Leonard Nimoy and the animated “Star Trek”

I am not the person to eulogize Leonard Nimoy. In just about any group of people I choose to be with, I am never the biggest Star Trek  fan. There are gaps in my viewing of the original series that would horrify a true Trekkie. I hadn’t even seen The Wrath of Khan until a few years ago. (The good news is that it holds up extremely well.) So if you want a knowledgeable appreciation of Nimoy’s life, his career in general, or his time as Spock in particular, the rest of the internet will be more than willing to help.

And yet, there is one Leonard Nimoy story that hasn’t been told much, even as just about every well deserved kind word that can be said about the man is being said. It’s a story takes place as the starship Enterprise was about to head off into the animated frontier.

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The animated version of Star Trek, called “Star Trek: The Animated Series” by fans to distinguish it from the live action series, came about in response to the growing popularity of the original show. Through syndication, Star Trek was gaining a bigger fanbase. Filmation’s animated version of the show was an early attempt to capitalize on the series’ growing popularity. But the animated Enterprise nearly took off without two of its regular crew members.

Filmation’s original plan was to exclude George Takei and Nichelle Nichols from the voice cast. I’m not sure exactly what their  reasoning was. The expense of hiring so many live action performers to do voice work may have been a factor. Cost concerns ultimately kept Walter Koenig from joining his fellow Trek alums in the voice cast, though he later penned an episode. Other Filmation animated shows feature very small voice casts, with each actor playing multiple roles. Though why Takei and Nichols were considered less necessary than the other actors is not clear. Another possibility is that Filmation wasn’t on board with the idea of a racially diverse starship crew. However, Wikipedia states that the original intention was to have James Doohan voice Sulu and Majel Barrett play Uhura. Whatever the reason, Nichols and Takei were going to be left out and may well have been if not for Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy was aware that some of his fellow actors were having a rough time financially in the years before they could look forward to big movie roles and substantial appearance fees from conventions. He also believed that Sulu and Uhura were an important part of the show and of series creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future where people of different races working together was just business as usual.

So Nimoy informed Filmation that if they were going to replace or recast Sulu and Uhura, they would have to recast Spock as well. Filmation relented and Nichols and Takei were added to the voice cast.

Spock with his younger self in "Yesteryear"

This was obviously an important event for Takei and Nichols, but it was also of great benefit to the show and fandom. Because when it’s at its best, the animated series really does feel like a legitimate continuation of the live action one. Yes the animation can be stiff and there’s a lot of recycled animation. And yes, the stories are sometimes very, very silly, though you could easily say the same thing of the live-action Trek. But the show’s best episodes hold up shockingly well. If you’ve never seen any animated Trek, do yourself a favor and go watch the episode “Yesteryear” on Netflix. It’s easily one of the best of the series, it’s written by perennial Trek scribe and pioneering lady science fiction writer D.C. Fontana, and – luckily enough – it’s all about Spock traveling to the past to save and guide his younger self. Elements from “Yesteryear,” as well as a few other episodes of the animated series, have even made their way into other Trek TV shows and movies.

There’s a quote from “Yesteryear” which I think is just as appropriate for reflecting on Nimoy’s passing as anything from The Wrath of Khan:

“Every life comes to an end when time demands it. Loss of life is to be mourned but only if the life was wasted. [His} was not” – Spock.

If you have a favorite memory of Star Trek, Spock, or Leonard Nimoy, please share it in the comments.

Netflix Hidden Gem- Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

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Does Downton Abbey have you hungry for more period drama?  Do you wish it had more murder, perhaps a little less polish, and a lot more sass?  Are you crazy about Agent Carter, but wish it had a bit more sex-appeal?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, now is the time to use your winter-imposed inside time to check out Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

This Australian television series is actually based on a book series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood.  Admittedly I haven’t read the series, so I can’t speak directly on whether the television series holds up to the books.  But in researching more about this show I have read that it does and that the book’s author is very pleased with the adaptation.  So if you like the show, maybe file the book info away for future beach reads (despite the current frozen tundra we all live in, I am assuming summer will happen).

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Set in 1920’s Melbourne, Phryne Fisher is a single female detective whose fashion is as sharp as her wit (and mine…ho ho!).  It’s like Murder, She Wrote and Downton Abbey had a rambunctious teenage daughter who not only wears pants and drives her own car, but also carries a pearl handled pistol and collects male admirers like they are the finest of hats.  It’s that second point that has raised the hackles of some Netflix reviewers.  According to these folks because she is a sexually active single woman, Miss Fisher is a tramp.  This consequently ruins their enjoyment of the show.  Since I am recommending this show to you, I had no such experience (I also think that’s a ridiculous assessment).  Miss Fisher owns her behavior, she’s clever, hardworking, caring, and hot.  Why should she have to behave like a nun to be taken seriously as a detective or even be considered likable?

