest, it's much better. It's Keen Halloween!

The two day show happening on September 28-29 is all about getting back to the roots of Halloween. Instead of bloody gory commercial business, it's all crafts and costume parties and workshops and a Monster Marketplace. The focus is on handmade fun, and it makes me wish I was in the neighborhood so I could attend. Founders Daniel and Dawna Davis of Steamcrow state the following in the press release:

We want to promote the Halloween from our childhood - with handmade decorations, costumes and art, gathering together with friends, and enjoying spooky entertainment and music,” said Daniel. “We couldn’t find an event like this, so we created it. It’s a chance for us to gather together spooky-inspired talent - artists, crafters, teachers and entertainers - who have a love for vintage Halloween.”
Costuming is, of course, a large part of the event. Keen Halloween works to provide a walk-up “Evil Genius” Costume Bar where costuming experts offer troubleshooting advice, tricks and inspiration to bring spooky ideas to life. They will also feature the Iron Skull Costume Challenge, where three teams will have 90-minutes to each create a costume live on stage, from a mystery box of common, household items. “The catch is they won’t know the theme of the costume until they step on stage,” notes Daniel.
So in other words, if you want Halloween flavored fun and you're in the area, you need to check it out. Seriously - please go and tell me all about it.

Keen  Halloween is in its second year and it's even expanded from a one day show in 2012. That's a good sign. If you want to check it out, it will be at the Sano Fitness Studio at Mentro Center Mall:
9617 N Metro Parkway West #2004
Phoenix, AZ

I recommend pre-ordering your tickets to save some cash!

September 13, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con is my favorite

This time of the year is what I like to call crazy convention time. Almost every weekend has a convention to attend through the end of October and though I have fun, I'm tapping out for a few weeks. Besides, after Baltimore Comic-Con the rest of them don't look so shiny. It's one of the few conventions I've attended that actually focuses on comics. I know! A convention called "Comic-Con" about comics. It's a wonderful change.

If anything, my experience at Baltimore Comic-Con was even more fun than last year. Given that I'd just come from an exhausting weekend at Dragon Con, I expected to drag my feet, zombie-like, through the convention hall but instead I was practically skipping (until the end of the day Sunday when it caught up with me). For me, it's impossible to resist the charms of this convention. Comic creators were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Big names, legends, indies, beginners, pros  - you name it. I was able to have a few minutes of conversation with Brian Bolland about a Wonder Woman sketch he had on display without waiting in line. Where else can you do that?

Okay, there are probably other places but I haven't been to them yet.

Everyone I encountered was approachable and friendly and easy to talk to. George PĂ©rez took a photo of my Amethyst costume and took my subsequent fangirling in stride. He was bubbly and nice both times I ran into him (I wasn't stalking) and it warmed my Hoth-like heart to see someone who has been creating comics for so long be so joyful and awesome with fans and peers and just everyone.

Besides wearing a costume and meeting people with insane amounts of talent, I started filling up my brand new Daredevil sketchbook. Themed books make me happy, and I plan to stick with this one until all the pages are filled. Artists can choose anyone in the Daredevil universe (I did specifically request some of these):
I picked up a few comics I've been meaning to grab like Amelia Cole and Itty Bitty Hellboy (I read it last night and it is as charming and cute as it looks), got some trades on sale at 50% off, and discovered new stories like Neverminds and Finding Gossamyr. I caught part of the Fables panel and loved what I saw. I'm a fan of the books (duh) but wasn't sure how they would fill a two hour panel. My friend and I only caught the last hour but it was highly entertaining and they didn't even get to the part where they were going to show how a story is created.

Another awesome panel I attended was Christy Blanch's Genderizing Comic Books. It was an educational and fun hour of looking at gender in comics from the past (I had no idea Superman was such a jerk for a while there) to the present and also a discussion about gender in everyday life. Audience participation was an element and because of folks chiming in, I think we all learned because of the different perspectives. Even though we can all have similar feelings on gender issues in broad strokes, our individual experiences add to the conversation. I could have sat in that panel all day.

Then there were the Harvey Awards. It's always interesting to see which titles and creators comics industry professionals choose as winners, and I was pleased to see Saga win every category in which it was nominated. Bill Willingham was an entertaining and funny host and hey, I got an awesome swag bag and dinner. My only complaint is it went a little long (dinner and the awards were four hours), but the bar was open afterwards and sometimes that's all that matters.

