Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oxford Reads Comics Too (two?)

Hello Gentle Readers:

How my blog lies fallow! I would like to remedy this with a new post, post haste! As we near the first year of our Oxford Comic Book Club, I thought I would pause to list all that we have read. Take a look:

February 2011: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
March 2011: Amazing Screw-on Head by Mike Mignola
April 2011: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
May 2011: One! Hundred! Demons! by Lynda Barry
June 2011: Superman: Red Son by Mike Millar
July 2011: Various short reads from Chris Ware and Richard McGuire
August 2011: Ōoku by Fumi Yoshinaga
September 2011: no meeting
October 2011: Dream Country (Sandman volume 3) by Neil Gaiman
November 2011: The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 6: The Calculus Affair/ The Red Sea Sharks/ Tintin in Tibet by Hergé
December 2011: Various early comic strips: Yellow Kid by Richard F. Outcault; Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay; and Krazy Kat by George Herriman

January 2012: The Fixer and Other Stories by Joe Sacco

Though there seems no rhyme or reason, we are trying to explore different genres within comics plus examples of other cultures' comics traditions (though by no means comprehensive). We have done autobiography, superhero, fantasy, horror, alternate history, adventure, kid's literature (and in January, journalism). We have read one manga and one European comic. We have read edgy, contemporary short stories and very edgy, early comic strips.

Also, my mailing list is up to 27 and we had seven people show up to the meeting during FINALS week! In other, even better news, one of our members, a university librarian, asked and received funds to create a core collection of comic books at our library. My four point plan to bring comics to Oxford is creeping along!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oxford Reads Comics

Since I've moved to Oxford, MS, I've been slowly implementing my plan to bring comics/comix (heck even graphic novels) to the greater community. I have a four point plan. First is to find the comics geeks who are surely all around us, buying groceries and working just like a normal person. Second is to organize them. That is where I am now. I've formed a comic book reading club (now even formally recognized by our local indie bookstore, Square Books).

My mailing list is around 15 but only 6-8 have shown up on a regular basis. We meet monthly and discuss a book. Usually, I get the pleasure of selecting the read, which has been a lot of fun.

Today, we discussed our only superhero book so far, Superman: Red Son written by Mark Millar (he of Kick-Ass fame) and drawn by Dave Johnson, et al. Since this is like a mini-grad class, I also sent along Umberto Eco's essay "The Myth of the Superman" which shone a very interesting light on this "alternative" universe story. I admit that superhero books were my gateway book, which is the case with many red blooded fan boys and girls. With the exception of some exceptional books, which, at best, only comment on superhero comics for the most part, I dabble in these books for entertainment. Upon comparison with the really nice list I am about to discuss in this post, the art and the writing, though entertaining, fell quite short. The same faces rarely looked the same on the same page! As one of my book club members said the art was the comics equivalent of Michael Bay. Click here for the New Yorker's evisceration of Transformers 2.

Though I do not have the time to go into the details of our discussion, it was interesting to read a book about the cold war in the post cold war. The premise: Superman lands in the Soviet Union instead of the Midwest USA. (I explained the premise to a non-comic book reading colleague who tolerates my fits of geekery and his response was, "well, that would cause some problems" as he seriously thought of the ramifications.) Anyway, the book is a much gentler version with only scant references to what a monster Stalin was. I guess one could not have the "boy scout" in the same room as Stalin. I mean, Supes would have to know about the gulags, right?

Next month, we are going to read a couple short stories and some experimental comics by Chris Ware and Richard McGuire. We may also look at Rebecca Dart who wrote Rabbithead (but click on the live journal link because I am so digging her "doodles" -- especially the Hail Eris, Goddess of Discord). In August, we are going to read a manga, but I need to think about that one. How much shall I rock their world?

Monday, April 11, 2011

'tis the season of baseball

It's been a little over a week and MLB season has started, but that's not what this post is about. Friday night, I went with some friends to a college baseball game. Our Ole Miss team was playing Georgia. They lost, but who cares! I had a great time.

Swayze stadium, which, as far as I can tell, is not named after Patrick Swayze (unless some rich donor's farewell gift in honor, I dunno, of Roadhouse), is a fantastic place. Mucho, mucho money was spent in its creation. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that you can sit in a special section and bring food and beer to the stadium. Heck, they even have barbeque grills and picnic tables.

