Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

Image: First Second

Ben Hatke, of Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, has a new book! Yay! It’s called Little Robot, and I highly recommend it. Ben was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his new work:

GeekMom: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom about your new book, Little Robot. I really enjoyed it.

Ben Hatke: You are welcome! And I’m glad you enjoyed it.

GM: Did you always plan for this to be a (mostly) visual story? What were the challenges and most fun aspects?

Ben: The original Little Robot webcomics were newspaper comic strip format and they were also largely silent, save for a few robot noises. So, coming into the project, I already had a sort of history just using the robot’s gestures and “acting” to tell a story. I continued that going into the graphic novel and gave the robot a little co-star that operated in a similar way—gesture over dialogue.

It was challenging to decide just how little text I could get away with, but for the most part I find purely visual storytelling a lot of fun. I used one of my daughters as a reference for a couple poses.

GM: The “hand” becoming a friend was a great part in the book. How did you come up with that idea?

Ben: I think that’s one of the things that came from the part of the process where I doodle in my sketchbook. In the early parts of a project like this I tend to be working on the plot in text and the design in a sketchbook at the same time, and each of those elements informs the other.

Of course I’m definitely not the first person to use a “helping hand” type of character. I was watching a clip from The Iron Giant recently, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and was a little dismayed to find that there’s a very similar robot hand scene in that movie! Continue reading Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

Actor Jon Heder Gets Funny & Sort of Strange in Our Q&A

PICKLE AND PEANUT - "Greg" - Pickle lends his new pimple friend Greg to frenemy Lazer in hopes of landing an invitation to his cool party. When they realize Lazer has no intention of returning Greg, Pickle and Peanut must save him. The series premiere of "Pickle and Peanut" will air Monday, September 7 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD.(Disney XD) PEANUT, PICKLE
Pickle and Peanut premieres September 7 on Disney XD. Photo: Disney XD.

Names like “Pickle” and “Peanut” are ones that you’d give your cats. However, if you’re execs at Disney XD, you’d give names like that an entire TV show.

That said, the upcoming animated series Pickle and Peanut isn’t about two fluffy creatures. It’s about a pickle and a peanut—and as you’d imagine, it’s pretty weird. It’s not just weird because the main characters are living, breathing, and sometimes screaming pieces of food. It’s because it revolves around two pieces of food entering their last year of high school, and experiencing all sorts of wacky adventures. (You can sample some of those in the video featurette below.)

Adding to the weirdness is actor Jon Heder, who voices Pickle, the emotional half of this comedy team. (22 Jump Street‘s Johnny Pemberton is Peanut.) You probably know him best as Napoleon Dynamite, the 2004 indie film phenomenon, with all sorts of sweet jumps and even sweeter dance moves. I know him as one of the weirdest, most entertaining people I’ve ever had the opportunity to interview.

Here’s what happened when I asked Jon a few questions about his role in Disney XD’s Pickle and Peanut.

PICKLE & PEANUT - (Disney XD/Todd Wawrychuk) JON HEDER
Jon Heder. Photo: Disney XD/Todd Wawrychuk.

GeekMom: Exactly what kind of personality does Pickle have? (Do pickles have a personality?)

Jon Heder: No, pickles do not have a personality. They are inanimate objects and are only for human consumption. But they taste like silliness and mild annoyance mixed together.

GM: What do your kids think about their dad voicing a pickle?

JH: One thinks it’s funny and the other rolls her eyes. Yeah, she started rolling those eyes a year ago, and life has been lovely ever since.

GM: This show has some serious weirdness to it. What age group do you think it’s designed for—and why? 

JH: Well, it’s on Disney XD, which caters to the 6-11 year-old boy audience, but I think Disney wants this show to step outside the normal demographic and appeal to young girls too and especially dads who like a little irreverence in their cartoons, such as Ren and Stimpy.

GM: What are some of your favorite cartoon characters—and did you draw on any of them for inspiration? If so, how?

JH: Pickle is the Stimpy in this show. He is the Flapjack. Fat Albert might also be drawing some obvious comparisons, but they both have similar emotional personalities. I love Scruffy from Futurama. Uncle Iroh from Avatar: Last Airbender is also one of my favorites. They both have deep emotional cores that carry the morals in each of their shows.

GM: Do you have a favorite type of pickle (half sour, etc.)?

JH: Are there many different kinds of pickles? I know there’s dill and sweet. That’s about all I know of. I mean, dill is delicious, especially chilled in a mountain stream overnight and enjoyed on a hike the next day.

GM: I have to ask: Did you keep anything from the Napoleon Dynamite set?

JH: I kept a wolf and unicorn poster, some boondoggles, a stinky foot fungus given to me by the moonboots, and the “Vote for Pedro” shirt.

Pickle and Peanut debuts Monday, September 7, on Disney XD.

A New Comic That Is Out of This World!

Image: Alex Kane, used with permission
Image: Alex Kane and Gale Galligan, used with permission

Kickstarter campaigns can attract a lot of attention, and often it can be hard to tell which ones are truly something special. But when one is featured on the Onion’s AV Club, and is publicly backed and tweeted about by Neil Gaiman, and becomes a Kickstarter staff pick, it becomes pretty clear that something spectacular is going on. I took a few minutes to catch up with the writer of Asphodel: A Mythic Space Opera, Alex Kane!

GeekMom Mel: Welcome, Alex! Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Alex Kane: Thank you for having me! I guess I’m mostly a short-story writer whose work falls under the broader category of science fiction, with a bit of fantasy and horror thrown in when the mood strikes. I’m also the managing editor of The Critical Press, where I copyedit and typeset books of film criticism and cultural commentary, as well as a submissions editor for Uncanny Magazine and an executive producer on the Star Wars documentary The Prequels Strike Back.

GMM: How did you get into writing? What has your path looked like so far?

AK: In college, I discovered there was a whole world of science fiction beyond movies, games, and media tie-ins—Star Wars novels were an early gateway drug for me—and also started collecting comics, like the Dark Horse Knights of the Old Republic series by John Jackson Miller. A few years later, working full-time as a retail banker, comics would become my salvation. But it was the discovery of voices like Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Tobias Buckell, and books like King’s On Writing, that led me to try my hand at getting some short fiction published.

I’d written a really awful novel at thirteen, and had generally thought of myself as a writer for years, churning out attempts at a sequel and a number of embarrassing short stories, but by the time I was nineteen it had grown into an obsession. I made my first professional sale to Digital Science Fiction in 2011, while I was still in college, and soon thereafter earned a finalist status in the Writers of the Future contest, attended the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, and made a handful of additional pro fiction sales, all the while putting pressure on myself to get better.

GMM: You have a new comic, Asphodel, up for funding on Kickstarter. What made you decide to make Asphodel a comic rather than a regular story?

AK: After Clarion West, the world started to look a lot different. I saw that a career in publishing meant making sacrifices, leaping at the first sign of an opportunity, and having the courage to really give it your absolute best shot—something that just isn’t possible when you’re working a job you hate, getting bullied by micromanaging coworkers over the phone, and having to smile through the abuse of yet another rightfully angry customer whom you can’t possibly satisfy.

That year of soul-scarring limbo saw the loss of both my paternal grandparents, a few months apart from one another, and almost zero fiction writing, despite all I’d learned at Clarion West the prior summer. But for one miserable year, I glimpsed the power of the comics medium with maximum clarity: Every day at work, even when management informed us that we were understaffed and not allowed to leave the building during lunch breaks, comic books allowed me ten to twenty minutes of blissful, absolute escape—physically, I was stuck in the break room, phones ringing all around me, but mentally? I was in the world of Eric Powell’s The Goon, or Gotham City, or some galaxy far, far away, immune to the horrors of the inevitable adulthood that lay ahead of me.

The day I put in my two weeks’ notice, I felt like Andy Dufresne crawling out the other side and getting baptized in the rain of renewed possibility. Comics had saved my life, far as I could tell, and I figured I owed it to myself, creatively, to try my hand at writing in the medium myself.

Image: Alex Kane, used with permission
Image: Alex Kane and Gale Galligan, used with permission

GMM: Did you know New Horizons would be reaching Pluto right during your Kickstarter? How does it feel to have a new vision of a place that you have written about?

AK: I had no idea. The story that became issue one of Asphodel began life at Clarion West in summer 2013, as a sketch I turned in for critique by Samuel R. Delany and my seventeen brilliant classmates, and I spent a year revising it in prose form, trying to get it to work—but ultimately it’s a story too big for just a short story. A novel series, or creator-owned comic, is really the best way to do justice to all the big ideas and worldbuilding.

Since it’s sort of the “crowd favorite” among the manuscripts I wrote at the workshop, I’ve made up my mind that it’s a story that deserves to be finished and done proper justice. The New Horizons images, and the incredible timing of that mission with our Kickstarter campaign, feels like only one more reason to get excited about this story I’ve spent more than a year turning into a comic book. It’ll be really useful for researching later issues, if and when the time comes.

GMM: Can you give us a quick overview of Asphodel?

AK: Asphodel is an underworld myth for space opera fans. Whenever you see a “god” of some sort in the realm of science fiction, it’s often in the form of a technologically advanced alien race, or an A.I., and I wanted to play with the concepts in Michio Kaku’s books, giving humanity a shot at godhood for once. But the characters are the real focus, and I think that really comes across well in Gale’s art style, which more closely resembles the work of cartoonists like Bryan O’Malley and Genndy Tartakovsky than mainstream comics artists. The result feels quiet and intimate, despite the galactic scope of the worldbuilding and the postwar aftermath that Vic and Sedna are caught up in.

GMM: What was it like to work with an artist? How well did she capture your vision?

AK: Gale Galligan contacted me after I posted a call for artists on a Facebook group for comics creators, and it was clear right away that she stood out for both the distinctive, professional artwork in her portfolio and her enthusiasm for the project. She really understands the kind of story I’ve wanted to tell for two years, and she’s a fantastic collaborator. It’s been amazing.

GMM: Neil Freaking Gaiman backed your Kickstarter, and then tweeted about it. That must have felt awesome.

AK: Neil’s so cool! He was my teacher during the second week of Clarion West two years ago, and he’s been an incredible source of inspiration and support. He was, by the way, not the easiest teacher to please—he really tore apart my writing piece by piece, and stitching it back together has proved to be one of the most crucial stages of my development as an artist. He really, really knows his stuff, and while I wouldn’t recommend being Neil Gaiman’s “teaching moment” to anyone looking to have their ego massaged, I will say that my writing’s benefited enormously from it. Having Neil on board with the Kickstarter and helping get the word out has really given me a nice boost in visibility, and I just love the guy. No one understands stories like he does.

Image: Twitter (public Twitter quote from @neilhimself)
Image: Twitter (public Twitter quote from @neilhimself)

GMM: What are some of your other interests? Tell us about your geek cred ;).

AK: I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, in case there was any doubt, and I play a lot of videogames. I’ve literally logged about a thousand hours in Bungie’s shared-world FPS, Destiny, and I tend to watch just about every Marvel, DC, and sci-fi movie that comes to theaters. I’m that guy who’s destroying pop culture—though I also voice my criticisms about science fiction and film pretty frequently, which I think makes up for it a little. At the end of the day, I always feel like there are too many comics in my stack, too many books on my shelf, too many movies I haven’t see and games I haven’t played yet. There’s no right or wrong way to be a geek—said the guy who’s never seen an episode of Doctor Who or Firefly—but there’s really a lot of great art being made, despite what jaded cynics on the Internet would have us all believe. Feel free to dismiss all my opinions on this if you must, though: I am one of the guys behind The Prequels Strike Back.

GMM: What were some of your inspirations growing up? Do you see ways these are reflected in your work now?

AK: The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Knights of the Old Republic. Halo 2! Really, I think most of my work reflects my love for all these flawed but richly drawn universes. I grew up watching space opera and playing videogames with spaceships and robots in them, so my most fruitful creative periods are usually spent developing worlds that feel a little like George Lucas’s, though mine tend to be a lot darker—more Blade Runner-meets-Alien in tone and feel. I’ll never forget the first time I read 2001: A Space Odyssey, or playing Halo 2 on day one.

Every time I move away from the genre, it’s not long before a book like Leviathan Wakes or Dark Orbit, or a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, comes along to remind me how much life’s really left in it. Space opera has begun to grow up a little, thanks to some of the great SF writers of today. John Scalzi in particular has done a great service in making it more accessible.

GMM: So what’s up next for you? Any big plans in the works?

AK: I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable with short fiction, and I think I’m at risk of repeating myself if I don’t take a bit of a break from it, so the next thing is either a novel or continuing the story of Asphodel with a limited series. Certainly the world of Asphodel is my focus for the foreseeable future. I have a horror novel I’m also working on, but you can never tell what’s going to happen with a particular project. If sales don’t lead to further issues of the comic book, the most likely course of action will be to write a novel set in that universe. I’ve pitched a nonfiction book on my favorite videogame, as well, and I’m still waiting to hear back from the publisher. It’s been a busy year, but I hope next year will be a whole lot busier.

GMM: Anything else you’d like to add?

AK: I’d love for anyone reading this to take a look at the Kickstarter and leave comments with any questions or feedback they might have about the comic. Asphodel represents two years’ worth of work, and it’s a real passion project for me. It has been so heartwarming and inspiring to see the reception the Kickstarter has gotten, but it’d be great if more people could share the project, and this interview, and help to get the word out—we’ve still got a long ways to go to reach our minimum funding goal, and the comic simply won’t happen if we don’t hit it.

GMM: Thanks so much for spending time with us, Alex, and best of luck with your Kickstarter!

Alex Kane is the managing editor of The Critical Press, a publisher of books on film and culture, as well as an executive producer of the Star Wars documentary The Prequels Strike Back. He also serves as a first reader for Uncanny Magazine and works full-time as a freelance copyeditor. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his fiction has appeared in more than a dozen venues, including the Exigencies anthology from Curbside Splendor’s Dark House imprint, edited by Richard Thomas, and he is the writer of the creator-owned comic Asphodel. His reviews and criticism have been published in Foundation, The New York Review of Science Fiction, SF Signal, and Omni, among other places. He lives in west-central Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.

What’s the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium?

Image: Gen Con Writer’s Symposium

For the past few years I’ve been taking part as a panelist at the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium. I find it to be a great deal of fun, and I always learn a lot from the other writers who are there. But it seems to be one of the best kept secrets in the science fiction and fantasy writing community. I thought I would ask fifteen year Gen Con veteran and past Writer’s Symposium Guest of Honor Anton Strout what he thinks of the Writer’s Symposium, and what he thought other folks could glean from the experience.

GeekMom Mel: So, slacker, I hear you are returning to the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium this year, after a 2-year absence.

Anton Strout: Yes, after my stint as Author Guest of Honor, someone thought it would be fun to have twins, which threw off my con attending as well as my book deadlines for a year or so. Funny how two needy little globs of globby cuteness can do that to you. I think I’m ahead of curve, however, because, I am back, baby!

GMM: How did you first hear about the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con? What made you decide to give it a shot?

AS: As a kid I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and in the back of Dragon Magazine there were always ads for Gen Con, a faraway nerd Mecca in the mystical land of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I dreamed of going, but hey, I was twelve and that wasn’t going to be happening. Cut to the mid 90s and internet times. I was in my mid-twenties and not playing D&D as much as I’d like anymore, but a friend of mine and I looked up Gen Con to see it was still going strong, so off to Mecca we went! I came for the gaming, but caught a few writing seminars going on, and after my first year there, I sold a short story to the Symposium’s then director Jean Rabe. The next year I was published and I wanted to give back as good as I got and spent the next decade or so paying it forward.

Photo: Anton Strout
Photo: Anton Strout

GMM: You are an established author with several books under your belt. A lot of people look at writers’ workshops and think they are just for newbies. What can a published author get out of an event like this?

AS: I don’t care what level you are in the writing game at: professional to wannabe, there’s always something to learn and the workshops at Gen Con are no exception. As a writer you’re always adding things to your toolbox when it comes to getting your book down, and I’ve learned from pros and newbies alike… both what to do and what not to do. Becoming a better writer is an ongoing process with no end in sight. I’ll go sit in on panels sometimes just to validate my own process or just to recharge my own writerly batteries. It’s always good to touch base with your own kind.

GMM: After going to this event for a couple years, I have witnessed (and taken part in, but let’s not go there) some crazy stuff happening behind the scenes and after hours. What is your favorite Gen Con story (you can give aliases to protect the…well, not-so-innocent)?

AS: One of my favorite evening events that happens is an all participatory roundtable reading of perhaps the most singularly awful piece of fantasy ever, The Eye of Argon. It will burn your eyes, nay, it will burn your soul. The contest of it is to get through reading a page outloud without cracking up, and the “winner” is chosen from the pool of people who do not crack. Not laughing is harder than you think. I am proud to say I won a signed by all participants print copy of Argon after delivering my reading as Christopher Walken. Video tape exists of it, but I haven’t come across it yet. Which is probably for the best…

GMM: I keep hearing people say, “Oh, Gen Con has a writers’ track?” I think you and I would agree that the Symposium is pretty fantastic—in fact, it is the first con I schedule for the year, and I plan everything else around it. What makes this event so great, in your opinion?

