Week in Geek 3.27.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

You managed to survive without a Week in Geek on 3.20.15 and you’re back? My hats off to you, readers!

Gaming Helps

For this week, i had an opportunity to speak with Deaths Crowbar. No, it’s not a metal band – it’s an individual.

Joshua Turner is the geeky gamer guy behind the Deaths Crowbar persona on his YouTube channel, Twitch, Twitter and elsewhere, creating and sharing videos and writing gaming news, reviews, podcasts and more. But beneath all of that is a young guy with a lot of heart, who seeks to fuse his love of gaming with a real desire to help people. In fact, if he had one superpower, he was quick to say it would be the power to heal others.

Deaths Crowbar

At the age of 12, Joshua was diagnosed with leukemia, and fought hard for four years to overcome it. He credits gaming for helping him cope with the ordeal, primarily in dealing with the depression and loneliness he experienced while undergoing treatment and all the stresses involved with his battle against cancer. On his YouTube channel, he has a series of videos called Cancer Stories, where he shares his experiences with various aspects of that part of his life.

“Gaming became a very important thing in my life during that time,” he says in one of those videos. “Because it was how I communicated with people.”

Although he’s a lifelong gamer, being in the hospital for weeks at a time meant he didn’t get to interact with friends or other people, and he discovered MMOs were a great way to do that. Speaking with Joshua, with his easy laugh and positive outlook, you wouldn’t think he’d gone through such extremely difficult challenges in his life. You can tell through his videos and the other work that he does how important it is for him to do what he can to bring that hope and optimism to others, too.

In that regard, a video he posted just yesterday is geared towards helping his uncle, an important figure in his life who introduced him to gaming when he was a child. His uncle has some serious health problems, and Joshua is doing what he can to help by reaching out to people through his YouTube channel. There is a GoFundMe venture to raise money for a procedure he needs as soon as possible, and Joshua has also pledged on his own to reward a donor with a Nintendo gaming package worth hundreds of dollars.

i came across this impressive 18 year old from Texarkana, Arkansas while looking for inspirado in creating custom Funko Pop vinyl figures. In his tutorial video for doing that, he created a Nightcrawler figure, which he later told me was his first attempt at doing so as well as being his most viewed video to date. It was also one of his favorite videos to make, because he enjoys actually creating things. As it turns out, there’s very few channels out there with that particular sort of content, and a lot of viewers discover his channel through that video.

As a sidenote, he received some feedback that the video might be too long, clocking in a just over 35 minutes. But he followed up by checking the stats on it which showed that 88 percent of viewers watched the whole thing straight through to the end. <editor’s note: take that, people who think videos – and blogs – shouldn’t be too long!>

Just recently, Deaths Crowbar reached some important milestones in subscribers and partnerships. But i’ll let him tell you all about that:

“I just make videos to have fun and stuff,” he said humbly about his work so far. “It’s nice that people are liking them.”

The origin of the name Deaths Crowbar is first question most people ask Joshua. In one of his earlier videos he talks about how he wanted to come up with a unique name because there’s a lot of Joshua Turners in the world.

“When I played the original Halo game, instead of just wanting to go with ‘Joshua’ or whatever, I was trying to go for something that was interesting and unique,” he recalled of coming up with his moniker. “My dad works with tools a lot, so I went with Crowbar. When I got XBox 360 and Xbox Live, Crowbar was taken. So I thought, let’s add a possessive or an adjective here, and figure out what we can do to make this interesting.

“It actually goes well with the ‘You were killed by…Deaths Crowbar’,” he said with a laugh. “Not a regular crowbar. Deaths Crowbar.”

Joshua has been making YouTube videos for a few years now, and in earlier days he had a different channel that he said was more sporadic in terms of both content and frequency. He decided to get more focused though, and keep the content centered on primarily gaming, so he launched the Deaths Crowbar channel about two years ago to do just that.

The response from friends and family to Joshua’s work has been a mixed bag. There’s some skepticism, but he notes that his dad in particular has been supportive especially since he’s started traveling to conventions and speaking on panels and with people in the gaming industry. A few people have some reservations, until he starts making money from his efforts. For other friends, they look to him for inspiration and advice on starting their own YouTube channels.

“What I’ve noticed when looking at other people’s success is that ‘so-and-so noticed them, and then…’,” he said of other YouTube success stories, noting that it takes perseverance and hard work.

In that regard, Joshua has already experienced some steps forward through a recent partnership with Fullscreen Inc.

“Fullscreen is a multichannel network,” he said of his newest venture. “They offer tools and tips, and help with things like copyright issues. They help you work with other people more easily. You get a manager who helps you with tips on how to improve.

“They try and help you grow your channel, and so far it’s pretty much just been me, so something to help me along will be nice.”

For the nuts-and-bolts of his videos, Joshua studied other YouTubers and what he noticed is that a lot of videos are highly edited and/or scripted. For his videos, which often feature continuous footage, he wanted them to feel like he’s engaging directly with the viewer, talking “through heart and head.” Going forward, he might utilize some editing techniques based on advice he’s gotten. In particular, adding custom images and similar content can help videos show up in the sidebars for related videos, for example.

“You need to interact with the people a good amount,” he said, in terms of building a community around his YouTube channel, outside of the content creation itself. “It’s also good to have people who will interact with each other, who are in a way loyal to your fanbase.

“Networking is a big, big deal,” he said.

In addition to maintaining his YouTube channel and posting regular content, Joshua is also a straight-A college student currently taking care of the general requirements at the local branch of the University of Arkansas. He’s also one of the top writers and does public relations for Christian Gamer, where he is often a voice advocating for more open-mindedness from the community there.

“There’s issues with a lot of games, yes,” he said of the perspective of approaching gaming from a christian viewpoint. “There’s some I really don’t agree with…but I’m one of the people who’s different than a lot of the people who come in, in such that I advocate for certain games, whereas a lot of them will gripe about it.”

As an interviewer himself, he’s had several opportunities to speak with gaming industry professionals. Most memorably, he was able to speak with a developer of Neverwinter Online when that came out. That came about by simply sending a message to Cryptic Studios’ COO Craig Zinkievich and asking if he could send someone for a podcast Joshua was involved with, and at the time there’s wasn’t much press from bigger sites like IGN so it was a great opportunity.

For others interested in becoming a YouTuber, who might be hesitant for whatever reason, Joshua has some advice to share:

“Just grab a camera and try,” he said. “Really, it’s not as much about whether you can or can’t do it, or you’re shy or uncomfortable. I am not always the best with cameras and things like that…but eventually you get used to it. You get comfortable with it, and once you get that comfort zone, I think is where people start noticing and really want to watch you for your personality.”

Going forward, opportunities continue to open up for Joshua stemming from his YouTube channel and the work he does developing a concept called Gaming Helps. Although still in the planning stage, he hopes to grow this idea into a charitable organization that combines his love of gaming with a strong desire to help others. He also has some potential opportunities to become involved with game development as well, something he’s really excited about but can’t reveal details on just yet – so keep an eye on his channel for more news of that.

Almost all of Joshua’s videos feature his custom signoff, which is something he put thought into after noticing that other popular YouTubers typically have a signature intro or signoff themselves. In keeping with the spirit of speaking off the cuff, he went with whatever came off the top of his head which a friend told him was awesome and that he needed to keep.

And what better way to wrap up a talk with Deaths Crowbar than his signoff message, a statement i can fully stand behind myself:

“To all you nerds out there, and to all you gamers and all you geeks – keep doing what you do.”

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention!

Since my interview with Deaths Crowbar ran longer than I anticipated, i’ll be creating another post this weekend for some other geeky news, so be sure to check back for that.

If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you enjoy what you read at The Long Shot, please click follow at the top of the page and sign up for email subscriptions so you never miss a post.

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next week, and i’d love to see you here! In the mean time, check out what there is to know about Yuri’s Night World Space Party and how you can contribute to this global celebration of space exploration.

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Yuri’s Night World Space Party

In my post-Wizard World Cleveland write-up i mentioned one of the cooler things i saw was the booth from Great Lakes Science Center, which attracted me with their huge sign that read “Space Party.”

The display was advertising their contribution to a 15-year tradition aimed at increasing public interest in space exploration and inspiring the next generation of explorers.

Yuri Night

Over half a century ago, humankind sent our first representative beyond the borders of our planet Earth. Yuri Gagarin, piloting the Vostok 1 spacecraft, became the first human in space on April 12, 1961. NASA’s inaugural space shuttle launch took place 20 years later to the day, on April 12, 1981.

Details of the mission were kept secret by the Soviet government due to their embroiled Space Race with the U.S., and reactions here in America were a mixed bag of fears of increased military power and appreciation of the incredible accomplishment.

Vostok 1 - the spacecraft that carried Yuri Gagarin, Earth's first human in space

Vostok 1 – the spacecraft that carried Yuri Gagarin, Earth’s first human in space

Regardless of how world powers viewed the breakthrough mission, the idea of human spaceflight captured the fascination and imagination of the world whose inhabitants previously only saw people in space through science fiction entertainment.

Perhaps most the most telling and compelling of perspectives on how we can view exploration beyond our atmosphere comes from cosmonaut Gagarin’s reactions to his single orbit of Earth, of which he said:

Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty – not destroy it!”

These sentiments are echoed still today by those brave folks who explore, perhaps not the final frontier, but certainly the next one. For evidence of this, look no farther than the new documentary “Planetary” which features interviews with those who have followed in Yuri’s footsteps and traveled to space and back again.

“The really wonderful thing that happened to me when I was in space was this feeling of belonging to the entire universe,” recounts NASA astronaut Mae Jemison in the film.

Much as how travel beyond our hometowns, states, regions or national borders helps broaden our perspective and gain deeper understanding of our connectedness with others, viewing the planet we all live on drives that point home even more.

