Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Return to Wizard World: Nerd Organizer Panel

In addition to being a panelist on the Star Wars Fan Panel, I will also take part in the So You Want to Be a Nerd Organizer Panel at Wizard World Chicago this coming Saturday. The best part about being invited to speak on this panel is that I have plenty to share, but much more to learn. It will be as informative for me as the audience!

I am most looking forward to hearing from other organizers about their successes, struggles, what they have learned, and what they plan to do in the future. There are a ton of amazing nerdy organizations here in Chicago; it can be tough to gain momentum while planning events for specific groups. In my case, moderating events for Graham Crackers Comics Ladies' Night also comes with the double duty of being Editor-in-Chief of Ladies' Night Anthology. I cannot wait to walk away from this panel with more ideas for tackling community planning and event organizing. If you are interested in starting your own group, or volunteering (we all need help!), please join us on Saturday at Wizard World Chicago for this panel.

Saturday, August 22nd at Wizard World Chicago
So You Want to Be a Nerd Organizer Panel 3:30-4:15
Room 14

Whether you’re starting a podcast, a meet-up group, an online community, a con, a magazine, or a social movement, being a nerdy organizer of any kind means figuring out a lot of logistics. How do you choose who to work with? Where do you get started? How do you implement rules? How do you choose guests? On this panel, nerd con runners, community organizers, editors, and producers will share their experiences and advice about what's worked, and what hasn't.

For anyone who wants to Tweet about this panel, please use the hashtag #NerdOrganizer.

This panel sponsored in part by the Chicago Nerd Social Club

Panelists include:
Megan Byrd (Graham Cracker Comics Ladies Night),
Sondra de Jong (Nebula Awards Chicago, Capricon),
Tanya DePass (I Need Diverse Games),
Thomas Glen (ValorCon),
Matthew Peters (Mighty Ink Comics),
Michi Trota (Uncanny Magazine)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Return to Wizard World Chicago: A Star Wars Fan Panel

Eleven years ago this summer, I attended my first ever comic book convention. Wizard World Chicago 2004 was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Up until that point, I had enjoyed comics in a very isolated manner. Though many of my friends enjoyed nerdy things, very few read comic books. The summer before college, I vowed to "find my people" by finally attending a comic book convention.

I easily found a place within the comic book community at Wizard World. I met dozens of my favorite comic book creators, bought lots of comics, commissioned sketches in artist alley, and of course attended panels. Over the next several years, I would attend many more conventions as a fan, retailer, and cosplayer. Wizard World would still happen every August in Chicago, but I stopped attending as regularly. Like old friends that fell out of touch, my memories remained fond, even as the gaps between visits grew longer.

A little over a decade since my first time attending, I am happy to return to Wizard World Chicago this year and experience it anew once again as a panelist. One panel will see me discussing my experience as a nerd organizer, while the other will be about my experience as a lifelong Star Wars fan. The best part is that unlike my early years as a comic fan, this will be a decidedly social affair that you can join as well!

Saturday, August 22nd at Wizard World Chicago
Star Wars Fan Panel 4:30-5:15
Room 14
In four months, we will live in a world enlightened by the existence of Star Wars Episode VII! In preparation, we invite you to a panel dedicated to all things Star Wars. Professional nerds will challenge the crowd with Star Wars trivia, discuss the significance of Star Wars culture, and speculate on the future of living in a galaxy far, far away!

Tony Kim will be moderating the panel, and I will be a guest along with musician and sometimes Wookie bellydancer Dawn Xiana Moon, ValorCon organizer Thomas Glen, and creator Ed Siemienkowicz.

Come to the panel. Or do not come. There is no try.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ladies' Night Anthology Vol. 2: Death & Prom

If I have learned one thing in my experience as an editor of Ladies' Night Anthology, it is that making comics takes time. So much time, in fact, that it leaves few opportunities to actually write about comics (let alone read them). My blogging has slowed down significantly over the last year and I apologize; it has been too long. But if you are wondering what I have been up to lately besides life stuff in general, this might give you a hint:

It is not just the theme that has us filled with a sense of dread; our fundraising deadline is looming and we are still short of our goal. You only have until midnight today to support these independent creators! Even if you are unable to monetarily support our efforts, signal boosts are free and much appreciated. Here are a few previews to whet your appetite for the bloody, sweet, and sensational stories to come from Ladies' Night Anthology Vol. 2: Death & Prom. If you're ready to crown this anthology prom queen, head over to our indiegogo now!

