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Emily S. Whitten: San Diego Comic-Con Party Round Up 2018

It’s been universally accepted that San Diego Comic-Con is the place to be when it comes to elaborate comic-con parties, including a slew of more exclusive events. For no other genre convention do multiple news outlets make long, detailed lists of where to go for a (potentially) good time each evening.

And while the party scene may be shrinking due to companies focusing more on the activations, there were still plenty of parties to fill out your SDCC weekend.

I’ve been covering the SDCC party scene for years now. And while I haven’t been to every party (because to do so I’d have to propagate more clones of myself than Spider-Man ever had), I’ve been to enough fab parties and flops that I both think it’s worth it to make the rounds if you can, and know the downsides that go along with trying to do so.

Before I get into this year’s parties, let me share a few things I’ve learned about the SDCC party scene:

  1. Unless you are a Legit Famous Person, getting into invite-only parties can be a crapshoot. Even with my consistent press coverage at SDCC and other cons, as well as writing about genre entertainment throughout the year, I’ve had years where the people who immediately put me on the list the previous year didn’t even respond to an event inquiry, and years where the opposite happened or I receive an invite to an exclusive party I didn’t even know about. There are some companies that are more (what I see as) loyal, and consistently invite you to their SDCC parties and treat you well, and some companies that are weirdly flaky. And then, there are events that only happen in that particular way one year; or where you manage to squeeze onto the list for one year, but a spot can’t be spared another despite your knowledge that it’s not personal; or where the rules change so that one year only people who directly work with the company are invited. Sometimes, invites seem random; and sometimes, you truly do have to know someone. But also, even if you are on the list, SDCC is so chaotic that if the person at the door can’t find your name, you might still be screwed (depends on how understanding the check-in staff is, really). Or you’re definitely on the list, they’ve got your name right there, but it turns out the party is already “at capacity” thirty minutes in. Like I said – crapshoot.
  2. It is often impossible to predict how good a party will be. I’ve been to amazing parties that were not that “exclusive,” and really-hard-to-access parties, with famous people right nearby, that turned out to be kinda lame. (And yes, I’ve even crashed some parties. That’s not a predictor either, although it is occasionally a good time.) What’s fun about this spectrum of events is even a lame party is still a party (possibly with free drinks!) and you can always leave if you’re bored (oh, except for that one nightmare time I got stuck in the literal cordoned off press pen they set up at The Last Ship party a few years ago, where we weren’t allowed to go to the actual party if we’d said we’d take red carpet pics first; there was no food or water or seating; and we were told we couldn’t go to the restroom or we wouldn’t be let back in. It was awful and I’m still bitter and PR people take note: press never forget being treated like second class citizens. Anyway. Moving on!)
    Another fun thing is the coolest party you go to might be a nice surprise because it’s a thing you didn’t expect. (The downside, of course, is if you roll the dice on two simultaneous parties and it turns out the one you didn’t pick was The Best Thing Ever and all your friends ended up there and had a blast. Oh, FOMO, how I wish you didn’t exist.) This is because a cool venue and big-name company, property, or guests are no guarantee of a hit. What really matters is if there’s stuff to do (this could be literal stuff, like gadgets to play with, photo booths, a game to watch or play, artists to watch as they draw, etc., or interesting people to talk to, including creators and celebrities who actually enjoy mingling instead of being cordoned off at their private tables the whole night, or friends who have been permitted to attend as your plus-one), thoughtful theming in both decor and good food and drink, and people treating each other well and like we’re all people even if we’re not all famous. This is why even the open parties can be a blast if done right (the Nerd HQ parties, which I mourn the loss of, being one example).
  1. Some parties really are just The Best Thing Ever. Events that stand out over the years include the Nickelodeon Double Dare party (put that one in the Hall of Fame, it was perfect!), the American Gods rooftop party, the Scholastic parties, the Dent the Future cocktail parties, the Fashionably Nerdy cocktail hour, the NVE + Nylon Mag parties, the Nerd HQ parties, Michael Davis’s shindigs, and, of course, that time I went to a club to see Elijah Wood DJ on a whim and it turned out he was really good.

So given that, what parties did I hit up this year? And which ones were the most fun? Well:


Wednesday night is usually low-key, since preview night runs until 9 and can be exhausting. This year we stuck with what’s become a tradition and headed over to Basic Bar/Pizza with a small group of friends. Basic does a really good pizza, and is also the location for Gabe Eltaeb’s Annual Comic-Con Kickoff Party, now in its 5th year. I’ve been to every one of these, and although I confess when I walk in the door the biggest thing on my mind after preview night is “food!” the event is also really neat. They have quality artists doing live sketches which they raffle off along with other prizes to raise money for the Hero Initiative, which helps comics creators in need due to medical or financial crises. This year, the live sketches were done by Gabe Eltaeb (Harley Quinn), Todd Nauck (Deadpool), Jim Calafiore (Exiles), Chad Cavanaugh (The Map), and Jeff Martinez (Skull Thumper); and other prizes came from companies like Blizzard, Funko, and Dark Horse Comics. It’s a cool, laid back event to try on the first night, you can usually walk in without too much trouble, and it’s done for a good cause. And even while rapidly consuming large quantities of pizza, I appreciated both the atmosphere and the party music coming from the event side of the bar.


This year, it seemed like almost every single party I wanted to hit up was on Thursday night. I made it to four of the five I’d decided I might be able to get to based on start times (I really wanted to make the Dent the Future Reception, too, but I confess I took a nap instead). Here are the ones I got to:

Tor Books / Den of Geek Happy Hour – this was at the Horton Grand Hotel Courtyard, and was an invite-only party for industry insiders. The setting was nice (an airy open atrium area with a connecting indoor room) and they had open bars in both rooms with themed cocktails (The Superhero and The Supervillain – I got the Superhero, which had blue curacao and vodka, pineapple, triple sec, lime juice, and soda, and it was mighty tasty), hors d’oeuvres, and a full dessert table. They also had a variety of swag, ranging from funky branded sunglasses and Den of Geek’s SDCC magazine to a gift bag with a bunch of Tor books. I always like it when parties have something fun to do, and this one had a photobooth with great props that I hopped into with NPR’s Petra Mayer, YA author Alexa Donne, and other friends. I also had fun chats with the delightful author and co-editor of Boing Boing Cory Doctorow, YA author Scott Westerfeld, and other industry greats. This party was excellent, and I only left because I didn’t want to miss…

The Scholastic Graphix Party – this was on the pool deck of the Hotel Palomar, which is a great outdoor venue, and was an invite-only party. I always make sure I stop by the Scholastic shindig, which has good food, themed desserts, and open bar; nice (if heavy!) swag bags of books; usually at least an activity or two going on; and fun guests – plus, at this event not only are there friends around, but also I somehow always end up running into at least a couple of industry friends I otherwise might not have seen all con (this year it was author and editor Joe McCabe). This year’s party featured guests such as Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Ian Boothby (Sparks!), Jarrett Krosoczka (Hey, Kiddo), Molly Knox Ostertag (The Hidden Witch), Aron Nels Steinke (Mr. Wolf’s Class), and Gale Galligan (The Baby-Sitters Club), as well as Jim Kay, Daniel Jose Older, Victoria Schwab, Maggie Stiefvater, and Scott Westerfeld (again!). I couldn’t stay at Scholastic forever, though, because I didn’t want to miss…

The Lion Forge Talent Reception – this one was an invite-only gig at The Bootlegger (and I’m a sucker for anything with a speakeasy feel, so I loved the venue choice). To be honest, that’s about all of the setting I noticed at this party, because my entire time there was spent catching up with the wall-to-wall awesome comics creators and industry folks I was surrounded by – including Gail Simone, Dean Haspiel, Ben McCool, Reilly Brown, Ben Fisher, and Jim Calafiore. (I also got to attend the Lion Forge Fall Preview panel on Sunday, where they talked about a slew of great comics coming soon from names like Michael Uslan, Andrew Pepoy, and David F. Walker, and announced that Gail Simone will be the “Chief Architect” of the Catalyst Prime line of comics. More about that in another piece). How did I end up at this party? Well, let’s just say Ben Fisher and I are working on an exciting new project! As much fun as we were having, though, I still had one party on my list, and I couldn’t miss out on saying hey to the crew at…

The Line Webtoon Green Room Party – this one was an invite-only event at the Altitude Sky Lounge, and it was over-the-top excellent, as are all Line Webtoon parties I’ve attended. (P.S. If you haven’t checked out their comics, you really should. They have a great variety of cool stories you can read for free on their super easy-to-use app.) The view was amazing; they had a crazy setup with green lights everywhere; and we all got casino chips with which to “gamble” before using them to try to win a big ticket raffle item. There, Ben and I met up with Thom Zahler, Luke Daab, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, Tony Fleecs, and so many more. It was a great end to a pretty crazy night, and the swag bags had several cool items, including a classy set of branded coasters. Everything Line Webtoon does has style, and this party was no exception.


Okay, so Thursday was pretty wild, and we paid for it on Friday. I ended up skipping a couple of planned parties (Sorry to miss you, Nerds of Color/Women in Comics mixer!) but did make it to:

The NatGeo and Nerd Nite Mars Party – this party is consistently quality, and this year was great from the get-go – from the reasonably-sized VIP line to the cool red glowstick wristbands. Set on the pool terrace at the Hotel Solamar, this party had a ton of good food, free drinks, and the coolest entertainment I saw at any party – performers inside giant LED-lit hula hoops, whirling and twisting between the crowds and the pool. Advertising the NatGeo series MARS, which begins again November 12, the party had a projection of Mars on the side of a building, a glowing red décor, MARS pillows, miniature MARS cornhole games, and “astronauts” on stilts handing out Mars Bars. And on top of all of that, it featured a number of talks about real science, featuring Alejandro T. Rojas from Den of Geek, Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Emily Manor-Chapman, Bobak Ferdowski, Systems Engineer with Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA, and Leland Melvin, former NASA astronaut. This party is a combination of awesome fun and real nerd substance, and it was an absolute blast.


