Full disclosure: I'm a bit of a closet nerd.
Around middle school, I figured out real quick that it wasn't "cool" to like science fiction or comic books. And god help you if you publicly declared your love of anime.
Of course, I loved all of those things, but I kept a lid on it. I went to a small school with only about 30 kids in my entire grade, so I never felt comfortable alienating myself over my entertainment choices. I was able to alienate myself just fine by doing dumb shit like wearing turtle necks beneath my basketball uniform, stressing out over getting straight A's, and passionately arguing against the Bush administration within a primarily Republican student population. But I wasn't going to add my devotion to Toonami and the graphic novel section of the Barnes & Noble to the list of reasons why no one ever asked me out on a date.
So I was a lonely nerd. I had a few friends who were more open about their geek-interests, but I could barely bring myself to admit even to them that I liked Dragon Ball Z too. I don't know why, I guess I'm fairly conformist in public, though in private I'm all about my own thing. It probably has something to do with being an introvert.
Anyway, all of this is only to say that while I have a pretty extensive comic book collection (not as much as I would like - you know, money), particularly manga, and I'm a HUGE Miyazaki nerd, and I love Star Wars, and video games. and action figures - I've never been to a comic book or science fiction convention.
I've always wanted to! But I always find out about them too late, typically the week after (I'm terrible at finding fun things to do, it's one of the biggest things I wish I could change about myself).
Thankfully, my husband is just the opposite, and when he heard about the North Carolina Comicon, he made sure I knew about it straight away. I bought tickets like 10 minutes after he told me.
So this past weekend we went to NC Comicon and had such a blast. It was like, FINALLY, I get to hang out in public with my people! We didn't cosplay, but I had a really good time checking out everyone else's costumes. They were awesome. Especially the kids who got into it with their entire family. That's my idea of heaven. I didn't take any pictures because I was too in the moment.
NC Comicon takes place in downtown Durham at the Marriott convention center and Carolina Theatre, which is a great location. We got lunch at the ramen noodle shop, Dashi, a block or two away (always delicious), and then spent the rest of the day listening to panels, buying comic books and nerd gear, and catching a movie at the ComiQuest Film Festival. Check out our haul:
I'm really excited to read that history of manga book. I just finished Bitch Planet, and it was really, really good. I'm definitely going to get the next volume. I'd never heard about it before, but while I was looking around at one booth, a woman walked by me and pointed at Bitch Planet on the table. I took her recommendation and bought it. Such a good choice. It's set in a future where the patriarchy has ever legal right to send "non-compliant" women an off-world penal colony, i.e., Bitch Planet. Seriously, if you consider yourself a non-compliant woman, you should check this comic out.
Meanwhile, my husband went a little crazy with the Conan mags.
My favorite panels? Definitely the fanfiction and vintage 80's toy talks. I have to admit, if I had one criticism of NC Comicon, it's that they could have used moderators for a lot of their panels, which weren't super professional. But the fanfiction and vintage toy talks were really great. I used to be a big reader and writer of fanfiction, and kind of outgrew it, but it was interesting to hear how it's developed over the past few years and what kind of issues the writers deal with these days. I might devote a post to that topic next week. The vintage toy talk hosted by Zack Smith of Indy Week was just plain fun. Took me right back to the days of playing at my babysitter's house with her sons and their He-Man action figures.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that this what I have been missing in my geekdom - community. I'm at an age (30!) where I just don't care what other people think of me anymore, or I care a lot less. The benefits of getting old, I guess.
I'd like to go to more conventions, probably more science fiction focused (just because I'm more into that genre than I'm into super heroes). And I'd like to keep going with my husband, because it was really fun to nerd out with him. We have different interests (he loves horror and weird tales, I'm into anime/manga and all kinds of science fiction), but there's enough of a crossover for us both to enjoy.
Have you ever been to a convention? Wasn't it amazing to get nerdy without feeling judged?
When you were a kid, were you a cartoon nut? Were you that kid that got up at 5 am in the morning to watch cartoons? Or did you watch them if they happened to be on TV, but they didn't change your life.
