Month: November 2011

Experience A Day of Sunsets

My contribution to the first Day of Sunsets; others posted much prettier (and more traditional) sunset pics

A Day of Sunsets is an open Facebook group created by my friend Glenn Blakeslee where members post their local sunset once a month. What ends up happening is a beautiful reminder of our global community. No significant photography skill or equipment is required, so anyone can participate. Even if you have a cloudy day, obscured horizon and crummy phone camera (like me), as long as the sun is setting and you took it, it’s all good. It doesn’t take much time and the pay-off is you get to look at pretty pictures of sunsets. Unless of course you think nature is lame.

I asked Glenn how this came to be, how it’s gone so far and where he sees it going.

For the past few years I’ve taken sunset pictures and posted them on Facebook, mostly for the ego stoke. If the photo is of the sky -sunsets, clouds, the moon or Milky Way- people always ohh and ahh.

A friend suggested that she take one of the sunrise from her home on the East Coast, and then we’d have sunrise and sunset, east and west, for a single day. I’m more than a little obsessed with time and hidden processes, so to expand that to an international search for sunsets seemed like a natural. The idea still took a little while to percolate.

The group had its first Day of Sunsets last month, on Saturday, October 22.

The first set was pretty amazing, and a little ego-shattering. I was humming along in my own universe, thinking I was the only one who paid attention to certain things, only to discover that the love of sunsets was nearly universal. Somehow they strike a chord somewhere. Now I’m a small fish in a big pond. Some of the shots that rolled in… I ran out of adjectives.

The second one is coming up this Saturday, November 19. So now’s the time to join before it becomes a humongous internet sensation.

Once the dataset has grown, there are a lot of neat things that we can do for archiving and display. Imagine a complete day of sunsets pinned to a longitude and latitude grid, and being able to browse it… talk about hidden processes!

Glenn wants to maintain the group’s original concept to capture a single day of sunsets. But for those that want more, he also set up Sunsets Unlimited, where members can post and view pictures to their heart’s content.

Occupy Wall Street and Comics: Documenting a Movement

Occupy Comics poster

Turn on the news or check online news sites, and you’re bound to see coverage of Occupy Wall Street, a series of demonstrations protesting corporate influence over our culture’s systems of government and finance. It’s essentially a reaction to what is perceived as class warfare perpetuated by a significant minority of powerful individuals and institutions (referred to as the 1%). (So much media coverage is focused on protracted confusion at the movement’s purpose, so in case you’d like to know more, Rolling Stone has an editorial by Matt Taibbi that gets into it deeper, and of course there’s always never-wrong Wikipedia.)

Whether you think the movement is just a bunch of lazy hippies or a crusade against big banks, it’s got people’s attention. Over 100 cities in the US have local versions of Occupy Wall Street, and more than 1500 have popped up in cities around the world. This has not gone unnoticed by the world of comics.

Occupy Comics is an anthology currently raising funds for the movement through a Kickstarter campaign. Coordinated by writer/director Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller), the comics will first be released as digital comics and individual comic book issues, and then collected and reprinted as a hard cover graphic novel. All creators and production staff have agreed to donate their salary to Occupy Wall Street to help pay for supplies during the winter months. An impressive line-up of comics creators have already committed to contribute, such as The Walking Dead‘s Charlie Adlard, 30 Days of Night‘s Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joshua Hale Fialkov (Tumor, I, Vampire), and Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School founder Molly Crabapple. From the Kickstarter page:

This book is intended to be a time capsule of the passions and emotions driving the movement. We are comic book & graphic novel artists and writers who’ve been inspired by the movement and hope to tell the stories of the people who are out there putting themselves at risk for an idea. What is that idea? Most of the media will tell you the idea is a vague and befuddled mess, but movements don’t coalesce around vague, befuddled messes. We hope that through the medium of comics we can share some of the ideas and experiences driving this movement.

All of the writers, artists, business executives, and the publisher are being paid to produce this book… and they ALL are donating 100% of their revenue (not profits, but ALL monies they receive) to the occupiers. They want to support the movement through the winter by providing warm clothes, heaters and bathrooms if possible, and other amenities.

