I honestly don’t remember how I came across American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Librarian friend? Bookstore display? I read it somewhere and bought a copy to show my family this…comic book that wasn’t a comic because it was a real book, just with all pictures, kinda like a comic book but thicker. A graphic novel. My family really liked it too. The artwork was cartoon, but the message was deep. My husband and son picked it for their book club. My daughter found out about other graphic novels in the library. I became a writer for GeekMom and contacted the publisher of American Born Chinese wondering what else they had.
First Second Press is celebrating its ten year anniversary as a publisher of excellent graphic novels, many of which I have reviewed for this blog. Here are some of my favorites over the years:
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew: Another winner from Yang that brings the past of comics and the future of graphic novels into one fantastic adventure story.
Bake Sale by Sara Varon: This is one of those books that’s hard to describe when I recommend it. Saying it’s a kids book is like saying the Giving Tree is a kids book. It is, but… After reading it to my nieces, we had a huge discussion on the ending. (And this is when they were five and three!) I contacted Sara Varon telling her about the chat, and she wrote us back!
Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre is currently on loan by my nine-year niece. We started it together and she is loving it. The heroine is great, but the side characters are what makes this one stand out.
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks: Pick this up. Pick this up. Pick this up. My daughter and I chose it for our mother-daughter book club a few years back. There was quite a bit of skepticism since we had only read “real” books. For the graphic novel novices, I gave the advice to read it through once, and you’ll probably just be reading the words because that’s what you’re used to. Then go back and reread it, this time looking at the characters’ faces, the background art, all the little visual details that fill in the subtext and mood. It was a good book discussion because this is a GOOD BOOK!
Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel: An adult book with art to savor. This one sticks with you. I heard Mark speak about the development of this novel, and afterwards he signed and drew on my copy.
Geeks love to dress the part, regularly donning their Doctor Who T-shirts or multi-pocketed Scottevests. They also love their household tools and goods, finding products that make their lives easier. What are the GeekMoms’ favorites for 2015?
Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy & V6 Mattress Vacuum
Dyson makes quality and extremely effective products, and these two vacuum models are no different. The upright vacuum will suck more debris out of your carpet and off your floor than you ever thought possible, improving your indoor air quality and ridding it of animal fur and dander, along with other allergens. And the V6 Mattress Vacuum is a great handheld solution to vacuum mattresses, car interiors, stairs, and anywhere else an upright would be tricky to use. These bagless, easy-to-empty vacuums will make your life easier. They did mine.
Kids love to create and come up with some of the most ingenious stories and drawings. They don’t always follow the kind of progression that adults come to expect, and setting them off on their creative journey while they are young will help them continue to be creative as they grow. It’s important to capture this development, but sometimes they (or you) run out of ideas for what to have them do. Continue reading Keep Kids Creating With ‘The Superhero Comic Kit’!
Not spending money at a Con is very hard to do—so many cool things! But I do take business cards and look through them at home to shop online later. Here are some talented artists I saw at ConnectiCon this year:
Moss Fête: This hat shop features exceptional felt creations. Just beautiful.
Matt Becker has a variety of art, but I was intrigued by The Disciplines. All are women of various body types, ethnicities, and ages depicting the sciences. Very cool. This is “Biology.”
SkimLines: My son and I were very impressed with this young woman’s pottery. He loved her tea mugs, I loved her yarn bowls.
Mink Works: My son loved her fox print, and I loved her soup print (adorable anthropomorphic food…if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am). But these martini-glass-monsters made me squeak with delight.
Next time you’re at a Con, be sure to check out these and other talented artists in our geeky world!
Every year my husband and I spend most of my San Diego Comic-Con browsing the booths of artists on the show floor. Without fail, we purchase more art than we have room for—yet we always manage to fit on a wall somehow—and I find a new set of artists to add to my list of favorites. Joining the list with all the wonderful people I showcased last year are the artists I’ve discovered at SDCC this year. Here they are, in no particular order:
Otis has a long list of projects he’s worked on, but I’m here to tell you about ABCDEFGeek. They are a series of hilariously clever, ultra-geeky alphabet picture books that won’t fail to make you chuckle. My favorites are “C is for Canceled” with an image of Jayne, or “I is for Indispensable (Also Irony)” picturing a Redshirt.
Here’s a fresh take on some old favorites! On Sara’s website you’ll find just about every geek fandom represented—with a unique twist—like Back to the Future, Dragon Ball Z, Doctor Who, and many more.
Chrissie has a lot of comic-based art, and rightfully so, since she has worked as an illustrator for DC, Dark Horse, IDW, and more. However, I was especially fond of her Kiki and Nausicaa prints pictured here.
Alina has some whimsical watercolor art for both adult and children. She has worked in the animation industry on small little projects you probably haven’t heard of like, oh, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) She now works on her own projects, and I’m glad because she has a big variety of prints and other items in her shop to show for it.
Travis has some really great kid books, and he should know seeing as he has five kids of his own. My husband and I purchased Adventures for a Lazy Afternoon, a compilation art book with an inspiring text flowing through it about the power of inspiration, creativity, and good ol’ determination. He offered to make us a drawing on the first page and we described our two girls. Travis got them pretty dead on, all while holding a conversation with us and quite surprisingly not looking down at the paper all that often—how does he do that?! Be sure to check out his picture book about teddy bear pirates too, because teddy bear pirates.
Patrick can turn any geeky fandom into a scene of boisterous kids. He’s all about bringing fun into art, evoking nostalgia, and embracing your inner child. He has a huge series of “25 Cent Wonders” featuring our favorite geek icons on themed kiddie rides. Fun? Check!
I didn’t get to meet Finni first hand because I decided to take a break while my husband went to visit the Artists’ Alley one last time. He bought one print from her during that time and spent the rest of the day browsing her website, umming and ahhing about which print he’d buy next. Finni is especially fond of Zelda, and we love her “Zeldamon” series—that would be Zelda and Pokemon merged together. Win.
If you can say no to your impulse for buying these super cute prints to decorate your child’s bedroom, you’re a stronger person than me. Patara is an artist at the studio Vuduberi, who specializes in the adorable and whimsical from prints to games and toys. I especially liked the print pictured here with the little girl stuffing pandas in her closet. I can’t look at it without thinking too many pandas is a good problem to have.
If you’re into Alice in Wonderland, look no further than Kei. Her illustrations cover other subjects too, and all of it is intricate and delightfully strange. She is the art director at the Imaginism Studios, home of many other very talented artists worth checking out.
This is it for my list this year. There’s always more talented and ingenious artists than I can actually see while at SDCC, but these were the ones that caught my eye. Did you also attend? Please share your favorite finds and experiences in the comment section, I’d love to hear them!
When we were kids, we visited art museums to examine all of the big, bright paintings with wide-eyed wonder. Today, some of those paintings aren’t as bright as they used to be.
In a new study, an international team of scientists have discovered exactly why the bright yellow pigment favored a century ago is turning to a drab beige.
It turns out that the original chemical compound, cadmium sulphide, which is a highly water-insoluble and bright yellow, is subject to a light-induced oxidation process that turns it into a colorless, water-soluble cadmium sulphate. Yikes! This is not a good thing, since it was favored by so many of the Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and early modernist masters. Henri Matisse is just one of the many artists who used it in their works—works that are fading fast.