AS: Gen Con is a perfect blend of gamers, game designers, fantasy lovers, and writers. There is a passion in that crowd that has a lot of crossover, and the convention is still small enough that you get a fair amount of time to talk with working authors, socialize, or get your work read and critiqued. Jean Rabe really created a robust writer’s track, and when she passed the torch to Marc Tassin a few years ago, he built on her already solid foundation. There’s truly something for anyone who wants to write, be it for games or novels. Plus I’m there which is REALLY the draw of the show.

Image: Ace Books
Image: Ace Books

GMM: How have you directly benefited from the Writer’s Symposium?

AS: I think I owe much of my writing style to the wisdom I have picked up over the years both as an attendee and a panelist at Gen Con. Sold my first short story there. Then I sold my “Ben Franklin, Necromancer” story in the bar there. Have worked in over a dozen anthologies generated by Gen Con Symposium leaders… hell, they probably even helped me get my Simon Canderous series published. (No, they can NOT have a cut or all my author monies.)

GMM: Favorite Gen Con food truck?

AS: In my day we didn’t have no dang food trucks! I will say, however, that Indianapolis really gets into the swing of things. My concierge last trip was in full stormtrooper armor. Every bar or restaurant customizes their menus to fit the fantasy theme of the con, and it’s not just lip service. It’s all delicious, and you’ll find nerds on every hotel staff that are jazzed to have us there. Indy is a welcoming town. Fave food places: the Ruth Chris steakhouse, St. Elmo’s for their world famous shrimp cocktail, and the greasy spoon delight that is the Steak n’ Shake. Oh, and Palemino’s, which is a Symposium staple, really.

GMM: Any advice to newcomers of the convention, with the Writer’s Symposium or Gen Con as a whole?

AS: Remember, kids, soap and water are your friends. Use them daily. Twice daily, even….

Go through the programming online as soon as you can and start marking stuff down that you’d like to go to. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people lamenting they missed me speaking because they didn’t catch it in the program. Get it together early, try to take in as much as you can, chat up the authors and buy them many, many drinks, and leave the con exhausted. And if you see me, say hi before you buy me that drink!

Photo: Anton Strout
Photo: Anton Strout

Thank you, Anton Strout, for sharing your wisdom of Gen Con ages with us. Readers, want to learn more? Well, you can always catch up with Anton at Gen Con, attend his live recording of the Once and Future Podcast on July 30, 5-7 PM at the Writers Symposium, or visit him at his websites and!

About the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium:

The Gen Con Writer’s Symposium is one of the largest and fastest growing speculative fiction writing conferences in the world. It features over 140 hours of events, more than 80 authors and experts, and is set against the backdrop of Gen Con: The Best Four Days In Gaming!

Shanna Germain From Monte Cook Games Says, “No Thank You, Evil!”

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

Geek-of-many-trades Shanna Germain was kind enough to answer a few questions for GeekMom this week about games, geekhood, and more! Please help us welcome her.

GeekMom Mel: Welcome to GeekMom! Tell us a little about yourself.

Shanna Germain: Thanks so much! I’m a writer, editor, and game designer by both passion and trade. Right now, I’m the creative director and co-owner of Monte Cook Games, where I’m designing a storytelling game for families called No Thank You, Evil! I’m also a pretty big geek—I love books, games, TV shows and movies, and all things word-related. I even own a dog named Ampersand.

GMM: How did you get into gaming? Was it something you were interested in as a kid?

SG: My grandmother was a big gamer—she loved card and board games especially, so games have always been part of my life thanks to her. She taught me a lot about how to lose with dignity, win with grace, and play with style. I liked games when I was a kid because I was very shy and socially awkward, and having a way to interact with other people where I understood the rules really helped me overcome a lot of that.

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

GMM: What was the game that started it all for you, like your gateway drug into gaming?

SG: For storytelling games, it was definitely Bunnies & Burrows, which is a game based on the novel Watership Down. You could play a bunny in the game, which I thought was the most incredible thing ever, and you did martial arts moves called “bun fu.” My babysitter introduced me to it; I had no idea what a role-playing game was, but she told me I could pretend to be a bunny, and I was like, “Yes, please!”

GMM: What is your favorite game now?

SG: I don’t know that I could choose just one. I use different games for different needs. When I need a quick break, I’ll play an iPad game like Words with Friends. When I want to work out, I play a computer role-playing game like Elder Scrolls Online or Borderlands on my treadmill desk. When I want to immerse myself and spend time with friends, I play a role-playing game like OD&D and Numenera.

I tend to play a lot of games all the time, because they open my own way of thinking about games and game design.

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

GMM: I’d say it’s safe to say that the majority of our readers here have kids, and many of those kids have some geeky aspirations. If a kid came up to you and said they wanted to be a game designer when they grew up, what would you say to them?

SG: I would say that they should follow that dream by playing lots of games, thinking about games, and creating their own games. You’re never too young to start drawing maps, creating characters, and writing adventures. Get all of your friends to help you, and then play together.

GMM: Any other advice for young geeklings out there? How about for their parents?

SG: I think that it’s really easy for geeky kids to feel like their interests are weird or uncool. Thankfully, we live in a time where being a geek is cool. So to young geeklings, I’d say: Love what you love. You’ll be surprised how many other people love what you love too.

To parents, I’d say: If you’re already supporting your kids’ interests and want to find a way to do more, or if you’re unsure how to support the geeky things that your kids are into, consider looking into school programs and gaming clubs that support geeky interests, attending conventions that have a family focus, and finding geeky role models that your kids can look up to.

GMM: You are a writer, editor, gamer… how do you make time for all of your passions? Is there one role you identify with more than others?

SG: I feel like I could ask that same question about so many people I know, and I think we would all have a similar answer: I have no idea. It’s a tricky balance. If I don’t have enough going on, I lose that sense of pressure and am much less productive, but if I have too much going on, I get stressed about all I have to do and can’t seem to accomplish anything. Sometimes I think that there’s a perfect point of busyness—just busy enough to keep the pressure on, not so busy that you start to fall apart—and if you can walk that tightrope, you can accomplish everything. I have a hard time asking for help, and that is something I have to keep learning, because sometimes having someone else just take one thing off your plate can save you from falling off that tightrope.

Writing is my first passion, and has been since I was old enough to smash letters and words together. I’ve always wanted to tell stories. The medium doesn’t matter. I love writing fiction as much as I love writing games. It’s all about stringing words one after the other to tell a story that moves someone else in some way.

GMM: Tell us a little about your involvement with the new game on Kickstarter, No Thank You, Evil!.

SG: No Thank You, Evil! is a game of creative storytelling for families. I’m designing it, along with Monte Cook. Designing a game for families is really different than designing a game for adults, and it’s wonderfully challenging. Kids are so creative and so smart, and they intuitively understand how to pretend to be someone else. So the game doesn’t need to teach them how to role-play—it needs to give them the space to let their creativity shine, while also providing them with solid boundaries and guidance.

It’s also really important to me that all kids and families can play games, so one of the things that we’ve been working hard on is making sure that No Thank You, Evil! is accessible to and inclusive of children with cognitive and physical concerns like autism, dyslexia, and color blindness. We’re using fonts and colors that are easy to read and discern, creating art that depicts a wide variety of characters, and making sure there is no one right way to “succeed” in the game. Creative solutions are encouraged, so a player who’s nonverbal can draw or act out their character’s actions, while a more verbal player can do a robot voice, repeat a favorite phrase, or sing a song instead.

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

GMM: What project are you most proud of? What do you hope to be remembered for, and what is your dream project?

SG: Right now, I have to say that No Thank You, Evil! is my dream project. We’re right in the middle of play-testing, so I get to watch all of these amazing kids interact with something that I’m creating, and they just keep blowing me away with their creativity. When you write a book, the reader goes away to read it and you may never know what they thought of it. When you write a game for adults, you might hear afterward how much they liked it. But watching these kids at the table, when they get excited about their character or they get a really good dice roll or do something that saves the day—there’s something incredibly special about that energy and enthusiasm. It’s like you’re getting to watch their minds expanding right in front of you.

GMM: Anything exciting coming up for you?

SG: I’m still working on No Thank You, Evil! for a little while longer, and then I’ll start working on two new books for Numenera, which is the first game that we created at Monte Cook Games. One is a sourcebook and the other is a novel, so I get to do a little of each of the things that I love at the same time.

GMM: Thanks again for taking the time to chat! Best of luck to you with your Kickstarter and all your future projects.

SG: Thank you so much!

Photo: Annie Atkins
Photo: Annie Atkins

Shanna has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 20 years, and has six books, hundreds of short stories, and a myriad other works to her name. Over the years, she’s won numerous awards for her work, including a Pushcart nomination, the C. Hamilton Bailey Poetry Fellowship,​ the​ Utne Reader award for Best New Publication​, and 7 ENnie Awards. ​

The creative director and co-owner of Monte Cook Games, LLC, she is currently designing a creative storytelling game for families called No Thank You, Evil!

So, What’s ‘Tomorrowland’ About Anyway? We Asked George Clooney

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

You’ve probably seen the trailers, posters, and billboards for Tomorrowland, but if you still have no idea what the movie is actually about, don’t worry. You’re not alone. According to the filmmakers, you’re not supposed to know yet. When it comes to explaining anything specific about the story, everyone involved has been pretty coy so far.

Of course, the secret will be out when the film opens on May 22, but if you can’t wait until then, we’ve got a fun teaser about some of Tomorroland‘s themes and big ideas from none other than star George Clooney himself.

What we can say about the story is what you probably know already, at least if you’ve seen the promos. It involves a STEM-savvy teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson), who receives a mysterious pin with one amazing property: Whenever she touches it, she is instantly transported to a wondrous, futuristic place called Tomorrowland. When the pin loses its power, she searches for a way back and meets up with a strange little girl (Raffey Cassidy), who in turn leads her to a gruff old genius named Frank Walker (Clooney). Together, they embark on a quest as the fate of both worlds hangs in the balance.

At a recent press event to promote the film, Clooney talked about what initially drew him to the project. He said he was intrigued by the originality of the idea and how it differed from your typical summer blockbuster.

“First and foremost, I think it is a really bold thing for Disney to be willing to do a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a comic book,” Clooney said. “I just loved the idea of, you know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there. And it’s not fun. And it can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it’s sort of hopeless, in a way. And what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference and I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there’s still so much that we can all do to make things better.”

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

There was another thing that especially stood out for him when he first read the script. And it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

“I have to say, just so we’re clear, when [writer Damon Lindelof] and [writer-director Brad Bird] showed up at my house, they said, ‘We’ve got a part that we’ve written for you,’” Clooney recalled. “And then I opened up the description of the character and it’s a 55-year-old has-been, and I’m kind of going, ‘Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?’”

At the core of this genre-defying adventure tale is the choice between pessimism and optimism, and how that choice can shape the world. As to whether he related to the struggle between the two points of view, Clooney said he remains positive about the future.

“I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind,” he said. “I always felt like it was going to work out in the end. And I still feel that way. And so what I loved about the film was that it reminds you that, you know, young people, they’re not born and start out their lives cynical, or angry, or bigoted. You have to be taught all of those things. And I watch the world now and think I see really good signs from young people out there. And I feel as if the world will get better. And I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve been a realist, but I’ve been an optimist about it. And I really related to the film because Brad and Damon want to tell a story that’s an entertainment, because first and foremost, it has to be an entertainment. But it is hopeful, and I’ve always felt that way myself.”

And really, if George Clooney can continue to have faith in the future of humanity, so can we all.

GeekMom attended a press event that included a free screening of Tomorrowland.


Interview: Sam Maggs’ Guide to the Fangirl Galaxy

The Fangirl's Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk Books (Fair Use)
The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk Books (Fair Use)

Tomorrow Quirk book releases The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy: a “fun and feminist girl-power guide to the geek galaxy” written by The Mary Sue associate editor Sam Maggs. I spoke to Sam about her experiences growing up as a “fangirl”, learning to approach media critically, and her hopes for the next generation of geek girls.

GeekMom: At what age did you first realise you were a fangirl? Can you describe that moment?
Sam Maggs: My parents both saw the first Star Wars film over twenty times in theaters, so I was pretty much destined to be a fangirl from the start. But my first foray into fandom was my obsession with Stargate SG-1, which I discovered when I was about twelve years old. Seeing a woman like Sam Carter on-screen, someone who could kick ass but was also an astrophysicist, was huge to me.

Sam Maggs © Sam Maggs Website (Used With Permission)
Sam Maggs © Sam Maggs Website (Used With Permission)

GM: What are some of your earliest memories that you look back on and think “only a geeky kid would have done that”?
Sam: The hours upon hours I spent in my basement on my computer reading Stargate and West Wing fanfic instead of making friends, for sure. I was also the head of my elementary school’s Library Club.

GM: How has being a fangirl changed for you as you’ve grown up?
Sam: Fandom has become more and more inclusive for women, so I’ve been able to meet so many ladies online, through social media, that I admire and am now friends with. There’s also so much more merchandise for girls now, so I can express my fandom that way too!

GM: In the book you discuss many different fandoms; do you consider yourself a part of any in particular? If so which ones and are there any fandoms you have left behind?
Sam: I’m definitely a huge fan of Harry Potter, Tamora Pierce novels, Mass Effect, and Marvel comics. The Stargate fandom has died down over the years, but I would still consider myself a part of it. I had a Twilight phase for a while there, but who didn’t?

GM: You also share a great list of female role models from different kinds of geeky media. Who were your role models when you were growing up?
Sam: I mentioned Sam Carter earlier, but Hermione was also big in getting me to accept my nerdy side and realize that it could be an asset, and wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and The Immortals quartet featured Alanna and Daine, two kick-butt heroines I still adore.

Cover of The Fangirl's Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk (Fair Use)
Cover of The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk (Fair Use)

GM: Who do you hope is going to pick up this book and read it? What do you hope they get from it?
Sam: I hope that everyone can get something out of this book! For girls new to fandom, it might be a good primer; for veteran fangirls, you might find some new tips and tricks about cons or trolls or a new video game to pick up. I’d even recommend it for allies to see what it’s like to be a girl in fandom.

GM: What geeky events/moments would you like to share with the next generation of fangirls?
Sam: I can’t wait to see more ladies at conventions! They’re so much fun and I just want everyone to be able to go to one!

GM: Do you feel that being a critical consumer is a necessary part of being a fangirl today, or is it possible to just enjoy a fandom without engaging in those debates?
Sam: I think it’s important to remember that you can be a fan of something even if you realize that it’s problematic. But representation for women and minorities will never change unless we speak up about what we take issue with, so it’s definitely important to engage with media on a critical level to realize what you’re taking in and how it influences your views on gender and society.

But you can still like something even if it has issues!

GM: Do you feel that the convention scene has shifted in the last few years, especially for women? Where would you like it to go?
Sam: It definitely has – con attendees are now nearly 50% women across the board. I would love to see more booths and panels catered specifically towards women – ECCC and C2E2 in particular are already doing a great job of this.

GM: Turning the tables from the interviews you did in the book: what does the word “fangirl” mean to you?
Sam: It means loving something passionately and without embarrassment. It means the things you love have changed your life for the better.

GM: How has being a geek positively influenced your life?
Sam: It’s basically given me everything – my career, my friends, my partner. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to make my fangirliness into a career, because I love sharing the things about which I’m passionate with other ladies. Plus, with the advent of social media, I was able to meet so many amazing people through our shared interests that I never would have met otherwise, including my partner! I’m very grateful.

GM: If you could give geek girls advice for their careers or personal lives, what would it be?
Sam: Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to love what you love and to be who you are. If the people around you don’t like it, there are a million other people out there who will.

Many thanks to Sam for her time. Look out for our review of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy later this week.

Interview for Dragons Beware!

Image First Second

Dragons Beware! is the latest graphic novel of Claudette, a fearless girl who adventures with her younger chef brother, and princess best friend. What? You haven’t read Giants Beware! yet? Go! Go! Go!

I asked the creators of both books, Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre a few questions about the series and the latest adventure, and they were happy to oblige:

Image First Second
Image First Second

GEEKMOM: Claudette is a “leap before you look” type of character. Was there a particular person (or people) in your real lives that inspired her?

JORGE/RAFAEL: We both have lots of leap-before-they-look kind of people in our lives, but there wasn’t a single person who inspired Claudette. Her personality is somewhat inspired by the character Mafalda, an Argentinian comic-strip that both Jorge and I read as kids.

GM: I really enjoy the relationships between Claudette and brother, and best friend. Having a strong female lead in any story is breaking stereotypes, but to have good relationships with her brother (instead of being jealous or competitive with siblings) and enjoy her unashamed girly-girl best friend (instead of putting down “girly” things)—well, that’s just fantastic! Was it purposeful to create the series to be so different?

JORGE/RAFAEL: Thanks! We both like to put new twists on familiar archetypes. But we’re also trying to create interesting characters who we care about that. That means fleshing them out three-dimensionally and when you do that, you can avoid stereotypes. As for Claudette and Gaston: we love that their relationship is both that of siblings and friends–maybe it’s a Latino thing; we’re usually pretty close with our siblings.

