Archive for January, 2008

The Golden Compass

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

goldencompass-offposter.jpgHave you ever seen a good movie adaption of a book you’ve read? I haven’t. So I’m doing this one backwards: movie first, then book.

The His Dark Materials series only came onto my radar when I saw the trailer for the movie last year. Josh suggested we check the film out on Sunday, and we headed to the cheapies in Bridgeville. (Sidenote for Pittsburghers: Screenworks 14 is well worth a short drive. $2 tickets!)

The Golden Compass is set in a world parallel to our own. One extraordinary difference is that each person’s soul resides outside their body, in the form of an animal totem called a daemon. When uncle Asriel leaves Lyra at Jordan College so he can travel North to investigate a mysterious substance called Dust, we follow this mischievous young girl as she is plucked from her charge by the suave Ms. Coulter. Lyra is gifted with a surprise birthright before she leaves with the woman: an alethiometer, the last compass of its kind that will lead to truth. All the others have been destroyed by the Magisterium, who Ms. Coulter happens to work for (uh oh!). Lyra discovers that Ms. Coulter is in charge of a project that is kidnapping children and when she tries to steal the alethiometer from Lyra, the girl runs away and her adventure North in search of her uncle and the missing kids — begins.

The tale that unfolds is unlike any other story I’ve experienced, especially on the big screen. There was lots of drama, action, emotion. Storywise, however, I couldn’t help thinking there were things missing. I know that it is inevitable to lose detail that you would get from reading the book, but I was left not caring for things I suspect I should have been more concerned about. For instance, the Dust that the Magisterium wants kept a secret? So much so that they would kill for it? I couldn’t really care. I know it’s supposed to be a mystery, but it would have taken a little more information to actually pique my interest. It is possible to keep certain details hidden from the audience and allow the viewers to still leave feeling satisfied.

With a couple exceptions, I thought the acting was excellent — Dakota Blue Richards does an exceptional job, especially considering the weight of such a strong leading role. The cast seemed to interact well with each other and, most surprisingly, the CGI. There were only a couple times when my mind did a little double-take and said “Aha, that monkey is totally not hugging Ms. Coulter!“.ioric_lyra1.jpg

Visually, it is stunning. The environments are beautiful and believable, the machinery was conceptually inventive, the costume design is great, and character design for the CG characters was good. My favorite CG character should probably be Pan, Lyra’s trusted daemon, since he’s all cute and squeaky and shape-shifting, etc… but my warm and fuzzy feelings are all over Iorek*, exiled prince of the armored bears. Wicked.

I have a couple beefs with The Golden Compass, but all in all it was an enjoyable flick. I would certainly recommend it if you are a fan of the genre, although it might be a little too deep-end fantasy for more casual fans. I personally look forward to the next installment. I’m also getting the soundtrack.

*This affection has nothing to do with the fact that The Sum of David has a butt-kicking polar bear, and that seeing Iorek deal out some awesome Bear Rambo justice on the big screen was all kinds of righteous. None at all.**

**Okay, maybe a little.

Education = Power

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Wikipedia is the downfall of my productivity at work.

I will read about most everything with some level of interest, although history oftentimes wins out. Why? It’s the stories, made even more powerful because of the reality behind them. My genre of choice might be fantasy for entertainment, but I can’t ignore the human factor of our past — the actions, inactions, passions, and what people are willing to risk their life over.

I did some link hopping from a chocolate company to underground teaching and opened up a facet of WWII knowledge that I’d never thought about or been aware of; concerning a subject I most certainly take for granted everyday.

In 1939, the invasion and subsequent occupation of Poland marked the start of World War II. The Nazi doctrine determined that the Slavs would serve as manual labor to the Germans, and they did not require an education. All education in the country was banned. The punishment for breaking Nazi law was, as in so many cases, death.

Symbol for Polish freedom from http://www.thevisitor.pl/However.

Those who escaped the deportation to concentration camps or the Nazi’s murder of the nation’s leaders, politicians, artists, and potential trouble-makers organized a network of underground universities. They arranged lectures in basements and crowded apartments. Underground printers were established to provide them with materials and books. In 1944, there were hundreds of teachers and thousands of students. High school students risked their lives to learn grammar, geography and mathematics, receiving certificates from their “non-existent” schools that they could use to enter “non-existent” colleges.