“The results of this study reveal how critical it is to understand not only the chemistry of the discolored paint, but also the chemistry used to prepare the paints that were available to the turn of the 20th-century’s most enduring artists,” said Winterthur Museum‘s Senior Scientist Jennifer Mass, Ph.D. “Our study points the way toward several important areas requiring further investigation, among the most critical of which is developing a protocol for identifying the ‘at risk’ paintings that are in their earliest stages of degradation, even before it is visible to the naked eye, so that such works can be placed in the proper display environments that will prevent their degradation from worsening.”
Mass led the international team, who used X-ray diffraction, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence analysis, and infrared microscopy to study the fading pieces at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. The study specifically looked at Matisse’s The Joy of Life, although the discoveries could also apply to other Matisse works, as well as those by James Ensor and Vincent Van Gogh.
“As a chemist, I find it striking that in paintings of different artists and different geographical origins that (presumably) were conserved for circa 100 years in various museum conditions, very similar chemical transformations are taking place,” said Koen Janssens, chemistry professor at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. “This will allow us to predict with higher confidence what may be happening to these works of art in the coming decades.”
The ESRF said that museum scientists over the past decade have estimated that “this disfiguring phenomenon is affecting billions of dollars of our global cultural heritage.” The findings can help them identify and help preserve “at risk” paintings, as well as learn how to properly digitally restore damaged paintings and create a computer-generated image that reveals the artists’ original intent.
“When we combine our findings on the works of Henri Matisse with the studies carried out on works by Vincent Van Gogh and James Ensor, the understanding of their degradation gives us a road map to guide us in the preservation of these works,” Mass said. “It also provides us with the information needed to digitally restore the damaged paintings, creating a computer-generated image that reveals the artists’ original intent.”
Star Wars Celebration is set to happen next month and it will feature all sorts of amazing Star Wars goodness, including this mural. It’s the work of artist Robert Burden, who spent 2,000 hours over 18 months to see it to completion.
The work measures 15-by-8 feet and is an oil painting tribute to all those classic Kenner toys we played with when we were kids. There are over 150 characters and vehicles represented in their original forms, so you’ll immediately recognize them from playing on your bedroom floor.
Although his focus was vintage toys, he wasn’t limited by them and included some more modern Hasbro toys like Qui-Gon Jinn, Queen Amidala, and Darth Maul. There are also images that aren’t Star Wars at all, but hat-tips to things that influenced the franchise. You’ll find a toy Nazi solider in there and Yul Brynner from The Magnificent Seven.
This incredible work will be on display for the first time at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim from April 16-19. It will also be for sale if you want to take it home, but will cost you a whopping $200,000. If you can’t afford that without wiping out the college fund, then head over to Burden’s website, where you can buy a limited edition 24-by-36-inch print for $250.
There are only 200 being made and each is signed, numbered, and stamped, making it a very special Star Wars collectible.
Everyone has their way to unwind. For me, I like to browse fan art, especially when the artist takes liberties with the clothing, environment, or other characters. I asked my daughter to draw me having tea with Wolverine one year for my birthday, and you can see that she made me an adorable old lady with my fictional guy. (Apparently, my jokes are so funny his claws came out.)
Lately, I’ve combed DeviantArt to find fan art with tea. Combining my geeky interests with my love of tea on artwork might sound like a challenge, but it’s not. I am not alone with my obsessions! Here are some of my favorites:
Osmo recently released a new app, Masterpiece, that can turn anything you want into a picture to trace on the paper in front of you. Simply follow the lines you see on the screen and you’ll feel like you’re drawing like a professional in no time. Or, in my case, blissfully pretend that you’re a comic book artist drawing your favorite superhero.
There is a small learning curve with the free app; keeping an eye on the screen while your hand draws can be a little tricky to get the hang of at first. Kids can start with simple drawings included in the app, or even take the opportunity to practice handwriting.
My kindergartener was most excited to try her hand at writing cursive like the big kids. Anything that gets her excited to practice handwriting is a winner in my book.
The most engaging feature of Masterpiece is the ability to snap a picture of whatever your heart desires and see it transformed immediately into a simple line drawing.
Integrating the “real world” with the iPad screen is a welcome feature of Osmo, and Masterpiece takes it one step further by giving kids the chance to create a real work of art they can hold in their hands. Or, again in my case, happily butcher a lovely Captain Marvel cover by David Lopez.
Osmo for iPad is available for $79.99; companion apps are free of charge.
I recently had a chance to interview Katie Cook! Who is Katie Cook? Well, she is a comic book writer and artist, and has done licensed work for tiny franchises such as DC Comics, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. She also frequents conventions and paints the most adorable little images, from video game characters to Star Wars to Harry Potter—and she takes requests! In a couple weeks, her webcomic, Gronk: A Monster’s Story, is going to be released into print by Action Lab Comics. I asked her a few questions about life around her corner of the nerdiverse.
GeekMom Mel: Hi Katie Cook! Welcome to GeekMom and thanks for doing this interview!
Katie Cook: Thanks for interviewing me!
GMM:How did you decide to become an artist? And did you always want to do comics, or did that come along later?
KC: I don’t know if I “decided” it… I’ve just never really wanted to be anything else! I really wanted to draw a newspaper comic strip… drawing longer form comics just kind of came from that (and I loved reading comics anyway… natural fit!).
GMM: I met you at Boston Comic Con, where I could barely get close to your table because of little geeklings (including mine!) crowding around to see your work. What’s that like for you? What’s it like by the end of the con?
KC: I LOVE kids. LOVE THEM. I have 2 of my own… knowing that my work is something that kids enjoy reading is amazing to me. And spending a convention weekend interacting with kid after kid after kid is just hysterical. I have the best conversations and I’m just beaming by the end of Sunday.
GMM:What is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you at a con? Has anyone ever asked you to draw something particularly strange?
KC: I have many stories… many, many bizarre stories. I have an entire panel discussion at Emerald City Comic Con just to tell stories from my 10 years in the comic convention trenches. I can’t even begin to poke that iceberg now.
GMM:I received Gronk: A Monster’s Story from Action Lab for review, and it is so utterly adorable and funny (“But this is the KITTY bath!”). Could you tell our readers a little about your process in making Gronk? What was the inspiration behind him?
KC: Gronk began as a character I designed back in college (so, so long ago, siiiiiiigh). She was actually a project about what *I* would look like as a monster! Since beginning the comic, I’ve since had kids. Gronk has evolved into the embodiment of my oldest daughter. (Fitting, no?)
GMM: You have many projects, from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic to F*ck You, Box (and other observations of my cat’s inner dialogue) to cute sketch cards and banners of movies and characters done in your own style. Do you have a favorite thing to work on?
KC: I like to draw cats. Caaaaaaaats! And Star Wars. If Star Wars cats were a comic, I’d want to work on it.
GMM:Rebels or Empire? Or…something else?
KC: Jedi! I can’t be the bad guy… my family roots are tied too closely with Canada.
GMM:How has parenthood changed your experience being a geek?
KC: I guess it’s made it more exciting? I have a whole flurry of things I can’t wait to share with my kids when they are old enough.
GMM:I’ll assume you, like many of us, had geeky leanings since your youth, and you remember what it was like growing up. What do you think is the best way a non-geeky parent can support their young nerdlings?
KC: Don’t discourage it! IF your kids likes comics… buy them comics (it’s reading!). If your kid likes Star Wars, don’t tell them it’s silly! I’ve seen parents tell their kids that it’s “ridiculous” to like superheroes and whatnot. What if you just turned who COULD have been the next George Lucas into an accountant with those words?!
GMM:What is your favorite part about being a mom?