Death and Prom cover by Sarah Benkin, LNA Vol. 2
Death & Prom cover by Sarah Benkin (final artwork pending)
Daddy Issues by Wendi Freeman and Sarah Benkin, LNA Vol. 2, Death and Prom
"Daddy Issues" By Wendi Freeman, art by Sarah Benkin

Satan by Kris Mackenzie and Brianna Parker, LNA Vol. 2, Death and Prom
"Satan" By Kris Mackenzie, art by Brianna Parker

Dead Technology by Megan Byrd and Lisa Kwon, robots in love, LNA Vol. 2, Death and Prom
"Dead Technology" by Lisa Kwon

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Mark Millar Doesn't Get

Could fill a lot more than one blog post as proven by Millar's recent tone-deaf comments concerning depictions of rape versus violence within his work. But two very different views of one comic in particular may shed a little light on what Millar and many more still don't get.

A few years ago when I still worked full time at Graham Crackers Comics, a lot of our time was spent talking about comics. A shocking pastime for comic shop employees, I know. We talked about what we liked more often than what we didn't, though we would oblige any customer that asked for our honest opinion (haunted vaginas and pentagram boob tassels - apparently there is a place in the world of comics for books like Tarot). Healthy debates about the merits of comics and creators thrived. Was the work of Alan Moore still the benchmark to which we compared the best of the best superhero titles? Was the ending of Final Crisis satisfying for anyone? Are there really readers out there that have read and disliked Preacher

Top sellers were sure to be discussed, especially if they were receiving an upcoming movie adaptation. Casual readers would come into the store looking for these books and with their curiosity comes a lot of questions. When Mark Millar and J.G. Jone's Wanted was adapted for the big screen, the trade paperback was re-released with a special movie variant cover. We saw a lot of those books cross our counter, with Anegelina Jolie's photoshop disaster worthy manipulation gracing every cover. Much like its poster, the film bares little resemblance to the source material, so any time customers would ask about the comic, we'd be sure to let them know that it does not include a society of ancient weaver assassins. This is a story where the bad guys win and the protagonist never makes the leap from villain to anti-hero as the trajectory of the book implies. 

Wanted trade paperback movie variant cover, Mark Millar says something stupid, Top Cow, Wanted comic
Poor J.G. Jones did not draw these tangled human appendages

In one of our Tuesday morning discussions, a co-worker of mine asked what I thought of Mark Millar and I said that I enjoyed his  licensed character work for Marvel and DC, but found his original concepts often had questionable uses of violence, particularly sexual violence. It felt like there was no editor sending feedback challenging these choices, so every ill advised decision made it into the final story. It's such a prevalent trend in his work that it makes one think that Millar's Civil War might have been a very different story without a PG-13 constraint. The conversation shifted to Wanted and I said that I found it greatly disturbing how Millar used rape in the story. My co-worker looked at me a bit puzzled and said, I don't remember there being a rape in that book. Think about that for a minute. The main character rapes someone and it is forgotten.

I refreshed my co-worker's fuzzy memory and reminded her of the brief use of rape in the story. After having discovered that he is the son of one of the world's most prominent super villains, the main character decides to embrace his legacy by embarking on a crime spree. He then complains to a fellow character that he is disappointed his rape of a movie starlet didn't make the evening news. It's a brief moment in the book, and the rape is not depicted. It is a flippant remark that readers like my co-worker (and many more I'm sure) would have read and quickly forgotten.  Imagine how different the Wanted film would have been had James McAvoy's character bragged to Angelina Jolie about raping someone.

Millar has attempted to justify his use of rape within comics as a means to demonstrate the truly depraved nature of evil characters. But clearly this lazy insertion of rape as plot device had the exact opposite of intended consequences for Millar and the audience; readers could literally forget it even happened in Wanted. The only part about this interaction that feels authentic is that no one in the story is phased by this information. Mark Millar doesn't see the difference between rape and decapitation, so why should his characters?

No matter what terrible thing a creator makes a character do in a story, it is a decision made by the creator. Context matters as much as the actions depicted, and the frequency of said actions within the real world cannot be disregarded. If a person is mutilated in front of a crowd of people, there will be no debate as to whether the victim "wanted it". A victim of gun violence will not first be asked if they were drinking, by themselves, or what they were wearing. Women don't often worry about a drunk acquaintance attempting to cut off their head.