The moral of the story? Knowledge is power. The Nazis understood that, seeing as how they tried to take it away from the Poles; and the Poles recognized what losing education would mean and held onto it even at the risk of execution. Whether it’s formal or not, don’t take your access to information for granted — you never know when you won’t have it anymore.

Mullet Reserve at WearPittsburgh

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

So far, this is my favorite design that I’ve done for WearPittsburgh.

Mullet Reserve

There’s no way I can describe it any better than Woy does on the website:

We’re proud to present the newest addition to the WearPittsburgh family: Mon Valley Mullet Reserve!

Mullets first settled in Pennsylvania in the late 1970’s becoming a prime breeding ground, reaching a zenith during the Great Camaro Upheaval of 1982 when the new model was introduced. As mullet numbers diminished nationwide, more and more mullets congregated in the lush, fertile Mon Valley. Their numbers are hearty and continue to flourish even today.

It’s business in the front and party in the back in Pittsburgh’s best kept natural preserve!

Get yours today!

“We’re the Ones that Bump Back…”

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

There are a few things that I will go straight up fangirl over. Hellboy is one of them.

Hellboy movie posterJosh spent much of the weekend hibernating against our awesome 20-degree weather, so I popped in the Hellboy movie while he sawed logs on the couch. First off, let me say this: I know it’s not the perfect movie. The graphic version of Seed of Destruction is superior in several ways (the greatest of which is the fact that Sammael doesn’t resurrect fifteen times and we have to watch them battle him over and over. And over.) But it is so much fun. The casting is perfect. No one but Ron Perlman could play Hellboy — playing a giant red demon-man toting a giant stone hand and covered in runic symbols would be impossible for anyone else to pull off. Doug Jones and (the uncredited) David Hyde Pierce are an impeccable Abe Sapian. And even my reading brain didn’t translate Professor Trevor Bruttenholm as well as John Hurt did.

The thing that makes this movie enjoyable for me is the execution of taking the world and story from paper to live action. Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, worked very closely with del Toro to make the creatures and environments rich and believable. I think they do a beautiful job of it — the set of Bruttenholm’s study and the Russian graveyard are especially beautiful in my opinion, and Kroenen and Sapien really are very fantastic. With three discs, the Hellboy special edition is also  one of the most extensive bonus features DVD I’ve ever encountered and offers HOURS of yummy documentation of what went into making the world come alive. (Rivaled in size and detail only by LOTR box sets — 7 discs. Yowza.)

Hellboy graphic novelMignola’s Hellboy is a fascinating character. While I am not usually a huge fan of horror in other fiction, I love it in Mignola’s dark, boxy style and the humor he injects into the stories is a nice balance between the gore. I generally love the ‘refusal of destiny’ arc in stories anyway, and throwing in the impending apocalypse via the hero is right up my alley. Combine it with lots of dark folklore, disturbing occult conspiracies, heaven vs. hell, and the whole what makes a man thing — I am one happy camper.

Visually, Mignola’s art is more than drool-worthy. He has an unmistakable style: heavy shadows that can cover an entire page but still insinuate there is so much going on; angular, sometimes abbreviated shapes that lose nothing from their incomplete execution; character designs that challenge your base knowledge of mythological figures (like the stone, iron-maiden goddess Hecate, anyone?); action and framing that is clear and dramatic. And his paintings make me cry tears of jealous, reverential JOY.

JOY!

“Look, Sammy, I’m not a very good shot… but the Samaritan here uses really big bullets.”

Cat on a Stick

Monday, January 21st, 2008

A new WearPittsburgh design was released last week. Behold:

catonastick1.jpg

Now, now, it’s not as horribly cruel as you think. “Cat on a stick” is the affectionate term used for a particular outdoor vendor that serves grilled kabobs to late night patrons on the South Side. Don’t believe me? Think I’m a horrible person for even participating in such a barbaric design? The owner of Cambod-Ican refers to his product using the exact same terminology. (link courtesy the fabulous PittGirl over at The Burgh Blog)

No cats were harmed in the creation of this design.

