Author: Rebecca Frost

The second annual Anime Salt Lake gets a slow start Friday. Photo: Rebecca Frost
Last year when I attended Anime Salt Lake, I was there to record a live episode of my podcast. We arrived towards the end of the festivities on the first day and Salt Lake Community College’s Redwood campus was still bustling. The second floor was filled with people in cosplay running around, being loud and talking about things I didn’t (and still don’t) understand. We started recording and had to pause a few times due to the noise level of all the teens in the hall. At one point, everyone took time to participate in a Harlem Shake video, so 2013. We actually had a good time, considering most of the people in attendance were younger than 18 and dressed in costumes I didn’t recognize and speaking about things I couldn’t understand. The vendor room was full with artists and vendors selling definitely anime-related things that I wasn’t interested in, but as a person of geek persuasion I could appreciate that there is a market for all these weird toys with eyes and ears. I was only slightly overwhelmed, and it only the first day of the convention. I could only imagine what Saturday would look like.This year, however, was a totally different convention. I am a working girl, so I was able to finally arrive to Anime Salt Lake after 7:30 p.m. Anime Salt Lake’s website posted their floor hours as 10 AM to 10 PM so I figured I still had time to see what this year had to offer. I pulled up to the Salt Lake Community College Redwood campus and found the parking lot seemed to be mostly empty. The campus is huge with parking galore so for me to preemptively judge the turn out based on this one parking lot was a little unfair. I walked up to the building, passing a couple of girls in cosplay doing an impromptu photo shoot and another couple of girls in purple wigs and pink dresses smoking. I had a brief flash of the confusion children must feel when they see Mickey Mouse at Disneyland without his head on and instead a bearded man in an oversized mouse suit. I continued in, fumbled a bit trying to retrieve my press badge (which, by the way, needed a spell check), and began to walk around.The floor was…empty? Not nearly as many people as I remembered seeing the year before. I moved down the corridor deemed Artist Alley and most of the artists had begun to pack up. It was only 7:45 p.m. and everyone seemed ready to go home. Further down Artist Alley there was an entrance to the Vendor room according to the map pamphlet I received when I checked in. I was confused because the door seemed to be locked. Two boys were asking about the room but the woman standing in front of it bared the posture and tone that suggested the room was no longer available for us to see. Oh. Well. Alright then. Later, upon further inspection of the program, I realized that the Vendor room was being used for panels (correction: panel. One panel on Friday) and would be open to vendors and dealers on Saturday.I moved back across the entryway and into the other room available on the first floor, where most panels seemed to have been held during the day. The room was semi-full, watching a group of guys sitting around a table. It didn’t seem exciting upon first arrival. The room was quiet, no one was hosting a conversation. Was this a panel where a group of people played a game and the audience just watched? If so, this was a slow moving game that I maybe didn’t know about. I looked at my program and saw this was supposed to be the “Batsu Games” panel. Batsu games are most recognized as those wacky Japanese game shows, in which after a competition or a bet the loser is subjected to something awful. In the instance I saw, the losers had to take a shot of hot sauce. I missed what the challenge was and didn’t quite understand how the losers came to this unfortunate fate. I did, however, witness some near-vomit-experiences and people leaning over a trashcan. At points, instead of clapping, the audience was led in beatnik slam poetry clapping. A wave of snapping fingers like these kids who just took shots of hot sauce had performed moving, personal poetry.

I had to see what the second floor looked like. All I had seen so far were half-attempted costumes and bored looking bike policemen. I went upstairs and the scene was similar to the one downstairs. Only a few costumed kids wandering around, artists packing up their booths and not much else. There was a Brony (dudes who just absolutely love My Little Pony) panel happening in the area of the map deemed the Video Game Room, and ain’t no way I’m walking into a Brony panel. In the Viewing Room was an AMV contest. A room half full of people watching music videos set to different anime shows. No one held papers or ballots to vote, so I can really only assume it was a fun time for people who created these videos to sit, share, and watch all of the submissions. Of everything I saw (or didn’t see, really) this was probably the coolest. The videos were well done and comical.

