May 12 2017

TOON IN: Interview with Ben Passmore

With Toon In, I talk one-on-one with comics artists on projects they are working, how they got into the comics life, and most importantly what keeps them going!

TOON IN: Artist Chat with Ben Passmore

I first met Ben Passmore and his art at the 2016 Small Press Expo or SPX (a great indie comics expo worth checking out–Shout out to creator Sophie Goldstein for the connection!). I remember being blown away by his work “Your Black Friend.” True story: immediately after reading “Your Black Friend” in a hallway at SPX I said out loud THIS IS THE TRUTH, re-read it 5 more times, and later bought 5 more copies online for my friends.

I caught up with Ben in January this year. In addition to talking about “Your Black Friend”, we talked about the indie comics scene, coming up black and punk, the genius of Frantz Fanon, and the fog of art school. And yes, Disney was right (at least about this): It’s a small world after all. It was fun finding out Ben and I have been in the same geographic realms—from the Berkshires of Massachusetts (W.E.B. DuBois, hometown hero!) to the bayous of Louisiana. (Hey Ben, if a young beret-wearing blerd with slightly crooked wire frame glasses hops out of a time traveling DeLorean in 1998 and asks you to the Simon’s Rock alternative prom, don’t be surprised—just sayin’). Whatever the outlook for the year is—I know our 2017 is the better for it with comics like Ben creating. Thank you for your art! -Shadow Scout

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Lakita: How did you get your art spark, Ben? What helped you gravitate towards the arts as your life’s calling?

Ben: Oh, yeah. I don’t know. Both of my parents drew. I only grew up with my mom, but both my parents were into art. I just always liked it and I was not good at sports or music or school or reading or anything. It was the one thing I was good at. I always loved comics. I used to go to this store, real Norman Rockwell style, and try to read as many comics as I could before they kicked me out. Every day. Every day I’d try to remember my place for the next time I could sneak into the drugstore.

Lakita: That’s awesome.

Ben: It’s cool. I kind of miss ‘that’ Ben. I feel real bougie, just being able to read for as long as I want. There’s no one pulling me by my collar out of the drugstore everyday.

Lakita: Okay, let’s talk about art school. You went to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) right?

Ben: I didn’t want to go to college, but I signed up for art school. I wanted to get out of Massachusetts. I went to the South. School…my feelings are very complicated about it. Sometimes I talk to high school and middle school kids in Louisiana who are interested in comics. I’ll be like, “I don’t know how useful college is. It’s very expensive.” You know what I mean? For me, looking back, the education, it didn’t fill my time enough. I ended up teaching myself a lot of stuff.

Lakita: Did you go from Savannah to New Orleans after that?

Ben: Not directly. I traveled and worked in Canada for a little bit. Yeah, about a year after Savannah, I moved to New Orleans.

Lakita: So you spent time in the South for a little bit. Let’s talk about your work “The Gospel of Tug Benson”, that was set in Virginia.

tug benson header

Ben: Yeah. I did that in Savannah. [Tug] was the first time I tried to write something really serious, something protracted. I was into hitchhiking and riding trains and cycling around the country and being to parts of the country I haven’t been before. I was institutionalized in high school, and me and some of the other students got politicized by our experiences there and had a brief insurrection. Then when I went to college, I was reading a bunch of stuff. I got really into unions for a little bit, for a hot second. Which is weird, to be an art school student that’s interested in worker’s union–art students aren’t usually very proletarian.

Lakita: Let’s talk a little bit about the indie scene. Last year was my first SPX. What keeps you coming back to SPX or CAKE or MICE? What is it about that kind of fellowship?

Ben: I think that when I was in high school, I really liked superhero comics and manga. I don’t know who introduced me to more American indie comics. I think it was through me getting politicized and getting into political comics. Peter Kuper and his work on “World World III” was the first kind of American indie comic I really got into. Then I was reading “Optic Nerve” and thinking, “I’m sad and self-involved. This seems cool.” Then I went to college and got exposed to a lot more of it. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do with it, I think I just liked those shows because they seemed more accessible.

Lakita: Do you see the same folks, con-to-con and it’s a bit like a family reunion? What’s the landscape for you when you go to these indie cons?

Ben: It is a lot of the same people. I think there’s a lot of different reasons for that. There are good things and bad things about it. There’s new little conventions it seems like every year. In cities like Providence where there’s colleges, a lot of people who are just starting out will go to those. The Providence comic convention is kind of the sister to the New Orleans one, NOCAZ. There was a lot of other weird black kids at that one. That’s all really cool!

Lakita: Agreed! I think I was either on your site Day Glo A-Hole or Radiator Comics and you had this artist statement where you’re like, “Listen, there aren’t a lot of comics out there by black cartoonists doing stories about police abolition, sex addictions, struggles with radical, utopian ideas, gentrification, inherent classism and art aesthetic…basically, I’m a terribly grim bummer of a unicorn.”

