GeekMom Smart. Savvy. Social. Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fast, Eco-Friendly Ghost Lanterns Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:00:10 +0000 With a few items you probably already have, you can make ghost lanterns that are re-usable, recyclable, and eco-friendly.

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photo (10)

photo credit: Fran Wilde

Looking for a new Halloween decoration? With a few items you probably already have, you can make ghost lanterns that are re-usable, recyclable, and eco-friendly.

You’ll need:

  • Plastic milk jugs, stripped of labels and rinsed thoroughly
  • Sharpie marker, black
  • Scissors
  • Sand (for weight)
  • Battery operated candles if placing out of the rain; glow-sticks if using in exposed locations

After rinsing each milk jug, cut the screw-top off to make putting the sand and light inside easier.

Use a Sharpie marker to draw faces on each lantern.

Fill the base with enough sand to keep the lanterns from blowing away and add your light.

** Don’t use regular candles or anything with an open flame, because Plastic + Fire = Bad. **

Place in groups along a pathway or on stairs.

(A version of this project on Pinterest also suggests using Christmas lights.)


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Don’t Forget to Vote! Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:35 +0000 Voting in this election is as important as ever, and Bing helps make our candidate and issue research easier.

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Map courtesy of Bing.

Map courtesy of Bing.

Some of us live in states where we can (or are even required to) vote early by mail. We’ve already cast our votes and stuck them in the mailbox. But if you usually vote on Election Day, or you vote early but haven’t yet sent in your ballot, don’t forget to do so.

Even more important than voting, however, is voting from a position of education. Read up on all of the candidates running for office in your district (yes, including the school superintendent). Read up on amendments, propositions, and new taxes. Read the analyses and the arguments for each side. Then make your own decision. Don’t be swayed by rhetoric or logical fallacies. Your personal opinion matters and counts.

In my area, we get plenty of mailers sent to us in the weeks leading up to the election. They are fantastic resources, especially for the very local elections. But if you’re looking for more state-wide or national information, some people head to the internet. Bing now has a wonderful resource at that shows the latest poll data, what races are going on in your area, predictions, trivia, and more. You can also click on someone’s name and it gives actual relevant search results for the candidate. Depending on where you live, the interface seems to give different amounts of information, but it’s definitely a useful resource, regardless. Still not convinced? Bing details the intricacies of their election coverage, and has also made a short video.

While you can check on any of the races across the country, the most useful part of the site will likely be the My Ballot area. Type in your address and it shows you what candidates you will be choosing from when you vote. In my case, it didn’t list any of the propositions, so I’m not sure how universal that aspect is, but the rest is extremely helpful. You can also mark your choices and print your ballot ahead of time, in case you forget who you wanted to vote for when you’re in the voting booth.

We are only six years away from the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote in national elections in the United States, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Let’s take advantage of this right and responsibility, and make it count, every year.

Note: As part of the Windows Champions program, I have been loaned hardware for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these posts are my honest opinions about the subjects involved.

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The Supporting Creatures of Labyrinth Thu, 23 Oct 2014 15:30:51 +0000 Many of the fantasy cult favorite's supporting cast and crew have some impressive geek cred.

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labyrinth feature

I’ve always had a soft spot for the movie Labyrinth, and it took some hard work on a lot of people’s parts to make it the cult classic it is today. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

Earlier this month, a report in Variety magazine made a very brief mention of a possible sequel in development for the 1986 Jim Henson fantasy, Labyrinth. This was quickly followed up by an addendum a few days later saying that this was not actually something on the Jim Henson Co.’s primary agenda—at least not for now.

This news, of course, set the movie’s fandom, including myself, on a quick high of anticipation, followed by a sudden pit of disappointment. I was a 16-year-old dreamer of dreams, not ready to grow up, when David Bowie’s Goblin King Jareth first led us down that fantasy-filled maze of beasties with his horrible, oh-so-horrible, 80s hair-band mullet and no-imagination-needed tight pants. Some of the green screen (or blue screen) effects were obvious, the dialogue cheesy at times, and some of the music recording quality was a little off, but I thought Labyrinth—and Jareth—were beautiful creations nonetheless.

