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The SPX Haul Part 2

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Zen Kitty, Art Credit: Paulina Ganucheau

 

Last issue, I talked a bit about my experience at SPX (Small Press Expo), a wondrous con filled with many fabulous artists and storytellers, all coming to ply their craft and meet their fans IRL. This time, I’m going to get right down to the nitty gritty and tell you about a few more of the cool stuff I found and nudge you in their direction.

Let’s kick this off with something sweet and spooky (and something I teased last time).

Mary Shelley’s Franken Berry by Matt Hickey: A short zine (about four pages) that reframes Frankenstein as if it were a cereal commercial for everyone’s favorite gothic cereal, Franken Berry. It’s humorous and blends the serious tone and language of Mary Shelley’s original work with a rough, black and white art style. I saw the title and, without looking inside, purchased it. Worth every dollar I spent.
The art style, which is an underground comix movement style (purposely ugly and stylized), fits better than it should, and the framing as a cereal commercial had me laughing more than it should have. Matt seems to mostly have short zines like this up on his etsy store, which you can get to from his Instagram Clarissamansplains. Check it out if you’ve got the chance, and a few bucks lying around.

Mini Comics by Abby Howard: A collection of very short memoir style gag comics, all very funny. Most are three to four panels, featuring some aspect of the public personality of the author and her animals: Spoons the cat and Wednesday the snake. If you want to get an idea of what these are like, check out her series Junior Science Power Hour.
Abby is a master of creating humor out of the mundane and horrific. The very first webcomic I ever read, Abby’s The Last Halloween, just began book two and you should all check it out. It’s fantastically creepy, funny, not to mention the artwork is stellar. In all black and white, Abby’s love of horror shines through with her grotesque monster designs and dark storytelling, balancing it out with just the right amount of incredulous humor. You can find her on twitter @abbyhoward.

Innsmouth (Issue One) by Megan James: I’m just going to copy a couple sentences from the introduction to sum this series up:
“A modern day revisionist horror comedy featuring a diverse cast that would be accessible to newcomers and old fans alike. [She] wanted to pay homage to all the things [she] love about the Mythos, but [she] also wanted to take some good jabs at the more troubling aspects.”
And that’s what it is. We open on our main character, a resident of Innsmouth (and a member of its cult), going door to door handing out pocket Necronomicons.
Unlike Abby Howard’s work, which leans much more heavily into horror juxtaposed with humor, Megan James take the humor and leans the horror into it. It’s veers more towards the absurd (one character literally uses one of those wall mounted fish as a walky-talky), but I love it all the same. You can find digital copies on gumroad at sinkswimpress, physical copies from sinkswimpress.com, or follow her on twitter @meg_emmy_james.
“Isn’t the public domain a wonderful thing?”

eet their fans IRL. This time, I’m going to get right down to the nitty gritty and tell you about a few more of the cool stuff I found and nudge you in their direction.

Let’s kick this off with something sweet and spooky (and something I teased last time).

Mary Shelley’s Franken Berry by Matt Hickey: A short zine (about four pages) that reframes Frankenstein as if it were a cereal commercial for everyone’s favorite gothic cereal, Franken Berry. It’s humorous and blends the serious tone and language of Mary Shelley’s original work with a rough, black and white art style. I saw the title and, without looking inside, purchased it. Worth every dollar I spent.
The art style, which is an underground comix movement style (purposely ugly and stylized), fits better than it should, and the framing as a cereal commercial had me laughing more than it should have. Matt seems to mostly have short zines like this up on his etsy store, which you can get to from his Instagram Clarissamansplains. Check it out if you’ve got the chance, and a few bucks lying around.

Mini Comics by Abby Howard: A collection of very short memoir style gag comics, all very funny. Most are three to four panels, featuring some aspect of the public personality of the author and her animals: Spoons the cat and Wednesday the snake. If you want to get an idea of what these are like, check out her series Junior Science Power Hour.
Abby is a master of creating humor out of the mundane and horrific. The very first webcomic I ever read, Abby’s The Last Halloween, just began book two and you should all check it out. It’s fantastically creepy, funny, not to mention the artwork is stellar. In all black and white, Abby’s love of horror shines through with her grotesque monster designs and dark storytelling, balancing it out with just the right amount of incredulous humor. You can find her on twitter @abbyhoward.