One thing I love about SDCC is that sometimes, randomly, an awesome event pops up for the first time; and if you’re lucky enough to hear about it, you can end up being one of a select crowd of folks enjoying something that may eventually become another crowded, sought-after evening event; or may be that magical unicorn that only occurs once and that you got to experience. Either may happen with the fun event I went to on Saturday night:

The Bootsy Collins House Party, hosted by DJ Lance Rock and featuring Tom Kenny & the Hi-Seas Rocknsoul Revue. I don’t know how the other attendees got the word on this party, but I lucked into it when I texted Tom (best known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and other great cartoon voices) a couple of weeks beforehand to see if I’d be seeing him at the con. At that time, the event was just coming together, and even Tom wasn’t sure quite what to expect. It was held in the courtyard of the San Diego Central Library, and had the charm of being lively, funky, and a bit unpredictable. I arrived as the band was setting up, only to immediately run into the delightful Fred Tatasciore (best known as the voice of The Hulk). We caught up as Tom warmed up the crowd with an amazing “mic check” song, and then all hung out with DJ Lance Rock until the Hi-Seas, dressed in New Orleans-themed sequins, were ready to go. They are super talented, and Tom, along with being such a versatile voice actor, is a fantastic singer. He’s also a super energetic performer, and totally into it, which makes it more fun for the crowd to let loose.

One of the fun things he did was take down the barriers that had been set up between crowd and performers and invite little kids, and anyone else who wanted to, to come up and dance. A bunch of kids went up, along with a variety of adults including at least one couple who were dressed in classic clothes and could have easily won a couples dance contest. It was great to watch everyone dancing, as well as to see Tom roaming out into the crowd to interact with attendees. The band also sang Happy Birthday to a few folks; and eventually, performed some SpongeBob songs. Around that time I was dying for some food – but happily, the Central Library snack bar had stayed open, so I chilled in the back with Fred and ate a sandwich while the music went on. And then came Bootsy Collins. How do you describe Bootsy Collins? I mean…over the top? The sparkliest man I’ve ever seen? Extremely warm and giving to his fans? (The first thing he did was dance out into the crowd, take a million selfies with anyone who indicated they wanted one, and sign some autograph books, all while grooving to the beat). He was great to watch, and along with performing, hosted a dance competition with Tom (I couldn’t see everyone who won, but congrats to the Death cosplayer who was dancing up a storm and won the first round). The whole thing was crazy fun, and I’m so glad I got to go.

And that was the end of the party scene for me this year – although I also want to mention the fun I have just chilling with friends in the evenings between the other excitement. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need at SDCC to balance things out and recharge – so shout-out to all my friends who invited me to come relax the rest of the night away at bars and hotel room parties. Cheers to you, fellow nerds. You’re what makes life precious. See you next time!


Emily S. Whitten & Chris Roberson – Serenity: No Power

I always love talking with creators about their process, and I’ve been a fan of Firefly for years now So it was a pleasure to sit down with Chris Roberson, writer of Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse, to chat with him about his experience creating this tale. Chris offered some cool insights into his writing process, and, of course, we both geeked out over the world of Firefly and our mutual fandom. Read on for the full interview below!

Emily: What is it like for you playing in the ‘Verse, when there is so much to it, and there’s such a great world that’s already been built?

Chris: It was incredibly intimidating. I was a fan from the day that “Train Job” aired. And they aired out of order. Kids; they don’t understand that not only did they not air all the episodes, but they were in the wrong order! So I was there the whole time in the audience. And I was a rabid fan. When the prospect of working on the book first came up a few years ago…the gestation of the book was fairly long. It was the better part of three years from when I was initially offered, “Hey, would you like to do this?” to it actually being done. I worked with four different editors over the course of that time.

So as a fan it was incredibly intimidating. Because it was super fun, and I was like, “Cool, I get to do all this stuff!” but at the same time, I didn’t want to disappoint the rabid fanbase.

Also, I was able to justify all kinds of purchases that otherwise I wouldn’t have bought. Quantum Mechanix’ Atlas of the ‘Verse, and all that stuff; and blueprints of the ship – that was a work expense.

I needed the blueprints just to figure out, like, “How do you get from this room to this room in the ship?” When you’re watching the show, it’s often hard to tell, because of the way it’s edited around. I’m like, “Wait a minute, how do you get from the cargo deck to that room?”

E: I know what you mean because sometimes in the show it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from. Like that one scene where Kaylee throws Mal the wrench so that he can get into the hatch, and I’m thinking, “Where is he going from and to?”

C: Yeah – and also where the interior of the ship maps to the exterior, was something that I had to spend some time figuring out.

E: And then of course there’s the mix of English with Chinese. Did you have any background in that?

C: Oh God no! If there was anything I had to justify more in every script, it was those. Those are sourced directly from the scripts. There are several-volume collections of all the scripts from the show and also from the film. I referenced those heavily. In the scripts I think they would be written out, but then I would have to reference something else to get it into the right characters. And luckily in the back of the most recent role-playing game there’s a thing in there of all of them transliterated, so I was able to drop those in. But in almost every case I would have to say, “Okay, that line was spoken by this character in this episode;” and then I had to send scans of the pages from the role-playing game to the editor to say, “Here’s where I’m getting this from.”

E: That’s very complicated.

C: Yeah. It’s the job.

E: Well, and writers enjoy that kind of stuff. Otherwise why would you be a writer?

C: I love research.

E: What, if any, input did Joss have, or what kind of guidance were you given about where to play or how to play in the ‘Verse?

C: It was more from the other direction. It was me suggesting things and asking questions and then being told what I could and couldn’t do. And in almost every instance – they said yes to, I think, pretty much everything I suggested. It was a strange experience, in that the comic is now the canon. Because normally when you’re doing licensed work – and I’ve done a lot of it – your job is like, to shake all the toys out of the box, play around, have a cool story, and then put them all back where they belong. So when you’re doing licensed stuff, you’re often slotting a story in between these two episodes, or this season and that season. But because the show ended and now this is the show, essentially, the pushback I kept getting was that I wasn’t changing things. I wasn’t making enough difference in the status quo. Because I kept basically getting everything back together again at the end. I had to mess some stuff up. And that was one of the things that was really intimidating. It was like – people are going to be mad at me. Because I’m screwing stuff up for these characters; but they made me. They forced me to.

E: I was going to ask you about fan reactions, and that plays right into this. Because, particularly I noticed (SPOILER ALERT!) that Mal and Inara have some back-and-forth that is worrying, especially at the end. And at this point, they’re a couple, which is also a different thing than in the show, so if people haven’t been reading the comics, they wouldn’t know. Fans might be happy, but…then there’s also that weird thing with Jayne and Zoe and – poor Jayne, is he ever going to be not lonely? So tell me about working on those relationships, and any fan reactions?

C: I was basically picking up threads that had been laid down in Leaves on the Wind, the previous series that Zach Whedon had done with Georges Jeanty. It was interesting to me to see the way that those relationships had developed. That River had kind of taken Wash’s place in a lot of ways; in that she was the pilot, but also that she had this kind of almost co-parenting thing? We didn’t see that there, but I could see that it was a possibility. She was definitely filling a hole that was left when Wash was gone. So beginning No Power in the ‘Verse, the crew is kind of broken down into these mini subsets, these pairs and trios. And yeah, Jayne is not in one. He’s him, so he’s just kind of bouncing around. So a lot of where the plot came from was: look at each of those little clusters of characters, and see where is an interesting place to put strain.

Because basically these people are locked in a building together always. So whatever friendship or relationship – romantic, platonic, whatever, they have – if you can’t leave, forever, there’s going to be strain.

E: It’s an interesting dynamic to work with.

C: Yeah – it’s like being stuck in a hotel forever. So those are the points where I thought, “Oh yeah. People are going to be mad.” But by and large, certainly I think Joss has trained a viewership and readership that expects bad things to happen to his characters, right? I love all those characters, but it couldn’t just be five issues of everybody having birthday cake, and having fun. That’s not a story. So that’s what the story turned into, was like, do those then re-form in certain ways, once those have been broken apart? Or do they change shape a little bit?

E: Of course, on top of that we’ve got the larger story of the Alliance and Calista and her group of creepy followers trying to get River back. Did that come out of – I don’t know if I want to spoil things – but it builds up into something that looks like in the next story, it’s going to be a really epic thing. Where did that come from?

C: There is a document – I’m not sure if I remember what the provenance of it was – but it’s included in several of the companions, and in the role-playing game. But Joss wrote it in the early days, I think to give the writers and the crew initially an idea of how this world worked. It’s a brief history of the ‘Verse, about 1,000 to 2,000 words long, written in the vernacular of the show; a history of what’s happened before now. It’s like a more elaborate version of that spoken-word intro that you got in the pilot. But in there, he talks a lot about the war, but there’s a line in there about soldiers who weren’t happy to lay down their arms – these Peacemakers. And it had actually been mentioned and visited in one of the earlier comics. But I felt like that was an interesting thread to pull, because Mal had broken in his own way, but there were a ton of other soldiers out there, and what are those guys up to? And maybe they still have axes to grind. Just looking at real examples from history, people have different agendas. We might agree that those are the Bad Guys, but how far are you willing to go? What are you willing to do? So that’s largely where those characters came from, was this offhand reference.

