Monday, December 8, 2014

Screaming With the Void: Why I Like Reading Reviews

I know most people think of themselves in very particular terms: police officer, parent, file clerk, fan of sports teams, etc. I tend to think of myself a person who makes things. I realize that's kind of broad and arrogant, but I do improv, and I write stuff, and I put together marketing collateral for companies and sometimes I get paid to do that stuff and sometimes I do it because it's just stuff I love to do. Regardless, I get to make stuff and it's neat.

One of the scariest, coolest things about making stuff in general, and in particular making stuff for the Internet is once you put your makings out into the void, there's a pretty good chance that the void is going to come back and express some kind of opinion about the things that you've made.

Reviews. I'm talking about reviews.

Before we go more in depth, here's my favorite scene from one of my favorite movies, "Ratatouille."

Watch the whole thing.

Okay, now go watch the movie. Seriously, it's a great movie.

Did you like it? You can buy it here. Give it as a gift to a young kid who's trying to choose a career path for Christmas. That scene speaks to a lot of what I'm about to talk about.

Thanks for coming back.

I really like reading reviews. I don't think artists are supposed to feel that way. Artists generally have mixed feelings about reviews. We want reviews. We want people to talk about the stuff we make because then more people will hear about it, and maybe check it out. We want validation for the things we make. Please tell me you love me, Chicago Tribune and various users of iTunes! But we don't like bad reviews, because why would you? No one wants to hear people say nasty things about something you poured your blood, sweat, and possibly your bloody, sweaty tears into. And bad reviews are terrible sometimes. They're often not well thought-out, and sometimes they completely miss the point of whatever it is they're talking about. Bad reviews often revel in their criticism, laying joyful, overly verbose waste to the miracle of creation.

It hurts to read bad reviews when you're a thing-maker. It hurts your feelings. It makes you feel self-doubt. It makes you feel guilt sometimes. It can make you angry at the reviewer,or at the whole enterprise we call humanity. Some artists and even more brands are scared of bad reviews. They turn "reviews" off on their product pages or disable comments. Sometimes, they argue with reviewers. That's always a delightful shitstorm. For some thing-makers, the only way to deal with bad reviews is to ignore them, or worse- hide them and pretend they don't exist. Because what if people see those bad reviews and then think my thing is bad? That is actually terrifying. For those people, ignoring those bad reviews is the only way to keep making a thing and feel like it's ("it's" often being "their life's work") worth their time.

And I get that. I really do. But I love reviews. All of them, good, bad, mediocre, kind of weird, rambling, concise, etc.

Good reviews are easy to love. Someone once wrote a review of Improvised Star Trek on iTunes where they said that they considered our show to be "part of Star Trek continuity." They gave us five stars. That was the nicest thing I think anyone's ever said about the podcast. Good reviews are great to read because they show you that you have successfully reached out to another human and made them feel something- joy, sadness, inspiration, laughter, whatever. Making things is generally a dialog between you and the world, and when the world responds to your initial "comment" with love? It feels amazing.

Bad reviews are trickier. It's tough to like a bad review but every bad review, even poorly thought-out, horribly written bad reviews, can be constructive. When I get a bad review for ANYTHING I like to take time to analyze it, decide if the reviewer has a point, and then decide if I need to adjust. Obviously you can't function if you try to change yourself to please everyone out there. But a bad review CAN be a tremendous opportunity for growth if you can find a nugget of truth in the criticism. Bad reviews can show you things about your work that aren't working that you may have missed because you're just one person and your ability to perceive the world is relatively limited. Plus, you're biased. Also, if something you make gets NOTHING but bad reviews, it's a great sign that you need to, in some way, change course.

Everything else is also super-great. I kind of treasure middle-of-the-road reviews because I think as a society we're kind of prone to hyperbole and people tend to either LOVE something or HATE something and mediocre reviews are actually kind of rare. They are however, more useful than good or bad reviews. Generally (though not always) someone writing a mediocre review has taken time to consider something from multiple angles and has acknowledged the good and the bad in it. That means that often, a mediocre review contains the qualities that make both a good and a bad review worthwhile in one review.

I guess I like reading reviews because they mean that something I made has caused someone somewhere to feel SOMETHING whether it's joy, righteous indignation, or even a resounding "meh." But that feeling means I'm not just screaming into the void. I'm screaming with it.

So go out, and review the things you like. Review the things you hate.

And feel free to submit reviews for Improvised Star Trek.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Theater Needs More Scifi: The Aurora Project

It's been my pleasure in the last year or so to meet and interact with some of the members of Otherworld Theatre, a Chicago-based company dedicated to the production of science fiction and fantasy theater. Recently, Otherworld's artistic director, Tiffany Keane, invited me to watch Otherworld's most recent production, "The Aurora Project" by Bella Poynton.

First and foremost: let it be known that I fully endorse Otherworld Theatre's mission. Speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) is more popular than ever but has not seeped into live theater to the same extent it has seeped into TV, movies, video games, books, comics, and nearly every other art-form out there. There are reasons for this but that's another blog entry. It's too bad because sci-fi and fantasy and theater are in many ways an ideal match. Really good science fiction uses hypothetical situations to tell you a story about real-life humanity. Star Trek is a story about exploration, human curiosity, and overcoming our baser instincts to build a better world. Jurassic Park shows us the dangers of taking scientific experimentation too far. Live theater on the other hand, allows us to become immersed in stories- to experience Elizabethan England or the 1950's in person. It makes sense to merge the two: let audience members become fully immersed in a spaceship or a dragon's lair. Theater and sci-fi/fantasy can only benefit from cross-pollination.

In this regard, "The Aurora Project" should be considered a success. When you walk into the Right Brain Project (where the play is currently running) you will believe that you are within the hold of the spaceship Aurora. You will feel like a part of the ship as its two crew members, Constantine and Nora, explore the cosmos. The set is intimate (almost claustrophobic), and suitably believable as a spaceship. In addition to the look and feel of the set, a TV screen has been built into the set that acts as a viewscreen allowing for some dynamic effects throughout the show. The physical world that Otherworld has built may be the best part of the show.

The actual story alternates between some very high points- particularly flashbacks that examine the nature of humanity, love, and sentience through the eyes of the android Constantine and some lower ones- the relationship between Nora (Grace Gimpelas) and Constantine (Kai Young) never seems to click the way it should. Fortunately, each of the supporting characters is excellent- well-written AND well acted. I desperately wanted to see more of Bennett Decker Bottero as the alien Questry, Christian Robert Isley V as Constantine's designer, and Sarah Scanlon as the Gatekeeper. Questry especially was a fascinating character whose story could've filled it's own play.

The story is a little guilty of an issue common to much of sci-fi- there are probably one too many tropes crammed into one space. It's a robot story AND a space exploration story AND an end of humanity story, etc. and so on but at its heart "Aurora Project" is an attempt to do justice to space opera on the stage and it's mostly a successful one.