The critical response was, at best, mixed and the box office profit was pretty dismal. However, the movie has since become a cult classic, with a multi-generational fan base.

The original trailer for the film boasted the creative triumvirate of director Jim Henson, for which Labyrinth would be his final feature film as director, Executive Producer George Lucas, and star David Bowie, along with a 14-year-old pre-Rocketeer and A Beautiful Mind Jennifer Connelly, and “numerous goblins and creatures.”

Actually, it was those numerous creatures, both on- and off-screen, that helped make the movie visually appealing and fun to watch. Let’s take a look back at some of the individuals who may not have gotten top billing for their work on Labyrinth, but still hold their own geek and fantasy-world cred:


Brian Froud (top) and Terry Jones have teamed up on several book projects, including a companion guide to the goblins in Labyrinth. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

Terry Jones. This Monty Python member wrote much of the script, based on a storyline by Henson and Dennis Lee. Much of Jones’ Python-style can be recognized in the script, particularly in the scene with the very British rock wall harbingers of doom. Jones has worked as an actor, writer, producer, and director in several films, including as voice talent for a number of animated and CGI characters. He also served as host for the history documentary series Ancient Inventions, Barbarians, Medieval Lives and Terry Jones’ Great Mystery Map.

Warwick Davis and Kenny Baker. Both of these Star Wars alums worked as members of the Goblin Corps.

Davis, who portrayed the title roles in the fantasy film Willow and the B-horror Leprechaun series, has a pretty heavy sci-fi fantasy resume. He was Wicket the Ewok in Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (and several other roles in the Star Wars saga) and Professor Flitwick and a goblin banker in the Harry Potter film series. He has also appeared in the BBC’s Doctor Who and Merlin.

Baker, who is best known as the man in the R2-D2 can, will be returning alongside Davis for Star Wars: Episode VII in 2015.

Kevin Clash and Danny John-Jules. These two are the best-known voice talents behind the detachable-limbed Fireys in Labyrinth’s reggae-influenced “Chlly Down” dance and mischief sequence in the film.

Clash, who also did puppetry and back-up work in other areas of the film, has become a household name for many parents, for his little red and furry alter-ego, Elmo. He was also the voice and puppeteer for one of my favorite Muppets, the hipster host of the short-lived Muppets Tonight, Clifford. Clash’s signature voice is a standout in the Fireys’ song; listen for a sassy Elmo voice saying, “Where you goin’ with a head like that?”

John-Jules gained comic con-style fame as part of The Cat in the kitschy-yet-popular BBC sci-fi, Red Dwarf, and is currently in the BBC crime drama series Death in Paradise. He also worked with Henson in an uncredited part of a street dancer in The Great Muppet Caper, and with Frank Oz as a doo-wop singer in the “Total Eclipse of the Sun” sequence in the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors.


Kevin Clash, Warwick Davis, and Gates McFadden are part of Labyrinth‘s long list of geeky alumni. Images: Wikicommons.

The Froud Family. Brian Froud and Wendy Midener worked as a husband-and-wife team in many of Henson’s works, including The Dark Crystal and Jim Henson’s Storyteller.

Froud, along with Terry Jones, is also the creator of weirdly funny fantasy art books, including the best-seller Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book.

Midener was a Muppet designer for several episodes of the original Muppet Show and the first Muppet Movie. She also worked as a fabricator for Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

The part of Toby in the film was actually Froud’s son, Toby, who has since gone on to be a multi-talented puppeteer, special effects designer, and stop-motion sculptor for films like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and ParaNorman. As a long-time puppeteer, he wrote and directed his first short film this year, Lessons Learned, which he funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

Cheryl McFadden. McFadden was a puppeteer with Jim Henson in the 1980s and worked as the choreographer for Labyrinth on scenes like Sarah’s ballroom dream and the Goblin City battle. She is better known in the sci-fi world as Gates McFadden, the portrayer of Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The fact that she worked with Muppets before joining the crew of the Enterprise is something I find exceptionally cool.