Ben: Right.

Lakita: What is it like being a unicorn creator, doing what you love? What are some of the charms and challenges of that?

Ben: I don’t know. When I left college, I just ended up hanging out with more punks and anarchists, which meant hanging out with a lot more white people. When you hang out with a lot of white people, you become like their access point to black people. I think it’s just the classic push and pull, where you feel both resentful and some responsibility to sort of be representative in this general way, which is impossible.

Lakita: Yes!

Ben: For a long time, I just tried to be hyper specific, because I’m a specific person and felt kind of allergic about writing about things in ways that could be construed a bit for experiences broader than mine. It’s just all weird scifi, or me getting real, just talking specifically about myself, or if it’s general, it’s about the punk scene. Once I did that comic “Your Black Friend” people were like, “Oh, you’re a voice for black people.” It’s like, “I knew it.” It’s just a 10 page comic out of not a huge bibliography, but a kind of a bigger bibliography.

Your Black Friend Cover

Ben Passmore’s Your Black Friend, cover. Your Black Friend has been nominated for The Eisner Award “Best Single Issue/Best One-Shot.”

Lakita: Clearly, they did not read “The Gospel of Tug Benson.”

Ben: Right.

Lakita: After I got “Your Black Friend” at SPX, I ended up going online to get more copies. I actually did not give it to the white people in my life. This wasn’t a “Dear white people, here’s how you can stay woke–here’s your nice little pamphlet” for me. I gave it to my black friends. It was more my way of saying “Look at what this brother is doing in terms of fashioning his armor against micro-aggression.” What’s been the response with the different groups that have encountered your work outside of the ‘helping us stay woke’ audience?

Ben: It was interesting, because black people that interact a lot with white people and have a lot of white friends, I felt they seemed to express that the comic resonated a lot. There were many black people who don’t f– with white people that much, and they were like, “I don’t understand this at all.” An implicit joke was, this is not everybody’s experience. This is to all friends: I think white supremacy affects us all, even if you actively avoid talking to white people.

Lakita: I love the style of “Your Black Friend.” And thank you for bringing Frantz Fanon back to consciousness, which I thought was super great about the work in terms of the structure.

Ben: Fanon’s writing, you probably know this, contributed to the Black Panther Party’s anti-colonialist theory. I’d like to see that s– come back.

Lakita: Word! Let’s talk about your technical approach to “Your Black Friend.” How did you decide to make those palette decisions for it? It just popped. As soon as I opened my copy at SPX, I was like, “Wow.” I didn’t even look at the words at first. What was your process?

Ben: The color palette does feel really inspired by New Orleans at night time, like greens, deep purples, blues, semi-fluorescent colors. That’s just kind of my jam, generally. I like a good triad with a complementary. Your Black Friend…It’s kind of a depressing topic. I at least wanted it to be excited to look at.

In Living Color! "Your Black Friend" palette pops and mic drops.

In Living Color! “Your Black Friend” palette pops and mic drops.

Lakita: That’s what I loved about your work, too. There’s nuance. It’s just that every time I pick it up, I’m picking up on something else. I also get the sense that Silver Sprocket (comics publisher), they’ve been good to you. What’s that relationship been like?

Ben: Oh, yeah. Silver Sprocket is the first publisher I’ve ever worked with. I started out doing tour posters for them and then some merchandise. I was maybe the first non-anthology comic that they published. It’s a very collaborative relationship. It’s more collaborative than it is employer-employee. Growing up, my understanding of the comics industry was really cutthroat and hard to deal with. They’re good people. They get all my punk sub-culture jokes.

Lakita: That’s awesome. What are you working on next? What’s coming up for you that you can share?

Ben: I started working for The Nib. I already did a project about getting arrested at a Klan rally in Georgia this spring.

 

Panel from Ben Passmore's "Letter from a Stone Mountain Jail."

Panel from Ben Passmore’s “Letter from a Stone Mountain Jail.”

 

Lakita: What are you looking forward to in 2017, as a creator?

Ben: Black self-actualization in the face of systematic white supremacy. That’s one.

Lakita: That works!

######

 

 

Keep up with Ben Passmore in the digital space:

Want to kick it with Ben in real life? Ben will also be at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) May 13-May 14th and the special guest at CAKE Chicago June 10-11th, so say ‘hi’, bring your esoteric punk reference A-game and get his comics!

Smokin' sweet signature from Ben Passmore on my copy of "Your Black Friend" at SPX 2016.

Smokin’ sweet signature from Ben Passmore on my copy of “Your Black Friend” at SPX 2016.