So to honor these milestones in space exploration, we have a party!

Yuri’s Night – often called the World Space Party – first launched in 2000, now has celebrations in close to 60 countries around the globe.

In Cleveland, Yuri’s Night Space Party is held at Great Lakes Science Center  – the perfect venue for an event aimed at fans of science fiction and fact, space aficionados and socialites alike at the home of NASA Glenn Visitor Center.

In 2014, the Plain Dealer touted Yuri’s Night as one of the 15 hottest parties of the year, and 2015 aims to deliver once again.

Featuring live music from Cleveland bands like Abby Normal and DJ Justin Nyce, the 21-and-over party should keep attendees dancing and having a great time celebrating the past, present and future of spaceflight with beer, wine and cider along with hors d’oeuvres included with ticket purchases (there’s a cash bar for cocktails as well).

New to Yuri’s Night in 2015 is a Solar Fire Light Show, and weather permitting, an outdoor deck party with additional live music including a special appearance by rocker/writer/biker/geek Michael McFarland. The Solar Fire Light Show promises a cosmic trip, and although i’m not sure exactly what this means, in my imagination i’m picturing a mashup of the ending from The Black Hole, ’60s psychedelic rock music videos and the boat ride from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Attendees are encouraged to participate in the fun, too, with a space-themed costume contest. If any readers of The Long Shot attend Yuri’s Night in Cleveland – or anywhere in the world for that matter – please share your photos! i’d love to see what sorts of costumes people wear to the World Space Party and share them here. Bonus imaginary points for Star Trek TOS attire.

Professional cosplayers will be happy to note that the Great Lakes Base post of the Rebel Legion – a Star Wars-based costuming fan club – will be on hand. In addition to building a community of like-minded cosplayers, this international group puts effort into charity events as well with their “Rebel For A Cause” program.

XTend Technologies from Broadview Heights has partnered with Critical Hit Games from Cleveland Heights to bring a Kinect and tabletop game lounge to Yuri’s Night, too.

What this all amounts to is that Yuri’s Night World Space Part at Great Lakes Science Center is set to be a majorly awesome event. There’s something for all tastes, from music and dancing to cosplay and gaming, and all under the banner of celebrating human scientific achievement.

In an era where private enterprises are launching spacecraft every week, talk of establishing colonies on Mars are a real possibility in the not-too-distant future and the job of Space Lawyer is a real thing, Yuri’s Night reminds us how far we’ve come in just a few short decades while creating excitement for where we’re headed.

General admission tickets for this event are still on sale now online, by phone at 216.621.2400 or in person at Great Lakes Science Center. The cost for admission is $55 in advance, or $70 at the door the night of the party April 11.

Great Lakes Science Center has parking available in their attached garage for $7, or you can summon a ride with the handy Uber app, like i did for Wizard World Cleveland in February.

For an even greater experience, VIP tickets are available exclusively through Living Social for $85. The VIP Lounge is accessible only through this deal, a special area overlooking the party that has an open bar and food from some of Cleveland’s best restaurants – which is impressive indeed since this foodie town has several world-renowned restaurants. The lounge will be open to VIP ticket holders from 7-11 p.m. and this special offer also grants general admission to the party.

If you attend Yuri’s Night in Cleveland, please keep an eye out for the pair of correspondents for The Long Shot who will be on hand to provide you with the best firsthand experience write-up following the party as well as taking lots of photos to share here. The News-Herald will also be creating a photo gallery to showcase their pics from the party.

If you’d like to share your experience of Yuri’s Night, no matter where in the world you celebrate, why not Take a Shot and write something up yourself? i’ll be more than happy to share it here on The Long Shot.

*     *     *     *     *

If you enjoy what you read at The Long Shot, please click follow at the top of the page and sign up for email subscriptions so you never miss a post.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks as always for reading!

Week in Geek 3.13.15 extra

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

i mentioned the other day some NE Ohio tech community news as a follow-up, and thanks to CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo graciously taking some time to speak with me over the weekend i have that to share with you here.

Women in technology

Stephanie is in her final semester at CWRU, graduating in just seven weeks. As a staunch advocate for women in technology and the computer science field, she recently presented her article “You Gotta Want It” that addresses the issue.

CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo works hard to help make computer accessible to women

CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo works hard to help make computer accessible to women

According to Bob Sopko from CWRU’s Blackstone Launchpad, “Stephanie has a massive impact on bringing the tech environment into reach of young ladies on campus.” The article showcases not only that impact, but also speaks to the broader issue of women in the technology field from her personal experience.

For Grace Hopper’s sake, how did I not know the other women in my classes? - From the article “You Gotta Want It.” (Grace Hopper was a pioneering American computer scientist and rear admiral in the Navy who made vital contributions to the field)

i particularly enjoyed the thread of humility that runs through Stephanie’s article. Woven into the story is her search for role models that young women can look to for guidance and inspiration, and through her efforts she becomes one herself, donating her time and assistance to help young women overcome some of the barriers or obstacles to a career in computer science.

Originally, Stephanie entered CWRU as a biomedical engineering student, with a desire to  advance the medical field. Although she’d done some computing in high school, the idea of pursuing it as a career isn’t something she’d considered or even known much about until getting to college. A introductory freshman course on the subject with a follow-up internship at a software company changed her mind though, and she changed her major to computer science.

“I had the support of my friends and the support of the department,” she said of her initial steps in the field, despite the small number of other women to look to for guidance. “But, it’s a big university, so it’s difficult to affect change at an institutional level.”

Her work in advocating for other women in computing, including her article, emerged after she was given advice to engage in projects to expand her portfolio beyond her degree and practical work in the industry.

“I just wanted to let other people know about the issue and realize some of the work that goes in to making it a reality – how much time goes into it, and why people choose to put their time into it,” she said. “I was hoping this article would articulate why I care about it. It’s made a lot of noise on campus, and gotten the support of some really great alumni.”

The response to her article, and the work she’s done, so far has gotten a great response. Hundreds of people have read and shared the article, and she said the response has been nothing but positive. Just this past weekend, she was asked to speak at a high school about women in technology, a last-minute request that presented her with 12 hours to come up with an hour-long speech – a challenge she was happy to accept.

In the article, she mentions her involvement with CWRU’s Hacker Society, a student organization for those “who are interested in digging into the innards of things; for those who use, produce, or support open-source software (or hardware); and for those who would like to learn more about open-source development,” according to their website.

hacker-society-small

A large part of the impetus for her advocacy was her position as the one of the only female members of the group, and the article’s title refers to her want to change that. For those not familiar with computer science, the term “hacker” can carry a negative connotation, like what you hear in the news about groups who break into secure networks or steal people’s identities. To programmers and coders though, those sorts of activities are far from the truth.

“A hack is more of when you open something up to see and learn more about how it works on the inside,” Stephanie explained. “To learn more about how computers work, or hacking something together quickly. We try to encourage people to throw together small projects so they can better understand how programming language works, or how some protocol works. It’s more hack, as in explore, than illegally break into something.”

Hack events, also called hackathons, like the recent HackCWRU, are held in cities all over the world, giving technologists the opportunity to engage in collaborative computer programming. If you’re interested in hackathons, finding one near you is as simple as doing an Internet search for “hackaton <insert city name>” and you’ll find all sorts of resources about them in your area.

“There’s just so much you can do with it,” Stephanie said of computing. “I think it’s hard to know exactly what you want to do at 18, and you’re thrown into college and told to pick a major. There’s so much you haven’t been exposed to yet. It’s hard to even know what you haven’t been exposed to yet. Computer science is just a huge field that’s really everywhere now. If you’re interested in one industry or another, there’s probably some way to apply computer science to it.

“It’s a lot more creative than people give it credit for. I’ve talked to some women that might be a little hesitant to jump into it at first because it’s very technical, but there’s a lot of creativity that goes into it as well, with problem-solving and individually with things like app design or web design. There’s an unlimitedness of what you can do, combined with the creativity that goes along with it as well.”

For any non-students who are interested in learning more about computer science, Stephanie said there has been an explosion of resources out there. Online, things like code.org and codecademy can start people on the path to learning code, but Stephanie said building a community is an important factor. Having other people to connect with and work with in person helps not only novice coders, but even for those with degrees in computer science or who already work in the field collaborating with peers is incredibly useful.

“Cleveland’s pretty lucky to have a larger community around the intro to programming – not just for women but for anyone that really wants to get involved,” Stephanie said. Groups like HER Ideas in Motion, for example, offer hands-on workshops for girls to learn from career professionals. And TECH CORPS is a society for K-12 students that gives access to technology skills, programs and resources.

“Eventually, you have to make the jump and the time to do projects, and it’s so much easier when you have an actual real person there,” she said of online self-instruction. “That’s why groups like those are so important.”

Later in the day after speaking with me, Stephanie was involved with an event through Tigress, an organization that offers entrepreneurship and creative arts programs to young women. In addition to groups like that, there are plenty of other resources in the Cleveland area to assist young people and women gain a stronger foundation in technology.

Coming up in April for example, Blackstone’s 2015 Future Women Leaders Program presents seminars, networking and skill-building sessions with professionals that provides early exposure to the finance and business sides of technology.

There’s also a Women’s Leadership Symposium at my alma mater Cleveland State University on April 15.

Thanks to Stephanie Hippo for her time, not just in speaking with me but her efforts to open the field of computer science for women. Her tireless work connecting with young women in high schools and at CWRU has expanded the Hacker Society, and she’s helped open the door for others to careers in computer science.

Women in comics

Perhaps serendipitously, the rush to finish up Week in Geek last Friday meant i couldn’t get to the last two comics on my digital pull list for the week, both of which star female superheroes.