One of the anthology’s contributors is Susie Cagle, a comics journalist who has provided non-fiction comics for McSweeney’s, Alternet, Truthout and other publications. She has been attending one of the west coast versions, Occupy Oakland. As a member of the press, she has a bright orange press badge visibly hanging from her neck. Despite this, she has twice been swept up in aggressive police action, once getting hit with tear gas, and once getting arrested along with other press and legal observers. Occupy Oakland has been one of the more unstable Occupy sites, perhaps most notably when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, a former Marine and member of Veterans for Peace, suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a projectile apparently fired by the Oakland police. During Susie Cagle’s 15-hour detainment at two different jails, she witnessed mistreatment of arrested protesters by the Oakland police. She was charged with failure to leave the scene of a riot and was instructed not to return to the demonstrations until her December 5th hearing or she will be charged with a felony. She plans on returning to continue work on an illustrated history of Occupy Oakland.

Of course, not everyone is supportive of Occupy Wall Street. Frank Miller, once a vocal supporter of creator rights (he was among the first to join in an attempt by comics artists and writers to unionize in 1978) and unafraid to call out corporations on their greed and poor treatment of comics creators (Miller was a vocal supporter of Jack Kirby’s efforts to regain his original artwork from Marvel Comics). But after 9/11, he was was seemingly reborn as a devout supporter of the War on Terror above all other concerns. His most recent release, Holy Terror, is a wish-fulfillment of a Batman-esque superhero crushing the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and it has been met with criticisms of anti-Islamism. In response, Miller admitted that he knows “squat about Islam”, but this hasn’t stopped him from criticizing the entire religion and populace of the Middle East on terrorist extremism. So it isn’t entirely surprising that he posted to his website last week a rant against the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating that participants should instead enlist to help the War of Terror.

“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.

Speaking of nostalgia, that “harm America” argument is the same one used to discourage Vietnam War protesters and other Woodstock-era demonstrations, including the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

For a response to Miller’s statement in comics form, see this special edition of Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons web-comic, which observes that “it was an oddly out-of-touch moment to tie the ‘War on Terror’ to a clichéd list of old school anti-hippie slurs” to a rather pointed caricature of Miller.

First Time Comic Convention Goer Reviews Comikaze Expo

The Comikaze Expo debuted at the Los Angeles Convention Center at the beginning of November. This brand new comic book convention joins a crowded field to get a major comic con in the city. Many have come and gone over the years. Will this be the one that sticks? Guest-blogger Cindy Marie Jenkins attended Comikaze and shares her thoughts.

Cozying up to Alex Leavitt's laptop

I truly went to this on a whim. A friend threw it out on Google+ and I thought it sounded like fun, and a low-key way to introduce myself to attending conventions. For various reasons in my storytelling world, I need to stay involved in the larger industry.

So I went expecting….what, exactly? The website gave detailed information about the panels and that was encouraging. I knew I would have to decide between some very interesting topics. Scanning through the guests and vendors, I found a lot of brand names or people that I knew and looked interesting. The Guests of Honor, though, left a weird taste in my mouth. I am new to the details of this industry, but I had no idea that the Nickelodeon show “All That” fell into geek culture.

Yeah, that’s because it doesn’t. They were the main attraction though. Stan Lee – very cool – and Elvira – a respectable mainstay, I’m guessing?  – also headlined. I can understand needing a more mainstream attraction like an “All That” Reunion except that, actually, I can’t. Again, I’m new to conventions, but in what alternate universe should Stan Lee be overshadowed by “All That” at a comics convention?

That aside, the event itself was fun. I didn’t know there was a program which is good because they apparently ran out of them in the first hour. I had printed the panels, but no map to the floor. That’s not a big deal; I could wander around the room to decent effect. However, at the entrance they only let people inside two at a time, which left a little excitement to be desired. Translation: way too orderly an entrance to rouse anticipation. It felt like we were being let into a museum.

