Knocking Down the Geeky Gatekeepers

Hey guess what this is – yep, another post about being a geek girl and all of the frustration that comes with it! I might sound like a broken record, harping on this topic, but gosh, it never ceases to be relevant…

I read this article about the “Tumblr fans” who ostensibly go to conventions out of love for things they’ve only seen in pictures on the internet. That article and recent conversations have got me thinking about gatekeepers in geek culture. In this context, the term refers to people with certain credentials who attempt to control access to certain media and decide how everyone should consume and appreciate that media. Within geek culture, gatekeepers have traditionally been dudes, but that’s not always the case.

Image via this fantastic article at Comics Alliance

Image via this fantastic article at Comics Alliance

I’ve written before on my experiences being quizzed on my knowledge of something before being allowed to be a “fan.” I was talking to a cosplayer recently who told me that she went into a comics shop and was asked if she needed help finding a gift for her boyfriend. This woman was the picture of the kind of cosplayer who gets derided for making sexy “attention-seeking” costumes, but I never once wondered whether or not she was a “real fan” or any crap like that. We just wanted to talk comics. In contrast, a guy in my office has superhero toys on his desk and we argued about superheroes, but he admits he’s never read a comic. Yet he still calls himself a fan; a guy can do that, but a girl can’t be a “fan” of something unless she’s read and researched extensively, even in the eyes of other girls.

The cosplay community can be terrible with this, and that includes people of all genders. I constantly see people talking shit about cosplayers like the one I was talking to, who make costumes that show off their bodies and seem to get the most attention from photographers – I guess the work they put into their costumes is less valid because the end result shows more skin? And if your end goal in making a costume is to get lots of attention for it, I don’t know why you wouldn’t do whatever you could to increase its appeal to a large audience. This attitude seems fueled by the idea that some ill-defined prerequisite reading comes along with cosplaying – since intimate knowledge of a character is necessary to sew and build and create a costume. And that attitude extends into all areas of geekdom.

I get that it’s weird sometimes, when you assume a person shares your love for something based on what they’re wearing or saying, but they turn out to be a more casual fan. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can just walk away. Ultimately their fan “level” doesn’t have to have any affect at all on your life. Still, I feel that impulse too, that desire to maintain some concept of what being a fan does or doesn’t mean, although I don’t know that I can explain why. I guess we feel like it’s a part of our identities, so we want to see the label only go to people who have somehow “earned it.” But when I see fans’ love or knowledge being questioned, the targets are almost exclusively women.

This kind of fandom policing is so common that even though I know my shit, I find myself embarrassed when I think I might come across as a “fake geek girl.” I found some Daredevil comics at a used bookstore the other day, and I hesitated to pick them up because I knew how it would look, a girl getting into the comics because because of a popular TV show. I could imagine the guys at the counter (who, I’m not even making this up, were talking about all the porn they’d just gotten in) laughing at me after I left, “she probably just thinks Daredevil is hot.” And they would be RIGHT, Charlie Cox is a beautiful dude with perfect lips and a physique right out of a comic book. But more importantly, enjoying the show seemed like a good prompt to finally start reading about the street-level heroes, a huge part of the Marvel Universe I don’t know much about – but I couldn’t even take the books off the shelf. (Ultimately I didn’t buy anything because they didn’t have any trades labelled “Vol 1” and I’m not about to start in the middle okay). Now I’ve had plenty of great experiences in comic stores too, where I was treated as an equal and wasn’t shamed for things I didn’t know. I’ve even debated which Marvel hero would have the best butt with male pro artists (since everyone knows that it’s Nightwing at DC). But I’ve also argued with guys behind the counter about the name of a comic I was looking to buy, and I once watched a male artist at a con try to convince three women that women don’t buy or care about comics.

I should pause to acknowledge that this experience is even tougher for people with less-privileged identities than mine; they often have to deal with being completely excluded from the stories in question, and are silenced or bullied when they try to express frustration. As a privileged white cis-lady I don’t have as much to complain about. Thankfully, online spaces like Tumblr give us the opportunity to create safe spaces where we can have frank conversations about media that might not be possible elsewhere. My first experience going into a store to buy comics was fantastic (thanks, The Beguiling!), but it’s been Tumblr that’s ultimately helped me become the comics fan I am today. I’m now editing comics (even writing a bit!) and I would never have gotten here without connecting with other fans on Tumblr.

While I’d rather discuss social issues on Tumblr than Facebook or Twitter, the site has its own set of problems, especially where emotional, immediate responses tend to be louder than more thoughtful, nuanced commentary. And while it may be portrayed that way sometimes, Tumblr isn’t a hivemind – it’s made up of thousands of people with different opinions stemming from different life experiences, and because this is the internet, people loudly and violently disagree. There are tensions and contradictions even within “Tumblr fandom,” which itself isn’t free of gatekeepers, and this time they’re largely not men. I’ve witnessed the harassment of the so-called “Tumblr Fan” firsthand, posts where people were told to (and I quote) “fuck off and die” if they call themselves fans without doing some arbitrary amount of reading first. No matter where you go, unless it’s your own living room with some close friends, you’re likely to encounter these attitudes.

So let’s get some discussion going. Are there benefits to gatekeeping when it comes to creating and maintaining a safe space? Why do we get so angry with people in geek spaces who haven’t “earned” a space there? What separates a “real” fan from a “fake” one? What does being a fan or a geek even mean these days – how do we decide?

Elitism and Film Hierarchy

Last week, I won tickets to a free advance screening of I, Frankenstein in Toronto. The theatre was peopled entirely with other contest winners – not one of us paid to see this movie – and yet the two dudes sitting next to me spent the whole movie complaining about how “stupid” it was. A movie they didn’t have to pay for, and yet decided to come down to an advance screening for people who mostly, presumably, did something to win those tickets. And all I could think is where is your sense of fun?

Do I think that I, Frankenstein should sweep the Oscars next year? Should it be recognized as a cultural milestone? No, of course not, but this is completely unfair criteria by which to judge a film. I get really frustrated when people dismiss genre films (sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc) for failing to be… well, serious. Sure there are the exceptions to that rule, but in general, “geeky” movies aren’t taken seriously by more sombre film critics.

