Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Fake" Geek Girls and Cosplay Madness

Recently, the SyFy Channel (and I cannot tell you how much it pains me to type "SyFy" and not "SciFi") began airing a program called Heroes of CosPlay. It is your basic reality-show programming, but aimed at the "geek" target audience. When I first heard about the program, I thought it might be pretty cool. It looked more like a showcase of costuming talent than the typical competition show, as it follows a select group of cosplayers through the comic-convention circuit as they compete for recognition and prize money. Fair enough.

Now while I doubt anybody reading a blog site called Citizen of Oa needs to be told this, just in case, cosplay is the hobby of dressing up as a favorite character from fiction or comic books or films or videogames, preferably as accurately as possible, and attending a comic convention such as the famous San Diego Comic-Con to show off your character creation skills. I have a lot of friends who cosplay.  I myself have been known to cosplay as Hagrid from the Harry Potter books and as Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, and not just at Halloween. I've received grief from friends on FaceBook who reprimanded me for "liking" some of my friends' costumes because, quite frankly, some of my friends are attractive younger women who do some very skimpy, very sexy costumes. They are also amazingly creative people, who are funny, sweet, passionate about their hobby and wicked talented at sewing and fabricating the most insanely detailed props and costume pieces you can imagine. It takes a tremendous amount of talent to make a realistic real-life interpretation of a cartoon drawing come alive, and it takes serious acting chops to then become that character for a day on the convention floor. I'm proud to know 'em and even prouder that they consider me a friend.

And none of that good stuff appears in Heroes of CosPlay.

Instead, the show makes many of the cosplayers out to be naive, bitchy, obsessives who do nothing but snark at each other behind their respective backs.  I hate it. Right now there are shaping up to be two competing camps or philosophies among cosplayers.  The camp I'm in says that if you love a character and want to dress up as that character, go for it.  If you want to be a 300-lb Superman, you should. There are always going be people who will make fun of you, but frankly, if you're a 300-lb Superman fan, you are probably pretty used to that already. I developed a very thick skin a long, long time ago. The other camp, as espoused by the so-called "Ambassador of Cosplay" on the show, a woman named Yaya Han, says that you should be as accurate as possible.  Meaning you should only cosplay as characters you can physically pull off.  I guess that means that according to the Ambassador, people of color shouldn't try to be Batman, tall people shouldn't try to be Tyrion Lannister, and ugly and fat people in general should just stay home and leave the dress-up to the beautiful people.  Ms. Han is a talented costumiere and fabricator, but the show makes her out to be a pretty nasty human being. Another featured cosplayer, Victoria, is an acquaintance of mine through the Replica Prop Forum, a website devoted to costume fabricators, propmakers, and collectors. She is not the loony bitch that the show is making her out to be -- it seems that the only footage they have of Victoria is her whining or bitching or threatening her husband/fabricating partner -- and I know for a fact that she is nothing like that.  In typical reality show fashion, they have selected the worst moments of an individual's camera time in order to make the show "interesting." I hope they've done the same with Yaya Han and that she's a lot nicer than she appears to be.

One cosplayer who is not on the show is a young woman named Jessica Nigri. I also know Jessica through the Replica Prop Forum. She's brilliant. She has taken her costuming skills and is in the process of making a successful career out of them. She got her big break by re-creating the costume of the lead character in a videogame called Lollipop Chainsaw -- a quirky Japanese game about a zombie-fighting cheerleader -- and doing such a great job of it that the videogame company hired her as the game's spokesmodel. She has since done the same by creating female versions of characters in other games ranging from Pokemon to Assassin's Creed. Jessica's thing, though, is that her costumes are always pretty sexy. A lot of time was spent on Jessica this week on Heroes as Yaya Han went on and on over how Jessica had taken an unfortunate path, how that wasn't really cosplay, yadda yadda yadda, as part of Yaya's attempt to win back one of her proteges from the Dark Side of Sexy Cosplay.

It's all crap. One newcomer to the hobby was appalled on the show when she expressed the opinion that I shared above, namely that anybody should be able to celebrate whatever characters they love, and was universally shot down by the rest of the group for that opinion.  Which brings me to the "fake" geek girls portion of the program.