Apr 29 2017

Mensa Mind Games: Bringing Your A+ Game

Today marks the fifth anniversary of International Tabletop Day, a day devoted to the playful discovery and fun of board games. To get in the gaming holiday spirit, I recently had a chance to get a behind the scenes look at the 2017 Mensa Mind Games. An annual event for American Mensa members since 1990, Mind Games has become one of the most respected national games competitions. After all, any organization that gives props to Apples to Apples (a 1999 Mind Games winner…and one of my favorite games OF ALL TIME) must truly know their stuff.

So here are some fast facts I picked up during my fun inside peak at Mind Games:

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  • Mind Games is a fun but intense experience

Mensa members have 48 hours to play and judge all 30 games assigned to them on their ballots. This year’s Mind Games accepted 74 games for judging–the biggest number of games in its almost 30 year history.  It’s not uncommon to see members gaming at 4am (see, Mensans–they’re just like us!). I also learned from Mind Games Chief Judge Greg Webster that every player gets at least one game to take home after the event.

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Early nerds get the game! This was the scene at 9am in gaming hall at the 2017 Mind Games.

  • It’s about board games, not “bored” games
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The board game seal of approval, “Mensa Select.” Only 5 games get this coveted title at Mind Games.

Getting the Mensa Select seal for a game is not synonymous with “nerdy games nobody wants to play.” Actually, games that have wide appeal are the best games. As Mind Games Chief Judge Greg Webster put it,  judges have to ultimately consider “would you like to play this game over and over… would you want to have it in your home.” Not surprisingly, there is a rubric that Mind Games judges use to vet the games. Judges rate each of the games on originality (structure, concept, creativity), game play (enjoyment, excitement, challenge), play value (repeatability, longevity, price), aesthetics (look, feel, style) and instructions (brevity, clarity, completeness).

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 27 2017

Blerd Dad and Smurfs: The Lost Village

Smurfs: The Lost Village

As a child, I would jump up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. I recently had a chance to introduce my daughters to one of the staples of my childhood with the The Smurfs: The Lost Village movie. The film was rated PG, although I saw nothing that made me think it was different from any Disney movie that I’ve watched with my kids. Without giving away any spoilers, the movie did center around Smurfette, how she felt different from the other Smurfs, and how she struggled to find her identify. Considering that the Smurfs basic premise is about a large community of guys that live with one female, it was a little refreshing that Smurfette was a central character to story. Every Smurf has their own habit, quality or skill that defined them. Hefty is strong, Vanity is in love with himself, Brainy is a know-it-all, Handy is a builder, Clumsy is a klutz, etc… Well Smurfette ….is a girl; she has long blond hair, wears a dress and heeled shoes. Growing up watching the Smurfs every morning, all I could say about Smurfette was that she was a girl and she consistently cried out ” ohh boo hoo” (literally). As a blerd dad of three daughters, I actively search for stories that feature strong and interesting female characters. This film didn’t disappoint. In The Lost Village, we are treated to a blue tale (pun intended) of growth and self discovery; of course we’re still talking in context of a cartoon about tiny forest creatures that mostly suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. My daughters enjoyed the film and I recommend that nerd parents consider taking their little ladies to see Smurfs: Lost Village.

Parents, Smurfs: The Lost Village is an ok story. It’s not ground breaking or incredibly compelling, in fact the plot is rather simple and predictable. However it is still something fun you can take your kids to see. If you grew up watching Smurfs you shouldn’t be disappointed although there is one thing that I did notice. One nerdy issue that I couldn’t help but notice was the language. Smurfs in every media I’ve seen in the past would replace various words with the word “smurf”. For instance one might say “Oh my Smurf!” instead of saying “Oh my goodness!” or “We tried several times to Smurf the book, but we couldn’t re-smurf it” Forgive the nitpick, but that’s what blerd dad’s do. The fact that it seemed to be missing was not a deal breaker with the flick and older fans that grew up with the show and/or collected the toys should be satisfied with the movie. With the focus of the story on Smurfette, Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty, fans might not get their fill of Smurfs. Especially if you had a certain Smurf as favorite. Still with there being so many, it would take more than one movie to feature more than a handful of them. I think Handy Smurf was my favorite, while I probably related most with Brainy Smurf.

Demi Lovato was fine as Smurfette, as was Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, and Joe Manganiello as Clumsy, Brainy, and Hefty respectively. I didn’t recognize the voice of Mandy Patinkin as Papa Smurf at first. But after I did, I just wanted Papa Smurf to look at Gargamel and say… “Hello, my name is Papa Smurf, you killed my father, prepare to die… (Princess Bride reference)” I was mildly surprised to see in the credits the cameos made by Gordon Ramsay as Baker, Gabriel Iglesias as Jokey, Jeff Dunham as Farmer, and Tituss Burgess as Vanity. Rainn Wilson, famous for The Office, voiced Gargamel. While his performance wasn’t bad, I was more impressed by voice acting veteran Frank Welker who voiced Azrael, Gargamel’s cat. Movie “tough girl” Michelle Rodriguez  and Julia Roberts also add their vocals to the movie.