Award-winning films have become so predictable that sociologists have found a way to measure “Oscar bait.” Terms like “family tragedy” and “domestic servant” play well, and obviously these are meant to be the best films of a given year – but does anyone really think that Crash deserved to win? And as much as I adored The King’s Speech, The Social Network is probably going to be more clearly remembered in a decade or two. I feel like a lot of people don’t take these awards too seriously – if I watch at all, it’s for the dresses, not the awards (but that still won’t stop me from screaming if Lupita Nyong’o doesn’t win). But they dominate cultural conversations for a few months every year. Award season is a cultural touchstone where the dark, gritty seriousness of Nolan’s Batman films was apparently deserving of recognition but the fun romp that was The Avengers was mainly overlooked.

I guess the question is whether or not “entertainment” is a noble goal to have when setting out to make a film, and in my book, it is. That doesn’t mean that a purely entertaining film should be free from criticism, but I think that we have to adapt our reference points from film to film; we should judge the success of a film based on its ability to achieve what it sets out to do. I, Frankenstein knows that its audience is here to see some goofy action sequences, so it develops its characters and mythology only to the point that the plot is possible, and puts most of its effort into fight choreography and special effects. Last year’s Pacific Rim was slammed by some for lacking subtlety – but its tagline was “Go Big or Go Extinct,” so it seems to me that the problem with that assessment is with the reviewer, not the film itself.

And you know what these films have in common that is absent from many award-nominated films this year? Minority representation. Pacific Rim, while having one of the most boring white dude protagonists in the history of film, was really about Mako Mori – it’s no 12 Years a Slave in terms of examining race relations, but it has some cultural significance for having a leading lady of colour who isn’t an exoticized caricature. Geek spaces are dominated by white straight male voices, but sub-genres and cult films are havens for minority groups – look at something like Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That film will never be remembered for mainstream appeal, but that doesn’t make it culturally insignificant.

If I go into a horror movie, I want to be scared, and that’s going to be the standard by which I judge the film. I don’t think that all horror movies are worthy of widespread accolade, but I don’t think either that they should be summarily dismissed for not meeting some kind of film standard that’s skewed toward emotionally manipulative dramas. Movies can be art, but they can also be pure entertainment, and not everyone wants to leave a movie theatre feeling like they’ve changed as a person. If goofy action flicks aren’t for you, that’s fine, but don’t put them down because they aren’t Quentin Tarantino movies.

Which, by the way, wouldn’t exist without the B-movies he lovingly imitates.

I’m a film lover because I know the heights that films can hit, in terms of emotional resonance but also in engrossing me in a story. Some of the most engrossing stories are told in faraway galaxies, about people accomplishing the unfeasible. Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art far more than art imitates life, so give me stories where people beat impossible odds and good prevails, I don’t care if it takes a plothole or two for us to get there.

Looking to the Future: A Panel Discussion on Superhero Films in 2014

I participated in this panel about superhero movies, for those interested. Watch me go off in a completely different direction from the other panelists on 2 of the 3 questions. The fact that I forgot that The Wolverine was a thing this year probably didn’t lend me credence either. OH WELL.

A. A. Omer

I love superheroes and this year was just one giant present filled with costume clad characters. I’ve already counted down and commented on the 5 superhero movies of 2013 over at Paper Droids but while that was about looking back, I decided to look forward.

I got 5 people who love superheroes and superhero movies to discuss the films of 2013 and what that’ll mean in terms of the expectations we’ll have for the 2014 batch. They come from all walks of life. They either reside in the United States or Canada. Some read comics while others haven’t. They do share one thing in common and it’s superheroes on the screen so let’s hear what this panel has to say…

What’s your most anticipated 2014 film and why?

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

Allison O’Toole: 

I can’t confirm that it will happen in 2014, but there seems to be a John Constantine show in development…

View original post 2,361 more words

2013 in Review

Hey folks

This has been a wild and often-crappy year for me; job applications and subsequent rejections, sickness and death in the family, a terrible, terrible summer service job, stress-induced illness, Hellblazer ended… I’m ready for 2014. Hopefully next year will bring less stress and some new job prospects huh? And hopefully fewer news stories about sexism in the geek community – have you heard about Brian Wood? Or Scott Lobdell? Or the Cartoon Network cancelling Young Justice because more girls watch it than boys? Ahh ain’t life grand?

On my end, I’m still writing reviews and such, with sights set on a few more online opportunities. I’ll always keep the “My Writing Elsewhere” page up to date, if you want more of me when I’m not posting, and I try to remember to link to everything I write on my Twitter, @AllisonMOToole. I’ve got links to Twitter and my newly created Instagram account in my sidebar for those interested.

There was some awesome stuff this year though; I graduated from university and I did quite a bit of traveling….

Lake MeadAnyway, everyone’s publishing their Best-Ofs for the year, so my highly subjective picks:

Favourite Film: 12 Years a Slave. I had more fun watching many other films this year, but I can’t ignore this one. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance, especially enhanced by McQueen’s direction, is often immensely hard to watch, but it can’t be denied that it is an incredible film. Aside from my obvious white-guilt response, Solomon Northrup is played with such an incredible degree of pathos and even dignity in his worst moments that you can’t help but be affected by his story. I can’t remember the last time I left a theatre feeling so emotionally drained.

Favourite TV: Hannibal. A gorgeous horror show built on relationships. Everything I want from a story, with fabulous performances all-around. Just great TV that proves that the network can still churn out quality programming in the age of AMC and HBO.

Favourite Music: The National’s Trouble Will Find Me. I never get sick of listening to this album, with its complex layering and Berninger’s luscious baritone on in full force. And this is weird to say but the melodies on this one are just spectacular. Wonderful album. Second place is Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, but not because it was an especially stand-out album – I was just excited that they’re releasing music again.

Favourite Comic: Saga. Even with the hiatus, there hasn’t been one issue that was disappointing on the level of characters, story, or art. It’s got relatable, believable (and diverse!) characters with very human stories amidst all of the gleeful sci-fi weirdness. There were so many great series this year that this decision was nearly impossible to make, but Saga is the series I can most confidently recommend to anyone, regardless of taste – even to people who don’t read comics.

And that’s that, I guess. Happy holidays to those celebrating, and have a safe and happy New Year.

Cheers to 2014.

Fake Geek Girls: The Only Kind, Apparently

So you’ve probably heard by now about recent misogyny at a Television Critics Association event, when Todd Macfarlane and other significant creators claimed that comics are a man’s world, and that creators shouldn’t have to write about non-straight-white-dudes, because who else is reading comics? Apparently he also doesn’t understand the difference between idealization and sexualization, between a power fantasy and a sexual one, since he believes that men are objectified to the same degree that women are (and he uses the term “stereotype,” which shows a blatant misunderstanding of the issue). 

