Web Comics (Part 2)

I wrote a post about fantasy web comics I enjoy a few months ago. I never intended to write a follow up but there are three more comics I’ve been reading regularly that I felt like sharing.

Hark! A Vagrant: Written by Kate Beaton, these comics more often deal with history (especially her native Canadian) and literature than fantasy. But some of that literature is very healthily within the fantasy range (see, for instance, her take on Dracula). She’s certainly not above superheros (Wonder Woman, X-Men) or legendary characters (Robin Hood), and she loves her some mermaids (Part 1 of a 7 part story starts here, and a couple stand alone comics here and here). Also, fairy tales! She’s taking a bit of a breather from regular comic updates on her site (thanks to her recently published book) but she does have a tumblr page that she keeps updated with funny and interesting tidbits.

Wondermark: David Malki! (the exclamation point is very important) takes pictures from old papers and books and creates comics from them. They are very, very silly comics. Many of his comics seem to fall solidly in the “steampunk” category as most of the characters have a Victorian look to them and he loves over-the-top inventionsCrazy animals make frequent appearances and there is also a recurring alien character from the planet Gax. Malki has been creating these comics since 2003 so there are a lot of them to go through. But they are all worth it. Every. Single. One.

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Words can not express how much I love this comic. Dr. Mcninja is a 35 year old ninja. But he’s also a doctor. This is a huge disappointment to his parents because Dr. McNinja is descended from a long line of Irish ninjas. Yes, Irish. The doctor runs a private practice with his receptionist, Judy (a gorilla) and his 12 year old side kick, Gordito. Who rides a raptor named Yoshi and grew a mustache through sheer force of will. It’s silly, it’s funny, it’s amazingly awesome and you can start reading it here.

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Party like it’s 1499…

It’s Renaissance Fair time! Well, at least in my area.

Most of the Renaissance Fairs (or Faires) intend to show life in the 1500’s, usually in Tudor England. Many fairs encourage a broad range of time periods and costumes though, as fantasy elements and pirates are generally accepted and sometimes even encouraged. The fairs tend to be a mix of entertainment and shopping. Some of the entertainments are educational, such as cultural dances and birds of prey demonstrations, but some are purely for laughs (Tortuga Twins, anyone?). Shopping ranges from jewelry and clothing, to incense and furniture. And the food! Typical fair food I guess, where anything you want fried is on the menu. But there’s also turkey legs the size of your head and mead, at very high prices of course, but where else are you going to find mead readily available?

I grew up going to the Georgia Renaissance Festival (it’s the same age as I am too!). At its old location you used to have to walk through a tree-lined path from the parking lot before finally getting to the entrance gate; hearing the sounds of the fair (the music! the cheering crowds! the general noise of large amounts of people!) for several minutes before finally getting to go in was almost torture for my little excited self. One magical year an employee at the fair requested to take a few promotional photos of my family. In return, we would be given free ice cream sundaes. When you’re eight years old, life doesn’t get much better than ice cream (and almost twenty years later, I’m embarrassed to admit that my feelings haven’t changed much). Since I’ve gotten older I’m really the only one in my family who still enjoys going. My sister has allowed me to drag her along occasionally but she’s moved out of state now and is beyond the begging of her baby sister. This year I may just have to go it alone.

If you’re looking for a fair in your area, this website seems to be a pretty good resource. It’s a year or two out of date but it could be a good starting place to find the fair closest to your city.

Any other fair-goers out there? I’d love to hear your stories too.

Wildwood

I read a daily comic called Unshelved. It’s all about libraries and the crazy stuff that happens in them. As a librarian, I find it funny mainly because I’m thinking the whole time “oh goodness, that just happened to me a few days ago”. Every Friday, they have a handful of reviews of books for all different ages, from all different genres. It’s a great place to find things to read. A few weeks ago, one of the reviews was for Wildwood by Carson Meloy.

It sounded interesting: Prue McKeel lives in Portland. She’s twelve and has a baby brother, Mac. Prue and Mac are at the playground one day when Mac is taken by a flock (or murder) of crows. Prue follows them as far as the edges of the city but stops when she sees them taking Mac into the Impassable Wilderness, a large forest right outside of Portland that Prue has always been told is empty of people. She’s about to discover how wrong that is.

I love crows (they are some of the most intelligent creatures out there) and I love books about forests/wilderness and discovery/surviving in the forest/wilderness. Also, once I got the book I was a bit in love with the beautiful illustrations by Carson Ellis (who happens to be Colin Meloy’s wife, himself the lead singer of the band The Decemberists). So I was pretty excited to start reading this book.

But that excitement didn’t last long. I’m not really sure what it was but something about the book? the writing? the story? just turned me off of it completely. It could have been that Prue was such a hipster in training. Ugh. After Mac is taken, Prue manages to sneak into the Impassable Wilderness to try and rescue her brother. A classmate, Curtis, tags along. They run into coyote soldiers early on, are separated to follow their own individual adventures and discover in the process much about themselves and the whole world that exists in the Impassable Wilderness (where, of course, Prue and Curtis are labeled as Outsiders).