After seeing "The Aurora Project," I am excited to see what Otherworld does next. The potential that the company displays in this relatively small production is tantalizing and promising for those of us who keep one foot in the world of live theater and another in the realm of sci-fi geekery.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fantastic 4 is Cancelled: What That Means (To Me Mostly)

I kind of can't stop thinking about the Fantastic Four.

A few months ago, a nasty rumor emerged on the Internet that Marvel Comics was going to cancel "The Fantastic Four" comic. The rumor went that since Marvel wanted the film rights to FF back (which they sold to 20th Century Fox back when Marvel was bankrupt and not owned by Disney) they were no longer going to produce creative material that supported Fox's "Fantastic Four" film franchise. When asked about this rumor, Marvel-types said stuff like "That's just an internet rumor. You should ignore it. The FF are a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe and will continue to be a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe." But then people started to notice that Marvel wasn't using the FF in any of their promotional materials and that was weird. Fantastic Four is, in many ways, the signature Marvel Book. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben are Marvel's first family. Their book had decent sales. So why weren't they in any of Marvel's posters, flyers or ads?

Well, over the weekend, Marvel announced that "Fantastic Four" was ending early next year and that the characters were going away for a little while. I obviously don't know the specifics of the story. I don't know if Marvel is planning an FF relaunch for late 2015. I don't know if all of the characters are joining the Avengers. I don't know if Marvel is just putting them on the shelf for awhile. I'd actually like to assume the best (relaunch) before I assume the worst (cancelled to spite Fox and to gain leverage in any rights battle.) I do assume the best, actually.

But, this kind of emphasizes, to me, the downside of the current nerd/geek renaissance.

Here we go:

As I've mentioned in previous posts, there has really never been a better time to be a nerd. Google is the most admired company in America. The President collects Conan comics. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the top-grossing film on the planet (I mean, right!?!?) We are all nerds now. Viva la geek. Pax Dorkana.

I actually don't think things are that simple and I think being a nerd is complicated now and I can (and will) write a million blogs about geek identity but something that I think we need to note is that the traditional nerd things don't belong just to nerds anymore.

Which brings me back to "Fantastic Four." The Fantastic Four have been around since the early 60's and are beloved by nerds the world over. We can, and will talk your ear off about whether She-Hulk was a good addition to the team in the eighties, and how much we cried when Mr. Fantastic met God, and how the Ultimate Nullifier was kind of a BS way to beat Galactus. While the FF have been a multimedia property nearly as long as they've existed, their primary means of distribution was comics, good old ink-and-paper monthly comics. Nerds love comics. Comics are one of the pillars of our community. They are how we pass down our stories from one nerd-generation to the next. They communicate our values and help us understand the world around us.

Now, nerd properties have become viable film franchises, and you know what? Movies make more money than comics. Here's a fun stat:

In 2013, the market for comic books was $365 million. Like, all comic books combined (monthly print comics) made $365 million in the United States. Guess what the combined box office for both "Fantastic Four" was, including the "flop" "Rise of the Silver Surfer?" $619 million.

$619 Million! For two movies! That's just the tip of the nerd-film iceberg. There are like a dozen superhero movies coming out every year!

While these films are based on comics, we are very rapidly moving into a world where the comics become... subservient to the films. Comics seem to serve two purposes now:

1. They offer a low-risk sandbox for big media companies to try out new ideas. The most successful ideas will some day become films. Marvel is literally Disney's House of Ideas (for films).

2. They act as marketing collateral for those films. Thor movie coming out using Malekith as a villain? You better believe Malekith is going to be ALL OVER the comics leading up to that film's release.

If you're Marvel Comics and your Fantastic Four comics are making maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars a year (MAYBE) and you're not getting a ton of money from box office sales (because rights) and every new Fantastic Four comic character you create belongs to Fox for film-making purposes, why would you keep putting time and capital into producing that comic? It's sad but it doesn't make any sense from a business perspective.

I get it. I hate it, but I get it. The shitty thing is that means the film version of the Fantastic Four becomes, in some ways, the de facto Fantastic Four. Those comic characters nerds loved aren't gone, really, and again, I'm still hoping we see a relaunch of the comic soon, but the... popular public movie version of the FF will now be the only FF for most people.

And the film version are for most people. Because they don't make the movies for us. They don't make these movies for nerds. They make them for everybody. These are big tent-pole pictures and so they need to... smooth them out around the edges to appeal to as many people as possible. For instance, we get a young, sexy Reed Richards instead of the older, professorial Reed. You'll get less technobabble. Jessica Alba plays the Invisible Woman. Galactus is a cloud instead of an impossibly huge person. You need to make the films as appealing to as many people as possible because there is a lot of money riding on each one.

The cool thing is we now get a ton of new nerds. We get tons of people who would never have picked up a comic who know who the Thing and Doctor Doom are. Many of these people will catch the bug and become part of the nerd/geek community. The community gains a ton from these new, diverse members.

But we do lose a little something. In this case, at least for a little bit, we're losing the World's Greatest Comic Magazine. I am very, very happy for what successful superhero movies are doing for geeks, but I do hate to see that sometimes, we lose things that are valuable to us. I'm going to miss the FF, and I hope I get to see them (in print) some time soon.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Very Brief Thoughts on the Occasion of the Closing of Hot Doug's

I think "Hot Doug's" was probably my favorite restaurant... ever. Not my favorite fast food place. Not my favorite hot dog place. My favorite restaurant. Period.

Why? Well, I really love food. I love good cheese and grass-fed steak tartare and salads made of foraged wild greens but I think most of that stuff is really unapproachable for most people. Like, 99.9% of people can't afford to go to a place like Alinea, and even if they could it takes months to get a reservation and you have to dress up and etc. etc. etc. High-end cuisine has walls a lot of the time that makes it a thing that is only for the elite.

And that's really fucking unfair.

But Hot Doug's took foie gras and put it on a bun, set it at a reasonable price (was their anything on their menu that was over $10?) and placed it inside a friendly-diner-esque location where the owner greeted everybody who walked in and took their orders, normally in his t-shirt.

It's going to sound a little weird but Hot Doug's is everything I aspire to as an artist. Take the universe, take greatness, take emotion, take all of that stuff that we normally reserve for people who drive BMW's and argue about whether Harvard or Yale is better, and put it on a bun so everybody can enjoy it.

Thanks, Doug.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Anxiety and Meeting The People Who Make the Stuff You Love

I'm a big fan.

Not just of you, (though I think you're pretty great) but in general.

I'm a fan of things. The X-Men, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, the Boston Bruins (hockey soon? Please?), the restaurants of Paul Kahan, Conan O'Brien-era Simpsons' episodes, etc., etc., etc.

However... I've always been fairly aware of the fact that the things I love are made by people and that like most people, they're imperfect beings who through some combination of talent, luck, and hard work made it to wherever they've made it in the global social pecking order. Basically, I'm very aware that George RR Martin, Neil Gaiman, Beyonce, Gail Simone, John Green, Patrice Bergeron, etc. are all human beings who take naps, and fart, and get behind on their deadlines sometimes.

And I have this big thing with human beings where I get anxious that I might be bothering them.