Thor #6 cover by Russell Dauterman

Thor #6 cover by Russell Dauterman

First up, Thor #6 was another terrific installment in the series that in some ways is divisive for comics fans. This issue, we didn’t see much of the thunder god, instead getting some backstory on Dario Agger aka the Minotaur, so far the series’ primary antagonist.

We also follow the Odinson’s continuing quest to find out the identity of the woman wielding Mjolnir, and a conversation he has with Heimdall reveals that, far from being omniscient, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge sees only that which threatens the realm of Asgard. And since he cannot spy Thor from his post on the pathway to the seven realms, we know she truly is a hero.

Most of the book follows a glum Odinson around, and his melancholy musings reveal that his desire to learn more about Thor stem more from his wish to discover why he is no longer worthy to wield the hammer. A visit with cancer-stricken Jane Foster, being cared for by Asgardian doctors although refusing their magical healing, does little to alleviate Thor’s down-in-the-dumps mood, but he does cross her name off his list of potential suspects of the mighty Thor. The scene with Jane Foster i found particularly interesting though, because we see her looking frail from her illness and chemo treatments but standing beside the musclebound Odinson in his “I’m not worthy” depression actually makes him look all the weaker.

From there, he makes a visit to SHIELD agent Phil Coulson, perhaps showing off a bit of his un-worthiness by violently lashing out to get his way in a tantrum, and then we’re back to Agger in a meeting with Malekith the Accursed, dark elf and ruler of Svartelfheim. The two of them strike a bargain that allows Agger’s Roxxon Corporation exclusive mineral rights in Malekith’s realm until the end of time in exchange for a magical artifact.

Finally, four pages from the end, Thor shows up. We only get to see her for one page, but the full-page panel is well worth it to watch the Roxxon security team’s hail of bullets bounce off of her.

thor tickles

Then we’re whisked back to Asgard, where Odin the All-Father continues to be a chauvanistic a-hole to his wife, who thankfully smacks him upside the head and hints that his desire to get Mjolnir back might give him more than he bargained for.

Unfortunately, he’s already dispatched the Destroyer to take care of Thor and bring the hammer back to Asgard, leaving us with the animated armor’s arrival on the scene, turning its energy-blasting face towards the downed superheroine.

i’m really looking forward to the next issue of this book to see how Thor handles this threat.

A lot of the debate surrounding this development of the longstanding Thor character centers on whether or not Marvel should have just created a brand new character and left the traditional Thor alone.

i think it’s just wonderful, and to be honest i don’t really care who’s under the helmet. It could be just a random earthling and i’d be fine with that. In fact, if that were the case it would speak even more to the traditional Marvel model that anyone can be a hero that the readers can identify with.

So far in the book, i’ve really enjoyed the character’s inner dialogue, which sounds not at all Asgardian, contrasted with her spoken words sprinkled with the “thee’s” and “thou’s” we expect from Thor. Internally, too, we learn that she is sometimes uncertain of herself and her capabilities, but what she’s displayed so far is not only prowess that makes her worthy to wield the hammer but in many ways showed innovation that surprises even those familiar with Thor’s abilities – something Frigga alludes to when admonishing Odin’s obsession with getting the hammer back.

Giving this new person the mantle of an established character gives her instant credibility, not only with her peers in the superhero community but also with the audience. It is extremely difficult for creators to present brand new characters who stick around, so i think it was a fantastic idea to take Thor in this direction. Eventually, she may break away from it and establish her own heroic identity…but if this is the Thor we have for years to come i’ve got no problem with that.

From a marketing standpoint, Marvel has generated a ton of buzz for the character, and story-wise they’ve given a ton of potential for Thor as an individual as well as within the larger contextual universe. At a time when the most recognizable female superhero – Wonder Woman – still struggles to find a foothold in the medium after 73 years, i think it’s awesome that this change to the Thor has already given greater prominence to the character as a top tier superhero who is also drawing in new readers.

In all my life, i don’t think i’ve ever bought a Thor comic until this new series, and it’s become one of my favorite books, so i hope it continues indefinitely and i can’t wait to see what happens next.

Spider-Gwen #2 cover by Robbi Rodriguez

Spider-Gwen #2 cover by Robbi Rodriguez

After a brief recap of her debut issue, Spider-Gwen #2 picks up with the arachnoid hero coming to on a garbage scow after her battle with the Vulture. Some old-school Spidey ingenuity kept her from going splat.

An imaginary Spider-Ham helps her make her way back to the city, where she wakes up on the couch of her bandmates place, still with Peter Porker providing running commentary. Including this unusual character is a treat, since i actually kept up with his series in the 80’s and always considered it to be one of the more colorful oddities in Marvel’s library.

Some police drama followed, with a hard-nosed Detective Castle questioning an incarcerated Kingpin about his involvement with Spider-Woman. Since i only started following this character with issue #1, i’m not sure about some of its alternate-reality characters and i wonder if Det. Castle will eventually become this reality’s version of Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher. His threat to off Kingpin right there in the prison interrogation room leads me to believe he will. It was also surprising when Kingpin’s lawyer got on the phone and it turned out to be Matt Murdock, who in the regular Marvel Universe is his arch-enemy Daredevil.

On the next page, we see Murdock beating information out of the Vulture, and at this point i’m not sure what his position is – a hero or a criminal mastermind, or maybe something in between.

To be completely honest, this book hasn’t captured my imagination beyond the character’s slick visuals and the shake-up of familiar names, so i’m still on the fence about it. i’ve always enjoyed the Spider-Man character even though i haven’t collected much in the past. The ultimate version didn’t really interest me, so i thought this series would be a good jumping on point. Spider-Gwen has the same vibe that Spider-Man does at his core, a young hero with personal problems, and i dig the street-level crime world she’s involved with, so those are pluses. i’ll come back to this one for at least issue #3 and go from there. It’s not a terrible book by any stretch…but there’s something missing i can’t quite put my finger on just yet.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading this special extra edition of Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did. Since i’m pressed for time today, and based on the site’s stats i don’t see anyone really clicks on these links, i’ll just provide them without my usual commentary this week:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 20 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks as always for reading!

Week in Geek 3.13.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

This week, my duties as a reporter for The News-Herald kept me busy during the free time i typically put into following up on any of the multitude of story ideas which continue to accumulate on my desk. There was the big donkey basketball game at Cardinal High School in Middlefield, and a pair of profiles on National Historic Register buildings in Lake County for an upcoming special section.

Unfortunately i was unable to schedule time for a timely interview to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, but with any luck that will come together for next week.

On a side note, i was going to refer to my duties as a stringer, but that wasn’t quite accurate since i’m employed by the paper primarily as a copy editor, page designer and social media provocateur (that’s not what they call it, but it sounds more exciting that way). However, while looking into the term “stringer,” i discovered something called a superstringer that’s sort of the same thing except the writer is contracted with a news organization. It seems that with the collapse of the traditional newspaper model and the emergence of the Internet, stringers are fading away. But i am pleased to consider myself a superstringer, because it “super” is part of the word. Super cool.

Embracing life as a night owl means it's not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

Embracing life as a night owl means it’s not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

What free time i did enjoy this week came in the wee morning hours, which thanks to daylight savings time means the sun is coming up when my head is going down on the pillow. It’s a strange lifestyle that took some getting used to, coming to terms with not feeling lazy for sleeping in until noon because i was up all night at work.

So, what did i do with those precious hours, when there wasn’t anyone to Skype or speak with about Northeast Ohio tech and pop culture?

Discover new programs

Two new shows that break me away from my typical niche of serial killers and crime procedural dramas debuted recently.

The Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as Phil Miller, in a delightful comedy about life on earth after every one on the planet but him is gone due to a devastating virus. Phil, like anyone can imagine, spends a couple of years searching the United States for other survivors before returning home to Tucson in a bus laden with artifacts from across the nation.

Resigned to life as the solitary human left on the planet, he proceeds to indulge in increasingly outrageous behavior while gradually loosening his grip on reality. Just as he reaches his lowest point, spending his days lounging in his margarita pool, he decides there is no reason in continuing and plans to commit suicide. But just as he’s about to go through with it, he spots a distant plume of smoke rising into the Arizona sky and rushes to discover another survivor.

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

And it’s a woman!

Carol, played by Kristen Schaal, quickly gets under Phil’s skin though, and what Phil desperately hoped for sours as the two of them learn to deal with each other.

Both of the show’s stars have been making me laugh for years, and this vehicle is a great opportunity for Will Forte to shine. It would be a disaster if either of the two characters didn’t allow for some kind of audience connection, and thankfully they both pull off an excellent blend of evoking some sympathy while at the same time remaining human enough in the sense that their actions border on the bizarre, irritating each other but not viewers. And, of course, both Forte and Schaal are very funny people who portray their characters terrifically. With only each other to play off of, timing is everything and each accomplish the comedic beats with aplomb.

Post-apocalyptic comedy doesn’t get any better than The Last Man on Earth, which airs Sunday nights on Fox.

In a similar vein, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spins comedy out of a disturbing premise. This Netflix show, which in streaming program fashion dropped the entire first season at one time, stars Ellie Kemper as a former doomsday cult captive who decides to start a new life in NYC after being discovered and rescued.

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

i’m really only familiar with Kemper’s work as Erin on The Office, a show that for me was must-see for its entire run. As Kimmy Schmidt, she brings the same sort of awkward naiveté that she did as Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist, except amped up to the Nth degree. i’ve read that the Erin character was originally supposed to be more sarcastic, but was altered by the writers to fit Kemper’s real personality more.

In an interview she did years ago regarding her role on The Office, she described Erin as “an exaggerated version of myself.” After watching a few episodes of Kimmy Schmidt, i get the feeling this new show is the perfect opportunity for Kemper to ramp up her comedic skills by exaggerating her personality even more.