Amulet by Kazu Kubuishi

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

AMULET by Kazu KubuishiMy first exposure to Kazu Kubuishi was through his website for monthly installments of his comic Copper — single-page comics that follow a boy and his dog along various life themes. His insights on art, comics and entertainment kept me coming back, and I anticipated the release of his first full-length novel, Daisy Kutter. He was also the driving force behind the Flight novels, which showcase the exceptional talent of a wide variety of writers and artists under the theme of , you guessed it, “Flight”.

Kubuishi’s recent blogs have highlighted his recent involvement in Flight 4, the youth-aimed Flight Explorer, and his latest graphic work, Amulet. It’s been a unique experience following him as he created this latest novel — through tables stacked with thumbnails, the challenges of story development (and redevelopment), deadlines, etc. I was able to secure a copy of the first print run before Christmas (because I’m that awesome, yo) and Josh was tickled pink when he unwrapped it December 25.

…but he didn’t read it fast enough, so I got to it first. Really, this was my plan all along since I boosted his graphic library by at least ten, and he cannot humanly read them ALL at the same time. So: I win.

The story begins with Emily, Navin and their mother relocating 2 years after the tragic loss of the children’s father. Noises draw them into the basement on the first night in the previously abandoned family home, and their mother is captured by a monster and carried away. Emily and Navin pursue it down a mysterious stairway that disappears behind them and leads to much more than a simple sub-basement.

The fantasy world grows from there, introducing a mysterious voice that guides Emily in using a strange and powerful amulet that she discovered in their great-grandfather Silas’s study. Beyond the blob of tentacles that kidnapped their mother, there’s also a crash course in creatures that announce you’re not in Kansas any more, such as parachute mushrooms, dangerous conebeak birds, robots and the terrifying gauntlet. There’s also a creepy dude that follows them around, which you just know is going to end badly.

The art is Amazing. Yes, with a capital A. Kubuishi is more than competent at showing action and emotion, and his choices on what to frame and how to frame it are excellent. The shots and pacing feel like you’re watching a movie. The linework is relatively simple, if very well executed, but the color and texture is what makes it fan-freaking-tastic. There’s a gritty texture to many of the environments and scenes that raises the bar to a new level; layered colors pile on top of one another and particle-like specks add a level of realism that boost it out of cartoony. I was originally worried about the character design, since the main two we follow through this first book are kind of generic looking, but the color really helps make them unique.

The end left me a little dissatisfied, since I wanted to know more and it wasn’t quite in a cliff-hanger-thirsty-for-more way. I’m okay with that, however, because there’s a lot that the two Earth children also didn’t understand about what just happened, where they’re going, or why. I would have liked to see a little more exploration of the story/surroundings, but I understand it’s only Book One and introducing a fantasy world does take a lot of time — you have to establish the environment and ground rules from square one. Besides… it was beautiful. All in all, it was well worth the read and I heartily anticipate the next volume. Check it out!

A disclaimer: Two of my current favorite graphic novels are Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Jeff Smith’s Bone, both of which are very large (600 and 1,300 pages, respectfully)… so my slight dissatisfaction with the end of Amulet could have nothing to do with the story and more with me being accustomed to having it all spread before me in a big, fat, satisfy-me-now brick of an epic. If Kubuishi’s past work is any indication, I’m sure I will continue to devour the entirety of the series happily and hungrily; I’ll just have to do it smaller, yummy bits.

…I understand that’s better for your metabolism anyhow.

City Theatre’s The Vagina Monologues

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

City Theatre invited Pittsburgh’s bloggers to their production of The Vagina Monologues on Saturday. Keli and I thought we’d give it a try.

City Theatre is located on the South Side’s 1300 block. The set-up is intentionally intimate: it seats 111 and the stage was only large enough for the three actors performing the monologues. I will say that I felt lucky to be of the half that was in the theatre-style seating, even if we were far off to one side. The other half was seated at two-top tables that, once the theatre was full, made movement almost impossible. Since Keli and I were on the waiting list we were the last to file in, and the toes I stumbled over (sorry!) had nothing to do with the wine I’d had. A little close for my tastes, but you do choose your own seats — perhaps some prefer the close quarters.

The Vagina Monologues was written by Eve Ensler in 1996, and is a series of monologues that was created after the interviews Ensler conducted with over 200 women regarding, you guessed it, their vaginas. Each piece explores some aspect of the organ: whether it be nicknames, sex, rape, childbirth, or orgasms.