For this reason, I rarely make an effort to actually MEET the people who make the things I love. I've never waited in line to get a picture signed by a Star Trek castmember. I've never had my photo taken with an X-Men writer or artist. I've never screamed the name of a celebrity as they walked past me on the street.

The exception to this rule is that in the last few years I have met some of my favorite authors.

Okay, more specifically, I've gone to see some of my favorite authors speak. I saw George RR Martin speak at the first C2E2. I walked up to him after and said (robotically) "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Martin. I'm a big fan of your work" while Chelsea got a comic book signed. I then walked away. This was RIGHT before the "Game of Thrones" TV show came out, so there was no line. There was no crowd to talk to GRRM. I could've asked him what it was like working in Hollywood or if he was reading anything cool, or whatever. But in my head, all I could think was "People bother this guy and make demands of him all of the time. I'm going to say hi, and then walk away. If I thought I was bothering GRRM I would hate myself." This is the kind of thing anxiety makes me think on a fairly regular basis.

I've repeated this process with John Green (saw him speak at the Chicago Public Library, didn't wait in the monster line to talk to him, though Chelsea DID high-five him as he walked out the door), China Mieville (saw him speak, left immediately after), and Patrick Rothfuss.

Patrick Rothfuss is the author of the best-selling "Kingkiller Chronicle" which is kind of... somewhere between Harry Potter and Song of Ice and Fire but also kind of funny. There are two books out so far, "The Name of the Wind" and "Wise Man's Fear" and they are both fantastic. Ask me, and I will let you borrow my copies. I also love his blog and his GoodReads book reviews.

About a year ago (well, 11 months ago) I was having a truly fantastic day. I had quit my job at World Book and was just flying (good flying), emotionally. I HAPPENED to have tickets to see Paul and Storm and Patrick Rothfuss at Link's Hall. The show was awesome. After, there was a line to meet Patrick Rothfuss and ask him to sign things. I looked at the line and thought two things: waiting in lines gives me wicked bad anxiety, and I don't feel like bothering this guy just to say hi because bothering people gives me wicked bad anxiety. Chelsea and I went home, content in having seen a great show by people who make cool stuff we love.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and it was announced that the Doubleclicks, who make cool geeky music that you should most certainly listen to, would be doing a show at the Public House Theater with the Nerdologues and Cards Against Humanity. I bought tickets to the show because:

1. The Doubleclicks are great.
2. The Public House is right near where I live.
3. The Nerdologues are best good buddies with the Improvised Star Trek.

The night before the show, I was up late finishing some freelance writing work and as always after doing anything creative, I couldn't get to sleep. I went on Twitter, and noticed Patrick Rothfuss was tweeting about looking for something to eat in Chicago. This meant that he was in Chicago for some reason. I wondered if that reason was making a surprise appearance at the Doubleclicks/Nerdologues show.

Long story short: That was exactly the reason he was in Chicago. Rothfuss read a delightfully vicious book review onstage at the Public House, then stuck around to perform shenanigans with CAH and the Doubleclicks, and then hung out after the show.

So this is how I ended up having a 20 minute long conversation with him, mostly about Spain (SPOILER ALERT: Patrick Rothfuss is a big deal in Spain). I did also mention that I was a huge fan of his books and his GoodReads reviews.

And it was cool. He was a cool guy to hang out with and talk to. We talked to the Doubleclicks too! They were also supercool.

What am I getting at here...

Anxiety is a weird thing. It makes you think things that aren't true. It makes all kinds of everyday scenarios like asking for small favors or answering the phone (Have I mentioned I'm terrified of talking to people on the phone? Because I am.) seem illogically, sometimes painfully stressful. It also, from time-to-time, deprives you of having a cool, genuine experience. It might prevent you from meeting someone you admire, and that kind of sucks.

And I'm glad that in this instance, I managed to overcome that anxiety and have a cool genuine experience. Because the people who make the stuff you love ARE people. That means that just like you, they like to get compliments, and they like to hang out and chat, and they like to make jokes about Spain. That's just as real a thing as whatever ridiculousness anxiety is telling you to believe.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Nerd Walks into a Powerlifting Meet

This is me deadlifting 400 lbs.

Here's something that won't surprise you:

Growing up I was incredibly bad at sports.

I played baseball for 6 years or so. I never caught a ball once in a game, though I did injure my wrist, hands, and face trying to do so. I was really small so the one thing I was really good at was drawing walks. I mean, that's good for my OBP, right? I was like a tiny Kevin Youkilis.

I played hockey for probably close to a decade. I was a little better at that but mostly because I was really good at throwing myself at people. I was less good at scoring goals and passing the puck. So I played defense. At 5'7" weighing in at a whopping 125 lbs, I was probably the smallest defenseman in the state of New Hampshire in 1998.

And let's not talk about the two years I made a go at playing soccer.

I was the slowest kid in my class. I was scrawny and weak. I was incredibly uncoordinated. I'm still uncoordinated. Don't ask me to dance. It's a terrifying sight to behold.

I mean, that's fine. I'm smart. I'm funny. I'm a good writer. I'm a good cook. Like, sports aren't the be all end all of everything. I'd rather be smart and funny than really good at throwing a ball into a basket or net. I realized that a long time ago.

But as an adult I have realized that I like lifting weights.

I tried lifting weights when I was in high school.  My dad got me this weight set from Sears, and I bought this Gold's Gym strength training book with pictures of exercises in it and I would try to do the exercises. I had no clue what I was doing. I was theoretically trying to get stronger for hockey but I also thought if I had biceps that girls might be more attracted to me. This didn't work. Regardless, I was not a very good teenage weightlifter.

When I was... 24?... I signed up for a gym membership and started lifting weights again. I was still bad at it, but now the internet was a thing and I was able to watch videos of workouts and that was helpful. I actually got some results.

After we got married, Chelsea and I decided to sign up for Crossfit. It seemed challenging and scary and I like things that are challenging and scary. We loved it. We love our box, Crossfit Defined. We love our coaches. We love the community at the gym. Both of us took to lifting weights, a major part of Crossfit, like fish to water.

I mean, we're nerds. Both of us. We had a Steampunk themed wedding. We named one of our cats after a character from an obscure fantasy novel. I do a Star Trek podcast.

We are both unlikely athletes. We're very unlikely weightlifters.

So here we are, 2.5 years into the Crossfit experience and it seemed like it was time for a new challenge. A few of the coaches at the box had been regularly doing a powerlifting program and organizing groups of athletes to participate in local powerlifting meets. I asked the coaches, Dave and Kevin, if I could do the training. I signed up for the meet. I bought a singlet.

Sunday morning, I did my first ever powerlifting meet.

For the unfamiliar, powerlifting consists of three movements- the squat, the deadlift, and the benchpress. Athletes are divided up by weight (at 167 lbs, I was the smallest guy in the 165-181 lb weight class). You get three attempts at each lift. If you are successful in an attempt, you try to lift more weight on the next attempt.

What was it like?

