The Handmaid’s Tale – First Thoughts

NB: This post will contain spoilers for both Margaret Atwood’s novel and Hulu’s adaptation of it through episode 3. It also assumes familiarity with the basic plot of the book.

I have a confession to make. Despite being a feminist of a certain age, I had never read Margaret Atwood’s story of women living under an oppressive patriarchal regime until last week. The Handmaid’s Tale was forever on my to-read list, but somehow it never quite crept to the top. But with Hulu’s adaptation coming out and the state of the world being what it is at the moment, the time had finally come.

Having read other Atwood and found it a bit of a slow burn, I was a bit surprised to find the novel compulsively readable, despite being incredibly bleak. I finished it in two days, marveling over the eerie and disturbing parallels in our current sociopolitical climate and delighting in Atwood’s prose (and spot on description of Harvard Square). The book is a damnation of the power dynamic between men and women, of course, but it touches on so much more than that – the way that fear causes us to exchange freedom for the illusion of safety, the damage of white supremacy, religious hypocrisy, and the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was interested to see which of these would surface in the series – I knew going in that they’d removed the race elements, but what else would change?

Let me start by saying that, after watching the first three episodes, the show overall is incredibly well done. There are certainly changes and updates, both major and minor; some I agree with and some I don’t. But on the whole, the creative team has done an amazing job of setting the right tone and message. Like the novel, the show makes liberal use of narration and flashbacks, though it rearranges the timeline of the entire novel. The flashbacks help establish both how new and foreign the position of women in this society is, and how they struggle to survive it. As Aunt Lydia helpfully reminds the handmaids-to-be in the Red Center, “Ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not feel ordinary now but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.” Women aren’t used to being chattel anymore, she’s telling them, but in a few generations no one will remember another way.

The show also makes excellent, unnerving use of music. Most of it is instrumental, humming quietly in the backgrounds of scenes, imparting an air of menace and tension. However, when a song does come to the forefront, they are often even more jarring – a combination of 80’s classics, remakes of the same, and newer songs with similar new wave sounds. This choice both nods to the book’s original time and setting, while providing a creepy counterpoint to the nearly Colonial-style dress and mannerisms of the future it depicts. It’s a reminder that although it may look like the past, it’s the near future we’re watching.

The actors also give excellent performances. You can feel the strain in every interaction our narrator Offred (Elisabeth Moss) has with other characters in the present day scenes – no one is saying what they mean, no one can be trusted, and kindness always has some sort of strings attached. You can see it in her face and body language. This tension is complemented by the total ease in her memories of her former life before the government takeover. Her scenes with her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) are particularly good – you feel their closeness, and how they’ve influenced each other’s lives.

With all of that said, the show makes a few changes that I don’t entirely agree with, changes that affect how we see Offred and the other women in relation to each other. Keep an eye out for part two, where I’ll explore those changes.

Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Chocolate Bubble Gum Cocktail: We Are All Doomed

I’m the worst at writing intros for my posts. Honestly, it’s terrible. Happily for you, I’m not going to spend too much time struggling with it. Instead, I’m going to just say that it’s a pretty great time to be an Invader Zim fan. We’ve been getting our fix pretty regularly with the not-too-shabby Invader Zim comic, but then about three weeks ago, this was posted online. YES, my disgusting worm-babies, we are all doomed.  And frankly, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Added bonus, this gives me another excuse to create an adult beverage based on one of my favorite fandoms.

Brace yourself people, and behold my inspiration.

There were a lot of different ways I could have gone about this. At first I considered tracking down some chocolate soda to make a very traditional Slurpee. Then I thought about creating a very traditional ice cream soda made with chocolate and bubble gum ice cream. I had two road blocks here. The first was that both initial ideas involved ingredients that were a bit hard to find. The second block was that if I was going to drink this thing, I didn’t want to use a ton of dairy.

My solution to both of these problems was to create an adult beverage. Making something smaller and using alcohol would give me an excuse to tailor it a bit more to my taste and maybe come up with something (prepare your pretension filter people) more sophisticated. And yes, even my eyes rolled as I typed that last sentence.

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This is the point where I truly began to question my life decisions

Ingredients:

Unsweetened cocoa powder
Godiva chocolate liqueur
almond milk or regular milk
vanilla
Bubble Gum flavoring
simple syrup
optional: cream

Pro-tip: Before you make this drink, create some ice cubes out of milk (or in my case almond milk). This will prevent your drink from getting watered down as you drink it.

There aren’t a lot of instructions here. All these ingredients can be adjusted to taste. For the sake of understanding my results, I will say that I used about 1 cup of frozen almond milk and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. In order to help things blend, I dumped in a splash each of the vanilla and simple syrup. For the booze, I used one shot glass.