Plus, when we weren't paying attention to the game, one could watch kids from a safe distance cavort and play. The social dynamics of tots is a fascinating one to watch -- belongs on the Animal Planet. They had grass to run around on and a pebbly pit to play on. One kid found a giant rock, bigger than his head, and carried it around. This was the source of much fascination in the group. I waited for them to construct a dais and start to worship it. Suddenly, I understood what Aaron felt when there was a lack of clear leadership.

Anyway, it was a clear night, and it was fun to watch the game. Though some wobbly plays (errors) occurred with embarrassing frequency (hold the ball, don't rush the throw, boys), there were some great plays as well. The centerfielders from both teams were especially impressive. We got to see a few homeruns as well -- one just to my right.

We will have to plan this again because it was just perfect. I will watch my Braves on TV and maybe even catch a game or two in person this summer, but for this season, I can tolerate college baseball. I am ashamed to say I never made it to a minor league game while up in CT! Maybe if and when I visit?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Geekiest Girl in the Room

One is sometimes understood by the company she keeps. Alas, I am surrounded by non-geeks!

Last weekend, I attended an academic bootcamp (wouldn't call it a conference, they worked us!) and when one member of my group mentioned that they were going to "red shirt" an idea, you know, dear readers, what immediately came to my mind. Yeah, he was going to sacrifice that idea. However, there is an alternative subculture competing for the red shirt metaphor. Weird.

But what was the worst, the absolute worst is that I had to EXPLAIN my reference. Really? How sad is that?

Anyway, in my attempt to finish talking about the film festival I went to last month, let me geekily segueway into one of the shorts I saw that Saturday night titled CONGLANG. This was about a small club of people who are fascinated by created languages. The "con" does not stand for "convention" which I thought at first but for "constructed." there is an actual organization which I think partly funded the film. (*correction, the organization supported the film -- see the comments section*).

Anyway, very amusing short film about the power struggles within a conlang club which ended in a flexing contest of who can master the most con langs (like reciting Shakespeare in Klingon -- which I think they did -- or reciting the Gettysburg Address in Snoop Dogg speak). Yes, dear geeks, shades of Evan Dorkins' "Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett."

Anyway, CONLANG, was a fun little short and actually a geek love story! More info on shorts later and all the other goodness I watched. I haven't even talked about the animation!

In sum, please console me. I am in the land of norms.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Geek Girls of the World, Unite!

How timely! After my last rant about discussion list bores and the gender of Wikipedia, I just found out about a "call-to-arms!" From Geekgirlcon.com

"What: Geek Girls Edit Wikipedia
When: Friday, March 11th - Sunday, March 13th
Who: You, geek girl. Anywhere with an internet connection. GeekGirlCon, Nerds in Babeland, and our friends present Geek Girls Edit Wikipedia, an activity any geek girl with an internet connection can participate in.

For one amazing weekend, we are encouraging geeky women to go on Wikipedia and create and edit articles about our favorite geeky topics.

Women account for only 15% of all Wikipedia contributions, and we want to raise this participation rate. We know many of you have expertise in a wide variety of topics and can contribute valuable information to Wikipedia, which has become the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet. Wikipedia is the 7th most visited website; and more women's knowledge needs to be added to this resource.

Please join us by adding to this great community knowledge base. You can chat about your contributions or keep a record of what you've edited over on GeekGirlCon's forums: http://www.geekgirlcon.com/forum/"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

[insert rant]

Gentle readers, I do plan on following up on the fantastic film festival -- for instance, one of the shorts, "God of Love," that was shown in Oxford won the Academy Award for Best Short. Wow! And I didn't even see it, and it didn't even win a prize at the festival! My one chance to actually see a short film prior to the awards!

Anyway, that's not what I'm writing about. So, I've been on a bit of minor kick of trying to be more vocal online. This has been inspired by the recent discovery that mostly men write and edit posts on Wikipedia. I know, big shock, right? There has been a lot of discussion about why that's the case, ranging from dissing men (women are too busy to fool with that kind of brainiac pissing contest) to fundamentals about knowledge and communication (women seek consensus rather than engage in antagonism which a lot of digital information exchanges often turn into). My own foray into stating my opinion digitally was a bit of a dud. See my post here and the response here. [amusing rebuttal that I do not wish to send to the site will grace these pages at some point in the near future].

What I am trying to say, which has taken me two paragraphs already, is that I am on a couple mailing lists related to my research interests. I have become more attuned to the some of the louder voices on these lists who are treating the marketplace of ideas in my inbox like their personal Facebook wall or Twitter account. Please let me address these posters.

I do not need to read your ill-formed, knee jerk reaction that barely addresses (or even inflames) the discussion at hand.