Sorry Mr. Millar but you might not know the difference between rape and decapitation, but 1 in 6 of your female readers know the difference all too well. I couldn't find any statistics on the prevalence of decapitation, though your readers with first hand experience in that area are most assuredly non existent. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Death of Blogging: Long Live The Hivemind

As of late, readers may have noticed our absence from the world of comic book blogging. But visits to our tumblr, facebook, or twitter pages will reveal a different narrative. I recently provided photography coverage at San Diego Comic Con for the Comics Beat, a leading comic book news website. Soon we will begin a regular monthly column focused on the world of comic book retail, Sell It Like It Is, for Woman Write About Comics. In other words, despite appearances here on the homefront, we're busier than ever blogging about comics.

It is a little sad, but the one woman operation blogs have been on the decline for quite some time. I think I joined the comic blogging community right at the beginning of the end, when the growth of  one's audience still depended more on the content than the place it was posted. With the rise of more interactive and timely platforms like tumblr and twitter, comic book blogging is still content driven, but depending on the outlet, some signals get a much larger boost than others. If people aren't reading the feed so to speak, blogging on a platform with a dwindling community yields smaller returns than say posting to tumblr. There are still plenty of homes for longform comic book essays and reviews, but more often bloggers are joining forces to form collectives. Over at Women Write About Comics, the success of their past blog carnivals showed that joining forces not only extended the scope of conversations on a single topic, but they brought a whole lot more eyeballs, too. In this sense, the rise of group blogs (or resurgance considering the once popular LiveJournal communities) is a good thing for fostering more in depth analysis of topics within comics. 

Splitting ones' own thoughts up amongst the hive mind of various social media platforms feels both repetitious and fractured at times, but we will do our best to compile our internet footprint here at home. We'll start with our San Diego Comic Con coverage at the Comics Beat:

Beast cosplayer SDCC2013, San Diego Comic Con, Marvel, Hank McCoy

Tons of cosplay, crowd images, toys, and more; we were really overwhelmed by the convention on our first day. It's a lot to take in, especially for a sleep deprived first timer like myself.

Felicia Day, Dark Horse Comics, The Guild, SDCC2013, San Diego Comic Con

By Friday I had really found my stride as far as navigating the con floor and figuring out how to get the most out of the convention. I took more chances with attending signings and tried to engage in every interactive experience I could find, though I missed the Hannibal panel that I so desperately wanted to attend (I watched it online later).

Grant Morrison, SDCC13, San Diego Comic Con

The second half of Friday was when things really got crazy and the events that transpired provided our most memorable comic con moments. I randomly ran into Grant Morrison on the street and asked him if he was cosplaying as Grant Morrison before realizing it was in fact him. Then I attended a special launch party for Petco's upcoming line of Star Wars themed pet accessories, an event that involved lots of cosplaying dogs. And to top off the day we attended the Eisner Awards, where we saw Challengers Comics + Conversation win the Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. Oh and we met Neil Gaiman. Best single day ever?

Clark Gregg, Marvel, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., SDCC13, San Diego Comic Con, Agent Coulsen

Saturday at Comic Con is as crazy and packed as one would imagine. Sadly, this was my last day on the con floor, so there was an added sense of panic to shoot all of the things and buy all of the gifts. We did not attend any panels, but we did get to see the cast of S.H.I.E.L.D. signing at the Marvel booth, and though we were not as close to see the cast of Captain America 2: Winter Soldier during their appearance, we will still brag that we did in fact breathe the same air as Chris Evans. 

Harley Quinn and Joker Cosplayers, nuclear family, SDCC13, San Diego Comic Con, DC, Batman

The end of the day and the end of our comic con experience. Plenty more cosplay photos, a picture of me looking extremely wonk-eyed next to Brandon Bird, and photos of the massive crowds leaving the convention floor.

Ashely Challenger and Neil Gaiman, Eisner Awards, SDCC13, San Diego Comic Con, Spirit of Retailer Award, Challengers Comics + Conversation

"In the weeks and months leading up to the annual spectacle known as “San Diego Comic Con”, dread of this event is expressed as frequently as anticipation by attendees, professionals, and fans staying home. The cost, the planning, the con crud; these are a few of fandom’s least favorite things, and they are all mainstays of SDCC. But what about the comics, many say? Why must the news of films overshadow the beloved source material from which they came? Why should comic fans have to tolerate the droves of people only attending to get a glimpse of their favorite actors? For those that miss the comic con of yore, these are valid complaints...."