The bubblegum flavoring goes a VERY long way. I used a drop from an eyedropper.

Once you blend up your drink, taste it and add any adjustments. I used a little extra sweetener as the dark cocoa powder made the finish a bit too bitter.

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Yeah, no light is getting through this. And yes, I know exactly what it looks like.

I know you’re wondering what this tasted like. The truth is that it wasn’t too bad. It tasted like a Tootsie Pop. If I ever make it again, I think the plan would be to create a pink bubble gum sugar rim and to see if I could make something that is less like a mudslide and more like an actual slurpee or even a Slush Puppie.

Not a complete failure, but not something I will be adding to any sort of rotation for dinner parties. I think I will just keep it in my pocket to bring out again when the Invader Zim movie/special airs next year. But frankly, who knows what monstrosity I will have come up with by then. I can promise you this much, it won’t include adding soap to waffles. Maybe I’ll add tuna instead.

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That is gum, not teeth.

Chocolate Bubble Gum Cocktail of Doom

2 tbsp Unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1.5 oz Godiva chocolate liqueur
1 cup almond milk or regular milk frozen into ice cubes
1 tsp vanilla
one drop Bubble Gum flavoring
1-2 tbsp simple syrup
optional: 2 tbsp cream

Combine all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust ingredients if needed. Serve immediately with an evil grin and promises to take over the world.

Crowdfunding Basics for Backers

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Crowdfunding – seeking funds for a project from a bunch of strangers online – has become big business, with ever greater amounts of money going to fund the next big idea. Backing a crowdfunding project can be a fun way to get early access to a new product or just to help out a person or concept you believe in. But finding the right crowdfunding campaign to put your money and enthusiasm into isn’t always easy. This week, we’re looking at crowdfunding from the perspective of a backer: where to find new campaigns, what to look for, and what to avoid.

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The Missed Opportunities of Iron Fist

(photo credit: Netflix)

Enough time has passed that if you were going to watch Iron Fist and care about spoilers, you have probably done that…but, you know, if you do care, maybe read this later.

Does Iron Fist really deserve the panning it’s getting?  Ehhhhhh, maybe, maybe not. But with the bar set so high from the other Marvel Netflix series, Iron First comes off as a master class of missed opportunities and poor choices. Much has already been written about Danny Rand’s casting.  Yes, Iron First is white in the comics. Could that have been changed? Absolutely. Would the show have been better served by having an actual martial artist as the title character? Heck yes, but that’s not the missed opportunity that I’ll be talking about.  Rather, Marvel had a chance to turn the tables on a privileged white male protagonist, and they let that opportunity wane. Continue reading

Monsters and Chefs: Two Great All Ages Reads

Way back in October, I attended MICE – the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo. Started in 2010 to provide area artists with a place to exhibit their work away from the noise and expense of larger conventions, MICE has gotten bigger each year, attracting independent comics folks from all over the country. That’s a lucky thing for those of us excited to find new stories and art.
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Netflix Hidden Gem: Ernest and Celestine

French animation isn’t something that’s on a lot of radars in the US. With major houses like Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and Dreamworks (and even Ghibli for a bit) taking up the major real estate in theaters and awards shows, it can often seem surprising when a quiet French animated film starts to get even a little recognition. And when it gets nominated for an Oscar, chances are quite good that the film is going to be worth your time.

When I saw that the English dub of Ernest and Celestine was available on Netflix, it was a no-brainer. The only choice I needed to make was what type of tea to drink while watching.

Based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent and made on a shoestring budget, Ernest and Celestine tells the familiar story of two unlikely friends who manage to create a home and family together. It’s familiar, yes, but it’s also warm, sweet, and perfectly crafted.

Celestine is a young mouse living beneath the streets of a city inhabited by bears. Each night she sneaks into town to steal the teeth that young bears leave under their pillows for the Mouse Fairy.  These teeth are then used by other mice to repair their own damaged and missing teeth. Sadly, she’s not great at her job and the dentist she works for threatens to fire her if she doesn’t improve. Desperate to make her quota, Celestine gets caught in the city above and finds herself in the paws of Ernest the bear.

First things first, the animation is gorgeous. With hand painted watercolor backgrounds and matching Flash animation, the soft tones result in a visual style that is extremely enjoyable to look at. Everything feels soft, cozy, and dreamy. It’s a children’s book come to life with mice scurrying across pages and bears quite literally lumbering around. Yes, it’s very cute, but it’s never cutesy or sickeningly sweet. The tone and the stylistic animation complement each other, and it works just as well during the darker moments as it does during the lighter ones.