I know I write about this topic A LOT but given this crap (and after Tony Harris’ ridiculous sexist comments about female cosplayers last year), it seems like time I posted this piece, originally written for the Queen’s Feminist Review.

Some content was taken from another post I wrote last year, but overall I think this piece is stronger and more concise.

In addition to identifying as a woman and a feminist, I identify as a geek – a difficult mix. I am surrounded by hyper-sexualized representations of women in all streams of media, women characters dying to torment and motivate the men who love them, conflicting messages about how I should look and dress and act, and men decrying my audacity at complaining about any of this.

I first learned that girl geeks are treated differently than the boys when I received the Lord of the Rings books for my tenth birthday, about six months before the first film was released. I adored the books and movies to the point that my grade school nickname was “Mr. Frodo.” Yet boys in and outside of school could never accept that I was a “real fan” like they were. They assumed that as a girl, I was only watching the movies for the cute boys, so I’d be asked if I’d ever played the video games, exactly how many of the appendices I’d read, and minute trivia about the books and movies to prove my legitimacy as a fan. I’d always win these contests, of course; I’d read the series twice by the time I was twelve, I knew a thing or two about it. I would prove myself to be a worthy fan in their eyes, unlike the “fangirls” only in it for Orlando Bloom’s face.

Hostility in geek culture can be neatly summed up in the fact that fangirl is held as a derisive term. According the geek community, fanboys are a little too interested in their geek interests, but fangirls are only interested in attractive men and romantic plots. Not only do these concepts ignore the potential for women to have different interests, they delegitimize the sorts of media that are associated with femininity; there is nothing in romance to make it inherently inferior to other genres aside from its association with women. Society has very strict ideas of what women are allowed to like and engage in, so exploring media outside this bubble is treated as suspect. As a result, women are shamed for enjoying traditionally feminine interests, but are told we only seek male attention if we enjoy the more masculine. Women gamers are constantly assumed to be less skilled than the men, and women who cosplay (creating realistic, detailed costumes for conventions) are criticized for wearing the revealing costumes assigned to women characters by their often-male creators. According to masculine-heavy sections of the internet – fans and men in the industry – women cosplayers select the skimpiest costumes they can find in the hope that they will be showered with praise from male nerds. Yet again, the idea that women could be genuine geeks is not within their realm of possibility.

Basic belief in the difference between legitimate and false nerds is present in less obviously hostile ways however, such as the prevalent concept of the Fake Geek Girl. Pictures, articles, tweets, and every other form of Internet expression have been written at length criticizing the women who conform to all of the stereotypes I’ve discussed; women who know nothing about their chosen geeky interest, or express their love for it in the wrong way, or don’t love the right aspects of it. Even other women will lament losing nerd cred by proximity to these Fake Geek Girls – but I’ve never witnessed any women who fit this mould. If women don’t know as much about something as other geeks, they are shamed for having newly discovered it, or for having less investment in it than others do. In the end, women are discouraged from liking anything, and can be scared to admit their interests, because no matter what they do, someone will question their validity.

I understand some of the motivation between distancing yourself from a ‘fake’ geek. Being a nerd is cool now, so we want to have some kind of exclusivity to our title. But there’s no number of hours one has to log in order to be a geek. No one was expelled from the womb with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Batman. A geek is just a person with a lot of enthusiasm for something that has been deemed geeky. Yet this extends further than nerd culture; girls who like sports or hardcore music can face similar problems with perceived legitimacy. In any of these areas, decrying fake fans – especially when we only attack women – results only in women being afraid to express their love for things, not in some kind of exclusive identity. We should be working to make this a supportive community, rather than policing arbitrary concepts of geek purity.

Girls, we don’t need to be afraid to express our love for the things we like. Being a geek is cool, and there are safe spaces to share the love and learn about new things. Be a geek, be proud, and don’t listen to the guys who say that your love is less legitimate than theirs or that you love it for their attention. I never would have made it through elementary school if I’d let their attitude get to me; I survived on my one Lord of the Rings zinger question, since none of the boys could remember what Éomer’s sword is called.

(By the way, it’s called Gúthwinë).

This was originally published in Vol 21 of the Queen’s Feminist Review (2013).

The Importance of Storytelling

As a pop culture junkie, I tend to get very invested in the books I read, the TV shows I follow, and the movies I watch. When I find a story that I really like, I spend more of my time than I probably should thinking about it, talking about it, and analyzing it. With that much thought tends to come an emotional attachment, so when I finish particularly long series, I tend to spend the rest of the day in a… let’s call it Reader’s Melancholy. I’m sad to have to leave characters once I’ve been through so much with them. Sure, I can re-read or re-watch, but I’m sure everyone can agree that nothing is the same the second time through.

It’s not only the length of the story that brings this on though; stakes are equally, if not more important. You need to go through serious ups and downs with the characters, have gained and lost with them. So it’s not by virtue of being long that. Even finishing Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities I felt something similar. Maybe it’s just being at the close of the characters’ journey. Finishing Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic series prompted my writing this post, because I was genuinely sad to leave those characters and that world, even if I wasn’t completely enthralled for every single moment of the series. I’ve read and loved other longer series, but this one was, well, ‘epic,’ in all senses of the term. There were incredible stakes for both the characters and the rest of the world. Another series to which it is often compared, Fables, is also amazing, but I sort of created my own ending for that one. The main story wrapped up after 100+ issues, and the characters had lost very little, all things considered. I love the series, but I don’t know if I want to read more of it, since it seems like it should be over, and that not much was lost, despite a huge war. Many super hero comics and fantasy/sci fi shows have similar problems; death loses some potency when characters can come back to life. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example,featured some permanent deaths, but they were the exceptions to the general rule. I like to pretend that the comics don’t exist (and, to some degree, neither does season 5 of Angel) to make the ending of Buffy seem more permanent and powerful. Finishing that series the first time, I cried in the final scene simply because it was done. There was no more, and my overwhelming thought was “what now?” It was hard to leave Buffy and her friends behind, but I also felt like I had to. Their story in Sunnydale was done, and even if they are still having adventures in comics, I feel like I’m not a part of them anymore. I was a silent but heavily empathetic spectator of seven years of their lives, and somehow, it feels to me like my journey with them is complete. The story they were telling, the story I was a part of, is done. I stopped watching Being Human after series 3 for similar reasons.