KC: The absolute adoring look in my daughter’s eyes when they see me… they haven’t figured out what a dork I am yet.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Katie! And you, people out there, be sure to check out Katie’s website where you can see all kinds of goodies as well as find out more about her new comic Gronk: A Monster’s Story, coming out March 24! You can also hear her chat about all manner of geekiness on episode 59 of the Once and Future Podcast (you might want to block the kids’ ears a bit for that one, though). I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!
It pains me to draw, to sketch, to doodle. I’m not one of those people who ever passed the time doodling while in class or in a meeting. If I’m drawing anything, it takes all of my creative energy and attention, so I’m definitely not paying attention to anything else. I’ve always been envious of those who draw with ease, and those who actually enjoy it. Part of my non-enjoyment of drawing is a self-fulfilling prophecy, though. The more I draw, the better at it I am. And I’m reminded to keep at it, to not give up or continue to resign myself to be bad at drawing, by books such as Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are.
GeekMom Lissa recently included this book in her impromptu-and-useful-and-inspiring tweet series, which she turned into a Storify story and a blog post. She recently finished filling her first sketchbook. I’d like to emulate her efforts myself, and have been encouraged to begin.
1. Get a sketchbook. Check. I have one. I’ve drawn a few things in it. But there are only about eight pages full, mostly with things for other purposes. But, I have it.
2. Begin working my way through Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory. Full of exercises but not a step-by-step guide, it gives you examples of places to find opportunities to make art. The airport. While you’re eating walnuts. While looking at pencils. Using Post-Its. Of course, it helps to have your materials with you all the time, to take advantage of the little moments. But it’s also full of advice for how and why to include art in your life, which will add more beauty and richness to what you already have. Art helps you notice the small things. It helps you appreciate what you have and forces you to slow down your pace of life, even for just a few minutes. Consider it a form of meditation, if you will. Also full of humor, the book is a joy to read while you learn. And it’s dedicated to someone named Jenny. Not me, but I have yet to meet anyone named Jenny who I didn’t like.
When I introduce graphic novels to those new to the format, I advise them to read through once to get the story, and then look at it again, lingering on the images to catch nuances. Often, those used to novels-sans-graphics miss the extra dimensions to story and characters that the art provides.
This is especially true with The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I read many comics and graphic novels, both for GeekMom and for fun, and I appreciate when an artist puts in the time and effort to detail, especially the background. He literally draws you into the New York City of the main character, David Smith: a close-up swipe of a metro card or a birds-eye view of towering skyscrapers in the rain. What word-based novels provide with beautiful phrases to set the tone, McCloud gives in his expressive panels; each series cinematically moving from shot to shot, creating a consistent pace. The fact that The Sculptor is 490 pages makes that attention to detail extraordinary.
So the art is good, but what about the story?
The novel has an intro that only makes sense when you finish the whole thing, so let’s start with the first chapter. Meet David Smith, a young artist in a diner, talking to his Uncle Harry about his lousy life at the moment: his absolute positions on artistic integrity have cost him his career and social life. He’s happy to see his uncle whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. Nothing too exciting until David realizes he hasn’t seen his uncle in awhile because… he’s dead.
Uncle Harry reveals that although, yes, he lived the life of Uncle Harry, he is in fact Death. Yup, Death personified comes to this down-and-out sculptor to offer him a deal: David will be able to sculpt anything with his hands, but will only live another 200 days in return. It sounds like a dream for someone who has put art before everything, but having a superpower doesn’t solve his problems. That’s something he has to figure out by experiencing life, even if he only has 200 days left of it.
David is an unlucky person who has lost his mother, father, and sister to unrelated deaths in the last several years. His art is the only thing he has left, but even with the ability Death gives him, David has to find focus and meaning to make a name for himself in the world. Along the way he falls in love, but all people are complicated, and love doesn’t come easy.
Even if you are a regular reader of graphic novels I recommend lingering over the pages of The Sculptor. There is much to take in, and it’s worth it.
The Sculptor comes out February 3rd, for around $23. I recommend this book for upper YA and adults (sex and profanity).
In my house, there is a year-long… shall we say, “disagreement” between my son and I. He is a ninja fan, and I am most certainly pro-pirate. Both of us share a love of Christmas, so naturally our inclinations come into our decorating and festivities. Or maybe not “naturally”–but mashing two unrelated things together does make us giggle.
Now obviously pirates would be more fun at Christmas time than ninjas. Carousing! Singing! Hot Buttered Rum!
But Santa is most certainly a ninja as “Ask A Ninja” explains. Probably one of the best lines about Santa’s suit I have ever heard: “The red comes from the blood of children who have woken up in the middle of the night…”
What about decorations and gifts? This pirate stocking really puts me in the spirit:
GeekMom: So Cory Doctorow said you did all the heavy lifting on this project. Would you say that’s true?
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 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.
Aspiring artists of all ages will love getting their hands on Pokémon Art Academy, out on October 24 for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS. If you have a Pokémon fan in the house, picking up this game is a no-brainer. Pokémon Art Academy walks players through step-by-step lessons, from novice to expert, to teach them how to draw some of their favorite pocket monsters.
The lessons, led by Professor Andy, introduce new drawing tools and art concepts for each level of expertise. You’ll learn about concepts like symmetry, perspective, and construction shapes, all while using the stylus to trace (and eventually draw freehand) some of Pokémon’s biggest stars.
Kids as young as preschool and kindergarten can even grab the stylus and play. You’ll need to do a lot of reading out loud to walk them through the lessons, but that can make for some entertaining family game time together. It’s also a perfect opportunity to work on fine motor skills like tracing and holding the stylus the correct way. (We are still working on that in my house.) While they will probably only be able to complete the Novice Course exercises, there are plenty of Pokémon for them to draw in the extra lessons and free draw.
My five-year-old is a big fan of the game. In fact, she wanted to tell you all about Pokémon Art Academy herself! Here she is demonstrating one of the novice lessons: drawing Oshawott.
Pokémon Art Academy is part game, part art lesson, and an altogether fun way to spend a fall afternoon. I even go through a lesson now and then when I’m looking for some quiet time for myself. It’s a great addition to your DS library, one of those rare games that you can pick it up for five minutes and still feel like you’ve accomplished something.
The first time that I tried to read Anjan Chatterjee’s book The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, I made it about halfway through before angrily putting it aside—which surprised me. Chatterjee, the Chair of the Department of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital and also a professor of Neurology at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has published extensively on topics like neuro-ethics and neuro-aesthetics. He seems thoroughly vetted and respectable. So, why the vitriol?
The Aesthetic Brain examines monolithic concepts—beauty, pleasure, and art—all through a lens of evolutionary psychology, a theory that ascribes much of human behavior not to personal choice but instead to the choices of our ancestors. Because certain choices lead to a greater chance of survival, they became adaptive, became the preferences and behaviors that were then encoded into successive generations.
In this perspective, feminine beauty and desirability are shackled to fertility. Symmetrical features imply health, which can be passed onto babies, giving them a better chance at surviving into adulthood. An ample bosom and a 0.7 hip-to-waist ratio are also shorthand for physical health, as is youth. By this logic, it is not fat- or age-shaming when women are judged as less-than rather than beautiful when they fall outside of these proscribed criteria. It is simply evolutionary wisdom applying meager odds to their ability to successfully gestate, deliver, and raise a child.