Overall, Smurfs: The Lost Village is a decent kids flick that can has the potential to fire up the nostalgia for fans. It was recommended by the GSB Podcast that I take my daughters to see this movie. I extend that recommendation to any nerd dad who has young daughters.

I give it 3.25 cosmic AFROs out of 5

Apr 25 2017

INTERVIEW: The (Re)Mixed Martial Arts of Shaolin Jazz

What do Jazz, Classic Kung Fu Cinema, and Hip-Hop have in common? A lot more than people think, and Shaolin Jazz has the mix-tape to prove it!

This month I attended a couple of events for the Kungfu Wildstyle pop-up exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Asian Art (this exhibition is awesome–check it out before it goes April 30th!). At the Kung Fu Wildstyle kick off, I had the pleasure of meeting two mix masters of cool, Gerald Watson and DJ 2-Tone Jones, also known as Shaolin Jazz.

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DC’s Dynamic Dojo Duo, Gerald Watson and DJ 2-Tone Jones, photo courtesy of Shaolin Jazz.

Imagine this: Hanging out with some cool art blerds and geeks watching the Kung Fu classic Five Fingers of Death remixed to Wu Tang Clan with a jazzy backbeat–oh, and did I mention, Mr. Fab 5 Freddy was there? Yeah, it’s everything a Nerdy Venom could want! So I caught up with Shaolin Jazz for an interview to discuss their genre-blending experiences in music and film and how a little bit of Wu Tang makes everything better!

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Lakita: How would you describe your approach–what’s the philosophy of Shaolin Jazz?

DJ 2-Tone Jones: One way to put it– Shaolin Jazz is an exploration of the connections and intersections between jazz, culture, hip-hop culture, and martial arts. It was just mostly a mix-tape concept at first. But when we’re talking about jazz and hip-hop, there’s so many similarities in terms of how they evolved. You know, in jazz, you have certain kind of rhythmic patterns and things like that that you actually hear from MC’s sometimes. It also goes deeper than just sampling hip-hop records. Both art forms evolved out of hardship, lack of resources, and not so nice environments. Jazz wasn’t birthed out of the homes of classically trained musicians–it came out of brothels, bars and, and speakeasies. Hip-hop came out of the streets down when crack-cocaine was about to hit and heroin was still popping. So when we examine or we even thought of initially the idea of fusing jazz and hip-hop, and more specifically Wu Tang Clan and jazz music, it wasn’t something that we thought was so farfetched. One of things we cover in our multimedia lecture presentation is how visually, hip-hop has paid the biggest homage to jazz than any other genre of music. Funk musicians didn’t do that. Rock musicians didn’t do that. Soul didn’t do that. Country didn’t do that. Blues didn’t even do that. Before Miles Davis passed away, the person who co-produced that album with him was Easy Mo Bee, the dude who produced Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear”, and “Warning” by Biggie Smalls. He’s a hip-hop legend. Russell Simmons linked them together. That’s jazz history, right there. One of the most iconic jazz artists finished out his career with the album co-produced by a hip-hop producer.

Gerald Watson: There’s a lot of ways it can go.

DJ 2-Tone Jones: There’s tons of examples of cats working together, collaborating, but also taking cues from other cats. Look at dance trends. I mean, think about Kid ‘N Play. The Kid ‘N Play dance is based off of one of the most iconic dance moves ever, the Charleston. So hip-hop was, in a sense, the evolution of jazz in a way different form. The medium of the instrument has changed from the trumpet and piano, to the MC and the DJ. That’s jazz and hip-hop for you.

So now enter the Wu…Wu Tang Clan!

DJ 2-Tone Jones: And that all ties in even with Wu Tang and that whole essence of Far East Asian culture that they derived from watching Kung Fu flicks. When you look back at hip-hop and the influences, and people who were fans of hip-hop, especially going through the ’80s and the ’90s–it was almost common knowledge that a lot of cats who like hip-hop also like watching those Kung Fu flicks. But with hip-hop, Wu Tang was the one group decided to do more than just reference it, they embodied it. Almost all of the names of Wu Tang Clan members come from Kung Fu flicks and characters.

Lakita: Can you talk a bit about what you’re using when you’re out there performing? Your instruments, I should say!

DJ 2-Tone Jones: It’s a unique set-up that people aren’t used to, it’s just different. But what we do, is normally we have the movie audio running through the turntables. And then they go out to the speakers. So basically, we control when you hear any sound from the movie. So whether they’re talking or fighting in the movie, we bring that volume up and down accordingly based on what we want. So we can cut it out completely and you just hear a what we spin on the turntables, or there’s a scene where there’s dialogue, and we turn that up but there’s instrumentals still playing beneath it on the turntables. Everything is still orchestrated from the turntables. So yeah, that’s like our core instrument of sound in Shaolin Jazz is the turntable. 