Think about the ending of The Lord of the Rings. Would anyone really be interested in a sequel about Frodo’s and Bilbo’s adventures over the sea? Or Sam’s quiet family life, for that matter? We were with them when they saved Middle Earth, but that tale is done, and so is our part in it. We know that they’ll go on to live their lives (and via appendices can get quite a bit of information about those lives), but to keep reading would seem… wrong. Like selling out, almost. I can imagine that Harry Potter fans would feel the same way. A good ending closes the story, but lets you know that the world will keep turning whether you’re there or not (unless you’re reading Cat’s Cradle or similarly apocalyptic fiction).

So what is the point of this? Do I just get too invested in fiction? Am I just a crazy fangirl for crying everywhere for the simple reason that Les Misérables or King’s Dark Tower series ended? Well, I think that this Reader’s Melancholy (or Watcher’s Melancholy, as the case may be) is a testament to the importance of storytelling. We like to feel connected to other people, even if those people are fictional. You can get inside the mind of a fictional character in a way you never can with another person. You can see these characters at the best and at their most vulnerable. And we connect with real people through mutual love of stories; when meeting someone for the first time, once you get past the requisite questions about work and family, movies and TV, sometimes books ultimately come into the conversation. We bond with our friends and family over the shared experience of watching fiction together. Once you’ve seen Darth Vader announce that he is Luke’s father, waited for Hamlet to just make up his damn mind, or watched Jack sink into the ocean and wondered why Rose couldn’t just shift over a little bit, you now share that experience with Luke, or Hamlet, or Rose, and with every other person who has shared that experience too. Not to mention stories that transcend time and culture, or at least borrow from earlier stories. The legends we have today about King Arthur were being changed and molded and re-appropriated all over Europe for hundreds of years before they got to the versions we know today and we’re still changing them! There’s something king of magical about the thought that the stories and characters in shows we’re watching today – like BBC’s Merlin or historical dramas like The Borgias, Spartacus, and HBO’s Rome – were exciting audiences hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sometimes, even more than that, where ancient stories and mythologies are involved; who isn’t somewhat intrigued by the stories from the Odyssey or the Aeneid ­even if we aren’t reading them in verse? Stories become ingrained in our cultural minds; you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the Western world (and probably beyond) who has never heard “to be or not to be,” or who wouldn’t understand that something is unnatural if it features the “Franken” prefix. Characters from literature and myth live longer and burn brighter than do most historical figures.

Besides, it must be boring to live in the real world all the time. Or, as Shirley Jackson states, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” Daydreaming, making up our own stories and engaging with others’, keep us sane. Stories let us bond with other people, but also let us escape inside ourselves from the stresses and monotony of every day life. You can learn about yourself and about other people, feel less alone, even pretend to be someone else through stories. And there are so many different kinds of stories out there in different mediums, there’s something for everyone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me that I need to get out more and spend less time reading or watching movies. I’m not denying that I probably do spend too much time immersed in the fictional, but I can’t really say I regret it. I’ve read stories that were written hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and I can connect them to stories and real life today. Through them, I feel connected not only to the characters about which I’m reading, but to the other people reading the stories – living or dead. I like to escape from everyday tedium, even if just to read about someone else’s. My life is enriched by all of the stories I’ve heard or read or seen, and through them, I’ve learned much about myself and about humanity in general. Stories help us interpret ourselves, each other, and the world around us, and I think that life would be less interesting and less rich without them.

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.
– Neil Gaiman,
The Sandman: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Geek Culture: A Girl’s Dilemma

The other day I walked into a comic store to get a new comic, a one-off, so I couldn’t be sure where it was being kept on the shelves. Well, it was in a counter-intuitive location alphabetically, so I spent a few minutes staring at all of the books. Part of me wanted to ask the sales guy who was standing right there, but I was terrified of being judged by the 12 or so male customers whose eyes I could already feel on my back. No, I don’t mean they were doing anything untoward, but I looked like I didn’t know what I was doing, and I could tell that they were judging me for it, in a way they weren’t the browsing male customers. The only other women in the store were the woman working cash, and a female customer heatedly conversing with the aforementioned sales guy. Seeing such a heavy male-to-female ratio is a common occurrence in comic stores, as anyone can attest who’s ever been in one. And sometimes, especially if there are already a bunch of guys in there, it can feel intimidating to just be a woman – which is a problem I’ve noticed in all of geek culture.

I use the example of comics, which is a new thing for me, but this is far from a new phenomenon. This is the sort of problem faced by women in all aspects of “geek” culture; women gamers are constantly viewed as being less skilled or knowledgeable (as a recent Oatmeal comic clearly demonstrated), and can face all kinds of harassment if they try to play online. When I was a kid, boys were constantly questioning and testing my love for Lord of the Rings. I’d be asked if I’d ever played the video games, exactly how many of the appendices I’d read, and minute trivia about the books and movies to see if I was actually a fan. Issues with “real fans” being judged by encyclopedic knowledge aside, I would always “prove” myself in their eyes. I was a “fanboy” by every aspect of the definition, other than the physical. I still am forced to identify as a fanboy rather than a fangirl, because the latter comes with a depressingly negative connotation. I’d love to call myself simply a “fan” but that doesn’t quite hold the right weight. A fanboy can show you every instance of visible sound equipment in a given movie and write an essay on why, exactly, Han has to have shot first. A fangirl cried the first time she saw Edward Cullen onscreen and she only watches her favourite shows for the hot boys. Do I think these are fair definitions? No. Yes, there are people out there who conform to these definitions, but they are in no way entirely representational. However, ask most people in fandom, and they will admit that these are the stereotypes.

One of the reasons that fans seem to be overwhelmingly male is simply that most of the creators are too. Most stories in any medium are about men and from a male gaze. Twilight may be poorly written and horrible in its portrayals of gendered interactions (or so I’m told, I couldn’t get past the third page), but at least it’s about a woman and uses a distinctly heterosexual female gaze – so it makes sense that it would be popular among young women who don’t want to read about shopping or whatever it is teen “chick lit” is about. I actually have no idea. I’m generalizing, and I’m sure there is a lot of great literature out there that I haven’t read yet, but I have always gravitated toward the more traditionally “geeky” stuff. While I do avoid the more blatantly misogynist examples (like Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men), many of my favourite “geeky” passions are about men. However, there are prominent creators out there, Joss Whedon most famously of all, who are trying to write interesting, relevant stories about strong women. Now, Joss’ work is not without flaws certainly (River Tam is one of the most pathetic attempts at a “strong woman” I have ever witnessed), but Buffy Summers, Fred Burkle, Zoe Washburne, and recently his version of Marvel’s Black Widow are shining examples of women whose stories can appeal to men and women alike. Natasha Romanoff was so well received in her Avengers role that a prequel movie is allegedly in the works. Whedon alum Felicia Day is gaining fame with her webseries The Guild, and showing that a cool, funny girl can be as huge a geek as your average fat, cheesy-covered weirdo living in his mother’s basement, and women are slowly becoming more prominent in other areas of geekery – except maybe DC Comics.