Like transporters of the future, being in many places at once (on the internet) is easier and more common than ever. We will still create original content here, but we hope you enjoy our expanded roles elsewhere, too.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013: An Overview

Joker and Batdog hanging out in front of G-Mart
Oh boy. Who else is still recovering from the non-stop fun and insanity of Free Comic Book Day? No doubt comic book retailers are relaxing after what has quickly become one of the biggest sale days of their year. Other fans like myself that attempted to visit as many local comic shops as possible are likely feeling exhausted as well. We made it to seven stores all together and still did not get to visit every shop on our list (you can see a map of our progress here.) The newly opened Aw Yeah Comics in Skokie would have been a fun stop, as well as the downtown location of Graham Crackers Comics, and First Aid Comics in Hyde Park. Perhaps next year we will go in on a rental with friends and commit to covering more ground. Traveling an area of about 16 miles in a day doesn't sound like a lot, but to a city dweller relying on public transit carrying a large camera and an ever growing stack of free books, this was an epic odyssey of retail exploration. My shopping partner for the day was Wendi Freeman, host of the Double Page Spread podcast. We were later joined by Michelle Flamm, game designer and local cosplayer.  Our first stop of the day was not a comic shop, but Hot Doug's, a well-known Chicago eatery. The delicious bacon hot dog and duck fat fries fueled us for the rest of day.  Here is a rundown of all of our stops in the order we visited them. We do apologize to the later retailers as you will notice that our photo albums do become smaller and smaller throughout the day as we became more and more exhausted!

G-Mart Comics, 2641 N Kedzie Ave  Chicago, IL 60647

Upon turning the corner onto Kedzie Avenue, we were excited to see the impressively long line snaked down the block for G-Mart Comics. Seeing how many people were this excited for free comics was a great way to start the day. Families, cosplayers, costumed pets, and curious pedestrians alike joined the line. Perhaps the saddest part of free comic book day is that you can go to many stores in one day, but you'll only be able to see this kind of frenzy when a store is first opening its doors to anxious customers. Once doors did open at G-Mart, staff offered a raffle ticket to each and every person for door prizes. I won the opportunity to grab 10 free Marvel Now! comics. These were books that were not part of the Free Comic Book Day event, and I was blown away by the store's generosity. Others won free trades, toys, even hardcovers. Snacks were plentiful, displays of recommendations were on every countertop, and traffic was maintained throughout our visit to ensure the store did not become over-congested. Considering how many free comics and books we walked out with, I will be sure to stop by in the next few weeks to throw more business their way. I did make one purchase while in store of Terry Moore's Rachel Rising Vol. 1. See photos of our visit here.

Challengers Comics + Conversation, 1845 N Western Ave #2R  Chicago, IL 60647

Challengers had been open a few hours by the time we arrived yet it was still bustling with customers. They had two creators on hand, Jamal Igle, creator of Molly Danger, and Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos, creator of Okie Dokie Donuts. Both had created books that were being released this FCBD which means everyone could have their book signed. A few dedicated cosplayers were also on site for photographic opportunities, including a killer cross-dressing Storm, Spidey, and a Challengers themed superhero. Owners Pat Brower and Dal Bush both stated that this year's event was shaping up to be even bigger than last year, a sentiment expressed by retailers throughout the day. In addition to free comics, we also purchased Greg Rucka's Queen & Country Volume 1. See photos of our visit here.

Brainstorm Comics, 1648 W North Ave  Chicago, IL 60622

This was actually our first time visiting Brainstorm, a shop known for its focus on independently created comics. They also offer video rental services, making it a bit of a hybrid comic shop. Local creator Dave Scheidt, writer of Monster Dudes, was on hand to sign copies of his comics. The set up for this shop didn't allow for as much space as the other stores we visited, so the free books were kept behind the counter and customers were able to give their requests to employees who would grab the comics for them. Plenty of original artwork was available to purchase in store as well. See photos of our visit here.

Alleycat Comics, 5304 N Clark St  Chicago, IL 60640

The Andersonville neighborhood was plenty busy when we arrived at Alleycat and the store was no exception. We were pleasantly surprised to see many creators on hand, though I say surprised because there was no mention of them on the store's Facebook or Twitter pages. Maybe I've become spoiled by other local comic shops fully utilizing social media, but it does make a huge difference especially with an event like Free Comic Book Day. Like Brainstorm, the set up for free comics required customers to ask employees for the books of their choice housed behind a counter. There was still quite a large selection of books when we arrived, and we saw plenty of the more obscure kid friendly books that other stores had not opted to carry (or had already run out). See photos of our visit here.