A lot of the problems with this book were the characters. One of the leaders is a weak, ineffective and corrupt bureaucrat.  The villain of the story is a deposed former leader (a woman who fell into practicing Dark Arts after her son died) who is now psychotic and willing to do anything to get her revenge after being banished. A mystic helps Prue towards the end of the book and she is elderly, frail, and ethereal. She also has silver hair and smells like lavender. There are numerous characters who find their courage in helping Prue and there are characters that turn to good thanks to Curtis. I don’t know, I just felt like I had seen these characters in every fantasy book I’ve read before. There was nothing particularly original about any of it. Also, there are bandits that live in the forest, very much like Robin Hood and his merry men, and the Bandit King is almost always described as sweaty, covered in perspiration, dirty, etc. Gross. I realize he lives in a forest but he couldn’t find a creek anywhere? The man must have been absolutely disgusting to be around.

Another thing that bothered me was the tone. There would be attempts at humor followed by scenes that bordered on brutal. It just seemed to jar unpleasantly with the twee illustrations from Ellis and seemed completely inappropriate for a childrens’ book. I’m ok with darkness in kids’ stories but this was slightly ridiculous.

This book was about 500 pages, which is really long for a children’s book and I’m fairly certain it could have been much shorter. I kept thinking it was close to wrapping up but then realizing there was still 200, 100, 50 pages left. There were also some unanswered questions, specifically the “half-breed” status that is given to Prue and to Curtis by the citizens of Wildwood. Prue’s designation is kind of explained (but very unsatisfactorily in my opinion) but Curtis’ never is. However, the book is explicitly called Book I of the Wildwood Chronicles, so maybe those questions will be answered in future books. I, for one, am not particularly interested in having to read through another 500+ pages to find out.

Don’t You Love It…

Don’t you love when you’ve been waiting to see a movie and you really want it to be good and it turns out to be just as good as you were hoping? I got to watch two movies this past week that were every bit as good as I wanted them to be.

HANNA

I’ve been wanting to see Hanna since it first came out. I’m fairly certain I read Roger Ebert’s review which mentioned the fairy tale aspects of it and I was hooked. But I was never able to make it to the theater and I was unable to watch it until someone happened to donate a copy to the library where I work. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was pretty sure I was going to like it. And I did!

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has lived near the Arctic Circle almost her entire life. Her father, Erik Heller (played by Eric Bana), has taught Hanna how to fight, how to hunt, how to survive. She speaks at least 5 languages and was taught by her father with nothing but an encyclopedia and a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Their simple cottage is in a snow covered forest where they live completely alone. Soon Hanna begins to insist to her father that she’s ready. We’re not told exactly what she is ready for but soon Hanna flips a switch to tell Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) where she is. Her father leaves after they work out her back story and where they will meet up (Wilhem Grimm’s house in Berlin!) and soon armed men come to take her away. Hanna wakes up in a fancy prison cell, freaks everyone out with her ruthless killing skills and then escapes thinking she has killed Marissa. Except she hasn’t. And now Marissa is determined to find Erik and Hanna and get rid of them.

I loved the fairy tale elements in this story. Hanna comes from “the forest” (her description) and Marissa is called a witch. The whole movie has a certain dreaminess to it that contrasts well with the violence that was found in many of the Grimm tales. This isn’t a Disney story where everyone has a happy ending. Also, the music (done by The Chemical Brothers) is really good. If you ever get the chance to watch this one, take it.

THOR

I finally got to see Thor. So happy. I would have felt terribly cheated if I hadn’t been able to see it before The Avengers comes out!

As I’ve mentioned before, I was initially a bit nervous about seeing Thor. I love Norse mythology and I could tell from the previews that Thor the movie was not going to be too similar to Thor the Norse god. But I set that aside and just enjoyed the movie. And I loved it!

When we first meet Thor he is being shown the weapon of the Frost Giants that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has captured. Odin tells Thor and his brother Loki that both are the sons of kings but only one can rule Asgard and take Odin’s place. Fast forward a few years and clearly Thor has been chosen to succeed his father. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is now tall, blond and handsome. He also seems to be more than a bit arrogant of his prowess with his trusty giant killing hammer Mjollnir. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) seems to be ok with this turn of events however and Thor and Loki seem to be friends as well as brothers. So anyways, today just happens to be the day Odin is officially naming Thor as his successor. But oh no! Frost Giants break in and try to steal their weapon. They are destroyed by a handy invention of Odin’s fortunately before they can run off with it. Odin is relieved, Thor angry. Thor wants revenge and shows off his hot temper. Did I mention this attempt at theft happened right before Odin could announce Thor as his successor? Thor gets mad at Odin’s perceived softness and sneaks off with his friends to kill some giants on his own (introducing us to the Rainbow Bridge and Heimdall as well). Odin finds out and exiles Thor to Earth where he runs into pretty astro-physicist Jane (Natalie Portman). Hearing that Odin sent Mjollnir to Earth after him, Thor runs off to grab it and try to return it to Asgard. S.H.I.E.L.D got there first though and after a brief introduction to Hawkeye, Thor fails and is interrogated by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Meanwhile, Loki has pulled a coup at home while Odin is in some sort of coma. He comes to Earth, tells Thor Odin is dead, and that Thor can never come back. Thor accepts and attempts to live on Earth until his friends come to tell him how awful Loki is. Odin wakes up, Thor defeats Loki, and Thor becomes the god he should be. Loki gets sucked down to the world of the Frost Giants supposedly, but we’ll see him again in The Avengers.