I left the viewing room and went to the ladies room. If there was one thing I missed the most from last year, it was sitting in the ladies room listening to two teen girls talking about boys and anime things all in one go. Alas, the room was quiet and empty. This day officially sucked. I get that I showed up a little late to the party. If the convention hours go from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., why not utilize the hours to their fullest? Some teens and most adults have jobs and can’t spend daytime hours at an anime convention. Anime Salt Lake is put on by Salt Lake Community College and it gave me the impression that the Anime Club was granted a weekend to demonstrate what they are all about. It felt lazy. Like they had expended all their energy into last year’s gathering and were still recovering.

I sat outside and quietly fumed. This was underwhelming and I was disappointed. The program boasts a list of panels and events that sounded cool, but towards the end of the day the coolness levels lowered and left those of us who couldn’t attend earlier in the day with not much to do. I don’t even like anime and I was envious of my friends who would attend Saturday. Hopefully next year the group behind Anime Salt Lake will have recovered enough from the awesomeness of 2013 to really make 2015 count.

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The one and only Summer Glau answering questions at her profile panel. Photo: Matt Brunk

Friday, the second day of Fantasy Con, had the lucky opportunity to occur on a national holiday: Independence Day. The idea of a Con happening on a holiday where people should have nothing better to do had me worried. The floor would be packed. The parade, any parade in the valley, would make getting to the Con difficult, but deciding to stroll into the Salt Palace around mid-afternoon proved surprisingly easy. Salt Lake streets were empty, as everyone was busy (presumably) barbecuing and setting fires. Walking in was quick and, unlike previous nerd-cons, moving was easy. Too easy. Perhaps choosing Independence Day weekend for a convention was a bit of a backfire for attendance, but I was thrilled because I had a chance to really look around and see the floor.

And the floor—Wow. As painful as it is to park at City Creek and walk all the way to the south entrance of the Salt Palace, it’s absolutely necessary. It’s a grand entryway and wow, does it set an awesome first impression. The entryway and floor layout drives home the fact that this is a fantasy con. Not a comic book or pop culture convention, but a place dedicated to bringing all kinds of fantasy fans together. To me, all the lines blur together. But, after walking around, I definitely learned there are distinct fandoms (but no time to learn all of that in one day). I was there to take it all in, and see fantasy as a broad mural instead of focusing on details.

My first stop was the Summer Glau panel in the main ballroom. The stage was set up with a couch and table, and behind it sat a castle and a well-lit backdrop. It started a few minutes late, and I was worried she would be a no-show. I have always had a predisposition to believe Summer Glau was a snotty, stuck-up, bitchy pretty girl. Turns out she is just an amazing actress because she was absolutely the most adorably awkward introvert I have ever seen interviewed. I wish she would eat a sandwich, but she sat up there glowing. Summer answered fan questions with such honest modesty I couldn’t help but adore her and her talent for playing such rough characters. She was very open about her role as River in Firefly and Serenity and how it was a role that changed her life. Her answers were so thought through and articulated, she inspired the hell out of me to work on my vocabulary and consider the way I speak to others. I came in dreading her spotlight and left absolutely enamored.

At the same time as the Summer Glau panel, the Sylvester McCoy panel was happening right next door. I am a bit of a Doctor Who fan (please see all my Doctor Who DVD reviews, they are my forte) so I moseyed on over to the second ballroom to catch the last fifteen minutes of the man who played the seventh Doctor: the last Doctor before the “hiatus.” I walked in and saw the moderator on stage and no Mr. McCoy. His voice echoed through the auditorium and I finally found him after scanning the crowd. Much like me when I’m on the phone, he was moving through the audience and telling stories as he handpicked audience questions. Sylvester McCoy is a rock star—an itty, bitty rock star. He is a short man with a tall personality, and such affection for his fans. I remember seeing him two nights ago at the kickoff party as he stood on stage using a mic stand as a guitar—he was endearing and hilarious. I did, however, almost beat a person as I overheard, “He was in Doctor Who? I don’t remember him.” The plight of new Who fans. I did a few mental stretches, rage tweeted and left to explore the floor as McCoy told the story of how he got started in acting, threatening to go over the time allotment.