There’s something almost magical about Kimmy the character, with Kemper’s body language and physical comedy matching her verbal delivery to spin out some really funny laughs. The absurdist alchemy she performs on the show transformed me into an instant fan, and i’m happy to discover there’s at least a second season planned.

What a Wednesday!

With a lifetime of interest in comic books distilled these days down to a selective few titles from Marvel Comics, there’s typically only one book per week on my digital pull list.

This past Wednesday, March 11, i opened up the Marvel Comics app to find there were five comics to add to my library!

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

First up was Ant-Man #3. Longtime Long Shot readers will know that new books get three issues to make a fan of me, and Ant-Man did it in just one back when Ant-Man #1 came out in January. When it comes to comics, i have pretty particular tastes. Classic superheroes are my favorite by far, but i’m just not interested in the standard sorts of stories about monthly superhero slugfests, big event crossovers and whatever villain is threatening mankind/the universe/whatever.

i’m more interested in what these colorful characters do when they’re not punching bad guys or each other, and Ant-Man delivers those stories. In this book, current Ant-Man Scott Lang (to be portrayed by Paul Rudd in the upcoming MCU film) is more concerned with being a good father and making a decent living than foiling nefarious schemes, with dramatic beats more about ties with his daughter and ex-wife than life-and-death struggles against supervillains.

Written by Nick Spencer, who also penned Superior Foes of Spider-Man – one of my favorite books that was of course canceled – brings the same brand of offbeat humor and breaking tradition to Ant-Man while still acknowledging the character’s place in the greater Marvel Universe.

As you can see from the cover to issue #3, Ant-Man runs into trouble with Taskmaster, a great Marvel villain who shows up to give our tiny hero a hard time. Like in earlier issues, Ant-Man uses his powers of both shrinking and communicating with ants to some clever effects against the guy with the photographic reflexes, and also manages to crack wise by about something i’ve long wondered myself:

“Your costume? It doesn’t make any sense! It’s like ghost-pirate-Captain America clone. With a cape!”

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

This was a surprise to see under new comics for the week: Howard the Duck #1 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones with color artist Rico Renzi. A new title starring this talking duck who displays remarkable common sense in a world gone mad was not something i’d heard about, and i felt compelled to check it out.

Not surprisingly, this new series debut was funny and unusual, setting up Howard the Duck as a private investigator whose first case provides him and readers to an introduction into the Marvel Universe. His pursuit of the case brings him for a visit to She-Hulk’s law firm, which occupies space in the same building as Howard’s office, and from there he has a rooftop meeting with Spider-Man.

A one-page training montage that involves dodging laser pointers and somehow integrates D&D miniatures results in success when he and new mysterious new assistant, the tattooed Tara Tam, run afoul of Black Cat before the interstellar hunter shown in the book’s beginning pages comes back around to abduct the book’s star at the behest of The Collector – something those who stuck around for the after-credits scene from Guardians of the Galaxy will find familiar, along with an appearance by one of that team’s members on the final page that will presumably lead to an escape attempt in the next issue.

i’m curious to see where this series goes, and the first issue has me intrigued enough with the wonderfully colorful art, irreverent humor and nod to the character’s ties to Cleveland from the 1986 film that was set in my hometown. Also, i wonder if there’s potential for discussion at the Get Graphic! group at Cleveland Public Library since the series organizer Valentino Zullo mentioned his interest in intersections of character traits like gender, race and so forth. With Howard, we’re given an intersection of mankind and aquatic bird, a character traditionally used for satire and social commentary that i hope continues to do so in this new series.

Waugh!

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Another installment of cosmic ginchiness arrived with Silver Surfer #10, written by Dan Slott with art from the incomparable Mike and Laura Allred.

This issue wrapper up a storyline that had earthling Dawn Greenwood discover Surfer’s past as a herald of Galactus responsible for the World Eater’s destruction of countless planets and their inhabitants.

Packed with pathos, Surfer won the trust of a planet populated by the only survivors from world already consumed by Galactus who initially hated and feared the skyrider of the spaceways (with good reason) as well as a building on the humanity of Norrin Radd when, in the midst of trying to fend off Galactus, he admits to himself as much as to Dawn that he loves her.

Awww!

The emotional core of Silver Surfer has always been one of the things i’ve most enjoyed about this character, who despite vast cosmic power and awareness still cleaves to the humanity he gave up to save his own planet long ago. Despite everything he has seen and endured, and his basically limitless power, he still understands the importance of individuals in the cosmic scheme of things.

One of the other things i’ve most enjoyed about this book during its run is the development of the Surfer’s board (dubbed Toomie by Dawn) as a supporting character. The ways in which the writer and artist give Toomie a personality are creative and fun.

The end of this issue has a lot of tears and heartache, but hope as well – a hallmark of great Silver Surfer stories. In a clever twist of the paradigm Galactus shares with those who seek out planets for him to consume, the Surfer declares himself a herald once more. But this time, he is a herald of those who survived, and vows to find them a new planet.

i’m a little surprised that this book hasn’t included a letters page yet, since most of the other Marvel books, at least the ones i read, have a page or two at the end for reader interaction. i sincerely hope they are receiving astronomical amounts of great feedback on this series, because frankly its one of the all around best comics out there right now and it would be sad indeed if it were to get canceled.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

i’ve got to wrap things up prematurely today due to a work emergency, and i didn’t get a chance to go over a few other noteworthy things (and thereby clear a bit from the To Do List). i’ll also include the usual further reading links that no one ever clicks on because hey why not?

Please visit again soon (like, tomorrow) for a follow-up Week in Geek to cover two other books, a little gaming update and – thanks to a reply i just received – some NE Ohio news from the tech community.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back tomorrow, Saturday March 14, and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 3.6.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Talkin’ ‘Bout Comics

One of the best developments that came out of Wizard World Cleveland was a chance meeting with Valentino Zullo, who introduced himself before a panel discussion. We hit it off, both sharing an appreciation for similar sorts of comic books and the deeper contextual substance they present as literature.

Valentino currently studies at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at CWRU. Mentored and taught by Dr. Vera Camden at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, he credits her for inspiring his emerging work. Dr. Camden herself is part of a speaker series at the Cleveland Public Library, and will be part of a lecture there on March 14. Get Graphic! A Graphic Novel Speaker Series features scholars and comics industry professionals exploring the world of comic books. The lecture series is free to attend, and other guest speakers like Tony Isabella, Marc Sumerak and Brad Ricca are involved – definitely worth checking out.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal was the topic of discussion for the March 5 meeting

Ms. Marvel: No Normal was the topic of discussion for the March 5 meeting

In addition to the lecture series, Valentino hosts a bi-monthly discussion group at the Cleveland Public Library which uses comic book graphic novels as a springboard for conversations about social issues. On Thursday, March 5 a new series began called Women Warriors, which asks the question “what does it mean to be a female superhero?” As a big fan of female heroes myself, i was really looking forward to this meeting and was not disappointed by the experience.

“The whole group came about last March,” Valentino said of the Get Graphic! series. “I went to a book club at the library, when I was working in a domestic violence unit for my field placement when I was in social work school. One of the social workers was going to the library, and I said I’d go along. I asked if they ever do anything on comics. They said no, but they have this huge collection but they don’t have anyone who’s a specialist or who knows a lot about comics. So I jokingly said I could do it if they want. They said ‘do you really want to?’ So that’s how it happened. It was a joke at first; I wanted to do it, but I was kind of kidding. But they said if I wanted to, I totally could. That’s how it happened.”

The library does indeed have an impressive collection of comics and graphic novels in the 2nd floor literature section, and after the group i learned that they make every effort to stock enough of whatever book is the focus of the discussion, so there are plenty of copies to check out.

Valentino, who believes in literature, social justice and the superhero way, hopes to continue growing the group and bringing in more speakers. It’s really about creating a space for people to come and talk about comics, and more than that, to promote literacy in the community – a goal that comes from his efforts as a social worker.

Valentino Zullo hosts the Get Graphic! series at Cleveland Public Library. The March 5 meeting focused on the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Valentino Zullo hosts the Get Graphic! series at Cleveland Public Library. The March 5 meeting focused on the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal

“Even when people don’t show up (to the discussion group), all the books get checked out,” he said. “So it seems that people are reading the books, even if they’re not showing up to the discussion series.”

Organizing the discussions around social issues is important to Valentino, who said he’s interested in comics for lots of reasons simply as a fan of the genre as well. But his professional training led him to center the topics within a real-world context to explore things like feminism, racial diversity and equality, and the nature of evil.

He is happy to note that the groups have grown in attendance since the program started, with the lecture series typically seeing a larger number of people.

“I think it’s going well,” he said. “Yesterday during the introductions, a few people were very nice and thanked me. It seems like they’re learning a lot.”

The group of 12 on March 5 comprised men and women of all ages and cultural backgrounds, who gathered for the first installment of the Women Warriors series to discuss Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel: No Normal graphic novel. Valentino started the discussion with some research he did into the character. He went back to the well-established character’s roots in her original 1977 incarnation, noting that in the letters columns of those books, readers made the same sorts of comments we hear today about a lack of strong female heroes.

“Now, we’re seeing lots of female heroes emerging,” he told the group, pointing out the trend in comics of offering more than the typical white male superheroes. “Let’s see if they stick.”

What drives Valentino’s exploration of these issues in his interest in intersections. He explained that by looking at characters through intersections of characteristics like gender, class, race and sexuality, we can find solidarity in our differences. Using himself as an example, identifying as an Iranian gay man, he segued into the focused discussion on Ms. Marvel and the importance of this sort of book.