One of the other threads I found – I realized there was a story hidden in Inara’s backstory that had never been explored.

E: That was very interesting to me too. It kept being mentioned, and no one knew why she had left, and then you pulled that out.

C: I noticed that in reading through the scripts. It’s right there. It’s mentioned fairly early on – she left under a cloud; this was not her first choice, to go out and live in dirt, basically, this really classy lady. So that was a fannish question of mine – “Let’s see what’s back there? What’s interesting about that? What would cause her to have to do that?”

E: No Power in the ‘Verse is out in hardcover now. So what is coming next here? Are you working on something else with this?

C: I don’t know what their next plans are. I have been told that they are doing more stuff, but I don’t know what it is.

E: Okay, well I’ll keep hoping, because you set something up here that I want to know more about – what are Mal and the crew going to do next? But also, you had mentioned working with Georges Jeanty. I’ve known Georges and his work for a long time, and he has a history of working on this type of series, like Buffy, and Firefly, that have ended in the show, but then they’ve come into the comics world. So what’s that collaboration like? 

C: Oh, it’s great! I mean, I really like when a collaboration is really collaborative. It sounds trite but it’s true. Like, I don’t feel like, “Here are your marching orders; go do this thing.” Because I always try as much as possible to solicit input and suggestions on the story side of things from the artist. And there is a gag, a long-running gag in the book, that was entirely Georges’ suggestion. The one with Jayne and the hats, the sweaters… That was him.

E: Well bless him for that one, because that did make me laugh.

C: And as soon as he said it, I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect!” It also helped give a much-needed lightness to it. Because it’s a really heavy story. You gotta get some jokes in there somewhere. So that basically was Jayne’s job in the book.

E: Well here’s the next question – how does his ma always know where he’s gonna be?

C: That was actually something I had to work out the logistics of, and I went back – in that episode where he gets the hat, it’s kind of set up that they check in to see if there’s mail for them. So somehow the way the ‘Verse works is they’re basically “Mailbox, Inc.,” but on different planets, and these guys are going from planet to planet but occasionally check in to see, “Is there anything here for us?”

E: That makes sense. I noticed in reading that there’s a great balance between the characters and the action. Do you, as a writer, have to consciously work on that? Because this is a story with a lot of characters – a Badass Crew! And on top of that, an action series. How do you deal with that as a writer?

C: I start with the visuals, so my scripts always begin with…the first things I write are the panel descriptions. Which are basically my suggestions to the artist, how I think they’re going to draw. Like, “In my head, this is how I think you and your style would do it; if you have a better idea, do that.” And only after I’ve written the entire issue’s-worth of those do I go back and figure out, “Okay, what has to be communicated verbally? What has to be spoken?” And then I put as little of that in as I can.

E: Very cool. I noticed in the back of the hardcover trade, we also have a little fairy tale, which is super cute. I assume that came out as an individual issue?

C: It was actually included in last year’s Free Comic Book Day offer.

E: So how did that happen?

C: Well, the book hadn’t even been announced, but they asked me if I would do a Serenity piece for FCBD, and did I have any ideas. The art is by Stephen Byrne. And Stephen had done a bit of fan art a year or two before that that was like, Disney-Serenity. And so I was like, “Okay. How do we get to there?” And I ripped the plot off entirely from an early ’80s issue of Uncanny X-Men, where Kitty Pryde is telling Illyana Rasputin basically what the X-Men have been doing the last couple of years as a fairy tale. So in that way I was able to tackle some pretty heavy storylines. Like the death of Jean Grey was one of the things that was included in this fairy tale version of the story.

E: Yeah, and this of course tackles Wash, and that is a really interesting way to do that.

C: So I suggested Stephen. I said I would love to have him. I was assuming Joss would be cool with it because Joss already liked his fan art, and I think that was the only written feedback that I got from Joss. He just said, “Charming,” or “Utterly charming,” or something like that. And I was like, “All right, I’ll take that!” It also made people cry.

E: It did tug my heart strings a little bit there. So with Emma, the cute l’il baby, and also Bea and Iris, who we haven’t seen as much of, and obviously not in the show, what’s it like crafting new characters in this ‘Verse?

C: It’s an interesting challenge. Particularly with those two, taking a character who was basically what River would have been if she hadn’t been busted out, and is now being kind of deprogrammed, running around the galaxy having adventures. It was fun, to see, “What’s that like? What have they been doing?” We don’t get to spend as much time with them as I would like.

E: Anything else you’d like fans to know about this book? Or about your other work?

C: It’s out now, it’s gorgeous, it’s super good! Mostly what I do these days is set in the world of Hellboy, so they can check that out.

Thank you, Chris, for sitting down with me for this interview (and Dark Horse for setting it up). Check out Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse, out in hardcover now.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!


Emily S. Whitten: TMNT Season 5 & Rise of the TMNT – There & Back Again?

The current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated TV series is now in its fifth and final season, scheduled to wrap on November 12, 2017. It makes me saaaaaad, because I love not only TMNT (original flavor to present) and this current show but every member of this series’ cast and crew that I’ve met while covering the show (and thanks to Nickelodeon for inviting me to continually cover each season of this freaking awesome TV show). The folks who make this show are amazing, and I feel privileged to have been able to follow their journey through the seasons to its end.

Despite the impending finish of the series, however, there’s a lot of awesomeness that’s been going on this season, and I expect (particularly given what Ciro Nieli said in our most recent interview, and my knowledge of his, Brandon Auman’s, and other crew members’ dedication to respecting this property and getting the stories right) that it will end as perfectly as the rest of the series has developed. As part of that, this season we’ve already gotten an extra-cool addition to the series cast, Miyamoto Usagi of Usagi Yojimbo, the anthropomorphic rabbit rōnin whom creator Stan Sakai based partially on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

Thanks (as always) to Nickelodeon, I got to sit down to talk about this season with Executive Producer Ciro Nieli, Rob Paulsen (voice actor, Donatello), Stan Sakai (creator, Usagi Yojimbo), and Yuki Matsuzaki (voice actor, Miyamoto Usagi). We chatted about Usagi’s appearance in this TMNT series and about the end of the current show.

In particular, we discussed the history of intersections between TMNT and Usagi Yojimbo; how Usagi’s appearance came about in this series; Yuki’s casting and how he prepared for his first animation/voice acting role; Yuki’s reverence for Stan’s work and concern about getting the voice right in Stan’s eyes; Ciro’s focus on casting a Japanese actor for Usagi and general approach to casting; and everyone’s respect for this beloved intellectual property. We also talked about Ciro’s emotional preparation to move on from the series (which I could sense when I toured the Nickelodeon studio earlier this year and visited with him – his love of TMNT and being a part of it are so palpable any time you talk with him) and the determination he and everyone involved have to end the show right.

It was great to talk with everyone about this final season, and as always, I’m glad to share that chat with you here. Check out the video below for the full interview:

Despite my sadness at the End of an Era, I’m looking forward to enjoying a proper finish to the amazing execution of TMNT in the current show. And although I can’t say how any new interpretation of the show will grab me (particularly given, let’s be honest, how much I love the current era of TMNT, and how watching any new version will thus be bittersweet), it is noteworthy that Nickelodeon has announced 26 episodes of a reboot of TMNT called Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Details are scarce, although we do know that Andy Suriano (character designer for Samurai Jack) and Ant Ward (supervising producer on the current TMNT series) are producing the series; but obviously I’ll at least have to give it a chance and see how it goes.

But before then, I’ll be wrapping Season 5 of the current series with y’all and feeling the same pangs of sadness I assume are creeping up on all TMNT fans. Hang in there, fellow Turtles fans. At least we’ll always have these five seasons of awesomeness to console us.

So until this season ends, BOOYAKASHA! And also, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Krypton – Exploring the Unknown

I’ve been a fan of Superman since I was a wee lass – ever since watching that first Christopher Reeve Superman movie on TV. While the X-Men are relatable and Batman is cool and Deadpool is dark yet hilarious, Superman remains the ideal – the symbol of hope and the hero we should all strive to be.

I haven’t watched or read every shred of Superman that’s ever been produced, but I have consumed quite a lot of it; and even when I consider a particular portrayal to be an utter failure to embody Superman (hello, Man of Steel!!), I’m always willing to give the next iteration a chance. I mean, hey – how can you call yourself a Superman fan if you don’t have hope?

But with all the Superman that’s out there, there’s one part of the lore we hear about but still don’t generally see much of – a place that’s almost as much of a mystery to Clark Kent as it is to us. It’s the place of his birth – Krypton. Since a foundation point of the Superman mythos is that it was destroyed as he flew away from Krypton as the last survivor, it makes sense that we don’t often get to experience it in depth. Sure, we’ve seen flashbacks, and alternate universe versions, and the bottle city of Kandor; but we haven’t really lived and breathed Krypton.

The planet and culture have always fascinated me – when creators do approach or reference it, its laws and customs are often portrayed as stern and unyielding, despite its supposed advances in being civilized (and in the sciences particularly). As a lawyer and political theorist, I’m always interested in how societies are structured – and the success or failure of said structures. Not to mention it’s just plain cool to see a fully envisioned alien culture. I do sometimes feel that no one has quite done it justice yet; which isn’t surprising, since Clark Kent and Superman, not Krypton, are by default the focus of Superman stories.

For all the faults I found with Man of Steel (and I mean alllllll the faults. So many faults. Let me count the faults.) one thing I did like in that movie was the glimpse we got of that movie’s vision of Krypton. So I’m definitely interested in another modern take on the planet.