I loved this movie because Chris Hemsworth was fantastic as Thor. And I loved Loki too. Loki’s a trickster god and reading the mythology, you’re always wondering “Loki, what are you doing?!?” And that’s kinda how I felt here too. Loki seemed to be trying to take over Asgard because it would cause problems. And that’s what Loki likes to do. And Thor and Odin are always just like “oh Loki! Enough now. Let’s go drink some mead.” And everything’s forgiven. Which is kinda what happens here. Only Loki chose to leave Asgard, nobody forced him to. So, loved Thor. Thor and Loki were great, can’t wait to see them again, and I really hope we get to see a scene like this again:

The Hunger Games Movie Review

I unexpectedly (and very last minute) got to go see The Hunger Games this weekend. Here are my thoughts on it. (Spoilers here, but I imagine everyone and their mom has by now either read the book or seen the movie so whatever. Read at your own risk.)

First, the trailers. There was a teaser for the last Twilight movie- thank goodness that will finally be over. There was also a trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman, which is looking better and better to me despite Kristen Stewart starring. Also, The Avengers! It looks soooo good. ImsoexcitedIcantwaitforMay4th. Seriously. There was a trailer for the new Spider-Man as well, still not sure how I feel about that one. The other Spider-Man came out just a few years ago and did very well, critically and commercially. How do they justify a new one? Or are they just trying to capitalize on the other one’s financial success? Well, anyways, the last trailer I remember was for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I’m not sure what tone the people behind this movie are going for but once people in the theater I was at saw what the movie was, they laughed. So if they’re going for ridiculous it might work. Otherwise, I’m not sure people are really interested in seeing Abraham Lincoln as a… well… vampire hunter.

On to the movie! I still haven’t read the book. I have also spent the last year or so trying to fight against the overwhelming hype behind this series. But I have grown increasingly curious about it. So the opportunity arose to see it and I took it.

I liked the movie overall. It was very entertaining and I can see why Katniss is so popular. It’s nice to see a girl that isn’t tough just because she’s a “strong female character” stereotype. She’s tough because she’s a survivor. And the Reaping, where she sacrifices herself for her little sister? Pretty powerful stuff. She’s tough, but she’s got a heart. I like it. So she and Peeta head off to the Capital which turns out to be a really awesome mix of Japanese pop culture and pseudo-Victoriana. I guess. I’m not really sure what was going on there but I know I want to live there. The only relatively normal looking one we meet there turns out to be…Lenny Kravitz? How does that work? He kinda creeped me out with some of those looks he was sending to Katniss. (She is way too young for you dude. And watch out cuz she’s a killer!) Most of the time in the Capital is spent showing how unlovable Katniss is and how unsuited Peeta is for the competition. But then! Katniss shoots an apple and all of a sudden everyone loves her and she’s the top choice to win! Hooray!

So we finally get to the actual game. Katniss and Peeta run off immediately after following their mentor Haymitch’s good advice. But not before Katniss gets a chance to see what a blood bath it actually is. (Half the contestants dead within 5 minutes? Jeez.) It’s off to the woods now where Katniss is in her element. After traveling too far away from other contestants she gets herded back towards them with fire controlled by the game masters. She gets badly burned but some miracle cream is sent to her that heals it overnight. Nice. Oh, there’s an alliance trying to kill her at the same time, she defeats them with the help of Rue, a young contestant. I guess Rue is supposed to be a sister substitute for Katniss? Good thing she dies though, since I’m not sure how that would have worked out if they were the last two alive. Oh, and Rue’s death scene? Totally ruined when the guy behind me says “It’s only a flesh wound”. There went that moment. Katniss does some three finger salute that I assume means something but is never explained. Katniss and Peeta join together when the rules seem to change allowing for 2 winners if they are from the same district. Until it’s changed back at the last moment. But then when Katniss and Peeta threaten to kill themselves leaving no winners it’s back to being okay there are two. People in the Capital aren’t very happy about that which I assume has a good deal to do with the sequels but for now Katniss and Peeta are back home to their lives in District 12.

Like I said, I found the movie to be entertaining. But I definitely feel it would have been a whole lot better if I had read the books beforehand. I’ve also heard rumors of a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. But I can’t understand why Katniss would ever be interested romantically in Peeta. Unless it’s because she’s got some complex where she has to “save” people. Because really, Peeta? Dragging her down. I was also unable to get rid of the undertone of horror I personally felt throughout the entire movie. How in the world does a trilogy of books for young adults about killing people for sport become so ridiculously popular?!!? This isn’t like Twilight where you’ve got some lowest common denominator love story. The Hunger Games is undeniably brutal and horrifying. I’ll eventually get around to reading the books but something tells me it will never be a favorite of mine.