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January 15, 2017
Hugh Likes Comics Top 5 of 2016
The year is finally over, so here is my top comics picks for this year, in no particular order. Not all of these comics started their runs in 2016, but all of them were read and enjoyed by me in the last twelve months.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Ryan North and Erika Henderson continue to kill it with their solo series focused on Marvel’s favorite C-List powerhouse. In addition to the stand alone “Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe,” they also continued to do outstanding work in her ongoing series. Flouting Super-Hero comics conventions, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a rich blend of smarts, silliness, and action that casts a satyrical lens on The Marvel Universe. Squirrel Girl beats her foes with a combination of empathy, inner strength, and even her computer science knowledge. Plus, they did a crossover with Howard The Duck that included Kraven the Hunter driving around in a panel van with a picture of himself on the side. So there’s that.
W-Gene Luan Yang
Set in Shanghai with an all-Chinese cast, this book is something truly new from DC. Yang is taking a risk and delving deep into the superhero genre. By taking traditionally American iconography and placing it in modern China, he brings a freshness to plot elements which can feel a bit stale elsewhere. Young Kong Kenan’s struggle with heroism and authority follows familiar beats, but has new life. Bogdanovic’s art and designs are likewise familiar and new in ways that invite the reader. The first arc just finished, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
The Wicked + The Divine
The Wicked + The Divine also didn’t begin its run in 2016, but that is the year I finally picked it up. I am a huge fan of Gillen and McKelvie, so this was a no-brainer. The story of twelve teenagers elevated to godhood for two years, it explores the dynamics of youth, pop culture, and religion in intriguing ways that only these two could come up with. This book is an emotional roller-coaster; by turns shocking, funny, and heart-breaking. Gillen and McKelvie continue to work in perfect harmony as they discuss the dynamics of power, celebrity, and exploitation.
Power Man and Iron Fist
This is a truly great, modern street-level superhero comic. Power Man and Iron Fist threads that tiny needle of including years of backstory without getting bogged down in little details. It manages to include a cast of D-list bronze age gangsters and not only keeps modern readers interested, but evokes empathy. It examines what it would really be like to struggle at the bottom in a world like Marvel’s New York, where aliens and magic are commonplace. Walker’s exploration of the idea of street-level magic is both charming and chilling. Greene’s art is well-matched, and he even turns Luke Cage into a fashion plate.
Lake of Fire
Something a bit different to close out this list, “Lake of Fire” is one of those pure, elegant speculative fiction stories that I love. Set during the Crusades, it focuses on how pre-enlightenment Europeans might react to an alien invasion. It is essential knights vs. zenomorphs, but the execution is well-thought out and historically detailed. Fairbairn and Smith take an action-movie concept and expand it into a living, breathing world.
January 13, 2017
Heartless: The Parasol Protectorate, Book Four
Written by Gail Carriger
Narrated by Emily Gray
Although I am not big on Romance, I’ve had a soft spot for Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series for a long time. It might have to do with her delightful sense of humor, or the richly detailed world of her supernatural Victorian London. Whatever the case, I’ve been savoring the series, and I recently devoured the fourth entry, for the first time in audio.
Alexia Maccon, Soulless, Lady of Woolsey, and Mujah to Queen Victoria, is never one to let little details interfere when she sets on a course of action. So when a ghost gives her a cryptic warning of a plot against the Queen, she isn’t going to let a little thing like being eight months pregnant stand in her way. Scheming scientists, maladjusted werewolves, and zombie porcupines aren’t going to have much of a chance, either.
Carriger does it again with her fast paced comic misadventures in Victorian supernatural society. Her grasp of character and timing is once again on display as she navigates Alexia through mystery, society expectations and steampunk hi-jinx.
Emily Gray’s performance is spot on, and deftly juggles the wide-ranging accents and character foibles of the large cast. Her narration is a perfect balance of high society wit and action-comedy timing.
While this isn’t the best place to jump on to the Parasol Protectorate series, Heartless is a worthy entry. I heartily recommend readers pick up this one, or work their way up to it. You can find it on Audible, in a variety of formats on Amazon, or of course at your local bookstore.
January 12, 2017
Join the full Chrononauts crew as well look at 1934’s “Maniac!”
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And click HERE to watch the film on Youtube!
This podcast was originally posted at Skinner.FM on January 11, 2017.
