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.

Cookie Monster – A Favorite Christmas Tradition

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Our wee little tree. Ornament themes include superheroes, robots, and chickens.

 

The holidays can be a tough time for folks, I know – there’s the stress of shopping, there’s cold and dark and nasty weather, there’s expectations that can’t be met. And yet…I love the holidays (pretty much all holidays, except for St. Patrick’s Day, but especially the fall and winter holidays). I love lights and food and gathering with friends and family. I especially love holiday traditions. There’s something magical to me about doing the same thing, year after year in celebration with the same people; it’s like the goodwill builds and grows with each repetition. It’s comforting and powerful. Whether it’s reading the Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve (and my father still does this with my niece and nephews every year), or putting a favorite ornament on the tree, it just makes everything a bit more meaningful to me, that chain of years behind the moment.

So I was pondering this here Christmas Eve blog post, and I didn’t have a clever Christmas poem for you, or an amazing Christmas craft to teach you. But I do have this, one of my very favorite traditions – our annual cookie decorating party. I’ll share it with you and who knows, maybe you’ll start this tradition, too.

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And a Merry Deathmas to you!

 

Many folks decorate Christmas cookies, but what I like about how we do it is that other little rituals and traditions have sprung up around this event. It started about eight years ago – I’d been baking cookies for folks as gifts and quickly realized that while decorating a few cookies is really fun, decorating several dozen quickly become tedious, a nightmare of food coloring and sugar that you’ll be scrubbing out of your hands (and hair, and table) for weeks. So I thought, hey, I’ll recruit some friends to help, make a little party out of it, let folks take some home and package up the rest.

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These were the cookies I decorated. Poor Frosty had no hope of eyes.

 

Eight years later it’s a 50 person event and nearly every cookie goes that night. There’s also a competitive aspect, complete with voting and prizes, and a lot of other food and merriment. Not every attendee decorates cookies, but that’s okay – the party has become my gift.

One of the side traditions is that, the night before, my sister Kelly comes over and helps me roll, cut, and bake all of the cookies. Yes, this has grown so monstrous that not only do I need help decorating, I need help baking the cookies. We have an entire system and strategy to bake over 100 sugar cookies. This year Tiny Doom and The Goog came over and helped, and thus the ritual grows and strengthens into a two-day event of friends and fun. (Because we were really efficient, and they will never be allowed to quit after this.) They roll and cut, I run and oversee the oven. It’s a bigger job than you’d think – those pans need to be rotated or you’ll get weird, half-tanned, half-soggy cookies.

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Heat Miser was originally a leaf!

 

The day of, I mull wine, which is a great way to make your house smell amazing AND make your cheap wine more enticing and delicious than your nicer bottles. The past few years Tiny Doom and I have started making food that you can keep in the crock-pot – this year it was macaroni and cheese and chili – to add some warmth, comfort, and something a little heartier than chips and a cheese plate. And then the madness begins.

 

The cookies are bright and colorful, and strictly speaking, aren’t always Christmas-themed. I have a LOT of cookie cutters, and who’s to say that a skull and crossbones or a chicken aren’t totally valid holiday shapes? Then, of course, there are the folks who take the original shape and repurpose it, turning a gingerbread zombie into an octopus, or a pair of hearts into something a bit less delicate. (We have a separate, earlier children’s portion of the evening, in part due to the sheer number of “erotic” cookies.)

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This octopus seems puzzled.

 

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Sometimes, inspiration strikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year, it’s a lot of work, and it can be stressful to get everything done – the house cleaned, cookies baked, food prepared, prizes selected (and none of it would be possible without Mr. Menace, who picks up ingredients and does about 95% of the cleaning). But there’s always a moment, about halfway through, when I can finally relax and just listen to the buzz of the conversation around me, marvel at two people who never met before laughing over a cookie, or seeing friends who’ve been apart for a while catching up, and every year, it fills me with joy.

If you’re a Christmas or holiday lover, what are some of your favorite traditions? Is there something special that gets you into the holiday spirit? If you really like looking at pictures of cookies, you can look at some similar posts I wrote for my old blog here and here.  I didn’t actually re-read those before writing this, so you can do a fun exercise of seeing how similar or different they are, three and four years on.

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Baby Hulk!

 

And hey, click here for the recipe I use, from the wonderful Flour Cookbook by Joanne Chang. If you live in the Boston area and haven’t already visited Flour, GO.