Henson’s go-to colleague, Frank Oz, did his bit with the film by serving as puppeteer for the iconic bird-headed Wiseman (voiced by another actor) and heir to the Muppet empire, Brian Henson, not only worked as puppeteer coordinator, but lent his voice to Sarah’s troll-like guide, Hoggle.

What about the dog? Well I’ve never found the real name of the dog who portrayed Sarah’s dog, Merlin, but fans of the movie realize the same dog who plays her real-life pet also plays the non-puppet version of Sir Didymus’s faithful mount, Ambrosius. This is only right, as literary-minded viewers will pick up on the fact that Merlin is known as “Merlin Ambrosius” in The History of Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Others who were nearly involved in the film included Michael Jackson and Sting, who were both considered for the role of Jareth. Several young actresses auditioned for the role of Sarah, as well, including Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Jessica Parker, Laura Dern, Marisa Tomei, and Laura San Giacomo. Two who were highly considered were Jane Krakowski and Ally Sheedy. Changes in either of these roles may have made the movie an entirely different experience.

A little something to think about before heading into that wonderful and weird maze…

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Solar Eclipse? Don’t Be Left in the Dark Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:53:29 +0000 On Thursday, October 23, most of North America will be able to see a partial solar eclipse. Find out how you can see it in your area!

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Photo: University of New Mexico (Creative Commons)

On Thursday, October 23, most of North America will be able to see a partial solar eclipse. Things start getting dark in the late afternoon, and viewing will start around 6PM EDT. You can find the time of the eclipse in your area on this chart from NASA.

Of course, when I went to see when the best viewing time would be for my area in New England, I found out that I was out of luck. The eclipse will happen just after the sun sets. Thankfully, we all live in the age of technology. Many observatories will be doing live webcasts of the event. These include Slooh, Griffith Observatory, and the Coca-Cola Space Science Center.

What exactly is a partial solar eclipse? Well, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, and lines up just right so that it blocks the light from the sun from reaching us on Earth. A total solar eclipse will block the entire sun, so that it looks like this:


Photo: Lutfar Rahman Nirjhar, Bangladesh, 2009 (Creative Commons)

A partial eclipse, like the one happening on Thursday, will look like the moon is taking a bite out of the sun, like this:


Photo: נצח פרביאש (Creative Commons)

There are many ways to observe a solar eclipse, but one definite, absolutely WRONG way to do it: YOU SHOULD NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER EQUIPMENT. Do not watch a solar eclipse even with sunglasses. Never. No way, no how. This will cause permanent damage to your eyes. Instead, go to this website and find out how to build your own easy sun viewer.

Hope everyone has fun watching one of our solar system’s finest shows!

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15 Alternatives to Trick-or-Treat Candy Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:10:13 +0000 When you can't reconcile your healthy eating habits with handing out Halloween junk, here are some alternatives.

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Trick-or-Treat alternatives. ( images)

Trick-or-Treat alternatives. ( images)

When my kids were tiny we successfully avoided Halloween’s trick-or-treat. We hosted costume parties with their toddler friends. We let our kids stand at the door to pass out non-candy treats on Halloween night. One year we set up a wildly inventive Halloween scavenger hunt with our other health-conscious friends, watching three and four-year-olds dash all over our shared yards to find treasures like packages of vitamin C gum, cloth bags with blocks, and carob candy spheres wrapped to look like tiny planets. These tactics all worked well until the oldest in each family went to school. Then the lure of roving house to house on a dark night, shouting “trick-or-treat,” was too great. The tradition is clearly an inescapable part of a child’s Halloween.

Still, we aren’t fond of handing out corn syrupy candies or, as suggested in so many “alternatives to Halloween candy” lists, a bunch of cheap themed plastic toys destined for the trash. Here are our suggestions, with prices.