Well, so first and foremost, I'm an anxious person. Like, sometimes I freak out because I have to make a phone call to a person I've never called before. I toss and turn at night thinking about small projects that I didn't complete at work the day prior. I am terrified of failure. It's very important to me to try new things, but it's always nerve-wracking for me. For a nerdy guy, stepping into a room full of meatheads who've dedicated their lives to weightlifting was terrifying. Why was it terrifying? I don't know. I had some vague sense that if I screwed up the world would implode in on itself and it would be my fault and everyone would blame me. I had trouble sleeping most of the week leading up to the meet.

Also... I'm me. Like, I'm very much me. I'm unapologetically me. I wanted to do well at the meet but I also wanted to do well on my own terms. I wore a Green Lantern Underarmour shirt because it was important to me that people knew I was a nerd. I was trying to channel Kilowog.

We showed up, rolling nearly 30 people deep with coaches and friends from the gym. Our coaches were so supportive. Like, Kevin and Dave were great. I need to tell you how good of a job these two guys have done building a team that is supportive, accepting, and welcoming to everyone. Powerlifting is dominated by old school, 40-50 something year old dudes who are built like small mesas. Crossfit Defined Powerlifting is majority female. CFD's girls are badasses. Most of the people on the team are in their twenties. We come from all kinds of backgrounds. We looked very different than the other teams participating at the event. I was unbelievably proud of that. Like, this team is different. This team thinks everybody can be strong. That's cheesy, but it's how I feel. Feelings are frequently cheesy, I think.

Onto the event.

Remember that thing I said about fear of failure? Okay, so the very first lift was the squat and I failed on my first squat. I can squat 330 lbs. I squatted that much weight just a week ago. On Sunday morning, I freaked out, my form sucked, and I failed on my first rep. And you know what? The world didn't implode. I didn't die of embarrassment. It was fine. Failing like that was and can be great. Like, once it's happened you know things can't get worse than that and hell, that wasn't bad at all. At all.

I nailed my next two attempts at the squat, and hit nearly all of my other attempts on the day.

I say "nearly" because I did screw up one other rep- on my final bench, I tried to lift 236 lbs- 5 more lbs than I've ever lifted. I really didn't think I would get the rep. But I did, and I was so happy that I joy-panicked. I racked the bar before the judge said I could and the rep was disqualified. It didn't matter. I still got that rep in my mind. That felt amazing.

And guess what? I got a trophy. I took fourth in my age and weight class. This is going on my bookshelf with my Nature Trivia Trophy, and the Del Award for Best New Team that the Washington Generals won in 2006. Most of our team won trophies. Everybody did great.

I mean, it was a challenging day. The very first thing I did was fail. But it was worth it. I know more about myself now, and what I'm capable of.

This has been long, and ramble-y, but I'll say one more thing:

If you're a nerd, I encourage you to try weightlifting. And like, I don't just mean get some dumbbells and do some curls. I mean, take some of that obsessive, passionate energy that defines you and channel it into getting really good at weights. Get really strong. Eat a ton of food. Make vast, endless spreadsheets tracking your progress. Read scientific studies about optimum macronutrient intake for muscle gain. You like superheroes? Go be one.

You'll be better for it, and honestly, weightlifting will be better for having you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Adding More Diversity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

So this is great news.

So is this.

Oh, and let's not forget this or this.

Marvel Comics is changing, and it's great. The Avengers, the X-Men, and pretty much every other superhero franchise are getting more diverse, and inclusive, changing to reflect their readership. Nice job, Marvel Comics- keep it up because you're not QUITE there yet, but you're moving in the right direction.

Now, let's talk about you, Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU still has alot of work to do. So far, women and minorities in the MCU films have been relegated to the roles of sidekicks, and love interests. Our superhero movies need to do better. We need more female and minority superheroes and supervillains. Here are five characters from the comics I'd like to see for five different MCU franchises.


We can all agree that Loki is awesome. But Thor has a whole raft of great villains and one of the greatest is the Enchantress. Enchantress is basically an evil Asgardian sorceress who is more than a match for the god-of-thunder. We talk alot about the need for more female heroes, but we also need more female villains. Enchantress would be a good way to start.

Iron Man:

You know that scene at the end of Iron Man 3 where Pepper Potts saves the day and it's awesome? Well you know what's even more awesome? In the comics, Pepper gets her own suit of armor, takes on the codename of Rescue, and kicks just as much ass as her armored compatriots Iron Man and War Machine. When are we going to see Rescue on screen, Marvel Studios/Disney? Because I say- the sooner the better.

Captain America:

Sam Wilson is the new Captain America, but he wasn't the first African-American to take up Cap's mantle. In fact, Isaiah Bradley took up the mantle before Steve Rogers did. In a controversial storyline, Marvel revealed that before the finalized version of the super-soldier serum was given to scrawny Steve Rogers, a prototype was given to Isaiah Bradley first. Bradley is a hero just like Steve, and he deserves a cinematic interpretation as well.

The Avengers:

It would be really neat to see all of the Young Avengers on film. In the last run of YA, it was revealed that all but one character on the team was gay, or bisexual. Gay superheroes are basically non-existent on film, so seeing the Young Avengers on the big-screen would be a huge step forward.

Captain Marvel:

Captain Marvel. Captain. Frakking. Marvel. What's that you say? There's no Captain Marvel film franchise? Exactly. Where the hell is our Captain Marvel movie? Marvel Studios, greenlight a Captain Marvel film, sign a big name actress, and then make all of the money. All of it. I see you greenlit Ant-Man and Dr. Strange. If this isn't the next franchise you greenlight, I say we riot.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It Came From the Ball Pit- I Was a Panelist at DashCon

If you've been on the internet in the last few days, you may have heard about DashCon, the Tumblr Convention that kind of imploded on itself over the weekend. If you haven't heard about it, you can learn more:

-And Here

I was there.

Specifically, I was there to do a panel on Podcasting.

So what was it like being at the now notorious DashCon?

Let's start at the beginning.

My podcast, the Improvised Star Trek, is always trying to get new listeners. To that end, we've made a concerted effort this year to go to more conventions and festivals. We've gone to ChiFiCon, and Trek Chicago. We've also done comedy festivals like the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival and the Chicago Improv Festival. In researching festivals, I discovered DashCon.

DashCon had a couple of things going for it to my mind:

1. It was in Schaumburg, Illinois, right outside of our homebase of Chicago, IL. I could get there via mass transit.
2. They had a simple, easy panel application process. I like panels because you don't have to pay to be on them. When you get a table or a booth at a con, you have to pay for it. So, the price was right.
3. It seemed legit. Welcome to Night Vale, Noelle Stevenson, and a few other prominent actors/writers/artists/performers were scheduled to be there.
4. The average IST listener is between 25 and 40. The average Tumblrer is under 25. This was a chance for us to try to connect with some younger listeners.

So, I put in my panel application, and very promptly got an email back from one of the organizers asking me if I'd do a Skype interview.

My Skype interview was about 2 minutes long. They told me they thought my application was great and they'd put me on the podcasting panel with some other podcasters.