Additionally, this movie is funny. It’s hard to explain why, but there is something about the slapstick and physicality of the characters that made me smile a lot. The timing and pace never feel heavy, so when a character trips or runs into a wall, the audience is given just enough time chuckle without feeling as though the movie is waiting for you to congratulate it on how clever and funny it is.

Lastly, the voice acting in this film is great.  The cast is filled with distinguished, talented, and familiar names like Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, and Paul Giamatti. Celestine herself is voiced by Mackenzie Foy, who does a charming job of making Celestine both empathetic and brave.

So, go ahead and add Ernest and Celestine to your Netflix queue and maybe someone other than me will start gushing over it to her friends and online. Hey, it could happen!

Already seen Ernest and Celestine and looking to expand your horizons when it comes to animation? Specifically French films?  Here are a few recommendations (many of which can be found on Netflix):

Triplets of Belleville
A Cat in Paris
Tales of the Night
The Rabbi’s Cat
Secret of Kells (French-Belgian-Irish)
The Little Prince (2015)

Understanding The Uncanny Valley

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Copyright NBC

Modern pop culture is filled with terms that try to describe the media we consume. With new phrases and new definitions emerging all the time, it can be difficult to know what the new terminology actually means, even when you hear it frequently. We Ladies like to provide some clarity by defining some of these commonly heard terms that people may not fully understand. We did it with “Mary Sue” and now we’re tackling the “uncanny valley.”

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We Can Do It- Lindsay Moore, Dark Lady Horror Comic Anthology

As Women’s History Month marches on, we are happy to bring you another post in our “We Can Do It” series, highlighting women who strike out in underrepresented fields. Check out our first installment about female tattoo artist, Sandra Burbul.

When local creator and publisher Lindsay Moore reached out to us wanting to tell her story of publishing an all-female horror anthology, we jumped at the chance to have her share her experience. Lindsay talks openly and honestly about her challenges as a woman in the male-dominated fields of comics and horror. When she met resistance, Lindsay decided to strike out on her own and make her dream of Dark Lady (and other works) a reality.

Copyright Hell Cat Press

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Still More Webcomics by Ladies to Enjoy!

March is Women’s History Month in the US – a time that various government institutions “commemorate and encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” Here at the Ladies we encourage you to study, observe and celebrate women’s contributions every day – particularly their contributions to comics and pop culture. One of the things I like about doing your periodic webcomics round ups is that not only is it a chance to share the sheer talent of so many lady artists and writers (of whom there are still fewer than I would prefer getting work in mainstream comics publishing), but it’s also an opportunity to embrace a much wider scope of what storytelling in comics can be. Even though your average shop is offering far more than just superhero tales these days (and there’s nothing wrong with superhero tales), it still feels like the web has some weirder, wilder offerings. Here are three I’m digging right now.

Wallace and his friends. Copyright Taylor C.

Monsterkind by Taylor C.

Updates: T, Fr

Plot:

Monsterkind is one of the first comics about social work I’ve ever seen. (Feel free to tell me if there are more in the comments!) It’s the story of Wallace Foster, a young social worker who’s recently been relocated to District C – a place where the inhabitants are mostly monsters. Wallace is human, and some of the residents of District C clearly don’t trust him and his intentions. Somehow he’s got to figure out a way to win over his clients – and figure out some of the deeper mysteries surrounding him, District C, and his new neighbors. What I really like about Monsterkind is that, even though it deals with some pretty deep and potentially sensitive topics – racism, segregation, and identity – it does so in a lighthearted and upbeat way that counterbalances the darkness of its subject matter while still taking it very seriously. It’s also got some pretty great and innovative character designs for the monster residents of District C – some look human but have powers and abilities that seem supernatural, while others sport everything from tentacles to detachable eyes. The underlying mysteries unfold slowly, but steadily, and promise a worthwhile payoff. Content-wise, this is appropriate for all-ages, but many of the interactions will go over the heads of young kids – I think early teens up would be the most interested.

Bonus: Another comic! Taylor C.’s significant other, one Zack Morrison, also does a weird comic I love called Paranatural. Maybe one day I’ll give it a whole review, because it’s awesome, but as Zack’s not a lady, it didn’t fit here. It’s fine as a bonus, right?