Like many mystery based shows the episode structure is largely “murder of the week” type stuff, with Miss Fisher either stumbling across crimes, or being brought in as a consultant, like a more carefree and socially savvy Sherlock Holmes.  While she doesn’t really have a “Watson” per se, she does have a team of trusted colleagues who help in investigations.  She also habitually partners with restrained police Detective Jack Robinson on most if not all of her cases, and oh the sexual tension!  Note, this doesn’t stop dear Phryne from having other romantic partners, a point that those in the “Miss Fisher is a Tramp” camp gleefully point out.  Despite the time period it’s set in, this show is rather progressive in its relationships, if not still lacking in racial diversity.  Miss Fisher’s best friend is a female physician, who is also a lesbian.  And I’m not really sure about the relationship between Cec and Burt (two taxi drivers who are often called in on some of the more unsavory aspects of Phryne’s investigations) , but they are rarely seen apart from each other.  This makes for a fun cast of supporting characters, but Miss Fisher is still the shiniest of the bunch.

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Miss Fisher and Dr. Mac

The first two series (seasons) of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries are available on Netflix and a third is currently being worked on.


Fun Fact:  Miss Fisher is played by Essie Davis, who also played the haggard mother in the Australian horror movie, The Babadook.  If you like horror, The Babadook is a film worth checking out.

The Red Menace Reads: The Flash

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that a little while back I wrote a little essay on my favorite superhero, The Flash. Specifically, Wally West, the third Flash. (I have not yet watched the new tv show, which is about the second Flash, Barry Allen. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually, I just don’t watch much tv in general.) My love of Wally, as I explain in more detail in the earlier piece, was formed from how he’s portrayed in the Justice League cartoons and continued based on reading Geoff Johns’ run on the comic, circa 2000. So it’s a pretty modern, recent version of his character. Flash My dear Mr. Menace has helped to round out the picture I have of Wally since then – he has been painstakingly assembling the entirety of The Flash, Volume 2, (Barry’s adventures are Volume 1 – the first Flash, Jay Garrick, was in a title called “Flash Comics.” Oh these subtle differences.) The series started in 1987, after the death of Barry Allen in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Up until that point, Wally had been Kid Flash, Barry’s sidekick – the new series would explore him taking up the mantle of The Flash and what it truly meant. My run is complete up to #86, so I thought I’d do a periodic series on my reading – will it change how I see my favorite character, or will it make me love him all the more?

We’ll start with the first two years, Flash #1-26, “Happy Birthday, Wally!” -“Beware the Porcupine Man!” Mike Baron wrote the first 14 storylines, with William Messner-Loebs taking over on Volume 15. One thing to note about superhero comics from this time period is that they’re in this weird middle ground, storytelling-wise, between the one shot story lines of the early days of comics the long-form, tradepaperback-ready stories of today. Most of the plots in these 26 issues seem to run for about 2-3 issues, with some key points that carry through or are periodically revisited. That means a LOT happened in these 26 issues, but I’m not going to give a play-by-play; these are more my general impressions. If the public clamors for recaps, I’ll consider it.

The story opens with Wally’s 20th birthday party – quite fittingly, he’s truly no longer a teen just in time for him to leave the Teen Titans and set off on his own as The Flash. From the beginning we see that Wally is struggling a bit – he hasn’t been able to get up the speed he did before Barry died, and he’s worried about money. Still, his friends are around him and he’s ready for his new beginning. The birthday party doesn’t last long, though, as Wally is asked to make an emergency cross-country delivery for a heart transplant, and along the way runs afoul of one of Barry’s most dangerous enemies, Vandal Savage. Wally at the outset of the series is frankly a bit of a jerk – he has a chip on his shoulder about his former Kid Flash status. He’s a lady-killer, going through countless flirtations and at least three serious girlfriends in these issues, including a protracted affair with an older, married woman named Tina McGee. (To be fair, her husband had turned himself into a steroid-fueled monster, and Wally seemed pretty torn about it at first.) Wally’s even a bit of a misogynist – he seems to think that women are helpless and need to be cared for, even though many of the women in his life are quite capable (including Tina McGee, who is a scientist studying Wally’s speed powers.) There were several times I wanted to reach into the book and smack him. Flash And yet – there are glimmers of the hero he’ll eventually become. For one thing, the stories are told in such a way that it’s clear that the writers are not condoning his bad behavior, nor do they seem to share his sentiments. They’re showing us your average callous 20 year old if he’d also had unbelievable powers since he was just a kid. That’s bound to affect anyone’s judgment. Wally is also trying to make his way in the world in the absence of both his mentor, Barry, and his team – Wally was a founding member of the Teen Titans. Not only has he never really been on his own before, but he suddenly has to worry about things like money. Can he afford proper health care? What about liability insurance? And then, of course, there’s his enormous appetite – Wally’s powers come with a metabolic limitation, so his speed requires massive amounts of energy to maintain. Flash Glimpses of “my” Wally, as I think of him, are also present in how he treats the people in his life, especially his villains. For every careless moment or insensitive comment, there are plenty of moments that help you understand that underneath it all, Wally really wants to help people. I mentioned earlier that Tina McGee’s husband had become a rage monster – well, Wally runs into Soviet Russia to extract the only man who can help him recover. Later, Wally meets The Chunk, a massive misfit with a literal black hole inside of him. Wally helps him learn to use those powers for good and even becomes friends with him – they bond over the immense quantities of food they both need to consume. Flash In a way, the fact that he’s sometimes a pill makes me love Wally all the more. He’s a real person who makes mistakes, despite his powers. In true 80’s fashion, these lessons are sometimes a bit heavy-handed – the issue where he learns that anyone can become homeless – even heroes! – was a bit eye-roll inducing for sure (plus it turned out that Wally’s financial woes were alien-induced, and led him to meeting Fidel Castro in Cuba. O-KAY). There’s also timely mentions of drug use, “yuppie flu,” and some terrible clothes. But there’s a heart there, the core of the Wally I love. Flash Overall, the series is off to a good start, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Wally progresses in the next set of issues. As a fun lady bonus, a good chunk of this run was edited by Barbara Kesel, who broke into comics by writing a letter to Dick Giordano, DC’s editor in chief at the time, about the portrayal of women in comics. So change can happen!