Innsmouth (Issue One) by Megan James: I’m just going to copy a couple sentences from the introduction to sum this series up:
“A modern day revisionist horror comedy featuring a diverse cast that would be accessible to newcomers and old fans alike. [She] wanted to pay homage to all the things [she] love about the Mythos, but [she] also wanted to take some good jabs at the more troubling aspects.”
And that’s what it is. We open on our main character, a resident of Innsmouth (and a member of its cult), going door to door handing out pocket Necronomicons.
Unlike Abby Howard’s work, which leans much more heavily into horror juxtaposed with humor, Megan James take the humor and leans the horror into it. It’s veers more towards the absurd (one character literally uses one of those wall mounted fish as a walky-talky), but I love it all the same. You can find digital copies on gumroad at sinkswimpress, physical copies from sinkswimpress.com, or follow her on twitter @meg_emmy_james.
“Isn’t the public domain a wonderful thing?”

Zen Kitty by Paulina Ganucheau: Closing us out is not a comic, but a print. As it’s the title image, I don’t have to describe it, but I will describe Paulina’s other work for you. She’s an artist on Zodiac Starforce and Another Castle: Grimoire, both fantastic series that I highly recommend. She is the most “professional” of the bunch this time, as big publishers have put out her work, and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about them, especially because the second Zodiac Starforce series is coming out right now and it is *chef’s hand on mouth, kiss motion* wonderful. It’s a western, magical-girl series; complete with a sexy, otherworldly prince villain, who spends most of his introductory issue posing half-naked. It’s a wonderful flip of the script and Paulina’s art sells the whole thing. She has such strong character designs and a great energy for fight scenes. Check out volume one of Zodiac Starforce if you can (the Towson library has a copy or two). She can be found on twitter at @PlinaGanucheau.

I hope these highlights spark something in you— maybe you’ll find a new series you love or a new artist to follow. Who knows. Maybe next time I’ll have another few recommendations from my SPX haul.And maybe I’ll talk about con grandma, Carla Speed McNeil. If I’m being honest, she could get her own article. Keep reading comics y’all!

ELIAS ROSNER

Book Review: We Are Okay

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“The truth was unconfined, unadorned. There was no poetic language to it, no yellow butterflies, no epic floods… The truth was vast enough to drown in.” ~ We Are Okay, Nina LaCour; Photo Credit: Katie Monthie

One of the biggest struggles of looking for a book with LGBTQ+ representation is finding books that place outside of the romance genre, the topic of coming out, or the subject of transitioning. There are very few books out in the world that showcase the LGBTQ+ community simply existing and dealing with everyday struggles. However, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, does just that as she tells the story of Marin, a grieving freshman college student, who happens to be a lesbian.

After the death of her grandfather, the only remaining member of her family, Marin slips away from the life she knows and into her new life at college, determined to forget her old life and create a new home in her dorm. Until now, she’s kept her distance from her old friends from San Francisco. While she hunkers down in her dorm room for winter break, Marin is visited by her old friend Mabel, which forces both of them to face the mess Marin ran away from.

This novel beautifully explores how grief impacts people and their relationships with one another through two main plot lines: the story of Marin and Mabel, mostly told through the present, stream of consciousness narrative, and the story of Marin and her Grandfather, told through vignettes. All of this is done in a first person perspective, using gorgeous imagery that does not sacrifice clarity of the narrative, save for the details that are hidden through Marin’s own denial.

While there isn’t a lot that actively happens in the novel, the heart of the story lives in the tension between the characters. Marin and Mabel may spend most of the novel eating and sleeping and avoiding real conversation, but Marin’s narration and the anxieties she has as the two of them cook spaghetti or got lost in a snow storm distract from the lack of action. This allows for the themes of the novel (death, grief, and trust) to be fully explored. We Are Okay is a character study, a fictional narrative meant to explore Marin and her grandfather’s traumatic experiences with death in depth.

Despite the fact that We Are Okay strongly focuses on the grieving process, it is not a hopeless or altogether depressing read. This isn’t to say I didn’t cry— I definitely cried at least twice. The hopefulness in We Are Okay comes from Mabel’s presence, calling back to Marin’s recovery. Mabel again and again presses Marin to confront the death and lies of her grandfather with the underlying idea that talking about these issues will allow Marin to move on into another stage of life and cope with a support system. The novel does not push Marin to a place where she is unsafe, but allows her to grow to a place where she finally believes she will be okay some day. We Are Okay does not offer quick fixes, but it does give hope of recovery within a topic that is so often used for simple drama and tragedy.