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A Christmas Carol in cookies.

 

Non Traditional Christmas Songs to Add to your Playlist

Last year inspiration struck and I created A Parademon’s Christmas.  This year, I am in the middle of moving, so my more creative juices and general energy are directed towards methods of self-preservation.  Happily, one of those methods is the time-honored tradition of not thinking about an upcoming stressful event by distracting yourself with other things.  And the distraction of my choice has been Christmas/Holiday music.  My Pandora list is mighty, my Google Play collection knows no boundaries..and so I have decided to share with you a few of my more non-traditional favorites.

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Getting all sorts of festive!

 

Oi to the World - The Vandals. I was first introduced to this song as a result of the No Doubt version.  Yes, there was once a time when I really liked No Doubt.  Back when everything was kinda low budget and they were really into their Ska/punk thing, oh man, good times.   Anywhoo, No Doubt was friendly with The Vandals as part of the punk scene in California at the time, so when No Doubt got a space on A Very Special Christmas 3, they opted for a cover of their pals’ lesser known ditty. The song itself is fun, upbeat, and you gotta love a song that references having a sword “like the guy in Indiana Jones.”  Personally, I love both versions, but No Doubt did make an adorably low budget video.

Fairytale of New York - The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend (Venture Brothers). I do feel like this one is a bit of the cheat because the original by the Pogues is quite well known.  But really, using the Venture Brothers version not only allows me to bring attention to a really phenomenal song, but it it also gives me a chance to fondly remember how Venture Brothers used to release a Christmas single every year.  It was bliss; they were often hilarious, and now I make it a point to add my favorites to my holiday playlist. We haven’t gotten a new one since 2011, sadly.  Maybe that is because Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick never want me to feel joy again?  Anyway, you can download all of the singles here.

I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas – Gayla Peevey  I have found that people either love or hate this one.  It’s really very much of its time and to me, that is what makes it hilarious.  This video of the Gayla singing it doesn’t help much with my attempts to convince people that this one is more hilarious and enjoyable than saccharine and creepy, but it might be just be the very thing for some of you out there.  Just don’t look directly into her eyes and I promise that you will be ok.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) - The Ramones.  Do I really need to explain this one to anyone?  And if I do, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.  Also, you might want to write a formal apology to the Gods of Rock.

 

Dishonorable mentions:

Little Drummer Boy – I didn’t really love or hate this song until I was introduced to The Little Drummer Boy Challenge.  Now,this nationwide game of assassin has become one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season.  I can tell you where I was each time I was struck down and it continues to be a great source of entertainment as I dart in and out of stores and tense up each time the holiday soundtracks move to the next track.  It isn’t too late to play.  I got ousted pretty early this year, so I am hoping to be avenged.

The Christmas Shoes – There is something about this song that makes me angry and my skin crawl.  Mostly because it’s terrible and manipulative.  And then there are people who make their own video versions like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpkI7GW2V34  Watch at your own risk.  If you never sleep again, it isn’t my fault.

 

And now comes the part where I ask for reader feedback.  What songs am I missing?  Which do you love, and which do you hate?  Post your comments in the section below and have a great holiday!

Cartoon Sara Watches Three Muppet Christmas Specials

December is upon us, which means – like it or not – the winter holidays have arrived. It’s once again time for walking through winter wonderlands, roasting chestnuts on an open fire, and desperately trying to ensure that all three gifts for your fellow Ladies arrive in time. (Maybe that last one is just me.) It’s also an excellent time to get your Muppet fix. The Muppets have been making Christmas appearances on TV shows since the 1960s and started their own catalog of Christmas specials in 1970 with The Great Santa Claus Switch. Over forty years later, Muppet fans have a lot of holiday themed Muppet material to choose from. These are my three picks for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and Muppetational Muppet Christmas specials.

A Muppet Family Christmas

What’s it about? You think your family’s holiday gatherings are nuts? Fozzie Bear has decided to bring the entire Muppet crew to his mother’s farmhouse for Christmas, without telling his mother. As more and more Muppets arrive and slip on the icy patch, Miss Piggy battles a blizzard to spend the holidays with her frog and a still very much alive Christmas turkey tries to convince the Swedish Chef to consider Big Bird as an alternative.