Have you ever done a deep dive or gone all the way back to the beginning on a character or title you love? What happened as a result?

Part 2 – Mokey “Great Scott” Von Barkenberg: An Adoption story

This is part 2 of a two part post about the adoption of my dog and mascot, Mokey.  If you’d like to read part one, you can find it here.

Part 2: Adaptation

When we left off, The Boy had found “his dog.”  I feel the need to stress just how important this moment was to Tikki’s life because to this day The Boy likes to remind me of how his intuition was superior to my own.  I was cold, wet, hungry, a little terrified at the same time.  The Boy needed to push me to commit to adopting Tikki.  I’m glad he did, but I’m afraid I will never live it down.

We took Tikki home that very night and changed her name to Mokey, and if it wasn’t for that Pomeranian we were pet sitting at the same time, I think we might have forgotten that Tikki was around.  She was quiet.  She liked to hide.  And due to her having just been treated for fleas, we we were advised to keep her and the pom separate.

Adopting an adult dog wasn’t quite what cartoons and movies would have you believe.  Tikki wasn’t Annie’s Sandy or even Hawkeye’s Pizza Dog.  Good intentions did not instantly translate into a dog’s devotion.  There was A LOT of trust that needed to be developed, especially when even the sounds of an electric razor would end in her hiding under a chair for at least 15 minutes.  I began to worry that I wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to help her adapt to her new home.  I was really concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to do right by her during those first few months.  Then, after what we thought would be a routine appointment, the vet called us with some tough news.

Mokey had tested positive for heartworm.

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This is pretty much how Mokey spends her days now. I remain insanely jealous.

This was by no means a death sentence, but it was difficult and potentially expensive news.  Due to how uncommon cases of heartworm are up in New England, our vet had never treated heartworm before and the treatment alone would cost almost $1,000.  During the treatment and for the months after, Mokey would need to be kept calm and as still as possible to prevent the dying worms from blocking her pulmonary vessels. The Boy and I were stunned and ill-prepared.  But while we tried to figure out our best plan of action, I contacted the rescue where we got Mokey so that they could get their other dogs tested.  When the head of the rescue called me the next day, she made me an offer I was really tempted to refuse.

The new plan of action that was presented to us was pretty simple.  The rescue would arrange for Mokey to be picked up after their next adoption event.  She would be brought back to the woman who ran the rescue and she would oversee Mokey’s treatment herself.  Rescue Lady spent a lot of time providing us with reassurances and promising that Mokey would have someone watching her, keeping her calm, and taking great care of her until she was well enough to be dropped off home again.  It was simple.  It was something they did all the time for their rescued dogs.  And lastly, since Mokey would be sharing the treatment with other small dogs who needed small doses, the whole thing wouldn’t cost us a penny.  Rescue Lady even offered to email regular updates and pictures to make me feel better.

The Boy and I talked about it for a long time.  About a week later, I stood at my front door and cried for almost a full half hour after the rescue picked her up.  Mokey had immediately recognized the rescue worker and panicked when she saw him.  She pulled, tried to hide behind me, and for the first time made me realize just how deeply I had fallen in love with this little dog.  It was horrible, and the worst thing about it was that there was a part of me that was convinced I would never see Mokey again.

The next two months were horrible for The Boy and I.  We had only had Mokey for a few months, but we felt her absence.  Friends excused our irritable behavior by sharing Mokey’s story.  I began to formulate horrible scenarios in my mind about what was really happening with our dog.  The one that I really couldn’t let go of was the belief that Mokey was part of some scam where they adopt heartworm-positive dogs out to poor unsuspecting people only to collect the adoption fee, then take back the dog for “treatment” before trying to adopt it out again in hopes of receiving another fee.  While I had all this time to fret and second guess our choice, I received only two emails from Rescue Lady about Mokey.  The first one confirmed her treatment, and the second came over a month later letting me know when Mokey would be returned.   As much as I hated Rescue Lady for not providing me the communication I was promised, this was the best news I ever got.  Mokey would be home before Christmas.