More and more women are being confronted and actually abused at comic conventions because they are deemed to be too attractive to be genuine geeks. Total strangers will confront an attractive cosplayer and grill them on the minutiae of their character in the hope of somehow revealing them as, I don't know, an infiltrator of some kind from the Cool Kids camp. I hate it. We geeks should know better and we should behave better towards one another. Especially now that geeks ARE the cool kids!!! We should be celebrating having found one another, and the fact that we all are so passionate about the things that we love that for years caused others to mock us for being, well, geeks.

So be warned. The next time I'm at a con, and I see someone trying to corner and bully some girl about whether or not she is a "true geek" (whatever the hell that is,) or be rude to her because she chose a sexy costume, or try to abuse somebody of any gender who is dressing as a character for whom they do not have, shall we say, the ideal body type, I'm going to step in. Because I may be dressed as Uncle Fester, but I am "6 foot 5 and I eat punks like you for breakfast" as John Cleese once said.  We geeks spent too much time being bullied to turn into bullies ourselves, and we should never allow it to happen in our presence.  Ever.  Especially at what is supposed to be a celebration of all that we hold dear.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Boys & Their Toys

For about twenty years, now, I've been collecting toys. I have mostly concentrated on toys related to the comics superhero Green Lantern and the other heroes at DC Comics. I've always been a Batman/Superman guy more than a Spider-Man/X-Men guy.  But there has been other stuff along the way that caught my eye (and my wallet.) Actually, now that I think about it, it was a Marvel toy that got me into the hobby, not a DC toy. I was shopping for my newborn daughter and on a whim took a turn down the action figure aisle. I spotted a Green Goblin toy (he's one of Spider-Man's arch-enemies) that was a perfect rendering in 3-D of how Gil Kane drew the character in the late 1960's. Gil Kane was also the definitive artist on Green Lantern and is far and away my favorite comics artist. So I picked it up. Later on I learned that it was a bit of a rare find. Knowing nothing about the hobby, as I did then, I had no idea that villain figures and female figures are few and far between -- the thinking is that moms want to buy their kids the hero, and that boys don't buy female figures at all. So finding an actual bad guy on the shelf was second only to finding Spidey's girlfriend. I took the Goblin home, opened it up, and played around with it. (I've always been an opener of my toys, not one of the guys who keeps everything mint in its original packaging. The only unopened toys I have are the ones that I have no place to display yet!)

The hobby of collecting action figures has changed tremendously over the intervening years, though, and not, I think, for the better. Back then the Internet was a younger place and message boards for toy collectors were primarily used to stay informed about what was out there. It was the era of the "toy run" -- going out to make the rounds of Target, Hill's, K-Mart, Toys 'r' Us, etc., and seeing what was new on the shelves. There were few internet merchants selling toys, and there was a bit of an addiction to the thrill of the hunt -- hoping that today was the day I'd find the rare one-per-case villain or villainess figure.  I belonged to a couple of message boards linking like-minded collectors and we often helped each other out, trading figures and sharing info on who had what. It was tremendous fun. Toys were cheap -- the little 4" and 5" figures were around $5 and the larger 6" figures with more articulation and accessories were $9-$10.

Enter eBay. The scalpers who had already made a mess of collecting Hot Wheels tipped to the fact that there was money to maybe be made off of action figures.  They started lining up outside the toy departments the moment the store opened, bribed clerks to hide stuff for them or bring new unopened cases of toys out of the back, and pretty soon any hope dried up completely of the average collector walking into a store on his lunch hour and finding a hot toy. I have tried to never buy anything off of eBay, but I'm in the minority and to this day, the toy scalpers flourish there.  And in the stores, toys have increased tremendously in price. Those $5 Star Wars figures are now $10-$14. The 6" figures -- when anyone even bothers to manufacture them -- run $21-$27. Larger special toys run even more; DC last year made a $50 Mr. Freeze and a Darkseid figure that cost $90.

It's insane.