Fortunately, there are also evolutionary limits to how far these preferences can be taken. On the topic of youth, for instance, research actually claims a caveat: While men across cultures prefer women with “some baby-like features,” they also look for high cheekbones and narrow jaws in their partners, because, while youth equates with health, too much youth could indicate that a mother lacks the necessary maturity to adequately care for a child. Hold this conceit to your ear and you can almost hear the gentle murmur of Cercei Lannister asking Sansa Stark if she has flowered yet with her first moonblood…
Women get to do a little judging of their own, of course: Pear-shaped bodies seem to be a no thank you for both genders. In an ideal world, all male chins and jaws would be chiseled, all brows commanding—all a result of optimal testosterone levels. That being said, men also seem to get off a little easier in the appearance department. First of all, too much testosterone actually lowers overall health and ability to fight infection. Second, the hyper-masculine features resulting from high testosterone levels are equated with aggression, an undesirable trait in a co-parenting life-mate, though apparently highly desirable in a recreational-sex partner.
“The story of what heterosexual women find attractive in men is complicated,” Chatterjee says. “Across culture after culture, women rank physical attractiveness less highly than men do. Status, power, wealth, the ability to protect and provide are all more important to women than men.”
To validate this idea that appearance is more important to men while power is what women find desirable, Chatterjee references the internet search study completed by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam and reported in their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts:
“Ogas and Gaddam analyzed Internet searches to find out what men and women chose to search for on the Web. When it comes to desires in the virtual world, gender differences are strikingly clear: Men overwhelmingly search for pornography. The videos are visually graphic without much in the way of plot or emotional engagement. By contrast, women overwhelmingly search for e-Rom Web sites. These sites tell romantic stories often built around a heroic man.”
Personally, I read this and wonder: Is it that women aren’t actually interested in pornography? Or is it that women have received cultural messages telling them they shouldn’t enjoy pornography? Or that most available pornography defines female sexuality by what is actually pleasurable for men? Or as Violet Blue posits in a piece for O, The Oprah Magazine, does it come down to women’s (apparently-legitimate) concerns surrounding body image:
In my research and experience, the biggest roadblock for women (and men) to enjoying explicit imagery is the fear that they don’t “stack up” to the bodies and abilities of the people onscreen. Erotic models and actresses bring up a whole range of adequacy issues, from breast size to weight, from what you look like “down there” to the adult acne we all periodically fight.
This video contains NSFW language and a brief discussion of sexual violence. It is also quite funny.
In short, so much of what was deemed beautiful in the first third of The Aesthetic Brain reflected back on fertility, on youth, or on a particular body type that I grew progressively more concerned that Chatterjee was providing a research-shrouded rationale for the many ways our culture objectifies women and devalues the intelligence and experience that come with age—what comedian Sarah Silverman recently described when she said:
“As soon as you’re at an age where you have opinions and you’re outspoken and you know who you are, you’re very much encouraged to crawl under a rock, and be embarrassed by any wrinkle. Or by still being alive.”
And so, I put the book aside.
The second time that I picked up The Aesthetic Brain, having pushed past research I’d previously found oppressively reductive, I found that the book began to feel…more like science that I could embrace. Midway through, between discussions of food and money, there was an “Orgasm For Dummies” segment on the neuroscience of why sex feels good that detailed the neurological underpinnings of sexual pleasure:
As you can imagine, it is hard to study what happens in the brain during orgasm. From the little information we have, the ventral striatum is active in men and in women. That activity is to be expected, since so many studies link the nucleus accumbens, a major subcomponent of the ventral striatum, to pleasure. Interestingly, activity in many parts of the brain decreases during orgasm. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, the parahippocampal gyrus, and the poles of the temporal lobes decrease their activity. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is engaged when we think about ourselves and about our fears. The anterior cingulate is engaged when we monitor mistakes. The ends of the temporal lobes organize our knowledge of the world, and…the parahippocampus represents our external environment. What could a drop in neural activity in these areas mean? Perhaps it means that the person is in a state without fear and without thought of themselves or their future plans. They are not thinking about anything in particular and are in a state in which the very boundaries that separate them from their environment have disappeared. This pattern of deactivation could be the brain state of a purely transcendent experience enveloping a core experience of pleasure.
The final third of The Aesthetic Brain was full of big questions: What is art? What is it’s purpose? Can art exist outside of of its place and time or can it only be understood through context and analysis? Are we hardwired to enjoy and create art—is there an art module in the brain? An art instinct?
It is in this final section that Chatterjee introduces the concept of “drift,” the idea that the freedom to explore new forms of art and new ideas within art is a direct result of the level of social cohesion (control) exerted on the individual. During eras of oppression (high cohesion), art tends to stay within expected, narrow confines where it runs the risk of repeating upon itself, becoming stylized and exaggerated. Meanwhile, during times of revolution, the opposite holds true:
As the constraints on individual social behaviors diminish, acts that rose to be socially cohesive can drift. Art as an expression of social cohesion can change as pressure for art to do the work of social cohesion matters less. This new openness and variety in art can persist as long as countervailing forces do not weed it out.
Could this idea of drift also apply back to our understanding of human desire? In times of oppression when goods are scarce and punishment severe, almost as a safety measure, does our definition of beauty contract, hew closer to evolutionary dictates? Could the inverse also hold true? Chatterjee seems to imply, yes. This drift, then, becomes the space within evolutionary psychology where our species is allowed, when optimal circumstances exist, to experiment with the ground rules—not all of human experience is designed to be proscribed or preordained.
Ultimately, I was brought to a realization with regard to Chatterjee’s work: Just because I found much of the research in the first third of The Aesthetic Brain reductive does not mean that it lacks legitimacy. Among the challenges contemporary life has thrown at us perhaps we need to acknowledge one more. Social progress and the expanded roles women have taken on in recent generations have quite possibly outpaced our neural hard-wiring. To me, this makes a great deal more sense than the idea that we are living in a post-feminist world where sexism no longer exists or that those women who claim to be excluded in the workplace or judged more for their looks or submissiveness than for the quality of their minds are lying or exaggerating.
You love artists and their artwork, but want to somehow make a game out of it? No worries. It’s already been done for you.
The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards is a bit like the old card game War. It has very simple instructions and you can play with any number of people. The cards are much thicker and higher quality than normal playing cards, and have a pleasing matte finish. Each of the 32 cards contains a painting of a famous or less-famous artist, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Cindy Sherman, or Damien Hirst. In addition, there is a brief biography, and numbers corresponding to six categories that are integral to gameplay. The categories are Influence, “Shock of the new” effect, Versatility, Top auction price (USD), Critical reception, and The “beautiful” factor. Other than the auction price, I’m not sure how the values are computed, however.
To play, deal the cards out equally, face down. Figure out who goes first. Players then hold their entire pile of cards face up, so they can only see one card. The first player chooses a category from their top card and reads it and its number out loud. The other players then read the value of the same item on their top cards. The player with the highest value wins all of the top cards and places them on the bottom of their pile. The winning player then gets to go next. If the top value is shared by more than one person, all the cards are placed in the middle and the same player chooses again. Whoever wins that round also wins the cards in the middle. The winner is the person with all the cards in the end.
If you think that it does sound a bit like War, I would agree with you.
In theory, players can learn quite a bit about each artists’ work and stats as they play, but in practice, players will likely just utilize the numbers on the cards to try to win. The game itself doesn’t teach too much about an artist’s works, but the information contained therein is a great starting off point for further study. You may learn that a Picasso painting sold for a vast sum. Research what painting it was. Or that Marcel Duchamp has a “Shock of the new” value of 99. What kind of groundbreaking work did he do?