Jane Espenson *swoon*

On the comics note, I noticed I’m more inclined to risk $1-10 for an issue rather than pick up a free one; most likely because I don’t want to seem like a swag free-loader. Also, cheaper trial issues assured I had enough money for a few of them, rather than blowing my whole budget on one new title to try. That feels more in the vibe of a convention, so new audience can experiment with what they read. I have already enjoyed many of the titles and webseries I found there since last weekend.

The two panels I attended were definitely the most interesting parts of the day. The first was run by Alex Leavitt from USC Annenberg on otaku and the role of anima, manga and otaku in Japanese culture. He braved through a largely visual presentation with no projector, thanks to the Expo simply not providing him one, according to Leavitt. We crowded closer to his laptop, which was actually quite a lovely setting, and we saw the visuals if not the video well enough. Poor young Leavitt also battled the consistent overwhelming cheering of the “All That” Reunion. Overall we got the gist of the topic; I do wish he’d delved deeper into the very interesting examples he gave. I learned what otaku means and have a better idea of how close their geek culture is to ours. We are the world. I would have liked more meat.

The next panel I attended was Character Studies: Geek Girls in Popular Culture, with Jane Espenson, Amy Berg, Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Watson, Sarah Kuhn, Jessica Mills and Stephanie Thorpe. Moderated by Amy Ratcliffe. (Here is a general conference pet peeve: why are panelists’ Twitter addresses not listed anywhere? I missed one of my favorite Twitter personalities, Black Nerd Comedy, because of no program/map, and wasn’t lucky enough to catch his tweets about the event*).

Back to the panel. I am now the biggest fan of Jane Espenson, but that doesn’t take much. She’s awesome and a role model for many of her fellow panelists. This panel was kept kind of upbeat and light, which wasn’t hard with six women incredibly happy with their lives and work. A very humorous moment came when the ASL Interpreter was asked what the sign for “D20” is. She made a motion like rolling a die, and then was careful to demonstrate the difference between that sign and one not quite as G-rated.

These guys are seriously my favorite from MAD magazine of yore

CosPlay fascinates me, but my only venture into it involved east coast renaissance faires so I could show off my sword. At Comikaze, I snapped a few shots while others posed, and had a hard time asking for anyone to pose just for me. The one character I did have the guts to ask was an absolutely stunning Witch King of Angmar; however, by the time I found my courage, his helmet was off so he can eat lunch with his son. I didn’t want to intrude on the Witch King’s lunch. I do wish I’d gotten that picture.

Since one of the biggest reasons I attended was to get a sense of the culture and be prompted to read or watch new stories, Comikaze Expo earns a rousing success. In no particular order, I discovered the League of Extraordinary Ladies, Reed Gunther, The 36, reMind, Shelf Life (had known about through Yuri Lowenthal & Tara Platt but prompted to watch after seeing writer on panel), Awkward Embraces (another I heard enough about but actually watched all of Season 1 yesterday), ran into Comediva again after an intro at the Broad Humor Film Festival (they win for best hook to get people to their booth), Jefbot, The League of S.T.E.A.M. (donated to their kickstarter for Season 2 but first time seeing them in person. They get the best carnival barker award), Americana: The Book Series, Elizabeth Watasin, Jody Houser, Eliza Frye, the Winner Twins (haven’t checked out yet but they self-describe as “identical twin teenage dyslexic scifi authors”), and Olivia Dantes.

A few cool combinations of art and social good, which is a very public crusade of mine: The Winner Twins tour the country with Motivate 2 Learn, “a nonprofit inspiring students to read, write, overcome obstacles and teach their creative writing method.” Princess Leah postcards were everywhere, asking for donations towards medical bills to help a young baby Leah suffering from a mysterious illness; lastly, the California Browncoats have fun fan memorabilia and artist-donated fan calendars that go to different charities. Check them out – support art – help a cause. Everyone wins!

Mandalorians vs. The Leage of S.T.E.A.M.

There were definitely first-year problems. I’m a novice to conventions but not to events or performance, and rather than dwelling on the criticisms I know they’ve received (thank you Facebook), I want to offer some solutions.