The way the floor of FantasyCon is laid out is unlike any con I’ve ever experienced. It focuses on production value and making the trip an experience. Wandering through booths is a journey as you make your way through sections with names like The Hall of Heroes, Kingdom of Emberfire and Drifter Woods. Sure, there is a giant dragon in the middle, but in the lobby there is an immaculate fountain of a dragon and a knight. There is a LARP sponsored battle arena, where you too can yield a foam sword and fight alongside others for … glory? (I think.) I watched a battle for twenty minutes and could not grasp the concept. Two teams fight against each other in some kind of nerdy capture the flag. I ate a plate of Cambodian food while thinking, “Is this what my boyfriend does on the weekends?” (My boyfriend is a LARPer … I don’t want to get into it).

My last panel of the day was the Creator’s Cosplay Contest. Cosplay is an intense artform. Some folks take it so, so seriously and others have a desire to just have fun. It’s easy to discern the competitive from the novice fun-havers, but they have one thing in common: a passion and desire to portray fictional characters as accurately as possible. The contest was judged by five judges, three of whom are professional cosplayers and one is a film costume designer who hand colored all of Ron Perlman’s Hellboy costume. I wanted to shake his hand so bad. The parade of cosplayers featured a few League of Legends video game characters, three Frozen duos and Lord of the Rings characters aplenty. Judges were looking for originality and creativity, characterization and stage presence, character costume description and visual aesthetic.

Costume is only half of a cosplay—acting the part is key to the art as well. As votes were tallied, the host (cosplaying as Rob Stark) was tasked with entertaining the crowd. He used the oldest trick in the book: turning the entertainment duties to the crowd. Audience members told jokes, did stupid human tricks and danced in exchange for Fear Factory tickets. I have to give kudos to the host, I would have dropped the mic once I ran out of fantasy jokes. Spoiler alert: I have none. Prizes were eventually awarded to five different cosplayers. The People’s Choice went to a Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit, the Beginner Award went to a self-created merman with a steampunk apparatus to breathe on land, the Intermediate Award went to Lego Batman—with expandable wings—and the Master Award went to a Predator costume worthy of film work. Best in show was awarded to a pair of angels, one white and ethereal and one black, ominous and beautiful. I was awestruck by their dedication to wings. They won $800, deservedly so.

For its second day, FantasyCon was not as packed as I expect Saturday to be. With Trax running and barbeques done, more people should be readily available to get their geek on.

Click here to check out a complete set of photos from Friday.

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Simon Pegg majestically posing for a portrait in front of a cheering audience. Photo: Matt Brunk

My prediction that Saturday would beat Friday in terms of numbers was absolutely correct. What I was not expecting, however, was that the production and glitz aspect of FantasyCon would also beat the previous two days. The spectacle was bigger, as there was more audience to entertain. Plus, the show’s biggest star had arrived for the day. But I’ll get to that later.

My first stop for the day was a panel focusing on females in the geek community. The title and description of the panel—Females in the Geek Community, We All Still Have a Lot to Learn—had me believing the focus would be more on awesome women in geekdom, but strayed toward bullying in cosplay and the gaming community, and of course touched upon the “Fake Geek Girl” meme. I’m a female in the geek community—surprise, surprise—so the panel was nothing I have not heard discussed before. I myself have participated in lengthy conversations about gender inequality and harassment within nerd culture. Why, then, would we need yet another panel about the topic? I sat in the room, listening to the six female panelists (all cosplayers and gamers, save for one illustrator) talk about their personal bullying experiences when it came to me finally: Women need to keep having these panels and discussions because the harassment keeps happening. Repeated education is something we have to keep pushing forward with if we want to make any change.

I left filled with rage and female-empowerment-gumption and went to stand in line for the Simon Pegg panel. I was not risking not getting a seat for the biggest star at FantasyCon. I got there just in time as the line started to wind through the lobby and hall of the convention center. Once the ballroom was filled to capacity with fans, Simon Pegg came out on stage and ignited passionate nerd fervor. Fans immediately lined up to get the opportunity to ask him questions, queuing all to let him know just how big of fans they were. The first few people to the microphone were under the age of 12 (“I’m only accepting questions from people under 10” he joked) and most of the questions focused on the Cornetto trilogy movies, which children under 10 should not be watching anyway. I was filled with glee whenever someone would ask a question about the television work he’s done (Spaced, you guys. It’s on Netflix.) and too soon his panel was over. Much like Summer Glau, he could use a sandwich, but he was a delight to watch on stage.