Fast forward a few months.

I show up at the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumburg.

I wasn't there on Friday night, so I missed the $17K debacle. I didn't go to the Night Vale panel so I missed the Ball Pit debacle. Most of what I noticed as far as dysfunction was more mundane.

First, when I registered, they didn't ask for my name or any kind of identification. I just said "I'm on a panel." They gave me a wristband and told me to go find my panel room. Really, I could've just been some dude who was trying to get into the con for free. My panel was supposed to have four people on it (based on my scant communication with the organizers.) There were only two of us, myself and a fellow named Mark from Broken Sea audio productions. There was no moderator, but I don't think there was supposed to be one.

Our panel was sparsely attended. I think this was because it wasn't really a fandom panel. Most of the con was oriented towards fandoms- Dr. Who, Sherlock, Supernatural, etc. The podcasting panel was about... well... podcasting... and I don't really think that's what people who came to DashCon were there for. I mean... really... it was less a Tumblr Con, and more a Fandom Con. Which is cool! It's just something to note. Tumblr is full of fanperson's but it's also full of fitness-oriented accounts, news blogs, and lots of other stuff.

Also- there was no communication sent to panelists about the Friday night $20K deadline besides Twitter and Tumblr posts. No texts, no emails, etc. So, I actually had no idea that the con was "almost cancelled" until I got there on Saturday morning and logged onto Twitter from my phone.

I walked around for awhile. It didn't seem like there were alot of people there. The "artists alley" area seemed kind of empty. The game rooms seemed empty. I'd say about half of the people attending were there to see Night Vale based on the number of Night Vale cosplays I saw.

Basically, my thought when I left was "That was weird and kind of poorly run but people looked like they were having fun." Over time I read about what happened with WTNV, the Baker Street Babes, Noelle Stevenson, and everybody else, and realized that what seemed like "kind of a crappy con" was actually "kind of a fiasco."

I guess sometimes it's hard to recognize a fiasco when you're right next to it. Like, fiascos can just kind of look like slightly poorly run conventions until you get a few miles and a few thousand twitter posts away.

So anyway. That was my experience. I went to DashCon. I wouldn't go to future DashCons. I feel bad for the people who showed up expecting to see Night Vale. I'm glad we all at least got the ball pit meme out of this.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jocks: The World's Biggest Nerds

So, there's this great old episode of the Simpsons (well... all of the GREAT episodes of the Simpsons are old) that Conan O'Brien wrote (of course) where Homer goes to college. Homer at one point opines that he is a jock and his natural enemies are nerds. Long story short, Homer the jock falls in with some nerds and tries to get them into wacky "Animal House" style hijinks and things don't go well but everyone learns a bunch of lessons.

Now, I think the traditional definitions of "Jock" (overly macho-aggressive dudebro who loves sports) and "nerd" (smarty smart pants with no social skills who loves computer programming and Star Trek) are both extremely limiting, and mostly false. Lots of nerds like sports. Lots of jocks like Star Trek.

But I do notice with some frequency that some people who probably think themselves jocks, much like Homer, like to make fun of nerds for different things. Well, I'm here to let you know that jocks- overly aggressive dude-bros who love sports- are actually the biggest nerds in the world, and if you self-identify as one, maybe you should think twice before mocking a nerd for doing something "nerdy."

How are jocks actually nerds? Let me count the ways.

1. Jocks love cosplay. So lots of nerds like to cosplay. Generally they cosplay as their favorite characters. Possible cosplays include: Harley Quinn (from Batman), Spiderman, the Super Mario Brothers, Captain Marvel, and Peyton Manning. Oh, what's that? You've never seen anyone cosplay as Peyton Manning? Okay, turn on a Denver Broncos game, and tell me how many people you see who've spent hundreds of dollars on an official Peyton Manning Jersey. Some people even cosplay as different versions of Peyton Manning! That guy is 2005 Indianapolis Colts Peyton Manning! That lady is Rule 63 Peyton Manning! That guy is some weird version of Peyton Manning with a Bronco mask! Sporting events are in many ways the biggest sporting events around. Hell, in your regular day-to-day life you'll see sports cosplayers just walking down the street in their costumes! That's how much they love cosplay.

2. Jocks love hating stuff on the internet. We know that nerds love going on the internet and complaining about stuff. How dare they kill Spiderman and put Doctor Octopus in his body! Ugh... the new 52 is TERRIBLE. This new Godzilla movie is just not as good as the OLD Godzilla movies. You know who else loves complaining about stuff on the internet? Jocks! Ugh, the Red Sox are terrible this year! Why can't the Bears EVER get a decent quarterback? I wish they'd never instituted the DH! Having a DH makes it not real baseball! Nerds may have built the internet but jocks have taken full advantage of it as a place to complain about sports continuity changes.

3. Jocks love RPGs. For decades, nerds have been made fun of for locking themselves up in their moms' basements and spending hours upon hours pretending to be elven archers, dwarven paladins, and other mainstays of fantasy RPGs. What a bunch of losers! Well, guess what jocks, fantasy football is basically just Dungeons and Dragons with football guys instead of dragons. You pick players based on their stats, you have a dungeon master (league commissioner), you come up with silly names for things (Prince Fielder of Dreams, for instance)... I mean, the list goes on. So the next time a friend asks you to play D+D don't say "I don't play nerd games" say "Okay, as long as I can play with my level 16 Ice Paladin, Jon Quick."

4. Tim Duncan.

5. Jocks are complicated people and we shouldn't judge them based on limited and outdated stereotypes. Jocks and nerds are human beings, just like nerds. Every single human being you meet is different. Just like the stereotype of the pocket-protector wearing, socially awkward nerd is dumb, and outdated, so is the stereotype of the big dumb jock. So, hey jocks (if you choose to self-identify as a jock), I know you're a complicated person with layers, like an onion, or an ogre. You and the nerds you might mock really aren't that different. So, let's all head down to the Quidditch pitch, and share some Romulan ales later on before our Fantasy Battlestar Galactica draft.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Guilt, Embarrassment, and Why You Shouldn't Feel Bad If You Like YA Books

So, just to start off, I'm writing this because I read an article on Slate that I didn't particularly care for. The article, "Against YA" was written by Ruth Graham. Basically, the gist of the article is this:

Young adult fiction is more popular than ever. Many of the people who read YA are grown-ups (not the category's target demographic). If you are an adult who reads YA books, you should feel guilt for enjoying them.

I'm not going to link to the article because it's basically incendiary link-bait and I don't really feel like playing along with that game.

I like Slate but every once in awhile, they publish an article like this-

  • You like Game of Thrones? It's dumb. You should feel bad. 
  • You like Harry Potter? It's childish. You should feel bad.
  • You cried reading John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars?" Well it's silly that you read that instead of "A Confederacy of Dunces" or "War and Peace."