Ka Boom Comics  (Thanks to GeekMom Jenn for this hint.) 50 kids’ comics for $19.99  Last day to order!

Monster Tattoos 72 for $5.05

YumEarth Organic Lollipops 5 pound bag for $28.28

Halloween Temporary Tattoos 144 for $7.95

Book Grab Bag. Start picking up kids’ books from thrift stores, garage sales, and library sales to hand out.

Glow Stick Bracelets  100 for $10.98

Pirate’s Booty, Aged White Cheddar snacks 60/ 0.5 ounce bags for $28.94

Play-Doh  15 mini tubs for $8.99

Make Your Own Halloween Pumpkins Stickers 75 sticker sets for $6.29

Endangered Species Chimp Mints 64/ 0.35 ounce packages for $38.52

Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks 24 pouches for $16.88

Annie’s Homegrown Organic Vegan Fruit Snacks  36/ 0.8 ounce pouches for $27.76

Snyders of Hanover Variety Pretzel Snacks  36/ 1.5 ounce bags for $17.93

LED Finger Lights  80 for $15.99

Jack o’Lantern face oranges.  Use a permanent marker to decorate Clementine or regular-sized orange.

Citrus Jack o'Lanterns. (image:

Citrus Jack o’Lanterns. (image:


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Disney’s Moana Promises Adventure and Beauty Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:30 +0000 Disney Animation Studios released some information about their upcoming film Moana and GeekMom Patricia can't wait! But she will have to wait over 2 years.

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Image: Disney Animation Studios

This week, Disney Animation Studios announced some details about their latest CG-animation project, a full-length feature films that will be titled Moana. I’m very excited for this film, in part because I lived in Hawaii as a young girl and spent some time on Guam—my parents lived on Guam while I was in college. I was exposed to Polynesian culture and learned about such legends as Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, and her rival, the goddess Poli’ahu of the snow.

GeekMom Jules and I did some dishing on Twitter not long after the first concept art was released in December 2013, and we discussed our hopes that the heroine Moana (pronounced “moe-ah-na”) will pay tribute to South Pacific roots with respect and elegance. We saw some of this in the Lilo and Stitch films (such as learning about ohana), but that series was more comedic, lacking the “princess” element that Disney’s more successful films have possessed. I see Moana leaning more towards the “Princesses” even though, so far, the press releases haven’t turned her into a daughter or spouse of royalty in any way… which is okay by me.

According to the press release, Moana will take part in the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania, where the heroine, Moana, will embark on the journey of her life in search of a fabled island. On the way, she will meet up with her hero, Māui, a Hawaiian mythological demigod who Disney plans to bring to life as Moana’s traveling companion.

I predict that Moana will be another skillful juxtaposition of classic Disney storytelling and beautiful animation art while paying respect to some of the great Polynesian legends and folklore. I saw a similar credence paid in The Princess and the Frog, in which the firefly Ray is pining for his love, Evangeline, who—in the movie—lives as a star in the heavens. This character pays respect to a Cajun legend of the same name, immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, A Tale of AcadieI read this poem not long after moving to Louisiana in the mid-1990s, and it gave quite a bit of insight to the Cajuns of Louisiana, whose people had come from Nova Scotia in the mid-1700s after the Great Expulsion.

Moana is planned for release in late 2016.

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Choose Your Own Adventure in Fantasy Life Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:55 +0000 If you prefer fighting, magic using, crafting, or gathering, there's a Life for you in this new Nintendo 3DS game.

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© Nintendo / Level 5

All images © Nintendo / Level-5

Fantasy Life, out October 24 for the Nintendo 3DS, can perhaps best be described as a cross between Final Fantasy and Animal Crossing. The game is a blend of RPG and life simulation, giving you the opportunity to choose a Life (or class) that best suits your play style. If you prefer fighting, magic using, crafting, or gathering, there’s a Life for you.