If you didn’t hear about this, DC Comics has been meeting a lot of backlash since only a measly 3% of their staff are women, and then again for some horribly sexist representations of prominent characters Catwoman and Starfire. Their response to this backlash was basically to tell fans that the issues are not important. Nice one, DC. Not to say that other comics are pristine, but Marvel is trying – Ms Marvel, one of their most popular women, is getting her own series this summer, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. That said, this will be their only female-helmed series after they cancelled X-23, their only comic left with a woman protagonist. EDIT: I’m oblivious to DC, but kind reader Kelly has reminded me that their current Batwoman (or Batgirl?) series by Gail Simone is excellent, and portrays the leading lady in a very favourable light. I’ve also heard excellent things about their Wonder Woman series, in the interest of being fair to the company.

Even from the links I’ve provided here, it’s obvious that I am not the first person to notice this issue. But how couldn’t you notice, when women are subjected to this kind of crap? (Edited in later, but this example was too golden not to include). Award-winning comic artist Tony Harris went on a rant against women cosplayers (dressing in costumes to attend conventions), claiming that we only cosplay for male attention while shunning it in the real world, that we “aren’t hot,” and that worst of all, we don’t actually read comics. It’s a really fun read if you enjoy rage-induced aneurysms. Thankfully, many people of all genders in the community and in the industry explained to Harris exactly why he was wrong, but he hasn’t backed down from his original statements, and many men expressed agreement on the original post. Women get the short end of the stick in all forms of media, let’s get real here, but I don’t find such overt hostility in most other areas.

Boys, having some female superheroes aren’t taking away from the male ones. I like a lot of stories the way they are, but sometimes I want to see ME – or at least someone I can aspire to be – reflected back to me in the stories I love so much. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

EDIT: Here’s a really excellent article from The Mary Sue about “Fake Geek Girls” Check it out.

Review: The Avengers

I’ll admit upfront that I had huge biases going into this film. I’ve been a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s for years, and I’ve more recently fallen in love with the Marvel movies, so I was predisposed to love it.  I can say that my nerd overrode my film critic, but honestly, I don’t believe you should judge all genres by the same criteria. A good a comedy is not good for the same reason as is a drama, or a horror film, or a romance. They have different requirements, so why do we put down superhero movies as something lesser; why do “good superhero movie” and “good movie” have to be separate labels? A movie like The Dark Knightis more grounded in realism, so it can be more, well, realistic. That was never an option for this movie. So no, I’m not going to say much about the cinematography and the mise-en-scene and the other stuff you’d critique in a Bergman film. It had a good story, characters I was invested in, and was a blast to watch; I think this was a good movie, and I don’t really care if it isn’t “high art.”The plot is simple: Loki, last seen as the hero’s villainous brother in Thor, has come to Earth with the intention to subjugate its population. And, as you know if you’ve seen the previews, he has an army. Loki steals the tesseract (which you may remember as the glowing blue cube in Captain America: The First Avenger), a portal through deep space of unknown power. Faced with this seemingly unbeatable threat, Nick Fury decides to call together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. They have to overcome their clashing values and personalities to SAVE THE WORLD.

Joss Whedon manages to do the near impossible: he brings together a group of solo acts and makes them all coexist as one performance, where everyone gets near-equal chances to shine. His action scenes are fun, fresh, and actually surprising. The final act is huge, with a number of memorable action scenes peppered throughout. Amidst those though are a number of brief but powerful character moments. My only qualm is that both Thor and Loki feel slightly off at times; Whedonesque dialogue is perfect for Tony Stark, but occasionally feels awkward coming from the mouths of these “gods.” Still, overall he does very well, even with the Asgardians, and his ability to shift seamlessly between drama, action, and humour is on in full form in this film, and the tone perfectly brings Marvel Comics to life.

The characters are the most important part of this film, and they are all well represented, even if some outshine the others. Surprising to me, the character I most loved was Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk. Ruffalo finally injects some much-needed humour into the character, and with that, comes pathos. Banner was a funny, intelligent, endearing character, but always with the legitimate threat under the surface. Even more impressive though, is the Hulk, created by WETA Digital over motion capture actually performed by Ruffalo, making him the first actor to play both Banner and “the other guy.” Hulk’s first appearance is a scene worthy of a werewolf movie, and after that he too develops a sense of humour and pathos. The midnight crowd at my theatre went wild every time any character turned up on screen, but Hulk got the loudest cheers by far. With both roles, Ruffalo completely steals the show, and I look forward to future Hulk films – something I never thought I’d say.

The strong presence of Scarlet Johansson as the Black Widow was a similarly pleasant surprise. I should have expected this from Joss, but he develops her from her minor role in Iron Man 2, giving hints of her past while still leaving it mainly shrouded in mystery. No, she doesn’t have superpowers to match those of her teammates, but she is unquestionably a capable asset to her team.

Robert Downey Jr is flawless, as usual, as Tony Stark, and unsurprisingly gets his fair share of screen time. He gives the performance we’ve come to expect, balancing humour, vulnerability, and straight badassery. He fits most comfortably into Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue. I was pleased too to see Gwyneth Paltrow back as Pepper Potts, because Tony Stark really isn’t Tony Stark without her. Other memorable supporting performances are given by Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Clark Gregg as the ever-awesome Agent Phil Coulson, who finally gets the development and screen time the fans have been demanding for him.

For the leader of the team, Chris Evans as Captain America does not get as much dialogue as his teammates. That said, he is more human, I think, than he was in his solo film. Some beautiful comedic and dramatic moments come from his misunderstanding and mistrust of the modern world. He and Tony Stark butt heads immediately, since Tony represents everything that Steve dislikes about the new world. I can’t wait to see the two of them together in future films, as they had great chemistry (as did Downey Jr and Ruffalo).

Hawkeye gets very little development, unfortunately, but Jeremy Renner manages to make Clint Barton memorable and capable, despite just being the guy with the bow. I hope that we get to learn more about him in subsequent films.