City Theatre’s Erica Bradshaw, Holli Hamilton and Laurie Klatscher did a nice job. I thought Bradshaw particularly did a wonderful job with two of the monologues, one a portrayal of a sex worker and the other of a blossoming lesbian in the seventies. Klatscher also did a nice recollection by an older woman that referred to her vagina as “the cellar” and recounted what she called “the flood”, an experience that followed her throughout her life. I believe George Clooney was involved.

The first time I saw The Vagina Monologues was a production done by Point Park. It was longer and showcased a large cast of over twenty, each girl with a single monologue. I laughed hysterically and moved to tears. It also included more of the monologues — since the VM is actually a compilation of many facts and stories, each theatre picks and chooses the ones they incorporate into their show. There was at least one in particular that I missed seeing that had lent the show more of raw, empowering feel.

I don’t know that it would be completely fair to compare the two performances head to head, especially because but there’s a certain sit-up-and-take-notice that comes from a thirty-long list of nicknames for your genitalia that can only work as well the first time. The two productions were very different — the size of the cast and facility, the direction, the lighting, everything. But I also can’t help feeling that their production wasn’t as raw as it could have been.

That being said, it was certainly a nice way to spend a Saturday evening and I would definitely suggest checking it out if you’ve never seen it. The Vagina Monologues runs at the City Theatre from January 10th to February 17th. If you mention the word BLOG when purchasing tickets, you will receive $5 off each ticket. Because I have that kind of power.

A Fresh (if painful) Start

Friday, January 11th, 2008

When I was a kid, I took both gymnastics and ballet classes. At age nine, my parents made me choose between the two and I went with ballet. I stayed with it through high school, dancing professionally for those four years before leaving the company for art school.

Dancing professionally was one of two career choices. Eventuall, I reasoned I’d rather be poor with working knees than poor with bad knees… and hips… and possibly ankles.

So at 18 years old, I went from the strict environment of dancing for 16 hours a week to not dancing 16 hours a week and I enjoyed that phantom thing called free time. I did things like “socialize” and watch “tv”. I would return to Charleston to visit family and take a ballet class and attend performances, but that was the only ballet I got.

In 2000, Josh encouraged me to find a school here in Pittsburgh to attend. I found a good facility with a wonderful teacher in Library, and have been making the trek out there ever since. At first, the classes were priced fairly, the exercises were challenging, and the students were nice. But that school eventually closed down, and the teacher moved to classes to another facility close by that isn’t nearly as good. The classes have also grown less impactful and more social, and the floor is terrible. So after massaging my ego a little and pumping myself up, I inquired about taking classes somewhere more challenging, more professional.

At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, to be exact.

I went to one of their open classes last night and it was INCREDIBLE. First of all, there were probably 25 of us, which is the largest class I’ve attended for almost a decade. The students ranged greatly in age and skill. Dress is casual, so there’s none of the pink-tights-black-leotard nonsense. The studio was huge, with a high ceiling and skylights, and the front wall was lined with mirrors. And the floor… the beautiful, Marley floor. I could have kissed it. We had live accompaniment, the pianist was fabulous. And there were boys - boys! - I haven’t taken a class with a dude since 2002, and certainly not four of them. Male dancers change the whole dynamic of a class, the most important of which is room: dudes are taught to jump and jump BIG. I also got two corrections, which is beautiful.

I am so happy I could burst. I am also spectacularly sore, but in a good, I’m-totally-going to-do-it-again-next-week kind of way. If you haven’t had enough of me babbling about ballet, go here to check out one of my favorite variations. I performed it my junior/senior summer in Charleston (ironically, South Carolina this time and not WV). I’m sure I didn’t look like her doing it, but it’s the same choreography. And my headpiece was prettier.

Squirrel Hill

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

One of my goals this year (did I list it in the last post? I don’t know) is to do more freelance.

Luckily, the universe read my mind and in entered WearPittsburgh. If you haven’t heard of it, Wear Pittsburgh is a clothing company that creates Pittsburgh specific clothing. My personal favorite is Reserved Parking, which is even more beautiful if you are accustomed to the domestic habits of those more tightly packed neighborhoods around the city. I can relate to that pain: nothing pisses you off more than going home and not being able to find a parking space within four blocks of your home. Especially in the winter. In Pittsburgh.