I do not need to hear a personal story or a quasi-related anecdote that the previous poster may have evoked in your ample and Proustian memory.

I do not need to see your name listed dozens of times in the same discussion which eventually appears to me as the equivalent of waving your privates.

Do you people not have something else you need to be doing? Do you wait with bated breath for the beginning of the day when you can be that eager student in class whose hand shoots up before the teacher has even finished the question? Or is it because you want to be the teacher whose pontification suffocates students?

And why, gentle readers, are all these writers, male? Am I on the wrong lists? Are my research interests so hopelessly masculine?

Okay, stupid rant. We all know people like these on our discussion groups and just because the problem children are male should in no way indicate that their voices are the majority nor that the gender is the problem. Men and women post very thoughtful posts all the time, and I would never discount any point of view based on gender. Rather, it's the number of irrelevant posts that lead to the discount. If you post that many times, then the words are going to be cheaper, my friends.

If you are reading this, wondering if I am talking about you, I'm not.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Movie Festival Part Two

It's been a long week so I have not returned to the blog as promised. However, it's been a lovely week -- 60-70 degree weather. I can't believe this is still February! Usually I'm hating my life in Connecticut.

After attending the documentary, Southern Belle, which I wrote about in my last post, I wanted to see a couple shorts, including one called sexting by Neil LaBute -- the only name I recognized in this festival. Due to scheduling issues, which happened throughout the festival, I saw Mississippi Innocence, an hour-long documentary about the Innocence Project that freed two men (one from death row and one from life in prison) based on DNA evidence.

Not a great film, but one I acknowledge as very important. The style reminded me of Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line, though without the Philip Glass soundtrack. In fact, I seem to remember that the music in Mississippi Innocence was annoying. (One may say the same about Glass but I didn't mind it). Plus, it's always difficult in a crime documentary to treat the victim in a way that does not abuse her twice. I was alarmed, but understood, why they had to show part of the little girl's body -- in order to reveal serious problems with the forensic process.

After this documentary, which by the way, won as "audience favorite," I sat through the aforementioned sexting. I know that some of you may have very strong feelings about LaBute's films because he portrays devastating pictures about the relationships between men and women. Well, one could even accuse him of depicting/normalizing misogyny. One does not walk out of his films usually feel pretty good about humanity.

The short, however, was a comedy, featuring Julia Stiles who is such a strange actress -- with her very young face and husky voice. The camera focused on her as she delivered a monologue. The premise is that she received a sexy text message from her lover, but she realized that the text was meant for his wife, not for her. So, she calls the wife and meets her for lunch. Acting as the "wounded party" in this exchange, she did have some great lines and I laughed out loud at points. After this, I didn't stick around for the second short, Pillow, although I wish I had seen it.

Instead, I went to see two more shorts -- God's Square Mile and Mozambique. The first was an interesting history about a camp meeting that created a small town in New Jersey. For those not familiar with that term, though Willimantic, CT has one as well, the camp meeting was a Christian movement in America where people would go on a religious holiday, focusing on spiritual renewal, etc. I thought this history was interesting because this town was an important example of urban planning and part of America's religious history because it basically was a theocracy, with their own stringent blue laws and a court that enforced them. The controversy depicted in the film was the fact an older lesbian couple wanted to use the camp meeting's pavilion for their civil service. The film tried to make it out as a big deal but everybody was just so nice and reasonable, wanting to make the town a nice place, it really wasn't that interesting to watch. In other words, all sides made it clear that this was a legal matter, not a personal one.

Not that I need to have some kind of red meat controversy to make a good film, but this one definitely waned. I think an interesting film could have been made but I was bored.

The second short film in this set was Mozambique, a story about AIDS orphans. I liked this one very much, mostly because it wasn't one of those films where people from other countries come in and make "art" out of other people's miseries. Instead, this was a direct result of donating cameras and other equipment to AIDS orphans (those who lost both parents due to the disease) and this was the story of one young man who shot the film and told his story. It is fascinating how my view changes when looking at pictures the kids themselves took of each other. Rather than seeing the kids through a developed country's eye, I did feel like I was seeing their point of view. I may be kidding myself because obviously, the people who donated the equipment helped to edit the film.

The young man, Alcides Soares, who had been adopted by an elderly woman (a nice woman, but it appeared an example of forced eldercare), seeks his younger brother who moved with his father when the parents separated. I admit I wept a lot in this film, and I felt it was genuinely earned.

Okay, I'm on a roll, so let's finish off the Friday viewings!