GM: What were your favorite stories growing up?

RAFAEL: I loved superhero comics, Batman and Fantastic Four were my favorites. Anything by Kirby, especially in the 70s (Kamandi, New Gods, Mister Miracle).

JORGE: I loved Greek myths, superhero comic books, fantasy books, that sort of thing.

GM: Claudette’s father is a tough and capable guy who is also in a wheel chair. Have you gotten any feedback from wheelchair-bound kids and/or adults who have read the series?

JORGE/RAFAEL: We have not heard from any wheel-bound folks, however we both loved the idea of a warrior not impeded by the fact that his mobility is partially restricted. It makes him even more of a tough guy. And by the way, May is National Mobility Awareness Month.

GM:The dress up scene with Claudette in all the different outfits had my family and I cracking up–hilarious! Did you make yourselves laugh with the sketches? Were there outfits that didn’t make the final cut?

JORGE: I love the scene too. And it’s a pretty good example of how we work to entertain each other. The script only specified that Marie wanted to play-dress up and Claudette was not happy about that. And Rafael drew the really funny page of costumes.

RAFAEL: We always try to crack each other up first! If that works, we run it past our kids, and if that works, then we know we’re on the right track. As I go through the script I’m always trying to find ways to make it visually funny, to complement the funny dialogue that Jorge’s come up with.

GM: In this second book, each of the kids are moving forward in their own plot-lines: Claudette trying to get her father to officially train her, Marie and her suitors. But my favorite was Gaston and learning magic spells are like cooking. Was this planned from the first book? Do you already see where each of their personal stories are going next, or is that book to book?

JORGE/RAFAEL: We’re mostly figuring out the specific steps of each character’s journey as we go along. However, we have a pretty good idea where these characters end up. It’s the getting there that always takes time to figure out. How far do you let each character grow in each book—that’s a toughie. We had talked about Gaston using magic spells since that does feel related cooking. And Rafael drew the spellbook with the ingredients in the back of the book and that just felt right for Gaston.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Dragons Beware! is recommended for ages 5+.
GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

An Awesome Assemblage of Avengers Again

Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

The massive Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get bigger. With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we’ll see the addition of at least three new Avengers to the already abundant lineup, not to mention supporting players both familiar and strange (though the real Strange is yet to come). There’s a shiny new bad guy too, the Ultron of the film’s title, a twisted artificial intelligence with genocidal tendencies (voiced with relish by James Spader). This not only makes for a crowded film (more on that when we get to our review later this week), it also makes for a very crowded press conference.

Earlier this month, Disney hosted said press conference at their studio in Burbank, where a baker’s dozen of panelists, including all of the usual suspects, appeared to promote the film. On hand were Scarlett Johansson, Joss Whedon, Elizabeth Olsen, James Spader, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Kevin Feige. Each one of them could have held an entertaining press conference all on their own, but as it was we had to split our attention among all of the impressive talent in front of us during the limited time we had.

You can imagine how hard it must have been for Whedon, who wrote and directed both Avengers films, to do the same over the course of years. “There’s like 47 of these people,” he joked. “I really didn’t think that through, and I regret very much doing this at all.” That last part may not have been a joke.

He went on to explain the challenge of making sure each of the characters got their moment in the film. “I have all these people. I love all these people. They’re extraordinary. But making sure that they’re all being served, all within the same narrative structure, that they’re in the same movie, that it’s all connected to the main theme. At some point during the editing process, I could not have told you who they were, who I was, what movie I was making, I got so lost in it. But I think it all came together, and you know, it’s just about making these guys look good.”

Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

Downey Jr., whose quippy sense of humor is not unlike that of his big-screen counterpart Tony Stark, pretended to be offended when it took the press a while to get around to asking him a question. “I want to say this very clearly,” he said in a mock-serious tone. “The next time I’m not asked the first question, I’ll [expletive deleted] walk out.”

The first question actually went to Smulders, who plays former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. She was asked about the development of her character since we first met her in the original Avengers film.

“Maria’s now under the employment of Tony Stark and she’s now working with him to privatize security,” Smulders said. “It’s very fun being a thread to be able to tie the TV show and the movies together. That’s been a lot of fun. But yeah, she’s got a bigger job now. She’s working, like I said, with Tony, and she doesn’t have S.H.I.E.L.D. at her disposal anymore, so it’s a much more difficult job.”

Johansson, who plays another kick-ass female character, Black Widow, was also asked about how her character has changed over time and her emotional journey throughout Age of Ultron.

“There’s some sense finally of there being a kind of normal, in a way,” Johansson said of the film’s opening scenes. “I mean, it’s a well-oiled machine where, you know, we’re tag teaming each other. It’s finally like the introductions are over and we’re at work, like we’re digging our heels in. And at the end of Avengers 2 I think Widow is, you know, she let her guard down, she was hopeful for something. I think she had this moment of false hope.”

Speaking of character development, fans of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye will be happy to know he actually has some in this film, after spending a lot of the first on the sidelines under Loki’s control.

“Well, I speak in this movie, which is awesome,” Renner says of the differences between the two installments. “And I become part of the team, which is awesome. And dive into some really killer aspects of [the character]. When sitting down with Joss, and even Kevin [Feige] back in the day, talking about why I liked him, why I wanted to play Hawkeye, because I didn’t understand, I could never do like what these gentlemen do. I don’t have that creative of a mind. I understood Hawkeye in the sense of he’s a human just with a high skill set, so I could tap into that, and I feel like I got to explore a little bit more of that, even outside the skill set.”

Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

The new cast members also got their turns to speak, at least for a little bit. Spader talked about being thrown into the role of a giant killer robot on his first day. In addition to providing the voice, he also did some motion capture work and was present on the set when shooting with the other actors.

“I arrived in London and within the first half hour they put on a suit, they put on all this gear, and I’d gone through a range of motion,” Spader recalled. “And then within 15 minutes I was watching me walk around a big room, moving and doing this and that and everything else, and watching Ultron, or at least a formative stage of Ultron, on a monitor in front of me. And it started right there. And the next day I was on set shooting a scene with Scarlett. And so really that pace was what it was, through the entire project. And luckily I’d had some conversations with Joss and one fantastic meal with a whole bunch of wine to figure out who this guy was. And that was it. That really was it. It was just trying to hold on.”

Olsen and Taylor-Johnson, who play super-powered twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (AKA Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), were asked if their previous work together as husband and wife in 2014’s Godzilla helped them develop chemistry as siblings.

“I think it’s only a benefit,” Olsen said. “I mean, it’s kind of intimidating joining this group so I’m glad I got to do it with Aaron by my side.”

Taylor-Johnson agreed. “Yeah, it was comforting to know, stepping on set, when it was such a big ensemble and cast, that you kind of had some to feel comfortable with. Absolutely, yeah.”

The last newcomer to the film wasn’t really a newcomer at all. Paul Bettany has been a part of the MCU since he first recorded the voice for Tony Stark’s A.I. assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man. In Age of Ultron, he takes on the physical role of the Vision, a mysterious, benevolent android. The dual role is no coincidence, but we can’t say any more than that without giving too much away.

When asked about the differences between the two roles, Bettany cut right to the practical aspects of the job. “The main difference is I have to show up,” he said. “You know, the great thing is being able to work with all these incredibly creative and talented people. However, I also now have to show up at junkets, you know, so everything’s a double-edged sword.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens Friday, May 1.

An Interview With Comic Book Artist and Writer Katie Cook!

Image: Action Lab Comics/Katie Cook

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.

Image: Action Lab Comics/Katie Cook

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!

Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula

Image By First Second Books

Andi Watson has created a creepy-cute romance with the new graphic novel, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. The Princess is overwhelmed taking care of the business of the Underworld while her father convalescences in bed and complains about his food. In comes a pastry chef vampire, Count Spatula, who sees the stress the Princess is under, and tries to help.

Andi was kind enough to answer a few questions about this sweet gothic tale.

GEEKMOM: What was your inspiration for the story and characters?

ANDI WATSON: As always with a book, several different elements have to come together to spark things off. Most importantly I wanted to create a full length graphic novel for the first time in my career, a challenge I hadn’t met after many years of making comics. At first I was a bit intimidated, knowing I’d have to write the whole thing ahead of time, but that became an advantage as I could go back and forth over the course of the story, adding and taking away scenes and dialogue. I loved being able to clearly see the overall shape of the story, something it’s quite hard to do when I’m serialising. The other inspirations came from my sketchbooks. Both Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula had been lurking in the pages in separate stories for years, but neither of their stories worked alone. It was only when I put them together that the book fell into place. I love it when that happens.

GM: Did you see romance right away for the Princess and Count?

ANDI: One of things I wanted to achieve with the book was tell a relationship story, a romance that would be fun to write and draw. I’ve told “real world” romance stories before, and enjoyed writing the dialogue and creating characters. The slight downside is that I’ve found them a bit less fun to draw. It’s often two or more people in a room talking. That’s a real challenge to keep visually interesting, so I wanted to combine a relationship story with a strong visual element and I found I enjoyed drawing the spooky stuff. Having more freedom to play visually and allowing my imagination a bit more of a free reign was a real treat. That the Princess has the cute bat-wing hair and the Count is a vampire made it extra fun to draw. Add to that, designing all the other characters and I had a blast.

GM: The relationship between the Princess and King changes over the course of the book. What’s the message about father/daughter dynamics?

ANDI: Yes, I thought it would be interesting to explore the family dynamics of who’s in charge and who is driving things behind the scenes. The child has adult responsibilities without being allowed her own choices, while the King enjoys power with none of the obligations. The adult is the child and vice-versa. The shape of the story follows how that balance changes. I’m not sure I have a message about father/daughter dynamics, although I am interested in them, being dad to a daughter myself. One thing that strikes you as a parent very early on is how much and how little power you have over your kids. On the one hand you’re completely responsible for every aspect of their lives, on the other you can’t make a child eat, you can’t make them sleep, and you can’t make them stop crying. You are utterly helpless, as any parent with a crying toddler on a long haul flight knows!  As children grow up that divide is less stark but you’re still trying to juggle how much responsibility to give a child and also the anxiety that comes from letting them go little by little. Perhaps this whole book is about my daughter becoming a teenager and my wanting to take to my bed and hide!

GM: The Count’s fun desserts like Mud Monster Cake and Lemon Drizzle Cake were charming to see and imagine the taste! Do you bake? What’s your favorite dessert to make or eat?

ANDI: Yes, I began baking with my daughter when she was little. We both enjoyed making a mess and eating the results. I hadn’t baked since school so it was the perfect way to begin again as the emphasis was on fun and play, not on some exquisitely presented end product. As long as it was edible we were happy. I’ve continued baking over the years, which is why it was a joy to invent the Count’s set-piece desserts. My job was to flick through recipe books and doodle ideas in my sketchbook… it was tough, I tell you. Sadly, my own skills fall well short of the Count’s, but I do enjoy making quick and simple recipes like cookies, rock cakes, fairy cakes and the like. I’ll have a go with fondant icing for birthdays. Past projects have included Minions from Despicable Me and a crash landed Tardis. I also made a traditional Yule log over Christmas that turned out all right. The recipe my family likes best is a chocolate cake with Terry’s Chocolate Orange ganache. Super sweet and easy to make.

GM: Finally, what project are you currently working on?

ANDI: I have a couple of books in the bag, including my webcomic Princess Midnight which finishes up at the end of January. I’ve also finished a graphic novel for grown ups that I’m hoping to find a publisher for. As for brand new stuff, I’ve finished writing another spooky graphic novel that I’ll start drawing and aim to have done by the summer.

GM: Thanks, Andi!

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula comes out February 24th by First Second. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Review – Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show

Showrunners © Black Sheep Productions
Showrunners © Black Sheep Productions

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is a Kickstarter-funded documentary film and book that examines the role of the showrunner. Not all that long ago, nobody had ever heard of the term “showrunner” and only die hard fans knew the names of anybody involved in creating their favorite TV shows beyond the main cast. In the last decade or so, all that has changed. Showrunners like Joss Whedon, Bill Prady, and Damon Lindelof are now household names each with their own devoted fanbase who follow their careers between shows and across media.

Showrunners the Movie is a 90-minute exploration of just what it is a showrunner does, how and why they do it, the challenges they face, and more. In creating it, the producers interviewed dozens of showrunners including Jane Espenson (Caprica), Hart Hanson (Bones), Janet Tamaro (Rizzoli & Isles), and Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse) and quizzed them about every aspect of their work. What makes a good showrunner? What does your work day look like? What are the best (and worst) parts of the job? What results is a broad look at TV production in the teenage years of the new millennium. It’s an industry in flux as new distribution and funding mechanisms such as Netflix, Amazon Originals, webseries, and Kickstarter-funded productions such as Veronica Mars leave traditional networks scrambling to assert their place. That sense of mild confusion is palpable throughout both the film and the book.

Joss Whedon in Showrunners © Black Sheep Productions
Joss Whedon in Showrunners © Black Sheep Productions

Although the film is interesting in that it covers a lot of ground and thus allows a wide variety of thoughts, opinions, and stories to be voiced, it suffers in that that same breadth never allows for much depth to occur. The film asks a question then jumps from showrunner to showrunner seeking answers. As fascinating as it is to see that variety (every showrunner takes a different approach—after all, the production of a serialized show on HBO has to differ greatly to that of a mainstream network procedural), I would have loved to see some focus. Show me a day in a showrunner’s life in detail. Let me see the minutiae of their workday, the ups and the downs, the tough decisions and the great laughs. Of course that’s a difficult thing to capture on film. As the showrunners being interviewed explain themselves, no two days are the same and different problems are being thrown up every day, but at least is would have gone some way to prevent the slightly superficial feel that the film suffers from.

Showrunners Book Cover © Titan
Showrunners Book Cover © Titan

The book provides more of the same, broadly following the same path the documentary did but without the constraints of time. This allows it to include the full answers given by each showrunner to the many questions they were asked. If you read the book soon after watching the documentary (as I did) you will constantly find lines that you remember hearing spoken out loud. Chapters include “The Script is King” which looks at staffing a writers’ room, an explanation of pilot season, and a look at the basic TV act structure, “The Politics of Making Television,” and “Connecting to the Matrix,” which discusses the internet and its impact on showrunning. Between these chapters are “In Depth” features which look at subjects like “Women & Minority Showrunners” and “How Lost Changed Showrunning,” as well as longer, focused segments on specific points such as showrunner “burnout.” One of the most interesting sections is a piece from Joss Whedon on how he considers himself a “company man” and his surprise at finding himself labelled a “rebel.”

The accompanying book has many of the same problems as the documentary. The question/answer format seen on screen is translated onto the page, so you read the question, then a series of answers from each showrunner. There is no flow, just a series of loosely connected anecdotes, opinions, and stories which quickly serve to make the book feel monotonous even though the content is actually very interesting and insightful. I even spotted chunks of answers/dialogue being re-used in multiple chapters on more than one occasion. With better formatting Showrunners would have been a joy to read, as it is the book suffers from creating the sensation of reading dictated notes. However, if you’re the kind of person who has a real interest in TV production, Showrunners is a window into a world most of us will never experience.

GeekMom received this book for review purposes.

Meet Jessica Chobot From Nerdist News!

Jess_Headshot_2 copy
Photo: (used with permission)

Hi there, GeekMom Mel here. If you are anything like me, you like to get your geeky news with a dash of personality, don’t you? A dash of, dare I say, humor? Well, over at, Jessica Chobot provides just those things on her Nerdist News segments. She’s covered everything from James Bond to my personal favorites, Star Wars and Godzilla, and she does it all with enthusiasm, fun, and attitude.

Not only is Jessica a fellow nerdy woman, but she is also a mom. Since that makes us pretty much kindred spirits (right? right?), I figured I’d take the opportunity to ask her a few questions about…well, a little bit of everything!

GeekMom Mel: How did you get started with Nerdist News? What’s been your favorite news to cover, and/or the weirdest?

Jessica Chobot: I started with Nerdist shortly after I ran in Chris Hardwick at the Comedy Central offices. We just randomly bumped into each other in the lobby. I was starting to find my way back into the workplace after having my son and we got to talking about that. I mentioned that, while my son was an adorable bundle of cuteness, I definitely needed to get out of the house and find something to do with myself besides changing nappies. He took pity on me and shortly after our meeting I did some freelance work for them which then led to the full time gig at the company.

The highlight working at Nerdist so far was working E3 this past year, which I believe was the first time Nerdist had a booth there (I might be wrong on that though). Video games are still very much my jam, so to be able to go and be on set again with a whole new group of people was an incredible treat. Everyone was exhausted but excited and I’d say we did a stellar job having a positive presence at that event. I would place that under my favorite news to cover.

As for the weirdest… hmmm… Everything is pretty odd. It’s not “news” but we did do an interview where I interviewed Michael Rosenbaum and the interview slowly but surely devolved into us talking about farts. It was pretty much the highlight of my career.

GMM: If you had to pick one favorite realm in the nerdiverse, what would it be?