Cast of Not Drunk Enough. Copyright Tessa Stone

Not Drunk Enough by Tessa Stone

Updates: T, Th

Plot:

Logan Ibarra is a young repairman with a pretty normal life – until he’s called out to do a nighttime service call at the local laboratory. When he gets there, it quickly becomes clear that the problem here is a lot worse than a faulty AC system. Reality itself has become warped, along with most of the lab’s employees. Now Logan’s got to figure out how to escaped before he’s transformed, eaten, or his flask runs dry.

I’ve been a fan of Tessa Stone’s work since her one of her earliest efforts, the dearly departed Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. That was a comedy about a paranormal investigator, full of whimsy, jokes, and sweet-hearted humor. Not Drunk Enough has a sense of humor, but it’s a much more macabre one – the jokes of terrified people who know they’re unlikely to survive the night. The art, in turn is dark and jagged, befitting the paranoia permeating the doomed lab. Like Monsterkind, there are deeper mysteries to be solved that Stone teases out slowly, and real human heartbreak driving the choices the characters make. The creature designs are killer, literally and figuratively – this is a great read for older teens, but a bit too mature for the younger crowd.

Bonus: Stone also collaborates with Ananth Hirsh of Johnny Wander and Sarah Stone (yes, related) of Monster Boys and Robots on Is This What You Wanted, a comic that is just starting about romance and illness and demons. So if you dig her character design here, check that out too.

Ava, looking worried. Copyright Michelle Czajkowski


Ava’s Demon by Michelle Czajkowski

Updates: Th

Plot: Ava Ire is a total outcast at school – all of the other kids and even the teachers think she’s totally crazy. Of course, since she’s often talking to herself and prone to emotional outbursts, it’s hard to blame them. What they don’t know is that Ava is plagued by a very real demon – Wrathia Bellarmina, the ghost of a former warrior queen who wants to bond with Ava in order to get revenge on the person responsible for her demise. That person happens to be the ruler of the entire universe, Titan; part corporate overlord, part god. When a series of strange events cause Ava to flee her home, a deal is struck – but will either Ava or Wrathia really get what they want?

Ava’s Demon combines fantasy and sci-fi elements into a powerful combination unlike anything I’ve quite seen before. The world-building is thorough but unforced – you learn about what’s going on as the characters do. The art is complete gorgeous, with fully saturated color and light effects that give everything a dreamy quality. Czajkowski takes advantage of her storytelling medium completely as well – each weekly installment consists of several pages that the reader flips through, introducing an almost animated quality to the story. At the close of each chapter is an actually animated sequence, complete with music. It’s frankly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see where the story is headed. This is another one I’d pitch more towards teens – there’s nothing too crazy but some of the violence might be a little much for a sensitive younger reader.

Bonus: If you follow the Ava’s Demon Tumblr, Czajkowski shares the beautiful fanart folks do for the comic.

Are there any other comics by ladies I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

Lady Vendors We Love: FanMail

In honor of Women’s Month, we thought it would be a lot of fun to take a moment to feature one of our favorite vendors: FanMail.

If you’re a fan of subscription boxes, are proud to be a geek, and want to take the opportunity to support a business owned and run by women, you really can’t go wrong here. A subscription to FanMail means that every other month you are going to get a box of unique, curated items picked specifically for today’s lady-geek. There is a focus on featuring other small lady-owned businesses within the items as well. Seriously guys, this stuff is so great that I’m doing this post not because they gave us a box in trade, but because I’m a happy subscriber and am pleased to give them my money.

One (or should I say two) of the things that makes FanMail so special are the owners Rose and Jenny. Rose and Jenny share The Ladies of Comicazi’s mission to celebrate women and the community in which we create, forge friendships, and experience our fandoms. They are dedicated, friendly, and are responsible for a lot of people getting their hands on some really amazing stuff.

In an attempt to convince you, I wanted to share the unboxing of my February Box. This month’s theme was Familiars and Companions.

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Oh the suspense!

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Getting warmer!

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PAY DIRT! EUREKA! *commence olde timey prospector dance

Items: Bookstr Notebook, Avatar/Totoro Cross-over T-Shirt, Doctor Who Donna Noble quote sticker, Luna-inspired Sailor Moon Necklace, and adorable Eevee Pokemon (or is that a Flareon?)

 

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*dies of squee

Item: BB-8 throw pillow case. So gorgeous!

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Just making sure a certain someone isn’t a Niffler in disguise…  I’m still not sure since they both seem to have suspicious duck faces.

Item: Niffler pouch – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I realize my photos don’t seem to do the items justice, so if you want to see more, you should head on over to FanMail’s Instagram.

Oh, and if a subscription might be more of a commitment than you are ready for, you can browse their shop for past items and boxes. I got my eyes on these sweet but subtle Hogwarts House mugs. Hufflepuff forever!