Look, I'm a rabid defender of the Intelligentsia as a general rule. I think it's awesome to be smart and I think celebrating dense, complicated books, movies, and music is important. I love museums, and universities, and economics, and science, and history. I think anti-intellectualism (which is the main driver behind anti-nerd prejudice, by-the-by) is a disease that has afflicted American culture since before the nation's founding. I think it needs to be fought, and stamped out in all its forms.

But it's weird to me when supposedly smart people decide to just dismiss entire genres and categories of media as "childish" or "dumb." Specifically when some smart people decide to put down media that other smart people like as childish and dumb. It's really hard to read stuff like "Against YA" and not think that it's basically a petty attempt by a fairly intelligent person to place themselves above other people as a sort of assertion of superiority. Sorry, I'M the grownup here, and let me tell you how bad you should all feel for being so immature in your reading choices.

So let's talk a little bit about YA.

"Young Adult" is basically a marketing category. At some point, a marketing executive at a publishing company sat down, looked at a bunch of books they were publishing that had common tropes, chose a demographic (teenagers) and created wording "Young Adult" that she thought would appeal to said demographic. Like, this is a relatively recent term. If it had existed in say, the fifties and sixties, books like "Catcher in the Rye" or "To Kill a Mockingbird," books that are considered essential works of literature, might have been published in the YA category because they feature many of the essential tropes of that category.

Ruth Graham criticizes the category (and TFioS specifically) for being overly sentimental and featuring unrealistic happy endings. While many books published in YA do feature these traits, many don't and it seems foolish to me to dismiss the entire category. It also seems silly to me to criticize TFioS in particular which features a relatively unsentimental depiction of cancer. It seems flat-out arrogant for Ruth Graham to appoint herself as the judge of genre and category and to dismiss entire books, genres, and categories as childish.

Now let's talk about "guilty pleasures."

"Against YA" says that it might be fine for you to read say, "Twilight" or "the Hunger Games" as long as you feel bad about it. The author wants to bring back the "guilty" in the phrase "guilty pleasures." I have a huge issue with this. I think as a society, we have too much guilt and too much shame and it limits our potential. You spend your entire childhood being told that you shouldn't sing too loudly, dress too provocatively, speak out of turn, or eat food with too much sugar in it. We are taught to feel bad about our thoughts, our bodies and everything in between. Guilt is a major facet in many of our lives.

Do you know what happens when you tell people to feel bad about everything they feel compelled to do in life? It stifles creativity. It limits our ability to think in new and interesting ways. It slows innovation. Telling people  to feel bad about the books they like, or the way they dance, or whatever prevents us from achieving our own creative potential.

That's not to say you should never feel guilty. If you do something that hurt someone physically or emotionally, you should feel bad. If you do something that's exploitative of other people, then maybe you should feel guilty.

Should you ever feel bad about reading a book? Sure if it's hurtful in some way. Like, if it's a book that spreads false information like "climate change isn't real" or slanders someone dishonestly or champions abusive relationships as romantic, then maybe feel bad.

But if you like books with teenage protagonists? Don't feel bad about that.

I don't find this kind of criticism constructive. I think it would have been more interesting to read an article by Ruth Graham that championed the sorts of books/plays/whatevers that she DOES like. Convince me to read the books that affect YOU emotionally instead of crapping on the ones that affect ME. Be a champion for the art you enjoy if you think it's under-appreciated. Do something constructive with your writing instead of setting out to make people feel bad.

That's my two-cents. Read what you like. Don't feel guilty. Don't forget to be awesome.

Friday, May 30, 2014

For Jack

Hi Jack,

You're graduating from high school this year and going to college next year and that's kind of terrifying to me because it means that time is passing way more quickly than I would choose for it to if I was in control of time. But wouldn't it be neat if I controlled time? Anyway.

You're going to college which means you are kind of going to be an adult. As a 14 year veteran of adulthood, I've learned a few things, and now in written form for you, and anyone else choosing to enter into adulthood this year, I've written out a few tips I've learned on adulthood.

1. Coffee is a miracle substance. Alcohol will make you tired and slow-witted. Coffee will turn you into a superhero. I recommend taking coffee slow. Start with regular coffee with milk and sugar. Then, start easing yourself into the darker stuff. Slowly take your coffee with less sweet stuff till you're drinking it black and that tastes amazing. When you're ready, buy a French press and make your coffee with that. You will thank me. Then, when that's no longer enough: get into espresso. Also, never say "expresso," people will think you're an idiot.

2. Alcohol is nice, but there's no glory in binge-drinking. Seriously, when you drink, know when to stop. Never have more than 3 glasses of liquor, 4 glasses of wine, or 5 beers. The math gets stickier when you start mixing those things up. Throwing up, passing out, blacking out, and telling someone they're fat when you would never say that in real life is not fun. This is going to be incredibly important when you go to college and there's alot of pressure to binge. It's okay to drink but don't go crazy. Also, for Christ's sake drink good stuff. Craft beer, good wine, good liquor.

3. Music is awesome when you're sad or angry. Find a band or a musician you really love when you're sad. When you're having a hard time, just let their songs wash over you. Lately, I've been listening to the Mountain Goats when I'm sad. Also, crying is okay. Cry because you're sad. There's no shame in it. It's not weak. It's something human beings do when they're sad. It's also something you do when you're happy. Treasure the times you cry for joy. Those are the best times.

4. Try everything. You are the most amazing machine nature ever devised living upon a planet that is covered entirely in miracles. Eat weird food. Go to weird places. If someone says "let's go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon this Summer:" Do it. Hang out with weird people. They are the best people. Your oldest brother might be one of them. Actually all of your older siblings are kind of odd. Remember that that makes all of them amazing. To be more succinct with this point, keep an open mind.

5. Violence is not a good solution to problems, ever. Use your brain to get yourself out of fixes. Think things through when you're angry. Being smart and working hard will get you so much farther than reducing yourself to violence. The pen is mightier than the sword. This statement is 100 percent true. Learn how to use a pen.

6. You are not the only person in the world. Every single man, woman, and child you meet is a person just like you. They are the heroes of their own stories just like you are the hero of your own story. Treat ALL of them with kindness, patience, and understanding. If someone does something that pisses you off, before you do anything, stop for five minutes, and try to think of all of the reasons why that person might have done that thing. Then, try to understand those reasons. Think about all of the humans in the world and try to understand why they do the things they do. Remember that those people are also insanely complicated machines just like you. Don't dismiss people as "idiots" or "crazy people." There's no worth in that. Then, after all of that, f you decide that person is still a piece of shit, remember you can hurt them alot more with a pen than you can with a sword. I mean with words. Don't stab people with pens.

6a. As a sub-thing to the last thing, never forget that women are people just like you. Women are just as good, smart, strong, and capable as you. They sweat, swear, and fart just like you. How do you talk to girls? The same way you talk to your male friends. They are not obligated to date you for any reason. With that said, learning to write good poems or play the guitar is a nice way to begin the flirting process. So is doing improv comedy if that's a thing you're interested in. Also, if that's a thing you're interested in, I have several hundred pages of tips I could give you.

7. Learn to cook your own meals. This can probably wait till after college, but the earlier you start the better. You should have at least 6 dishes you can cook. At least one of them should be something you can cook for a crowd. 