JC: If we’re talking a place to live, I’d choose the Citadel in Mass Effect – but ONLY during peace time. I’m in no hurry to be murdered by a Reaper.

If we’re talking about a nerdy type of thing I’m into, then I’d still have to choose video games. Now that I’m a mom and have even less time to dedicate to my personal pastimes, video games is the one thing I always go back to. That and murder mysteries. And the paranormal. And Korean dramas.

GMM: How has parenthood changed your experience of being a fan, gaming, and things like that? Do you think about things differently, have you had any changes of heart?

JC: There are two things that, as a gamer, have changed for me since becoming a mom. One, the amount of time I have to dedicate to my gaming. Titles that should normally take 5 hours now take 10 or more (if I’m even able to finish them at all). Plus, because of the time crunch, I only dedicate myself to games I’m REALLY into and don’t bother trying to keep up with everything anymore. My mobile gaming has also skyrocketed, mostly due to convenience. Two, I try not to play anything where I know children will be shown suffering. Even then, something will sneak through the cracks and I’ll end up crying for days afterwards every time I think about it. Bioshock Infinites’ expansion caught me off guard and while I thoroughly enjoyed the additional game play, my heart was just crushed.

GMM: The holidays are coming, and many of us will be exposed to family members we may not have seen through much of the year. Has your family been generally accepting of your nerdy ways, even going so far as to support them, or have you had loved ones shaking their heads or giving you perplexed looks?

JC: They’ve always accepted my nerdy ways although it took me getting a career in “the ‘biz” to get them to respect it. And even despite that I don’t think they totally understand why and how I can make money doing this kind of work. My grandmother still has no idea what I do.

GMM: Do you have any particularly entertaining/embarrassing holiday stories from your past?

JC: My family is BIG into giving gag gifts. The worst was one year my parents had gotten a box for a Super Nintendo and filled it with a rock and wrapped it to give to my brother. Needless to say, that was quite an interesting Xmas morning. Luckily for my brother my parents had wrapped the actual system up in something else, so it was just a temporary scare. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person go through so many levels of different emotions so quickly!

GMM: What was the worst gift you have ever received, if you are at liberty to say?

JC: The worst, because it made NO SENSE, was when I was 12 and my grandparents got me Xmas hand towels. They were beautiful towels that I would really appreciate now but as a 12 year old, I was all,”Whhhhhaaaaattt???”

GMM: What do you think is the best way non-geeky parents can support their young nerdlings?

JC: I think acceptance is key. Just because your child is into video games, comics, or whatever doesn’t automatically make them an outcast. Nor does it mean you should attempt to force them to like other things. Instead, appreciate that they have a passion for something at such a young age and, as with EVERYTHING, keep an eye on who they’re chatting with and what they’re doing.

GMM: Any ideas for parents who might not know what to get their kids?

JC: I’m a big fan of forcing people to give me Xmas lists. Some may think that kind of kills the holiday spirit but I would rather give someone something I know they want, instead of guessing and having them go to return it on the sly.

That said, if you’re struggling for ideas, I find always has something amazing. There are also some fantastic games out this holiday season: Destiny, GTAV remastered, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Smash Bros., FarCry 4… Just remember to buy the game that is age appropriate for your child. And, of course, the Nerdist t-shirts and hoodies are a guaranteed winner 😉 !

GMM: What are some cool things Santa’s elves might consider loading the sleigh with this year?

JC: Again, I’d say that if you have a gamer on your hands, check out the holiday release titles! and are AMAZING resources for crazy/geeky gifts. Also, if your kids or significant other have a Pinterest or Keep account, check out their boards and BAM! Instant present list (I actually can’t recommend this tactic enough). As for, my big faves at our store is our Nerdist digital gift card, our coffee mug and our Enjoy Your Burrito t-shirt. Especially for geeky women, I find our shirts fit quite well which isn’t always the case for ladies looking for fun tees.

GMM: If you could get ANYTHING for a holiday gift, what would it be?

JC: I’m currently asking for a very specific trip to Japan. One where I can go to the Kansai area (specifically nearby Kyoto) and stay at one of the traditional hot springs there. I’m thinking about 2 weeks. Otherwise, I’m down for a solid 4 days of non-stop leveling of my Dragon Age: Inquisition warrior (I’m a tad obsessed at the moment).

Thanks so much to Jess Chobot for taking the time to chat. And do go over to and watch her Nerdist News segments. You won’t regret it!

Jessica Chobot currently serves as host for Nerdist News over at, as well as a freelance host for both TV and web. Jessica spent the first half of her career at IGN Entertainment where she hosted the popular web shows, IGN Strategize and The Daily Fix. From there it was only natural for her to jump into television where she hosted G4TV’s Proving Ground, alongside Ryan Dunn, and as a field correspondent for G4’s Attack of the Show and X-Play.

Hey, Sailor Moon Fans! An Interview With Charlene Ingram of Viz

Image: VIZ Media (used with permission)


VIZ Media sent me a copy of the newly remastered, redubbed, and uncut Sailor Moon Season One Part One Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack for review, and wow, the memories. I remember rushing home from work in college so I could see what mayhem would befall the Sailor Scouts (as they were known then) that day, and yes, I admit, I had a secret place in my heart for that mysterious hero, Tuxedo Mask. I was pretty excited to watch these shows again, since they have been unavailable in the US for ten years now.

This new release of the anime series has a completely new English cast. It took a little while for me to warm up to the new cast, mostly because I’m stubborn, but overall, it’s the same fun, whacky story about a girl growing into her powers and taking on responsibility for protecting our world while still making it to class. Best of all, this new version is uncut, so people who watched it when it originally came out can appreciate the show as it was intended.

Image: VIZ Media (used with permission)

The box set itself is lovely, including a shimmery slipcase, the Blu-ray/DVD combo set of 6 discs, and a full-color booklet with artwork, character profiles, and more.  I think it would make a lovely gift for any aspiring Sailor Guardians this holiday season.

VIZ Media gave me the opportunity to talk to their Senior Manager of Animation Marketing, Charlene Ingram, who also happens to be a huge Sailor Moon fan. Her enthusiasm for this series is contagious, and she really gets the spirit of the series.

GeekMom Mel: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat!

Charlene Ingram: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about Sailor Moon!

GMM: I first discovered Sailor Moon when I was in college and quickly became hooked. Now it’s back for another generation of young women to enjoy. What is it about her that keeps people coming back?

CI: Good stories are universal and Sailor Moon made her first appearance at just the right time back in the mid 1990s. It was and still is, in many ways, a very progressive series. Seeing these unique views and ways of storytelling in media is deeply important, so I feel that, in itself, is a big part of the series’ attractive force. Fans fall in love with these characters because there’s a player in Sailor Moon to suit every type and every mood. That’s a big part of the appeal; you can feel like an Ami type one day and a Minako type another day. While people are a lot more dimensional than fictional characters, it’s nice to have someone fictional to identify with from time to time.

GMM: Do you have a favorite Sailor Moon series?

CI: Speaking as myself? I really love the third season, Sailor Moon S. The Outer Guardians are so cool and really add a nice counterpoint to the Inner Guardians. I love that Haruka and Michiru are somewhat reluctant Guardians as well. In many ways, I think it is in S that the series really comes into its own and one grows in appreciation of all the Guardians. As for my favorite part of Sailor Moon as a franchise, the original musicals, Seramyu, were what captured my heart. Going back to the Outer Guardians, you see a lot of their development in the musicals. Same for the villains. Galaxia in Seramyu is so delightfully menacing.

Image: VIZ Media (used with permission)

GMM: If someone were to start watching Sailor Moon or reading the manga, there are so many options out there for them to choose from. Where would you recommend they begin?

CI: For someone new, it’s important to ask what type of media most appeals to them. Do you like fun sci-fi serials like Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Are you a fan of long-running series like Naruto, Fairy Tail or Bleach? Then, definitely start with the original anime. It’s really lovable, and the way many people in North America were originally introduced to the series. The story takes its time to really simmer and let you bond with the characters. Do you read lots of manga and want a groundbreaking shoujo title? If you’ve read some popular shojo like Vampire Knight or anything by Arina Tanemura or CLAMP, you’ll likely adore Naoko Takeuchi’s original manga the best. Do you need your anime to get in and get down to business with a fast-paced story? If so, Sailor Moon Crystal may be the best way for you to start. Since they are so derivative of the original content, I wouldn’t recommend seeking out the Seramyu musical DVDs or CDs until experiencing either the original Anime or manga. For those, you really need to be intimately familiar with those parts first. If you are a fan of Sailor Moon Crystal, I recommend getting the first new Seramyu DVD for “La Reconquista”–it’s easily obtainable at your local Kinokuniya or on

GMM: How do you think Sailor Moon has influenced pop culture on the whole?

CI: Sailor Moon is one of the most recognizable anime characters and is widely noticed even outside of anime fan circles. I think as for influencing pop culture, she is the quintessential anime girl who kicks butt. Even still, when people outside anime fandom think about anime, they are very likely to mention either Sailor Moon or Dragonball Z.

GMM: One criticism I see about Sailor Moon is that the character relies on the male character Tuxedo Mask to get her out of trouble time and again. When I first watched this show—well, a few years ago!—I remember being quite smitten with his character, and my line of thought was somewhere along the lines of, “Wow, I want a guy like that to have MY back.” I honestly didn’t even notice that he rescued her as often as he did. Do you have any thoughts about this?

CI: Tuxedo Mask appeals to a fantasy many girls and boys have, to dream of a knight in shining armor, coming to help them in their time of need. It’s something pretty prevalent in fairy tales and even though it can be seen as a bit antiquated, it’s still a part of many a young one’s imagination. Though it’s a frequently seen fantasy, it’s important to note it is not universal. Some people really want a character like Tuxedo Mask to swoop in and help out with some encouragement while others want to roll up their sleeves and do their own saving. There’s no right or wrong way to dream!

GMM: Why do you think heroines like Sailor Moon are important for both girls and boys?

CI: Heroes like Sailor Moon and all the Sailor Guardians are deeply important to not just little girls and boys, but to all people who still have a heart open to dreaming bigger than what they are right now. We live in a crazy world and it can be easy to let the news get us down and lead us to despair. Sailor Moon never gives up on her mission, but most importantly, she never gives up on her dear friends and the world she loves. Usagi can be a bit clumsy and maybe her grades aren’t exactly admirable, but she has heart and always works hard when it counts. These are valuable traits for anyone to emulate. As for the series, it’s amazing to see the appeal really stretches across age and gender. It’s definitely not just a show for little ones. People must fight for love and for justice throughout their lives and never stop!

GMM: Who is your favorite Sailor Guardian and why? Do you have a least favorite character?

CI: My favorite of the Inner Guardians is Venus–she’s happy, peppy, and orange, my favorite color. She can also be a mature and stoic leader, something I have really come to identify with in my professional life. For the Outer Guardians, I adore Sailor Uranus because she is just so very tough and cool. As for least favorites… hmmmm, there isn’t any one character I actively don’t like, to be honest. It really speaks to the quality of the narrative that every character has a purpose and needs to be in the story. It wouldn’t be the same if any one character were omitted. Sometimes I wish the villains had a bit more screen time, a way to see their motivations. It would be super cool if there could be something like Wicked for Sailor Moon villains someday!

GMM: One of the first things I noticed about the new release of Sailor Moon season one is the new English dub. How do you feel about the new English voice cast? Did you find it hard to get used to?

CI: Not at all. I’m very happy to hear the original story, completely uncut, in English and the response from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s something so many anime series get by default now and it has always been a shame Sailor Moon didn’t have an accurate version until now. It’s great to live in a time as an anime lover where the thought of an unedited version of Sailor Moon is greeted with such delight.

GMM: Is there anything you miss about the old version?

CI: At first, I was afraid I may be a bit nostalgic for the previous version, but after hearing all these wonderful actors and actresses pouring their hearts into the series, not to mention all the behind the scenes staff doing the same, this version felt so natural and right. It’s really all been a dream come true for fandom. I have fond memories for the previous version, as it’s what I first experienced, but I see the two kind of like Cinderella’s dress. The pink dress was lovingly created and was very pretty, but with the help of a little magic and a kind fairy Godmother, Cinderella ended up going to the ball in something truly spectacular and worthy of her pure and wishful heart. Cinderella remains the same kind soul, but through a special friend, she able to be presented in the true splendor she deserved all along.

GMM: If you saw someone at the store torn about whether or not to buy the Sailor Moon season one part one box set, what would you say to them?

CI: Even if you haven’t experienced Sailor Moon before, it’s one of the most important anime series to be created. Not only does it come in a gorgeous package, there’s double the standard amount of episodes for an anime release inside along with lots of all-new extras. If you’re still on the fence, check out a few episodes officially on Hulu or Neon Alley. It’s hard not to fall in love with such a legendary series. Lots of love and care went into these new releases, so I hope you take the chance to check it out and treasure it for your own!

Photo: VIZ Media (used with permission)

About Charlene Ingram: Charlene is one of the few ardent fans to make the giant leap successfully into the anime industry. A veteran cosplayer with over 16 years and 100 costumes in the hobby, she went on to be a professional costumer for some of Las Vegas’ largest resorts as well as starting a cosplay-centric wig company. In 2009 Charlene made the leap to the anime industry, becoming a Brand Manager and eventually the Senior Brand Manager for anime distributor Funimation Entertainment. After working on a variety of titles, including Hetalia, Summer Wars, FLCL and Panty & Stocking, she made the move back to the West Coast. Landing in San Francisco, Charlene became the Senior Manager of Animation Marketing for VIZ Media. Her days are now filled with working on some of the most cherished anime series of all time, including Naruto, Bleach, TIGER & BUNNY, Ranma ½ and, most recently, the uncut re-launch of Sailor Moon. She is committed to bringing the love of anime to fans everywhere.


GeekMom Mel Chats With Kyle Hill, Science Editor of Nerdist

Kyle Headshot 10
Photo: Nerdist Industries

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing I love more than to read about science that’s presented in an entertaining and digestible way, especially when it pertains to topics I geek out about anyway, like comics and video games. When I got the opportunity to interview Kyle Hill, the science editor for Nerdist Industries and host of Because Science, I almost fan-girled. Kyle is kind of what I want to be when I grow up…some day. No, not a Chris Hardwick lackey—though that does seem like it would be awfully fun. I’d love to be able to spread my passion for science and how things work, explain the hidden stories behind the seemingly mundane, and make sense of things that seem so much bigger than us. But Kyle Hill does it in a much more engaging way than I ever could.

At least, I’ll concede that point for the purposes of this article.

GeekMom: What spawned your interest in science, and what made you want to teach others about it?

Kyle Hill: I’ve always liked science and the natural world. I’d be that kid playing with LEGOs or trying to catch bugs to stare at them. My parents were very supportive of that kind of outlook, taking me to museums and buying CD-ROMs (remember those?!) about dinosaurs. After high school I went right into an engineering program and starting blogging for myself. Sometime before I finished my degree I figured out that I liked talking about science and explaining it more than actually doing it. During my graduate program I started submitting articles to Scientific American, and things sort of spiraled upwards from there.

GM: Can you tell us a little about how Because Science got started?

KH: From a logistical standpoint, working with a brand like Nerdist means producing quality digital content, so a video series was probably an inevitability. But personally, I’ve always wanted to do something like Because Science. I find that actually talking out loud about what you are trying to explain helps you understand it even better yourself. And I do. A lot. So that combined with my over-caffeinated delivery was a good foundation for a show. And since I find myself saying “because science” to justify my nerdery a lot, the name was obvious.

GM: What would you say to someone who says they are interested in, say, space, or how things work, but they don’t feel they are “smart enough” to pursue any knowledge or research?

KH: Our educational system seems to have a hard time dispelling the “science is too hard” stereotype. I’d bet that if you talked to our best scientists, they’d say that this passion for a subject is the most important part; working out the homework comes later. Science at its core is a systematic exploration of how the natural world works, and we are all ingrained with the curiosity to ask the same questions that science does. Don’t let this “ivory tower” facade that science has scare you off. It’s fascinating first.

GM: What is your favorite topic? What really gets you geeked out beyond measure?

KH: I love physics, especially where it lets you talk about power and energy and explosions! Physics is one of those fields that most people have an intuitive understanding of—whether or not they know the math, we have a good idea how things are supposed to move and interact. So when I can say that a punch from a “Pacific Rim” Jaeger is like having a 747 hit your face, it’s immediately understandable, nerdy, and accurate!

GM: What do you think is the most important thing a parent or mentor could do to get kids excited about science?

KH: It’s hard to say what the most important thing would be, but I’d say listening to a child’s interest first has to be up there. Children are naturally curious, and you can build and foster that curiosity by introducing them to the science that explores what they love. A love of the night sky, of insects in the grass, of a computer whirring away, these can be bolstered by introducing them to the people, books, and videos that let them get deeper involved. Let children explore, and give them the tools to help them explore better.

GM: Have you ever had any science misadventures? Has science ever gotten you into trouble?