The upcoming Krypton show, which is coming to SyFy in 2018, aims to give us just that. It does have a serious challenge to overcome – giving us a version of Krypton and its inhabitants that both fits with why fans like Superman and also invests us in the fate of the pre-Superman alien culture and family. Given all the times Clark Kent’s human upbringing have been contrasted with the Kryptonian way of doing things, that may be a difficult bridge to cross – but I am more than willing to start that journey with the cast and crew and see where it goes.

Although SDCC saw the very first reveals about the show and thus there were some things we couldn’t yet discuss, I had a great chat with series star Cameron Cuffe (Seyg-El) and Executive Producers Damian Kindler and Cameron Welsh.

They shared what their vision for this (old) new world is like, what characters we’ll be seeing, and how they approach the House of El.

And happily, I can share that with you too.

Check out the interviews below for more Krypton details. And as always, until next time, Servo Lectio!

Interview with Executive Producer Damian Kindler

Interview with Executive Producer Cameron Welsh

Interview with Cameron Cuffe (Seyg-El)


Emily S. Whitten: Psych The Movie – A Christmas Miracle

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Psych. And while I understood that maybe the TV execs felt that after eight seasons it had run its course, still I was sad to see it go.

Everything about the show appealed to me – the goofy premise and the quick-witted humor of main character Shawn Spencer; the unshakeable best-friendship of Shawn and Gus, a loyal companion who didn’t always approve of Shawn and sometimes needed his own space but still accepted Shawn for who he was; the Sherlockian vibe of the show’s formula (and I’m always a sucker for an interesting police procedural); the running gags and nerd references (who would think spotting pineapples could be so much fun?); and the romance that bubbled in the background.

I also appreciated that the show was unafraid to feature a cast of essentially good characters – even hard-boiled Lassiter had a softer side. And I liked that Shawn’s light-hearted shenanigans also revealed his deep understanding of people – his teasing of Lassie, for one example, also served to show Lassie that it was okay to open up a little and trust that not everyone would hurt him because he was vulnerable. From the Chief to big, innocent Buzz, the characters were real without being unnecessarily harsh.

And yet, Psych had a darker side, too. I’m not just talking about the murders. You don’t get to be so good at observing human behavior without an early reason to do so. And while dad Henry’s extreme insistence on young Shawn being observational about details could be looked on as a parent’s attempts to prepare his child for the world, or hone a recognized unique ability; his harsh attitude probably played as much of a role in developing Shawn’s gifts (and stunting his emotional growth) as his actual “training” of Shawn.

The difficulties that Shawn has in maturing – from his hopping from living space to living space and job to job, to his discomfort with anything getting too serious, to his actual and obvious relationship issues with his father as an adult – are directly correlated to both Henry’s parenting in flashbacks and also to his parents’ divorce. I always appreciated that the lightness of the show and of Shawn also grew from those darker roots, and that it wasn’t afraid to reference them.

Yet, while the show acknowledged the emotional damage that Shawn attempted to hide behind humor, it also called out the harm it was doing to his prospects for a fuller life – from his inability early in the show to have a real relationship with a father he couldn’t forgive, to the ongoing frustration of his love interest Juliet with his ability to artfully avoid real intimacy. Not only that, but it explored the growth of all characters, but particularly Shawn. Amidst the treasure hunts, planetarium adventures, and petting of baby bunnies, it showed how Shawn’s eventual emotional maturing (what Steve Franks himself called being “an actual, self-realized human being”) and willingness to face those serious issues for love and be a responsible adult finally allowed Juliet to trust him with her heart.

That’s some heavy lifting for a show that also made a habit of using silly nicknames, throwing out pop culture references, and having its main characters ride around in car nicknamed The Blueberry. And it’s a show where you’re sad to see the end of all the great characters involved.

That’s why I’m so excited that this December, we are getting to hang out with those great characters again – in Psych: The Movie, which will also be starring a favorite actor of mine, Zachary Levi, as a villain. I’m really looking forward to it.

So is the Psych cast and crew, with whom I discussed the movie at SDCC. They spilled about what it’s like to be back together after some time away from the show, where the movie is going to pick up in the threads of everyone’s lives, how Shawn and Juliet are doing, Henry’s new fashion choices, working with Zac Levi, and a whole lot more!

After our chats I’m super excited to see the movie on the USA Network this December. I’m sure you will be too after you check out all of the fun interviews below!

Interview with Producers Chris Henze and Kelly Kulchak

Interview with James Roday (Shawn Spencer)

Interview with Dule Hill (Burton Guster)

Interview with Maggie Lawson (Juliet O’Hara)

Interview with Kirsten Nelson (Karen Vick)

See you around, Psych-Os! And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Awesome Con Round Up

Sweet Christmas, everyone – this year’s Awesome Con was busy as all get-out and chock-full of cool things to see and do, and con season is rushing by so fast that I’m just now getting to my recap! (We can also blame the con crud for this, alas. It’s been following me around for a solid month.) As always, there were way more activities than one mere mortal could get to. And on top of that, this was the first year where I really saw multiple events surrounding the con that were either not directly affiliated with the con but inspired by it, or connected to it but not part of the main con experience.

So let’s start there. First off, I was part of a pre-con round-table interview Awesome Con set up with the inestimable Stan Lee. Stan answered many great questions. He talked about what books he enjoyed reading as he was starting to write comics, and I was pleased to hear references to great classic writers (in both “literary” fiction and sci-fi/fantasy) including Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Shakespeare. He emphasized the importance of good character and plot in writing comics, rather than just fight scenes, and the reasons why comics are a good medium to tell stories. He discussed the changing perceptions of comics over the years. He gave his best advice to writers, which is to write for yourself – “because I’m not that unique; so if I like it, surely there will be others out there who will like it too.” He told a fun story about why he started nicknaming creators in the comics credits. He chatted about working with Jack Kirby. And he answered one of my questions, sharing that his favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos to date are the recent one in [[[Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2]]] and the one where he’s drinking with Thor in a bar – because for that one, he got to be in two scenes! You can listen to the whole interview here and it’s well worth a listen. Enjoy!

Next, I was invited to talk with David Whettstone on DC’s WPFW, 89.3 FM about superheroines and female creators in comics. We had an interesting and in-depth chat that ranged from the history of comics up to modern times and the Wonder Woman movie, and you can listen to it here.

That same night, I headed over to the National Museum of Women in the Arts to moderate a fantastic “Fresh Talks” panel they had put together for the Wednesday of Awesome Con, “Who Are the New Superwomen of the Universe?” The panel was inspired in part by Awesome Con taking place in town, and featured four talented women of the comics world, Carolyn Cocca (author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, which just won an Eisner!), Gabby Rivera (YA author and writer for Marvel’s America series), Ariell Johnson (owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Philadelphia), and Ashley A. Woods (illustrator, graphic novelist, and artist for the Stranger Comics series, Niobe: She is Life). Each gave an interesting or inspiring presentation, which you can watch in full here:

Carolyn’s focused on the representations of superheroines throughout history to the present, with entertaining illustrative visuals; Gabby gave a lively talk on being a creator and how her community of women inspired her to write and be true to herself; Ariell discussed why and how she became the only black woman comic book store owner on the East Coast; and Ashley talked about her years-long journey to becoming a successful comics artist.

We all then talked about everything from the new Wonder Woman movie to why women should not feel they have to “prove” themselves in comics – because we’ve always been here, and we’re awesome! You can watch the moderated conversation in full here:

The room was packed and the panel was amazing, and I was honored to be a part of it. (Also, it got great feedback which is awesome, because that hopefully means more events like this!)

Thursday brought even more pre-con pop culture awesomeness, with a screening of Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest film, and a Q & A with Wright made possible because he was in town as a guest at Awesome Con. Baby Driver is a very cool and unique film, about a hearing-impaired young man who’s ended up in a life of crime due to his ability to be an amazing getaway driver when driving to the right soundtrack – but who really wants to get out, and thinks maybe he can…after just one more job. The main character literally goes by “Baby” in the film; and while he’s not exactly perfect, he’s clearly a good-hearted kid despite his issues. Baby Driver is definitely in a different vein than Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy (although stylistically it’s still clearly an Edgar Wright film), and is both slightly surreal (packed with high-speed bank heists pulled off by quirky characters, all set to the diegetic soundtrack that is mostly dictated by what Baby decides to listen to) and more grounded that the Trilogy, with less geek references and a deeper focus on interpersonal relationships. These include the budding romance between Baby (Ansel Elgort) and Debora (Lily James), Baby’s relationship with his foster father (CJ Jones), and his relationship with crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and several super quirky colleagues in crime who are played very well by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Elza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx. Overall, Baby Driver is a balanced mix of frenetic action, quieter human moments, and laugh-out-loud humor. And, of course, the soundtrack is off the hook. If you can accept that it’s not the next movie in the Cornetto franchise and go in eager to see something new and different from Edgar Wright, it’s in theaters now, and I definitely recommend it. In fact, I’m planning to go watch it again!

I would have been happy to also cover yet another cool Awesome Con-inspired event that was going on Friday and Saturday at the Library of Congress, where they interviewed ‘70s Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter live, and displayed over 100 unique comics collectibles in their archives (so cool!), but alas, there’s only so much time in the day, and I was too busy to leave during the con. But oh, the fun I had at Awesome Con!

This year, since the fourth North American Discworld Convention is rapidly approaching (September 1-4 at the Sheraton New Orleans! Get your tickets for The Genuan Experience now!), we are in high promotional mode, and had a table on the con floor, which included a standee where folks could get their pictures taken as Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Tiffany Aching, and a handy reading guide for the Discworld series. We also put on two panels, one on how Discworld fandom changes lives (too true), and one on the concept of Nature vs. Nurture in Good Omens. I was delighted to see many Discworld and Good Omens fans in attendance, and we had a great time sharing our thoughts.