Finally, my favourite Avenger, who I really wish had been more present in the film: Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. As the only character with ties to the villain, I wish their relationship had been better explored, and that we had had more than one short scene looking at Thor’s feelings toward Loki’s actions. However, each of his scenes with his brother pack a powerful emotional punch, brief as they are. For his part, Tom Hiddleston is once again in top form as Loki, playing a more manic, malicious, and dangerous version of the character. Gone are his tears and justifications, replaced my evil grins and condescending sarcasm. His one-on-one scenes with each of the Avengers are superb and often chilling, but each is memorable for its own reasons. The scenes with Thor especially reveal that Loki’s insecurities are very much still present, and that he is still motivated by jealousy despite his new cocky posturing. Their dialogue could have used some work, but they did well with what they had.

The action scenes are huge, bigger than anything Marvel has done before. The closely-guarded identity of Loki’s alien army is insignificant, but revealed early in the film. They pose a threat, but not one as large as the mysterious force behind them, revealed in a mid-credit sequence to be a formidable villain from Marvel comics, one who I eagerly await to see in later films. I enjoyed the pace of the film, allowing for ample character development, but I can see how it could feel slow to someone desiring average popcorn fare. If you’re in North America, be sure to stay until the end of the credits for a lovely surprise in Whedon’s usual style.

Overall, this is a fun, heartfelt, fresh superhero film, and the perfect summer blockbuster. While you could watch it without having seen the previous films, it is really worth giving them a watch first, as they make the character moments in this one so much more potent. The Avengers will make you want to go back and watch them now – whether you have seen them before or not.

My Nerdy Weekend Extravaganza!

Sorry again that I was so late with my post about Morocco, but to make up for my tardiness, you can have two posts in one day! This weekend was equally, if not more exciting than the last. I did a lot, and I almost feel like I should be making two separate posts, but I think there was some continuity to the weekend, in that I spent most of my time immersed in fandom despite being away from the Internet. Confused so far? Me too. I’ll just start at the beginning.

This weekend was a long time coming, and much planning went into it. My friend Michelle and I have been calling it our romantic weekend getaway, because we’re inseparable at school, and we decided to go and see an “anti-Valentines” show on the most “coupley” weekend of the year, then stay together in a private room. The show was part of a series at London’s Criterion Theatre called Stories Before Bedtime, featuring actors reading short stories at 10:30 at night. My reasons for being there: Tom Hiddleston reading Tennessee Williams’ “The Kingdom of Earth” and Russell Tovey reading Ovid’s “The Art of Love.” For all two of you who aren’t yet aware, I’m nursing an embarrassingly large celebrity crush on Hiddleston, which started when I saw him play Loki in Thor. Tovey played George on one of my very favourite shows, BBC’s Being Human (which sadly just jumped the shark, but that’s a post for another time). Both men are immensely talented, so needless to say, this was a big deal for me. We all know how I get with my obsessions.

Anyway, we headed into London on Friday morning, but due to train delays only arrived in the afternoon. After burritos for lunch, we checked in at our very classy hostel in Soho – the gay area of London, of course. We went first to pick up our tickets (which had been hastily purchased by phone in Cambridge weeks before), and asked as nonchalantly as possible where we could find the stage door. The guy at the box office was really calm about telling us, and didn’t seem to think that we were creepy, obsessive fangirls for asking – although he wouldn’t have been too far off the mark if he had. Afterward, we walked around London, got some shopping done, as well as some photos of Westminster Abbey and the surrounding area at sunset. We decided to dress up for the occasion, so we got ready, and headed out for dinner. We found this really funky little vegetarian restaurant off Regent Street, and after dinner walked down to the theatre.

Our excitement is written on our faces here

My first impression of the theatre was that it is gorgeous. Old architecture, gold embossing, and tiled walls make for a very Victorian atmosphere. My second impression was of the crowd: “oh my god, we’re all from Tumblr.” The audience was probably 85% female, and while I hate to stereotype, it was simple to pick out the bloggers, especially since they made up most of the population. I suppose I should explain that Mr. Hiddleston has an enormous and very passionate following on Tumblr – so passionate that he received most of the questions in the Avengers panel at the New York Comic Con, surprising the panel and most of the reviewing journalists at the event.

Russell Tovey signing for someone else… and also my face.

We were seated in practically the centre of the third row. The seats went right up to the stage (there was no orchestra pit), so we were maybe 10 feet from the stage. The stage was dressed more than I expected, with two chairs front and centre, a writing desk to my right behind them, and a bed to the left. I noticed that the young woman next to me was also alone, and learned that like most of us, she was there for Hiddleston. Shortly after introducing ourselves, the lights dimmed and without any introduction or fanfare, Tovey and his co-star from Him & Her, Sarah Solemani came onto the stage, and read the introduction from Ovid. They read three times throughout the show, and were absolutely hilarious. I knew Russell was funny, but Solemani probably got the most laughs of anyone in the show. Some of her jokes were apparently spontaneous, like when she paused after saying that “women should come late.” The mostly-female audience exploded into laughter, and it took Russell a moment to see why – then he too started giggling. She also demonstrated women’s “purring” during sex with a “meow.” But Russell was great too, even when he flubbed a line and confessed “I have no idea what I’m saying.” They moved around the building (doing one section from two boxes), and played off each other very well, so they kept the show lively. They spoke on the subjects of obtaining a partner, keeping said partner, and of course, sexual positions. It was hilarious and I was hugely impressed.

While we’re on the subject, here’s me with Russell

After the introductory bit to Ovid, Niamh Cusack read a sort of modern re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast. It was the story we all know, only with references to telephones and cars. It was pleasant, and more like what I was expecting – she read us a story. I felt a bit bad for her though, since she was soft spoken and not adequately mic’d, so you could hear the audience shifting in their seats, as well as the subway going by beneath the theatre while she spoke. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that she was sitting behind the desk, which makes it difficult to connect to the audience. That said, she did read well, and did it by candle light, which was terribly atmospheric. The story was more something I’d like to be read before bed, so she actually conformed to expectations.

After another Ovid interlude, the lights went down and “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow” from O Brother, Where Art Thou? came on. Excited whispers went through the crowd as Hiddleston walked out in what I could immediately tell was a tank top and coveralls, the arms of which were tied around his waist. The lights came up, and happily excited gasps erupted when we could see that he was covered in dirt. He opened his mouth and rather than his usual gentle, posh British voice came a surprisingly accurate Tennessee accent. This story was in the first person (so essentially a monologue) about an uneducated man who falls for his dying brother’s “loose” wife. Given the erotic subject matter, I thought I kept my composure with remarkable tact, although Michelle insists that I was squirming. I was better off than the woman hyperventilating behind me, and the one falling over in front, at least. Aside from my fangirling, he was excellent. He read with his usual expressiveness, and was completely in character the entire time, changing his voice and body language the few times he spoke as different characters. Telling a story as the woman, his body language was absolutely hilarious, and he got a few unexpected laughs. He is an immensely talented actor, and he was on in full form. I had a great time, and was completely absorbed in the story.