“Kamala is the perfect example of the new sort of comic that can teach us a lot about the world we live in,” he said of Kamala Khan, the Pakistani teenager who takes on the superhero identity of Ms. Marvel.

Although the discussion strayed organically from talking about No Normal specifically into a broader talk, the input from the group offered insightful perspectives on comics in general and the impact they’ve had for everyone gathered.

“A superhero is just a symbol for what we can wrought in our own lives,” said one of the women in the group.

When the conversation drifted away from the focus, Valentino was very good at bringing it back to the book, bringing the group’s attention to particular panels and story beats that he felt are important to the issue. He particularly liked how, early in the story, Kamala masterfully deconstructs the typical female superhero costume and how long hair, high heels and skin-tight spandex don’t really make for ideal crimefighting attire.

“It is sometimes difficult, because people really get inspired to talk about different things – which is a good thing in some ways,” he said of discussions come about. “But we don’t get that far into the book sometimes.

“In some ways it’s really good, that they’re finding ways to connect this to their every day lives, which is excellent. I do find sometimes that it’s difficult to keep on topic, but we’re usually within the scene.”

One of the things Valentino most enjoys about the discussions is what he learns from them, too. For example, the Evil and Empathy series evolved from an earlier discussion. After reading a comic about The Joker, one of the participants said that he kind of felt bad for the character, experiencing a bit of empathy in understanding what happened to him.

“They (group participants) make me think about these things in ways I haven’t before, which is really great,” Valentino said. “I just like the fact that these people are connecting after the discussion. People don’t want to just go, and they’ll sit around talking with other people from the group.

“I’ve learned that all these people have an investment in comics, and in social welfare, that I didn’t know about.”

Perhaps the overarching theme of the March 5 discussion centered on the diversity of comic book readers, who generally want to identify with the characters in the books. Several of the group’s female participants noted that they’d faced situations where people told them comics weren’t for girls. One of them, a black woman, in particular told about how when she was younger, she was drawn to Spider-Man. She enjoyed reading about not only his personal struggles, but the action in the book. She liked that, despite all his problems, he was still strong enough to do what was right and fight the bad guys.

This led the group into a broader talk about identifying with heroes, and most agreed that Marvel Comics does a great job of offering a wide range of characters that readers can relate to. In that regard, i think the Ms. Marvel book itself is a great example of this. Bearing the name of the publisher, i wonder if this is a subtle move on Marvel’s part to play into the idea that their characters have always represented the idea that the audience can put themselves in the heroes place.

Marvel has a long-standing tradition of humanizing their characters, giving them real-world problems outside of facing supervillainous threats. What i found very exciting through the discussion group was that the road goes both ways. What i mean is that, the same as how an adult black woman can relate to a teenaged white male hero like Spider-Man, it’s not a character’s race, gender, sexuality or other characteristic that draws readers in. Comic fans identify with the intangible qualities that superheroes represent, like selflessness and the strength to persevere against incredible adversity. That’s what allows for people like me, a middle-aged white man, to relate to a teenaged Pakistani girl like Ms. Marvel.

While doing my own research into the character, i came across the “I am Ms. Marvel” trend where readers take photos of themselves holding issue #1 up to their faces to show how they identify with the character. There’s a Twitter hashtag #iammsmarvel where a bunch of people shared their photos that’s definitely worth checking out.

Anyone can be Ms. Marvel

Anyone can be Ms. Marvel

If you enjoy superhero comics and want to meet up with others who share your passion, Cleveland Public Library’s Get Graphic! series is certainly worth a visit. The Women Warriors series will continue every other Thursday through May. Here’s the schedule and the books each meeting will focus on:

  • March 19: Katana: Soultaker by Ann Nocenti & Alex Sanchez
  • April 2: Batwoman: Hydrology by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
  • April 16: Storm: Make it Rain by Greg Pak, Victor Ibanez & Matteo Buffagni
  • May 7: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads by Paul Levitz & Guillem March
  • May 21: Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt & Adrian Alphona

Thanks to Valentino Zullo for introducing himself at Wizard World, and for hosting this great discussion series. It was great to meet new comics fans and talk about real issues through the context of superheroes. If you’re at any of the discussion groups, please feel free to say hi – i’d love to meet you!

While at the library…

Admittedly, i haven’t been to Cleveland Public Library in years, and that was only when i crept in so i could spy on the Captain America: Winter Soldier set from the stairwell while covering it for The Cleveland Stater. Prior to that, i couldn’t even guess when i was there last.

The building itself is phenomenal, an edifice to knowledge with wonderful architecture. While wandering the halls, i came across TechCentral in the Louis Stokes Wing so you know i had to check that out. This technology and learning center has a computer lab, cloud computing resources, 3D printing and a Tech Toybox for lending out iPads and laptops.

In addition to those resources, TechCentral offers many courses (for free i think) on all sorts of tech-related stuff like digital photography, 3D maker labs and coding, as well as various computer courses. They also have job search resources like workshops on improving your search, and resume and cover letter assistance.

TechCentral in Cleveland Public Library's Louis Stokes wing

TechCentral in Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes wing

Most assuredly i will be exploring more about this place for a future Week in Geek.

Another thing i passed in the hallway was this large display called “Before I Die.” It’s a global public art project that invites people to share their aspirations. According to the display at Cleveland Public Library, there are over 100 of these walls in more than 10 languages located in over 30 countries.

Cleveland Public Library's "Before I Die" global art installation

Cleveland Public Library’s “Before I Die” global art installation

All in all, a great geeky week and it all took place at Cleveland Public Library.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 13 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 2.27.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Sad news

i just learned that actor Leonard Nimoy passed away at age 83. It’s no secret that i am a HUGE Star Trek fan and that show has permeated my life in so many ways.

As you might expect, the Internet and social media are blowing up with condolences for his legendary actor.

i would like to dedicate this particular Week in Geek to Leonard Nimoy. As his most famous character, Mr. Spock was beloved by fans all over the world including me. This icon of the science fiction world has inspired me so much. The complex character has always appealed to me because of his vast intelligence and underlying humanity.

Over the years, i’ve watched a lot of interviews with Nimoy, and when he talks about the character and how much it developed over the years, you can tell it was more than just a pointy-eared alien to him, and fans too of course.

He imbued the character with so many layers of emotion and spirituality which is what elevated Mr. Spock to such an important cultural figure.

Just the other day, my aunt shared a video with me on how the famous Live Long and Prosper greeting came about. Rooted in Jewish lore, the well-known Vulcan greeting is actually a blessing in the Jewish faith. If i take away anything from news of his passing, it’s that i believe Leonard Nimoy truly exemplified the philosophy.

In our memories, Leonard Nimoy will always Live Long and Prosper.

Just so i don't feel as sad, i think he would have liked for us all to party and have a logical time tonight.

Just so i don’t feel as sad, i think he would have liked for us all to party and have a logical time tonight.

The wait is over

i don’t know a whole lot about the Cleveland art scene, but one figure i do know, who is as much a part of our Rust Belt landscape as the gritty backgrounds he lovingly crafts in his work is John Greiner – or simply John G as most folks know him.

My introduction to this phenomenal fellow goes back to the early aughts, when the now-defunct Tonight Magazine in Cleveland (helmed by the prolific Bob Ramsak) tasked me with interviewing John G for their inaugural edition.

Since then, John G has been on my radar, producing not only comic book work but commercial art all over Northeast Ohio. A couple of years ago, i first heard about work on a documentary focused on his life from the crew at Turnstyle Films. And today, Feb. 27, the film was released on Fandor and VHX.

draw hard poster

The documentary opens with several people who know and work with John G describing his demeanor and work ethic, interspersed with shots of the man in question at work in his studio, and i particularly like the opening shot. Seated at his art table, shot from behind, the focus subtly wavers between his body and the table itself – blurring the line between him and the work that he does. Right away, you get the sense of how dedicated he is to his art, and how much a part getting at who he is as a complete person is woven into that.

“This dude is for real,” one of the speakers says to describe meeting him for the first time, shaking hands with the man who has the word “DRAW” tattooed across his knuckles. One the other hand – “HARD.”

When John G himself is first heard, he begins by talking about his lifelong history with comics books and it’s obvious he has a deep admiration for – and skill creating – sequential storytelling.

“There’s things you can only do in comics,” he narrates, while shots of him working with a brush to ink panels showcase his distinct line work. “There’s things you can only do with words and images juxtaposed together.”

Joshua Rex, another Cleveland artist, mentions his line work later in the film, offering a wonderful analogy.

“Something about his black line is just so distinct and unique and creepy,” Rex says over a series of images from John G’s portfolio. “It’s almost like it was burned rather than drawn.”

John G is revealed through a series of conversations with his friends and colleagues. One of them is Jake Kelly, another Cleveland artist and co-creator of the horror anthology comic The Lake Erie Monster set in Cleveland.

lake erie monster 1

Incidentally, this is a terrific quarterly series with a unique vision and fantastic artwork that i highly recommend. You don’t have to be from Cleveland to appreciate it of course, but the level of detail and nods to the city’s history and visual cues is an added treat.

“Cleveland is a pretty strange place,” Kelly says while explaining The Lake Erie Monster book. “You always see some bizarre thing.”

To illustrate his point, he relates a story of he and John G driving down East 55th Street and seeing a man sitting in his parked car alone, screaming and thrashing about.

“That’s fuckin’ Cleveland right there,” he said.

Another prominent figure in Draw Hard is Matt Fish, owner and operator of Melt Bar & Grilled, which has become a Cleveland-area institution since the first restaurant opened in Lakewood in 2006. Oddly enough, i found out about the place just before it opened from his then wife, a tattoo artist who was giving me some ink at the time.