Playing it with my family of four, we felt it was a bit too unbalanced and hard to gain control, just like War. However, the deck is smaller than a regular card deck, so the game doesn’t go on forever. We played two rounds in about a half hour.
The Art Game retails for $9.95 and is great for people who love the card game War but want it to take much less time and to be exposed to art and artists as they play.
Note: I received a copy of this game for review purposes.
The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, by Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut, is a color-hoarder’s scrapbook, packaged up in a beautiful high-quality hardbound volume. Reading this book supplies you with tidbits of fascinating color knowledge to share with your friends and impress everyone at your next cocktail party or carpool’s curb occupation.
The book is a large format (10 inch by 10 inch) with diverse layouts filled with rich, brightly colored graphics and (mostly) short explanations and examples on the broad range of topics in its subtitle: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.
The first part of the book goes into the science of light waves, vision, and perception by humans and other animals; this is the most traditionally instructive and challenging material. None of it is too difficult for an educated adult or motivated teen; much of it would be fine for over-achieving youngsters to dip into. But those looking for a quick dip into distraction reading may not find the introduction to be their favorite section. For instance, there is a page that begins, “A review of high school physics may be in order…” and the next two-page spread is devoted to a well-delivered discussion and demonstrations of simultaneous contrast:
Because color is interpreted by our brains, a single color has the ability to shift and change depending on the color adjacent to it. A particular red placed beside a blue will appear quite different when it is set next to an orange. This phenomenon is known as simultaneous contrast.
After that, chapters alternate between focusing on colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, and contexts—universe, earth, plants, animals, and humans. This is the greater part of the book and its use of graphics and short articles tempts readers to dip in anywhere and learn something new and fascinating. Some page spreads have three or four brief items; some have one longer topic. I found I could usually open to any page and find something of interest to read, and usually get dragged along reading many more tidbits.
A few of my favorites:
— The grass is greener because when you look down around you, the angle allows you to see details of soil, bugs, detritus, and other mingled items and colors interrupting the green. When you look away to “the other side,” you gaze at an angle and see the uninterrupted green.
— Soft snow is blindingly white because it reflects nearly all the light that bounces off its fluffy crystals. Hard ice, like glaciers, can look blue or violet because of its rigid structure: Red and other low-energy wavelengths are captured and only the high-energy lights at the green-blue-violet end of the spectrum are reflected out to our eyes.
— In Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Judas’s robes are a different color of blue from those of Jesus. One is painted with the expensive pigment lapis lazuli, and the other with azurite, which is much cheaper. Guess whose robes is in which pigment…
Joann Eckstut is a color consultant and is a member of the panel of consultants that prepares the color forecast used by major industries to track color trends. Arielle Eckstut is a co-founder of girls’ brand Little MissMatched and of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to assisting authors with book publication. Both Joann and Arielle have published several books in addition to The Secret Language of Color.
I enjoy that I can pick up The Secret Language of Color and snack from various pages, reading an entry here or a whole page there—a bite of red, a soupçon of yellow, a blue amuse-bouche. If you or your child have a particular interest in the science and history of color, you could make a feast of the whole book, for both your mind and your eyes.
The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, 240 pages, is available as a hardcover from major retailers. Published by Black Dog and Leventhal. Suggested retail price $29.95.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.
Sure, the star-studded panels of San Diego Comic-Con get a lot of press, but my favorite part of SDCC is shopping the Artists’ Alley, Web Comics, and Small Press sections. The endless rows are filled with so much creativity, it is staggering and humbling. Artist after artist were present with their portfolios and prints for sale, most at very reasonable rates, all extremely different in style. You can find everything from superheroes to sexy elves, cute animals to steampunk cityscapes. I bought quite a few prints—fewer than I would have liked, more than I had room for! Because I couldn’t buy it all, I did the next best thing and compiled a list of my favorite artists I found at SDCC 2014 to share with you (in no particular order). Enjoy!
Chris Appelhans makes such wonderful pieces that capture sweet, quiet moments. It’s never too busy or too loud; the focus is on just the right thing. I usually prefer obnoxiously colorful art, but I’m in love with the peaceful stillness of Chris’ paintings.
Kazu Kibuishi is the writer and illustrator of the best-selling YA graphic novel Amulet. We had purchased the first book of the series at last year’s SDCC and returned this year to purchase the next four. The story gets dark and scary at times, but that doesn’t seem to deter our 4-year-old. We’ve read our way through three of them already since the weekend, as a read-aloud at bedtime. The art of Amulet is beautiful, dark, and epic, and Kibuishi’s other illustrations reflect that style as well.
Cari Corene does watercolors inspired by geek pop-culture icons such as Totoro, Pokemon, and My Little Pony. Her Etsy shop not only offers her art as prints, but also as zipper pouches, messenger bags, charms, and scarfs. Beautiful and practical!
Armand Baltazar is a formally-trained artist who has worked at many of the major animation film studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar. As you can see from the example above, his art reflects a geeky twist on a more classical painting style. It’s detailed and exquisite.
Eunjung June Kim
Eunjung June Kim‘s art is so cute, I want it all over my walls! Out of all of her prints, I purchased the one above because I love the colors. Don’t get me wrong; the subject matter is great too, but the color palette is the reason I couldn’t put it down. Such a happy contrast!
Pascal Campion is probably the most prolific artist I’ve met. Some artists had many copies of a few pieces, Pascal had boxes and boxes full of prints and I could hardly find any repeats. In 2006, he began the habit of starting off every day drawing a “Sketch of the Day,” which now totals nearly 3,000 sketches! He is a father of three and many of his pieces are inspired by his family life. He seems to perfectly capture the greatest moments of parenthood.
Chris Ayers was a successful artist working in the film industry when he was diagnosed with leukemia. To help motivate himself through his battle against cancer, he started a sketchbook, drawing one animal per day for one year. The sketchbook resulted into a book, The Daily Zoo. The image of the Content Kitty featured here is one of my favorites. My husband and I purchased it at SDCC last year, framed it, and hung it in our daughter’s room. It still makes me smile every time I see it. I love the bright contrasting colors and, of course, the attitude! Such contentment, indeed.
Here’s another Chris, the third one on this list. I swear I didn’t pick these artists based on name alone! Chris Uminga is a recurring favorite of mine. I bought a piece from him last year and started following him on Instagram, so by the time I got to SDCC this year, I already knew what piece I wanted to buy from him… this Ninja Turtles print, of course!
Jackie Huang does beautiful illustrations, but even more amazing things with paper. Her originals will set you back a bit, but she has fantastic pop-up cards on for sale on Etsy. I’m flabbergasted by the details of her paper constructions. How can anyone do that? Incredible!
How about you, readers? If you have attended SDCC this year—or any other con for that matter—and found great new art and artists, please do tell!
When some people hear the name Georgia O’Keeffe, they think “western artist” or “southwest artist.”
It’s true, O’Keeffe created many of her most famous works during her time in Northern New Mexico. But her legacy is so much greater. In the art world, she’s recognized as the “Mother of American Modernism.”
She moved to New Mexico part-time in 1929, and by 1949, she had made it her permanent home. She was already making a name for herself in the New York art scene with her large-scale floral drawings of “enlarged blossoms.” These images were as if someone was viewing the flower through a magnifying lens.
In New Mexico, she painted flowers, churches, mountains, animal skulls, flowers, skies, and other aspects of the state she made her home.
In 1946, she was the first woman artist to have a one-artist retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan. She lived to be 98 and during the last decade of her life, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor awarded to American citizens) and the National Medal of Arts.