This is the best picture I could get of Tom – and it isn’t zoomed in at all

After a group bow, Michelle and I headed to the stage door along with our new friend – and a huge crowd of girls already waiting there (all of the people I had picked out earlier, I have to say). Russell came out fairly quickly, and I managed to get a photo with him. Michelle, whose love for him is evidently stronger than mine, was way less cool about it than I was, despite all of our friends expecting the opposite. She asked him to sign an advertisement for the event without his name or picture on it (which confused him hilariously), and then got a photo wherein her eyes are closed. She calmed down after that spaz attack, which was good, because we had to wait around for about 40 minutes. In the crowd, we befriended another fan, who happens to go to school with a friend of mine from Tumblr, and who was also on exchange in England. It’s a small world.

To give you an idea of the crowd

When Hiddleston did finally come out, it was obvious that he was exhausted and just wanted to go home. Even so, he did sign a few things with a smile, and the crowd was remarkably quiet. I felt too guilty to ask him for anything, so I just flashed a camera light at him a few times. He got in a car and left, so Michelle and I walked home, our new friend Natalie helping make sure we got there. We tried to go to bed, but in our excitement just talked about the night for about an hour before we could even think about sleeping.

Wow, this post is already stupidly long, isn’t it? Well, it’s only halfway done! The next day, Michelle and I caught a train to Brighton, where she met up with our classmates who had a field trip there, and I finally met some of my “Buffy Friends,” about who I’ve spoken before – Janet, Kelly, and Shaun. They were all just the best people, and exactly how I imagined they would be. I mean, I’d being speaking to them since 2007, so obviously I knew what they were like, but it’s different when you can attach an actual voice and body to a person. We met up in the mall, where I was greeted by a sign written in yellow crayon, proclaiming the event “Allison and Wee Frosty’s 1st International Buffy Convention.” (Janet had assumed correctly that I would be bring my Loki bobblehead, who I’ve named Wee Frosty, and has been the subject of many photos of my trip that I’ve been posting daily on my Tumblr.) Everyone signed the poster afterward, like a yearbook, and I put it up in my bedroom when I got home. They took me to Harry Ramsden’s, apparently a popular fish and chips joint in the UK. After lunch, we went back to Kelly’s hotel (an adorable B&B), and played an old Buffy boardgame, which was ridiculously complicated, but fun. There’s not so much to tell that makes a good story to anyone else, but we were all able to catch up with each other in person, which was new and exciting.

After the board game, out came the presents. I still feel horrible that I brought exactly nothing to the event, but they insisted that since I was the visitor to the UK that I was the subject of the party, so they all brought incredibly thoughtful gifts. Janet made this unbelievable cake, decorated with blood and the logo for Joss Whedon’s production company, Mutant Enemy. She also made a wooden stake out of chocolate icing, and put a heart shaped hole (filled with icing) inside the cake – so it was a stake through the heart! So clever! Kelly brought a bunch of things, like perfume flavoured of orange blossom (my general moniker online), a book of Buffy quotes, and some lovely British tea (which I drink as I write this). Shaun added to my Loki obsession with some toys, and (I still can’t believe this) gave me his copy of the first Buffy comic, along with a yellow crayon. I barely kept myself from crying after all of this. The internet can really bring people together, and here is proof.

Unfortunately, we only had time to watch Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, since Shaun hadn’t yet seen the whole thing (*gasp*) and then depart. Janet graciously took all of us to our destinations for the night, including bringing me back to the castle. It was so hard saying good bye to everyone after so little time, but I really hope to see everyone again one day, even if not together. Another member of our little group was unfortunately sick, and unable to attend, so I hope too to meet you one day too, Laura!

I wish the second part of this entry could have been longer, as it was just as amazing and special, but it’s so hard to explain lunch with friends, you know? For those who haven’t had a friendship like this, the explanation is literally impossible to explain. I mean, we’d known intimate details of each other’s lives for years, but occupying the same physical space seemed to solidify something about our relationship. I’ll miss all of you terribly, even though we will continue to speak to each other online, the way we always have.

Look at my prezzies!

This weekend was just incredible. I’m sorry this post had become so long, but I need to write all of it down so I don’t forget anything.

Fandom is the best.

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2011!

Yesterday I went to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and it was awesome.

I bought things!

For those of you who are unfamiliar, TCAF is a festival celebrating the art of creating comics. Artists and fans came from all over the world to attend and exhibit. It was my first real “convention,” unless you count Can’t Stop the Serenity, an annual screening of Joss Whedon’s Serenity with proceeds going to Equality Now, a women’s charity. However, I’m not sure this even qualifies as a convention by the traditional or stereotypical concept of what that entails. For starters, it was completely free, and happened at the Toronto Reference Library. There were lines for some of the bigger names, but none of the hours long lines for a quick signature or picture that you see at huge events like Comic Con. It was all very casual and small, comparatively speaking – but it’s hard to call an attendance of more than 12 500 people a small event.

Chris Hastings’ signature on his “Night Powers”

Now I’m not the hugest reader of comics, but I really love the few I do follow – and they’re all webcomics. I lucked out, and the creators of all of my favourites attended the Festival. Specifically, I was excited to meet the creators of The Adventures of Dr McNinja, Nedroid Comics, and Hark! A Vagrant. I went with my friends Malini and Jonny (both of them are also into webcomics, of course they have blogs), and we were trying to explain why exactly we were so excited to meet these Internet celebrities, moreso than we would be to meet most actors. It’s a post for another day, but there’s something about reading a person’s writing that makes you feel so much closer to them than you would watching them act or sing or something. For me, at least. So the whole day was a big, exciting deal.

Hastings again.