Fish has nothing but positive things to say about John G in the film, attributing a healthy amount of Melt’s success to the work John G has put into promotional art, as well as his creativity in helping to name sandwiches.

One of the things i appreciated was that the filmmakers chose not to reveal a particular aspect of John G’s life until a few minutes into the film’s 20 minute run time. It’s a significant part, to be sure, but i like that they didn’t throw it at the audience right away or build the narrative around it.

Dave Gibian, from Cleveland thrash punk band All Dinosaurs, speaks about his relationship with John G, and how much impact it had on the band’s success. Early on, John G created the band’s first show poster.

“That was a big deal, if you had a John G poster,” Gibian says in the film. “You were playing a legit show.”

Echoing Gibian’s sentiments, Fish has nothing but praise for the artist whose work on Melt’s advertising brings the same kind of excitement to their menu that his show posters do for musician’s shows.

“Melt would be a completely different landscape if John G wasn’t involved,” Fish says. “John’s art is like part of our brand.”

As evidence of this, Fish points out a framed John G print in his office, the artist’s first work for Melt back in 2009. Since then, he’s done tons of work for Melt, and a panning shot of Fish’s office shows just a handful of those prints.

In the second half of the film, there’s more conversation with John G himself, sharing details about his life that reveal more about him personally and help to ground him after establishing the impact made by his work. By relating more of his personal story, you come to learn a deeper meaning behind the film’s title. After leading into the film with some discussion on his perceived demeanor as a grumpy or angry person, one might take “draw hard” to mean that John G is perhaps a harsh guy, or some kind of tortured artist. This is far from the truth, and the film’s title speaks more to his artistic journey than any sort of personality quirk.

“That’s what I do, so that’s kind of where that came from,” John G describes his method of drawing. “I don’t draw fast. I draw hard.”

Draw Hard knucks

On a side note, one of the things i particularly enjoyed about Draw Hard was the original score by Ryan Harris. He did a good job using music to keep the pace and enhance the mood of the various segments of the film. Towards the end, when John G talks about his past and how he got to where he is today, i thought the score added a wonderful layer of emotion.

If i have any issues with the film, it’s really only that the run time is too short! Clocking in at 20 minutes, the documentary does a terrific job of introducing audiences to John G and his vibrant importance in the Cleveland landscape. As a fan of documentaries in general, i would have liked to see more of the great work putting the narrative together by director Jon Nix, who clearly put significant time and effort into speaking with John G and people who know him as well as capturing footage of him at work, enjoying concerts and generally just living the Cleveland life.

One important thing that i feel got left out was John G’s role in organizing the yearly Genghis Con, the small press and underground comic convention held annually in Cleveland. Overall, the film focused a lot on The Lake Erie Monster and John G’s commercial work, and it would have been nice to explore his involvement with comics more, both as a creator and event organizer.

For more details on Draw Hard, please visit their Facebook page and head over to Fandor or VHX to check it out. It’s only $1.99 to stream it, and there are some upgraded packages with great additional bonuses. The top tier of these is The Gritty Package, which includes a digital copy, director’s commentary, trailer and hi-res PDFs of both The Lake Erie Monster and a John G art collection – for only $9.99!

Best of Cleveland

If you enjoyed Draw Hard, and want to support the film even more, head over to Cleveland Scene’s website and cast your vote for Made in CLE – Best of 2015. The Arts & Entertainment category has several entries you can vote in like Best Comic Artist and Best Illustrator.

There’s a Best Director category where you can vote for Jon Nix who directed Draw Hard.

And – shameless plug – there’s a Best Local Blog category too, so you can vote for The Long Shot ;)

You can vote once per day, so make sure to visit daily and vote for what you think is the best stuff Cleveland has to offer. Online voting ends on March 9, plenty of time to support your favorite stuff.

Wizard World addendum

A few other items of interest from my experience at Wizard World Cleveland last weekend that didn’t make it into my coverage i want to share here.

There were two different charitable organizations i came across while wandering the exhibition floor.

The first was Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio, who visit children’s hospitals and special needs centers in superhero costumes.

This is a great example of parlaying the immense popularity of comic book superheroes into something really positive.

In a similar vein, Heroes Alliance is another nonprofit group using costumed superheroes to make a difference in the community. Founded in Florida, the group has expanded throughout the U.S. and is focused on fundraising for organizations like Give Kids the World as well as making appearances to brighten spirits.

Both of these groups operate as nonprofits through donations, so please check them out and donate if you are able. We can never have too many heroes and, as both organizations agree, it’s those they seek to help who are the real heroes that keep them inspired.

Both groups also accept volunteer help, so if you want to take the extra step and participate yourself, there’s information on their websites to help you do just that.

Apama

One of the things i didn’t get a chance to check out directly at the convention was the film Hero Tomorrow, a homegrown Northeast Ohio superhero story.

The hero in question is APAMA, and i recall seeing posters for it plastered around downtown Cleveland when i was still attending Cleveland State University.

i love the description of the project from the website:

David spends his days cutting grass and his nights smoking it while desperately trying to keep his superhero fantasies alive. When Robyn, his aspiring fashion-designer girlfriend, makes him a Halloween costume of his original character APAMA it doesn’t take David long to hit the streets and begin blundering towards disaster.

The character of Apama has elements of several super heroes i’ve enjoyed over the years, like The Creeper from DC Comics and Mike Allred’s Mad Man. His kooky adventures are represented by tight artwork, and as many people know, i’m a sucker for schmaltz so it’s cool to see that his girlfriend Robyn is an integral part of his escapades. Plus, Apama is Cleveland-based which adds a whole other level of cool to the property.

Yuri Night

A table with a big sign that read “Space Party” was something i had to swing past.

Yuri’s Night in an international celebration every April to commemorate milestones in space exploration. Named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, Yuri’s Night was first held on April 12, 2001, exactly 40 years after the launch of the Vostok 1 spacecraft that Yuri piloted.

In Cleveland this year, Yuri’s Night Space Party will be held at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 11 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The celebration will feature live music, refreshments, a “cosmic trip” with The Solar Fire Light Show, space-themed costume contest, a new Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition and more.

Visit the Great Lakes Science Center website or call 216.621.2400 for more details and to purchase tickets.

This sounds like a really awesome event, and a great opportunity for someone to Take a Shot at covering. If you need added incentive, there’s a chance for you to earn some exclusive geek loot in the process.

*     *     *     *     *

With my usual caveat to editors and audiences that “brevity is not my thing,” this is a good point at which to wrap it up this week. Wizard World Cleveland was an amazing experience and it was a bummer heading back to the real world on Monday.

Thank you so much to everyone who read my preview article and visited the media gallery at The News-Herald. All the awesome fans who checked it out helped it to account for over 5% of the total traffic to their website for 2015 so far, so on behalf of my resume and measurable results everywhere, i sincerely thank you all. The opportunity to attend comics convention as a professional writer is literally the reason i got into journalism in the first place. So, Nerd Mission Accomplished.

Thanks for reading the latest Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 6 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 2.20.15, part 3

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

wizard world cleveland

Day 2 with Uber

For getting to and from Wizard World Cleveland on day 2 of the show, Feb. 21, i again used the Uber service through the app. Snow was swirling in the air and accumulating on the street in the morning, although it wasn’t as cold as Friday. It was nice to get another ride to the Cleveland Convention Center’s front entrance, but the ride in was a bit awkward because the driver must have mentioned tipping about a dozen times. How people don’t think you have to tip, and that sort of thing.

Well – you don’t, do you? If you read the FAQ on Uber’s website, it explains that a 20% gratuity is added automatically. And on top of that, my driver later that night who took me home explained that they get 80% of their fare. So…yeah i think they’re doing okay without adding a tip on top of it.

The driver who brought me in the morning i rated two stars only, because as it was explained to me the previous day, any rating under three stars – from the driver or the rider – and the service will avoid pairing the two in the future. Rating him one star wasn’t necessary, it’s not like he was awful or anything, i just didn’t want to ride with him again. Plus his car was kinda messy, too. And the fare for that particular ride was significantly more than any of the others i took. Overall, the least positive Uber experience.

On the flip side, the ride home was great. The driver was really close by when i requested a ride, and got there in about five minutes. We chatted the whole way back, and he said one of his favorite parts about being an Uber driver was meeting new people to talk with during the ride.

At the end of the trip, he gave me a promo code to share with first time riders that’s worth a $20 discount on your first Uber ride. Note that you have to enter the promo code before you request the ride in order to apply the discount. You ready? Here’s the code:

t1oph

Panels discussions

My day Saturday revolved very much around panel discussions, which i’d listed in my write-up of Day One.

Starting off the day was NASA and the Science of Superman, a panel of researchers from the NASA Glenn Research Center right here in Cleveland. While waiting for the talk to start, i got a text from my friend and Cleveland filmmaker Anthony Snitzer, who came to the convention for the day and met up with me in the room where this discussion was being held.

At the podium was David DeFelice, a community relations team lead. The panel consisted of Joan Emmett, documentation specialist; Geoffrey Landis, planetary exploration researcher; Lee Kohlman, research aerospace engineer; Jerry Myers, biomedical engineer; and Dennis Stocker, microgravity researcher.

Some of the topics covered by the NASA panel

Some of the topics covered by the NASA panel

What the panel discussed was basically various aspects of the Superman mythos, from their standpoint as space researchers. For example, how Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El would have had to scan the universe to find a suitable planet to send his infant son to, using methods similar to how NASA searches for planets using Doppler shift, gravitational microlensing and so forth. These methods are also employed by NASA’s Kepler telescope. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, that last one was cited as the cause of the galactic smiley face caught by the Hubble telescope.

If you’d like to check out NASA’s ongoing search for another Earth-like planet out there, they have a website for the PlanetQuest program and you can check out some of the 1,800 planets they’ve already discovered. There are images, educational opportunities and loads of info about the science and technology behind the research.