O’Keeffe loved painting the area around her famous Ghost Ranch home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. She knew how to zero in on the often-overlooked details of that world, a landscape or single object, and place it in the forefront of her art. She could make a dried-up pile of bones seem beautiful, a simple flower almost scandalously attractive, and rigid, dead environment look fluid and alive.
She said she wanted to “give that world” to others through her art.
“I want them to see it whether they want to or not,” she said, describing her work in her New York exhibits.
The Project: Super Natural Floral Close-Ups
O’Keeffe was a master at taking everyday objects and focusing on an aspect of it that showcased an entirely new angle.
Although she focused on natural elements, such as flowers or skulls, our project will visit fictional worlds that contain unique natural elements, such as Hogwarts, Wonderland, or Pandora. As imaginative as some of these items already are, try to use O’Keeffe’s up-close way of looking at things to see them in a new light.
First, find a photo of a “natural” object from a fictional movie or book. Or, take a picture of a toy, theme park souvenir, or park replica that might represent this object.
Next, find a small section of this image and “close in on it” by drawing a circle or square around it. If you’re using images from a computer, you can crop and print out the cropped version.
Finally, draw or paint just the isolated area. O’Keeffe used oils, but they can be messy for beginning artists. Try crayons, colored pencils, markers, pastels, or other mediums as well.
Try to look at the isolated area not as a “part” of a drawing or photo, but as the whole image itself.
These do not have to be excellent drawings, just as long as they are only of the area within the focused square. The purpose is to capture just one section of a bigger picture, not to duplicate it perfectly.
Younger artists might want to use easier images, such as animated drawings, rather than photos or intricate drawings.
When finished, show it to friends and family, and see if they can guess what it is. Sometimes, the answers may be as imaginative as the drawing itself. Other times, it will seem like they are looking at a whole new world.
Once O’Keeffe discovered the wonders of the close-up, art lovers never looked at a flower the same way since.
She explained this in her book, One Hundred Flowers: “If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.”
From the outside, Disney’s Television Animation studio doesn’t look like much. There’s no giant wizard’s hat out front like the Feature Animation building or seven stone dwarves holding up the roof like the Team Disney building on the Burbank lot. Driving through the gate and into the parking lot of the nondescript brick building in an industrial part of Glendale, you’d never know that it’s currently the home of some of the company’s most creative and prolific talents. At least, not until you step inside.
The small lobby is filled with computer screens showing clips and promos from many of the shows in production: Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sofia the First, Gravity Falls, and the phenomenally popular Phineas and Ferb. Up one flight, down the hall and just past the cereal bar there’s a unique space that serves as an in-house art gallery, where staff members are invited to show original pieces they’ve created in their spare time. The art is periodically rotated and usually centered around a theme. GeekMom was invited to the opening reception for the latest exhibition, titled “Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show,” where some of the biggest names in the world of television animation mingled and appreciated the work of their colleagues.
Kimberly Mooney, manager of development at Disney Television Animation, explained that the rotating gallery was always imagined as a part of the studio’s office space from the very beginning. “It goes all the way back to when this building was being renovated and built for us to be an animation studio,” she said. “We wanted a dedicated space where we could showcase the artists’ art, their personal artwork. It helps to establish that real sense of community we have here.”
Alex Rosenberg, an assistant at the studio, added that everyone is welcome to submit work to the shows, even if they’re not professional artists. “Eric Coleman, our SVP, actually put in a piece this time,” she said. “And we have work from people who are in tech and a coordinator on our current series side who did one. We have writers who submitted pieces. It’s a really nice way to showcase the talent that’s here at TVA and celebrate artists who are outside of what we normally define as artists.”
Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire contributed “Girl vs. Machine,” a drawing of his two daughters taking on a massive wave of technology with a pair of slingshots. “The theme was ‘Man vs. Machine’ and I was thinking about it for a while and I was like, ‘Screw it, I should just do “Girl vs. Machine” and then I can put my daughters in it and then I’ll have a place to put it when I’m done with it,” Povenmire said. “And they love it. They’re like, ‘That’s us!’ And they like looking at all the little things in there and trying to figure out what they are. Like, ‘Oh, there’s our Zoomer dog. That’s our boom box!’ I put a lot of other stuff in there too. I was basically just doodling for a day.”
He enjoys the opportunity for self-expression the gallery offers and the chance to see what the other Disney artists are all about. “We’re all in the same building but everybody who is working on a show is really working on one piece of art that they’re all doing together,” he said. “It’s a big, collaborative piece of art. And nobody gets to see what these people actually think of themselves if you just say, ‘Hey, go off in a direction.’ I love seeing the kind of stuff that people do at home. It sort of gives you a different feel for them. And it’s gotten so I can tell different people’s art, though it’s nothing like what people do here.”
I also got to chat with Craig McCracken during the event. He’s currently the creator and executive producer of Disney Channel’s Wander Over Yonder, but you might also be familiar with his earlier creations The PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. His piece, “Taishi,” features a graphic, 70s-inspired profile of a humanoid robot with flowing yellow and orange locks.
I asked McCracken which piece in the show was his favorite. “I’m leaning toward Alex Kirwan’s,” he said. “He’s my art director on Wander and he built a model of a very obscure robot from a Donald Duck cartoon. It’s like so inside baseball because he’s in this one specific Donald Duck cartoon. And he’s like, ‘I’m going to make a sculpture of that.’ I’m like, ‘I think only you and like 10 people in this building are going to know who that character is and appreciate it.’ But if anyone would, it’s the people here.”
Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski, showed up on my doorstep earlier this week. This incredibly heavy-for-its-size box was addressed to my husband. I didn’t recognize the return address let alone know how to pronounce the name attached to it. Then I remembered Tim had mentioned something about a Kickstarter reward coming sometime this week…
The book in the box was even gift wrapped. I found myself torn between leaving the pretty wrapping for my husband and just ripping it off to see what was so dang heavy! The wrapping paper lost, and I found myself looking at this incredibly simple, yet beautiful, hard-bound book cover.
To say that Ava’s Demon is beautiful is an understatement. The book measures almost two inches thick. Most of what those many pages contain is an illustrated story which is occasionally moved forward by character dialogue. It is a quick read if you don’t stop to look at the images…but why would you rush through such amazing art?
The art is so stylistically appealing and the color is so warm that all of the artistic aspects lend to telling the story as much as the dialogue itself.
This looks like it could be a picture book/graphic novel kids would enjoy—but looks can be deceiving. Be warned that there are f-bombs and quite a bit of conversation about suicide. Also, the story is called Ava’s Demon for a reason: Ava has a demon who is haunting her. The behavior of that demon is less like a house ghost from Harry Potter and more like a trapped soul from Constantine. My advice would be to read it before handing it over to school-aged children.
If you received the Kickstarter book, you might have seen pages that looked like pictures of playable videos. The videos themselves can also be found on the Ava’s Demon website (normally at the end of a chapter as part of the archive). The addition and quality of the videos to the web-comic series is unsurprising since Michelle Czajkowski interned at Pixar and worked at Dreamworks.
I wasn’t aware of Ava’s Demon until it showed up on my doorstep. It captured my attention so quickly and fully that I knew I had to share it with you. If you are interested in checking it out, Ava’s Demon is a web comic which is updated on Mondays and Thursdays (the hardcover Kickstarter reward book contains the first six chapters). If you fall in love with the art as much as I did, you can also buy the artwork in print or wearable forms.