Why is it great? The joy of Muppet Family Christmas isn’t so much the story as the opportunity to see metric tons of Muppets from at least three different TV shows interacting with each other. It really does feel like an inside look at how the Muppets spend their holiday downtime rather than a show they’re putting on to entertain an audience. Rights issues would make such a crossover nearly impossible today, so the fact that this special happened when it did is its own Christmas miracle.

Deleted Scenes Speaking of rights issues, problems with music rights have kept Muppet Family Christmas from being available in uncut form for decades. Two songs from the carol singing medley at the end and three full musical scenes are missing from modern cuts of the special, including this one where the Muppets watch old home movies of their younger selves singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Thankfully, the cut songs are still available on YouTube, so you can watch them. Or, if you’re the type of person who loses sleep wondering if Muppet Babies is “canon,” you can continue to skip this one and save your sanity.

My Favorite Part Like I said before, the interactions between characters who don’t normally appear together is what makes this special great. My absolute favorite is when Bert and Ernie are telling Doc from Fraggle Rock what letters various words start with. When Doc asks what the point of it is, they respond that “where we come from, this is small talk.” Really explains a lot about Sesame Street.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

What’s it about? When Oscar expresses doubts that big fat Santa Claus can fit down a skinny little chimney, Big Bird starts worrying that Santa won’t be able to deliver presents and Christmas will be ruined. He searches for answers while Bert and Ernie trade away their most prized possessions to get gifts for each other and Cookie Monster tries to contact Santa last minute.

Why is it great? I’m sure it helps that this is the Sesame Street I grew up with. But even putting that aside, this is just an extremely well written Christmas special. When it’s funny – highlights include Oscar’s song “I Hate Christmas” and Kermit and Grover questioning kids about how Santa gets down the chimney, it’s absolutely hilarious. Yet when it’s serious, it is genuinely moving. You wouldn’t think a character giving up his paper clip collection could bring a tear to your eye, but Frank Oz’s performance as Bert is just that good. And to top it all off, the message of the special is not “believe in Santa and the magic of Christmas,” but “being with family and the people you love is the real meaning of Christmas.”

Deleted Scenes While the other two Muppet Christmas specials I love have undergone massive edits, this one has dodged that particular bullet. All the songs other than “Feliz Navidad” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are original, so it doesn’t suffer from the music rights issues that Muppet Family Christmas does. The final scene with Gordon and Susan returning home to find that Cookie Monster has eaten their tree sometimes gets cut for time, but it’s still on the DVD release.

My Favorite Part It’s a tough choice, but I love Cookie Monster and the scenes of him trying to let Santa know he wants cookies for Christmas and repeatedly eating his methods of communication crack me up. His “Deeeeear Saaaaaaaaaaaan-ta” at the beginning never fails to make me laugh.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

What’s it about? Emmet and Ma Otter have been struggling to make ends meet and have no money left to buy presents. When a town talent show is announced, they both secretly enter, hoping to use the cash prize to get a gift for the other.

Why is it great? It’s only just barely about Christmas, but it’s also the perfect Christmas special. It’s gorgeous to look at, featuring some early remote puppeteering. Every performance is pitch perfect. The songs are amazing. And at the heart is a story about two characters taking a chance to try and make the other’s holiday everything it should be.

Deleted Scenes The problem here is not rights to music, but rights to frog. Kermit originally appeared as the story’s narrator, but his scenes were removed when Henson sold the rights to the Muppet Show Muppets. Again, YouTube to the rescue, but don’t watch if you haven’t seen the special before, as the Kermit clips give away the ending.

My Favorite Part The songs. Yes, all of them. This was Paul Williams’ first collaboration with the Muppets and to my mind, they’re some of the best songs he ever wrote. They’re mostly meant to be traditional songs in the world where Emmet Otter takes place and they somehow feel like songs that have been around for ages. My favorite of the lot is actually the hymn “When the River Meets the Sea.” But aside from one or two videos of the original with nausea inducing shaky visuals (of a TV playing the special or a still picture of the cast), YouTube only has the merely okay John Denver version and the “Smalerie will murder me if I post it” Jim Henson’s funeral version. So let’s watch a nice clean clip of “Ain’t No Hole In The Washtub,” straight from the Henson Company itself.

Got a favorite holiday special of your own, Muppety or otherwise? Tell us about it in the comments and enjoy the holiday season!