Other topics covered by this panel were the equipment that researchers use to simulate the conditions of other planets, moons and so forth, what kind of spacecraft would be necessary to travel to another hospitable planet, and a look at some possible reasons behind how Superman’s powers work on Earth.

One of the biggest hurdles to space exploration is engine speed, which at this time is just not feasible for travel even to other solar systems in our own galaxy. As one of the panelists put it, if Neanderthals had launched a ship at the end of the Ice Age, it would now be only half way to the next star. In order to reasonably travel throughout space would require warp drives of some sort, and the panel suggested the audience do an Internet search for “warp drive when,” which i’ve done for you and leads to NASA’s information resources on the status of interstellar travel.

In the meantime, we’ve got programs like the Messenger probe currently orbiting Mercury and the New Horizons probe currently near Pluto and its moon Charon. Likewise, the Voyager probe launched in 1977 is only recently reaching the boundary of interstellar space. And the Dawn mission is on its way to Ceres, the largest of the asteroid belt. So, we’ve got a long way to go to catch up to Jor-El in terms of space exploration.

“We build spacecraft,” aerospace engineer Kohlman said. “We fly spacecraft to other planets. The scientists of Krypton are a little ahead of us, but we’re working on it.”

The panelists noted that it would be likely Jor-El would have utilized theoretical travel like worm holes, and certainly would require faster-than-light speeds to traverse the galaxies.

A discussion of Superman’s powers started with his being “faster than a speeding bullet,” which according to the panel is anywhere from 400-3000 mph. This is within the realm of testing at the NASA Ballistic Impact Lab, where they use a gas gun to test material durability and can fire objects at a top speed of Mach 2.5.

Superman’s speed, evidenced by his ability to reach orbit, would have to be at least Mach 25, or ten times what the gas gun can achieve. However, our fastest spacecraft that have left the Earth can reach about Mach 50, and for comparison the New Horizon probe travels at Mach 47.

Again, it was shown that in order to effectively travel to other planets and solar systems we’ll need engines that can go much, much faster than currently possible. It is worth noting that several of the panelists were well-versed in Superman lore, making the point that his powers have fluctuated over the decades from his days of juggling planets to a bit more reasonable levels. They also pointed out the impossibility of some of his feats, like picking up skyscrapers – they would break apart due to the lack of surface area support, for example.

To segue into a look at Superman’s strength, the panel noted that, like Superman is a hero to so many people, at NASA their heroes are the astronauts. And like Superman, they are able to lift greater weight on planets other than their home world…but not quite what you’d expect. For example, on Mars, where gravity is 1/6 that of Earth, you might think an astronaut who could lift 100 pounds on Earth could heft an impressive 600 pounds on the red planet. This is not quite true, due to the forces of inertia. The different gravities and effects on object weight is a real concern for researchers, who must take into account that these heavy objects, if put into motion, must still be controlled and stopped to avoid collision damage with equipment and people, for instance.

Likewise, it is a gravity-related matter that allows Superman to “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” and later, outright fly without any means of propulsion. Using math, microgravity researcher Dennis Stocker determined that the gravity on Krypton would be about 37 times that of Earth to account for Superman’s leaping ability and strength. I was curious if they’d taken this model further and tried to mathematically figure out the size, density and so forth of Krypton – basically create a model of the fictional planet – but they hadn’t.

The most reasonable explanation that the researchers could offer to explain many of Superman’s powers were that he created and controlled a very localized gravity field around himself. This would account for his ability to utilize super strength while in flight (since typically he would only push himself away from the object), to fly without propulsion or friction on his body, and to completely disperse kinetic energy from bullets and other projectiles without them pushing him back or causing any kind of effect on his skin, and surviving in space.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a chance to talk about his heat vision, but they did touch on his super cold breath, which is actually completely scientific. When air is compressed and expelled rapidly like that, its temperature would drop dramatically.

A question in the audience asked why Superman’s rescue of Lois Lane when falling from a building doesn’t result in a snapped neck (much like Gwen Stacy’s when Spider-Man attempts to save her from falling from a bridge), and the panelists referred the question to Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” which, if you can find a copy, retails some real world problems Superman’s super powers would present.

After the panel wrapped up, i ran into researcher Geoffrey Landis while waiting in like for the next event on my list, and we chatted for a few minutes about Superman science. He was really very engaging, and most interesting to me was a brief discussion on technology. While many of the probes and craft we’ve launched years and even decades ago has been surpassed by present day advances, the simple durability of those older technologies is what makes it possible for them to still function in space. Because of cosmic ray exposure causing soft errors and resets on computer technology, a modern-day computer would not function over time in space. So, while the hardware behind some of the craft we have out there may be inferior in terms of raw computing power, the fact that it is able to continue functioning at all is the key to continuing our receipt of the information they send back – which has a huge impact on how our technology develops and evolves on Earth.

Speaking of the next event…

William Shatner who, among many things, brought to life Captain Kirk on what i maintain is the best iteration of Star Trek, was set to give a talk in the junior ballroom.

Now, since he first played that character nearly 50 years ago, and has gone on to other notable projects in film, television and music, as well as appeared at countless conventions over the decades, i didn’t expect a whole lot of Star Trek talk or otherwise.

In the program, the event “Boldly Going with William Shatner” was described as him dishing on the roles that he’s played over the years. But i think, perhaps because of all the speaking engagements he’s done in his career, that talking about those topics is probably pretty boring for the guy.

Instead, Shatner used an analogy with a car trip he recently took with his wife, riding in a fast sports car through severe winter conditions, as a backdrop for several things like his career, the world of science fiction and man’s place in the universe.

If i’m honest, it was a little rambling and at times i think the audience wondered where he was going with his talk (i know i did at least). But at the end of the day, it’s William Shatner up there talking and no one could complain about that.

“Science fiction seeks to answer ‘what’s in the future,’ ” Shatner explained at one point. “But we just don’t know what’s out there in terms of other life. Now, I’m going to tell you something so magical, you’re going to plotz – which is a Vulcan word.”

After talking about psychiatrist John E. Mack’s work with people who claim alien abduction, leading to a claim that UFOs really exist because of the similarity of accounts, i did not in fact plotz. But i think the point he was trying to make is that we can’t really say for certain if there is or is not other life in the universe, or discount anyone’s beliefs, because we just don’t know.

“There’s so much that’s mysterious out there,” Shatner ruminated. “We don’t know what we don’t know because we just don’t know what we don’t know.”

Indeed.

Before opening the talk to a Q&A with select audience members, he talked about a possibly upcoming show or documentary he’s working on with the working title Young Guns of NASA. The project has allowed him access to several NASA sites around the country, and he spoke about Col. Scott Kelly, an astronaut devoting his life to science by spending a full year on the International Space Station.

Such a feat is expected to cause significant biological changes, including the possibility that his eyes will change shape due to the different conditions there and the effect on the human body.

Later, when asked if he would like to travel to the ISS, our moon or even Mars, he described the real-life adventures he’s had, like professional horseracing and the aforementioned car ride, and said his life has been exciting enough.

“I do exciting things!” he shouted to the crowd. “I don’t need to ride every rollercoaster.”

Hello Mr. Fancypants

Taking the ballroom stage in the afternoon was another fan-favorite actor, Bruce Campbell. My first introduction to him was in the early ’90’s, when my D&D buddies’ cool older sister showed us Evil Dead II, and i’ve been hooked ever since. Not every project the guy does is must-see for me, but i definitely appreciate his work, which has entertained me many times over the years.

For his appearance in Cleveland, Campbell donned a snazzy, shiny purple sport coat which he said was inspired by flying over the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame and thinking about “the spirit of Elvis, Wayne Newton and the other interred there.”

Instead of talking the whole time about himself or his career, he wanted to play a game and in fact the program listed the event as “Bruce Campbell Versus the Audience.”

Much like popular talent shows such as America’s Got Talent, Bruce surveyed the crowd to select six people with any kind of talent to “prove Cleveland has talent.”

The irreverent game show-like event played out over the next 45 minutes, with Bruce letting the contestants do their thing while he played the role of an obnoxious host, tossing insults their way.

The contestants, who were all from Ohio, included a CSU student dressed as Beetlejuice who could do voices; Christiana, a singer from Brunswick; Michelle, a poet from Brunswick; Ryan, a heavy metal singer and filmmaker; Zack, a dancer in a Two-Face costume; and Schlock Meister, a horror host from Cleveland.

A series of talent displays and eliminations proceeded in which Schlock Meister did an impression of deceased comedian Chris Farley, Ryan sung a Korn song and Michelle recited an excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Zack performed the dance routine from Michael Jackson’s Thriller (that Schlock Meister sang), while Christiana sung Uptown Funk and Beetlejuice gave the audience his take on Heath Ledger’s Joker character.

Schlock Meister, Zack and Michelle were eliminated in the first round, and for their efforts they were each given a prize by Bruce Campbell of $1 as they left the stage.

Schlock Meister also got a selfie with Bruce Campbell as he exited the stage.

Schlock Meister also got a selfie with Bruce Campbell as he exited the stage.

For the final round, Christiana did a wonderful job singing a haunting song from one of the Resident Evil films, while Ryan sang another Korn song (i didn’t even know people still liked Korn) and Beetlejuice improvised a conversation between Bane from The Dark Knight Rises and his signature voice, Beetlejuice.

Based on crowd response, Christiana was the overall winner, and received a crisp $20 bill from Bruce while the runners-up each got $2 for their participation.

Overall, it was kind of a weird event were the special guest didn’t really do anything personable. It would have been nice if he’d injected a bit of himself into the show. On the other hand, his crass, obnoxious host routine was pretty entertaining.