Despite the fact I had been up since before dawn, I stuck around for the late night showings -- the horror movie block. Of course I had to! How could I look my friends in the eye if I did not report back on these films!

First up, Shock, tried to do something fun but I thought the film was poorly acted and boring. The twist was not "shocking."

Monster Hunt with James and Kevin took the premise if those ghosthunter shows (or other reality shows) actually found a monster. Reminded me a little of Mythbusters. I admit that this one cracked me up. A fun movie for what it was.

Blood Therapy was a very short piece about a young man talking to a doctor. The guy who played the doctor was terrible! Overall silly little film about someone trying to make a serious horror short. That's hard to do and I saw the end coming a mile away.

Happy Face, on the other hand, focusing on a young starlet, getting out of a mental institution on Long Island, was able to be a bit more serious and creepy. The actress, as the director tries to point out, does have one of those silent film star faces, and the guy playing her publicist was freaking hilarious. The sets and the dialogue were overall good. However, I do take issue with the long clip from Eyes Without a Face, including the gruesome surgery that removes a woman's face. That was a little too much of a heavy borrow which just signaled in an uninteresting way to the audience "isn't this cool? This is what I was thinking about in making my film!" But when your clip is more powerful than anything else in your film, you got a problem.

Night of the Punks was the must-see on my list because I knew that my horror loving, punk music friends would want a report. It did not disappoint. Snappy dialogue, high-grade B special effect (look at all that goo!), tight editing, many, many references to punk music. Shaun of the Dead has been very, very good to the comedy horror movie. My only question is why does the girl have to get the long scene with green gunk spraying in her face?.......Let's be a little subtle people.

Murderabilia is the must-see I recommend to you. Here, it focused on a guy who collects memorabilia from murder scenes (hence, Murderabilia which is an actual term). In the long opening scene, he is visiting a killer in jail to "collect" his story. The convict relates the night he killed a young girl. Very nice dialogue and very good acting. I actually found the collector WAY more creepy than the killer though his acting was well-done too. I thought the short was fantastic. My only complaint is that it placed the credits midway in the film, making us think that the film was over, when really it was just poor choice to go to the next scene. The film lost its momentum. The film turns to the collector visiting a murderabilia dealer. The dealer had some good lines, but he talked way too long. The director was obviously reluctant to cut some of the "good lines" which was a shame. Move it along. Still, best film of the night. They said after the viewing that they were trying to turn it into a feature film and based on what I saw, I think they have a good chance to make a decent film.

Last was River City Dead, a locally-shot b-grade camp horror film complete with Nazis (the character, Patricia Hitler, was funny), a noirish detective, sexy vampires, pimps, zombies, etc. Didn't work but it looked like they were having fun.

Okay, that was Friday. Admittedly, I didn't go to as many in the next days but since I saw collections of shorts, the posts may be just as long!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snow, Egypt, Oxford Film Festival Part One

So far my New Year's resolution to blog more has fallen on deaf fingers. They don't seem to want to take the time to let all my good friends know what's going on. However, the last couple days have been really exciting so I am making myself share.

First, we had another snow storm in Mississippi.
(Image from the local paper, The Oxford Eagle). Classes were canceled Wednesday at noon and then all day Thursday. I spent that day watching events unfold in Egypt, waiting for Murbarak to say he was going to resign. I was very worried that he hadn't but it appears that he is gone. I was so stuck to the TV and to the media that I actually signed up for Christiane Amanpour's Twitter feed (just love her). Now, I'm on Twitter but it remains to be seen if I do more than read what's up with others. Kate, you are the second person I'm following.

Now that world and weather events have settled for now, I also had the fantastic opportunity to attend Oxford's premier winter event -- the 8th annual Film Festival. I had to teach all day, but once I got to my first screening at 5:15, I stayed until 12:30am. Note to self -- popcorn makes a very poor dinner.

The festival is still going on, and I'm planning on attending a few more events before the end. But, here is the beginning of my review.