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The “Can I Kick It?” Kung Fu Wildstyle kickoff at Hyphen Gallery, DC.

Needless to say, I was beyond convinced about this jazz and hip-hop and Wu Tang mix. And so is the world–Shaolin Jazz has been taking their brand of beats, lyrics and imagery– global. I asked them about their recent performance in Ethiopia.

Lakita: I love the international attention with what you do because because  the arts really are a way for humanity to have an ambassador. What was the reception in Ethiopia when y’all were over there? And what did you learn from that experience?

Gerald Watson: It was cool. I mean, certain situations looked like being here, being around the way. Obviously a different vibe because you’re on a different continent—it just adds to what kind of experience you’re going to have. And the cats we got out with were definitely some of the illest cats out there. They were definitely digging what we were doing. In Ethiopia, to bring hip-hop and jazz together, in a place where there’s no connectivity between the two genres whatsoever… I think what we were doing was maybe the first time, or one of the first times that Ethiopian and hip-hop artists and jazz artists actually performed together.

DJ 2-Tone Jones: Again, it’s the whole concept of Shaolin Jazz live–forget being in another country, even here (in the US) it’s almost an unheard of concept, having a DJ leading a live band. So you have a four or five piece band, maybe six piece band, and the person leading the show is the DJ. And I’m cutting in lyrics over what they’re playing, I’m soloing when we take turns soloing, and scratching and cutting. And we don’t have sheet music that we’re all sharing. It’s like in Jazz where artists take cues from one another just based off where they’re at in the song or the vibe, or look to one another. Not only did people experience Shaolin Jazz live we even did some workshops on hip-hop at the African Union. So we got a chance to network with or work with, talk to, educate a variety of different folks.

Gerald Watson: Yeah, like skaters, with skateboards. We ended up linking up with Ethiopia Skate.

DJ 2-Tone Jones: We also had an embassy event with almost 150 to 200 people including the US Ambassador to Ethiopia and all these other dignitaries. The Embassy doesn’t even let cats roll up in there like this. Our guest list, I mean, we had only been there a week…was over 50 people for the embassy event. By the time we got to the end of the week, that many people were hitting us up, like, “Yo, I want to come” including the owner of the hotel we stayed at, her brother and all these other folks. Everybody was like, “Yo. Can we go? Can we go?” And we got everybody up in there, for the most part. It was dope. And both the jazz artists were killing it. The MC’s killed it. And it was a great vibe. Music transcends culture, barriers, language. If there’s a pocket, if there’s a groove, we can all talk fluently together through the music. So that’s basically what happened. And the show was on point.

Lakita: Y’all are doing a lot of different things. How did you move from, “Okay. Here are these events with Can I Kick It film screenings, with the lecture series” ..to now, “Here’s the Shaolin Jazz experience”?

DJ 2-Tone Jones: From everything that we’ve done up to this point, as we say, our focus has been a completely organic process. It was just, “Hey, it’d be cool if we took Wu Tang and jazz music and just put it together?” That’s really how it was. But from there, it was just a thing where Gerald and I have been working together so much that we have a good sense of our thought processes and an understanding of the access to resources that we have. Again, this is our art–how the wheels turn in our minds together when we have something that we feel is of interest, that people would be interested in. We don’t like to waste that opportunity. At the same time, we like to be smart about how we put stuff out–we want to captivate the audience and create an experience as much as we can. We have customized fortune cookies that we give out, we have drink specials that tie in the with a character or plot point of the movie. And we sometimes to movie trivia based off the film. You know, a lot of thought goes into the design work for the promotional stuff. Gerald has created these series of movie posters for when we do these. So there’s always a movie poster, not just a regular 4×6 postcard flier designed to the movie poster.

ongbak2

Promo Poster for the April 25, 2017 “Can I Kick It?” Screening of Ong Bak 2, courtesy of Shaolin Jazz.

Gerald Watson: I mean, we definitely have a lot of ideas on concept and making sure that that is recognized in the experience. Because otherwise, it’s just a happy hour.

Lakita: Linking it back to watching Kung Fu movies—it’s all about discipline. You have to be disciplined and you live your life according to a discipline. This level of creativity and collaboration mode you two operate in is all part of the Shaolin Jazz discipline. But I have to know, what are your Top Five martial arts flicks? Is that easy?

DJ 2-Tone Jones: No. Not at all. Golly. Five?

Gerald Watson: There’s still so many more we haven’t seen. When we did Master of the Flying Guillotine, I just saw that for the first time just a couple months ago. I think of all the films we’ve shown, that has the illest intro. Then there was the one joint we showed, not too long ago, Come Drink With Me.