I spent most of my time today in the main ballroom it seems, because after Simon Pegg’s panel, I left to get a $10 plate of nachos and returned for the Mark Sheppard panel. The man is mostly known for his character Crowley on Supernatural, so fangirls in the line were quick to ask all sorts of Supernatural related questions. I, unfortunately, am only on season 7 of the show’s currently available 9, so I was plagued with spoilers. I can’t complain—it’s the risk I take. He was brisk and rude, but so adoring of his fans. He was lovable in a douchey way, much like many of the characters he plays on television. One girl started to cry, as she got up to talk to him and he hopped off stage to comfort her. Sheppard was surprisingly touchy with his fans but VERY adamant about not having his picture taken, which was a bit bizarre. I brought a friend to the panel with me, one who has not seen an episode of Supernatural, and once the girl started to cry she asked me, “Is Supernatural really that big of a deal?” YES. IT IS. The fandom rivals that of Sherlock and Doctor Who.

I used the rest of my time today to explore the LARP side of FantasyCon. The battle arena held more warriors than the previous days and even showcased more extreme fighters. Featured at FantasyCon were two groups: the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society. Both groups focus more on the physical aspect of live action roleplaying, and can be brutal. I have seen, in the past, the use of real weapons with SCA. During their time in the battle arena, SCA did a small fencing demonstration. I still had no idea how anything was played in the battle arena. So, I made my way over to the Belegarth booth where they had posted rules and their points system. Basically, a point for limbs “cut off” and the torso is worth two. There are striking weapons and piercing weapons. In the arena, two groups converge upon each other and, as far as I could tell, when time is up the team with the most players standing won. It was a bit more extreme than the fighting I saw during the second day and even kind of exciting.

Unfortunately, I noticed a lack of LARP group representation. There were the extremes, SCA and Belegarth, but no groups to talk to about more plot based and easier LARP communities. A group called the LARP City Project had a booth and even put on a three day murder mystery plot that concluded on the final day. The group aims to promote a literal LARP city where one can go to be fully immersed in a roleplaying experience. There was a lack of role playing groups, so if anyone wanted to get involved with LARPing based off what they witnessed in the battle arena, there is a bigger world out there that wasn’t represented at FantasyCon. Finding weapons to purchase was a bit of a challenge too (so I heard). There were only a handful of foam weapons for sale. There were, however, panels about building your own armor and weapons and that knowledge goes a long way when you’re maybe a bit too broke to spend $100 on a sword someone else made.

I wrapped up the end of my day with the final cosplay contest of the convention. The contest started about twenty minutes late and I was already so beat from spending all day at the con that I was ready for a nap by the time it started. This contest was hosted by a pair of radio deejays and featured Doug Jones as a judge. The spectacle of this contest surpassed the previous contest, particularly with individual contestant music. Other than that though, it was poorly put together. Contestants cosplays were not explained so many of the characters I didn’t recognize and was not told the name so I could Google it later. They were also swooped out on stage too fast and in too many numbers. Doug Jones totally didn’t hesitate to call the hosts and coordinators out on their shit and it was amazing. He let everyone know they were going too fast and the numbering system was not put together. I wanted a panel that was just Doug Jones calling people out on bullshit.

The awards ceremony for Filmquest and the cosplay contest would be held an hour after the contest ended, but I was so pooped that I had to leave. Many of the cosplays participated in the previous days contest so I can venture guesses as to who won. Cosplay contests are always spectacular to watch but can be so draining. For people who waited until the third day to attend Fantasy Con, great choice. The celebrities were there, and the performances were spectacular. Saturday, the final day, was an absolute blast: fantasy personified.

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Cecil Baldwin (Photo by Liezl Estipona)

When I try to describe the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to people who have not heard it before, I hark back to the times of old radio shows. A time when families would crowd around the radio to listen to stories told strictly through sound, character development and plots that were easy to keep up with. It’s just like that, but it takes place in a town where nothing is as it seems, everything is scary and the government is terrifyingly awful (or awfully terrifying). Welcome to Night Vale, a twice-monthly podcast has grown into something even larger. Enough people have tuned into the weirdness and it’s developed such a fanbase that the creators of the show, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have taken the show on the road to put on live productions of the fictional news report. I had the opportunity to speak with Joseph Fink and Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Welcome to Night Vale and ask them all the fan-girly questions I could think of.