8. Listening is incredibly important. Hearing is even more important. What do I mean by that? When you listen, you take in sound information. When you hear, you process that information. Listen, hear, then speak. Don't do that in any other kind of order.

9. Work your ass off. Don't slack off in your classes at school. Mom and Dad are paying alot of money for you to go to college. Go to all of your classes, do all of your homework, get good grades. Otherwise, Dad's going to give you the lecture where he calculates how much he's spending per class and tells you how much of his money you wasted when you blew off your geology lecture. Doing your schoolwork is more pleasant than dealing with that lecture.

10. It's okay to ask for help when you're having a hard time. If you're having a hard time in school, if you're depressed, if you're heartbroken, ask for help. Being a "lone wolf" is not cool, or tough. It's stupid.

11. Read all of the books. All of them.

12. When you move away, call mom and dad and talk to them. They will miss you.

13. Never make an argument you can't back up with facts. "Well, I think that..." is not a fact. "I saw a guy once who..." is not a fact. Facts are things that have been researched and proven by scientists, and economists, and other people with advanced degrees. When you get into an argument, always be the guy with the most facts. Also, be ready to accept that things you believe might be proven wrong, and be ready to adjust your worldview when that happens.

14. You will not get everything you want out of life. Sometimes you will do everything right and work very, very hard, and be very, very kind and life will still leave a flaming bag of dogshit on your front step. That's okay. Learn from it, grow, move on.

15. Learn how to act in a party where you don't know anyone. As soon as you figure this out, let me know what you did because I'm still terrible at it, but I am under the impression that it is an incredibly valuable skill.

16. Take some coding classes in college. It is totally mind-blowing how many jobs will require you to know how to code at least a little. Knowing computer code is a giant advantage in the job market.

17. No one gets to decide what your life looks like except you. If you don't want to get married; don't. If you don't want to have kids; don't. Dad wants you to go to law school, but you want to be a whitewater raft tour guide in Colorado? Keep the idea of law school in your back pocket but go try to do the rafting thing first.

18. Don't rack up a ton of debt. Put off getting a credit card as long as you can, and when you DO get a credit card, pay the balance off at the end of each month. Don't buy a car, house, hippogriff, or whatever if you can't afford it.

19. Help people whenever you can. Give money to charity. Let a friend cry on your shoulder. Let a stranger cry on your shoulder. We exist to leave the world better than we found it. That doesn't mean you need to do one big thing with your life. It means you need to do a million little things.

20. Learn to write well. Grammar and spelling are incredibly, incredibly important. Especially in 2014 when we do so much of our communication via the internet where EVERYTHING is written.

21. Don't read the comments in any article you find online.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adventures in Podcast Marketing

So here’s a thing you should know about me:

When I’m not nerding or improvising, I work in marketing. I am a marketer. More specifically, I am a marketing writer. So, I blog professionally, kind of. That’s my job. That’s how I put food on the table.

It’s kind of neat. Like, I take alot of pride in the fact that I make a living writing.

Roughly a year ago, my friend Chris Rathjen and I had a… let’s call it a come to Jesus talk. Basically, Chris pointed out that I’m a marketer and maybe I should treat our podcast (Improvised Star Trek) the way I treat my marketing clients. Like, put in the time and work to grow our listenership instead of just hoping people would stumble upon us on iTunes.

And so for a year I’ve been trying to do that. It’s been very frustrating at times, but also deeply rewarding. To kind of… bring you into my world for a minute, here are some things I’ve learned in the last twelve months.

Podcast Discovery is a Challenge. Recently, Apple announced that they had their 1 billionth podcast download via iTunes. Which is great! Lots of people listen to podcasts! AND there are a ton of podcasts! Like, everybody and their sister has their own podcast. If you can think of a topic, there is probably a really neat podcast you can listen to on it. This totally makes sense in that so many of us spend a ton of time listening to things on our smartphones and other devices. But here’s a frustrating thing: for the most part, people listen to the same podcasts. Like, everybody listens to “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and everybody listens to “WTF with Marc Maron.” Generally, the really popular podcasts have some kind of institutional support- like, they’re produced by NPR, or Nerdist. Many popular podcasts star people who are already celebrities. Institutional support and celebrity names give those podcasts a huge leg up on smaller, independent podcasts.  They make it easier for listeners to find them. If you’re an indie podcast, it’s harder for listeners to find you. Only rarely will an independent podcast become popular.  So if you want your independent podcast to gain an audience, you have to do ALOT of work.

Podcasts are Less Shareable than Other Media. Social media is a great vector to get the virus of your creativity out into the world. However, social media is comprised mostly of the written word and images. Podcasts are made of sound. This means that it’s harder to share a podcast than it is to share a video, or an article. This means it’s important for any podcast to include some kind of visual element- photos, drawings, etc. so that they’re more shareable online. It also means you have to get good at writing descriptions of your episodes.

There are too Many Talk Shows. I feel like every single podcast is either an interview-based talk show (Hi, I’m Steve Johnson and today I’m talking to famous prop comic Reggie Snark…) or a bunch of people sitting around talking about a topic (Welcome to the Chuckaluck podcast, this week, the Chuckalucks talk about… climate change.) I should note that there are tons of good talk show podcasts- tons of them. But there’s SO much more you can do with the audio format. Like, it’s such a good format for storytelling. You can do ANYTHING on a podcast. Anything. Some of my favorite podcasts are narrative comedies or dramas including Welcome to Night Vale and the Thrilling Adventure Hour. It especially frustrates me when a fellow improvisor tells me they’re starting up a podcast and then tells me that it’s a talk show.

You Need to Play the Long Game. If you aren’t already famous, and you’re not part of NPR, you cannot build a big fanbase overnight. Building a fan community means you need to spend time everyday talking to people on social media, emailing people at conventions, and just generally doing work. You need to deal with the fact that even with all of this work, you will only see small short-term growth. Over time, like, years, you will build a fanbase if you put the work in.

But Sometimes You Do Get Lucky.  Every once in awhile you will get a big bump in listenership just from sheer luck. In 2012, Improvised Star Trek was featured in the AV Club’s Podmass and we had a HUGE increase in downloads without really doing anything. The thing is, moments like that are few and far between. Like, it’s nice when they come along, but for the most part luck isn’t a good marketing strategy.

Most Importantly: Make Something Different and Make Something Good. Of course the best marketing strategy is to start with a really good product. None of this other stuff matters if your podcast sucks. We put a lot of work into Improvised Star Trek. We use top-quality recording equipment, we have a team of editors who spend hours making every episode sound great, and we have some of the best improvisors in Chicago doing the show. The show might have a gimmicky name, but we try very hard not to do a gimmicky show. If IST wasn’t one of the best improv shows I’d ever been in, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. All of your marketing needs to be an extension of the product you make. A good show is the foundation of everything else.

