March 2019 - Doppelgängers, Demon Cats, Witches, and Ghosts

It’s finally spring! The snow is gone. Green things are peeking out of the ground. There are robins everywhere.

Here are some of the things I enjoyed in March. Apparently I consumed a lot of spooky things? I wanted to do some sort of spooky + March word smoosh but it is apparently impossible. Prove me wrong.

MOVIES + TV

Us
I am not good with scary movies, so I was nervous about seeing Us. Gore I can handle, but dread is a whole other matter. I knew that I HAD to see it, because Jordan Peele is amazing and I kicked myself for not seeing Get Out in the theatre. I also knew that whatever I was going to see was going to stick in my brain and demand attention right when I close my eyes to go to sleep. But I gathered my courage and saw the film and holy cow wow. It is so good. It ended up being the kind of weird, surreal horror that is right up my alley. A film that is filled with creepily beautiful imagery, a perfectly unsettling score, great performances, and a clever story you want to experience again right away. Like the best horror films, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief. There are elements that, upon trying to dissect them and reason them out, don’t really make sense. Which ultimately doesn’t matter in the slightest. A very high recommendation from me on this one. And yes, I totally slept with the light on afterwards. Don’t judge me!

Captain Marvel
To say that it was about time for a female hero to headline a Marvel movie is a bit of an understatement. In a series where probably 75% of the women have been relegated to “girlfriend” roles, Captain Marvel was sorely needed and I think the character will add a lot to the MCU. While I found the film to be a tad generic - I always hope for something visually arresting and strange when dealing with big, cosmic space dramas - it was still entertaining and brought a different perspective to the well-hashed origin story template. While so many hero origins involve someone getting powers and then having to become a better person to live up to those powers, Carol’s journey is in her realization that she has always been good and strong and doesn’t need to be beholden to those who want to diminish and control her. She doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone.

Legend of the Demon Cat
Set in China during the Tang Dynasty, Legend of the Demon Cat is a grand fairy-tale fantasy about a demonic ghost cat out for revenge against those that have wronged him. It’s a spectacle movie: huge sets, amazing costumes, and a beautiful array of images and color. Plus it has a ridiculous talking cat that still somehow curled up in my heart and made me cry at the end. The film is based on a popular book that I have not read and I think there were a lot of things that would have made more sense if I knew the story. But while I occasionally had no idea what exactly was going on, overall I still really liked the film.

Apollo 11
This documentary collects a trove of beautiful archival footage from the Apollo 11 space mission and creates a linear account of the entire voyage to the moon. There is no narration, other than actual recorded audio from reporters, NASA, the astronauts, and other commentators. If you are interested in space exploration history, this is a good one.

Game of Thrones
Up until February, I had not watched past season 2 of Game of Thrones. I don’t really know why. But I knew that I wanted to watch the final season as it aired instead of waiting years and having things spoiled. So over the course of two months I binged my way through the whole dang thing. There were some really rough years there, where it wasn’t particularly fun to watch, but when it was good it was REALLY GOOD.

BOOKS

A Princess in Theory & A Duke by Default (Alyssa Cole)
If you enjoy modern romances, this series by Alyssa Cole is definitely worth checking out. What I love most about these books are the women; smart ladies who have actual lives, friendships, and jobs separate from their romances. I’ve read a string of books recently where the female characters had NO existence beyond their interaction with the dashing heroes. Barely any mention of their work, ambition, dreams. So when I started A Princess in Theory and found a substantial amount of time dedicated to establishing the life, history, and science career of our main character, I was overjoyed. We get to know her so well before the love interest is even introduced. APIT follows Naledi, an epidemiologist who was raised in foster care and discovers that she was betrothed at birth to a dashing prince. A Duke by Default is about Naledi’s wayward friend Portia, who travels to Scotland for a sword-smithing internship and attempts to figure out her life while she’s falling in love with the gruff master sword-maker. These premises are ridiculous fun and and the books are very entertaining to read. *thumbs up*

Witchmark (C.L. Polk)
I’m having a hard time figuring out how to summarize this one. While Witchmark feels very much like a first novel, with rough edges and a slightly overstuffed narrative, what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in heart. I felt like I was reading something that the author cared about and loved. This sense of passion kept me engaged even when some of the book seemed a bit unpolished.

The setting is reminiscent of pre-WW1 England and takes place in a country where magic exists but is kept hidden. Wealthy, powerful mages secretly rule, while every other witch (those not born to noble families) lives in fear of being shipped off to an asylum. Our main character, Miles, was born to nobility but faked his own death to escape his family and their dark plans for his powers; he joins the army, becomes a doctor, and heals people (sometimes with magic). When a handsome stranger arrives at the hospital, carrying a witch who was poisoned, Miles has to leave his secret life and try to solve an increasingly deadly mystery. As you can tell, there’s a lot going on here and it doesn't always work. But overall, I still found this book to be charming and memorable.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal (K.J. Charles)
Despite being a KJ Charles super fan, somehow I had missed this one. Secret Casebook is a collection of stories about frosty ghost hunter Simon and his companion/lover/assistant Robert, presented in a style akin to Watson writing about Sherlock Holmes. Just with, ya know, a bit more sex and some actual ghosts.