Memorization is one of the fundamentals of education. Whether you’re learning your letters or complex chemical formulae, the ability to store and recollect information is vital to every step through life. BrainBox is a game with editions aimed at every age group and interest combining memory skills with other subjects in a fun game.
The game itself is very simple. You look at a picture printed onto a 8.5cm square card for ten seconds then roll a dice. Another player then asks you the corresponding question which will be related to the picture you just saw; answer correctly and you keep the card, answer wrong and it goes back in the box. The rules state that whoever has the most cards after ten minutes is the winner but that figure could easily be adjusted to compensate for different ages and attention levels.
Boxes start for aged three and up with subjects including ABC and My First Maths, and become progressively harder. Those aimed at older children include ranges from Horrible Histories and a new Roald Dahl edition alongside others focusing on inventions, the world, dinosaurs, art, and fairies. There’s even a Senior Moments box (recommended age 55+) featuring “scenes that most of us past a certain age will recognize, from pirate radio to the first Moon landing to memorable hairstyles!” Alongside this range is a smaller selection of BrainBox “On The Go” travel editions. These are quite Euro-centric and include Paris, Prague, and Devon.
My four-year-old son and I played with the ABC box. He immediately took to the game, understood the rules and wanted to play often. The questions were at just the right level for him allowing him to get most answers correct but not breeze through without even trying.He was also able to recognize most objects on the card, although he needed my help with a few more abstract items such as a “twist” or a question mark.
For a boy just learning his letters and starting to ask how words are spelled, this box was the perfect fit for our family, if a little easy for the many adults he dragged in to playing with him.
We really enjoyed playing BrainBox ABC as a family and I can certainly see myself buying more boxes once my son starts school and begins studying subjects in depth for a bit of extra stealth learning at home.
I’m quite keen on the Reminisce 1990 – 2010 edition for myself, too, so I can see how well I remember my childhood and teenage years!
I have many happy memories of watching artist Tony Hart on television as a child. His programs Take Hart and Hartbeat were both required viewing for me, and I still remember the thrill of sending off one of my artworks, hopeful that it would be displayed in the “Gallery” section of the show. I was always trying out new techniques and media, inspired by the variety of artworks which he produced. This gave me a love of art, which has persisted my entire life, so I have him to thank for the fact that I always have at least one creative project on the go!
Mister Maker is the modern equivalent of Tony Hart. The Mister Maker program always includes a variety of different projects, including the fast-paced “Minute Makes” and the artistic “Frame It” section, presented by the entertaining (and rather wacky) Mister Maker. It works really well as a television program, but would it translate into an app? My daughter, already a big Mister Maker fan, test drove the Mister Maker: Let’s Make It! app and showed me how it worked.
The app includes all of the best bits from the TV show. Mister Maker himself pops up every now and then to lend a hand, explain instructions, or just offer encouragement. The most exciting and interesting section of the app is the Doodle Drawers. Just like in the show, this area is packed with all manner of artistic media, from paint to glitter via pasta, gloopy glue, and stickers. It’s really easy to use the different tools to create all types of pictures. These pictures are automatically put into the Picture Album, which means that they can be saved for later improvements, printed out, or emailed. You can also create a frame for the picture in the Frame It area, which uses the same tools as the Doodle Drawers to decorate a cardboard-style frame. The Doodle Drawer contents are used again in the Minute Makes section, where the clock is ticking as you try to decorate a picture. The last section includes the quartet of shapes and involves spotting the overlapping outline of your chosen shape.
The app is incredibly easy for children to use, aided by Mister Maker’s vocal instructions. My four-year-old was able to use the app completely independently, and enjoyed the fact that she could use lots of different stickers, glitter, and glue without making a mess in the Doodle Drawers area. In fact, the gloopy glue was my favorite tool, as you can sprinkle all sorts of interesting things onto it before it dries, including sequins and beads. My daughter also liked being able to take photographs and use those in her artworks too, as well as decorate the frames. She found the shapes game fairly simple, though. The difficulty does ramp up a little as you have to spot more shapes, but she was able to do this quite easily, so it didn’t keep her interest for very long. Unfortunately, this is one of the ways to unlock the items in the Doodle Drawers, along with completing the Minute Makes. This means that quite a few of the options in the Doodle Drawers remain locked, as my daughter prefers open-ended play rather than the game or challenges. It would be lovely if these locked items could be unlocked in the settings perhaps, for younger children or those not interested in playing the games.
The app is really good fun though, and has really captured the feel of a Mister Maker episode. Although it’s still important for children to use real art materials, this is a great substitute for when I really can’t cope with more glitter, stickers, felt pen, or paint decorating the furniture and my daughter as much as the paper in front of her.
The app doesn’t include any adverts or in-app purchases and doesn’t collect user information either, meaning that I’m happy to let my daughter use it independently. This app is a firm favorite with both my daughter and myself and has given us hours of fun, so it’s well worth the $4.99/£2.99 price tag. Mister Maker: Let’s Make It! by P2 Games is available now in the Apple iTunes app store.
ExtraGeektacular Activities are geeky field trips that encourage your child’s creativity and are a fun time for the whole family!
Pop-up shops are all the rage, retail stores are putting up mobile kiosks, and chefs are opening limited-time restaurants. Now, geek culture is getting in on the action. Pop-ups create quick interest, but their effects can give a brand longevity. Not that some brands need help remaining current, because this year, Power Rangers celebrates its 20th anniversary! To honor the occasion, Toy Art Gallery in Los Angeles held a two-day pop-up event, Saban’s Power Rangers Celebrates 20 Rangers for 20 Years, with proceeds benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles.
The event showcased artists from around the world, with each taking a base 31-inch giant Red Ranger figure and creating their own twist. My kids got a kick out of seeing how each artist applied different textures and colors to make the Ranger their own.
The kids’ favorite work was the “Steam Powered Ranger” by Josh Mayhem. Making a collage of materials and then painting it to create one complete figure is a great lesson for kids, something which can be done in similar art projects of their own. Looking closely, they noticed that the figure was made up with pieces of one of their favorite toys, Lego Hero Factory!
As a Star Wars fan, I was obviously drawn to Kano’s “Mighty Morphin Power Vader.” At first look, it seems as simple as a Darth Vader head on a Red Ranger, but at closer look, there’s a lot more detail: the Ranger torso, Vader’s force-choke hand, and custom shoes. The gold collar is actually the Ranger’s mask! Little subtleties like that are what gives each figure character.
Power Rangers‘ popularity has remained constant. There were a lot of families at the gallery, with parents reminiscing as they viewed the artwork along with their kids. The kids pointed excitedly at their favorite toys in the displays of Power Rangers toys throughout the years. It was fun to see how materials and design has changed over 20 years.
Even though the Power Rangers pop-up was only for a weekend, the Toy Art Gallery is always a great place to check out new artists and pick up items like Munnys or DIY Labbits, which give you the freedom to be creative. The event really got the kids motivated to think of different ways to create art that is uniquely their own. Of course, my choice of artistic expression is always through sweets. I’m imagining a 31-inch tall Red Ranger cookie right now…
Toy Art Gallery
7571 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(877) 910-TOYS (8697) www.toyartgallery.com
Wednesday through Saturday 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. (PT)
Sunday 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.
At this year’s Geek Girl Con I was on a panel called “Home, Geek Home” where we discussed ways to incorporate geekiness into your home. We talked a lot about decor and how easy it is to take every day decorating ideas and add a geeky touch. I like to use pinterest to collect ideas and then apply them to my geeky collectibles. To display all of the geeky artwork I collect, I created a small art gallery in my bathroom. It’s curated to my tastes and is a nice surprise when guests come over.