I was definitely in the former camp. I loved cartoons (still do, though Pixar's been disappointing me lately). I watched all kinds of stuff, ranging from the classic to the truly weird, like Ghostbusters, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Heathcliff. Darkwing Duck, and some bizarre cartoon about a purple alien with a creepy floating head sidekick. Did you know there was even a Back to the Future cartoon? Yeah, I watched that. There was no cartoon too stupid or poorly drawn for me. They all had their own merits.
So anyway, the other day I was listening to one of my favorite science fiction/fantasy podcasts, Anomaly (another great podcast by women) and they did an episode on their top 5 favorite cartoons. You can guess how excited I was to hear their picks.
And their lists were fine, not what I would have chosen, but that makes sense. Cartoons are personal. They're a snapshot of your childhood. Of course my list would be different.
I've asked myself this question before: what are my favorite cartoons? Hard to say. There are so many that I have absurdly clear memories of, that I remember enjoying, but which did I love the most?
First, maybe we should differentiate between Saturday morning cartoons and the animated shows we watch as adults.South Park and DuckTales are apples to oranges; there's no sense trying to decide which is better. The one show that's kind of a crossover for me is The Simpsons, which I watched religiously as a kid and then well into my teenage years (before I eventually decided the quality had fallen off). Also, I could devote an entire blog post to anime, so let's leave that category to itself.
For now, let's stick to the Saturday morning or after school style cartoons that were clearly targeted at kids. Off the top of my head, here's just a sample of the shows I remember liking, in no particular order:
DuckTales - Launchpad was the best. Also, I loved how they would sometimes visit Donald Duck in the Navy. Bonus points for a great theme song.
Rescue Rangers - Cheeyeeeseee!!! Also, this show had an excellent female role model in Gadget, who is criminally underrated in feminism pop culture. Also had great theme song, which I believe was written by the same people who did DuckTales.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters - So weird, loved it. In general, I loved the Stick Stickly lineup on Nickelodeon.
Classic Disney Chip and Dale cartoons - The colors! The animation! The twee little acorns!
Classic Disney Donald Duck - Again, the colors! I just love those burnt yellows, reds, and browns of the 50's and 60's.
Animaniacs - We laughed.
Batman the Animated Series - I don't need to explain why this show is awesome. I re-watched some episodes recently and it totally holds up.
Transformers - I have hazy memories, but very real feelings for this show. I was pretty little when it was on.
Rugrats - Those first few seasons were brilliant.
Doug - Sweet and pleasant. A nice way to come down from the usual frenetic cartoon pace. And who didn't love Porkchop?
Rocko's Modern Life - So weird! And faintly disturbing! And yet I loved it so much...
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Classic show. One of my earliest childhood obsessions. My babysitter's sons had ALL the action figures too, which were pretty amazing on their own.
X-Men - The extensiveness of the Phoenix saga blew my 10 year old mind. It was probably my first exposure to carton serials, which would set me up for anime later in life. Also, Gambit and Rogue 4eva. Also, hell of a theme song.
Conan the Warrior - I think this came on right before X-men, and we (my brother, babysitter's sons and I) loved it almost as much.
Gummi Bears - A bunch of bears drink gummi berry juice which makes them bounce violently through the air, helping them to either escape or beat up the bad guys. How high were the writers on this show? Regardless, it was sort of brilliant and super imaginative. I loved their underground "train" system.
Alvin and the Chipmunks - so 80's.
He-man - Again, hazy memories, but I remember loving it.
Tiny Toons (also classic Looney Toons) - Babs Bunny was the best. Also, this is the show that gave us Elmira.
Muppet Babies - ADORED this show. Loved their imaginations, especially when it put them in old movies (especially Star Wars clips).
And then there were the shows I had mixed feelings for:
Tailspin - I liked the idea of surfing on the clouds behind a pontoon cargo plain, but I disliked the Baloo character and his boss (Was her name Rebecca? Hold on, I'm going to look that up - holy shit, I was right. See what I mean about how I have this crazy skill at remembering story details?)