KH: Well, there are things I’m aware of—physics and chemistry-wise—that I know I shouldn’t try. I try to steer clear of possible explosions as a rule. But when I was a kid collecting insects, I unknowingly forced a pretty gruesome situation. One day, I collected three monarch caterpillars in the park near my house. I put them all in a carrier and waited for them to metamorphize into beautiful butterflies. But I didn’t give them anything to eat. After the first caterpillar attempted to change, the other two climbed up to where it was and ate it alive. It was pretty rough. I wasn’t trying to run a caterpillar fighting ring. Feed your pets.

GM: If a younger person (or heck, even an older one!) wanted to be Kyle Hill when s/he grew up, what advice would you give?

KH: As my friend and fellow video-maker Joe Hanson (of “It’s Okay to be Smart”) says: Stay curious! I’m not a scientist, and I’ve never taken formal writing classes. I have a background in science but I’m not an expert. Any success on my part is from trying to stay perpetually curious, and seeking out the information that will help me get my passion across while being accurate. That means taking free writing courses if you’re not a writer. It means staying up to date (I am on the Internet *constantly*) and taking science communication seriously. And don’t ever think that you are being too nerdy!

GM: What is your favorite source for science news?

KH: It has to be Twitter. I have a pretty hefty RSS feed, but I use Twitter to keep track of the writers, creators, and scientists that I like directly (not institutions or brands themselves). Social media is a great way to stay in touch with the people that inspire and inform you, and for the most part they are happy to engage with you! Start taking notice of who seems to be writing/filming/speaking about all the stuff you like or are interested in and check up on them. Chances are they are still producing great content.

GM: Anything exciting in the works that we can look forward to?

KH: The beauty of the digital age is that you never quite know what comes next. Currently I’m writing and making videos, but there is certainly room for more science-y goodness in the future. TV spots? Maybe a podcast? If it has to do with science and geeking out about this universe, I want to try it!

GM: Thanks so much for talking with us here at GeekMom, Kyle! And all of you, be sure to check out Kyle’s show, Because Science, over on Nerdist!

Kyle Hill is a science writer and communicator based in Los Angeles, California. He received his Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Marquette University, and his Master of Arts in communication from the same university in 2013. In 2013, he started writing for Scientific American, finding a niche in the intersection of science and pop culture. Since then, his nerdy work has been published in WIRED, Popular Science, Slate, and The Boston Globe. He has appeared as an expert on Fox News, Al Jazeera America, and Huffington Post Live. And he has held writing positions at Nature Education and Discover Magazine. Kyle has worked as a TV science correspondent for Al Jazeera America. In 2013, he was named one of the top 20 science communicators to follow by WIRED magazine and is currently the Science Editor of Nerdist Industries and host of Because Science. His goal as a science communicator is to use popular culture to teach science in a fun and digestible way.

Chatting with Jen Wang, In Real Life

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. 

Cory Doctorow Talks About His Graphic Novel, IRL

Image: First Second

Recently, I had a chance to ask Cory Doctorow, author of such books as Little Brother, Makers, and Rapture of the Nerds, and co-editor of Boing Boing, some questions about his upcoming graphic novel, IRL (In Real Life). Illustrated by Jen Wang, IRL is the story of a teen girl’s adventures with online gaming, touching upon topics such as poverty, culture clash, gaming, and adolescence.

GeekMom: Tell us a little about this book: What’s it about, and what inspired it?

Cory Doctorow: As I told Forbidden Planet: This is the third iteration of an idea that I’ve been circling around since the early 2000s. It started with a Slashdot story about a (notoriously unreliable) games developer announcing that he’d been secretly paying cheap Mexican workers to labor in a popular video game in order to amass game-treasure that could be sold on eBay.

That idea rolled around and around in my head and in summer 2005, I wrote a story called “Anda’s Game” (the title a play on Ender’s Game), which imagined labour unions taking advantage of the fact that “gold farmers” worked in a game space that their bosses didn’t own—a space that actually prohibited the bosses’ business!—so that they could organise workers who were otherwise not reachable.

This, in turn, related to my frustration with the dialog about globalism and labour that started in the 1980s, with the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney war on unions. When the car wars kicked off and jobs began to move from Detroit and southern Ontario to Mexico, the workers there acted as though the enemy was Mexicans, not their bosses.

This was profoundly ahistorical. In the early days of the labour movement, when waves of new immigrants were regularly presenting themselves as new industrial workforces, it was common for the bosses to fire striking workers from one country and replace them with scabs from another, and then use racism to play them off against each other. “You’re the proud sons of Germany! Are you going to let some lazy Irish pig tell you that you’re not allowed to earn a buck?”

(This was used with real savagery when it came to African Americans who’d come north in the post-slavery era, who were routinely denied access to the best jobs and who were ruthlessly exploited by a cruel ruling class that recruited them as thug labor, to break strikers’ skulls with the Pinkertons.)

It was bizarre to watch the descendants of the workers who only won basic rights by seeing through their bosses’ cynical race-baiting, now falling prey to exactly the same kind of race-baiting. As soon as the Detroit workforce was convinced that the answer to their problem lay in racist, anti-Mexican bumper-stickers—and not in going to Mexico to unionize their brothers and sisters there, chasing GM and Ford to the ends of the earth—they had lost.

But of course, Mexican factories were in “Free Trade Zones” where union organizing is illegal and where corrupt police can beat, torture, and kill with impunity (though it was hardly better in the early days of the American Rust Belt—check out the Wikipedia pages on the Flint Sit-Down Strike or the Calumet, MI Copper Miners’ Strike).

But when the outsourcing movement reached Silicon Valley and programmer jobs started to flow to India, American workers’ reaction was even more shortsighted and stupid.

After all, the workers in India who were doing the jobs that these displaced techies had once held all spoke English, and all used the same internet. If you’d told a labour organiser in 1913 that he could reach out to replacement workers half a world away and talk to them in his native language, he’d have laughed at the ease of the task before him. You mean I don’t have to learn a foreign language and entire a hostile nation to reach out to these workers and ask them to stand in solidarity with me and mine?

My gold farmer stories imagine a globalised labour movement with the bravery and smarts of the IWW and the other early unions. They come out of game guilds—a guild being pretty close to a union already—where they have honed the skills of cooperation and tactics, and they have a shared identity as gamers that they appeal to in their quest for labour justice.

“Anda’s Game” went viral, and was, for a time, a lot better known than the still-obscure practice of gold farming itself, so that whenever a story about gold farmers hit the news, I was praised for my predictive ability. (William Gibson calls this “predicting the present.”)

By 2006 or so, gold farming was totally mainstream and there were hundreds of thousands of workers in the Pacific Rim making a living at it—mostly Chinese workers. In 2009, I started work on a novel called For the Win, a global, multi-POV young adult novel about a trade union called the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web (or “Webblies”). (I stole all this stuff from Ken MacLeod.) I traveled to Mumbai and Singapore and south China, and was given generous assistance from gamers, writers, dissidents, academics, and labour organisers.

I had originally thought that FTW would be a graphic novel series—a series of three single arcs that would each showcase a different game world and real-world setting (gamers in El Salvador playing mecha-fighter combat/strategy games, say).

But in the end, First Second asked for “Anda’s Game”—with its simple, stripped-down story—for a graphic novel adaptation, and found the amazing Jen Wang (whose Koko Be Good is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read) to work on it.

Jen did all the heavy lifting on this project—I want to be crystal clear on this. There are so many gracenotes in it that are entirely of her own making. I recognise my fingerprints on it, but it’s a collaboration in which she is the senior partner, and it’s her vision and visual sensibility that brings this story to life.

GM: Did you write IRL for anyone in particular?

CD: No, though the first iteration, “Anda’s Game,” came about pretty early in my relationship with the woman who’s now my wife, Alice Taylor, who used to be a professional gamer, and in the first iteration, Anda was a British gamer, so there’s a bit of homage there.

GM: Who do you think would get the most out of reading this book?

CD: I have to be honest, I have no idea how to answer this question about this book or any other book I’ve ever read or written! I think books and their effects are ideosyncratic. I mean perhaps there’s a perfectly spherical, frictionless, hypothetical ideal Doctorow reader out there, but my experience of meeting my readers over the years has taught me that there’s a lot of variation in the cohort. I mean, there are plenty of nerdy dudes in black T-shirts with Unix jokes who totally hate me, and there are people who express their ardent fandom who look like the kind of dudes who used to beat me up after school. Apart from “The sort of people who think that this sort of book is a good book,” I got nothing.

Image: First Second

GM: Why is this book important?

CD: Again, I think this is the wrong sort of question to ask about books. Books are important because of what they say, but also (and more significantly) because of where they arrive in the reader’s life. I mean, the questions of virtual and real identities, about labor and class, and about globalism and the paternal nature of entertainment and business in the 21st century are significant and only getting moreso, but this book could be a trivial afterthought in the life of one reader and a turning point in the life of another identical reader, based on whether these two readers were at a crossroads in their life in which a kind of emotional elucidation of these issues resulted in some kind of epiphany or change in direction.

GM: What would you say to a parent who is concerned about their child entering the gaming world? Would this advice have been different, say, 10 years ago?

CD: In general, my advice to parents is to chill out. This includes my advice to me, and I should listen to it more. Gaming—like sports, or math, or chess, or chinchilla breeding—can be a great way to pursue excellence, geek out, broaden your horizons, find a safe space to grow in, and establish your own identity, learn, and explore creative possibilities, find out about both personal excellence and teamwork, etc. Or it can be a trivial and transient hobby. Or it can be a cancer on your life, destroying your perspective and enabling you to avoid confronting the pressing issues of your world, to your enormous detriment. So basically, the advice is, “Try and figure out which one of those it is, and if it’s the last one, try and help your kid, but seriously, it’s probably OK.”

The major thing that’s changed over the past 10 years in games is the rise of the super-exploitative, psychologically engineered Zynga-style games, the Farmville progeny. These things are actually alarming, inasmuch as they are designed as Skinnerian conditioning devices to trick you into engaging with them without ever giving back any real satisfaction. Seriously, screw Zynga.

GM: What impact do you think gaming can have on a teen’s life?

CD: Depends on the kid, the game, and the other gamers. Big MMORPG raiding guilds offer chances to learn strategy and tactics, teamwork, heuristic development, programming, art, and math.

GM: What is some advice you would give to a younger person, or anyone really, who is interested in social justice/making a difference in other people’s lives?

CD: Yes. Don’t worry about pessimism or optimism. Worry about hope.

When you start trying to change the world, people will ask you if you’re optimistic or pessimistic about your chances. That’s totally the wrong question. Because if you’re trying to change something, that thing had better be a burning hot important thing, a thing that must change for the world to be a good place. Fighting cancer, fighting starvation, fighting against sexual violence, whatever it is—these are things that shouldn’t exist and that must be changed.

If something must be changed, then you do the thing you can think of that helps you change it, even if the odds are long. If your ship sank in the open sea and you had no chance of rescue, you’d still tread water until your last kick, and that’s not “optimistic,” it’s hopeful. The chance of getting picked up is infinistesimal, but it’s zero if you give up and sink. Everyone who was rescued—everyone who succeeded—had hope. No one who gave up ever succeeded.

GM: How did the process of writing a graphic novel differ from writing a regular novel?

CD: A lot easier! Because Jen did all the hard work! I should do ‘em all this way!

GM: Do you see any solutions to the problems you bring up in this book?

CD: The problems in this book—sexism, body image, economic injustice—are epiphenomena of larger questions of economic and social justice. We can and should fight about these issues, but for so long as our society is structured to require deep inequalities of outcome in order to drive cheap labor and windfall profits for investors, they won’t ever be resolved.

GM: Social justice work can be discouraging at times. Do you have any suggestions for people dealing with that?

Photo: Jonathan Worth, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

CD: See above!

Thanks so much for your time!

Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger—the co-editor of Boing Boing ( and the author of young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London. His forthcoming books include IN REAL LIFE (a graphic novel from First Second), INFORMATION DOESN’T WANT TO BE FREE, a nonfiction book about copyright (from McSweeney’s), and a children’s picture book.

Guardians of the Galaxy Cast Reach for the Stars

Guardians of the Galaxy © Marvel Comics
Image courtesy Disney.

If there’s one thing director James Gunn got right when making Guardians of the Galaxy (and he actually got a lot right), it was the casting. From top to bottom, the assembled group of talent on screen is truly impressive. I mean, we’re talking big names like Glenn Close and John C. Reilly in supporting roles with very little screen time (they make it count, naturally). As for the main cast, the film relies on each of them to bring a range of complex, sometimes even contradictory, qualities to their characters. They all have the capacity to be both noble and roguish, tough and vulnerable, deathly serious and lighthearted. Part of the fun of the film is watching the titular team come together as a group.

A couple weeks ago I got to watch many of those actors come together in real life at a press conference to promote the film. In attendance at the event were stars Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Benicio del Toro, and director James Gunn. According to Gunn, it was the first time they’d been assembled in one place (Diesel provided the voice of Groot but didn’t play the character on screen and del Toro’s role is basically an extended cameo).

Pratt grounds the film as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, an ordinary human who was abducted from Earth as a child and raised by Yondu (Rooker), the leader of a group of intergalactic outlaws known as Ravagers. When Peter steals a mysterious orb he becomes the target of multiple pursuers, including bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Diesel), as well as a trained assassin named Gamora (Saldana). They all eventually cross paths with Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), a convict seeking to avenge the deaths of his wife and child, and must put their differences aside to face an even greater threat that could mean the destruction of the entire galaxy.

“I’m like so emotional right now,” Gunn said as the press conference began. “Because I’ve missed these guys so much. I luckily got to spend some time with Zoe and Dave last week, but everybody else I haven’t been around and it’s just an amazing moment for us, I think.”

Gunn wasn’t just passionate about his cast, he animatedly talked about the origins of the project and what it meant to him to bring these characters to life on screen. When asked about taking on a lesser-known property from the Marvel universe, he said that it was “liberating.”

“I think I would have had a harder time trying to fit into the regular Marvel scheme of things,” he said. “This gave me a chance to take what I loved about Marvel movies and Marvel comics and create a whole new universe, which really has been the most exciting thing in my entire professional career.”

Guardians of the Galaxy © Marvel Comics
Image courtesy Disney.

For Pratt, it was also a big step. Until last year he was probably best known as lovable doofus Andy in Parks and Recreation. Then, he lent his voice to the lead role in the blockbuster film The Lego Movie, followed by this starring role in Guardians of Galaxy. He’ll next be seen on the big screen running from dinosaurs in next year’s Jurassic World. Despite all the increased attention, Pratt taking this new career direction in stride.

“I’d been sort of having an identity crisis as an actor,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was, if I was a action guy or a comedy guy. And I thought maybe I could do a combination of both, but there’s nothing out there that’s like it. [I thought] maybe I have to develop something, And my manager just kept saying, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, man.’ I said, ‘All right, maybe you’re right. Let’s go meet on it.’ And then James said, ‘I just want somebody to do their thing.’ And part of me thought, ‘Okay, well then I’ll just do my thing and if it’s not right, that’s okay.’ But I had an idea what that thing was and it was the thing that I got to do in this movie.”

Each of the actors in turn got a chance to talk about what their role in the film meant to them and what attracted them to it. Though Saldana was cast late in the process and arrived last on set, she said had a very specific view of how to portray Gamora when she arrived.

“I just didn’t want Gamora to look like any typical action person that’s just like very martial artsy and just does that Underworld jump and lands and the ground breaks and shit,” she said. “I wanted her to be a little more graceful and sleek, very classy in the way that she fights.”

The inspiration hit her, she said, as she was watching some footage of a Spanish bullfighter in action: “I’ve never seen somebody move so smoothly. It was just such a seductive dance. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s Gamora.’ She’s a woman and she just has to be very seductive in the way that she tricks her enemy into falling into their own death. And I thought. ‘Well, that’ll be interesting to do. I’ve never done that.'”

Guardians of the Galaxy © Marvel Comics
Image courtesy Disney.

Just as Gunn gave Saldana the freedom to play with her character, del Toro also appreciated the way the directed allowed him to take chances with the smaller role of Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector.

“I felt like I could explore the character in every way I would have wanted to,” del Toro said. “And James was very supportive to taking chances and trying different things. And I felt like an animal that grows up in a cage and suddenly you open the door and he comes out and he’s tentative to take chances. James was very, very nice to me to allow me to like go, go, go, go, go. And so at the end I was like, ‘Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.’ But it was a great feeling.”

One of the most heartfelt moments in the press conference came when Diesel talked about the timing of the project, coming as it did on the heels of the death of his friend and Fast and Furious co-star Paul Walker in November of 2013. As a gentle, humanoid tree, Groot symbolized growth and regeneration in a way that spoke deeply to the actor at the time.

“It was at a very important time when I did this movie because it was in December and it was the first time I was coming around humans again and the first time I was working again,” Diesel said. “And there was something very therapeutic about in my personal life— I guess in my professional life, too—dealing with death and then playing a character that celebrates life in the way that Groot celebrates life. I took my kids to a screening to see this movie and they walk around the house reciting Star-Lord, Gamora, and all the characters. Something very beautiful happened in playing this role. Something that as an actor I never would have imagined.”