One wall in my mini-gallery is devoted to nothing but Wolverine art, which is pretty specific, and not always something you might want all over your house. By displaying the art in a hanging gallery format, it makes the pieces that much more special. You can definitely spend the money to get your artwork custom framed but it’s a cinch to do yourself. Here’s how to collect and frame your geeky art collection.
If you collect something specific, like I do, a commissioned piece is great way to go. Artists at comic cons are usually open to commissions during the con, and you can request specific poses or details. I knew someone who asked every artist to draw pictures of Batman with a sandwich. If you can’t travel to a con, check out the artist’s website. If you don’t see a shop of prints you can also email them and ask about commissions.
While at Geek Girl Con I commissioned this fantastic Wolverine from Thom Zahler. His turn around was quick and he was willing to do pieces in a variety of price ranges. When you get the commission, most likely it will be just the art, so it’s your job to make it hangable.
Do your research and buy from an artist whose work you respect and who you can trust. Make sure you understand their pricing, payment, as well as terms of their time table. Some artists are fast and have a quick turn around time, while others are known to take your money and never deliver. Sadly, that’s pretty common.
Choosing the right size of frame is crucial to hanging artwork. You want the piece to shine and a small frame that crowds the image won’t do the art any justice. Give it some breathing room and go a little bit bigger than the size of the piece. This happened to be drawn on a 9″ x 12″ Bristol. While that’s standard sketch size it’s not standard for frames, which means the paper would have to be cut or the image will just float in a large frame.
Here’s how you fix that offsize problem, my suggestion is to always go with a matte. You’d be surprised at how much a matte can help your print; it grounds the image and makes it look even more elegant. Think of the mood you are trying to set with mattes. White or cream provides a nice background, while black mattes are a great alternative for making stark images pop.
Frame stores now sell “digital print mattes” which have larger openings. These work great for sketches on odd-sized Bristol and they cost the same as regular pre-cut mattes.
Hanging frames in a straight line is fine, but when you have a hodge-podge of artwork from a bunch of different artists, it’s nice to create an art wall. I like to place the frames in a seemingly random order, in reality, it takes me a really long time to figure out how to “randomly” place the frames. I like to lay it out first, trying to keep the flow of the colors and feel of each print in mind as I place them next to each other.
Collecting artwork and creating a gallery of a character you love is a great way to grow your fandom. Over time, you can curate a beautiful collection too, and in the process you’ll be supporting amazing indie-artists!
Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!
When the news broke this year at New York Comic Con that Stephanie Brown was returning to Batgirl, interest was kicked into overdrive into an already devoted fan base. The character has gone through so much with Gail Simone‘s recent Barbara Gordon Batgirl run having the heroine go through trauma therapy with a doctor named after a fan and consulant for the book, Dr. Andrea Letamendi, who is an actual real-life psychologist that helps kids get through trauma. Even superheroes need to work on their mental health.
Batgirl is a strong female character and it’s easy to see why geek girls of all ages love her. Here are some great ways for younger fans to discover more about one of Gotham’s finest female crime fighters!
1. Batgirl and baby Robin cosplay
The most fun you can have as a GeekMom is dressing up your kids in their favorite heroes’ costumes. There are a lot of options out there now in the girl superhero department or if you’re a DIYer you can always craft your own! Nanette of Say It Don’t Spray It‘s daughter wanted to be Batgirl for Halloween and did a great job striking a pose too—nice character development! What else would a mom of two girls do but get the younger sister into the act as an adorable baby Robin sidekick.
2. Batgirl and Supergirl Cookie Exchange Art by Mike Maihack
Mike Maihack is one of my favorite artists, not only because his work is beautiful but his stories are also sweet and heartwarming. I have several (way too many) of his pieces and often buy them as gifts for friends. His Batgirl and Supergirl strips are begging to be made into a series. I’m particularly fond last year’s Batgirl and Supergirl Christmas comic because as we all know, cookies solve everything.
3. Batgirl Cake
Doll cakes have been around for decades and have been turned into every girls dream from a standard pink doll cake, to Tinkerbell, and all the Disney Princesses. The superhero doll cake faction is definitely lacking out there, but never fear, Batgirl doll cake to the rescue! An innovative take on a classic, this Batgirl truly has the best superhero costume ever…because it’s made of cake!
4. Batgirl – Fisher Price Little People Wheelies
For the smallest Batgirl fan, Fisher Price’s line of cute superhero Little People are a great way to start off fandom at a young age. Batgirl comes in a two pack with another great female heroine, Wonder Woman, or solo in her own tiny Batmobile.
5. Batgirl – Super Best Friends Forever
As a rabid fan of anything adorable and geek girl superhero-related, I was jumping out of my seat when DC Comics started showing Super Best Friends Forever as part of their DC Nation shorts for Cartoon Network. Lauren Faust (My Little Pony, Power Puff Girls, and more) came up with ridiculously fun stories of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl and their crazy, feisty, kid-friendly adventures. At just a minute and a half apiece you’ll be wishing for hours more; alas, the series was never meant to be. At least you can still buy SBFF merchandise.
Last week I had an unexpected night free and ran over to Tiger Trap Studios, a local art place. The owner, Ira Marcks, has monthly adult collage nights (BYOB). I’m not an artist. I write songs, stories, posts on GeekMom. But I can cut and paste with the best of them, and an evening of only adults sounded like heaven. I made myself a to-go cup of cocoa with rum and headed out.
Oh, it was fun. I found a pile of old comics that I was appalled and fascinated with. I ended up cutting out several characters and swapping speech bubbles to create odd and silly collages. Up top is just one example. I’m not sure I should show the rest in public. Heh.
Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to start chopping up old comics lying around, who knows what is worth a million dollars. But I’m sure every comic store has a pile of no longer wanted issues lying around for cheap (or free). That’s the pile to have fun with. Have your own adult-only collage night with comics. Don’t forget the rum!
I love Halloween. It’s such a festive time of year when everyone can dress up and be a kid again! Childhood memories abound of favorite costumes and movies, all of the geeky variety! Here are some crafts and treats that are twists on Geeky Halloween favorites.
If there’s one influential geeky Halloween movie that everyone can agree on it’s Hocus Pocus! Danna Maret did a wonderful job in bringing the magic to life in this Hocus Pocus cake. Check out the fabulous details; it makes you just want to yell “Boooooook!”
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a favorite movie of mine. Every year I wander through the pumpkin patch and think…is this the year?? Emily McCall dressed up her little Charlie Brown for the holidays and surrounded him with real great pumpkins. No one would dare pull a football away from this adorable kid!
Who can forget the little alien that warmed our hearts and filled our bellies with those delectable peanut butter candies? NoshWithMe took our sugary childhood memories and turned them into cookie form with Oatmeal Reese’s Pieces Cookies. I’m sure E.T. would want some of these for the road home!
I know I keep saying this is my favorite movie—no this really is my favorite movie— but I love Halloween so much they are all my favorites! Mad Monster Party was a movie I watched over and over. The stop motion animation is mesmerizing and the character voices from the likes of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller really bring everything to life.
Ok, Buffy isn’t just for Halloween time; it’s definitely a geeky year round show for most of us. But wooden stakes, blood, vampires, and demons just seem fitting for October 31st. This Buffy the Vampire Slayer party had it all, from Giant Pocky “Mr. Pointys” to “Back From the Grave” cupcakes with zombie hands reaching out of cookie dirt. Spooky and delicious!