katharine hearts the internet: webcomics

links

Marc Johns
Cat and Girl
XKCD
Gemma Correll
Boredom Pays

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katharine plugs away: Robot of Leisure

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The biggest project in my life for the better part of the aughts and beyond has been Robot of Leisure (formerly WHiRR, formerly BitterBots). While I’m not hanging up my Boris hat anytime soon, we have reached the end of the graphic novel series.

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I began the series in 2010, completing two stories a year and releasing them in ebook form. Trying to release the books in paperback proved cost prohibitive. My full-colour large paneled masterpieces were coming out at $15-18 a pop when the content was only realistically $8-12. I knew I would squeeze it all into a one-volume product in the end, so I dropped the paperbacks from Amazon and started pushing the ebooks.

Graphic novels are not popular with the general public. Not to say the general public can’t (or won’t) enjoy them, but it is a bit of a niche genre that’s hard to promote. How do you encourage a regular person to pick up a book that isn’t a comic book and isn’t a kiddie’s picture book? Especially when the character is unknown and the references it makes are obscure? If Boris were a steampunk vampire with a yearning to be a superhero, I might be halfway to a successful franchise. As it is, we’re doing far too much work for far too little recognition (me and all the other people who create graphic novels and the like).

I’ve finished the massive Robot of Leisure collection. All the ebooks have been coded. The print proof is in the mail. All that’s left is to prepare the latest marketing scheme and annoy everyone in my acquaintance circles. I’ll be sharing all manners of videos and links and promotions in the coming weeks.

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While you’re waiting for opportunities to snatch up the print edition of Robot of Leisure, please peruse (and purchase from) the Robot of Leisure Society6 shop. I’ve posted a bunch of designs for posters and t-shirts.

katharine makes an observation: feminine feminists

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Close your eyes and picture a feminist, not necessarily a famous feminist. Conjure up a generic stock photo of a feminist. Have you pictured a lady? Did you immediately think of that lady you saw at the organic farmer’s market? Or did you picture Zooey Deschanel? In either case, you’re probably right, if also a little prone to stereotyping.

Can feminists be pretty? That’s a stupid question. Attractiveness has no bearing on the opinions of gender inequality and human rights. Beautiful people can believe that everyone should be treated fairly and plain people can believe that one gender is biologically superior to the other. Feminists are perceived as being less concerned with outward appearance. Which isn’t farfetched considering the fact that people committed to human rights might also be committed to environmental conservation and ethical treatment of animals. Once you start looking to limit your use of potentially harmful toxins, cosmetic enhancements tend to drift off the list of priorities.

So it’s weird to think that feminists might be a little vain. We live in a time when a small segment of people want to turn words like “feminist” and “liberal” and “intellectual” into pejoratives. They would have you believe that the Liberal Feminist is out to emasculate all the men, murder all the babies, and put the entire world under petticoat rule. The Liberal Feminist is loud and annoying but could be so pretty if she shaved her pits and put on some lipstick. Oh, Small Segment of People, how so very misguided you are and how very sad you make the Rest of Us. How much effort can one put into one’s personal hygiene and appearance to achieve gender equality? Do women really still need to butch it up in order to be taken seriously?

I thought that society was done trying to stigmatize feminists. Feminists aren’t all man haters. “Militant feminist” should not be a euphemism for “ugly chick who won’t shut up about her vagina.” I shouldn’t have to worry that by wearing a cute dress I’m somehow communicating to society that I don’t care about women’s rights. If a girl excels in math and science and her favourite colour is pink, must she sacrifice one over the other to fit some kind of stereotype? Must a boy do the same? A feminist, regardless of gender, should be able to wear make-up and dresses while pursuing gender equality. (We live in The Future. Why aren’t we all just wearing silver tunics and leggings now?) Has everyone forgotten the message of Legally Blonde?

The problem with making a statement about female empowerment through fashion is that dudes don’t really get it. Whether it’s Nancy Sinatra or Madonna or Beyoncé, when a female performer traipses around in skimpy clothing, she’s still being objectified. A lot of guys don’t care whether a woman is dolled up because it makes her feel good about herself or that she’s making a political statement about sex in the modern age. Flesh is flesh to the unsophisticated male, just as meat is meat to unsophisticated carnivores. They aren’t very concerned about whether the cows and pigs on their plate were treated ethically or come from local farms.