The show, eliciting creepy feelings since 2012, is a small production relying on not much beside imagination, a microphone and some editing software. Going back about four or five years, Fink, Cranor and Baldwin had met in a writing and performing class. The creators have backgrounds in theater, so creating a show and taking it on tour is something everyone enjoys. Podcasting is also a free service, so going on tour is a good way to make money while keeping the show free. Creating a show about a town where conspiracy theories are real and everything is strange allows for a bottomless plot, which allows the creators to write something new for each show. As Fink and Cranor create a new script for each town, they aim to present something the fans have never seen before and not rehash material. As performers, they understand that not everyone will have heard the show before and they want to give the newcomers enough information so that they can enjoy the live show as a standalone production.

There is something about the fandom though. It’s interesting to see the comments online about their opinions on Night Vale, as no two people are alike. I threw out the disastrous word “demographic” and Fink immediately rejected the idea that their podcast needed a demographic. When first creating Night Vale, they only wanted “a small group of people that weren’t friends or family,” he says, insisting they started making episodes for fun. “I hoped that someday, someone we didn’t know would listen. If you write something that is interesting to yourself, people will recognize something in there.” Particularly, though, women between the ages of 14 and 30 seem to be the largest group of listeners.

When asked about his reaction to things like fan art and cosplay, Baldwin says “I find it fascinating to see art that inspires people to create art. Something we have put our heart and soul into has inspired someone to create art in their own style.” I should mention that Baldwin has a voice that is deep, soothing, and ominous. While most celebrities will be recognized in public because of their looks, Baldwin will be casually engaged in conversation and someone nearby will turn their head to ask if he is indeed Cecil.

Speaking of fans, celebrities happen to listen to the podcast and voice their opinions on Twitter. This is how Welcome to Night Vale happened to land such incredible celebrity voices like Mara Wilson as the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home and Wil Wheaton who appeared as an intern during a live performance. Interns for Night Vale, by the way, all mysteriously disappear or die horrible deaths while on location (much like the SLUG interns).

With a stories as rich as the ones Night Vale tells, there must be a backstory and history. Alas, when it comes to the mythology of Night Vale, Fink keeps his lips sealed. Night Vale contains a dock, but its landlocked. When I asked exactly where Night Vale was and the location of rival town Desert Bluffs, I received a sigh of “Well …” as Baldwin jumped in to say it is “somewhere in the American Southwest.” Fink tries to keep his fiction as vague as possible – the only known facts about Night Vale are the descriptions written in the show. They keep everything else open to interpretation. “If it’s not in the script, nothing much we can tell you,” he says, “I’m happy to leave it to fan fiction and the fan community.”
As a podcaster myself, I was eager to ask all of the technical questions. Creating so many unique and different storylines, I asked Fink if he happens to have a favorite. He continued to be a creative inspiration by answering, “It’s the work that goes into it and the satisfaction. It’s the ones I had to work really hard on that worked out.” Such episode arcs like “Story About You,” a standalone episode that tells a story from the listener’s point of view as he experiences a “weirdness” in Night Vale and “Cassette,”  a flashback episode that highlights a young Cecil before his time at Night Vale radio. Baldwin agrees that “Cassette” is a favorite episode of his, one that allowed him to play two characters: a younger and older version of Cecil. The process for creating episodes as they delve deeper into intertwining plot lines remains the same, even two years after creation. The small group of talent is fluid, Fink and Cranor will casually come up with an idea, occasionally looking back to previous episodes for plots and characters to develop, create a script and send it over to Baldwin. After combing through the script and getting his giggles over literary jokes and references, he will then spend time with a USB microphone and computer and record. The recording is sent back to Fink, edited together with music from Disparition and “The Weather” (a different song each episode submitted by an indie artist) and sent off to the Internet for eager ears.
Salt Lake City is one of the stops on the Night Vale American tour – surely an odd town so the crew should feel right at home. They arrive in Salt Lake one episode after the special two-part release of a live performance in New York City. Those episodes were a celebration of being in business for two years. From the sounds of the audience and their interaction with the performance, Fink, Cranor and Baldwin will undoubtedly put on a spectacular performance for the Salt Lake audience. The celebratory episode also announced that they will be touring internationally, hitting up Europe once the American leg is finished, solidifying their success not only here, but around the world as well.