But those weren’t the only panels I saw. I also had a blast moderating a panel for Batman artist Greg Capullo, who is a straight-talking comics pro with some great insights into the creative process. He shared how he honed his skills, which was, in part, to get a bunch of different sketch pads and choose all different subjects, and draw e.g. two hours a day in each pad on specifics, whether it be life drawing, or feet, etc. He noted that although as a professional and working on deadlines all the time, he doesn’t have time for that much practice any more, revelations on how to draw more proficiently still come to him. He also discussed the importance of being able to really listen and take critiques from others in the industry when you are starting out. Greg shared what it was like working with Scott Snyder and the way they had to figure out a collaboration unlike any he had dealt with before, and many other insights. You can listen to most of the excellent panel here (apologies for the missing first minute, where Greg explains that even as a child, he drew all the time, and his teacher recognized his drawing proficiency). What a pleasure it was talking with Greg on stage.

And although I maaaay have overslept and missed the 10 a.m. David Tennant panel (and cried about it later. Why put such a popular panel so early, Awesome Con? Whyyyy), I did make it to the 10 a.m. Stan Lee panel, and that was great fun! (Also, ComicMix made the mistake of giving me access to the official Twitter account, so I was live-tweeting! I’m sure they’ll never regret this move.)

I also did some live-tweeting from the StarTalk Live panel, which I loved both last year and this. This year featured host Colonel Chris Hadfield, veteran of two space shuttle missions and former commander of the International Space Station and co-host actor Scott Adsit. Man, it was fun to see it live – not to mention we got to experience holographic Stephen Hawking beaming in-and-out to share some theories on questions the panel was discussing.

And I did get to see at least part of one more panel. It overlapped with my moderating duties, but I didn’t want to completely miss the Samurai Jack Live Read with Phil LaMarr and Jim Zub, writer and co-creator of the Samurai Jack comics, so I snuck in to see a little bit. It was excellent, with Phil and Jim voicing multiple characters in time with comics panels being projected on screen. Man. I could watch voice actors doing live reads all the time. So much fun!!

Of course along with panels, we can’t forget the fun of walking the exhibit hall and Artist Alley at a con. I got to do at least a little of that, which was also a good opportunity to show off the Gwen Stacy cosplay I finally finished, with my friend Alicia who was doing her Harley Quinn. During my wanderings I bought a queen hedgehog from Cuddles and Rage, got a free copy of Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End from Bria over at the Star Wars 501st booth, took some time out to record a couple of segments on Discworld and on The Golden Age of Geekdom for the Fantastic Forum TV show, and chatted with comics friends like Jim Calafiore, Joe Harris, Sorah Suhng, Daniel Govar, and Tony Moy. It was a blast!

You can see a collection of my livetweets for both the Stan Lee and StarTalk panels over on my Awesome Con Storify and photos over on Flickr. And stay tuned for even more comic-con adventures, because a deluge of San Diego Comic Con columns are coming very soon. Until then, stay cool in the summer heat and Servo Lectio!


Emily S. Whitten: Nickelodeon, Squishy Seats… and Me!

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Nickelodeon Animation Studio and their new Entertainment Lab in Burbank, CA. I chatted with Chris Young, Senior Vice President for the Entertainment Lab; Chris Savino, creator of The Loud House; and Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz, creator of Shimmer and Shine. I played around in their newly developed immersive and interactive VR experience; sat in on a recording session for Shimmer and Shine; stopped in to say hi to Ciro Nieli, executive producer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and see his cool office; and viewed all kinds of creativity in progress during the studio tour.

And let me tell you: the experience was awesome.

As in, so awesome, I’m wondering how Alternate Me could get a job there. Because let’s be honest – there are office jobs that look like The Office, and then there are workplaces like Nickelodeon, which has slime stairs, a SpongeBob wall, weird egg-cup like chairs that tip you in circles until you feel like maybe you’re going to fall backwards but you don’t, full-sized versions of cartoon characters just sitting around, rotating art exhibits, squishy seats shaped like the iconic Nickelodeon Splat, outdoor creative collaboration areas, and walls and walls of stills from their shows and white boards filled with creative notes and doodles.

And in the midst of all that is the Entertainment Lab, a new unit that will spearhead long-range research and development efforts around new technologies for Nick and its audience. There, I met with Chris Young, who invited me in to the immersive multiplayer virtual reality game they’re developing right now, the VR Slime Zone. Since it’s VR, the game requires a headset through which you view and hear the action. It also uses left and right handheld joysticks that you can walk around with. Once in the game, you can pick a Nickelodeon character to be, and then there are several activities to try.

When I played, first I got used to moving – both walking around on a real-world area of carpet to walk in the game, and teleporting my character to different spots using the controls. Then we were shown the slime gun, which can be used to – you guessed it – slime other players for points! Super-fun! In addition to that, you could use the slime gun to play a shooting gallery game. And if you wanted some variety, there was also a basketball court where you could shoot hoops (I was decent with the gun but throwing the weightless basketballs took some getting used to – I never did make a basket!); and for the more creative types, tubes of different-colored paints you could pick up and use to paint in the air.

What’s really cool about this game-in-progress – beyond the endless varieties of interactive activities the lab could potentially design for it – is that it’s a real-time VR interaction with other players. Some of the Nickelodeon folks hopped into the game with me to show me its features and interact; and Chris envisions that friends could play with each other in this space from their individual homes, in a more immersive experience than you can get from, say, playing a regular video game together.

After the demo, I sat down with Chris and he shared with me more of his thoughts about the new Lab and his goals for it:

“As Senior VP for the Entertainment Lab, my focus has been looking at new technology and how we can use it to create new forms of content or the tools that we use to create that content. One thing I do is look at using game engine technologies to create a real-time universe that uses virtual reality and mixed reality. …In the last half-year, we’ve been looking at the Lab with a more entertainment focus; to look at new ways of connecting some of this technology to live-action or to games and our recreation and consumer products business. There’s a cool opportunity right now around location-based technology – out-of-home experiences that might work in a retail or recreation-type setting.”

Chris also talked about the more future-focused aspect that exists for this Lab:

“The Lab really looks two to three years out, identifying new technology and cool ways we might use it to entertain our audience. It’s hard to predict what the future of entertainment is going to look like. The real opportunity right now is to experiment around with different ideas. For instance, the Slime Zone VR is a suggestion for what a Nick metaverse might be in the future, where you could connect with your friends and your family, and have these shared experiences around Nick IP. In the VR, you can interact, you can make art, you can watch cartoons, and you can run around with a slime blaster and slime each other…”

But Chris noted that the Lab is not just about bringing this interactive entertainment to the masses:

“A big focus of what we are trying to do here as well is to give these tools to the artists who work at Nickelodeon and help them see the potential for different ways for seeing things, or maybe unlock an idea.”

I bet a lot of cool ideas will come out of the Lab! You can listen to my whole interview with Chris Young here.

And speaking of cool ideas, I then sat down with Chris Savino and we talked about his show, The Loud House. The Loud House follows 11-year-old Lincoln Loud as he gives an inside look at what it takes to survive in the bedlam of a big family, especially as the only boy with 10 sisters. The show came about as after it was pitched as a two-minute short during Nickelodeon’s annual Animated Shorts Program. It was really great hearing Chris’s insights into working in animation for the last twenty-six years and on his show, which happily, I can share here!

We first discussed how things have changed with the internet, and how new talents can be discovered via that sharing.

“I am impressed with how much bravery kids have in putting their work out there and showing it, regardless of all the competition. But as much as things change they stay the same. I think it all boils down to talent – if you’re on the artist side, you kind of have to have it. And there has to be an awareness when you’re looking at other people’s work regarding whether they have a talent. Talent aside, there’s a need for understanding what the job entails; and the bigger picture of what your part of the job is giving to the whole. Sometimes it’s hard to get a perspective on that. But circling back around, the things that stay the same are that it’s all about storytelling and character – that is key. It’s also about using your role to make the story better than it was before you got it.”

Regarding how Chris came up with The Loud House, he shared:

“I’m a guy who admittedly has very few ideas; and when I have an idea that I like, it is with me for a long time. It could be years before I even show anybody anything about an idea… Over the years I have pitched a number of shows, but with this particular show, I was guaranteed a short after pitching three ideas to Nickelodeon’s Animated Shorts Program. The Loud House was originally a pitch about a boy rabbit with twenty-five sisters. I think Nickelodeon gravitated toward that pitch because it was about a big family, and they were looking for a big family. And the notion of me being from a big family – five boys and five girls – intrigued them. I think they thought it could bring authenticity to the project.

When it was suggested that the characters become human, I did start connecting the dots and pulling from my life. As they became human characters I started to connect with them more, and I realized that was what the show needed to get the audience to connect.”

Chris and I also talked in great detail about the development and growth of the show:

“For the first thirteen half-hours, I wanted to try to stay in the house as much as possible, because it was created like a microcosm of the world around them. That hallway was designed to feel like a street that they all lived on, but then you could go into their different domains and experience whatever their character is experiencing. But we knew eventually we needed to venture out. So we slowly expanded outwards from there.

While keeping Lincoln in the forefront, we were able to tell stories where even when he was the main character, the character who had the emotional arc was one of the sisters. And of course they had friends, and we started to show them more. Another thing that changed was showing the parents’ faces, which we didn’t show in the beginning. If the parents’ faces were shown, the idea was they’d have more of a role in the episode, and the kids could run to them and say, ‘I’m telling,’ and the episode would be over. I wanted to make sure that the kids, in all of their wisdom, were forced to solve their problems on their own. That was a rule up front.