Part of the reason LaCour succeeds in her discussion of grief is the simple narrative she places it in and the casual nature with which she approaches the subject. She also addresses the characters sexualities in the same way; she never directly labels Marin as gay or Mabel as bisexual, but she makes it clear through their dialogue and the memory their past romantic relationship.

There is a minor conflict that comes with the level of casualness that LaCour uses, particularly in Mabel’s case. Within the bisexual community, many people take issue with the lack of naming bisexual characters as bisexual because in some ways, it’s a form of bi-erasure. On the other hand, LaCour never disqualifies that Mabel has feelings for both gender. Additionally, LaCour is known within the YA community for writing about sapphic women in her works, writing to give the representation that she didn’t see for herself. The casual nature of the representation in both Mabel and Marin’s case at the very least allows for the focus of the narrative to be about grief, allowing We Are Okay to be a story about two sad girls who happen to be gay and bisexual, as opposed to a narrative focused on two girls being sad, gay and bisexual.

We Are Okay graced “top YA releases” lists for 2017 across the internet, praised by those who’ve never read YA and those who only read YA. There are many reasons for this, including the absolutely beautiful prose, the slowburn storytelling that contrasts the surprisingly fast pace, and the subtle representation of sapphic women. However, the main reason is the representation of grief in all of its different forms, even those that are complex and far from cut and dry. If you’re looking for a good representation of sapphic characters, an emotionally engaging story, or an excuse to cry, look no further than We Are Okay.

KATIE MONTHIE

Podcast Review: The United States of Anxiety

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In today’s political climate, there appears to be nothing that people can agree on. Finding common ground can, at times, seems to be next to impossible; it feels like facts that we once took for granted are now up for serious debate. The only thing that we’re able to come to a consensus about is that the times we live in have lately been tumultuous. At moments like these, people tend to turn to the media, not only as a source of comfort or validation for their feelings, but to help them understand how we got to where we are. WNYC’s podcast, The United States of Anxiety, provides a way to understand a world which can appear daunting and scary.

Hosted by Kai Wright, The United States of Anxiety deals with several contemporary issues facing American society (i.e. racism and sexism). The United States of Anxiety is a fairly new podcast, beginning as a reaction to the 2016 election. During season one, the podcast focused on a Long Island suburb as a microcosm for the social issues facing America during the election. Despite looking at the lives of specific individuals and their experiences, The United States of Anxiety seamlessly wove in larger social issues to their storytelling. In an age where we tend to live in bubbles, it is only through hearing our own opinions and viewpoints echoed back to us by our peers that The United States of Anxiety provided a way to connect with alternative points of view and humanized those who hold them.

Season Two of The United States of Anxiety differs from its predecessor. However it proves as equally engaging. In season two, Wright looks at clashes of American culture from a historical perspective with the goal of helping shed some light on how we got to our current political/cultural state. Interrogating issues such as climate change denial, the involvement of religion in politics, and observations of radical (left and right) groups of the political spectrum, Wright provides much needed clarity in a confusing time.

Two of season two’s episodes that stood out to me are the programs that closely examined the radical political beliefs from the far right and left groups. Looking at the growth of the alt right movement by tracking its path from radical internet chat rooms to mainstream American Politics, Wright makes sense of a movement which seemingly came out of nowhere; listeners are able to walk away with the message: once you understand something, you can fight it. In another episode, an interview with a former member of the leftist terrorist group, the Weathermen, showed the slow and steady descent into political radicalization, giving a nuanced looking into political radicalism in America.

“The United States of Anxiety” forces us to ask ourselves, what are we willing to fight for? Photo credit: Google Images

Wright is a fair host who acknowledges that, just like us, he has his own biases and difficulties with the subject matter, but still believes in the importance of engagement. While The United States of Anxiety mainly focuses on the importance of trying to understand those with different beliefs than us and understanding of our current political moment, it also shows those who are fighting for political and cultural change. By profiling current activists fighting for what they believe is right, this podcast doesn’t just highlight issues, it shows current grassroots solutions, forcing us to ask ourselves, what are we willing to fight for?