One of the survival tactics of modern life is to reward oneself with little treats. For all the physical burdens women endure—from gestation to childbirth to breaking in a pair of stillettos, we deserve the right to polish and powder ourselves. The regular internal distress can make a lady feel more like livestock, so it’s nice to indulge in delicate luxuries. The act of fingernail painting or baking or making impulse purchases doesn’t negate one’s belief in freedom and gender equality. A woman shouldn’t have to dress for a role that does not exist. Feminists can look like Bettie Page or Reese Witherspoon or Diane Keaton or Buffy Sainte-Marie or Ryan Gosling. Zooey Deschanel wants to “be a f-ing feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar” and she’s probably doing more for women’s rights than your central casting hippie chick.

Viewing Habits: David Mitchell’s Soapbox

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Tumblr has exposed me to many things of which I might otherwise remain ignorant. I’m aware of many of the more obscure memes. I know now that I prefer Batman to Superman, Star Trek to Star Wars, and impossibly fluffy puppies to fuzzy baby bats. Tumblr is also responsible for reawakening my passion for British comedy and getting me hooked on panel shows. Tumblr turned me onto David Mitchell.

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After hundreds of reblogs of Peep Show/Mark Corrigan/David Mitchell GIF sets popped up on my Tumblr dash, finally someone shared a link to David Mitchell’s Soapbox rant. I think the first one I watched was about cultural references.

David Mitchell’s Soapbox is an internet exclusive series and widely available internationally, which is good news for burgeoning Mitchell fans who want to watch things legally and haven’t gotten around to ordering Peep Show DVDs and a Region 2 DVD player. Since its launch in 2009, Soapbox has run four series with grand total of 87 episodes. Each episode features Mitchell in his Ranting Shirt (he wears the same red shirt throughout the series, no doubt chosen for minimal green screen interference) deftly expounding, for roughly three-to-five minutes, on the irritations of the day. Written by Mitchell and John Finnemore and fitted with detailed post-production digital graphics, this is much more than your casual video blog.

As with any series, the rants are hit-or-miss. Not all the arguments are convincing and some topics you may find aren’t relevant to your experiences. But for a whole lot more, you may find yourself nodding in agreement and saying, “Yes, I agree with you, obscure-on-this-side-of-the-planet British comedian! I think these same thinks!” And then you’ll share the link on your social networking platform of choice. You’ll proclaim that David Mitchell is your spirit animal.

With each episode concentrated on one primary rant, it’s very easy to locate one pertinent to your own rage. You can watch, commiserate, laugh and breathe through your own frustration, and share. Personally, I find this GIF to be suitable for all occasions:

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We have the privilege of living in a time of great laziness. We’ve become deferential to the changes of technology and society and the demands they make of us. “Oh, this remote has buttons I don’t understand. Well, okay.” or “Doctor Who and Downton Abbey are being shown only in 3D now? I’m not keen on wearing special equipment for idle entertainment, but alright, fine.” It’s nice to have a voice of my generation willing to call out the injustices, idiocies, and irritations of modern society. I suspect Mitchell will tire of his posh curmudgeon character and being asked to rant on command. Rage is a lot of work, it’s tiring to maintain a consistent level of anger, and trying to balance is out with a couple of giggles adds to the strain. Making a few pithy observations on a panel show must be easier in comparison. Not that I begrudge Mr. Mitchell his panel pithiness. There’s value to be found in that as well (or so I’ll tell myself in my third straight hour of streaming repeats of QI).

Now I leave you to investigate Soapbox on your own. The powers behind the series have released it in several platforms. You can stream it on YouTube or Blip, download the series as a video podcast, or download the iPhad (iPhone/iPod/iPad) app, or stream it from the Guardian website. The Guardian site also hosts Mitchell’s regular comment articles.

Popped Culture: Beach Party

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I’m one of those nostalgists suffering from Born-too-Late-ness. I missed out on so many seemingly great experiences of the mid-20th century—diners, train travel, and the drive-in cinema. Gone are the days when you could sneak your buddies and a four-course meal in your trunk to the drive-in and have a grand evening out. By the time my day rolled around, the local drive-in was abandoned (but possibly haunted by dead teenage motorcyclists) and the idea of just riding in my boyfriend’s trunk for funsies didn’t have the same appeal.

Fortunately, living the Future means that I can at least watch the drive-in movies from the comfort of my own driveway (which is haunted by raccoon motorcyclists). Go get your anthropomorphic popcorn, ’cause we’re gonna watch a bunch of beach party flicks!

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For me, the beach party movies are a guilty pleasure, but let’s not fool ourselves. These are not good movies. These are low-budget, bubblegum, frothy make-out flicks. It’s possible that my own parents rounded a couple of bases during Beach Party. My mother probably got mad at her beau for making a crude comment about Annette’s bosoms during How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. And everyone knew, no matter how much of the middle you missed, you could always tell your parents that Frankie and Annette wound up together at the end. An American International picture is not rocket science. Maybe social science. Definitely Mystery Science (Theater 3000).

The series begins with Beach Party, when a bearded anthropologist “secretly studying the mating habits of Southern California teenagers” gets mixed up in all the “teen” antics. Naturally, hilarity ensues. We’re introduced to the perpetually on again-off again Frankie and Dee Dee (Annette), their surfing pals, Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, and the villainous Eric von Zipper and his Ratz pack. We’re also introduced to the running gag of the Himalayan Mind Suspension technique, wherein Eric von Zipper inadvertently paralyzes himself by pressing his forefinger to his skull. And Les Baxter provides the musical score for all the smooching scenes and surfing montages.

In 1964, AIP released Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Pajama Party. Muscle Beach Party focuses on a rivalry between the surfers and a gang of bodybuilders. Frankie and Dee Dee’s true love is threatened by an Italian countess. Don Rickles lobs a few insults, Little Stevie Wonder sings a couple of songs, bodybuilders walk around in capes and mankinis, and everything works out in the end.

Then there’s Bikini Beach. Oh, Bikini Beach. Frankie and Dee Dee’s true love is threatened by a British pop star “Potato Bug” (Avalon in a dual role). The surfers are also into drag racing, some stuffy millionaire wants to turn the beach into a retirement community. Don Rickles (as a new character) lobs a few insults, Little Stevie Wonder sings a couple of songs, Eric von Zipper and his gang get into a scuffle, and—after a lengthy car chase and a bunch of art slinging—everything works out in the end. Wait, did I mention the monkey?

Pajama Party departs from the standard beach party formula by replacing Frankie with a Martian called Go Go (played by Tommy Kirk). Annette plays Connie, neglected girlfriend of Big Lunk (Deadhead in the previous films). Buster Keaton plays an Indian, Martian Don Rickles lobs a few Martian insults, Eric von Zipper gets a sidecar for his motorcycle, Elsa Lanchester offers advice…there’s subplots, swimming pools, lingerie and longjohns, and everything works out in the end. I guess. If you’re running a marathon of these flicks, Pajama Party is the one you miss most of because of bathroom and snack breaks.

With Beach Blanket Bingo we’re back on track. Frankie and Dee Dee blah blah. Deadhead (now Bonehead) falls for a mermaid, Don Rickles insults everybody, the surfers take up skydiving, Dee Dee argues for gender equality in daredevil stunts, Eric von Zipper falls for (and kidnaps) the visiting singing sensation, Paul Lynde is a smarmy publicity agent, and—after yet another massive brawl between the surfers and the bikers‚—everything works out. It’s getting tougher to pass these kids off as kids. Can’t adults be allowed to blow off everything for a weekend and go surfing with a hundred other adults? Is there a meetup group for that?

We saw how Annette fared without Frankie in Pajama Party. How does Frankie hold up without Annette in Ski Party? Without an established relationship to muck up, Frankie’s left to engage in wackiest of all schemes to land the girl. In Ski Party, Frankie and Dwayne “Dobie Gillis” Hickman are a couple of love-starved college guys. The guys join the school’s ski club and tag along on their skiing trip. But wait! These boys don’t know how to ski! Of course the only solution is to cross dress as British exchange students and join the ladies on the bunny slopes! Cue the manipulation, hilarious misunderstandings and co-ed pillow fights. Lesley Gore sings on a bus and James Brown shows up at the ski resort when his bus runs out of gas or something. Eventually everyone winds up at a beach house and everything works out.