Finally, here are some podcasts I really like:

Friday, April 18, 2014

For C2E2 Attendees: Geeky Things to do in Chicago

If you're a Chicago Nerd, it's the most wonderful time of the year. That's right, C2E2, Chicago's most awesome comic and nerdery convention, is next weekend. The whole nerdiverse is going to converge on Chicago next weekend in an extravaganza of cosplay, comic sales, panels, artist meetups, and pop-culture referencing t-shirts (so very many t-shirts).

Now, if you're an out-of-towner flying into Chicago, you may say to yourself "Myself," you might say "Sure C2E2 is THE SHOW, but Chicago, that's a real geeky city! I need to get outside and see some of the geekiest things Chicago has to offer! But I am from not-Chicago and know nothing of Chicago's native nerds."

Fear not, oh gentle out-of-towner, for I have lived in Chicago since aught three, and have frequented many of Chicago's nerdiest establishments and institutions. Here for your reading pleasure are some geeky things to do in Chicago whilst you're in town for C2E2.

1. Improvised Star Trek.

Yeah, okay, the first thing on here is a shameless plug. I am a cast-member of Improvised Star Trek. But we have a show next weekend! Friday night at midnight! At iO Chicago! Tickets are only $5 AND if you present your C2E2 pass at the box-office, you can get 2-for-1 tickets! IST is a live-comedy show, AND a podcast. We've been performing for four years, and podcasting for three. The show and the podcast have gotten great reviews, and if you want a laugh after a long-day of walking the floor at C2E2, this is right up your alley.

2. The Museum of Science and Industry.

Chicago is just lousy with great museums. The Art Institute, the Field Museum, the list goes on. But the nerdiest museum in Chicago is MSI. Want to see a real German U-Boat? An Enigma Machine? Airplanes? Trains? AUTOMOBILES? SCIENCE!?!?! This is the place for you. Come for the science, stay for the giant frakking U-boat. Second nerdiest museum-type-place to go: The Adler Planetarium.

3. Dinner at Moto.

While not as famous as Alinea, Moto is kind of ground zero for molecular gastronomy (or, nerd food) in Chicago. Want to see someone blast your dinner with science? Imagine if Carl Sagan and Walt Disney had opened a restaurant together: you'd get Moto. And no, it's not just flavored foams.

4. Headquarters, Emporium, Logan Arcade.

Craft beer and arcade games: what's not to love? Chicago has three bar-arcades (or barcades, or beercades) and they're all awesome. I think Headquarters is my favorite, but that might just be because it's the closest to my house.

5. Plan 9 Burlesque.

If you're looking for something a little racier, Sunday April 27th, Plan 9 Burlesque, a geek-themed burlesque company, is putting on a cabaret they're calling "Nerdgasm." One of Chicago's finest burlesque troupes, AND they do geeky shows? Get there, out-of-towners, just get there.

6. The Lincoln Park Zoo.

Did you know Chicago has a Zoo? Did you know that zoo is FREE? Yeah, after you've spent all your latinum at C2E2, give your wallet a rest, and go get your learn on with the animals of the Lincoln Park Zoo. 

7. The University of Chicago Campus.

Chicago is home to some of America's geekiest institutions for higher learning, and possibly the geekiest one is the University of Chicago. UChicago made many important contributions to the Manhattan Project, and a certain current US President used to teach there. Plus, it's just a fairly cool campus. Take a little time and wander around.

Well, there you go. 7 awesome geeky things to do if you get some time away from the Convention Center. Have a great time next weekend, everybody!

Friday, April 11, 2014

There Are No Fake Geeks

1. Avatar
2. Titanic
3. the Avengers
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
5. Iron Man 3
6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
7. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
8. Skyfall
9. Frozen
10. The Dark Knight Rises

This is a list of the ten highest-grossing films of all time. Take a look at it for a second. Really look at it. Okay, so here are a few things you may have noticed. First: 9 out of the 10 films are genre films (Yes, I consider James Bond to be a genre character). 3 of the 10 films are superhero movies. 3 of the 10 films are fantasy movies. 1 film is about giant robots who turn into cars and jet planes.

What am I getting at here? Well, if you're a nerd like me, we live in strange times.

We live in an age when 9 out of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time are nerd films. We live in an age where Captain America and Thor are sex symbols. We live in an age where the phrase "geek chic" is a thing that people say un-ironically. San Diego Comic Con is now one of the largest media events in the world. The President of the United States collects Conan the Barbarian comics.

I think the reaction of most geeks is "AWESOME!" Which is an appropriate reaction to have. It IS awesome that "Captain America: the Winter Soldier" is the highest grossing film in America. It IS awesome that Harry Potter has become an intrinsic part of the process of growing up for millions of kids. It IS awesome that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is wicked famous. These are strange times for nerds, but they are also great times. We are living in the beginning of what promises to be a geek renaissance.

So why are some nerds so unhappy?

Well, okay, imagine you spend your whole life reading Captain America comics, and you're in the seventh grade, and some big doofus sees what you're doing and announces loudly to everyone within earshot that you're a "nerd" for liking that "kid stuff" and then proceeds to kick you in the shins. The rest of the kids around you, while not participating in the malicious verbal and physical attack, stand around, shrug their shoulders and walk away, not wanting to be associated with the nerd.

Now let's say it's twenty years later and all of a sudden those SAME people go on Facebook and RAVE about how great the Captain America movie was and how they're watching Game of Thrones and it's so good and oh my god I am SUCH a nerd.

Let me tell you how that feels: fucking weird.

So, the reaction of many nerds, nerds who spent years coming to terms with their identity, nerds who hid the things they liked until after many years they just said "fuck it" and embraced a slur as a badge of pride, a shield against the slings and arrows of those around them, has been harsh. The term "Fake Geek" has been coined to delineate the "Real Geeks" from the supposedly fake. Long time nerds have dubbed themselves keepers and protectors of our culture, shielding us from people who like Twilight, or True Blood, or Harry Potter but just the movies, or Star Trek but just the new movies, or Game of Thrones but just the TV show with that new slur "fake geek."

I get it, I do.

But look nerds, it needs to stop.

I'm going to tell you something right now and this is important.

There is no such thing as a fake geek.

Even if there was such a thing as a fake geek, YOU don't get to decide who's a real geek and who's a fake geek. Do you know what you are when you go online, and tell some fifteen year old girl who just bought the first issue of "Lumberjanes" and tweeted that she's geeking out about it a "fake geek girl?"

Do you know what someone who mocks people for not watching the old Dr. Who when they claim to love the Doctor is?

Do you know what you are when you grill a cosplayer about how many comics featuring the character they're dressed as they've read?

A bully. That makes you a bully. In some cases, it makes you a sexist bully since women seem to be the targets of the "fake geek" pejorative more than men.

Being a nerd means you accept people for their differences. Many of our geeky origin stories include exclusion from other groups. For this reason, I refuse to let the worldwide tribe of nerds exclude anyone.

Here's who gets to be a geek: Anyone who wants to be. Here's who gets to decide if someone else is or isn't a true geek: no one.

This nerd thing is going pretty well right now. We're building something different and great. And the best part is, anyone who wants is welcome along for the ride.