January 9, 2017
The Unstoppable Wasp #1
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Drawn by Elsa Charretier
Colored by Megan Wilson
Published by Marvel Comics
I have never been a fan of The Wasp. Originally created by Lee and Kirby as a sidekick/love interest for Ant-Man in the ’60’s, I always thought of her as emblematic of the problems that plagued female characters in that era. She was a hanger on, a love-struck fool always in need of rescue, whose powers were weaker and less awesome than her male peers. As time when on, Marvel addressed these tropes and even turned fellow Marvel damsels Jean Grey and Sue Storm into powerful badasses in their own right. But Wasp always seemed trapped in her roots. Even when her role was expanded and she led the Avengers, she was still ‘the girl.’ A fashion designer and socialite, she never really escaped the gender expectations placed on her by male writers.
Which is exactly why The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is such a breath of fresh air. The book stars Nadia Pym, teenage genius, escapee from a Russian super-soldier program, and long-lost daughter of original Ant-Man Hank Pym, because comics. Having studied her father’s work, she has come to America to live the life she never could before. But the thing about Nadia, even more than her intelligence, is her joyfulness. This is the exact antithesis of a grim and gritty superhero punch-up. The Wasp sparkles with light and energy. Nadia, despite her terrible upbringing, isn’t a brooder. She wants to make friends with everyone she meets. She wants to have adventures. She wants to dance with giant robots. This comic is fun, and beautiful and smart. It fits in right along with titles like Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel. (Who guest stars in this issue.)
Written by “Princeless” creator Jeremy Whitley, The Unstoppable Wasp is a delight. It carries over the positive messaging from his creator-owned work and sets its sights on a very important goal: encouraging girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There is even an interview with paleontologist Rachel Silverstein and and PhD Chemistry student Marina Chanidou in the back in lieu of a letters column. The script never gets bogged down in its message, and remains fun and engaging throughout.
Elsa Charretier’s drawing is similarly great, with kinetic, detailed panels and clever layouts. One of the things I love in particular is how she draws Nadia. She’s always moving, practically bouncing from frame to frame, and she’s always, always smiling. She is assisted by Megan Wilson’s bright, sunny palette, which contrasts The Wasp’s black and red suit with light, vibrant colors. This is not a world of shadows, and the coloring does a lot of legwork establishing tone.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is a great start to another fun, engaging, and smart Marvel book. If you love comics, pick it up. And be sure to share it with any budding young lady adventure scientists in your life.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is available from Comixology or at your local comics shop.
January 8, 2017
Hugh Likes Podcasts 2016, Alice isn't dead, Angela Webber, Blythe Haynes, Gosh Darn Fiasco, Jared Axelrod, K T Bryski, Kevin Sonney, Richard Malena, Six Stories Told At Night, The Hidden Almanac, The Voice of Free Planet X, Top 5, Ursula Vernon Leave a comment
Hugh Likes Podcasts: 2016 Top 5
In no particular order, here are my five favorite narrative podcasts of 2016. I listened to a lot this year, and there seemed to be too much to really judge, but these five stood out as gems in the podosphere.
Six Stories Told at Night
K T Bryski and Blythe Haynes are a dynamic duo of podcast fiction. The writer/narrator pair have worked together on a variety of projects, from the audiobook Heartstealer to the Nightvale-esque Coxwood History Fun Cast. I think this is the apex of their collaboration. A six episode podcast about Canadian Folklore, “Six Stories” blurs the line between myth and reality, story and storyteller, and history and the present. It is an amazing work, commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council.
A live-roleplay podcast of Bully Pulpit’s Fiasco which started in 2015, this is a mix of roleplaying and improv that works just right for podcast. The episodes are a bit on the long side, with each running at least an hour and often running longer, but hosts Angela Webber and Richard Malena, as well as their recurring guests, are always surprising and hilarious. The playsets are well chosen, and lots of fun. Where else are you going to hear about secret muppets and Antarctic rock bands? No place, that’s where.
Alice Isn’t Dead
From the creators of “Welcome to Night Vale,” Alice isn’t dead is a one-woman audio drama about the long, strange gaps of rural America, the things that inhabit them, and what, precisely, makes us human. The narrator’s search for her presumed-dead wife, and the strange and terrible things she finds along the way are the stuff of American nightmare, compelling and frightening.
The Hidden Almanac
A micro-cast written by author and illustrator Ursula Vernon and produced by her husband Kevin Sonney, The Hidden Almanac is a look into the hagiography and domestic garden life of a world not our own. But more precisely, it is the adventures of the long suffering Rev. Mord and his saintly and drunken companion, Pastor Drom. This year they braved the dangers of a library catacomb, fought off an inter-dimensional invasion, and covered a fraught local judiciary election between a revenant used car salesman and a charismatic chicken. Five minutes a week shouldn’t be this effective, but it is.