All of the above was wonderful but the single best part of the convention was saying hello to and spending time with friends. Getting to more East coast shows means finally getting to hang out with people I mostly only talk to on Twitter. I saw the lovely Amber, who was super sweet and made a beautiful TARDIS ring pillow for my date-to-be-determined wedding (I cried), I hugged the crap out my friend Mel Caylo, I exchanged 12th grade humor with Paul Storrie, I visited with the delightful Stephanie Cooke and we drank wine and talked about our cats, and I spent most of my time with Kristin Hackett who is super sweet and nice and is not afraid to Muppet-flail over things that make her happy - we have that last bit in common. I think we enabled each other to buy art and comics, but it was a good thing.

So in short, best convention of the year. Hands down. If you want a convention all about comics, consider this one. In fact, it's going to be a three day show next year. Even more fun! I noticed the crowds were tight on Saturday so I think the additional day is warranted. I'll see you there!

Want to read more on Baltimore Comic-Con? Check out these blog posts:
My Favorite Moments: Baltimore Comic Con 2013 - Kristin Hackett
2013 Baltimore Comic Con recap - Amber Love
My Week[end] with Maryland - Stephanie Cooke

September 12, 2013

TARDIS jewelry box is so pretty it doesn't need to be bigger on the inside

I recently moved and as a reward for getting my 20+ boxes of books and all my toys and cats across the country, I decided to treat myself to a grown up jewelry box. It's not like I own anything fancy, but it was all stored in a messy pile that I had to separate every day to find the right earrings or ring. I didn't want to be too much of an adult though so I compromised and got a gorgeous handmade TARDIS jewelry box:

Even though there is a retail version available now, I searched on Etsy first to see if I could find the perfect one. Etsy seller Belmourida Design had one. It's made from wood and carved and painted, and it's a tiny piece of art. Even though it is not bigger on the inside, it has four drawers and enough room for all my rings and earrings (I keep my necklaces and bracelets on hooks). The craftsmanship is exquisite, and it was worth every penny.

As an extra bonus, I keep it on my nightstand and the LED light on the top serves as a nice nightlight.

She also has a variety of other TARDIS themed items like a notebook and earrings in her shop, and it all looks lovely. Check them all out on Etsy!

September 11, 2013

Favorite Costumes of Dragon Con and Baltimore Comic-Con

You'll find cosplay at every convention. Sure, the number of people in costume varies and the types of costumes differ, but they are always there. And where there are cosplayers, there are people taking photos. I spent most of my time at both Dragon Con and Baltimore Comic-Con wandering around and taking it all in rather than spending every second behind my iPhone taking pictures or tweeting. I couldn't get a signal at Dragon Con and even if it was weird to not be digitally attached to the world, it forced me to experience life as it happened. It was a nice change.

But, one of the negatives results of that is that I didn't take anywhere near the number of photos I normally would. I still managed to have enough to round up six favorites from both conventions though. 
Itty bitty Firestar at BCC, she was sassy and awesome

Steampunk Disney group at the Mechanical Masquerade at DC (yes, I need to stop using my iPhone as a camera all the time)

This Batwoman at BCC is getting married, take that DC
Ms. Marvel at DC (yes, I'm a sucker for kids in costumes)

Brienne of Tarth at DC, photo by skiesofchaos (he wanted me to have a better than iPhone picture)

Yes, the ladies ruled this round.

Quick rambling round-up

Just some links to stuff I've written a couple of other places recently:

Wonder Woman: Tale As Old As Time - It's Wonder Woman month at Blastoff Comics, and I dived into stories about the Amazon with George Perez's Gods and Mortals. I loved it and had a few things to say.

Fully Operational Fandom: Star Wars at Dragon Con 2013 - One of the coolest parts of Dragon Con was the fan run panels and Star Wars was no exception - plus there were tons of costumes! Read about all the awesome stuff I saw at the blog.

Finally, here's a quick interview with me:
Interview with Amy Ratcliffe of Geek With Curves
And me on a podcast discussing my undying love Tombstone:
Movies You Love Podcast [Episode #13 - Tombstone w/ Amy Ratcliffe]

September 9, 2013

R2-D2 Makes An Appearance In Star Trek Into Darkness

R2-D2 is a popular droid - he shows up in places you don't expect. The astromech is in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Super 8, Transformers 2, and even in Star Trek. In Star Trek Into Darkness, R2-D2  whizzes by around the 1:17 mark. The movie hits Blu-ray/DVDs tomorrow, so if you pick it up, don't forget to pause and look for an old friend. It's during a battle, and I don't want to spoil it by specifically mentioning the ship names so just look for this:
Click to enlarge
Salute to @rafaeloca for spotting it!