The book is structured as a series of recollections from Robert as he looks back on his adventures with Simon and life they shared together. Each chapter follows a different paranormal case, involving things like a lewd poltergeist, death-by-butterflies, the haunting cries of murdered ghost children, a rat god, and the wild hunt. Through these various cases, over the course of many years, Secret Casebook builds a caring, passionate, and sometimes tragic relationship between the two men. Another great read from KJ Charles.

ART

I’ve been doing a lot of solo show prep work this past month, writing lists and sitting around at coffee shops drawing things on my iPad. I am really excited to have some art energy back and can’t wait to start sharing things (once I have things to share).

I also finished up my tribute to tiny murderess Arya for Spoke Art’s “Winter is Here” show, on display this weekend (April 6 & 7) in San Francisco.

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February 2019 - Dragons, Gods, and Jewel Thieves

February has been a grim slog of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. I’ve had to call a friend twice this week to help push my car in to or out of my driveway. Hope you all are staying warm and making it through OK.

MOVIES

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I love the first two films in this series and think Hidden World was pretty great. I didn’t find the story to be quite as strong as the other installments (it meanders a bit with some odd choices) and the finale was oddly anticlimactic, but when things worked they worked well. Did I have tears pouring down my face at the end? Yes. Yes I did. It is also worth mentioning how incredible the animation is; the details, physical mannerisms, and lighting really stood out. I remain disappointed that Astrid is mostly relegated to the role of cheerleader (no character development but plenty of scenes where she gets to remind Hiccup that he is the best), but that has been a problem through the entire series.

GAMES

God of War 4
I can’t think of many video game characters I dislike more than Kratos, the “hero” of the God of War games. He ranks right up there with Duke Nukem in utter awfulness. So when this game was announced, I was not at all interested. Yet everyone I talked to said it was really good and that my loathing of Kratos would actually add to my experience playing the game. So I gave it a go…and I loved it? Boy howdy I was surprised. Kratos’ bloody rampages from the previous games are no longer framed as “RAD!” but as bad and shameful. Because of how the character was established in God of War 1-3, you spend every minute of God of War 4 hoping that Kratos doesn’t impart his violence onto his very kind, impressionable son. It made for some very effective tension and an unexpected commentary on toxic masculinity. There was one major story beat that really didn’t work for me (it seemed like the developers maybe ran out of time and rushed things), but overall I found the story, setting, and gameplay to be thoroughly engrossing. There is going to be a Jormungandr collage in my upcoming solo show, thanks to God of War 4.

BOOKS

The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
The Song of Achilles is a re-imagining of the famous hero’s life, told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’ companion and, in this interpretation, his lover and dearest friend. Since the book is based on established mythology, you know from the start how things will end. That could have been a hinderance but I felt it added to emotional weight of the novel. I really like how Madeline Miller weaves the mythology and original story together, making things matter more because they have backstory and depth. Since this novel is based on Greek myths, the female characters in particular do not fare well. But I think Miller did her best to try and at least give these women dimension and motivation. The Song of Achilles was lovely and sad and I’m glad I read it. It’s also a good reminder of how utterly upsetting the Trojan War story is.

Any Old Diamonds (K.J. Charles)
I am always excited when a new KJ Charles book comes along. Any Old Diamonds follows an illustrator (and disowned son of a Duke) who enlists the help of a jewel thief to exact revenge against his horrible father and equally horribly step-mother. I loved the romance that grew between these two characters and the twisty trajectory of the story as more history and secrets were revealed. A soul-soothing comfort book. K.J. Charles remains one of my favorite romance writers.

Fall (Kristen Callihan)
While I found the first two books in Kristen Callihan’s rock star romance VIP series (Idol, Managed) to be fine but not particularly memorable, I quite liked book 3 (Fall). The first two stories include a lot of genre tropes that annoyed me: cringey meet-cutes that would be sexual harassment or dangerous situations in any other setting, heroines that are weirdly underdeveloped and feel the need to remind us that they aren’t “model pretty”, and relationship “ending” fights completely reliant on misunderstandings that could have been easily explained. Despite including some of these same elements, I found myself far more involved in Fall’s characters and story. The book follows a famous rock musician who is dealing with serious mental health issues (depression, attempted suicide) and a young woman, raised by a grifter, who is at a crossroads in her life. I think these heavy themes were handled respectfully and the big third act conflict was much more organic and fitting for the characters. Despite my complaints, if you enjoy this romance genre and want to check out the VIP series, you should start with Idol (book 1).