Woody Woodpecker - entertaining, but frenetic.
Ren and Stimpy - So weird and gross, but we couldn't stop watching it. It had this strange ability to fool adults into thinking it was appropriate for children (even my babysitter let us watch it and she was very uptight about what she let us watch on tv), but every kid knew it was deeply disturbing and we really shouldn't be watching it.
And because I'm passionate about cartoons, here's a list of the ones I really, really hated.
Scooby-Doo - So boring. Flame me all you want. I hated this show and its repetitiveness.
Jetsons/Flintstones - I hated how angry George and Fred always seemed to be. Such nasty family dynamics.
Goof Troop - Goofy creeps me out.
Inspector Gadget - The worst. I don't like shows about incompetent people. I did however want Penny's computer book.
Ok, that's not an exhaustive list, but now that I have one I can make my decision. Here we go, top five:
1. Ducktales/Donald Duck Cartoons (it's my list, I get to lump the cartoon universes if I want)
2. Rescue Rangers/Chip and Dale Cartoons
4. Batman: the Animated Series
5. Muppet Babies
Why DuckTales? Proportionally speaking, I think I enjoyed it the longest. X-men and Batman were amazing shows, but I didn't watch them for as long as DuckTales. Also, for a show about a bunch of ducks, it was pretty weird and had a fun range of story lines. Wasn't there an episode about vegetable-shaped aliens? (Yep)
In retrospect, I think my cartoon obsession is where I learned the rudiments of story-telling. Were all these shows great stories? Maybe not in an academic sense, but they certainly entertained me and pulled me in to what was happening (i.e., "losing myself" in the story, which I think is such an interesting, but hard to define idea). Enjoying myself and losing myself, that's really all it takes to make a good story.
Sometimes my parent friends complain that TV turns their kids into zombies, but what's really so bad about your kid becoming engrossed in a good story? Isn't that preferable to mindlessly clicking at some pointless cellphone game? I think you'd learn loads more from a goofy little cartoon than how many points you get on Angry Birds. But that's just my opinion.
Were you (or are you still) a cartoon lover? What's your top-five?
When I was little, my parents both worked, so I went to a home day-care. This was the late 80's, so our toys and books were of that era and I remember.there was this one Teddy Ruxpin book (Grubby's Romance) that still nags at me to this day. It nags at me because one of the rotten kids at the day-care had ripped some of the pages out! And even though I knew better, I used to read that book over and over and hope that somehow those pages would reappear so I could finally read (and understand) the whole story. I'm not kidding. I still think about this book.
It's just the way my brain works. I'm totally obsessive about stories. I remember whole episodes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Duck Tales. If something is told to me in the form of a story, I pretty much won't ever forget it. But that means I can't stand to listen to or read fragments of anything, because I'll remember those fragments and the missing pieces will bother me. Badly. I just want to know the whole story, it's really not that weird if you think about it.
For example, if I'm in the car and This American Life comes on the radio, I can't leave the story half-way through. I mean, technically I can. The car-ride ends, I have to get out of the car and turn off the radio, but I hate doing it. I hate having this catalogue in my head of all the stories I've heard on This American Life without ever getting to hear the end. Podcasts have solved this particular issue for me, but the theme continues through my life.
For instance, even though I love comic books, especially Marvel characters, I've never been able to get into the Marvel comic series because the story-lines are so expansive, I can't stand the thought of just jumping into the story midway. I want to start at the beginning and that's basically impossible at this point. Even if I bought every trade paper-back, I don't think it could be easily done. (Nor would it make a lot of sense. There's a mountain of discontinuity in those series which would drive me insane.) No, I find it easier to buy complete collections of manga, which begin and end in very discrete intervals. That's doable. But a part of me is always going to be sorry that I can't get over this little quirk in order to enjoy some classic American comics. Like Spiderman. I would LOVE to get into Spiderman. But it's never going to happen.