TERRIN ROSEN

Star Trek’s Return to Television

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In the picture, from left to right: Saru, Michael Burnham, and Phillippa Georgiou (photo credit: Fortune.com)

Warning: Contains Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery

After a twelve-year television hiatus, Star Trek returned with a bang on September 24th, with new and old characters alike. Set roughly ten years before Star Trek:The Original Series, this fifteen-episode series tells the story of a cold war between the United Federations of Planets and the newly-united Klingon houses. Star Trek:Discovery is on a separate timeline from the J.J Abrams rebooted Star Trek film series with decidedly less lens flares.

Bryan Fuller, one of the show’s creators, continues his tradition of giving female leads typically masculine names. The main character is Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green. In the first two episodes, Burnham, the First Officer of the USS Shenzou, is referred to as “Number One”, honoring the character of the same name portrayed by Majel Barrett in the original Star Trek pilot episode. The overarching premise of Discovery is the  Klingons’ finding of a messianic figure in the form of T’Kuvma. Following an ancient Klingon prophecy, T’Kuvma convinces his followers that the Federation’s goals center around usurping the individuality of Klingons, and that the ultimate goal of the Federation is to extinguish Klingon culture. Though T’Kuvma dies by the end of the second episode, his death (and Burnham’s actions) spark a cold war, indicating the beginnings of Starfleet’s militarization.

Discovery is one of, if not the most, diverse Star Trek casts to date. Many fans were thrilled to discover that Michelle Yeoh plays Captain Phillippa Georgiou, at the helm of the USS Shenzou. Georgiou is the first captain of Asian descent; Yeoh keeps her Malaysian accent for the part. Unfortunately, right as fans (myself included) fell in love with her, she was killed in the same skirmish that killed T’Kuvma. Many were incredibly disheartened at her death, claiming that she deserved better. However, I’m hopeful that Captain Georgiou will return. After all, Yeoh is slotted for the rest of the season. She could make an appearance in a  flashback— this is Star Trek— or return fully alive; the second episode makes it very clear that Georgiou’s body was never recovered. One of this season’s plots could potentially involve Burnham attempting to rescue her Captain  while keeping an all out war at bay.

Another highlight of the first three episodes was the preview of Burnham’s origins. Burnham grew up with three very familiar characters in Star Trek: Sarek, Amanda, and Spock. Sarek made an appearance in the first two episodes, to the excitement of many fans, especially at the end of episode three, it’s revealed that Amanda would read Alice in Wonderland to Spock and Michael. Some fans want to know more about Amanda’s relationship with Michael, and Spock’s relationship with her as well. Personally, I’m hoping to see more familial interaction. Furthermore, I’m interested in seeing the other ways Discovery plans on tying in with The Original Series, not to mention, why in the worlds the Captain of the USS Discovery has a tribble on his desk.

One character that caught my attention is Cadet Sylvia Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman. Tilly is very clearly coded as autistic, and many fans are rejoicing in an onscreen portrayal of autism, outside of the usual emotionless man. Tilly possesses a friendly and open demeanor, despite her inability to read other’s emotions well or take basic social cues.

Undoubtedly, Burnham is the star of the show. Although the first two episodes depict her her as a respected Starfleet officer, she eventually goes against Captain Georgiou’s commands in an attempt to prevent a war with the Klingons, becoming the first mutineer in Starfleet history. She is sentenced to life in imprisonment for her crimes and blamed for the start of the cold war with the Klingons. However, in the third episode, she’s granted a position upon the USS Discovery under a captain who’s made it clear he will do anything to stop the war. There are many different ways the season could go, but one thing is for sure: it’s going to have viewers on the edge of their seats, riveted to the TV (or laptop).

JULIANNA HEAD

The SPX Haul: Part 1

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I am an avid comic reader. I’d like to say I have been my whole life, but as with most things, it’s been more of a cycle. Since graduating high school, I have fallen deep into the hole that is the comics medium – both print and web. Surprising as it may be, I have never been to any comic convention prior to attending SPX (Small Press Expo). Sure, I’ve been to a couple cons here and there but never one specifically for comics. Seeing as I’m living so close to one this year, I decided to head over to Bethesda and check out the indie creators and publishing houses that attended the con, thinking I’d see a couple things I recognized, just pick up one or two zines, and maybe grab one of the Ignatz winner’s comic.