Stealth Geek or 3 ways to let your geek flag fly at work without ending up in HR

If I actually lived by the advice “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” I would probably end up in my boss’s office explaining why I thought it was okay to wear an Iron Man suit to work (or maybe this).  Point being, as much as we want to show our fandom, there is a time and place and your 9-5 desk job isn’t always that place.

But never fear, it’s not all business casual or Ann Taylor Loft from here on out. There are ways to push the boundaries (especially on casual Friday) to let your geek flag fly even without wearing that super cool Captain America hoodie you got at Target.

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Cocktails and Comics

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Are you ready to open the door to adventure?

 

A few weeks ago, a local restaurant held a ComicCon-themed industry night, closing dinner service down early to serve comics-themed drinks and snacks. The staff were in full costume (but I neglected to get a photo of the guy with the Bat-symbol goatee), and there were entertainments that included a Batman ice luge and vintage video games (yes, we’re at a point in time at which video games can be vintage). The restaurant in question, Alden and Harlow, is a current area hotspot with an innovative menu and cocktail list, so Tiny Doom and I, together with The Goog, decided to check it out.

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Skinny Logan serves drinks to a Ninja Turtle

 

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Behold, the Bat-Luge!

The evening was fun, and very crowded, and it got me thinking about other comic-book themed cocktails. Too often, the ones you’ll find online are sticky sweet, lazy, or both, putting garish color before mixology. Alden and Harlow’s did not fall into this trap, but they did make use of some Hawaiian Punch and Mountain Dew. Is it possible to make a tasty, well-crafted cocktail that evokes your favorite heroes but avoids sticky-sweet additives? I decided to give it a whirl, and I press-ganged Tiny Doom and The Goog into helping! So here for your imbibing pleasure are three superhero cocktails that do not involve fruit punch, Pucker, or anything else with atomic food coloring. They do include somewhat obscure cocktail-nerd ingredients, so you might need to make a trip to the store before you make them.

In keeping with most of my posts, I stuck to a DC theme for this first attempt. If people like this concept though, we can do it again with Marvel and other properties. To be fair, I also picked heroes I felt I could do justice to with the ingredients I did have to hand.

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Clark, you look so classy. He’s 2 oz rye, 1 oz cider syrup, .25 oz cinnamon syrup, and tiki bitters to taste.

First up is Superman!
For him, I wanted something strong, all-American, and with a bit of something unexpected, something alien, if you will. I started with a rye whiskey base, rye being the quintessential American liquor (yes, even more so than its cousin bourbon!). In my travels, I’d picked up some boiled cider syrup, so I thought that would be a good addition – what’s more American than apples? For the “alien” note I toyed with the idea of throwing in Cardamaro, a digestif from Italy that’s made with cardoons and blessed thistle, but at the last minute I spied my tiki gear and thought that might be a more suitable direction, so in went some cinnamon syrup and the ‘Elemakule Tiki bitters from Bittermens.

The result was tasty and would actually make a great Thanksgiving cocktail – it tasted like apple pie in a glass, but without the cloying sweetness and with a bit of heat from the rye. If it didn’t go against my “strong” mandate, I’d say it would be good with some seltzer, as well.

 

 

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The dark heart of Bruce. 1 oz concentrated cold brew coffee, 1 oz Root, 1 oz Gosling’s Rum, .5 oz Kahlua

I couldn’t do Superman, of course, without Batman. The cocktail would need to be both dark and bitter. Tiny Doom pointed out that something that evoked childhood innocence lost would not be remiss, and suggested that I add some Root, a lovely concoction from Art in the Age that tastes like the very best root beer. I heeded her advice and added that to some cold brew coffee concentrate and Gosling’s rum. The first sip was okay, but weirdly flat. We decided to add a touch of Kahlua for sweetness, and it was vastly improved. This ended up being dark and complex, like its namesake, and it looks fantastic in the glass.

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The Flash! 1 part Cherry Heering, 2 parts seltzer, a dash of Snap. Lemon twist mandatory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, how could I not do an homage to my beloved Flash? This one I did base on its looks to a significant degree, but it’s also basically a highball and thus, pretty fast. (And yes, I know a shot is faster, but not to prepare if it’s a mixed shot, and since I just don’t shoot things on principle, you get this.)