Dark Needs at Night’s Edge (Kresley Cole)
I’m including Dark Needs in my favorites list more for the setting than for the book itself. With some notable exceptions, I’m not usually a fan of supernatural alpha male romances. I tend to find those sorts of heroes teeth-grititngly boring and/or frustratingly stuck in archaic gender roles. That is mostly the case for this book as well, but what I did like was the larger supernatural world and monster lore of the Immortals After Dark series. Plus, many of the heroines in these books are paranormal themselves (witches, valkyries, etc) which is kind of unusual. The female lead in Dark Needs is the ghost of a ballerina who was murdered in the 20s. Ghost plus vampire romance? I hadn’t read that before. For some damn reason I started the series with book 5, and even though I found the romance and story to be kind of meh, I might come back to this series out of curiosity about the other monsters and characters.

ART

The biggest February art news? I have a new website! Which you probably noticed, since you are here. Other notable goings-on includes a new long-form start-to-finish process video that went up on my Patreon page, and new giclee prints of “Milk Snake” and “Laputa” which will be available in my Etsy shop tomorrow (March 1). Ok, that second one is technically March news, but whatevs.

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January 2019 - Fishmen, Raccoons, Werewolves, and Archeologists

Hello friends! I had a good time blogging about my favorite things last year so I'm going to do my best to continue that trend in 2019. I don't know if anyone actually reads these but I find it really cathartic to write things down and it's fun to look back and see what things past-me was enjoying.

I love finding out about new books, games, and movies from other peoples' recommendations, so maybe i'll mention something that peaks your interest. Or, just as likely, you'll completely disagree with my hot-takes on angsty werewolf romances or fish based adventure films. That's fine too. 

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MOVIES

AQUAMAN
Aquaman is strange. It's filled to the brim with cliches and painfully awkward dialogue, it's way too long, the first half of the movie is a rocky jumble of exposition that is a slog to get through, and nearly every emotional moment is undercut by a random explosion (seriously, it was like a running joke). Yet bizarrely, inexplicably, I rather liked it? It's a James Wan movie, so of course there are some impressive visuals and great color - in particular a bonkers epic sea battle and a creepy voyage into the "trench". But other than that, I honestly can't really pin down why all those problematic elements, which 9 times out of 10 would have turned me off of the movie, instead made me smile. Maybe it's just how far they decided to lean in to the melodrama and ham? How much screen time was spent focused on Jason Mamoa's bare chest? How Aquaman literally saves the day by talking to fish? I have no idea, but I can definitely see this becoming one of those movies that I end up watching a bunch of times while i'm working.

I also got to see a special theatrical screening of Pride and Prejudice (2005) at the local Alamo Drafthouse. It is one of my favorite movies but I didn't see it in the theatre when it first came out. I had a blast watching it on a big screen surrounded by a bunch of other people who swooned and laughed in all the right places and I think it made me like the movie even more. 

GAMES

Donut County
The tagline for this game is "A story-filled physics puzzle game where you play as a hole in the ground". Said hole is controlled by a raccoon named BK who doesn't see why it's such a big deal that he's dropping everyone and everything into the depths of the earth. The entire game takes maybe 90 minutes to play and I loved it to bits. Somehow this puzzle game about a raccoon moving holes around manages to have a remarkably funny, engaging story. Plus the graphics are charming. I think there is a more expensive console version of the game but I played it on my iPad and that worked just fine. Definite recommendation here. 

BOOKS

Ravensong by TJ Klune
Ravensong is the second book in TJ Klune's Green Creek angsty werewolf series, the first of which (Wolfsong) was one of my favorite books of 2018. Book two focuses on the angry, tattooed witch Gordo as he pines for and rebuffs the love-of-his-life werewolf boyfriend who abandoned him many years ago. Plus, you know, evil werewolf hunters, intrigue, magic, bad dads, shapeshifter politics, smooching, FEELINGS, and melodrama. I love this series.  

Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox
On the other side of the romance spectrum, with absolutely zero werewolves, is Seven Summer Nights. Set in 1946 in the rubble of WWII, this book follows a disgraced archeologist suffering from severe PTSD, who takes on what is supposed to be a small job surveying a rural church. While there he befriends the local vicar and the two slowly fall in love while working together to solve a mystery involving ancient ruins, magic, and witchcraft. The two lead characters work really well together and the book puts a lot of value in redemption and healing. There are action bits, some unexpected supernatural elements, a town full of secrets and history, and a really sweet, well built emotional romance. 


ART

I'm feeling a bit more motivated than I was last year so that's definitely an improvement. I managed to finish two collages in January and while I can't quite share the first one yet, you can see the second one (a flowery, two-headed snake for a stripes-themed show at Gallery 9) up at the top. I'll be posting a start-to-finish Patreon video about that snake very soon.