Oh boy, was I wrong. SPX, which only takes up the space of one hotel ballroom, was jam packed with amazing creators and creations, and I wanted to talk about a few of them here! Indie creators live and die by word of mouth, so if I can get even one or two more people to check out their work, I’m happy. This is part one, as I picked up a lot of zines and still have yet to read them all.

“Spectral Zone” by Kay D.
A super cool pilot comic about a town swallowed up by the earth and the veritable Scooby-gang of kids who must survive the Spectrums (ghost-zombie-computer virus things). I love the way Kay uses color in her comics and her characters are always so dynamic and fun. I’d direct you to her store, but it’s currently down, which makes getting a copy of Spectral Zone difficult at the moment. However, her webcomic, Oddity Woods, isn’t bound by physical limitations. If mystery, adventure, and spooky woods are your cup of tea, check it out. And even if it’s not, check it out anyway. You may find something you like (@cygullls).

“Waves” by Rebecca Kirby. Photo Credit: Elias Rosner

“Waves” by Rebecca Kirby  
A trippy zine about a woman imagining the world and the people in it while she waits in line at the grocery store. Kirby’s art isn’t for everyone, but man, is it right in my wheelhouse. She creates fluid, amorphous shapes that are cool to look at, making it feel like the world itself isn’t bound to any solid visuals (@reweki).

“Spinning” by Tillie Walden
The final comic I’m highlighting today is actually a graphic novel, a term which is a bit more complicated than it should be. It has a publisher (First Second comics) and is stunningly gorgeous. Billed as a graphic memoir, it’s all about the author and her love of figure skating. I haven’t finished it yet, but if you can get a copy, read it. If not, then check out her webcomic On a Sunbeam. It’s freaking beautiful, not to mention interesting and heartbreaking. It’s good sci-fi and just plain good storytelling. It’s been completed, so if you’re worried about the webcomic update crawl, problem solved (@tilliewalden).

The world of comics is weird and wonderful and I hope that I can share some more with you in the future. I’ve got lots more crazy stuff to talk about (like Mary Shelley’s Franken Berry). But seriously, check out these people (I included their twitter handles for a reason) and their work. You never know what you’ll find unless you go out looking.

ELIAS ROSNER

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Future in the Star Wars Franchise

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Since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans have been asking a multitude of questions. Is Finn ‘force sensitive’? Who are Rey’s parents? Should Kylo Ren have a redemption arc? What was the deal with the Obi-Wan Kenobi voice-over in Rey’s Force-driven flashback? When The Last Jedi trailer arrived, there were more questions: Why does Obi-Wan have a voice over in the trailer? Does this mean he’s going to be in the movie?

Is it time for the return of Obi-Wan? Credit: StarWars Wiki

With the new toy release on September 1st featuring Force Ghost Kenobi, it seems as though LucasFilm and Disney are reviving the much-loved character. At first, it appeared that the toy was making a nod to the Original Series; however, it was released with toys featuring The Last Jedi characters, including Finn, Rey, and Luke. The inscription on the box has also led fans to believe that Kenobi will be making an appearance in Episode IX. The description reads, “Even after his untimely demise, Obi-Wan Kenobi remains a mentor to those strong with the Force.”

Kenobi’s likely return to the Star Wars epic is also highlighted by reports confirming that an Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff movie is in the works. It’s working title, ‘Joshua Tree,’ heavily implies that the movie will be set between Episodes III and IV on Tatooine. Several Tatooine shots in the Original Trilogy were filmed in Death Valley National Park, which is geographically similar to Joshua Tree National Park in California. Though there’s been no official word from LucasFilm about the working title leak, most fans are overjoyed at the prospect of a Kenobi movie. According to social media (such as Twitter and Tumblr), as long as Ewan McGregor is cast as Kenobi, many fans don’t care what happens plot-wise. Some go so far as to claim they would watch the movie even if it was two hours of Kenobi sitting in the desert and crying. Other fans are excited about the possibility of tying in other Star Wars characters seen only in the TV shows The Clone Wars and Rebels.

Set between Episodes III and IV, it would make perfect sense for Bail Organa, a longtime fan favorite, to make an appearance, especially after seeing him in Rogue One. Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s former padawan turned Rebel informant named Fulcrum, could also make an appearance. Even Breha Organa could have a cameo, along with toddlers Luke and Leia. It could feature some of Obi-Wan’s adventures on Tatooine, or it could go so far as to make him some sort of agent for the Rebellion.