Even the day that Mokey came back to us was marred by poor communication.  Running late and with several dogs to drop off, I received a text letting me know that the driver needed to sleep and wouldn’t be stopping by until sometime the next day.  I think if I had been some horrible 1990s anime/manga character, I would have turned Super Saiyan and used the power of my own annoyance to fly to NH to get my dog.  Sadly, I was still myself and did my best to sleep through another night of anticipation and worry.

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When Mokey isn’t sleeping, she is running out to various social engagements. Here she is all ready to head out to her first pool party.

The happy ending to this story did eventually come that next day.  As soon as Mokey saw me through the van window, she began to squirm and paw at the door.  She jumped out of the van and immediately came over to me and scratched at my legs until I picked her up.  The little dog who had been so timid and cautious with her affection before licked my face and sat in my lap until The Boy came home from work.  As soon as he walked in the door, the three of us sat on the kitchen floor together – The Boy and I giving her scratches and cooing over her like a couple of weirdos.  And Mokey’s response? She rolled on her back, nuzzled her face into our sides, and for the first time since we had adopted her in early summer, she whined and cried and begged for more attention.  Mokey had finally found her voice, just in time to let us know how much she missed us.

Notes: I have had people ask me for the name of the rescue where we got Mokey.  I do not give out their name because shortly after we got Mokey back, we were told that the rescue had lost its license to adopt out in NH.  A round of googling would then let me know that Rescue Lady had been brought up on animal cruelty charges and the rescue’s Petfinder listings and homepage quickly disappeared.  Further proof of how lucky The Boy and I were to find Mokey.

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When Mokey finally publishes her memoirs, she has asked that we use this picture of her on the dust jacket. She certainly does look distinguished.

So that’s the story of my little dog and how she became a real part of my family.  I love hearing about how people got their pets and highly recommend that others consider adopting a dog from a rescue.  Even bad experiences can turn out well, and I don’t regret a thing.  Though I do know that next time, there are a few things that I would do differently.  So at this point, I’m sure you all know the drill.  Have a great pet story to tell?  Wanna just post a picture of your pet?  Share in the comment box below and I’ll be sure to tell Mokey you said “hi.”  Unless of course you are The Goog…

Honorary Ladies of Comicazi – Brenda Chapman

Here it is a month into 2015 and I still haven’t picked an Honorary Lady of Comicazi? It’s about time I did something about that.

Without further ado, here’s my addition to the growing list: Brenda Chapman.

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You may not be familiar with Chapman’s name, as is the case with so many people in the world of animation. But you almost certainly know her work. After graduating from the venerable California Institute of the Arts and getting her start working on TV productions like Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats and The Real Ghostbusters, Chapman began working at Disney’s story department. She boarded several notable scenes in Beauty and the Beast and other Disney films before heading up the story department on The Lion King. Chapman left Disney to join the nascent DreamWorks Animation as one of three co-directors of the studio’s first film, The Prince of Egypt. This made her the first woman ever to direct an animated feature film from a major Hollywood studio.

She was most recently in the news for becoming Pixar’s first female director and becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, both for the 2012 film Brave. The achievement was not without controversy, as Pixar had replaced Chapman as the movie’s director two years before its release. This was not the first time that Pixar had removed a director from a film, but a studio that prides itself on making personal films taking its first woman director off a film inspired by her relationship with her daughter was a black mark on Pixar’s usually strong track record of supporting its creators.

Chapman returned to DreamWorks in 2013 and is currently working on an adaptation of a children’s book with a female lead. She’s also working on a children’s book of her own and a memoir. While I doubt you have any doubts about why she’s an ideal choice for an Honorary Lady at this point, she also devotes much of her blog to discussing women’s equality and gender issues.

I’ve talked before about the importance of seeing women working in animation to the animation world in general and me in particular. For decades, American animation studios have largely been worlds of men outside of the ink and paint departments. While that has been changing, the shift is slow. The more women we see working in all aspects of animation, the more young girls will get the message that they too can have this job someday.

Beyond her place in the larger history of women in animation, Chapman is an amazingly talented artist whose work speaks for itself. Though studio animation relies on collaboration, Chapman’s fingerprints are all over some of the best known and best loved animated films of recent years and will hopefully be on future classics. That’s why I’m pleased to add her to the illustrious ranks of the Honorary Ladies of Comicazi.