Same goes for cartoon shows, especially animes. Fox was the worst at this. They would show episodes out of order or skip episodes for whatever reason. Why did they do that? Just tell me the whole story!
This is why when I want to read a comic or watch a TV show, I usually just go ahead and buy the whole series. It's not cheap, so I have to be pretty selective, but I find it so much more enjoyable to read/watch a story from beginning to end. When I first started making a little money from my summer jobs, the first thing I did was buy the Dragon Ball Z manga one by one, all 26 books. It was awesome. Finally, after all those years of Cartoon Network yanking my chain with the incomplete DBZ anime, I finally had the whole story.
Do you feel this strongly about stories? Do gaps bother you as much as they bother me?
You may remember that I checked out a few books from the Pittsboro library this past weekend. Well I finished Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant late last night. I started it around dinner and stayed up late to finish it.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is categorized as a graphic novel, but that’s a misnomer because it’s really a memoir of the artist’s experience caring for her aging parents. Chast is a regular cartoonist for The New Yorker and I think most readers would recognize her work. The jokes are usually about anxiety in some form. The drawings even look like anxiety personified. The characters have birds nest heads and look like they're grinding their teeth. Everything is squiggly lined. Like everyone, I have anxiety that grows and ebbs depending on the day, so her cartoons have always seemed a little too close to home for me to really enjoy or seek out. They’re good, she’s funny and a good cartoonist, but it’s just not what I gravitate towards in terms of artwork or subject.
But I thought More Pleasant was very well done and explains a lot about why her cartoons are so anxious. Chast grew up with a couple of kooks for parents, a pair of comically stereotypical old-school Brooklynites. The memoir gives an account of her dealing with her parents’ aging bodies and minds, and it’s not a pretty story or future for any of us to contemplate. Chast doesn’t sugar-coat it and we’re shown very private thoughts about love competing with a litany of other feelings like anger and disgust, money concerns, selfish inheritance thoughts, and of course, grief. All thoughts I think everyone has, but people aren’t usually honest enough to share.
Chast draws and writes in detail the extent that her parents deteriorated in front of her. How filthy their home became. How her father lost not just his short-term memory, but his ability to do simple things like unlock a door. How her mother’s body became increasingly weak and septic even as she retained an almost abusive level of anger and stubbornness. It was sad, but also not that shocking or unfamiliar, I think for most readers.
I remember seeing something similar happen with my grandmother, who went from being this amazing independent woman, who was a talented artist and something of beauty back in her day, to a broken, morbidly obese stranger who had no idea who or what we were. It was a total transformation. She lost everything, except a sturdy if mangled (and I mean, completely mangled) body that would not die. Despite everything, she seemed happy and comfortable enough until a day or so before she finally did die. But no one would say it was a high quality life during those last five or six years. She was kind of like a very old cat. She liked having us around to hold her hand, but she just physically and mentally couldn’t do anything more. When she died, although my family was obviously upset, we didn’t really cry or go through an extensive mourning period, and that’s because we’d honestly already been crying and mourning for years before she actually passed away. It was like we had already lost her a long, long time before then.
I think this is a good book for thirty-years old to read. My parents are in excellent health. They’re active and smart. They love each other and love my brother and me. But I know one day they’re going to die. That’s what honestly scares me about getting older. I don’t care that I’m turning thirty in a year. It’s that the older I get, the older my parents get too. I get a little bleary-eyed trying to imagine what life would be like without my parents. But before we even get to that point, if they are fortunate enough to live a long and good life, then there’s also a strong possibility that they will go through a similar degradation and humiliation of body and mind like the one Chast describes. I don’t want that to happen, but I’m slightly, very slightly, more prepared for the worst now.
What sets More Pleasant apart is its honest, darkly comic account of an inevitable part of living; that dying is not always fair or fast, but it’s going to happen. We’re not going to be ready to help our parents, or maybe forgive them for the past, but we have to bear up and do our best. That’s all that you can do and what every generation before you has had to do too.