The first film I saw was a documentary feature called, Southern Belle, by filmmakers Kathy Conkwright and Mary Makley (both of whom were in attendance). Though I saw the late night fright fest shorts later, I think this was the far scarier movie. It's a look at the Tennessee Athenaeum Rectory's "summer camp" for young women to play "southern belle" the eve of the Civil War. This place was a Girl's School beginning in 1852 and lasted for fifty years. As was typical of such schools, it taught the girls how to be a lady -- dancing, deportment, etiquette, and the "finer" skills.
(Promotional image from the film)

This summer camp aims to recreate that experience, complete with dress (hoops and all) and manners (you want to be like Melanie, not Scarlett, ladies). The sidestepping of the issue (or more accurately "whitewashing") that slavery allowed these women to live in this manner dives at the heart of "southern-ness." It's contradictory and tension-filled -- hey, Faulkner struggled with it a lot. The filmmakers decided to let the images "speak" for themselves but I think I would have liked some more critical perspective (maybe, I'm divided). I fear that some southerners will look at this as a preservation of values that are good to keep and that they will look at it uncritically (case in point, the young women behind me in the theater, starting singing Dixie and said "we never get to sing this anymore").

The earnest teachers who want to preserve this Southern viewpoint were probably the most scary. They were very nice, but completely deluded. For example, the leader of the camp who played the pastor, could not answer why they never talked about race (or why black girls would not want to attend). As part of a "history" lesson, he addressed the girls in character, informing them that Tennessee had just seceded from the Union and told them all the "good" reasons that the state had done so. (Tennessee was actually the last state to secede and there was a good deal of resistance about whether or not they should). The long speech he makes reminded me immediately about current debates about State's Rights and the far, far right's call that they are being unfairly pushed around by the Federal Government.

My dear Northern friends, this scene will in many ways confirm to you what you think about the South and that makes me a little sad.

Anyway, back to the film, the girls were fascinating characters and the filmmakers focused on compelling stories. But where there's race issues, there are also gender issues. And what happens to one girl in particular who returns the next year is a tragedy in my opinion.

The filmmakers said that the film will be shown on PBS this July. I'll let you know when it does.

More on the festival later....

Monday, January 10, 2011


It followed me here! Darn the weather! We got a healthy snowstorm, even by Connecticut standards. I'd say there's about seven inches. Before you New Englanders start to laugh at how Southerners deal with snow, just imagine this: NO snowplows, no salt or sand. Nothing. Just people driving on the road, turning snow into slush (which will then freeze). I think you would be hard pressed to get around in this environment. I'm a little shell-shocked. I wish I had my snow shovel!

I swept my walk and did have the brush for my car so it's clean. I went out briefly and it was passable. But the temps will drop. The University closed today and will be closed tomorrow. Looks like my vacation has extended.

And beware Northeast, this system is coming straight for you!

I'd have pics for you but my camera's batteries have died, and I don't know where I've stashed the recharger away! But you can looks at some pretty pictures here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Film Glut

Here is a list of all the shows and movies Kate and I watched while she was visiting. Yes, we did get out of the house now and then.

Korean horror/family drama/comedy: The Host
Korean horror/family drama: A Tale of Two Sisters
Korean horror/revenge drama/comedy: Lady Vengeance

Lifetime movie (Kate's request which I thought was weird): The Craigslist Killer
Three episodes of Black Adder
Two episodes of British Comedy The IT Crowd
Two episodes of Better Off Ted

Twisted French fairy tale: Blue Beard
Odd Orson Welles "documentary" F is for Fake
British comedy Withnail and I

And, in order of watching, starting New Year's Eve:

Doctor Who: The End of Time (g'bye David Tennant)
All About Eve
Superman II
Die Hard

What connects the last three? "Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?" which I can totally hear Bette Davis and Alan Rickman say.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Hello everybody. I know it's been a long time since I've set fingers to keys on this blog. One of my resolutions this year is to bring my life back online. Since I find FB too revealing and far too pithy for my preference, I am going to jot down stuff here.

New Year's was quiet. I picked up Miss Kate at the Memphis airport that eve, and we drove between nowhere and rain to make it to Oxford. We had a fantastic dinner at Bouré and then back home for drinks and conversation.

I fear that I am a poor hostess because I have been partied out. My good friends, Michelle and Jason, had an Elvis Blue Hawaii wedding in Las Vegas. I had the most fantastic time -- I drank, smoked, and ate a lot of red meat. Didn't gamble too much. Just lost enough to make me wince a bit but not to lie about it. Perhaps I will go into more detail -- at least about the wedding and the tour guide from hell who took us to the Hoover Dam last Monday.

But hey, at least I have recovered and my voice, which I lost doing karaoke has returned (probably should have skipped Paradise by the Dashboard Light with the groom). Anyway, best wishes to the couple and many thanks to them for having the absolutely best wedding I've ever attended and to all my new, wonderful friends I met there (and all the old ones I got to spend time with).

Kate and I are off to Big Bad Breakfast for lunch then Square Books for shoppies.