Review: Lego Ideas- Birds

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Fans of cool things sometimes come up with even cooler things, and not all master builders work for Lego.  This is the concept of Lego Ideas.  Creators can submit projects to Lego for the chance to have them made into purchasable sets, if they get enough interest and votes from the Lego-loving public.  Past sets include The Delorean Time Machine set and the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover (both of which have taken up residence in New Googington).  Unfortunately I have not been able to get my hands on the coveted Lego Institute set which sold out the moment it became available for purchase.  This is great for showing there is an interest in sets that represent women in science, but less great for me.  That said, this program keeps cranking out interesting sets and the most recent project is great for Lego fans, nature lovers, and bird enthusiasts. The Lego Birds set gives you the opportunity to build 3 realistic birds, a Robin, a Blue Jay, and a Hummingbird with flower.

Bang for your buck: This set retails at $44.99. In Lego world that’s pretty reasonable, especially for what you are getting.  Completing one bird a night gave me 3 days of fun out of this set, which is pretty good if you ask me.  And because these builds are a bit more complicated, for me at least, I felt like I could pace myself a little more easily. Plus there are natural built in stopping places.

What you get: The set comes with all the pieces (and then some) that you need to build your birds, of course.  This includes a different style stand for each bird and little plates with their Latin names.  What’s different about the Ideas sets is that the packing and instruction books are much higher quality.  Each bird has its own bound booklet that contains not only instructions, but also information about the creator of the set and his inspiration. There is also some basic information about the birds themselves.  I think this is a great little extra.
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Building the sets:  The thing I liked best about this set was that each bird was constructed in a different manner, and the direction you are headed is not always apparent.  That said, all these builds are what what I would call “careful builds.”  This means lots of little pieces and details.  But it’s those things that make this set fun.

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The first bird I tackled was the Robin.  All the birds start with making the stand. The bird itself was sort of a bottom up build, that resulted in a very sold, sort of round little bird.  The studs are the most obvious in the robin, which I think gives it a little more of a fluffy textured feeling.  The pole it sits on is a little wiggly, but it also spins for display purposes.

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I think this bird has the most interesting details and looks the coolest.  For the build, you start with the bottom and kinda go sideways.  Of all the birds it probably has the most mobility since the wings are on ball joints.  You can’t move them a ton, but the wings can be extended a little bit to give the feeling of “about to take flight.”

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The Hummingbird is the quickest build of the birds. It’s also the only one that comes with a “prop” flower.  I love hummingbirds, so while it’s not the most exciting from a build perspective, I have a soft spot for it.  Also I am beyond charmed by the gear shifts that double as flower stamen and by the use of a clear rod to it feel more like the bird is hovering.  Truth – I got so focused on building that I forgot to take many progress pics….
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Final Verdict:  While there isn’t a lot of “playablility” in this set, it’s still pretty great.  The birds are lovely and fun to make.  They feel a bit more artistic, like something you might see at a Lego exhibit. With the stands and name plates, these birds are a great display item and are a nice change from the licensed property sets.

3 More Webcomics (by ladies!) That The Red Menace is Reading

Since the last time I wrote about this subject, about a year ago, I’ve found even more fabulous webcomics that you really ought to be reading, all of them written and drawn by ladies! All three of these are a little over a year old, which is a great time to get into a series – there’s enough in the archive to sink your teeth into and get a feel for where a story is going, but not quite the overwhelming sprawl that a comic that’s been going on for five or ten years can have.

checkplease Check, Please!  by Ngozi Ukazu

Update schedule: When they’re ready. But there’s plenty for you to read through.

Plot: Check, Please! is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, vlogger, Southerner, and pie baker extraordinaire. When the comic opens, Bitty is a freshman at Samwell University and a member of the men’s hockey team. He’s pretty good, other than one slight problem – his high school club was co-ed and no contact, so Bitty is scared to death of being checked – not so great in the world of college hockey. Can he get over his fear, stay on the team, and maybe even capture the heart of his crush?

Why Read It: Okay. I don’t care about hockey, I’m fifteen years out of college, and I don’t even care that much about romance. And yet, this comic? It’s incredibly compelling. Partly this is due to Ukazu’s art, which is incredibly adorable and expressive. The personality of the characters comes through in their design and facial expressions. Even more so, however, the writing is great – it sucked me right in from the beginning and made me care about all of that stuff – hockey and feelings, to borrow a phrase coined about a book that we read in Comicazi Book Club (and which you should go read right now.)

Bonus: The social media. Ukazu’s world building reaches far outside of the confines of her comic – she has a character who already graduated in the world of comic who “runs” the Facebook page, and Bitty has his own very entertaining Twitter feed. This makes the time between updates fly by – even when there’s no comic update, there’s plenty of content to explore.

so far so good The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

Updates: Wednesdays

Plot: Mona’s not having a great Halloween. Her dad’s ditched her to go a creepy party in her dead mom’s dress. The TV isn’t working properly. And a giant monster is stalking her every move.

In the world of The Last Halloween, monsters are forced to live in the shadows of human beings, dying when they die – unless the monster can kill his or her corresponding human personally. This allows the monster to live forever. When the balance between the monster and human worlds is disrupted, a grumpy young girl named Mona and her ghoulish friends might be the only thing standing in the way of humanity’s end.