Although I can’t take any credit for bringing that slice of genius into visual interpretation, I’ve done a few other designs. The first was released yesterday and refers to a section of town:

Squirrel Hill design

Squirrel Hill. Get it?

I’m a transplant to Pittsburgh. I moved here for college and simply never left. It’s home. I love the idea of embracing all the idiosyncrasies of the region, and Pittsburgh has plenty. Whether it’s putting fries on sandwiches, enjoying our favorite potato-stuffed pasta, or our beloved PennDOT (that’s a joke that practically writes itself, over and over), we’ve got plenty of things to celebrate as ours, and only ours. Keep your eyes on Wear Pittsburgh!

Resolution Bandwagon

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

What does our big planet spinning in the same place that it did 365.25 days ago have to do with self-improvement?

Well, nothing, of course. But I’m a big believer in goals and progress and productivity, and January 1st seems to be as good a place to start as any. Actually, I’ve been wanting to jump-start my creative stuff into a monthly project-oriented structure anyhow, as projects with a defined beginning and end, so I’ve set up a few goals.

1) Finish the second novel in the “Sum of” series. My soft deadline is actually May 1st, which will be the 2 year anniversary of the completion of the first book. And, reaching far into the future: conclusion of the series in Christmas of 2009. That second part might be kriz-azy, but finishing the 2nd by May isn’t out of the question. I’m about 20% of the way through it, and we’re just about to get into the fun, juicy bits, so writing will become more fun even as it becomes more challenging.

2) Design a font. I’m a graphic designer by trade, and although I really do enjoy my day job, I’d like to inject my designing life with some… well, life. I crave some adventure, some funkiness. I think the first step of that will be exploring some of design’s roots. Since type is such an important part of it, let’s start there. After seeing the Helvetica documentary and realizing that there really are humans designing those beautiful, wonderful tools I reach in my design pocket for on a daily basis, I think I should give it a shot. I am fully aware that the results won’t be Frutiger, but it will be a learning experience to cherish and I will get some real love for letterforms again.

3) Hop the pond. Josh and I didn’t take a honeymoon after getting married because we didn’t want to go into ridiculous debt to do it; but saving up for a trip is a different animal. I’ve been to Paris once before and loved it. It’s home of the Louvre and Art Nouveau, after all (c’est magnifique!). A couple of years ago, we picked up The Da Vinci Code on CD for an overnight emergency trip to Chicago, and Josh has been as equally enamored with the city ever since. It means passports and brushing up my poor francais (c’est tres mal!), but it will be an adventure to remember.

4) Fix the freakin’ dishwasher. This is not creative, but I’m tired of washing dishes when there is a perfectly good, if currently inoperable, machine inches away.

5) Read one young adult fantasy novel a month. Classically, I have a hard time reading while I’m writing, but I think the benefits of reading more in the genre I’m trying to get published in are too important to ignore any longer. That fact goes without saying, really, and now it’s time to really implement. Plus, I have a library card now, and I intend to milk it for all it’s worth. If I pick up a new book every time I return one, I should blow past twelve books, but let’s start small — I can always devour more later.

6) Finish Marley. I began a large-scale art piece for a character from The Sum of David almost three years ago. It’s digital, so it’ll cost some money to get it printed, but it’s time to close this project out.

7) Shadow Skull. This is an art project I’ve planned since I started the aforementioned Marley. It’s a good idea and right up my alley, style-wise, I just need to do it.

8) Send out 15 query letters. Or, rather, go until I am able to get representation for The Sum of David. 15 is a nice high number that should keep me sending them out.

9) Make some more hats. Mr. Baconpants is opening an independent store online in 2008 and I’ve got plans for making stuff. I like screenprinting a lot, and wouldn’t mind doing some more hats to sell to the public. Besides, it give me an excuse to do little vector drawings… and I heart Adobe Illustrator.

10) Make this site something worth looking at. Because let’s face it, she is not the prettiest girl on the bus right now. She’s not a three-eyed, multi-tentacled demon with fangs, but still: makeover! I need to get more of a handle on this web stuff anyhow - for instance, I have no idea why Goal Number Eight is a happy face wearing sunglasses. I should probably know why that is.

So there’s ten of them. I’m sure more will be added as the year progresses, but we’ll start here for now. Onward!