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters on Aug. 1.

Ben Hatke on Zita, Cosplay, and What’s Next

My Favorite Thing Zita

Graphic artist and author Ben Hatke is back with another thrilling installment in his Zita the Spacegirl series, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (First Second), featuring more derring-do from the beloved intergalactic heroine.

With her shiny black boots and billowing green cape, Zita has bravely waged battles with space monsters and stared down some of the universe’s foulest villains. But with the latest in his graphic novel series for young readers, hitting bookstores this week, Ben has presented Zita’s biggest challenge yet. Zita is held captive in a lonely dungeon on a hidden planet, putting her cleverness to the test as she plots the galaxy’s greatest jailbreak.

© First Second Books

A father of four daughters—one of them named Zita, no less—Ben has created a heroine who is brave and smart, and never forgets to be kind as well. Her kindness is a favorite trait for many readers, this one included. In a GeekMom review, Zita was described as knowing “that friends don’t give up on each other, and everyone should help the helpless.” And Booklist‘s glowing review of Book 3 says Zita “saves the day with the kind of heroic pluck that’s garnered her so many admirers, both in her universe and ours.”

GeekMom caught up with Ben on the eve of the book’s release.

Question: Kirkus Reviews calls Zita “a modern-day Dorothy fighting aliens instead of the Wicked Witch of the West” and goes on to say she’s one of the most “spirited and valiant heroines in comics today.” What do you think makes Zita click so well with readers?

Ben Hatke: Well I’m not one hundred percent sure, but like to think that readers connect with Zita because she’s both iconic and a truly fleshed-out character in her own right. I’ve spent a lot of time with this character through the years. She’s a little hero in an iconic outfit, but I’ve come to know her well. She freaks out about specific things and has her own set of ideas about people and life. I’m comfortable with Zita, and I think (I hope) readers pick up on that.

Q: One of the highest forms of praise an author can receive is seeing kids dressed up as his characters. What is that like for you when you see young Zitas at comics conventions?

BH: Words fail me on this one. “Exciting” doesn’t really cover it, does it? I mean, I almost fell out of my chair the first time a Zita cosplayer walked up. Now I keep a file of Zita cosplay pictures that parents and fans send me, and at Halloween time I have a big, yearly Zita Costume Parade on my blog. My file for this year is growing already, so I think this upcoming Zita Parade will be the best yet.

(Also I feel a little bad that our original Zita costume has disappeared and that my own girls don’t—yet—have Zita costumes of their own).

Copyright Ben Hatke

Q: You are the father of four girls. How much does that affect your art and storytelling?

BH: Well, of course I’m partly writing specially for them, but it’s also nice, as a storyteller, to have a sort of first line of critics. I work at home, and you’d better believe that the girls come and check up on me (working at home is a … delicate balance). The girls ask what I’m working on, and sometimes jokes or story ideas fall flat or don’t get a response. And I think, “Huh. Maybe I’ll rethink that idea.”

And the older two girls, Angelica and Zita, are developing a pretty great artistic sense of their own. I have made coloring changes based on their input. I also let each of the girls draw a creature for each book, and I hide their creatures somewhere in the pages.

And also, since my family is relying on my stories to, you know, keep a roof over our heads, I’m more inclined to go the extra mile to make sure every book I’m working on is the best I can make it.

Q: The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is billed as the third and final in the Zita series. But are you really through with Zita? She’s such a big part of your life—didn’t you win your wife’s heart through this story? What will it be like to put Zita aside?

BH: It’s not easy to put Zita aside. I have a lot of projects I want to work on, and I’m making time for them, but I definitely have more Zita stories kicking around in the upstairs. It’s so hard to fit it all in.

Listen, if you have any ideas about how to secretly add five months to every year please, please email me.

Q: Your first picture book, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, comes out in September with your same publisher, First Second. Is this a new frontier for you? What’s ahead?

Julia's House
Copyright First Second Books

BH: I’m so excited for Julia’s House! I’ve found the picture book to be a tricky, beautiful, elusive beast … but I hope to create many more. I enjoyed Julia’s House particularly for the days I spent with my music turned up loud as I splashed away with my watercolors on big sheets of Arches paper.

And as for the future … I have several projects cooking, but currently I’m in the middle of a new graphic novel for young readers. It’s about a girl and a robot and a very particular summer friendship. It’s definitely one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on, and particularly because it sort of “takes place” in the area near where I live. Zita has adventured in far away worlds, stars away, and Julia lives in a magical house like one I grew up in. But the girl in Little Robot lives in a neighborhood that I pass through every week on my way to Role Playing. I’ve been able to sit and sketch the very area where the story takes place.

And that’s been wonderful.

Karl Kesel Reveals the Truth About The X-Files: Year Zero

The X-Files: Year Zero © IDW Publishing
The X-Files: Year Zero © IDW Publishing

Following on from the success of ongoing comic The X-Files Season 10 which picks up where the cult TV show left off, this July, IDW Publishing is going back in time to show the origins of the FBI’s X-Files division. The X-Files: Year Zero is a five part mini-series which will show the origins of the department in the 1940s when Mulder and Scully are faced with a similar case to one faced by their predecessors many decades ago. Writer Karl Kesel has spoken to us about what we can expect from the series.


How did you become involved in working on The X-Files: Year Zero for IDW?

I’d talked back-and-forth with Chris Ryall [Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief at IDW] about doing a number of different projects for IDW. This is the one that came together!

Have you been a fan of the show for a long time or do you consider yourself fairly new to the franchise?

I had been a big fan of the show, especially early on.

Do you have any favorite episodes?

Who doesn’t love Flukeman? That was the first episode where I realized something unique and special was going on with The X-Files. I’m also a big fan of “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” which really captured some of the odder (and at times humorous) aspects of the UFO phenomena. And “Home”—with the crippled mother who lives under the bed—is without a doubt the most disturbing hour of network TV I know of.

Will Year Zero be classed as part of the show’s canon or is it a standalone alt-universe story?

With Chris Carter [creator of The X-Files] consulting, I’d consider it canon.

If the story is being considered canon, how will it correlate with the history of the division as established on the show, specifically that these cases became named “X” files because a clerk ran out of room under “U” for unsolved (late 40s/early 50s) and are hidden away by order of the director’s office?

All that will be addressed. But the whole “filed under X because there was more room there” sounds like one of the lamest cover stories I’ve ever heard. If you ask me.

The comic will be split between the present day and the 1940s, can you give us any idea of how balanced that split will be?

About 50/50, but that’s over-all. Certain issues may tilt more toward one time or the other.

We’ve seen that Mulder and Scully will naturally be appearing in Year Zero. Is there a possibility that any more familiar faces might make an appearance?

Yes. At least one other established character from The X-Files makes an appearance—a pivotal one, actually. And there are a number of “nods” to other characters and events that readers-in-the-know will enjoy.

Are the present day scenes intended to be set during Joe Harris’ ongoing Season 10, or do they take place during the classic television era of the story?

Season 10.

Two new characters are being introduced to the X-Files universe: Bing Ellinson and Millie Ohio. Can you reveal anything about them to us?

Bing Ellinson and Millie Ohio © IDW Publishing
Bing Ellinson and Millie Ohio © IDW Publishing

I’ll say this much: Bing Ellinson is referred to at one point as “The FBI’s Most Unwanted,” and there are no female FBI agents in 1946 [the first female agents joined the FBI in 1972] so Millie’s position is nothing like Scully’s. They’re dropped into the deep end in this story and have to find their own way out. And at many times and on multiple levels, they’re fighting for their lives.

You’ve referred to “UFO Noir” in publicity for the series, what have your influences been for this arc?

Noir classics like Double Indemnity and Out of the Past have definitely influenced this story in various ways. In a very different way, so has Them!—the 1950s movie about giant atomic-mutated ants (and James Arness’ character was an FBI agent in that, I’d point out). But just as important are the UFO reports and literature from the 1940s. This was the birth of the modern UFO, with the Roswell crash and Kenneth Arnold’s flying saucer sightings near Mt. Rainier, and there was a real feeling that something new was happening—something we’d never experienced before. That the world was changing. I try to capture that feeling in this story.

Would you like to come back to The X-Files and write in the franchise again?

Love to! Mulder and Scully are wonderful characters to write. Beyond that, the 40s are full of fascinating story possibilities that don’t fit into a modern setting, so I’d jump at the chance to do more with Bing and Millie. Only time (and sales figures) will tell…

This One Summer: Beauty In Realism

Image By First Second

This One Summer is a new graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It is a YA book that transcends the genre into where most adult novelists wish they could go: honest and nuanced characters in that familiar world you forgot to cherish. The details of a summer beach town, and two girls on the brink of teen, may not be your memories, but the yearnings, confusion, and relationships certainly will reveal half-buried reminisces.

Stories can be told in many ways, but this one is a perfect example of the depth of the graphic novel. Unlike a book of text, the artwork speaks on a level beyond even what the characters appreciate. Unlike a movie, you control the pacing, the ability to linger on that moment of perfect dialogue.

Here is an interview with the creators of This One Summer.

What was the inspiration behind the story and characters of This One Summer? Was there a specific place (or places) that inspired the illustrations?

MT: Originally, my inspiration was my own cottage setting, in Northern Ontario, near a town called Penetanguishene. That was the location of the original corner store, although just about every cottage has something like that, I think, a local place with little to no merchandise that smells like suntan lotion.

For research, though, we were very lucky that Jillian had a friend with a gorgeous cottage up in a similar area, Muskoka. We did what you would call a little research tour up into that area the summer after the script was done and it was very inspiring, and relaxing.

The characters are mostly a mix of people I’ve met in my adult life, not so much the people I knew when I was little and at my own cottage. I’m definitely paying more attention to teens and pre-teens as an adult than I was as a kid. As a kid they were mostly a blur.

Although the main characters are pre-teen girls, dealing with their own friendship and parents, the reader also encounters issues of teen pregnancy and infertility. I see this book for a large age range. When creating the book, did you have a specific age of reader in mind?

MT: I try and keep a story in mind more than a reader. I would hope this is a book that could be read by a wide range of people, and I would guess that they would all probably hone in on different parts of the story.

JT: I think it can trip one up to try to create specifically for certain age groups. Mariko and both naturally gravitate to stories and treatments that appeal to both teen and adult audiences and have been lucky to have publishers that don’t push us into publishing categories. I think kids like stuff with a bit of edge to them anyway.

What do you hope the reader takes at the end of the story?

MT: At the best of times my favorite books are both familiar and a kind of discovery. I hope it evokes for some people some memories of summer times, which are such amazing, if sometimes complex, memories. I hope it’s also a chance to think about all the different kinds of stories and connections that can exist in a small space. Plus I hope some people get lost in it a bit. I love when books do that.

JT: I hope to convey the emotion and sensory feelings of summer, which is both very sweet and melancholy because it’s fleeting. Also the idea of adolescence and seeing things with new eyes. Situations. Relationships. Your family. You develop a sense of nostalgia.

The often harsh dialogue is paced perfectly with the timing of expressions, or a focus on something else in the scene creating beauty in ordinary reality. Was every moment planned out in a script, or did it evolve with the art?

MT: Nothing visual is really planned out in the script.  Sometimes there’s a little setting or some objects that feel part of the story, but all that timing and those moments where text meets illustration is all Jillian.

What writers and artists inspire you?

MT: Writer wise? Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Lynn Coady, and John Green for writing. I’m a big fan of Jeff Lemire, Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Hellen Jo for comics and illustration.

JT: For this book: Alice Munro, Ghibli/Miyazaki… I dunno, that question always befuddles me. How do you isolate what influences a work that takes place over the course of 3 years? Real life. Memory. Our visit to Northern Ontario were all more influential.

I recommend This One Summer for ages 12 and up. The book comes out in May from First Second.

The Musical Treasures of Jake and the Never Land Pirates

Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates is packed with pirate music and adventures. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

It’s important for all of ye landlubbers out there to know that “pirate rock” is a very real thing. Aye, ’tis true. In fact, this style of music is a major part of Disney’s animated hit Jake and the Never Land Pirates, thanks to resident pirate rockers Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson.

The duo is probably best known to fans as Sharky and Bones, two of the show’s animated characters—in more ways than one. See, Hoskins and Hendrickson are featured both in cartoon and live-action form in every single episode. They also provide all of the music for the show, including Season Three’s newly revamped theme song.

However, these two swashbucklers are actually seasoned pirate rockers, having formed the Portland, Oregon-based pirate rock band Captain Bogg & Salty back in 1999. After releasing four albums with that band, Disney recruited the duo to make pirate music for the series. It’s since become a full-time job for the two, and has yielded enough booty to fill the Jake and the Never Land Pirates soundtrack.

Recently, I got the chance to talk to the dynamic duo. Avast, me hearties and heed what they say about the show, the music, and some of the treasures hidden in Season 3.

GeekMom: Can you please explain the pirate rock genre?

Loren Hoskins: No—I mean, yes I can! Kevin and I, when we started making pirate rock in the late 1800s, we kind of based it on: “What if you gave the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean the ride electric guitars and amps and microphones? What kinds of songs would they sing?” So, it kind of built from there. It’s fusing a lot of the fun of rock, kind of Kinks-style rock or different rock genres, kind of garage-y at times, but mixing it with the literary tradition of Treasure Island and all of the swashbuckling adventure and storytelling that comes along with that.

GM: Are people surprised to hear that the band has been around for so long?

Kevin Hendrickson: Yeah. We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to tell people that and witness the surprise of it, but definitely. People are surprised that we’ve done this type of music for so long—specifically, pirate music.

GM: Do you still play live?

KH: We’ve done some performances as Sharky and Bones live. As recently as last summer, we performed in Central Park. The summer before that, we performed at Disney World, at Downtown Disney for a 10-day run. It comes sporadically, but we do have a good time doing that.

GM: Do you foresee a national tour? I know it’s not Disney, but I recently took my son to Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! and it was a blast. Will there be anything like that?

Disney Junior’s The Never Land Pirate Band stars Loren Hoskins as Sharky and Kevin Hendrickson as Bones. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

LH: There is a tour right now that is called Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure. The second half of that show is all Jake, and it features a lot of the music from the show, with all of the great stage crafts, characters, costumes, stage magic, and all that stuff. We’re not in that show, but it was a real treat to go and watch it and see us up there, but not be us. Like, to have the characters come to life like that was really amazing.

But we’re just so busy keeping up with the stories and all of the cool, new twists and characters that are coming out for the show… and then, there’s a new re-branding. They’ve given us license to rock out even more and kind of up the swashbuckling angle. It’s been pretty exciting.

KH: The live-action Sharky and Bones that are in the Disney Junior Live show are fantastic, by the way.

GM: Can you explain a little of the musical process for each episode? For instance, for the three-part episode that’s coming up this Friday; do they hand you a bunch of scripts and ask you to come up with songs?

KH: Yes they do. They give us scripts and then Loren and I work together to create the songs well in advance of receiving the animation.

GM: About how long does it take to come up with an episode’s worth of songs?

LH: It depends on the episode, but what’s funny is that we’re often working the beginnings of one script and the ends of another at the same time. It’s hard to know exactly, but Kevin and I kind of have a ping-pong approach where we’ll pass ideas back and forth. And then, we finally go: “That’s it, we’ve got it, this is it.” Sometimes that snaps together in one day, sometimes it takes a week or two. It just depends on the song and how we want to bend it to the story.

KH: As far as finishing the music, composing and putting together a whole episode usually takes about a week.

LH: I was just talking about the writing of the songs. The production of the song takes another week or so. Then those end credit songs, the ones that play with the music videos at the end of the show, are ones that we’ve spent a lot more time on. Before they’re cut down to one minute for the end credits, they’re full-length songs. So we record a full-length song—write, record, and produce a full-length song—and then cut it down to one minute for the music video. Then, it can pop back up and show up on the album as a full-length song. Those take a little longer.

GM: Why did the show’s theme song change this season?

LH: We just wanted to up the energy a little bit, make it a little more kinetic.

KH: It was a way to make the third season a little special, too. We were getting a lot more scripts that had big adventure moments in them and they were kind of starting to add a little more Pirates of the Caribbean to the scripts or something, so they wanted us to respond to that with some more energetic music—add a little more rock to it.

GM: What music are you both listening to right now?

LH: I like The Black Keys a lot, as far as a modern band. I also love listening to the old Disneyland records. I love the old stuff, the old children’s stories and song records. They’re a great wellspring of ideas and just remembering what it’s like to play. So I’ll often put the old Disneyland record of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or something like that—not to really be thinking about pirates, but just thinking about adventure music.

KH: I tend to listen to older, 1980s new wave like XTC or Oingo Boingo.

GM: How much of your pirate wardrobe is from your actual wardrobe?

KH: None.

LH: About 40 percent for me.

A special extended episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates will air this Friday, February 28 at 8:30 a.m. (ET/PT) during the Disney Junior block on the Disney Channel. A new music video for “Lead the Way Jake” will follow on Saturday, March 1.