Why Read It: Abby Howard’s scratchy black and white drawings, which appear to be the love child of Quentin Blake and Edward Gorey. Her monster designs, in particular, are creepy and inspired, looking just the way a monster from the deepest depths of one’s imagination should. And yet the story is also quite funny, in its dark and grim little way. Mona spends pretty much the entire comic in mortal terror, but you can’t help but laugh at her facial expressions while doing it.

Bonus: Banjo. There’s a were-opossum in this story, for goodness sake. That makes me laugh, anyway.

sixtett Stand Still, Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg

Updates: M-F

Plot: Ninety years ago, the world as we know it ended. Now the greatly reduced global population lives primarily in Iceland, with small enclaves of survivors scattered throughout the other Nordic countries. These survivors must stick to the Known World – the areas that have been made safe for habitation. The rest of the world is the Silent World, a land of trolls, giants, and incredible danger. One small band of explorers has been chosen to be the first venture into the Silent World in 90 years – but are they up to the task?

Why Read It: Part Norse mythology and part zombie horror tale, Sundberg has created a story unlike any I’ve ever read before, full of dark secrets and indescribable horrors – yet incredibly beautiful as well. She works with a distinctive palette of blues, reds, and sepia tones, adding to the old-fashioned fairy tale feel of her futuristic, post-apocalyptic tale.

Bonus: The gorgeous wood-cut style artwork Sundberg uses for all of the maps and propaganda materials in between chapters. Makes me wish I had more room on my walls.

If you decide to give any of these comics a shot, tell me all about it in the comments! Or tell me what you think I need to be reading.

Mokey “Great Scott” Von Barkenberg: An Adoption story

Less than a month ago, The Boy and I moved into our first house. We were excited, thrilled, and so ready to finally have a place of our own. Sadly, there was one of our party who wasn’t quite as excited as we were: our dog, Mokey. Spending the last few weeks helping her get situated to the house has been quite the reminder of how far she has come since we first adopted her. And as I continued to help her get comfortable and feel secure in her new surroundings while still trying to unpack and prepare my blog post for this week, it occurred to me that it might be time to introduce our fluffiest honorary lady, Lady Mokey “Great Scott” Von Barkenberg of Backyardia.

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With me, even in caricature!

There are two important things to know as I start to tell Mokey’s adoption story. One: She was supposed to be a really nice piece of jewelry, and two, she wasn’t the dog we thought we wanted.

My 30th birthday was approaching and I had promised myself a great gift. So I saved up my pennies with the intention to buy myself one really nice piece of jewelry, most likely a strand of pearls. They were classic and I wanted something that I knew was going to age well with me. Something that I would never regret buying. And after spending hours online and researching pearl types, prices, and colors, everything was thrown out the window by a conversation that pretty much went like this:

Me: I’m having a really hard time deciding what to get. This is starting to feel more like work than the excitement of getting something I really want.

The Boy: Well, what else would you want? What did you think you would have by now?

Me: Well, all I remember wanting when I was a kid was my own dog. I used to think to myself that as soon as I was a grown-up, I would get one.

The Boy: Ok, let’s get a dog.

We had always intended to get a dog. The timing just never felt right since we were dog sitting The Boy’s mother’s devil of a chihuahua on a regular basis and were currently taking care of a friend’s Pomeranian while she moved cross country. It was one of times that might never actually be “right” and I wanted a dog with every fiber of my being. So long shiny necklace, hello picking up poop off the sidewalk.

I will spare you a lot of details related to the actual search for Mokey. There were a million starts and stops on Petfinder, good and bad volunteers (including one who forgot to tell us a dog was adopted and almost let us drive an hour and a half to her house anyway), and rescue agencies with requirements a mile long… And then there was the agency we got Mokey from.

Backing up a little, we first found a listing for the dog we thought we wanted – a tri-color, full Papillon named Midge. She was cute, the size we wanted, and the rescue was ready to stick her on a transport to an adoption event in about two weeks. Awesome! If Midge was everything the woman who ran the rescue told me, this was a done deal. Over the next two weeks, I emailed the woman a few times asking quesions and chatted on the phone with her the night before the event. She confirmed that Midge was going to be ready to meet us the next day.

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“Not Midge” – Her first night. She came with nothing but a few dead fleas and some bald patches on her legs

I can’t even tell you what time the adoption event was suppose to happen. All I know is that it took forever to get there, and it was raining that kind of cold spring rain that makes you wonder if you will ever feel warmth or joy again. By the time we got to the PetSmart in New Hampshire, we were told by the staff that the guy driving the transport would be at least an hour late. So we waited, for several hours.