The overall tone of the movie is also something fans are looking forward to. As this movie would take place during the Rebellion era, it would be easy to make the overall tone of the movie ‘screw the establishment, screw fascism, and screw the government,’ a maxim that mirrors Rogue One, The Original Trilogy, and, so far, the newest trilogy.

One other avenue that some fans want the movie to explore is the Force. The Force is, at heart, a religion, one that Rogue One touched on. Again and again, it is stressed in Star Wars that the Force is the fabric of all existence, not just a weapon. For Jedi, it is akin to talking to God. Not necessarily a sentient God, or even a personifiable one, but a higher power, nonetheless, that Speaks and has a Will and a Way. The Force is a flame that always burns, and when the galaxy has become so Dark, what other choice does Kenobi have but to put his faith in the Light? Kenobi will still be dealing with the aftermath of Order 66, the death and destruction of the Jedi Order, not to mention that Anakin turned into Darth Vader, who at the end of Episode III, Kenobi assumes dead.

Still, there is time to speculate as wildly as fans wish. The movie won’t be ready for release for a few years yet, but one thing is certain: Obi-Wan Kenobi is coming back.

JULIANNA HEAD

Finding Kesha’s Rainbow

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Most of us are familiar with Ke$ha, the pop star whose voice was drowned in auto-tuned songs like “Tik Tok”, “Your Love Is My Drug”, and “Die Young”. In more recent years, Kesha has had very public legal battles with her producer, Dr. Luke, beginning in October 2014 when she filed a civil suit against Dr. Luke for infliction of emotional distress and gender-based hate crimes. The dispute ended in August 2016 when Kesha dropped her case after a judge in April dismissed all of her abuse claims. Kesha is now back to making music, fulfilling her contract under Dr. Luke, but it is unlike anything she has done before.

In Rainbow, each song “has a new, distinct Kesha style.” Credit: Amazon

Rainbow was released this past August, following its singles: “Praying”, “Woman, Learn to Let Go”, and “Hymn”. Each song holds its own form of power, and actually showcases Kesha’s voice instead of hiding it. “Praying”, the first single to be released, was the perfect introduction to this album for a number of reasons, primarily because it introduces the listener to Kesha’s new and individual style. The song starts out with simple piano chords, and Kesha’s natural voice carries narrative lyrics over them. The acoustic sound is a stark contrast to the techno beats and autotune that categorized a Ke$ha song. More instruments and harmonies are added throughout the chorus and the second verse, allowing for this organic slow build that pays off in the bridge, which she ends with a killer high note. Ignoring the lyrics, it’s in and of itself a beautiful song with an intense amount of passion. The lyrics are, however, what makes this song the perfect premier single for this album, as opposed to simply being a good song.

There are plenty of articles that address the hidden meanings throughout Kesha’s whole album, and “Praying” in particular, but it’s hard to say that the meanings are hidden in any sense. All throughout “Praying”, Kesha appears to make repeated references to her struggles against Dr. Luke throughout the past 2-3 years, singing “you brought the flames, and you put me through hell. I had to learn how to fight for myself, and we both know all the truth I could tell.” While it’d be very easy and more than justifiable for Kesha to use this song to curse out Dr. Luke, she doesn’t. Instead, she uses this song to explore redemption. Throughout the chorus she repeatedly sings “I hope you’re somewhere praying… I hope your soul is changing,” and she ends the chilling bridge with the line “some say, ‘in life you’re gonna get what you give,’ but some things only God can forgive.” These lines don’t support a song of forgiveness, but a song about moving on, gaining strength in your own redemption and asking others to do the same while not depending on that action.

This theme of redemption and rebirth is recurrent throughout the album. A good chunk of the songs do not directly address this theme; however, every few songs bring the listener back to the call for self-love. “Learn to Let Go” goes through the process of deciding to “choose redemption” and be “done reliving bad decisions.” “Bastards” and “Let ‘Em Talk”, the first two songs on the album, all encourage ignoring others hurtful, unimportant opinions. Finally, “Rainbow”, the title song and my personal favorite on the album, takes all of these overlapping themes— redemption, letting go, acceptance, and self-love— and addresses them using beautiful piano and string instruments. The song asks the listener to temporarily cast off the hurt of the past, to “put those [rainbow] colors on, girl; come and paint the world with me tonight.” It’s soft and simple in message, but I tear up every time I listen to it.