Putting On the Con: From Attendee to Organizer

Em-Con © Lee Wallis
Em-Con © Lee Wallis

For many of us, attending our first convention is a geeky right of passage. Whether it’s an enormous, PR-heavy show like SDCC or a tiny one-fandom gathering in a hotel ballroom, walking into our first show provides many of us with a real sense of finally finding “our people.”

However, attending a convention and deciding to create and organize one of our own are two completely different things. The latter is what Lee Wallis, founder of Nottingham’s brand new Em-Con, decided to do. The show is now just weeks away from opening its doors on March 16th, so I wanted to ask Lee what made him move from attendee to organizer.

GeekMom: What was your first experience of going to a convention?

Lee Wallis: My first experience was visiting Wales Comic Con in Wrexham. Jaime, the organizer of WCC, has become a firm friend and I’ll be down there in Wrexham again in April. Since then, I’ve visited most the larger conventions around the UK, networking and making friends—there’s a nice atmosphere in the convention circuit amongst the attendees, which I hope we can bring to EM-Con.

GM: How do you think conventions in the UK differ to those in the U.S.? Is there anything the two styles could learn from one another?

LW: That’s hard for me to say, as I’ve never visited a convention in the U.S. One thing I have noticed is that all the conventions in the UK have their own styles; some specialize in being a more local affair, others are happy to forgo a local reputation to compete internationally, and obviously the U.S. conventions have it easier when it comes to booking the big U.S.-based actors.

GM: Where did the idea to set up EM-Con originally come from?

LW: I wish I could say the idea was my own! I’d run various sell-out events in the city of Nottingham prior to organizing EM-Con. When we were organizing the evening with the cast of Red Dwarf, I saw the enthusiasm around the city for sci-fi, which brings me to Danny John-Jules. I’ve been friends with Danny for a long time now and he suggested I organize an event in Nottingham. At that time, I was also working in another industry which kept me very busy, but after visiting other conventions and seeing the reaction from the city for the Red Dwarf evening, I decided the time was right to launch EM-Con.

Nottingham's Albert Hall © Albert Hall
Nottingham’s Albert Hall © Albert Hall

GM: Why did you decide to set up in Nottingham?

LW: I am Nottingham born and bred. I grew up in Clifton and support Nottingham Forest. I guess you could say I’m very proud of my roots. When I was initially setting up EM-Con, we had a lot of interest from venues in Derby and Leicester, but it never entered my mind. I think this is another reason Nottingham City Council are so happy to back the convention and be involved.

GM: Where did the name EM-Con come from?

LW: EM-Con stands for “East Midlands Convention,” which was thought up by my friend Adam Hall. I’d like to make a point, another part of the convention planning is how lucky I am, lucky to have good friends helping me.

GM: What has been your biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?

LW: One of the biggest challenges has been the fact we’re doing this from scratch—establishing relationships with celebrity guests and artists who are attending EM-Con, relationships with locals businesses and building awareness for a convention that’s yet to establish a reputation in the fan community, but I think that’s also been a great asset. There’s never been anything like this happening in Nottingham, so a number of media outlets have shown a lot of interest in something that’s new. As soon as people have found out about EM-Con, they’ve shown real excitements and support. We hear from a lot of people who’ve traveled around the country to attend conventions and are really pleased to have something happening on their doorstep.

GM: Do you intend for EM-Con to be a family-friendly event and, if so, how are you catering to families?

LW: We’re very dedicated to making EM-Con family-friendly, which is why we’ve priced our tickets at a level that makes it affordable to bring the family for a day out. We’ve also made sure to book guests who appeal to multiple generations of fans. Using Doctor Who as an example, we’ve got Frazer Hines, who starred in the show in the 1960s and people like Dan Starkey and Simon Fisher-Becker, who appeared in the most recent series, so every generation is catered for.

GM: What are your hopes for EM-Con and its future?

LW: The future of EM-Con is built around a 5-year plan, which we’re striving to achieve even sooner. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been to a lot of the UK conventions in the last year and it’s given me a great appreciation for what attendees want. It means we’ve been able to spot things that could be done differently or things that aren’t done at all. For instance, we want to make sure that once you’ve bought your entry ticket, there are enough things to be enjoyed for free at EM-Con, not making people pay an entry fee only to have to pay again for everything inside. Tthis is why we’ve booked props like the TARDIS, two Daleks, and Bumblebee from Transformers for guests to see and have their photos taken with for free.

GM: Are there any guests in particular you would like to see at a future event, however implausible?

LW: Brilliant question, where to start? I don’t think anyone is implausible, although there are always actors, writers, and directors that have yet to attend a convention. My personal choices? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would be on my list. I’m a huge fan of their work. Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones and Nathan Fillion, because I’m a big Firefly fan. Bill Murray I think would make for an amazing Q&A panel and I also think Chris Pine, who plays the new Kirk in the Star Trek films, would be a great guest.

Em-Con takes place on March 16th at the Albert Hall in Nottingham. Entry tickets cost £8 and children under 5 enter for free.

Author Paul Crilley on The X-Files: Conspiracy

The X-Files: Conspiracy #1 © IDW
The X-Files: Conspiracy #1 © IDW

Today the first issue of The X-Files: Conspiracy is released, another of IDW’s crossover multi-property events that follows on the heels of last year’s Mars Attacks storyline. Over the next few weeks the characters of the X-Files universe will be joining up with the Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and The Crow as The Lone Gunmen (with Mulder and Scully in supporting roles) try to stop a deadly plague from wiping out humanity. It sounds, well, rather ludicrous if we’re honest, so I asked lead author Paul Crilley a few questions about it all.

How long have you been a fan of The X-Files, and what are some of your favourite episodes from the show?
I’ve been a huge fan right from the beginning. The X-Files started showing on TV here in South Africa back in 1994/95 and I’ve followed it since then. One of my friends used to buy all the VHS videos (the ones that collected all the mythology episodes, then the standalone episodes, that kind of thing). I bought the Topps graphic novels as well.

Lead author Paul Crilley © Paul Crilley
Lead author Paul Crilley © Paul Crilley

How did you come to work on The X-Files: Conspiracy?
I’ve actually pitched for X-files before and on the strength of those proposals Denton Tipton [IDW Editor] asked if I would be interested in doing X-Files: Conspiracy. Obviously, it was a very easy decision to make.

Which of the other four properties also appearing in the series were you most excited to work with?
I only worked on The X-Files and Transformers. Those were great fun, especially as my son is a huge Transformers fan. But out of the other properties, it would have been great to try out Ghostbusters. I’m a huge fan of the movie. It’s one of my favorites.

Which one did you find most challenging to incorporate into the The X-Files universe?
It was difficult coming up with an overall idea to tie all the properties together. It had to be believable in each of the property’s universes while at the same time fitting in to an X-Files story. It was tricky balancing the tones of each strip. But once the framework story was in place, the other properties seemed to fit quite easily.

Are there any other properties you think would work well if The X-Files: Conspiracy were to come back for another run?
I’d love to do a Judge Dredd crossover. And G.I. Joe might work. Military stories tie in quite easily with X-Files ideas.

The X-Files: Season 10 has been going for eight months now. Did you take any cues from that series in developing Conspiracy or separate entirely from it?
Totally separate. I didn’t want to step on Joe’s [Harris – author of The X-Files Season 10] toes. It had to be standalone.

Conspiracy #1 Cover A © IDW
Conspiracy #1 Cover A © IDW

Conspiracy is set in 2014; how did you approach bringing The X-Files into the modern era?
It wasn’t too hard. The last X-Files movie was relatively recent, and you just have to read the news to see there are so many ideas out there for X-Files stories. (Actually, the impetus behind this story is WikiLeaks.)

Which character did you enjoy writing for the most?
Probably Mulder. I love the dry sense of humor he has.

In issue one we see The Lone Gunmen working alongside Mulder and Scully. Can we expect appearances from any other characters such as A.D. Skinner, Agents Doggett and Reyes, or the Smoking Man?
I’m afraid not. Only two of the issues are full-on X-Files and we needed the panel count to introduce and tie-up the Conspiracy storyline, so there wasn’t space for them. Maybe I’ll get to write them in the future though.

If thought of Agents Mulder & Scully crossing paths with the Ghostbusters and more has piqued your interest, Conspiracy #1 is out today and reviewed in this week’s Comic Book Corner column here on GeekMom.

GeekMom Jenny Williams Talks Parenting and What It Means to Be a Geek

“Imagine the possibilities.”

That statement pretty much sums up the parental journey for a lot of us. Those are also words that inspire GeekMom Jenny Williams, our fearless co-founder/editor and one of the core contributors over at GeekDad.

Jenny recently sat down for a chat with The Parentalist, where she touched on her family’s 40-day road trip (which included a stop at NASA!), homeschooling, her passion for mental health, and much more. The interview covers a ton of topics and, of course, all of the possibilities that come with being a GeekMom.

“The reason ‘imagine the possibilities’ works well for me is it reminds me that almost all of the options in the world are available to me. I can do anything I want. I can achieve anything I want. You just have to be open to sometimes unconventional ways of doing things.”

The entire interview is available as a podcast or you can watch it in the video above.

Hanks and Thompson on Recreating History in Saving Mr. Banks

Photo courtesy Disney 2013

Last month, I attended a press junket at the Beverly Hills Hotel that included Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, and B.J. Novak. That’s a lot of star power to take in, but when they all broke out into a chorus of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins I had to wonder if I was maybe in the midst of some strange dream. But no, it was real, and I have the recording to prove it.

The actors—along with director John Lee Hancock, writer Kelly Marcel and producer Alison Owen­—were there to promote the new film Saving Mr. Banks, which opened in wide release on Dec. 20.

The film tells the parallel story of how Walt Disney (Hanks) persuaded reluctant author P.L. Travers (Golden Globe-nominee Thompson) to let him adapt her Mary Poppins books into a film and how her childhood experiences growing up in rural Australia with a loving but unstable father (Farrell) informed her personality and work.

It’s always challenge to play characters based on real people, especially someone as well known as Walt Disney. We asked Thompson and Hanks about following the trail of breadcrumbs that led from the real-life figures to the big screen (the term “breadcrumbs” is actually what inspired Hanks to instigate the impromptu singalong), and they had some interesting thoughts to share about the challenges that presented.

Here’s what Thompson said about playing the famously prickly P.L. Travers:

I liked that you used “breadcrumbs,” you know, because it makes me think of Theseus and the minotaur and the fact that P.L. Travers was so fascinated with myth, and was a searcher all her life. So it was very breadcrumb-y, my search for her. She was like going into a maze. And round some corners you’d find this terrible monster. And round another corner you’d find a sort of beaten child. So she was the most extraordinary combination of things. And I suppose that was the scary thing, because in films—I don’t know whether my colleagues would agree—but we often get to play people who are emotionally, or at least morally, consistent in some way. And she wasn’t consistent in any way. You would not know what you would get from one moment to the next.

Thompson, who played a nanny herself in the Nanny McPhee films, also had an interesting feminist take on the nanny figure in popular culture.

I’ve always thought that Nanny McPhee [equals] Mary Poppins. So there’s a very real connection in the sense that, you know, the outsider comes into the place where there is difficulty and solves the problem using unorthodox methods, and then must leave. That’s a Western. And because women don’t have that kind of power, the Western form—which is a myth, an essential myth—emerges in the female world in the nursery.

Photo courtesy Disney 2013

Prior to the film, Tom Hanks met with Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller (who just passed away this November) and received unlimited access to the studio archives and the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also relied on stories from people who worked with Walt, including composer Richard Sherman (played in the film by Jason Schwartzman).

I had a lot of video and audio I could work with. The only handicap there was a lot of it is Walt Disney playing Walt Disney. But even in some of that, and plenty of others, there is an ocean of cadence to the man, and that true sense that he believed everything that he said about his projects. And he completely embraced the possibilities of wonder in the movies that he was going to make as well as the rides he was going to come up with and the things that he was going to build.

Hanks said that at the time the film takes place, Walt Disney had already achieved success and become the figure that we’re familiar with today. Still, there were some aspects of the real man that came as a surprise as he was doing his research.

Walt Disney at this time in his life is very much already Walt Disney. He is the accomplished artist, industrialist, that he was. The nature of the surprises came down to how much of a regular dad this guy was. I mean, Disneyland itself came about because he used to spend every Saturday with his two daughters. And after a while, here in L.A., he ran out of places that he could take his two daughters. … And he was sitting eating peanuts on a park bench in Griffith Park and the girls were on the merry-go-round and he said, “God, there really should be place dads can take their daughters on a Saturday in L.A.” And from that, Disneyland was born.

Saving Mr. Banks takes some dramatic liberties with the true story behind the legend, but in the end, I viewed it as a thoughtful piece about the creative process and what we put of ourselves into our work. That’s something that resonated with everyone working on the film, and it’s something many of us watching can relate to as well.

Warehouse 13 Cast Talk Show Finale at MCM Expo London

Warehouse 13 © SyFy
Warehouse 13 © SyFy

Last weekend Eddie McClintock, Saul Rubinek and Kelly Hu from SyFy’s Warehouse 13 visited London to meet fans at the MCM Expo Comic Con. I was lucky enough to spend some time with the cast both at a public panel and later during a short interview.

One of the most obvious impressions I came away with having met the Warehouse 13 cast was how much genuine affection they have for the show. With the upcoming season five now confirmed as the final season and only six episodes long, naturally many of the questions asked were about how everyone felt regarding the show’s impending finale.

Saul told us that “saying goodbye to the warehouse” was the hardest scene he had ever shot for the show and Eddie recounted a story in which he was performing a monologue for the end of the series. Right before filming commenced, executive producer Jack Kenny approached him and whispered that he would “never again say these words to these people in this place.” The resulting emotion caused Eddie to genuinely breakdown during filming, tipping the rest of the onlooking actors into tears themselves.

Saul also had his own moment of deep emotion during the finale filming. Sitting alone on a prop car he recalled sitting in the same spot many years before, that time during filming of the show’s pilot with his 12-year-old son who has since left to begin college. He immediately asked the crew to begin filming an emotional monologue he had been struggling with, so far finding that the emotions were now flowing easily, although shooting a second take was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.

Asked whether or not they were happy with what eventually happens to their characters, all three agreed that they were. Eddie explained that upon hearing of the show’s cancellation he called Jack Kenny very upset and asked what would happen to them and the Warehouse; what are you gonna do, are you gonna kill us all, are you gonna kill the Warehouse? he asked.

Jack replied nah, we’ve already killed everybody… a few times and proceeded to explain the show’s finale to Eddie who soon found himself almost in tears on the phone. “I think everybody ends up where they should be,” he summarised. Saul instantly agreed with him, “like all really good stuff that’s written, it’s both surprising and inevitable at the same time – I’m really proud of that,” he explained. “We were all touched and moved by the fight [to produce a short fifth season so the show would have closure] and by the beautiful writing,” he told us, I know our fans will feel a sense of completion and a sense of continuity.”

Eddie McClintock, Saul Rubinek, & Kelly Hu at MCM Expo © MCM Expo
Eddie McClintock, Saul Rubinek, & Kelly Hu at MCM Expo © MCM Expo

Another thing that made a big impact on me during my time with Warehouse 13 was their dedication to family. There is a clear sense of pride that comes, most noticeably from Saul, on how the show is truly for families.

“We loved that we could create a show without talking up to people and without talking down to people,” he said during the panel. Later, he recounted a story from a previous fan event where an elderly grandmother had approached him with her young grandson and talked to him about how they watched the show together–this he explained was one of his happiest and proudest moments. “We’re dads, we have kids and we wanted to make a show that a family can watch together – it’s the proudest thing we’ve got.”

Part of the way in which the show is pitched at all levels is with its humor. “There’s jokes on a number of levels,” Saul explained, from adult references that will sail over the heads of any children watching right down to the more base level humor of gas jokes. “It’s a gassy show,” he admitted. “Thank God it’s a big warehouse,” added Kelly Hu.

The cast also mentioned how violence is kept mostly off-screen, except for almost comical cartoon style fights. It’s a fair point. The agents of Warehouse 13 use Tesla guns and rifles that usually stun their opponents as opposed to traditional firearms and even when characters are killed there is little to no blood on screen. The death of a major recurring character in the show’s third season was shot in such a family oriented style that I would have no qualms about letting the scene run in front of my preschooler.

I was deeply upset when I learned that Warehouse 13 was getting cancelled and spending time with the cast has only made the tragedy of the fact more apparent. There are precious few geeky shows that families can watch together, and as of 2014 there will be one less. Still there are six more episodes left to air and I am now more confident than ever that Warehouse 13 will be going out on a high.

Entry to MCM Expo was provided free by the organiser.

The Cute Girl Network: Interview!

By First Second

Imagine a community where you could get the low-down on every guy in town—what they are really like to date?

That’s The Cute Girl Network in the fictional town of Brookport in a new graphic novel published by First Second. The two writers MK Reed and G. Means, and artist Joe Flood, collaborated on the project. The story revolves around a newcomer to Brookport: a skater-chick named Jane, who falls for sweet, but hapless Jack. She is pulled into The Cute Girl Network, with horrible stories of Jack. Will she trust her instincts? Or her new girlfriends? The graphic novel comes out November 12th.