One thing that happened that we didn’t expect is that we hired two super-talented voice actors for the parents, Brian Stepanek and Jill Talley, and the writers would come to the recordings and say ‘I want to write more for these people.’ So they started writing more dialogue, and the parents gained a bigger role, and it became something where we had to show their faces.”

We also chatted about what to expect from the next season, and branching out into other families:

“In the show, we ended up developing that Ronnie Anne, who likes Lincoln at school, turns out to be Bobby’s little sister, and he is dating Lincoln’s sister Lori. And then we kind of didn’t know what else we wanted to do with those characters, and I had this crazy idea to have them move away into the city with their grandparents, aunt, and uncle, and their kids, so it’s a multigenerational family. I think doing things like that also gives us new perspectives that we can look at, with generations, and culture, and heritage.”

Chris shared a lot of other fun tidbits, and you can listen to all of them here.

What was really fun about the studio visit was getting to talk to several show-runners in one day and hear their unique experiences. I next sat down with Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz to talk about her show, Shimmer and Shine. Farnaz shared that she started working at Nickelodeon fifteen years ago as an intern and came back after finishing her degree to work on a multitude of shows. During that, she started pitching to Nick Jr., and after multiple pitches and tries, she landed Shimmer and Shine in 2013. Speaking of the show and her inspirations, she said:

“My little girl and boy inspire me in so many ways every single day. For example, Shimmer’s catch phrase is ‘My favorite color is glitter.’ That is something my little girl said when she was about three – she’s turning six now. Ever since they were little I started watching, ‘What makes them laugh?’ ‘Why are they laughing?’ ‘What is it about their favorite cartoon that they like?’ And then I try to apply that so that the show appeals to both boys and girls. A fun fact is that 60% of our audience is actually boys. I often have parents come up to me like, “My little boy watches Shimmer and Shine…!” and they’re so confused by it! But it’s all about fun characters, and action adventure, and magic – so why not!

I developed the show out of things that I like. Everybody always asks me, ‘are you Shimmer or Shine?’ And I say, ‘Well, I look like a Shimmer and act like a Shine.’ I’m the girl who likes to get dressed up but also climb the mountain before she comes in to work. So it’s a balance, which is what’s in the show too.”

Farnaz also talked about balancing message and entertainment in a show for young kids:

“If I wouldn’t let my kids watch it…I do try to keep it where the morals and the messages are always good, the girls are always supportive of each other, they never put each other down, and they always work together as a team to accomplish what’s going on. That’s always in the back of our heads. And one thing we keep an eye on is Zeta, our bad guy, to make sure she’s not too bad because we don’t want her to just be mean. We’re very conscious of those things as we’re writing and developing.”

We also discussed resilience, which is a theme of the show:

“It’s a huge quality that I have; I just didn’t realize that I had it! If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be here. Because development is not easy. I always say, ‘You’d better be prepared to get knocked down, punched while you’re down, and then get up and say, ‘Absolutely, what’s next?” Because it’s never easy. Getting to this place was a lot of work, and it was very difficult, but I’m grateful for every minute of it. It made me stronger and it made me wiser, and it made me tougher. That’s just who I am.”

Regarding advice for those wanting to get into the business, Farnaz advised:

“Be humble. Be eager. Soak up as much as you can. There are things to learn all around you every day. You just have to be open to it. Never stop growing. I always hope to not be the smartest person in the room. I want to be surrounded by people who know more than me, because that’s exciting!

It really comes down to you. You’re going to hear no more often than yes. You need to be able to not take it personally. I think that’s a big thing for a lot of artists. You put so much of yourself into everything that you do, so it’s hard not to take it personally. But you have to be able to disconnect yourself from what you submit, take a step back, and try to understand, ‘Okay, they don’t like this. Why don’t they like it? What is it about it that needs to adjust? What are they reacting to?’ And to be able to look at it as an outsider, not as yourself looking at your work in a precious manner.”

Finally, Farnaz shared that the show has been picked up for a fourth season, during which they plan to explore some new locations within the Shimmer and Shine world. We had a great chat, and you can listen to the whole discussion here https://soundcloud.com/emilyesse/2017-nickelodeon-studio-tour-farnaz-esnaashari-charmatz-interview.

While I was in Shimmer-and-Shine-land, I also got to actually sit in on part of a recording session. It was so neat to see some behind-the-scenes action as one of its lead voice actresses recorded different inflections for script lines and the folks in the recording booth selected which versions to use. And although I’ve always known that being a voice actor must be a lot of fun, this gave me a first-hand look at the patience that is also required as the actor goes through lines several times, and the way that she has to be continually “on,” performing in the booth for long stretches. And, of course, it gave me a first-hand look at how amazing the voice actors and directors are – because all of the readings were good in their various ways, and yet once the director had chosen a reading I could see why that variation was the one chosen. It was clear just from the short time I was sitting there how uniquely talented these folks who create the Nickelodeon shows we love really are.

But much as I loved watching the live recording, we had to move on eventually, because what would a visit to Nickelodeon be without stopping in to see one of my favorite executive producers, Ciro Nieli of TMNT? Since TMNT is in its last season (noooooo!!), Ciro may soon be moving on to other projects (which are currently unknown, but I’m sure whatever he does next will be excellent), but his office was still packed with Turtles merch (including a manhole-cover pillow I coveted), horror movie posters, and an actual spinner-rack of comics (I wonder if anyone would mind if I planted one of those in my office…). The halls around were plastered with Turtles posters, concept sketches, and other cool art (including little Mousers someone had drawn on the white boards). And down the hall was a full-sized version of the actual in-show arcade game that the Turtles have in their lair. How freaking cool is that??

Visiting the studio was such a blast. It was a real experience to pull back the curtain a bit on how great cartoon shows and interactive experiences are developed; and as always, a pleasure to speak with some of the talented creative minds behind it all. Thanks, Nickelodeon, for giving me a little peek into your world (and check out my full set of photos here!

And fortunately, for anyone who is going to San Diego Comic Con this week, you can get a little bit of this experience too. Nickelodeon’s nostalgia-themed San Diego booth and panels were a favorite part of my SDCC experience last year, and I’ve been wondering what we’ll see from them this year. It turns out this year’s experience will focus on Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Every day of the convention, Nickelodeon’s booth (#4113) will feature a 23-foot-tall pineapple, housing an interactive gaming experience which will allow fans to step inside the world of SpongeBob SquarePants, TMNT, or The Loud House (after my recent VR experience, I definitely want to try this!); a life-size replica of Helga’s shrine from Hey Arnold!; a retail area featuring a custom t-shirt station and one-of-a-kind, exclusive collectibles (I need the sepia-toned Avatar Aang statue!); costumed-character appearances; and autograph signings with the voice casts and creators from Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nick animation creators Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents), Chris Savino (The Loud House) and Billy Lopez (Welcome to the Wayne), and more.

Nickelodeon will also present four panels during the convention: Rocko’s Modern Life: Return to Earth!, a reunion with the original voice actors and sneak peek at the upcoming TV special (Thursday); Hey Arnold!: From Hillwood to the Jungle!, celebrating the return of the beloved characters in the upcoming TV movie with past and present casts and a live musical performance (Friday); Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a dive into the thrilling story arcs in season five (Friday); and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-kini Bottom, a behind-the-scenes look at the new stop-motion Halloween special, along with a live table read of a classic episode picked by fans via social media (Saturday). The panels will feature the likes of Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Ciro Nieli, Stan Sakai, Sean Astin, Rob Paulsen, Greg Cipes, Eric Bauza, Carolyn Lawrence, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, and many more.

Whew! So much excitement had, and so much more coming up. I can’t wait to get into some more Nickelodeon fun at the San Diego Comic-Con. If you’re going, check it out, and maybe I’ll see you there! Be sure to say hi!

And until next time, Servo Lectio

Emily S. Whitten: Amazonians Unite! Wonder Woman and Geek Fashion

Five years ago almost to the day I wrote this column about the abysmal state of geek fashion and marketing for women. In 2015 I wrote this column, lauding the advances that had been made in that area and highlighting some great finds.

Now I write to celebrate the fact that there are currently cool women’s fashion options for so many geek properties that you could basically throw a dart at a list of fandoms and be assured of knowing that there’s a cute branded dress, piece of jewelry, pair of shoes, or at least women’s-fit tee for that property out there somewhere.

That. Is. Awesome.

I’m glad to note that there are a number of good companies out there that consistently pay attention to women’s fashion for geeks. One of my favorite geek tee companies, TeeTurtle, has sold comfy and flattering women’s tees for some time; and recently advertised that they have three fits available for men and women – recognizing that we all have different bodies and preferences for fit. (And OMG, their new Groot and Guardians of the Galaxy tees! Want!!) And ThinkGeek, a general favorite for geek merchandise of all sorts, has a solid rotating roster of women’s fashions, including this Twinkling Stars Skirt and this Glow-in-the-Dark Constellation Dress, which I surely should own.

But to me, the juggernaut of women’s geek fashion at present is Hot Topic, in large part thanks to Ashley Eckstein and Her Universe.

I’ve spoken to Ashley before about the pioneering role she’s played in this industry, and I can’t overstate the effect the Her Universe Fashion Show held at SDCC has had on it, either. Bringing in aspiring high-fashion designers who are both passionately immersed in the fandoms and are designing specifically for women has resulted in some of the most brilliantly unique fashions I have seen – both genuinely fashionable enough to walk down any runway, and better than regular runway clothes because of the layered fandom meanings behind the designs. And taking the winning designers to the next level by giving them the opportunity to design collections for Hot Topic was the next step in bringing women solid geek chic options with a lot of thought and tailoring for our gender behind them. I’m looking forward to seeing what new designers bring to the table at this year’s fashion show, and hope the show is around for a long time.