*Continue of pet peeve:
Help tweeting loudmouths out and reap the promotional benefits: put the event hashtag everywhere and encourage all speakers, vendors, etc, to post their Twitter addresses as a sign. Point everyone to your business and give them all the tools to help a vendor, and direct everyone following the hashtag to find vendors and artists of their choice. I mostly found out at least ten of my friends were there thanks to the #Comikaze hashtag, and although most intermediate Twitter users pick up on it, encourage its use with signs.

Overall, the flow felt adequate and kind of like an indoor swap meet. I do wonder why more like-minded vendors aren’t placed together. Is it a quandary over competition? I bet if I’d walked through all five steampunk vendors at once, I would have bought something. Ditto for independent comics section. Has this been tried at other conventions and discarded? The autograph area was packed together for sci-fi specific actors, but that left poor Claudia Wells (original Jennifer Parker in Back to the Future) all by her lonesome and way on the other side of the hall. I wasn’t looking for signatures myself (although “The Voice for The Archies” Ron Dante almost got me to buy something), but I can’t imagine the original girlfriend of Marty McFly means much by the time you pass the Lasik Eye Surgery booth, take a left at the guy selling all his Star Wars memorabilia, and finally get to hers.

These pumpkin sculptures were way more impressive when I thought they were real pumpkins

I will absolutely return next year, with a larger budget and more room in my schedule for panels. It’s looking good that many of the titles and series I’ve enjoyed since our introduction are keepers, so the artists get more fans. Multiple crafts vendors got my attention and money, but special artisan beauty goes to Sev’s Wood Crafts, “Where one good turn deserves another!” according to his card. I’m writing about scribes right now, and had a massively difficult time not buying half his stock instead of paying my student loans. The very happy purchase I did make was a dragon-shaped bookmark, created out of turkey vertebrae transformed into beads.

That, plus encouragement for female writers garnered during the Geek Girls panel, was well worth my time and budget. I am confident they’ll listen to the very vocal feedback to improve next year.

Cindy Marie Jenkins admits her childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan. She works as a Storyteller and Director of Online Outreach for Social | Impact Consulting LLC. Current writing found at the Blue Dragon Scribe Shoppe and MYTHistories. @CindyMarieJ. She is a big fan of beer.

Pulp Shakespeare: final weekend to catch Pulp Fiction in iambic pentameter

Pulp Shakespeare is finishing up its popular run this weekend here in LA. Favorably reviewed by the LA Times, LA Weekly, Backstage West and elsewhere, this show is pretty much what it sounds like – What if William Shakespeare wrote Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction? While a funny gimmick, the show also pulls out real tension and drama but re-watch the movie before you go for maximum effect.

The show stars Aaron Lyons, a fantastic actor with extensive experience with the works of the real Shakespeare and a good friend of mine, and Dan White. The two take the roles originally played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively.

I’m told there are a few tickets left. Every show has sold out, so you better buy while you still can.

The show is playing Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 90038. Tickets are $20.


15-minute clip:

Simpsons writer lampoons comics world in Learn To Draw vids

The Simpsons writer/producer and The Doozies cartoonist Tom Gammill has a fun video series called Learn to Draw that, despite the title, will not teach aspiring cartoonists how to draw. Instead it offers a fun glimpse into the world of comics as what is possibly the world’s first comedy web-series about comics and cartooning.

Tom Gammill started the web-series three years ago (almost to the date – the first video was posted to YouTube on November 12, 2008) and has since seen guest appearances by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman (Zits), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Tony Carrillo (F Minus), Mell Lazarus (Momma), Cathy Guisewite (Cathy), Jeff Keane (The Family Circus), Matt Groening (The Simpsons, Life in Hell), Bill Amend (Foxtrot) and even Jeannie Schulz, the widow of Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts). Gammill and/or his writing partner Max Pross is an excellent director able to get these non-actors to loosen up and do some pretty silly things. Or maybe it’s that after year years and decades of creating comedy every day, cartoonists have built a natural ability to perform with good comedic timing. Whatever the reason, it’s a

Here are a few favorites, culminating in the crazy Arnold Roth episode:

A Pair of Silly Saturdays – November 12 and 19

[Cross-posted on the new Magic Meathands blog]

November 12 with Jump Start

The Magic Meathands (of which I’m a member!) have two shows coming up that should satisfy every comedy need known to science.