With a title illustration by Amano Yoshitaka and music by Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy fanatics might be tempted to pick the game up on that pedigree alone. While there is an overall quest with a standard RPG story line, you’re not in any rush to complete it, so the similarity to Final Fantasy pretty much ends there (give or take an airship). If you would like to merely stand in the blacksmith shop and work for two hours, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll level and complete tasks for your Life master all the same.


12 classes, or Lifes, are available in Fantasy Life. I chose Angler for my first Life, as I often enjoy gathering and crafting classes in games. After working my way through the first two chapters of the main quest by mostly dodging enemies, though, I decided to try a new Life. My days of being an Angler weren’t all that terribly exciting as they were, although Applefish did tremble at my expert prowess with a fishing pole. Okay, not really. Once I switched to Magician, though, I started progressing through the main storyline at a more enjoyable pace. But I keep eyeing the cooking Life…

If you switch your Life at any point in the game, you keep the skills you’ve already learned, so you have the opportunity to master all 12 Life classes in Fantasy Life. Sorry, Applefish, but you shall keep trembling. This gives the game a large amount of playability and bang for your buck, always a welcome feature when buying any video game.

fl-screen1The localization team deserves a special shout-out for the clever wordplay and jokes in the character dialogue, which couldn’t have been an easy task when translating the original Japanese release. More than once I’ve caught myself grinning at the in-game text, which is well-polished and flows well.

If you’re a lifelong JRPG fan, or the type of gamer who fishes and tailors more in games like EverQuest than you do hunt, Fantasy Life might be right up your alley. It’s a quiet, colorful game that even kids 10 and up can play, making it a great diversion on those long road trips you have coming up for the holidays.

Fantasy Life is available October 24, 2014, for the Nintendo 3Ds at a suggested retail price of $39.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

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A Little Death With Your Tea? Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:00:59 +0000 The "Teacup Poisoner," clear bobas to choke on, and a game to see how much caffeine will kill you!

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tea death

Image By Duncan Barfuss

As a TeaPunk, I come across some interesting tea facts. To get into the spirit of this month, I looked up death. Can you die from tea? Apparently so (or at least get really, really sick). Bring these up at your Halloween tea party for some macabre conversation starters:

The “Teacup Poisoner,” an English serial killer of the later 20th century put poison in the tea (and other drinks) of over 70 people! I like this quote from his father, when his boy had been “experimenting” with poisons on his family in his early years: “He warned his son to be more careful in future when ‘messing about with those bloody chemicals.'” Really? Be more careful? That’s it?! It wasn’t until he killed his step-mother that the family finally turned to the police.

This seems to have been an honest mistake: A server mixed up sugar with a toxic cleaner in a restaurant making tea for a patron. She survived, but eeeeep!

I am a big fan of bubble tea, but this is so dangerous! You can’t even see them in the glass! Who created these? Choking hazard!

Not exactly deadly, but cheap tea may contain too much fluoride for your health. Good tea doesn’t cost that much, so don’t go for the cheapest box on the shelf, okay?

Taking too many green tea supplements can cause liver damage. This is how people come to the conclusion that “natural” remedies are bad for you: A lab takes a whole food, like green tea, turns it into some concentrated pill form, and then someone is able to take waaaay too much of the stuff and gets sick. Drink a few cups of the normal version (it’s so much nicer of an experience than chugging pills!) and get all the benefits without liver problems.

However, even the whole version of tea can be abused. Too much of anything is a bad thing. Moderation, people. Even tea. This woman had 150 cups a day!!! Of course something is going to go wrong! Is her bladder half the size of her body? How is this even possible?

And now for death fun and games! How much caffeine would it take to kill you? Plug in your drink and weight and find out! My son explored this a bit, and laughed at how hard it would be to ingest that much tea…though I’m sure someone has tried.

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U.K. Youth Can Learn Computer Skills With The Doctor Tue, 21 Oct 2014 18:15:18 +0000 CBBC announces digital literacy-focused Doctor Who game.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 11.00.35 PM

Image Copyright BBC

The Doctor and his most persistent foes have teamed up for a new online adventure—teaching young people in the United Kingdom computer skills.