I also can’t imagine what the state of my convention-attending (and general) wardrobe would be these days without these designs. From cute dresses to wear when doing my interviews, moderating panels, or going to amazing geek parties to stealth geekery  I wear to my daily work, to jackets to cosplay pieces to pajama pants, when it comes to Hot Topic fandom fashions (and especially when new collections are announced) I pretty much just say, “Shut up and take my money!”

And that brings us to their latest new release, the Wonder Woman collection. It seems weirdly appropriate that exactly five years after my column bemoaning the lack of marketing and design recognition of the female contingent of fandom, we’re getting both a movie in which Wonder Woman, arguably the most prominent female character in comics, has first billing in her own big budget movie that also ties into the larger DC movie universe, and a beautifully designed collection of women’s fashion celebrating the movie’s release.

I’m eagerly anticipating seeing the movie as soon as I get a spare moment (I’ve seen enough good reviews already to be more optimistic than I’ve been about previous modern DC movies). And I’ve already managed to get my hot little hands on several items from the Hot Topic/Her Universe Wonder Woman collection.

Of the pieces offered, I was most interested in the Lasso Dress, the Reversible Dress, the Ombre Skirt, the Faux Leather Jacket, and the 3-piece Cosplay Wedge Boots and managed to snag the first three. (These collections go super-fast. I couldn’t land the shoes because they were already out of my size.)

All of my wardrobe pieces are fantastic. I already love them and I’ve barely even worn them out yet! I have, however, modeled them all for you so you can see how they fit on a regular non-model-type person.

I tried the Ombre Skirt first. It is very comfortable, with an elastic waist that keeps it snug but not too tight. It feels airy but also not flimsy, with a lining and a translucent outer layer. The high-low gradient design is charming, with stars sprinkled over it, and it twirls nicely (always fun!). It’s a very summery-feeling skirt, which is why it’s extra-cool that it also has a special Wonder Woman logo that appears in UV light.

(I tested it, and it appears boldly and almost immediately, and disappears again on leaving sunlight. It’s amazingly cool.) Overall, I love it.

Next up was the Lasso Dress. This one is great in that it looks fairly dressy but is made of a comfortable fabric (with pockets). The combination of the intricate gold neckline and the elegant lasso belt made me feel like a true Amazonian princess when I put it on. Add a pair of gladiator sandals or gold heels and you’re 100% ready to join the Themyscirans for their evening revels.

Last up was the Reversible Wonder Woman Cosplay Dress. This dress is definitely going on the convention circuit with me! It’s light, comfortable, and flattering. The Wonder Woman design side hits in all the right places so that you really do look almost like you’re wearing her costume. And the brown-and-gold logo side is appealing and oddly elegant considering the design is logos. This side is also more subtle, so it can be worn out and about when you’re feeling like being a little bit stealth about your Geekness. (And it’s made with tear-away tags so it’s easy to wear both sides.) I’m excited to find places to wear it!

All three items are excellent unique designs that look good, fit well, and feel comfortable. From the pieces I’ve tried, this collection gets an A+ from me.

So have we reached the zenith of geek fashion for women thanks to Her Universe and Hot Topic? Much as I love their items (clearly!) I hope not! There’s still plenty of room out there for other companies and designers to bring their unique fandom fashion visions to life – and I hope to see even more successes like the Her Universe/Hot Topic collaboration come to pass.

But in the meantime, I’m going to revel in my new Wonder Woman fashions and keep an eye out for the latest from Hot Topic. And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: GOTGv2’s Family Affair

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 this weekend, and man, did I have a blast. Is it a 100% perfect movie? Maybe not – how many comics adaptations are? But is it a really solid comics flick, an excellent second chapter to the Guardians’ adventure, and one of the most fun Marvel movies out to date? Yes, yes, and yes! And was it also made by creators who had a love for the source material and the actual product itself, knew their audience wanted an even more epic Guardians story, and delivered without falling into the more-of-the-same-only-bigger-equals-underwhelming-sequel trap? You bet!

(Warning: some SPOILERS ahead!)

Guardians Vol. 2 paints its backdrops in broad strokes. It is, as it should be, a space epic. The Guardians planet-hop, crash spaceships, and, at one point, bounce through something like forty space jumps at once. There are also several other groups of space-faring folk to keep track of – different factions of Ravagers, the newly-introduced Sovereign, and, of course, Peter Quill’s long-absent father. And the scenery is vast, unusual, and visually stunning, whether we’re seeing the innards of a collapsing planet or fireworks at a rare Ravager ceremony.

But set into all of this are the smaller scenes that knit this movie together with one thread: family. The theme is everywhere – from the reminder that the Guardians, even when they’re fighting, have chosen to be a family; to the denouement of Peter’s tamped-down desire to know his real father and his confrontation of difficult parental issues; to the rivalry between Gamora and her sister Nebula; to the well-played new friendship that’s struck up between the overly literal Drax and the extremely sheltered Mantis; to the bloody and harsh conflict that plays out between the Ravager factions; to gruff Yondu’s bonding with the equally prickly Rocket, and the redemption arc of Kraglin’s relationship with Yondu; to, of course, everyone’s involvement with The Growing Up of Little Groot (who is, as in Vol. I, one of the best parts of any scene).

Although interactions with Little Groot (no longer a potted baby stick, but still dancing adorably, particularly when set against the intense space-monster battle of the opening credits) are cute as can be (except when he’s killing folk, or, to be honest, even when he is), most of the familial messages are not all sweetness and light. But the overall gestalt of the film is that although families can be dysfunctional, messy, and even sometimes irredeemable, the value of being able to be your true self and still rely on family – whether they be your blood relatives of simply the people who have decided to love you like they are – is the most important thing.

Writer and director James Gunn hammers this home by having characters straight out remind us that the Guardians are, in fact, a family, in a couple of perhaps unnecessary “telling instead of showing” moments. However, unlike in Iron Man 2 where we were told about how Tony had become a better person after the events of Iron Man but the “showing” didn’t really back that up, the moments that Gunn uses to build this movie really carry that message.

And maybe he’s also playing with that “tell vs. show” aspect. Quill’s “real” father tells him all about how much he wanted to find his son as he explains (using a hilariously plastic-y series of museum exhibit-like display pods) his courtship of Peter’s mother; but then shows how little value he has for family through his actions and the harm he brings to Peter. Whereas Yondu, who raised Peter, regularly told Peter fairly awful stuff (“You said you would eat me!” “I thought that was funny!”), but consistently, even to the point of losing the respect and loyalty of his crew, looks out for and will not harm Peter. Likewise, Drax tells Mantis, in his usual tactless way, that he thinks her appearance is ugly and disgusting – but he is consistently kind and gentle towards her, and looks out for her and patiently answers her questions. Gamora takes Nebula prisoner and Nebula swears revenge – but when push comes to shove, neither can let the other go. And Groot – well, Groot tells everyone that he is Groot, and we just love him for it, end of story.

In focusing on the characters and their bonds, Guardians Vol. 2 also avoids the trait I dislike in so many comics space stories (and crossovers). Often, these stories get so caught up in the Grandiose Larger Purpose of what is going on – this planet is fighting that planet which is fighting that other planet over there – that I really stop caring which Planet wins, because they’re all just planets. But Guardians doesn’t throw focus. It doesn’t neglect the spaces within the epic story that is, in fact, also happening as Peter’s father tries to take over the universe.

It recognizes the mundane moments that sometimes show who people are more than a grand gesture or epic fight, and that make the audience care. Gunn being who he is, I’m not surprised that he almost takes this to the next level, to the point where the characters spend several movie minutes searching for Scotch tape. Some moviegoers might be put off by this, but I see it as part and parcel of who the Guardians are, and the unique sense of fun they bring to saving the world. Pretty much like when Rocket assigned Peter to acquire a prisoner’s fake leg for a prison break plan in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I, and then it turned out he didn’t need it and simply thought it would be hilarious to send Peter to get it (that still makes me laugh).

Fortunately, Gunn and the rest of the cast and crew didn’t lose that humor in Guardians Vol. 2, and in fact, in some places, amped it up in the best way. Drax (Dave Bautista), for instance, has been developed beyond the already humorous incongruity of his literal interpretations of the expressive way most people speak, to a character who is now more relatable but still unreasonably tactless and blunt at all the wrong moments. The result is that he gets some of the most subtly humorous but also human dialogue exchanges in the film, particularly with Mantis (Pom Klementieff, who is adorable, and stellar in keeping an equilibrium between Mantis’s sweet naiveté and the strong emotions she experiences as an empath).

Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is hilarious for the sheer fun he takes in mayhem and destruction (the scenes of him messing with the Ravagers in the forest are absolutely hysterical). Chris Pratt continues to balance Star Lord’s irreverence for serious moments and almost childlike sense of fun with the responsibilities of being the natural-born leader of the group. And Groot (in some magical combination of CGI and Vin Diesel that is definitely more than the sum of its parts) brings the house down while he tries and epically fails to bring his friends various objects to help them escape from a holding cell.

Of course, some characters are more suited to be “the straight man,” but even though Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Peter’s dad (Kurt Russell), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) tend to be played straighter overall, each of them does a great job and also still gets at least a few moments of humor (and Michael Rooker has one of the absolutely funniest lines in the movie as they’re all falling to the ground towards the end). Heck, even the seriousness of the Sovereign, who exude gravitas and are quick to take offense, is undermined by the fact that they go to war by, essentially, playing space video games (Ender’s Game, anyone?).