Graham Crackers Comics in Edgewater, 5443 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

By this point in the day (it was nearly four when we arrived) the event was winding down, but it was still fairly busy for a store that does not get a lot of foot traffic. Store manager Shanna said she had even doubled her orders over last year and was still shocked by how many titles were already depleted. The store had just recently expanded their weekend hours and employees said this helped spread out some of the initial Free Comic Book Day craziness. Since this is my local comic shop that I visit nearly every week, I was less observant than some of our other store visits and realized later how few photos we took in store. But don't let that fool you, we still had a blast! See photos of our visit here.

Third Coast Comics, 6234 N Broadway St  Chicago, IL 60660

Third Coast was still relatively busy when we arrived considering how late it was, though the number of comics left clearly indicated that the busiest part of the day had since passed. The store was hosting a karaoke event in the evening, and we cannot imagine how the employees maintained enough energy to continue the festivities late into the night. Two creators were still on hand, including Tom Kelly, though according to Third Coast's various social media sites there had been a rotating roster throughout the day of special guests. Each artist offered free sketches but also had prints and comics available for purchase. See photos of our visit here.

Dark Tower Comics, 4835 N Western Ave  Chicago, IL 60625

The final stop of our day, Dark Tower was nearly out of free comics and their two special guests, artists  Chris Burnham and Jenny Frison, had already gone for the day. Even the cosplayers left on hand looked exhausted! We so wish we could have stopped by earlier to get sketches, but were still happy to swing by and see how the day faired for the store. There were still plenty of customers milling around, which was not surprising considering the deep discounts offered on the other store merchandise. Nearly everything in store was on sale, including 50% back issues. Several stores offered sales in conjunction with FCBD, but Dark Tower had the most tempting offers. See photos of our visit here.

And that is a wrap for our Free Comic Book Day coverage! We came home with over 30 free comics, two trades that we paid for, lots of free posters, and some very sore feet. We hope you were able to make it out, but if not, perhaps coverage of this wonderful event has convinced you to mark your calendar for next year. Until the first Saturday in May of 2014, be sure to visit your local comic shops and maybe buy some books.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013: Tips & Recommended Reading

May the 4th be with you this Free Comic Book Day (picture of Graham Crackers Comics in Edgewater during last year's FCBD)

It only comes but once a year, so be sure to set aside an hour or two today to enjoy Free Comic Book Day. It may be difficult to pry yourself away from the premiere of Iron Man 3 or Star Wars: May the 4th Be With You events; I can assure you, it is well worth doing. You would think free comics would be an easy sell but each year I meet fans that either don't know about the annual event or have never made the time to check it out. Here's a quick guide to how to get the most out of your FCBD experience.

Where do I go to obtain these "free comics"? 
A good place to start! Most, but not all comic shops participate. The quickest way to find out if your store will have free comics is the FCBD store locator.  Just enter your zip code and they will find the shops for you! Keep in mind that these comics are free for you, but not for the participating retailers. If you go to one store or many, try to throw some business their way while you're stopping by.

Who should I go with? 
Your die hard fans will be easily convinced to join you on your trip, but one thing to keep in mind is that this event is specifically designed to engage new readers, specifically young ones. Bring your children, nieces and nephews, and those friends that keep borrowing your comics but haven't actually started buying their own yet. Every last one of them is new reader friendly as well, so whether you're looking to discover new comics to read or want to get a friend or family member hooked on comics, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. 

What comics should I pick up? 
Since there are so many FCBD releases, it can be hard to grab all of the comics that you want. Many stores limit each person to three comics each, so be choosey. Better yet, plan to visit a few shops to ensure you can grab all of the books you seek. Comics released by the larger companies like Marvel and DC will be abundant at each location and likely the last to run out. Be sure to grab the oddball stuff first, comics from the independent publishers, and comics with the original content. Ask the store employees for suggestions based on your current reading or what you like to watch. The cartoon tie-in comics will be the most tempting to children, but be sure to pick up something from Archaia or Top Shelf for them as well. 

Recommended Reading
Here are the books we will be seeking on our FCBD outing, and we recommend you grab them if you can. Follow the link for more info and short previews as well!

And a few that are not all ages friendly:

We'll be posting photos from our adventures later today or tomorrow, so check back to see Free Comic Book Day in Chicagoland's finest comic shops. Share your favorite reads with us throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter