The Curtain Falls on 2013

2013 was a big year for me. I did some scary new things, like driving myself over the Tappan Zee Bridge for the first time to get to ConnectiCon or officially committing to train travel over the more direct bus route because I would get really sick on the commercial buses. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person and actually found the confidence to include a more personal touch on Sketchy Details again.

Directly related to this site, I did some things I didn’t think were going to happen. I launched a YouTube channel featuring my art, my haunting, and my thoughts on pulp culture. That will be coming back in a couple weeks with a new schedule and better formatting. I even entered the Geek & Sundry Vlog Search with Slipstream and was surprised not just by the response to the series pitch but the opportunities that opened up by entering.

I briefly launched The Preston Files and came to the conclusion that the series doesn’t work without the premise of Food Don’t Go Stale In Space. I have no desire to continue that series without the help of my two friends, so I’m leaving those characters behind. I am actively developing a new comic inspired by convention life this spring. It’s going to be insane and unlike anything you’ve seen from me before.

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Watch: If you are in a shell…

Harry Shum, Jr., best known as that one guy who could actually dance on Glee, has teamed up with Ze Frank of Buzzfeed to create an unusual but powerful piece of performance art. Basically, Shum dances to a spoken word piece inspired by his childhood “shyness,” which is really caused by bullying, not an innate insecurity. To be perfectly honest, the choreography loses me a bit at times, but the overall effect still works. It’s very So You Think You Can Dance?-style Modern/Contemporary choreography, only with paint and loose pigment to clarify some of the meaning.

In five days, “If you are in a shell…” has received over 1.25 million views. The message of the video is one not often heard. It is okay to pull back from situations that are bad for you. It’s natural. You’re not alone. Stepping back now means protecting yourself so you can be better later. It’s an interesting spin on an bullying awareness/victim support message that I find rather intriguing. I found my own safe space in music and theater, removing myself as much as possible from all but the performing arts until I went to college and felt safe to actually engage with other people. It did help. I wish I didn’t need to have that safe space, but removing myself from the more dangerous environments meant having more freedom to just be the big nerdy TL:DR I was later.

Chiller Theatre Entries

Letting Go: Art, Anxiety, and the Competition at Chiller Theatre Expo

I grew up with diametrically opposed art influences in my life. By the time I was in fifth grade, my public school art teacher all but told me to never pursue the arts. In the shocking finale to her years of passive aggressive behavior, she hung up all of my classmates’ work at the district art show–including unfinished pieces, random drawings that weren’t the actual assignment, and random drawings that sadly were the assignment–and told my mother my work was too ugly to display. She had told me for weeks it was the best piece I had done and praised the use of colors; when I pointed that out, she said she would talk to the principal about my lies. I left in tears, humiliated, as my father stayed behind to share a few choice words with teacher.

Chiller Theatre Frankie
Just a sample of what I can do in ceramic–a lot of hours on this piece to get it just right
On the other hand, my mother was a ceramics instructor. She has taught ceramics since before I was born and still teaches today. She constantly encouraged me to pick up the brushes and paint. I assisted her with detail work at birthday parties by the time I was in second grade and sold my first piece at her craft shows long before that. Not once did she ever mock or insult her students who weren’t very good at painting. She worked with them to improve their skills and offered to do the hard bits like eyes and lettering if they really seemed overwhelmed. Everyone always left her classes happy, whether they were 5 year olds or 95 year olds.

The teacher, sadly, won out, and I never took a formal art class again. Anything I’ve learned over the years, I taught myself with the help of friends or instruction books and refined in private. I can take a critique, but I can’t take passive aggressive attempts to stifle the exploration of the arts. I have never and will never tell one of my music or theater students that they shouldn’t be involved in music or theater regardless of ability level. Not every actor will wind up on Broadway and not every painter will wind up in the Louvre. That is no reason to make it your life goal to destroy a child’s creative interests.

When I realized I could actually attend the Chiller Theatre Expo’s fall event for the first time in many years, I knew what I had to do for myself. I had to enter the Art Contest. I was probably a better fit for the model contest because I’ve shifted so much focus to haunting and shadowboxes, but I knew I didn’t have the time for photo-realism. The Art Contest was my only option to get over my own personal demons from 17 years before.

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Blackfish Tilikum

Blackfish Review (Film, 2013)

Blackfish Poster
The original poster was too scary for me, so here’s the happier theatrical poster.
Blackfish packs a huge wallop in under 90 minutes. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary focuses on Sea World, specifically the effects of leaving killer whales in captivity on their socialization. The star of the film is Tilikum, a killer whale who was captured at a very young age, abused by trainers and the much larger dominant female whales in the tank, and grew up to kill three separate people. Each time, the park responsible passed off the blame and obstructed investigations that would have most likely resulted in the banning of training killer whales for shows.

Cowperthwaite pulls no punches in her documentary. Blackfish is almost a snuff film. Mercifully, we’re spared the footage of actual deaths caused by whales, but everything else is shown. You see the trainers pulled into the water. You see the stunts go horribly wrong. And, most damning of all, you see Sea World (and long defunct Sea Land) pass off all blame immediately.

This is one of the more shocking documentaries to come out in a long time. The Cove, about the slaughter of dolphins in the Pacific Ocean, went with a more empathetic approach, putting human faces on the suffering of the creatures. Blackfish offers you no such salvation. This is just the facts as relayed by former trainers, experts, guests at ill-fated shows, surviving family members, news reports, and court testimony about the killer whale attacks.

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Cthulhu Carols

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates. For everyone else, I hope your day is wonderful.

Christian or not, anytime is a good time to spread the good word of Cthulhu. One day, the Ancient Ones will rise again and we might as well all prepare now. There’s a wonderful playlist of Lovecraftian Carols on YouTube that, sadly, is not embeddable on this most festive of dark, nightmarish days.

Enjoy I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Tour

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review (Film, 2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ReviewIn The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen has gotten herself into more trouble than she can imagine. Her desperate act to save herself and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark has gotten her on the wrong side of President Snow. Katniss accidentally sewed the seeds of a revolution against the Capital, and it becomes her job to squelch it on the Victory Tour. When her efforts fail, she is forced into the Third Quarter Quell–the 75th Games–under the guise of the founders of Panem wanting to prove that no one, no matter past successes, is above the needs of the country. 24 former victors who believed the games guaranteed peaceful lives are forced to fight again because of Katniss.

Unlike last year’s The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is afraid of changing the text of the story. There is no new clever device to show the inner monologue of the characters (like the addition of color commentary from the TV hosts in the 74th Hunger Games) and, even more surprising, no real character development. The Hunger Games worked because every character who had an impact on Katniss’ life felt important; in Catching Fire, only her family, friends, and fellow victor Peeta are important. That’s a problem.

If you are going to make a film where the majority of the running time is people killing people in blood sport, there has to be some level of empathy. It cannot be a false empathy wrought from bad things happening to normal people. It needs to be earned. The victims in the first film who had relevance to Katniss’ story earned the emotions that followed their fall. Her fellow victors are given nothing to do to earn the same this time around.

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Frozen Review (Film, 2013)

Frozen“For the first time in forever,” Disney has released an animated musical that feels like it exists just to be a film. Not once did it feel like this was a test for a new stage musical, which wasn’t exactly the case with Tangled and The Princess and the Frog.

Frozen is the story of sister princesses, Anna and Elsa, who have lived under lock and key in the castle since a childhood accident. Elsa, born with ice magic, accidentally hit Anna while they were playing together in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s own creation. Her parents, under the advice of magical trolls living on the outskirts of the kingdom, separated Anna and Elsa and locked up the castle to protect their children. Now old enough to assume the throne, Elsa has no choice but to reopen the castle for her inauguration as Queen. She still cannot control her powers and accidentally freezes the entire kingdom while fleeing from society for everyone’s benefit. Anna is the only one who can convince Elsa to return summer to the kingdom.

Writer/director Jennifer Lee (writer, Wreck-it Ralph) adapts the story she created with co-director Chris Buck and Shane Morris into one of the most enjoyable American animated films to come around in a long time. Frozen is given time to wander between various subplots that create a far more expansive universe than suggested by the Hans Christian Anderson source material. Anna and Elsa’s relationship is the throughline; everything else is world-building.

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