I had the opportunity to interview the creators, and I love their answers! Check it out:

GeekMom: Three collaborators on a graphic novel. How did that come about? How did the process work throughout the project?

MK: We did it through the magic of the internet. Greg and I wrote the script over Google Docs, which allowed us to both contribute parts & do rewrites of each other’s sections and have it all up-to-date in one file while working from opposite sides of the country. Joe came along after First Second had picked it up, and thumbnailed the book, sent it to us for feedback, and then turned in the finished art a year later.

Greg: MK and Joe have been good friends for years. They take road trips together and he sleeps on her couch sometimes. I was always hoping to team them up on a project, luckily the stars aligned for this one.

Joe:  I was nervous about having two writers at first, I assumed that would translate into twice as many notes, two pairs of eyes scrutinizing every line I draw. But it turns out Greg and MK complement each other, they have a wonderful Yin and Yang thing going. I guess that would make me the poorly drawn dragon wrapped around it when it’s tattooed on the back of some dude’s neck.

GeekMom: I have to admit, as soon as the “Vampyr Moon” conversation began, I rolled my eyes thinking it would be yet another bash-fest about Twilight. But the conversation in the book was more real than I expected—with fair viewpoints. Although I’m not a fan of the Twilight series myself, I find the extreme negativity associated with it very distasteful. So thank you for that. Thoughts on it? The excerpt at the end was hilarious. Who decided to put that in? How fun was that to write?

MK: The Twihards take a lot of BS for their love, but it’s certainly not significantly more ridiculous than the rest of comic, sci-fi, & fantasy fandoms. That said, I completely disagree with its messages (as I understand them without having read the books*), but that’s what made it so fun to parody.
*Our book designer Colleen first told me about this ridiculous vampire romance series in maybe 2006 or 2007, and I listened to the first twenty minutes of the audiobook before I found Bella to be UNBEARABLE.

Greg: The “Vampyr Boyfriend” excerpt at the end was MK’s idea. She’s great at that stuff. Check out her fake fantasy novel in her previous book AMERICUS for proof. We’ve got to get her do a full prose novel one of these days.

GeekMom: I see Joe lives in Brooklyn. Was that the template for the fantastic wide shots of the city in the book? I love the details.

Joe: I’m glad you enjoyed them. Hopefully I got most of the details right because I was drawing from memory. Shortly after being signed onto the book I moved to Atlanta, because my wife was going to grad school there. I was very homesick for 13 months I was working on the art, desperately trying to remember the home I had recently left. The city of Brookport is an amalgamation of Brooklyn and Portland, MK and Greg’s homes respectively. Having visited Portland, OR once briefly, I based most of the city scapes on Brooklyn. I had lived there for most of my adult life. (Grew up in NJ, lived a few years in Manhattan before settling in Brooklyn.) I’m happy to report that I’m back in the NY area, living in the suburbs. The prospect of ever moving back to Brooklyn, remains to be seen.

GeekMom: “Look, those network girls all seemed perfectly nice…but if we were in first grade together, I’d be shoving them in the mud and they’d be calling me a poop face.” This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. Jane is helping out with a project about little girls on the playground, but she doesn’t like them. She also doesn’t have a lot in common with most of the women her age, either, yet she is able to live with them. What are you trying to say about how girls interact vs how women interact?

MK: Adults are a bit better at trying to find some common ground, and can disagree without being enemies for life. Sometimes.

GeekMom: The “cute girl network” is painted as just a gossipy bunch of bitter women. Do you think there could be a positive form of the “network”?

MK: There’s totally a different book to be written where Harriet is a bad-ass who saves unsuspecting women from jerks left and right, and if we did a sequel that’s probably what we’d aim to write.

GeekMom: In Jane and Jack’s relationship, she is the motivated one for career plans, and Jack is in the supportive role. Do you think this is becoming more common in real life?

MK: It’s definitely become more socially acceptable.

Greg: I think Jack would make a great stay-at-home dad someday.

Joe: I aspire to be a stay-at-home dad.

GeekMom: Jack’s two roommates are great characters. How did you come up with them and their house dynamic?

Greg: Gil and Rose are based on two friends from my old day job. When we worked together, there was always lots of joking and bickering but when I needed their help, they’d swoop in and save the day. In real life, they liked to give me dating advice too. Some good, some not so good.

GeekMom: I would put this book in the 16+ category, mostly for the casual sex. Greg, as a librarian, how would you file your own book?

Greg: Yeah, 16+ sounds good. At my library, we have juvenile, YA, and adult graphic novel sections. I’d put The Cute Girl Network in adult. Though, I think as a teenager, I would have loved this book. I was always curious about how people in their 20s lived once they were free of school and parents. I probably would have romanticized Jack’s minimum wage job and windowless apartment.

Thanks so much for giving us some insight into The Cute Girl Network!

By First Second
By First Second
By First Second



Inside Disney’s Frozen: Q&A with the Directors

The lobby of Walt Disney Animation Studios gets the Frozen treatment. Photo credit: WDAS

It’s less than two months until Disney’s latest animated film Frozen is due in theaters, and the anticipation is building at a—pardon the expression—heated pace. That’s by design, of course; the Disney machine is nothing if not efficient at reaching out to its base of fans through its vast array of entertainment outlets. Each little morsel released—be it poster art, footage, music, a trailer, a longer trailer, whatever—has been carefully parceled out to achieve the maximum fan response while still keeping a sense of mystery. And it’s worked. Some folks are so enthusiastic about this movie they cosplayed as the characters at the D23 Expo this summer. This was in August. For a movie they won’t get to see until Thanksgiving.

In case you haven’t been following the buzz, Frozen is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Snow Queen. It stars the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as two royal sisters, separated at a young age by tragedy. Menzel plays Elsa, the elder sister and first in line to the throne of Arendelle. Born with the power to control ice and snow, she remains guarded and secretive until she accidentally reveals her abilities in front of a crowd of terrified citizens. She flees in disgrace and unleashes a terrible snow storm, freezing the entire kingdom in an eternal winter and retreating to an ice fortress of her own creation. Bell provides the voice of younger sister Anna, who takes it upon herself to seek out her sister and convince her to restore the summer. Along the way, she receives help from a rugged mountain man named Kristoff (Jonathon Groff), his trusty reindeer Sven, and a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

I won’t deny that I’m in that camp of fans excited about this film. Ever since I saw Menzel’s electrifying live performance of her character’s anthem “Let It Go” at that same August convention, I’ve been eager to see more. A couple of weeks ago I finally got the chance. At a press day for journalists at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, Calif., I had the opportunity to peek inside the machine and meet some of the creative talents working behind the scenes on the technical and visual aspects of the film—from the rendering of snow, hair, and clothes to the production design and the characters themselves.

We also viewed nearly 30 minutes of the film, including two full musical numbers: “Let It Go,” in which Elsa finally unleashes the powers she’s been keeping in check all these years, and Olaf’s song “In Summer,” about all the things he’s going to do when it’s warm again (not realizing, of course, what happens to snow when it melts). All the original songs were written by husband and wife team Robert “Bobby” Lopez (Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who previously worked with her husband on the Winnie the Pooh movie).

Toward the end of the day I had a chance to speak with the film’s co-directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who now has the distinction of being the first woman to have a directing credit on a Disney animated film). Buck has had a long association with Disney, having gotten his start as an animator and working his way up through the ranks to direct the 1999 animated film Tarzan. Lee, meanwhile, makes her directing debut with Frozen, which she also co-wrote. She came to the project by way of a screenwriting gig on the most recent Disney animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph. I kicked off the interview by asking them about the process of putting together the film’s impressive cast.

Lee and Buck present footage from the film. Photo credit: WDAS

Could you talk about the casting and how it came together for this film?

Buck: Kristen Bell was here; our casting director brought her in for another project. I was working on The Snow Queen [as the film was originally called] at the time, and the casting director wanted me to meet Kristen; he thought she’d be perfect for one of our parts. And that was kind of it. I fell in love with her voice and her spirit. We went through a long casting process of trying to find the right Anna. She was like the first one we saw and she was it.

Lee: What I love about Kristen, first and foremost, is, like me, she believes that girls can be funny. So she was a fantastic collaborator. And I’d bring pages in and we’d say, “Play.” And she imbued it with herself. You know, it was very important to her to have a relatable heroine. And I’m always up for that. So we really found the voice of Anna with her. And it was the same with Josh. When you have characters that have to be sort of very organically funny and yet very genuine, you want them to speak genuine, you don’t want lines. And you want to just feel them. And so we did a lot more improvising with the two of them probably than anyone, but it was great.

Did Bobby Lopez have an influence in Josh Gad coming on because of their Book of Mormon connection?

Buck: Josh was already sort of in the Olaf camp before Bobby and Kristin even came on. I hadn’t even met Bobby and Kristin yet. And it was before he had done Book of Mormon. Josh was an actor here in L.A. and the casting director brought him in. So it just was an amazing coincidence. And then Josh can talk about how Bobby wrote these songs for him that were too high or something, because Bobby’s just messing with Josh, to have fun with him.

Lee: Jonathan was fun because these guys, before I came on, they thought a lot about Kristoff and the idea was that he wouldn’t talk very much, that he’d be very gruff.

Buck: Gruff mountain man.

Lee: Hard to crack. Hard to get in there and get him to emote. And Jonathan came in. (To Buck:) You can tell this [story].

Buck: I was in the booth with Jonathan. I was reading lines with him. And I thought he was doing a good job, you know? … And once he left I said, “Well, what do you think? I thought he was pretty good.” And the women were like, “Oh my god, his voice!”

Lee: I like to say he has a voice of butter. He’s just this wonderfully welcoming voice. And his character was evolving and becoming someone who more represents, sort of that, you know he’s got the honest goods kind of guy. And our themes are about fear and love and the power of the two of them and which can win. And every character represents some part of fear and love and he just, he has this wonderful way about him that is very genuine and real and yet he can tell you the hard truth and do it in a way where you’re like, “Okay.” I like characters that can actually talk. So that was a good find.

Buck: So actually he kind of influenced the character itself. And then Idina. Idina, amazing actress, amazing voice.

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Photo credit: WDAS

Lee: But you know one thing, you said it really well about her speaking voice compared to her singing voice and how perfect it is for Elsa because of the vulnerability. There’s a slight, when she talks, there’s a gentleness and a reserved quality that sounds vulnerable. And as Elsa got more complex and wasn’t sort of this hard villain, that became such a wonderful quality to have. And it really balanced with Kristen Bell.

Buck: When you’re casting, we have already done designs for the characters, and so it’s always about looking at that design with their voice. Sometimes it’s a little distracting if you watch them, because all actors are very charming and they have this wonderful charisma. But we’re not going to be able to use their face, so it’s all about their voice, and that’s what we do. We really look at the designs to make sure that voice really feels right.

Can you talk about Olaf? Does he have a backstory?

Lee: When Anna and Elsa were very little, and before Elsa’s powers accidentally hurt Anna, they played. They’d sneak away and play with her powers. And you see them roll the snowman. He’s not magical. He doesn’t come to life. But they name him Olaf and he likes warm hugs.

Buck: Anna even does this little face with buck teeth.

Lee: It inspires the look. And so when Elsa is singing “Let It Go” obviously the first thing she goes to is the last moment she was happy. And it was that moment. And so he’s imbued with that. He’s innocent love. Like I say, we keep saying, the real themes are sort of the power of love versus fear. And he represents the most innocent love. And he’s also got a lot of the young Anna’s characteristics, because I think to Elsa that’s who she really loved. And so he was just a lot of fun, and emotionally he’ll bring a lot that we weren’t able to show you yet, too. So he’s funny in the kids-state-the-obvious kind of way.

Buck: And he can say very poignant things too.

Lee: Very poignant, the way kids sometimes just go right to it.

How did the story evolve from the original Hans Christian Andersen version of The Snow Queen into Frozen?

Buck: There are some very basic parts of the story that are in our story. This theme of this young girl—Gerda is the girl in the story—who won’t give up on finding her friend Kai. … And Kai is living in fear. There’s a troll in it and a mirror and shards and all this stuff and Kai gets a shard stuck in his eye and he only sees the negative in the world and the fear. But Gerda somehow did not get the shard and the only thing she really has in her, she’s not a superhero or anything, but she has love. And it’s love that conquers fear in the end. She pursues her friend and saves her friend from the Snow Queen.

Lee: Yeah, the issue with the original for us in a lot of ways is it’s a very symbolic story. It’s very hard to translate symbolism into concrete things. Film is concrete, so you translate it. So the Snow Queen was not very well drawn; she was symbolic. And so we really imbued Kai in Elsa to give character. So you’ve got sort of that same core. And then obviously the setting, it is set mainly in Norway, Scandinavia. And there are trolls, we have our own version of the trolls. And there are certain people that Gerda meets along the way that we’ve sort of combined into characters. Because you’re always going back to it. Because, you know, it’s inspiring for many reasons, but certainly the theme.

Photo credit: WDAS

Speaking of inspiration, can you talk about what inspired you to take on this project in the first place?

Buck: [I was] attracted to the story and that theme, and then also the environment. It’s a magical world. Snow and winter and ice, even without Elsa’s magic, is magical. So it’s an environment, as [animation studio head John Lasseter] always wants us to do, too. It’s like, “Take me to a place I’ve never seen. Take me to a world I’ve never seen. … Transport me.” And so it spoke to John. … I pitched an ending—I can’t really tell you what the ending is, because it’s pretty special—but that was the thing. Even though the story changed quite a bit throughout, that was always the constant. That was, “How do we get this ending? Let’s work toward this ending.”

Lee: For me, it was the sister story. I have a sister. I went to that immediately. But also, the potential for these characters to be more than anything you’d seen before in female characters. They’re both equally powerful, vulnerable, very real, very relatable. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I mean, they’ve got a kingdom one has accidentally put in peril, the other’s stuck in the middle. And I thought the stakes were high, and I loved that the stakes were on them. And then, this ending. I mean, there was an ending everyone had responded too, all of us, the minute we heard it. And when I came on, it was [studio president] Ed Catmull who said you have to earn that ending. And that was not going to be easy. And the movie got bigger and bigger and bigger in order to do that. And they went with it. But those were the two biggest things for me. And everything went from there. I was just hooked, I guess.

Buck: What I think is great about this studio, Disney itself, is that we can do all these different types of movies. And we try to keep it fresh for us and we try to keep it fresh for the audience.

Lee:: Yeah. And what’s great is they really support the differences. … The thing we never can compromise on is the story. It has to be solid and resonate, but we have complete creative freedom. So you can have these two films that are completely different happening and we’re not being forced to make a style. It’s really about what we want to create. That’s been really cool, to do something that different.

Chatting With Jodi Benson, Voice of The Little Mermaid

Jodi Benson, The Little Mermaid, Image: Nicole Wakelin
Jodi Benson, The Little Mermaid, Image: Nicole Wakelin

Jodi Benson has voiced countless characters in video games, television shows, and animated features as well as appearing on Broadway, but she is most well-known for providing the voice of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I had an opportunity to sit down for a roundtable discussion with Jodi about being Ariel and the impact it has had on her life.

Jodi came from Broadway and was new to voicing animated characters so she had to learn the ropes while she was recording Ariel. She even faced first-day jitters just like anyone starting a new job. “The first two days were just a whirlwind and you have to overcome your nerves because your nerves show through your voice so much. And I just didn’t know what I was doing. I felt embarrassed and completely unqualified. Learning this whole craft was a little hard for me.”

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

She credits her ability to create the voice and character of Ariel to all the incredible people she worked with like Ron Clements, John Musker, and Howard Ashman.

“During our sessions that’s probably the most challenging thing for me, I felt like I was giving it my all and when I was in the studio, and I still do this now, I don’t just say the lines I physically act everything out. That’s just kind of how I work. I would just pour it all out on the line and pour out my heart and Ron and John would push the button and say ‘We’re just not getting it.’ And that’s were Howard was really helpful to try to convey everything that you’re feeling with just your voice.”

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

Yet, from that rocky, nerve-wracked start came one of the most beloved Disney princesses. Jodi knew, even before the movie was a hit, that she was working on something that could last far longer than just those first nervous recording sessions and it was a big concern.

“The realization that this character was possibly going to live forever and to maintain the integrity of it and the responsibility. It’s not a job. It’s not just a character. She’s an icon, a character that’s touched a lot of people’s lives.”

She first voiced Ariel 25 years ago and since then, the character has remained an important part of her life. “Everything that I’ve had…ever since that day, since the movie came out, every job, every concert, business relationship, pretty much everything has happened because of this film. It’s been really life changing.”

Image: Disney
Image: Disney

And although many actors tire of the roles that made them famous and grow weary of being identified as one character among the many they have played, Jodi has no such problems being identified as he little red-headed mermaid.

“This character has definitely changed my life. Some people ask is it limiting or do you feel its been restricting to you or that’s the only way people know you as and I just don’t really see it that way. I just look at it as an incredible blessing.”

You can hear Jodi in her most famous role when The Little Mermaid Diamond Edition arrives on Blu-ray/DVD on October 1st.