The Voice of Free Planet X
Jared Axelrod continued their run on this highly polished spec-fictional version of This American Life by visiting a city with amnesia, covering a funeral for a pulp heroine, and helping to preside over a rap battle for the fate of the Earth. Jared is an incandescent wit and talent, and I’m just glad they’re on our side.
January 4, 2017
It’s a new year! The champagne has been toasted, friends have returned home, and the holiday decorations have been put away for another year. The only thing left to do is report back on my Page of Awesome results for 2016.
The Page of Awesome is the space in my notebook, and the widget on this page, where I keep track of my tasks for the year. And without further hedging, here are my totals:
Blog Posts: 52
Short Story Submissions: 28
Patreon Posts: 17
Agent Submissions: 0
Self-published eBooks: 0
Compared to 2015, I stayed even on Podcasts. I had hoped to do better last year, but there were some lengthy absences on The Way of the Buffalo. Some of these issues were technical, others were personal, and some were just me not putting enough time in the chair or prioritizing other projects. The good news is that I finally finished The Dark Wife, and am currently remastering it to submit to ACX. More on my podcast plans for this year below.
I fell way short of my expectations on blogging and reviews last year. Part of this shortfall came from bookkeeping. I reblogged a lot of podcast content here to create a new main podcast feed, but did not count these as new blog posts. I want to do more reviews and personal writing in 2017.
I also stayed about even with fiction submissions, and even had a few pieces published in 2016! Last year saw the publication of my story “A Woman of the Old School” in Andromeda Spaceways, after a delay due to technical issues. I also had a pair of pieces published on The Melting Potcast. The crew in the Disaster Kitchen are always a delight to write for, and I plan to continue writing for them in 2017.
My Patreon post count was lower than I would like, but I didn’t focus on Patreon as a major outlet or revenue stream last year, so I’m not particularly worried about it.
The last portions are where I really fell down in 2016. I didn’t finish any major editing projects last year. That means I didn’t send anything out to agents, and I didn’t self-publish anything, either. While a writing career isn’t a race, I know that editing is probably my biggest weakness. I need to focus on getting my butt in the chair and polishing manuscripts rather than chasing the latest shiny short story idea.
But 2016 is over! It’s dead! Time to move on!
So with the Page of Awesome reset to zero, what are my plans for 2017?
First of all, after finishing the last round of short fiction for The Way of the Buffalo, The podcast will be going on an indefinite hiatus. It may come back later in the year, or a new interview podcast may rise to replace it. I have some compelling ideas about what I want to do next with the format, but first, I need to focus on other projects. The City is going to get an audiobook edition in 2017, either on this page or through ACX. Maybe both. After that, who knows? I’ve been considering a gaming microcast, but the project might work better as a vlog.
I’d like to continue blogging as well, but it might take a backseat to other projects this year. I’ve set a simple goal of two blog posts a week, and will add more if time and workflow allows.
This year I’m going to up my game and get serious on story submissions. I recently joined a new writers group that is a mix of experienced and new writers, and their feedback has given me a lot more confidence in my editing. I’d like to double my output over the last two years.
Patrons will hopefully see a steady stream of early podcast episodes, and I will be releasing a brand-new Freelance Hunters novel chapter by chapter in my Patreon feed. I don’t think Patreon is a great model for growing an audience, but I hope to pull in more Patrons this year through marketing elsewhere.
One of those places is Wattpad! In late 2016 I started using Wattpad to rerelease The City, and Freelance Hunters shorts. I’m going to use the platform to try and grow an audience with more 140 Characters stories this year.
Those stories will also get eBook and maybe even print releases. I always start the year with ambitious plans for self-publishing, and I invariably fall flat due to my inexperience. This year I will reach out to experts, editors, and cover designers to make my work shine and make sure it gets out the door.
I also have some projects that I’m keeping close to the vest, but will hopefully see an agent’s inbox by the end of the year. I am doing prep work for second-round rewrites on a novella I began at the Smoky Writers retreat in 2016. I earnestly believe in the project, a YA Fantasy series set in later days of a crumbling empire. I’ll be blogging more about it as the year goes on.
And that about covers my look back at 2016 and the year ahead. Professionally, at least. Art and entertainment are torches in the night, and the world looks to be headed into a dark place in 2017. Keep safe, and keep making things.