DJ 2-Tone Jones: That’s like the only female lead martial arts film that I’ve ever seen that was made before the ’90s  or 2000’s. Because really, after that, it’s like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There’s Kill Bill, which is a white-washed version of the martial arts stuff, but still. They paid homage to the lead woman (Pei-Pei Cheng) in “Come Drink with Me” in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Back in the day, she was one of the first big female leads in martial arts films. But yeah, there’s so many films. So we try to mix it up so there’s no way if you’re a fan of any kind of martial arts film, you feel left out by what we’re doing. We cover everything.

Gerald Watson: I guess it’s just us wanting to push Shaolin Jazz to another level. No matter what it is, we want ideas behind it that make it something special for people and a really creative atmosphere. And you’re like, “Okay. Cool, I’m glad I attended.”

Word!

You can kick it with Shaolin Jazz in the digital dojo in a few places:

Twitter: @SHAOLIN_JAZZ37 ; Instagram, and definitely hear them out on Souncloud.

And if you have the good fortune to find yourself in Washington, DC on a Fourth Tuesday of the month (hmmm, today would be great!)–catch Shaolin Jazz live with their Kung Fu/Hip-Hop crossover experience “Can I Kick It?” at DC’s SongByrd Music House.

Feb 22 2017

Blerd Dad and THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

LEGO Batman 1

Guest Review by Blerd Words

Being a blerd-dad, I savor those scarce opportunities that I get to share my nerdity with my three daughters. The LEGO Batman movie was one of those limited times. Despite its PG rating, I felt the flick was appropriate for all three of my little princesses. Their ages are seven, four, and two. There were a number of monsters that were in the movie and none of my girls flinched when they appeared on screen. To be fair though, they are monsters made out of LEGOs. The word “butt” was said a few times, and while that would usually send my two older girls into a giggling frenzy, they instead were focused on Batman’s other lines. They did however giggle a bit when Bruce Wayne changed out of his Bat uniform and showed a few swift moments of flesh-tones. I do have to mention that by the middle of the second act, my two year old had lost interesting in the flick. She was only interested in sitting on my lap and eating popcorn. I suppose she had her fill of the Bat because just before going to see the movie, the girls and I attended a LEGO Batman event at Target. Although my other two ladies were literally on the edge of their seats watching the movie. I actually had to tell them to scoot back into their seats. It is my recommendation that any nerd parent should take their offspring to The LEGO Batman movie.

 

Parents, the LEGO Batman movie has something for every Bat fan. It’s got something for the occasional movie-goer with a vague familiarity of Batman to the obsessive compulsive Bat-fanatic that spends hours online defending why Micheal Keaton was the best Batman. The movie makes references and has Easter Eggs to seemingly every incarnation of Batman ranging from the 1960s to present day. The biggest reason the movie is so awesome is the fact that the story is actually a good story. If you strip away the LEGO and comedic elements, the meat of the story at its core is a compelling Bat story. We see Batman dealing with a reoccurring theme that haunts the character but in a playful and sincere way.

The voice acting was spot on and comedic timing was on point, even for the joke or two that got overdone. The movie didn’t have an issue making jokes at its own expense or Batman’s or even Warner Brothers. Will Arnet was epic as Batman. He may have become my favorite Batman, well he’s in my top three at least.

My only serious issue with the LEGO Batman movie is why didn’t LEGO get the licensing sooner. When I was a kid, LEGOs only featured space, town, and castle themed sets. I would’ve bled to have a Batman themed LEGO set growing up. So I’ll probably end up buying a few sets for my daughters that I’ll build and keep in my room for “safety”.

In conclusion, I’d say that the LEGO Batman movie is a good flick to see solo, with the kids or even as a date movie. If you’ll excuse me, I have to see if my wife wants to go to the movies.

Dec 15 2016

Forget the Yule Log, Warm Up With Marvel’s Fireside Videos

It’s cold out there, but Marvel, with the help of Coca-Cola, has given their fans a warm and nerdy way to keep the fire burning, at least on a virtual level.  Marvel’s Fireside videos feature cozy and comfy fireplaces from 4 of our Avengers’ living spaces, including Carol Danvers’ New Jersey home.  So if the Yule Log has lost its toasty appeal, you can spend an hour (or more if looped) in the living rooms of your favorite heroes while they fight cosmic threats this season, all in 4K detail.

Ms. Marvel’s New Jersey Home Fireside – Carol’s place looks a little lived in with her suit just flopped on the couch.  I don’t know what’s up with intermediate tremors in the house, but maybe Carol had to deal with some super-villain while coming back from the grocery store.

 

 

Iron Man’s Manhattan Apartment Fireside – Even Tony’s fireplace is high tech. No messy logs or ashes to clean up.  We’re literally looking at a video of a video of a fireplace. The irony (pun intended).

 

Captain America’s Brooklyn Apartment Fireside  – A nostalgic room to keep your Vibranium shield from being cold to the touch.