Half an hour before the store was supposed to close, the driver finally showed up. He went down the line confirming each person and the dog they requested to meet. By this point in the story, it doesn’t take a genius to have figured out that Midge was not in his van. The store was closing around us, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and all I could think of was that the whole thing was a wash. I wasn’t sure if I should be mad or just go into the corner and cry. But then the driver asked us if we might be interested in another dog. For the past 7 months, he had been driving a certain female papillon mix named Tikki from Kentucky to NH to attend adoption events. She had one disastrous overnight adoption because the woman was convinced there was something wrong with the dog. Basically, this pooch was too aloof. Here is the story the driver gave us: the woman dumped her in the snow as soon as they got home. The dog was terrified (puppy mill dog from the south who’d probably never saw snow before) and spent the rest of the evening hiding from the woman. The woman was convinced the dog was broken, the driver realized this woman was not ready to own a rescue and picked up Tikki the next morning. Would we be interested in a quick meet and greet with Tikki?

We followed the driver out into the misting rain where he pulled a crate from the back of the van. He opened the crate and out ran Tikki. She made a loop around all the people giving each a quick sniff and I made a mental note about how all the NH based volunteers both knew her and were thrilled to see her. This was encouraging. Tikki was put on a leash and The Boy walked with her around the parking lot a few times. When they stopped walking, Tikki looked up at the Boy. Their eyes met, some tiny invisible string quartet began to play in the dark recesses of The Boy’s mind…it was love.

Part 2: Adaptation and Aftermath – Coming Soon

Cartoon Sara Gets Organized

The New Year is a great time to start in on a project. While the difference between December 31 and January 1 maybe be an arbitrary one, the idea of putting aside the concerns of the past year and a hectic holiday season and starting fresh can be a big psychological boost. Last week, Tiny Doom talked about the common New Year’s resolution to get more exercise and an excellent app to help you stick with it. I’ve been tackling my own New Year’s project, a daunting task that’s needed doing for a long time….

Like this, but not as neat to start with.

Like this, but not as neat to start with.

…Organizing my comics collection.

If, like me and my husband, you include a trip to your local comic shop to pick up the latest issues of your favorite series in your weekly routine, you know what a difficult undertaking this can be. Comics pile up fast and when two people have a shared collection going back twenty years or more, sorting and storing can become a problem. Our collection has been in desperate need of organizing for a long time. The start of a new year and the arrival of several new books at Christmas meant it was time to clean the library, starting with the single issue comics.

Organizing comics tends to shift my criteria for judging comics. It’s not so much that I develop different standards for what’s worth keeping and what isn’t, though that does happen and it’s a sometimes difficult process. It’s that my opinion of a comic starts to hinge on how easy it is to sort. Comics with clearly legible numbers and a logical numbering system are now “good,” regardless of the content. Comics where the number is hard to see, hidden in the artwork, or not on the cover at all are deemed “bad.” Equally frustrating are comics that change their numbering or reboot periodically without making it clear which comics belong to a new series (Captain America), sets of miniseries with a continuing story, but no cover numbering to indicate which miniseries goes where (B.P.R.D., though to their credit, they recently fixed this) and that one time when Marvel decided to just put the month on the cover instead of any number.

The other major revelation that comes from sorting comics is that there isn’t really a perfect solution for storing a large amount of comics. There are options, more than there used to be and many that are good fits for various sizes of comic collections. But they all have their pros and cons and a perfect solution for someone looking to store a lot of comics remains elusive.

Your friendly neighborhood longbox

Your friendly neighborhood longbox

Your standard long and shortboxes are the most common comic storage solution. They’re relatively inexpensive, most comic shops carry them or can order them if asked, and they keep your comics safe. The downside comes when you have more boxes than can fit in your allotted floorspace. Unless you have some very deep shelves to put them on, you’re going to have to start stacking your boxes. That means any comics that aren’t in the top row of boxes become inaccessible unless you’re willing to lift one or more heavy boxes to get to them.

Stack of drawerboxes

Stack of drawerboxes

Because of the downsides of the standard longboxes, we moved our collection into drawerboxes a few years back. Drawerboxes are similar to the standard comic boxes, but they fit inside a reinforced cardboard box that’s open at one end, allowing the comic box to slide in and out like a drawer. This has allowed us to stack boxes of comics while still having access to all of them. The drawers go in and out without much effort and are designed to stop when pulled nearly all the way out so they can hang open while you flip through your comics. It’s a definite space saver, but it’s not without its flaws. The drawer shells on the bottom row are starting to buckle, due either to less than perfect alignment or the sheer weight of the boxes on top. They aren’t as widely available as the standard boxes and they are much pricier.

Single Comic Cube

Single Comic Cube

As I’m going through the last few comics in the library and contemplating both the comics currently piled in other rooms and our future comics purchases, I’m starting to contemplate expanding our comics storage. Lately, I’ve been checking out a storage system called Comic Cubes and Comic Condos. The cubes are a modular system of nice looking comic drawers – chipboard and plywood instead of cardboard – while the condos are chests of drawers. You can get images custom engraved on the fronts for an additional fee. There’s also a coffee table with the drawers in it. They’re probably one of the most stylish and sturdy options for comics storage, but again, there are drawbacks. The drawers don’t hold as many comics as the longboxes or drawerboxes; 150 comics to the roughly 270 you can fit in a longbox and 235 average for a drawerbox. A single drawer costs over $100, so it’s a far more expensive option than either longboxes or drawerboxes. You’re paying to have better-looking comics storage at the cost of more storage space.