My version may also be a bit redder than what you would get a home, because the base I used, Cherry Heering, is usually a bit darker – this is a homemade version using sour cherries, which are more vibrant. I threw in a bit of Snap, another Art in the Age gem that tastes of ginger, since Wally West is my favorite Flash, and Tiny Doom came to the rescue once again by pointing out that a lemon twist would be just the right garnish to evoke the lightning bolt symbol. The result was light and refreshing, with a bit of zing from the Snap, and how gorgeous is that red?

If you try any of these cocktails at home, let me know what you think! If you want to suggest other heroes or villains to get this treatment, tell me in the comments! Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone.

 

Slimed!: A Review of Words

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In some ways, my timing for this review could not have been worse. After the recent storm of press Mathew Klickstein has received after his nauseating and infuriating interview in which he manages to show the world that he is both racist, sexist, and does not understand the basics of forming and communicating an argument, I was loathe to give him more coverage. In fact, I was pretty close to just returning the book to Amazon and calling it a day. Then two things happened. One, I realized that in all the hullabaloo, there was very little talk about the quality of the book itself. And two, Cartoon Sara and I got invited on a radio show to talk about Klickstein, his book, and Nickelodeon in general. At that point, the cat was out of the bag about my planned review and there will be no going back.

And so, for the approval of the Midnight Society, er um, I mean the dear folks who take the time to read my rambling blog posts, I am going to take the time to try my hardest to ignore Klickstein as a person and address him as an author. The purpose of this review is to focus on the book as presented and determine just how well it can stand on its own.

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Saturday Night Nickelodeon

Slimed! is an oral history. This fact is both the book’s blessing and its curse. Presented as a series of loosely organized quotes, Slimed! is extremely difficult to get through. Rather than presenting the reader with an organized narrative of the events that led up to the heyday of Nickelodeon, the author chose to be completely absent from the book. This decision might have been made in order to let those interviewed speak for themselves, but instead it simply muddies the reading experience. Each chapter is named with a very general theme and what follows are snippets back and forth from the 100+ people Klickstein interviewed. As I read it, all I could imagine was Klickstein cutting up the transcripts of his interviews and haphazardly gluing them together as best he could. This results in an uneven if not jarring reading experience as you try to stay on top of what exactly each interviewee is talking about. You basically have to hope that you are able to figure out when they have switched from talking about one show to another. Also, if you are not already familiar with the names of the actors and creators of most of Nickelodeon’s shows, you are going to find yourself spending just as much time looking up who everyone is as you will actually reading the oral history itself. It’s a slog, and if you are like me, you just might hit a point where you just don’t care anymore and just do your best to push on.

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Much harder than it looks.

The frustrating thing about this is that the solution to the problem could have been simple. In fact, there could have been quite a few solutions that could have made reading Slimed! a much more enjoyable experience– a chapter written by Klickstein introducing his credentials, link to Nickelodeon and interview process, chapter intros reintroducing the main players in each section, or maybe Klickstein himself could have been just have been a little more focused and selective about who he interviewed. Yes, all those people being involved in this book is a very cool thing, but with a cast of thousands it can be very hard to get a clear picture of any individual experiences at all.

That isn’t to say that this book is completely without charm. In fact, there are several entertaining anecdotes to be found: from the origins of the iconic green slime to why those kids on Nick Arcade always looked so stressed and confused in the final Virtual Reality round of the game show (hint: everything they saw was backwards from the way it was on screen). If you are a die-hard fan who is willing to work for it, you can certainly find something in this book to enjoy.

So the question that remains is if this book is worth your time. Unfortunately, that is a hard question to answer. I think that this book best serves those who are more than casual fans. Knowing the names of a few big players before you start reading goes a long way. As for me, I think this book and I are pretty much done with each other. It was a nice enough fling, but the lack of organization and context is not really something I want to deal with again. So while Slimed! is not the Nickelodeon book I was hoping for, I am hopeful that the press Klickstein has received does show that there is an audience for the subject matter, and a bright and intelligent audience at that. If Slimed! opens the door for more 90s nostalgia and pop culture analysis (especially about Nickelodeon) then that is certainly a good thing. Let’s just hope that the next book is written by someone with a more organized and caring hand.

If you haven’t read Slimed! and want to decide for yourself if it’s any good, please comment below by December 3rd. I will be giving my copy of Slimed! away (complete with a few bonus goodies) to one of our readers.

Now reprise the theme song and roll the credits…