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is the last beach party movie featuring Frankie and Annette as our heroes. Frankie’s off in the tropics, under the thin guise of naval reserve duty. He’s frolicking with exotic island babes but gets concerned that Dee Dee might get cozy with some other fella (and withhold sex from that guy). Naturally, the solution is to have a witch doctor (Buster Keaton) conjure up a vapid bikini chick to distract the boys from Dee Dee. Dwayne Hickman tackles the role of Frankie’s rival, while all the other guys (otherwise known as Frankie’s pals in all the other movies) stay away from the fully-clothed-for-the-entire-picture Dee Dee. Mickey Rooney calls everyone chicky-baby, Uncle Leo and Dobie Gillis get into a fist fight, Eric von Zipper tries to change his image, a motorcycle race is full of hijinks, everyone sings a bunch of forgettable songs, Frankie returns, and it’s happily ever after for everyone except Dobie Gillis.

The trouble with the beach party films is that none of them are particularly memorable. You can walk away with the basic formula, but the details vanish. These movies weren’t built for careful repeated viewings. The AIP flicks were quick cash grabs aimed at teens looking for something to do on a Saturday night. A beach party movie is good for casual, passive viewing, requiring minimal investment but also offering minimal reward (especially if your date is a real Dee Dee). Since the days of drive-ins are well behind us, the most we can demand of an AIP production is light entertainment during a bout of the flu.

If you’re tuning in a beach party movie to see an accurate depiction of teen life in the 1960s, you’re out of luck. These things were written by middle-aged men with little, if any, insight into the average teenage mind. They steer clear of any political or social upheaval and unrest. Everyone’s just out to have a good time. The only concerns are whether Dee Dee will ever get Frankie to settle down and marry her and whether Frankie will ever convince Dee Dee to just put out already. Those questions are answered in the 1987 nostalgia trip Back to the Beach, which features Frankie and Annette and ignores most of AIP beach party canon.

TCM-worthy fun fact: Eric von Zipper was played by Harvey Lembeck, father of Helaine Lembeck who played Sweathogs foe Judy Borden on Welcome Back, Kotter. One of the stars of Welcome Back, Kotter was, as we know, superstar John Travolta, who went on to play Danny Zuko, another leader of a motorcycle gang, the T-Birds, in the 1978 musical Grease.

American International continued to produce films marketed to teen viewers well into the 1970s. They put out a number of monster horror movies, a series of movies based on the stories by Edgar Allan Poe directed by Roger Corman, spy spoofs, car racing sagas, kung fu, and blaxploitation films.

katharine makes a list: naming things

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We have enough band names. Let’s put our pithy phrases and portmanteaus toward the naming of other things.

“blank” is the name of my new:

nail polish color
smartphone app
children’s book
novelty eatery
social networking website
podcast
newly discovered alien species, bacteria, or plant life
vehicle model
gourmet dish
font
Esty shop
publishing imprint
amateur detective character
improv comedy troupe

katharine likes to make things: eye pillows

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Another month, another craft project. I don’t have much new to say about this project, since it’s another sewing craft and I sew everything by hand. I set out to make something more useful than decorative and came up with the eye pillow. I used an old sleep mask to trace out the design to create a pillow that wouldn’t put so much pressure on the nose. I find the rectangle pillows feel too heavy on the bridge of my nose.

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You’ll find a lot of tutorials online for DIY lavender-laden aromatherapy eye pillows that are filled with buckwheat hulls or flax seed. I chose to fill my eye pillows with plain white rice and omit the fragrant leaves. Some people aren’t into putting smelly things on their faces. I’m not one of those people, but I want to provide an option for them.

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Except in one case, I used all new materials here. A couple of years ago, I put a few of my designs up on Spoonflower and printed some 8″x 8″ test swatches. This was the perfect size for an eye pillow. One swatch alone would yield one mask. I had some blue satin fabric on hand that I used for the backs, so I managed to squeeze out four masks from two swatches. These particular swatches are Organic Cotton Sateen.

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This is just something I found in a remainders bin at Fabricland for a couple of dollars. I had ambitious plans that fell through. Now it’s a thing someone can put on their face.

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The fabric used here comes from the dress I wore on the cover of my book 30 Failures by Age 30. It was a nice costume by unfit for regular wear. Repurpose ahoy! I actually tried experimenting with scents in the rectangle eye pillow from this fabric. It was…not successful.

My fabric designs are still up on Spoonflower. You can get any test swatch of any design/fabric for $5/each. I don’t see much about the company outside of niche craft blogs. A lot of designs tend to be of the novelty sort and the prices are a bit steep for anyone who’s used to shopping remainder bins. If I were a better seamstress, I might be more tempted by the options presenting by all the indie designers. Maybe this unscented eye pillow endeavor will pay off and I can splurge on a couple of fat quarters someday.