The BBC children’s site CBBC, aka “CBeebies,” has created The Doctor and The Dalek. This free goal-driven web game for ages 6-12 helps The Doctor free a Dalek from a Cyberman vessel. The game, which follows the latest computing curriculum in England, will challenge youth to learn beginning skills such as repetition and loops, programming and coding, and logical reasoning. The game debuted this month as part of the BBC’s Make it Digital digital literacy project that offers similar games from other popular BBC children’s shows.

Adding to the game’s appeal is the voice of the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and a story by writer Phil Ford, who has penned episodes of Doctor Who (including this season’s “Into The Dalek”), Torchwood, and The Sarah 1024px-CBBCNEWLOGO2010Jane Adventures.

Unfortunately for American web users, this game is currently only available via the web-based CBBC site accessible exclusively to internet users in the United Kingdom. For now, American Doctor Who fans can find the occasional educational or just-for-fun Doctor-related apps from Doctor Who Adventures magazine, geared towards school-aged children.

There’s no information yet on whether this latest game will make its way “across the pond” for American audiences, but the BBC has announced there are tentative plans to make this game usable on computer tablets in 2015. Who knows? Maybe the upgrade will be available to the benefit of young Whovians in the United States as well.

Only time worthy of a Time Lord will tell.

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Chatting with Jen Wang, In Real Life Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:00:49 +0000 GeekMom Melanie had the opportunity to chat with artist Jen Wang about her work on the new graphic novel, IRL (In Real Life).

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Image: Jen Wang, First Second Books

Last week I interviewed Cory Doctorow about the new graphic novel IRL (In Real Life). This week, I’m catching up with his artist co-creator, Jen Wang, to see what she had to say about this project. Please help me welcome her to GeekMom!

GeekMom: So Cory Doctorow said you did all the heavy lifting on this project. Would you say that’s true?


Image: First Second Books

Jen Wang: The way this project worked was I was given free rein to adapt the script however I wanted so as to offer my own vision to the story. After that Cory would go over and offer ideas of his own and help guide the script into something that matched us both. We went back and forth like this for a couple drafts before settling with what we have. So yes, I made most of the changes in the story from the original to the graphic novel version, but it was a melding of both our sensibilities. And of course I did all artwork!

GM: Could you tell us a little about the artwork in IRL? What inspired the images in your mind? Was there something you felt was important to capture in the images?

JW: The most obvious decision in the design was the contrasting color palettes between the real world and the online world of Coarsegold. This is all from Anda’s perspective so it makes sense that her real life is uninteresting and the online world is colorful and exciting. I ended up using a “brown” filter over the real life images to reflect a serious (but not depressing) reality, while I used a multicolored filter to heighten the colors in Coarsegold. Other than that, I was given free rein to illustrate the book however I liked so I just had fun making up a coloring landscape that I felt would be appealing to someone like Anda.

GM: What is the process like, making a graphic novel, and perhaps, working on IRL in particular?

JW: I start with a script, which in IRL’s case involved both Cory and I. My scripts are roughly four pages of comic to one page of script so from there I have a rough idea how long the book is going to be. From there I do really rough thumbnails one chapter at a time. I like the thumbnails to be as rough as possible, enough to give me an idea of where to go, but leaving it open to experiment during the actual drawing process. The next phase is the pencil drawing, and after that the inking, scanning, and coloring.

GM: I lived in Flagstaff for a few years, and I noticed the couple frames where you have some background imagery, like the outside of the school, for instance and the landscape behind it, are just spot on. They really capture just the right things about the atmosphere of Flagstaff. Have you ever been there? Or were you able to catch that just from pictures and ideas?

JW: I have been there! I was actually on a trip to the Grand Canyon when I first stayed in Flagstaff. I thought it was the perfect place for Anda to live. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, and you’re next to one of the great natural wonders of the world. And yet I could see how all this would be lost on a teenager. The town is small and there’s not a whole lot to do. Someone like Anda would easily be compelled to spend a lot of time online in a fantasy world.