The day started around 10:30 for Jonny and me, when we went into the library and scouted out our favourite artists on a map. I had my school back pack with me, and it still had highlighters in it, so I became my mom and highlighted all of the names and tables we wanted to visit. We wandered aimlessly for a while, met a woman Jonny really likes, and made our way over to see Chris Hastings, the creator of Dr McNinja. There was a woman speaking to him when we got there, so we just stood awkwardly behind/beside her while Hastings signed all of her books for her. She struck up a conversation with us, the first of many we had with other fans throughout the day. I spent the whole time trying to make my hands stop shaking out of nervous excitement – I have physical responses to emotions, it’s a frequent occurrence. When I finally got to talk to him, I just started an awkward verbal assault, but I assume he’s pretty used to that sort of thing. I think I made some comment about how his comics had gotten me through every period of procrastination I’d had in the year (which is more or less true), but that my marks had come out fine anyway… HAhhahahhhaahahAHhaha? When I was explaining the spelling of my name, I got even more awkward, saying something to the effect of “Allison. Two l’s, one s. and an i. All is on.” He said he liked that last one, so if you look closely at the signature with the zombie picture, he seems to have signed it to “All is on.” Or so I’m telling myself. Either way, he was really nice the whole time, despite my awkwardness, and it was really exciting.

Just before we had seen Chris Hastings, Malini had texted me, saying she was on her way, so we wandered a bit more. I knew that she would eat my face if I went to talk to Nedroid (whose real name is Anthony Clark, but I’ll keep calling him Nedroid) without her, but I still wanted to see him, like a good stalker. I did get a visual on him, and in excitement sent her this incomprehensible text, brought to you by autocorrect:

Nedroid is here and I can seeeeee Bioko Mmmmm

Self portrait by Nedroid

Followed by a clarifying “seeeeeee hiiiiiiiiiiim.” I am not creepy at all. Once Malini got there, we decided to go and get lunch first, since she was tired from dance, and I needed to come down from my excited-high a little bit, so we wandered around Yorkville for a while, and passed the weed march, so that was an experience. When we went back, we beelined straight for Nedroid’s table. Now, I need to explain our weird excitement about him. His comics, linked above, are ridiculously cute, but we also follow his Tumblr, Twitter, and especially his thread on the Pointless Waste of Time forums. He frequently draws pictures of himself as an adorable, round, bespectacled little guy, and makes constant self deprecating jokes. On top of that, he’ll sometimes draw pictures in response to certain comments or jokes. While he won’t draw every single little thing people ask him for (he’s a person who has other, better things to do with his time), he will draw for special occasions, like a little girl’s birthday or a thread where people invent and draw Pokemon (keep reading that thread until you’ve seen every evolution of Smooth Willis). Because of all of this, we just imagined him as the sweetest, cuddliest, most huggable guy in the universe, and we wanted to see if he lived up to this image in our minds.

Anthony Clark’s signature and a tiny Beartato

He totally did. He was incredibly friendly, and engaged in discussion with us, which is difficult. Malini and I have similar responses to awkwardness/excitement, and we also have a tendency to finish each other’s thoughts, so poor Nedroid had to listen to this constant stream of talking from us, probably like twins in a movie. But he handled it good naturedly, and agreed to pose for a picture high fiving us after packaging the prints we bought. I assumed that since he sells through Topatoco that I was to pay them for his prints, so after the picture, we went to one of Malini’s favourite artists, then to the Topatoco cash station to pay. Once I got there, I was told I should have paid him directly, so we had an excuse to go back to his table! But guys, Nedroid is so nice, he let us walk off with his 20 bucks. So we went back, paid him, and asked him to sign the prints, because why not? Malini and I also agreed that the cutest thing he did was blow on his sharpie signature to dry it before placing it back in plastic. I don’t know why it was so cute, but it was. So if you’re wondering, yes, Nedroid is really as adorable and nice as you would expect him to be.

Nedroid, as little as we’d like to believe it, is in fact a mortal. As far as I could tell.

After Nedroid, we met Ryan North and David Malki!, two of the guys behind Machine of Death. I bought Malini the book for Christmas, so she had them both sign it, and one of the story authors happened to be there, so he signed it too. They were really sweet too, doing actual “predictions” (just check out the link if you’re unsure what I’m talking about – this is too long already), and embossing the books as well as signing them. Just generally really sweet guys – and both kind of attractive, I must say. So after that, we all needed an excitement break, so we headed up to the third floor of the library, and sat and chatted in the stacks for a while. In the break, I sent another even less coherent text to another friend who had inquired about the exciting day she knew I was having:

We met nedroid and he is adorable and the dr McNinja and omg autocorrect recognizes McNinja and this is awesome and hooray
The MoD Panel: Malki! and North standing, Diaz, Green,
Hastings, Beaton at the table
We also wanted to wait around, because we wanted to attend one of the last panels of the day, also related to Machine of Death, a not-pictionary they were calling a “draw and guess”. Basically, two teams competed like regular pictionary, but instead of a noun or a verb, they got a means of death. They had two artists on each team (Aaron Diaz and KC Green vs Chris Hastings and Kate Beaton, of Hark! A Vagrant, above) and one audience member. Malini, being the lucky bum she is, played with Hastings and Beaton. The whole thing was just a blast to watch, I’ll explain some of the highlights to the best of my ability: KC Green’s first entry was “dolphin,” so he drew a Dolphin going through a screaming guy’s torso. A few cards later, he got “bear,” and drew the same picture, but with a bear. Poor Chris Hastings kept getting more conceptual ideas, like “revenge,” but could only pass three times – so attempted to illustrate “extensive problems” with a man with a bunch of bills, a man holding a gun at his window, and then a shark. At that point, he realized the point wasn’t getting across and said skip – only to get “unnatural disaster.” He kind of went “…uuunhhh?” and gestured at what he had already drawn. We nerds all got excited when Aaron Diaz got “venom” and drew the Spider-Man villain, then when the audience member on the same team got “claws” and drew Wolverine. Thanks to Malini’s knowledge about how to actually play pictionary (and I’m going to tell myself that my vast history playing the game contributed in some small way to that) was able to bring her team from a huge loss to a one point win. She knew that proper drawing is not involved in good “draw-and-guessing.”

I sadly didn’t get a chance to talk to Kate Beaton, since she was a very busy lady, but I did manage to snag her drawing of “spider bite,” so that’s something, I guess. I’m thinking about volunteering for the event next year, so maybe I’ll get to meet her then.


Death by Spider Bite

Anyway, the whole event was a blast, and if you have any interest in comics and live near Toronto, I recommend checking it out in the future. It’ll be worth it. I’ll leave you with this hilariously fangirly picture of me with Chris Hastings, taken after the panel, since I had neglected to get one earlier. My camera is ridiculous, and it regularly makes my pictures come out weird, but I love the blurriness of the background in this picture, it looks like crazy things are happening behind us.

I feel like we should be in front of an explosion…