But I think a point being made here is that life doesn’t have to be all serious or all fun – like this movie, it can contain everything from deadly Ravagers bouncing through the air like helpless popcorn at the hands of a “trash panda;” to poor little Groot being bullied and sadly squelching away (and boy, did that make me want to punch that whole mean crew in the face); to the leader of the saviors of the galaxy choosing to save that galaxy as a giant Pac-Man; to Yondu’s arrow snaking through the darkness in the most beautiful kind of 80s neon death I have ever seen as it kills those who betrayed him; to the universal trope of every teenager everywhere, no matter what species, being yelled at about their messy rooms; to the whole of space exploding into glorious fireworks to honor fallen family. This movie is, all in a couple of hours, ridiculous, badass, serious, not taking itself seriously, heartwarming, grim, riotously fun, incredibly sad, gloriously chaotic, seriously ugly, and vibrantly beautiful.

Which means that at its heart, despite the epic space setting and multitude of species, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is a very human movie – and as Peter says when his father informs him that turning his back on his legacy will make him only human: “What’s so terrible about that?”

Not a thing, and I’m glad that the Guardians will be returning so we can be reminded of that yet again in, I assume, Volume 3 (the soundtrack of which had better be played on a Zune).

Until then, feel free to check out this clip from my further discussion of Guardians Vol. 2 on the Fantastic Forum radio show (the whole episode of which will be up here shortly), and don’t forget to Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Believe! American Gods is the One You Want!


The Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel American Gods is finally here, and having seen the first four episodes, I can tell you that, like Mad Sweeney in a bar fight, I am all in.

For those who haven’t read Gaiman’s novel, first published in 2001, it and the Starz adaptation featured are centered around an impending battle between two types of American gods – the “old gods” who crossed the seas from other countries with the immigrants who believed in them, and the “new gods” of technology, celebrity, drugs, and mass media that have gained in followers as belief in the old ways of life waned. The conflict is seen through the eyes of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a recently released convict who finds himself at loose ends after his old life falls apart, and becomes the personal assistant of the mysterious and charming Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Shadow’s adventures with Wednesday as they travel the country meeting Wednesday’s mysterious associates and gathering them for the coming war drives the plot as both the viewer and Shadow learn more about who Wednesday is and what he is up to.

In the beginning of the TV series, the story unfolds gradually because we are seeing it as Shadow experiences it. It mixes vivid dream sequences with Shadow’s quiet awe at experiencing vast expanses of scenery after his imprisoned life, but also with Wednesday’s more lively banter, which pulls Shadow out of himself. The style is decompressed and may require patience early on from those unfamiliar with the book, but it also allows you to really sink into the richly detailed storytelling that Gaiman does so well and that the production crew has brought to life.

These specifics serve to make this work of fantasy fiction feel oddly real – like this could certainly happen, if not to us, then at least to some other person somewhere. The first two episodes are a slow build, but as the pieces begin to slot in place for both Shadow and the audience, the pace quickens – as the weirdness Shadow is experiencing stacks up, and Shadow starts to accept that the world is not what he believed it to be. It’s possible that the introductory episodes may be a bit confusing for those who haven’t read the book, as a pantheon of characters is introduced pretty early on, sometimes only with hints about what gods or goddesses they portray; but I think that patience will pay off as things coalesce by episodes three and four.

After all, this is a show that, eventually, has everything – mystery, humor, weirdness, raw emotion, sex (and it’s varied and not censored, so be advised), creepy chills, heists and cons, immense sadness, over-the-top violence, angst, and the feel that we are simultaneously in the midst of an epic story, a small-town American experience, and a backwards buddy cop movie (given neither Shadow nor Wednesday is an entirely upstanding citizen). The show, like the novel, can be raw and pulls no punches and has some moments of epic melodrama (but hey – so do the gods themselves). It reflects harsh truths and ugly realities, and isn’t afraid to show the grimier, less beautiful side of humanity.

Yet already in four episodes there have also been several immensely beautiful and oddly peaceful scenes – and the way they fit together into the broader fabric of the story comes directly from Gaiman’s writing. His ability to meld humor and horror is also not lost in the screen adaptation, and viewers will experience an odd sense of fun even in the midst of dark happenings. Wednesday’s constant unpredictable behaviors, for example, bring to mind a crazy old grandpa, who messes with Shadow even in the middle of a bank heist because he gets a kick out of keeping him on his toes. And a scene where Shadow’s wife Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is reunited with her former best friend Audrey Burton (Betty Gilpin) is incredibly dark and pretty gross, but also absolutely hilarious in its absurdity.

Another striking thing about this show is how relevant the novel’s themes, as brought forward into this iteration, remain. The show addresses racism, cheating spouses, death, religious beliefs, sexuality and homosexuality, and more as the story unfolds. And at its heart, it addresses where we choose to put our faith, and the clash between traditions and values new and old. There is no question that, as when Gaiman wrote the novel, we still struggle with the conflicting pulls of living an authentic life while also being enmeshed in the sometimes overwhelming and disconnecting communications of modern media. And it is apparent in today’s political climate that America still struggles to reconcile varying and conflicting cultural beliefs with what this country is supposed to represent in democracy and equality. As Mr. Wednesday astutely notes, “[America] is the only country in the world that wonders what it is.”

For would-be viewers who are fans of the book, there is no question what this show is – it’s the best kind of adaptation. It’s deliciously satisfying to see the story we know so well come to life, remaining faithful to the narrative and the characters while keeping any adjustments that might need to be made for the transition to television from changing the dynamic or intention of the original. For example, episode four delves into the backstory of Shadow and Laura, and changes and additions are certainly made; but at the same time, that episode is so well-scripted and evocative, and fits so well with the earlier episodes, that it may be my favorite episode so far. In addition, the show is laden with details and chunks of dialogue, both large and small, that come directly from the novel and have been worked seamlessly into the screen version.

While keeping close to the details of the original, the stunning cinematography, effects, and music of the show are also exactly what’s needed to evoke the feel of Gaiman’s book. When Bryan Fuller and David Slade were first announced as two of the executive producers on American Gods, I began having high hopes for it, as their recent work together, Hannibal, had a uniquely creepy, dreamy, mysterious feel which lent a strange, unreal beauty to even the horror elements of grisly scenes. Given the variety of weird, mysterious, and surreal happenings that unfold for Shadow as he begins to realize that all is not what he thought, I knew a similar vision from these creators (along with Michael Green and others) could be a good fit for this story, and wondered if there even was anyone else who could successfully bring Gaiman’s vision to life.

And come to life it does in these first episodes. American Gods, both book and show, begins with a tangible atmosphere of foreboding. Shadow feels it as he waits to be released from prison; and viewers feel it through the clever use of techniques such as extreme attention to small details, as well as time lapse and then slow-motion videography; along with an excellently moody soundtrack that is mostly wordless and full of strange and unsettling notes. The depth and style of the soundtrack so far, while unique, also struck a familiar note (hah!) for me, which is unsurprising, given that Brian Reitzell, who is responsible for the music, was also responsible for the Hannibal soundtrack (which I discussed with him at SDCC 2013) and Fuller has spoken highly of his work. When the soundtrack does include popular songs, they are an exceptional fit for the scenes. For example, Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night and Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall are both disquieting and in keeping with the small-town America feel that pervades the much broader, epic and wide-reaching story Gaiman is telling. And the use of Garbage’s Stupid Girl over a montage showing Shadow’s wife Laura’s dissatisfaction with her circumstances is brilliant.

The actors cast for the main roles are also brilliant, and embody Gaiman’s characters to a T. Whittle and McShane do a lot of heavy lifting as Shadow and Wednesday, playing perfectly off of each other as the quiet, distrustful ex-con and the sharp but slightly shady con-man who is more than he appears. Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney, a nearly-seven-foot-tall leprechaun, is a delight to watch as he chews the scenery portraying the craziness of that character, who absolutely needs that larger-than-life energy to work. Yetide Badaki as Bilquis is introduced through what was probably one of the weirdest scenes in the novel and, I’d imagine, one of the hardest to shoot in the show. It’s super trippy, and doesn’t stint on the nudity, either – but Badaki handles it gracefully, making what could be a jarringly unreal scene seem intimate and acceptable.

Emily Browning masterfully portrays the flawed and fairly unlikeable Laura Moon in such a way that you at least appreciate how she remains her own person in a way that’s not necessarily nice but is very human. Betty Gilpin is fantastic as the distraught but also angry and snarky Audrey, trying to pick up the pieces after her world is shattered. Jonathan Tucker brings Low Key Lyesmith to life with sly, worldly humor in exactly the way I’d picture, and I can’t wait to see more from him. Bruce Langley as Technical Boy is appropriately off-putting, smarmy, and impersonal even as he’s being nasty. Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy is harsh and in-your-face, with a rhythmic showmanship that is perfect for his role. Gillian Anderson as Media is both seductive and disconcertingly hollow. And Peter Stormare is absolutely perfect as Czernobog, evincing a sense of brutality and darkness even as he embodies his current role as a diminished god who once relished his work in the Chicago slaughterhouses.

Even as a fan of the book, I acknowledge that the first episode was slightly slow going as the drama began to unfold; but it still drew me in – and now that I’ve finished episode four, I’m no longer wondering whether this series is going to keep me hooked. The cast, the drama, the visuals, and the storytelling have all drawn me in, and I definitely want to see more.

And you can too, since the first episode of American Gods is airing on Starz right now!

So check it out, and until next time, Servo Lectio!