GM: I loved the expressions on the characters faces throughout the book. I think you’ve captured so much of the dynamic teen personality in this book. How do you think you managed to do that?

JW: Expressions are a thing I love to draw, so it’s fun for me to indulge in. It’s like a form of acting except it comes out through a drawing instead of your body. I don’t like being the center of attention so I feel like having the emotions one step removed and projected onto a character is one way I can conjure these feelings vicariously without having the focus be on me. Who knows, maybe in alternate universe I would be an actor!

GM: This is your second book. Has anything changed for you in the way you approached the work between your first and second books?

JW: I definitely started writing full scripts after my first book Koko Be Good. With Koko, I scripted a chapter and drew it chronologically one at a time. Meaning I didn’t get to the ending until I got to the ending. I used to be more into stream of conscious writing and allowing myself to feel the surprises as they come. Now I much prefer being able to edit and improve on things and look at the piece as a whole.

GM: What was your favorite part about working on IRL?

JW: Finishing it! But no, kidding aside, the writing process for this project was hard but it taught me a lot. I’d never worked with another writer before and I’d never rewritten so much before, but I’m a much more confident writer now than I was at the beginning of it.

GM: We know that Cory Doctorow is a very active… well, activist. Would you classify yourself as such? What things are important to you?

JW: I wouldn’t say I’m as active as Cory, but I definitely feel very strongly about issues particularly with women, queer identity, and race. Sometimes I feel a little unsure how to approach activism because I know there’s an inherent privilege to being able to do that. It’s presumptuous to be in a position of education and outreach and tell people how to think even if I believe it is right. On the other hand, I’m in the unique position of writing literature for young adults and I definitely care a lot about what I represent as a creator and as a person. I hope at the very least as a woman and person of color my voice adds something of value to the young adult and comics readership.

GM: How do you think gaming can affect a teen’s life?

JW: Games are very time consuming and immersive. It can affect a lot! I don’t say that in an alarmist way because a lot of good things can come out of it too like friendships built, identities born, and creativities sparked. Like I think it’s so great kids are playing Minecraft and building their own worlds. On the other hand I wish there was more diversity in games and more variety in the types of games being made. That’s changing every day though as game-making becomes more accessible and I feel very optimistic.

GM: Do you game? If so, what do you play?

JW: Not a whole lot. I have a bunch of games on my phone and once a while I’ll play something off Steam everyone’s been recommending. Games are like comics in that the mainstream hasn’t appealed much to my demographic, but as the making and self-publishing becomes more accessible to creators I’m seeing more and more stuff that appeals to me. Gone Home, Analogue: A Hate Story, and Dear Esther are fantastic story-based indie games. I also like a lot of text-based games likes the ones made for Twine like Howling Dogs and Horse Master.

GM: Do you have any advice for a younger person trying to break into art or gaming?

JW: I can’t speak for gaming, but for art I’d say the best thing to do is just start drawing. Start drawing and have a lot of fun. It can be intimidating comparing yourself to others and what being an artist means for your future, but the best way to be an artist is to really love what you’re doing. Have fun and meet other artists online and at conventions. They will motivate, inspire you, and make you feel less alone as you toil away at your drawing desk.

GM:  Any thoughts for younger people who might be interested in helping others like Anda does?

JW: Get to know all different types of people! Listen to their stories and let their experiences inform you how to help them. Maybe some people don’t want your help, but they appreciate your support. Also, if you don’t see enough outlets for an issue you care about, feel free to make your own. Start a blog or a project that helps raise awareness like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not only can it be fun, but it might inspire new people to your cause.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jen Wang! And for the rest of you, please check out IRL, available now wherever books are sold!

jen wang

Image: Jen Wang

Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. Her works have appeared in the Adventure Time comics and LA Magazine. She recently illustrated Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache. Her graphic novel Koko Be Good was published by First Second. In Real Life is her second book. 

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