Rainbow as a full album may not be for everyone. Each song has a new, distinct Kesha style, experimenting with genre, ranging from pop ballads to more hardcore country. Overall, Rainbow has a beautiful commentary on the nature of redemption and rebirth while also bringing forth the incredible and renewed voice of Kesha Sebert.

Step into S-Town

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Mental illness, suicide, sexuality, and clock making all feature frequently in the Podcast S-Town. Photo Credit: This American Life

I started listening to podcasts my senior year of high school, partially because I started driving to school, but also because an English teacher insisted I listen to Serial. Immediately, I was hooked. When I heard that This American Life (another great podcast) and Serial were bringing S-Town to the public, I knew it was going to be my next favorite podcast.
Narrated by Brian Reed, S-Town follows the story of an antique clockmaker named John B. McLemore who lives in Woodstock, Alabama (which McLemore dubs Shittown, Alabama). When McLemore emailed This American Life about a potential murder cover up he believed existed in Shittown, Reed took on the case, only to find that the dead body he was looking for was not the one he anticipated. The show explores what it means to be an outsider in the already isolated small towns of the South, both due to external and internal factors. Mental illness, suicide, sexuality, and clock making have the largest presence on the podcast. Oh, and one chapter solely focuses on a treasure hunt.
Although the podcast is certainly non-fiction, it feels like a well-crafted story. Certain aspects of the story that resurface throughout the podcast— like mental illness, time, and Shittown itself— help to form the feel of a real narrative as opposed to an objective report. These themes also work together to paint a vivid picture of John B. McLemore and wrap the reader up in what it means to have known him. Occasionally, Reed will go into explanations about the various ways one can fix a clock, similar to author describing a setting or bringing attention to a symbol that will reappear in the future. These asides, though initially a bit jarring, work to show the beauty of clock-making in the way that John B. McLemore might have seen it and connects the listener to him by sharing one of his few key passions.
Although the narrative was incredibly engaging and well-crafted, there were many times during S-Town where I had to stop the podcast. It wasn’t the fault of the podcast; it dealt very well with the sensitive material they had. S-Town hit remarkably close to home for me, as I saw a friend of mine in John’s story. While I cannot speak directly about the representation throughout the narrative, I recognized so many aspects of Reed’s story, and the stories of John’s friends, to be one that I have seen myself.
The reason S-Town succeeds as a show is not the same reason that Serial succeeded. Serial’s previous success was due to the meticulous analyzing of each piece of evidence and the lack of acceptance for one specific answer as the truth. S-Town certainly builds off of a similar model, but it explores the bonds that we create with one another and how suicide in particular affects those bonds. S-Town has the emotion, the humanity, and the evasiveness of a narrative that Serial can’t capture in quite the same way. That doesn’t necessarily make S-Town the better podcast; the narrative quality instead increases the emotional impact that it has on a listener because it allows for a stronger focus on emotion as a whole.
If you’re looking for a new podcast, something to listen to on the go, or just a good excuse to cry, look no further than S-Town. I just listened to it through a podcast app, but they have an absolutely beautiful website where you can listen to all of the episodes (stownpodcast.com).

Streaming is the New Network: Disney Leaves Netflix

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Disney leaves Netflix. Photo Credit: Google Images.