It's only natural I guess given that he also appeared in the 2009 Star Trek. I'd expect to see Artoo in the next Trek film.
Click to enlarge

via io9

September 5, 2013

I survived my first trip to Dragon Con

Dragon Con is one of those conventions people talk about in reverent and longing tones. People who love it measure all other conventions against it. I've known at least one person who mentions Dragon Con so much in any discussion about any con that you could play a drinking game every time she said it and be drunk in minutes. I'd heard about the incredible costumes and the parties and had a vague idea of how the convention was spread out between hotels rather than in a central convention center but even still - I was in no way prepared. Like not even a little.

I was blown away. I was overwhelmed. I was lost - a lot. I was amazed. But I made it to the other side in one piece and amazingly, without any tears.

From what I can tell, every story and legend you've heard about Dragon Con is true. The drinking, the cosplay, the intense crush of people, the parties. It's insanity and not like any convention I have ever been to. I should have known when I saw people tweeting about arriving a few days before the convention even started and they were already wearing costumes too. Where else does that happen?!

The part I haven't heard as much about is the coolest part of Dragon Con: it's by the fans for the fans. You couldn't be more opposite of corporate Comic-Con if you tried. No studio or comics publisher has an official presence. The dealer and exhibit hall is packed with corsets, steampunk goggles, (a lot of those) toys, resin weapon replicas, and a few comics. The panels do feature some special guests and celebrities but mostly it seems to be fans talking to other fans.

Different fandoms have their own tracks, and programming runs every day all day. And when I say all day, I mean until 11pm at night. I participated in a few panels on the Star Wars track titled Women and Minorities in Star Wars, Goodbye Clone Wars, Hello Rebels, and Blogging, Podcasting, and Fanfic. It was basically just a roundtable with other devoted fans and it was a lot of fun. And it was happening in several rooms across the hotels for Doctor Who, paranormal topics, skeptics, science, animated projects, fantasy literature - you get the drift. It's not a short list.

And it's all run by volunteers. Yep. Each track. And several of them have parties! Unlike San Diego or New York, they are on site and included with your convention admission (yes, you have to wear your badge all the time). I checked out the Last Party on Alderaan on Saturday night and it was like a dance party/prom with lightsabers and the Mechanical Masquerade on Sunday night was a much quieter scene with tables, good lighting, a live band, and more elaborate steampunk costumes than you can imagine.
That part was fun. I can see how you could easily choose what you want to see and spend every day of the con just watching panels. I didn't figure that out while I was there though. I wandered from hotel to hotel trying to find one room or another or the dealer's hall which was in a completely different building and took me a while to locate. I know the wacky layout probably makes the convention more endearing, but it drove me nuts.

The crowds also got to me. The few levels of the Marriott fill up to the brim every night with cosplayers, photographers, and people watchers. It's different than the crowds at San Diego even though it's less people. I guess it must be the flow of traffic but it felt stifling and it wore me down.

That said, I did realize late on Sunday that it was easy to turn a corner at the Hyatt and get off the beaten path and find quiet. I was pleasantly surprised. I was also surprised by how easy it was to find food and refreshment. The Hyatt had pop-up food stands set up on Saturday and Sunday, and the lines were minimal. It was beautiful. Instead of being desperate and eating a gross soft pretzel, I could choose from burgers or sandwiches or noodle salad. At 5pm, pop-up bars joined them. They dotted the Hyatt and the Marriott and again, the lines seemed to be manageable. It was smart.

Checking out the costume parade on Saturday morning seems to be a rite of passage explored by the non-hungover masses. If you arrive an hour or more ahead of the 10am start time, you'll probably get a street-side spot. I enjoyed watching cosplayers from Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park and Once Upon a Time and Wheel of Time and Harry Potter and every other thing in between. They paced by at the leisurely parade pace and the last group trailed past over an hour after the event started. Yeah, it's a commitment. I was wiped at the end so I can't imagine how the parade participants felt.

Given the marathon length of the event, I don't think I'll want to repeat it again.

But I do want to pause on the costumes. I saw outfits at Dragon Con I've never seen. Gentleman Ghost, Daenerys' dragon eggs (each with a little name tag), a Mord Sith, the cabbage guy from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and even Disney princess pirates and Jedi. Whatever the costume, the craftsmanship was of the highest quality. My head was constantly spinning because there was so damn much to look at. I was impressed and wished I had a better camera to document all of cosplayers.

In hindsight, there's a lot to like about Dragon Con. While I was on the ground and living it, my opinion wasn't so favorable. I felt exhausted by the crowds and marveled at the energy it took just to find something in the bowels of one of the hotels. The layout made no sense and my theme of the weekend was frustration. It was compounded by the fact that I didn't have signal and couldn't text or tweet or locate anyone.

But. I recognize that Dragon Con just has a more intense learning curve than any other convention and that if I go back in with a little more knowledge and with a friend to hold my hand when I need it, I could love it. We'll see.

Jump over to Flickr to see all of my photos from the convention.
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