 

 

Thor’s Asgard Home Fireside Video  – After wrestling with some Frost Giants this looks like an inviting place to drink your ale and watch The Vikings on History Channel.

 

Oct 31 2016

Interview: MOONGIRL’S AMY REEDER and BRANDON MONTCLARE


For  the October ComiGamAni episode of Geek Soul Brother and the Nerdy Venoms–a podcast where the Nerdy Venoms deep-dive into the world of comics, games, and anime–we interviewed creators Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare, the Glyph Award winning duo behind “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.”

In this interview we hear how Amy and Brandon collaborate to bring young Lunella Lafayette–the smartest superhero in the Marvel Universe to life (That’s right!!)—as well as get a glimpse into the kinship and creativity that really makes their artistic partnership work. Plus, we hear Amy’s mad acapella jukebox skills in the show intro–not to be missed!

 

 

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Creators Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare

 

We hope you enjoy this interview and may we all aspire to be like Lunella when we grow up!

 

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Oct 23 2016

Stars Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton Talk HBO Westworld

A couple weeks ago I and some blerdy / nerdy friends of mine were invited to an HBO Westworld premiere event. In addition we were part of a discussion panel with moderator Jason Silva of Brain Games.  But the fun didn’t stop there.  Here are two interviews graciously provided by the network of the stars of Westworld, Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton. They both give interesting points of view on different aspects of the new science fiction series.

The cool thing here is how Jeffrey illustrates the intersections of reality and fantasy, not just from the humans that are guests at Westworld, but also from the robots’ (hosts) points of view. There is reality of the labs, and there is the fantasy of the amusement park. That is, fantasy for the humans.  The amusement park IS the reality for the robots, and the labs are the ‘dream’.

Thandie Newton speaks on the purpose of Westworld and how people can not only escape their 9 to 5 lives, but also go beyond what we would call virtual reality. Westworld is as real as it gets, without the danger of getting killed. But did the guests see the 1973 film?  I’m thinking not. And in all fairness, HBO Westworld seems to be taking a more interesting direction than the original film.

 

 Catch Westworld on Sunday nights at 9PM EST.

 

Sep 26 2016

Event Recap: The 2016 National Book Festival

The 16th Annual Library of Congress National Book Festival —
Celebrating the Journey of Reading
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On September 24th an estimated 200,000 people journeyed to Washington, DC, for the National Book Festival. This free festival hosted by the Library of Congress featured over 120 authors. Somewhere, my friends, Ray Bradbury is smiling.

2016 National Book Festival highlights included:

  • The first major public appearance by Carla Hayden, who is the first woman and the first African American to be appointed as the Librarian of Congress.
  • A 2,500 seat auditorium festival main stage featuring Stephen King (his National Book Festival Debut, receiving special recognition for his contributions to literacy), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shonda Rhimes.
  • A programming block dedicated to the graphic novel. Authors included Rep. John Lewis (fresh from an appearance at opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture earlier that day, discussing the “March Trilogy”), Ed Piskor (creator of the “Hip Hop Family Tree” series), and new MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Gene Luen Yang.

 

The Wonder Wordsmiths, King & Yang to Literacy’s Rescue

Gene Luen Yang and Stephen King connect in National Book Festival media lounge. Photo by Library of Congress.

Gene Luen Yang and Stephen King connect in National Book Festival media lounge. Photo by Library of Congress.

I was thrilled to cover the Stephen King and Gene Luen Yang panels! Being both writers and educators, their panels underscored more than anything why literacy matters. Seeing the hundreds of young minds in attendence at the National Book Festival–young minds who will face a world with opportunities and obstacles we have yet to imagine–this is a message we need to share now more than ever.

Stephen King: On Reading
Stephen King, in his first appearance at the National Book Festival was presented with a special recognition for his efforts to champion literacy. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden introduced King as someone who gives back to his readers and ensures that the number of readers continues to grow. Sitting a mere two rows from the main stage, I was in perfect view of the genuine surprise King had for the sold-out crowd. “Writers are supposed to be secret agents. We observe you–you don’t observe us” King said with his tone dancing the line of astonishment and admonishment.
As you would expect, King was an amazing storyteller. He shared some hilarious anecdotes of fan encounters throughout his career as a writer in a country where people are more likely to engage in a debate about the films they watch than the books they read. The audience roared with laughter watching King writhe in anguish at the often-uttered line “I’ve seen ALL your movies” and then hearing King lament that any individual who has says that must have watched “The Mangler” and all the unneccessary “Children of the Corn” sequels.
Once King put the audience in the ‘story time’ sweet spot, we were ready to take on the deeper messages. King’s love of reading was instilled in him at a very young age. As an educator in his twenties, he began to notice that his students treated reading as a means to an end, seeing it as “hardwork with no reward”. For the first time, the master of horror saw something very frightening and real: the emergence of a world of non-readers. King stressed that reading opens up our abilities to empathize and analyze, skills key to being an informed thinker and better human being. King has made it part of his life’s work to inspire young audiences to read so they may know “learning to think is a result of hard work and steady effort.”
King’s advice to unlock a love of reading for the next generation includes patroning independent book stores, becoming a bold reading ambassador in schools by telling students to unplug, and reading with your family. Fun fact: King started his own children on reading comics at a very young age. One of his sons, writer Joe Hill, is the creator of the comic series “Locke & Key”.