First is a family friendly show suitable for audiences of every age. We’re joined by the improv comedy group Jump Start for a $7 show ($3 for kids 12 and under). Jump Start is from the Beach Cities area and is directed by Julie Martin.

November 19 with Held2Gether

Second is our Tag Team Comedy show with our special guest Held2gether, Darren Held’s improv comedy group based in Long Beach. This show is rated Late Night, so you might want to leave the kids at home. This show is also $7.

Both shows start at 8 PM and are at the Mary Pickford Studio, 8885 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles 90034, through the generosity of the Mary Pickford Institute.

If you’re on Facebook, you can check out details of each show, RSVP, and invite your friends to join you for the fun: Family-Friendly Show w/Jump Start on November 12 and Tag Team Comedy w/Held2Gether on November 19.

Theater and Graphic Novel Hybrid to hit Los Angeles in 2012

Nick Cernoch as Josh Jaxson

The acclaimed Furious Theatre Company is producing the world premiere of a unique show that brings the graphic novel and theater together. NOgoodDEED is the creation of Furius Theatre’s award-winning writer-in-residence Matt Pelfrey (An Impending Rupture of the Belly) and illustrator Ben Matsuya. The stage production is being directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, co-founder and director-in-residence of Furious; Nick Cernoch stars. Originally planned for 2010, the show will open January 21 as part of the respected [Inside] the Ford play series in partnership with the L.A. County Arts Commission.

Furious Theatre’s award-winning writer in residence exposes the dark side of good deeds in this skillfully drawn, dark comedy about young Josh Jaxson, who is driven to ruin by his own act of bravery. Josh and two fellow “heroes” unite in the afterlife and vow to undo their courageous feats by adopting superhero personas and an unconventional brand of time travel. NOgoodDEED is a savagely humorous ride that is part play, part graphic novel, and part something utterly new and extreme.

The Hellbound Heroes (art by Ben Matsuya)

Just how the two forms are being merged isn’t clear at this time, but the website promises to unveil lots of information as we get closer to opening day.

Seeing theater, which has certainly been no stranger to the struggle of finding new audiences, embrace comics like this is interesting, and maybe a touch ironic. While sales of comics and graphic novels have been struggling, the energy behind them for movies and TV shows has grown significantly over the last decade. With high budget stage productions starring Spider-Man and Batman filling seats, can a brand new story made with both the page and the stage in mind bring that same kind of interest and enthusiasm to theater?

NOgoodDEED plays January 21 to February 26 at [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Los Angeles, CA 90068. Tickets are $25, although there are special engagements and discounts.

Mimi Pond helps keep comics alive in LA Times

Hollywood Forever by Mimi Pond (click to read)

With newspapers continuing to make cuts to their comics pages, we’re really fortunate to see the Los Angeles Times continue to feature Mimi Pond by publishing her ongoing series of op-ed comics about life in LA. For Halloween, the LA Times’ Opinion L.A. blog ran “Hollywood Forever,” a comic about the odd cemetery of the same name in east LA.

Mimi Pond is a local (since 1990 – basically a native!) cartoonist who has had her work published in National Lampoon, The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe and others. In 1989, her comics friend Matt Groening asked her to write an episode of his new TV series The Simpsons. That episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” ended up being the first episode aired and was later nominated for two Emmy Awards. She also wrote an episode for the fourth season of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the final season of the sitcom Designing Women. But her heart has remained with comics, contributing to Seventeen Magazine, Adweek, among other publications. She’s also had several collections of her work released with a new original graphic novel currently in the works.

The LA Times has been lucky to have her. Unfortunately it’s tough to find a complete directory of all of her comics on (their search engine is awful). So, here’s my swing at it. Please email with any info on ones I’ve missed or corrections. Most recent is at the top. I’ll try to add to the list as new ones are published and/or posted by The Times.