In August 2017, Disney announced that it would be pulling all of it’s content off of Netflix and launching it’s own streaming platform in 2019. Netflix secured the licenses to stream Disney’s content in 2012, but Disney’s content has only been available on Netflix since September of 2016, meaning that Netflix will not get to see much of the rewards from this deal. The Verge reports Netflix will be able stream Disney’s content until 2019, meaning they will have access to the next two Star Wars films and other new content that Disney comes out with in the next year.
In addition to a streaming service for their movies and short films, Disney is developing a sports streaming service. Disney has acquired the majority shares of the company BAMTech, an internet video provider developed by Major League Baseball for online streaming and content. Disney will help expand BAMTech and partner with ESPN to launch an online sports streaming service. The infrastructure of the sports streaming service will provide the model for the streaming of Disney’s other content. In Disney’s official announcement, CEO Robert A. Iger stated, “The media landscape is increasingly defined by direct relationships between content creators and consumers…This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company, one that takes advantage of the incredible opportunity that changing technology provides us to leverage the strength of our great brands.” Disney plans to launch the sequel to Frozen and Toy Story 4 on this new service, along with other original movies and shows.
Although losing the rights to stream Disney’s content will certainly be a blow to Netflix, and add another competitor to a market Netflix previously had a monopoly on, Netflix has proven its ability to successfully reinvent itself in the past few years. Despite losing approximately 50% of it’s library since 2012, Netflix still proved successful. Previously, Netflix had been the largest streaming service after it transitioned from being mainly a service which mailed DVDs. However, since 2012 they have been producing incredibly successful original content. Producing more in-house content means that Netflix doesn’t have to negotiate licensing and streaming deals that could fall through, such as their deal with Disney.
Netflix’s original shows such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Sense8 have captivated audiences and received much critical praise. Following Netflix’s success at creating original content, other streaming services have branched into creating original content as well. This past year, Hulu released The Handmaid’s Tale to intense critical acclaim, and Amazon has produced Transparent which has remained consistently praised. Viewers and critics alike have come to see content from streaming services as having similar or better quality than network equivalents. The 2017 Emmy nominees for best drama reflect this, with four out of the seven being original content from streaming services. In fact, almost every category had a nominee that was original content from a streaming service.
Disney’s announcement just marks another step in an already present trend. Audiences are highly receptive to streaming services, and brands have noticed. Companies are realizing that streaming services are not just a fad, and original content released on them has been wildly successful. In the next few years, we can most likely expect to see an increase in streaming services, with more companies creating their own platforms. Similar to paying more for a larger cable package with more channels, audiences may need to expect to pay for multiple online providers, since streaming services have now become networks in their own right.

In a Heartbeat: An Animated Heartwarmer

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In a Heartbeat, an animated short about a crush between two middle school boys, will make your heart flutter. Photo Credit: Cultura Inquieta

In a Heartbeat, a short animated film about a crush between two middle school boys, is four minutes and five seconds of audio-visual delight, complete with adorable animation and relatable representation. The film was created for a senior thesis by Beth David and Esteban Bravo, who recently graduated from Ringling College.
In a Heartbeat tells the story of a closeted boy, Sherman, who tries to keep his heart from outing him at school as it chases after his crush, Jonathon. A greater appreciation for all of the thought put into the film can be found by looking at the details, such as the contrast between light and dark in the animation or Jonathon reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The music complements the tone of the animation style remarkably well, as the high melody that continues throughout the piece matches the beat of Sherman’s heart. The film is made stronger from its lack of dialogue, as the emotions and relationship of these two characters are highlighted simply through the sharp animated movements and accompanying music.
The film gained a following about seven months before its release when David and Bravo started a Kickstarter campaign asking for $3,000 to hire a composer and sound designer for the film. Within one month (from November 15, 2016-December 15, 2016), they raised $14,191. On July 31st, they posted their end product to YouTube, complete with adorable animation and a gorgeous score, composed by Arturo Cardelús, to go with it. When The New York Times reported on the short film four days later, it had already surpassed 14 million views.
Part of the reason this film gained so much attention, especially from the LGBTQ+ community, is because it gives quality representation for young people within the community. It’s not that there isn’t any media targeted at young adults, middle schoolers, or children that also has LGBTQ+ representation. Some animated shows, like Steven Universe, and books, like much of Rick Riordan’s recent work, have wonderful representation. However, it’s certainly not the norm, and it can be difficult to find media with any LGBTQ+ representation, let alone quality representation. In a Heartbeat provides that representation and adds to it the universal feeling of having a first crush.
Additionally, the short film normalizes the idea of kids being gay. Straight tendencies are often seen as cute and adorable in kids— think about the idea of kindergarten boyfriends and girlfriends or parents joking about how their two month old boy is going to be a womanizer. While the general attitude towards homosexuality has progressed in the past few years, there are plenty of people who still believe gay relationships are an unacceptable conversation topic for children, as well as refusing to allow them to question their own sexual orientations. This story is not revolutionary in and of itself, but it allows for young gay kids to see themselves in a form of media when the majority of the media made for them focuses on straight relationships.
In a Heartbeat, whether or not you care about the representation aspect, is a cute short film with a good score to match, and it is sure to make your own heart flutter. It’s just a sweet film about two boys with crushes. What could be more adorable than that?

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