A panel discussion of substance

One of the panels i’d most been looking forward to was Gender Equality in Geek Culture. This was a tricky part of the afternoon, because there were a couple of things i wanted to attend with overlapping times. However, the host for this particular panel was a no-show, so it was cancelled unfortunately.

On the bright side, i headed next door to where another panel was that i would have missed, and since there was time to kill before it started, Valentino Zullo who was sitting in front of me introduced himself and i learned about some great stuff he does at the Cleveland Public Library.

With a master’s degree in English and women’s studies from Bowling Green and currently studying social science at CWRU, he created the Get Graphic discussion group to talk about literature, social justice and the superhero way.

The discussion groups, which he organizes and hosts twice monthly, focus on different topics and use comic books for the platform to discuss them.

For example, right now the group’s topic is “Women Warriors” and the group will talk about different types of feminism, the epidemic of sex trafficking and other women/gender-related topics.

The group meets on the first and third Thursdays of every month at 4 p.m., in the literature department on the 2nd floor of the Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Avenue, downtown Cleveland. More information is available by calling 216.623.2881.

i spoke with Valentino a bit after the panel and we connected through our enjoyment of offbeat comic books, particularly Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which he said had inspired some of the summer’s group discussions on the nature of evil.

We also both love female heroes, and Marvel comics in particular, and it was cool to meet someone with such similar particular tastes in comic books.

i will definitely be visiting his discussion group and sharing the experience in a future Week in Geek. The next one according to the flyer he gave me is on March 5, where the focus in on Ms. Marvel.

Prior to that discussion group meeting, on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. is a meeting for the speaker series Valentino helps organize. The speaker for the special black history month lecture is Tony Isabella, creator of Black Lightning who spoke at the panel i wrote about on Friday. His lecture is titled “Fighting for Diversity: Comic Books and Race” and will look at the history of racial diversity in comic books.

If you live in the Cleveland area, love your comics and want to meet up with others who share your interest, and talk about important social issues in the context of superheroes, then definitely check out some of these events Valentino organizes!

Cleveland – the REAL birthplace of Superman

Forget Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis – Cleveland, Ohio is the real place where Superman was born!

The Siegel and Shuster Society held a panel discussion to talk about just that, and how two local kids laid the foundation for comics as we known them way back in 1938.

Led my Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo, the panel included former Marvel Comics editor and comics historian Danny Fingeroth; Michael Olzewski, president of the Siegel and Shuster Society; Brad Ricca, author of Super Boys, the literary biography of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel; Siegel’s cousin Irving Fine, his sister Norma, and Leigh Goldie, cousin of Joe Shuster.

The panel discussed how “the city (Cleveland) never fully embraced Superman,” which is a shame because…it’s SUPERMAN! Seriously, i share their sentiments that it is frankly bizarre that Cleveland doesn’t proclaim its Superman roots loud and proud.

Unfortunately, a big part of that comes from Warner Bros. who owns DC Comics, who put a lot of restrictions on how and where their intellectual properties are used. For example, Ohio is the only state to have Superman license plates available – thanks to the efforts of the Siegel and Shuster Society by the way – but they were unable to include the phrase “Birthplace of Superman” because Warner Bros. doesn’t want anyone to be confused with the fictional character’s birthplace on Krypton.

The bulk of the panel talked about the news surrounding the real possibility of a Superman statue and display to be built on the lakefront, near the Great Lakes Science Center.

This is a truly terrific idea, especially that location due to Superman’s science-fiction origins. As for the proposed design that the Society has been promoting and seen in the news, personally, i think they need to reimagine it.

Approved model for the Superman statue display planned in Cleveland

Approved model for the Superman statue display planned in Cleveland

This thing just does not look good to me. The proportions of his body look way off and it just doesn’t look exciting, not at all like co-creator Joe Shuster’s artwork. Why not base it on his work?

Like this for example, or any number of others that Shuster created would look better than the proposed sculpt

Like this for example, or any number of others that Shuster created would look better than the proposed sculpt

The best thing about the proposed statue display, though, is the additional figures at the base – Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Joanne Siegel, who was early inspiration for Lois Lane. This is a terrific idea, to honor the people who created this character. If you know anything about Superman history, they did not enjoy the kind of success or financial security you might expect when, you know, they revolutionized and basically ushered in the comic book superhero genre as we know it.

The proposed base of the Superman statue will feature depictions of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Joanne Siegel, Jerry's wife and the inspiration for Lois Lane.

The proposed base of the Superman statue will feature depictions of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Joanne Siegel, Jerry’s wife and the inspiration for Lois Lane.

The panel was also happy to see how well Wizard World Cleveland had turned out, again something that may not have ever happened had it not been for those two Cleveland teens creating Superman.

“He’d be smiling down at this Comic Con, I assure you,” said Siegel’s cousin Irv, who is a big part of the Society and the various projects they work on. Irv went on to tell the audience about how Siegel and Shuster got together in the first place. Jerry was a big science fiction buff, who’d created this superbeing character and asked Irv’s brother if he could draw it for him. Instead, Jerry was introduced to Joe who had recently moved to their Kinsman neighborhood.

“When he and Joe got together, they just produced magic,” Irv said.

One interesting fact about the Society itself is that, since Warner Bros. would not allow them to use the Superman name and call themselves the Superman Society, they considered this a blessing because instead they used the creators’ names and were able to give the publicity to them, not the character they’re created.

Sangiacomo, he everyone assembled agreed was vital to raising awareness about Superman’s Cleveland roots, spoke after the panel and said he’d been surprised after speaking with every Cleveland mayor for the past few decades, none of whom had even been aware that Superman was created in their city.

As regards the statue, he said it’s still a couple of years off, but he’s confident a fundraiser would enable them to gain financing for the project. He said a great pledge reward would be a brick with the donors name to use as part of the statue display area. The statue project is definitely going forward, but a lot of county, city, and corporate red tape has to be dealt with. Sangiacomo will stay at the forefront of this project though, and provide news as it breaks.

Musical extravaganza

The unofficial end to the convention is the massive costume contest held in the ballroom, but before that got underway, the audience was treated to a sonic treat when World of Warcraft composer Jason Hayes, along with his video game music tribute band Critical Hit performed.

Consisting of a cello, violin, drums and synthesizer, the four-piece band played songs like Zelda’s Lullaby, Dr. Wily’s Stage from Mega Man, the theme from Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty, To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X, a hard rock version of Bowser’s Castle from Super Mario Brothers and more.

What blew me away most of all was the cello work by Tina Guo, who was front center stage just rocking the hell out of her instrument. To be honest, i’d never seen a cello like that, all streamlined and made of what looked like some sort of polycarbon material. Is that wood? What are those made of?

Whatever material it is, she played it like a champ and the crowd loved it. A lot of older games featured MIDI music or simple beeps and boops strung together, but with Critical Hit playing these melodies they were transformed into robust, beautiful, haunting, electrifying, exciting and rockin’ tunes that filled the ballroom with energy.

Costume Contest

The final event of the day was the Wizard World Costume Contest, and it did not disappoint!

Contestants entered the stage from the left, passed by judges seated on stage and exited to the right. These aren’t professional models or anything, so quite a few people nervously walked onto and off of the stage so fast that it was hard to get a good look at their costumes. But everyone who participated received applause from the audience.

Minecraft's Steve was a huge hit with the audience

Minecraft’s Steve was a huge hit with the audience

Quite a few great costumes that i saw over the weekend were not part of the competition, and a few of them who i ran into afterwards told me they either were late arriving, or weren’t included because there was no category for the character they portrayed. For example, one woman had a great Badadook costume, but since there is no “Horror” category, she couldn’t enter.

The handmade Belle costume ultimately gave her a win for Best in Show

The handmade Belle costume ultimately gave her a win for Best in Show

After everyone had crossed the stage, the judges took a few minutes to decide who their honorable mentions were, as well as the winners in six different categories.

Honorable mentions were given to one of the many Jokers, a Knight Who Says Ni, and Team Rapture from the video game Bioshock.

The judges on stage with their honorable mention costume contest participants

The judges on stage with their honorable mention costume contest participants

The winners of the contest were:

  • Best Male Hero: Groot
  • Best Female Hero: Hawkgirl
  • Best Male Villain: Venom
  • Best Female Villain: Knightingale from Skyrim
  • Best Group: Avatar: The Last Airbender team
  • Best in Show: Belle, from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Hawkgirl, Venom, Groot, Belle, Avatar: The Last Airbender and lurking somewhere in the background Skyrim's Knightingale

Hawkgirl, Venom, Groot, Belle, Avatar: The Last Airbender and lurking somewhere in the background Skyrim’s Knightingale

Congrats to all the contestants in the costume contest though – a big part of these geeky conventions are the costumes, and everyone who shows up in one gets a round of applause from me. When i first went to Gen Con, i remember thinking “i’ve got to get a costume if i’m going to go to these conventions.” Unfortunately, i never did but i did find a place that will make custom bodysuits for a reasonable price. So i’m thinking i’ll go that route and dress up like one of my absolute favorite characters with the best superhero costume ever.

Mister Miracle - my winner for best costume and best comics character ever. And who knows, maybe i'll run into a Big Barda!

Mister Miracle – my winner for best costume and best comics character ever. And who knows, maybe i’ll run into a Big Barda!

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading this special Wizard World Cleveland edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but this is the ones that most caught my attention and kept me busy all week! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you attended Wizard World Cleveland and you’d like to share your experience in writing, or any photos, please let me know and i’d be happy to share them here at The Long Shot.

Also, check out my media gallery through The News-Herald, which is another great place you can share your photos from the weekend.

Please stop by again later in the week for a few last things to share that i discovered at Wizard World

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Feb. 27 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!