I think the passion, the collector's fire feels like it’s been burning lower and lower. I just don’t have it for the hobby like I did, and as the prices are getting higher and higher, I find myself getting closer and closer to the Fixed Income Portion of My Life. (And yet, the Super Alloy Green Lantern figure, $270.00 or not, still lights a spark, so who knows?)

Too much stuff was in the basement, and I recently took steps to do something about it. All my Star Wars stuff that remained in its packaging — not because I keep it that way, but simply because I never got around to opening the toys and never had the space to display them; as I mentioned, I AM an opener — all of my unopened SW stuff, about 300 pieces, is going to the 501st Legion this week. They are a charity group that dresses up in screen-accurate Star Wars costumes and visit children in the hospital. Let my stuff go out with them and be in the hands of a kid somewhere. The other stuff that was never opened is going to either Toys for Tots or a local charity auction, and again, if something can give somebody some pleasure and do some good, well, that’s way better than having it in my basement.

I’ll probably hang on to my Shrine of Oa -- all my Green Lantern toys -- for a while yet. I recently capped it off with the latest DC Collectibles green Power Battery as a centerpiece, and I want to keep my GL stuff for a while yet. I’m also hanging on to my Justice League Unlimited collection — pretty much complete except for Holiday Hal Jordan (a rare Green Lantern figure, although I have a pretty good copy of him in The Shrine) because my daughter wants it, and it was a favorite to collect.  All the prominent DC characters were made in cartoon style, and they are awesome.  I will also keep some favorite DC characters from the Mattel "DC Universe" line — usually GL-related but not always; Hawkman and Hawkgirl are fine, fine figures — so those toys will probably stick around for a while too. But I think I’m getting to the point where I’m feeling like I might be done.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Puzzle Protest (or maybe "Distraction Dissatisfaction?")

I really look forward to the Sunday morning puzzle on NPR's Weekend Edition, or at least, I used to. The puzzles are all created by the puzzle editor of the New York Times, Will Shortz, and they're usually pretty creative and always interesting. But one thing has been getting worse and worse and worse lately, and that is a seeming horror of any empty or "dead" air whatsoever. I promise you, NPR (and Will) it's absolutely OK with us listeners if you give the winner (and us!) JUST A MOMENT TO THINK ABOUT THE BLOODY ANSWER BEFORE WILL SHORTZ  FEEDS IT TO THEM!!!

Almost nobody can process the puzzle question so quickly that they are able to immediately spit out the answer, and THAT'S OK! Today's name-anagram puzzle was a perfect example, and it was a fairly complicated concept to bend one's mind around: Will would give two names, a first name and a last name. The last name associated with the first was also an anagram of the first name associated with the last. Got it?  For example, if Will said, "Yogi (a fictional character)" and "McIntyre", the answer would be "Yogi BEAR and REBA McIntyre." Another example: "Bob and Carter, both performers," the answer would be "Bob DYLAN and LYNDA Carter." Not easy, right? But then the Sunday puzzle shouldn't be; lord knows the crossword in the Sunday paper isn't!

Well, today, before the player had quite processed the rules, Will was feeding him the answer on the proverbial silver platter, and it happened all through the game. At the end when the host complimented the player on his puzzle skills, he was, well, puzzled by her enthusiasm, because apart from two instances when he genuinely solved the puzzle on his own, he was handed the answer. ("He's a very famous folksinger, and the other, Carter, she played Wonder Woman, yes, Lynda with a 'Y'." For crying out loud! Give me just a second, can't ya!?!)

And this wasn't just an issue for today's edition. It has been getting worse over the past weeks and months, to the point where now there is scarcely any pause at all between the asking of the question and the force-feeding of the answer. It sucks all the fun right out of the whole concept of a Sunday puzzle.

So, to you, NPR: If the puzzle needs to be shorter in order to give a moment or two for the player to actually solve it, so be it. But as it stands now, more and more the puzzle segment is a showcase for Will Shortz to be the smartest guy in the room, and NOT the equivalent of the Sunday crossword it was originally intended to be. For today's entry, Will might just as well have come on the air and said, "Did you know that the letters of Jay LENO's last name are the same as NOEL Coward's first name?"

It was about that interesting, and about as much fun to play.