The lack of a perfect solution for storing my comics collection is frustrating, as is sorting through comics that don’t always make it easy to put them in a logical order. But it’s a task that needs to be done and I’m hoping the end result of a cleaner house and more usable library is going to be worth it.

Got your own comics sorting horror stories? Do you know about a great comics storage option I haven’t heard of yet? Share it in the comments!

Zombies, Run! (or, how I learned to stop procrastinating and love running-mostly)

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Ah, New Years Eve.  That time where we reflect on the past year, usually happy to see it in the rear view mirror, and think about all the things we will do differently next year. “I’m going to get more organized,” “I’m going to lose that 10 pounds”, “I’m going to get my hair cut in a timely manner” (maybe that’s just me).  Officially, I’m not a resolution girl, I don’t tend to make them, but there are times when self-improvement or preservation need to be on the table.   For example, there was a time about 3 or so years ago when I really fell out of out of being physically active beyond my walks to work (about 4 miles a day). That might sound like a lot of walking, and it’s ok, but it’s not enough when you just moved across the street from a bakery, an awesome Chinese food restaurant, and like food.  I like food you guys. Let’s just say Tiny Doom was heading towards medium or even a little large Doom.  As tiny people know, a few pounds can make a big difference in how you look and feel. I thought, “I’ll just start running!  Easy peasy, no gym membership needed!”  I had run before, but I would never consider myself a runner, it never stuck.  I needed help.  Friends are great for this, especially if they are more seasoned runners who can coach and motivate (shout-out to The Red Menace, Marathon Maven), but friends can’t be with you all the time.  You need to be able to find your own motivation.  And for some folks, this is where running apps come in.

There are lots of running apps, RunKeeper, Map My Run, stuff from Nike.  There are apps that have sports figures cheering you on, ones that tell you your splits and miles, and ones that even let your friends chime in through social media to cheer you on.  All helpful and nice, but those things are not going to get me to tie on my running shoes when it’s dark and 25 degrees out.  I needed something different, and thankfully I found it.

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What app finally motivated me- Zombies, Run! is hands down my favorite app, and we aren’t just talking running apps here.  Yes, the app costs money, but it’s worth it and very affordable. After all, think of this as a two-fer, a running app and a game! In Zombies, Run! you are Runner 5, a runner for Abel Township.  You go out on missions collect supplies to build up your township and play a major part in the unfolding story, all while getting fit.

What I love about it- This isn’t just a running app, it’s an action adventure game. For us nerdy folks, this is a little more in our wheelhouse. Some of the missions in Season 3 even have a “choose your own adventure” component to them!  Don’t worry, you make your choice before you head out for your run so you never have to do anything on your runs, just run and listen.  While you run you collect supplies like food, water, meds, and sports bras in your never-full-can-carry-anything backpack.

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My current township. Yes, there is a Tequila Shack.

The highlight of this app, and what makes it so unique, is the storytelling. The Zombies, Run! crew put effort into developing their characters and having them drive a lot of the story.  I’m not gonna lie, there have been some tears…crying while running pro-tip, if you pass other runners be sure to mutter something about the damn bug that flew right into your eye. Zombies aren’t the the only issues you and the other survivors encounter, and this variety helps to create a vast universe to keep the story going and feeling fresh.

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A preview of Season 1 missions

The Six to Start crew took great care to make Runner 5 gender neutral which allows you to better immerse yourself in the story.  I’m not a female version of Runner 5.  I am Runner 5.  And each mission (running session) starts with you heading out with the comfort of Sam Yao, your operator, in your ear guiding you though the mission.  From the moment the gates raise to let you out of the township, you are in it, making friends, enemies, and generally being a hero.  You can do that, right?  Yeah you can!

Features-

  • You can set your own play list to play songs in between your mission information.  1-2 songs will play depending on the length of mission you have selected.
  • A run log will hold your all your runs so you can watch your progress (you can track in miles or km).
  • “Zombie chases” are available (and optional) for interval training, if you like being chased (I don’t).
  • There are currently three seasons available.  I suggest you start with Season 1 since it is an ongoing story.  Three seasons is a lot of runs so that should keep you busy.
  • If you are nervous about just jumping in, there is also a 5K training app to ease you into running.
  • There is also a”radio mode” which is community radio for the township.  This picks up if your official mission ends before you finish running. This is a brilliant way to keep you immersed in the story and sometimes running a little longer.

So…maybe this sounds appealing to you? Maybe this is the motivation you have been looking for?  I hope so.  After listen to me carry on about how much I enjoyed it, The Goog, a man who swore he had no interest in running, is now a running badass! So, ask me questions, let me know if you are a Runner 5 yourself and above all, stay safe out there, runners.