***

Gene Luen Yang: The Genius of Reading Without Walls
2016 is turning out to be a banner year for cartoonist and computer science teacher Gene Luen Yang. The Library of Congress selected Yang as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a position with a two-year term, created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people. Yang is only the fifth writer and the first graphic novelist to hold this positon! A few days before the National Book Festival–where Yang was featured in 2 programming blocks (one for teen literature, and the other for graphic novels)–word reached the world that he was one of the 23 individuals selected for the 2016 class of the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Grants.” This prestigious award comes with a $625,000 no-strings prize and is given to inspiring innovators with exceptional creativity. Recent Genius Grant recipients include essayist Ta-Nehesi Coates and artist Lin-Manuel Miranda. Needless to say, Yang is in good company.
Yang’s work spans a variety of themes–from the technical (“Secret Coders”), to the historical (“Boxers & Saints”) and to the deeply personal (“American Born Chinese”). Hearing Yang speak in light of all of this great news bringing more visibility to his work was a true highlight!
Indeed, Yang’s geek hustle as both an artist and educator is the stuff of origin story legend–he was teaching by day and creating comics by night. Worlds fortuitously collided when Yang started preparing his computer science lessons in a highly visual way (Sigh, where was a Mr. Yang when I was in school!?). The process of creating comics for the classroom even challenged Yang’s own assumptions of how students learned: he thought his students preferred to learn from the screen rather than the page, but just the opposite occurred! In the classroom, Yang realized that comics could be a powerful teaching tool that allowed students to unpack information at their own speed and increase comprehension. Pro Tip: Supporters of S.T.E.A.M. education should get hip to Yang’s “Secret Coders” series–it’s the perfect example of teaching computer science through arts integration and a very fun read!
Yang also talked about “Reading without Walls”–his platform as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature:

Criteria for Reading Without Walls Challenge, image from geneyang.com

Criteria for Reading Without Walls Challenge, image from geneyang.com

Much like Stephen King, Yang wants to inspire young people to see reading for the world-opening adventure it is. Full geek disclosure: my #ReadingWithoutWalls read is “The Shadow Hero” by Yang and Sonny Liew–a graphic novel re-examining the origin story of The Green Turtle, who is likely the first Chinese American superhero. It is worth noting that Yang is now penning for DC Comics “The New Super-Man” which is set in China and follows the character development of superhero Kong Kenan.

The long Q & A line I observed made it clear that Yang’s work resonates with readers and his enthusiam for reading has an impact. When a young writer asked Yang for advice for Asian American writers starting out, Yang shared that for writers self-doubt will always loom and and as an Asian American writer: “If you get specific in your own experience, it becomes universal. Get over the fear, go deep.” In that moment, I saw the spark of encouragement in the young writer’s eyes and suddenly my Gene Luen Yang bookmark transformed into an action figure.

My Gene Luen Yang Bookmark/Action Figure!

My Gene Luen Yang Bookmark/Action Figure!

The 2017 National Book Festival will take place in Washington, DC, on September 2nd.

Sep 23 2016

Interview with Roger Cross – Six on Dark Matter

 

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In this episode we talk to the highly versatile Roger Cross. who plays Six on Dark Matter, and who we call the Hardest working Man in SciFi TV. Mr. Cross has had a long career appearing on Television and in films. Many of which were part of the science fiction genre. Here is a small portion – The Strain, Continuum, Fringe, Eureka, Arrow, 24 as Curtis Manning, Orphan Black, Chronicles of Riddick, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, X-Files, X-Men 2, Sliders, Fallout Video Game, and First Wave – which is where I first appreciated the man for his presence and acting.

Some of the questions we asked:

  • How have you enjoyed playing Six on Dark Matter? And how did you hear about the role?

  • What attracts you to Sci-fi TV shows and film?

  • Do you write also? Do you have some stories you would like to be seen in?

Roger Cross Season 1 Dark Matter

Roger Cross in Season 1 of Dark Matter (photo Syfy Channel)

Mr. Cross was a gracious guest, and gave insight into his philosophy on acting and life in general.  We certainly would like him to come back again.  There was some feedback on the call which I unfortunately had to edit out with parts of the interview.  My apologies to you listeners. That being said, I hope you enjoy.

 

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