The Welcome to Night Vale tour stops in Salt Lake City July 21 at the Jeanne Wagner theater.

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I was stunned upon first walking up to the Rose Wagner Theater on Monday. Hundreds of people were crowding the sidewalk and lobby, at least half of them in cosplay. The crowd was a sea of black, purple, white and gray – and mysteriously ominous-looking eyes were painted on every other body. We were all gathered to listen to – and for the first time watch – to the show that ignited fear and laughter in all of us and created an astounding fan base. The bells chimed to let us in to the theater and every seat was full. I looked around thinking the opening words to every episode of the show we all listened to: “Welcome … to Night Vale.”
A woman appeared on the stage, long red hair with lips to match in a polka-dotted retro dress. She introduced herself as Meg, the voice often heard at the end of each episode reading the credits and closing with an unusual “proverb” (one of my favorites includes “Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s just the void. Infinite and indifferent. We’re so small. So very, very small.”). She thanked us, Salt Lake City, for coming and then quickly corrected herself as not all of Salt Lake was present – only the people who mattered. Meg encouraged photography without flash and not to be rude with cell phone use. Her way with the audience was a wonderful first impression to the show we were about to witness, and she introduced Eliza Rickman, our musical entertainment for the evening.
Eliza Rickman, one of the indie artists featured in an episode of Welcome to Night Vale, glided out onstage in a pink flowing gown that draped off her shoulders. Her hair thick and impossible to tame, framing a white flower behind her ear. She began playing an autoharp and her deep voice reverberated through the theater. Her voice was gorgeous, sounding closely like Florence (minus her machine). The music was more than an audible presentation, as she moved from the autoharp to a toy piano with metronome to sing us more lullabies. Rickman’s use of unusual instruments and her appearance placed her right in the middle of a Tim Burton feature, the only thing setting her apart was her impossible whimsy and lightness. The last song, a cover of “Moon River,” sent chills through the audience. She finaled quietly and the audience, thrilled with her performance and her ties with Night Vale, gave her roaring applause.
Meg reappeared and the audience was growing antsy. She introduced the voice of Welcome to Night Vale, Cecil Baldwin, and he strode out on stage, his hand holding a stack of script. He began the show as all episodes begin, his deep voice echoing through the theater and the crowd couldn’t control their excitement. Baldwin began his script, hardly referencing it throughout the performance, with a news report of the installation of a new wing to the local library. Within the Night Vale mythos, librarians are not the sweet natured referenceers we all know. They are described as reptilian with an exoskeleton and claws, slithering through aisles of books – they are monsters in a building where reading is discouraged. Baldwin reports that the paper mache and balsa wood structure had collapsed, allowing one of the creatures to escape. In true reporter fashion, he would report more as the story developed.
He moved now to horoscopes. Each zodiac sign cheering as he read their horror-scopes. Aries closely resembled trees, with their bark skin and all, and Geminis can totally handle a few centipedes … right? He followed up the horoscopes with an update on the missing librarian. Baldwin gave a detailed, horrifying report from a local car mechanic who heard the haunting whispers of the librarian, as one by one, the lights went out in her shop and she felt the crawling sensation of a small child’s hand in her own. He then reported of a grocery manager, who felt a presence outside his home – smelling of burnt coffee through a sinus infection – who then left mail. So, it could have been a postman.
A radio show would not be complete without product placement, so the creators had chosen to include American Express in their performance. Meg sauntered back out on stage, playing a representative of American Express (a wafty haze that speaks, to be exact) to talk about the new Obsidian Card, which will turn everything you touch and everyone you love into an Obsidian Card. “American Express: Don’t leave your house.”
One of the staple characters of Welcome to Night Vale is a sexy scientist named Carlos, who has become Baldwin’s boyfriend since his introduction on the show. Baldwin used the escaped librarian as an excuse to call his boyfriend and gather his opinion. Actor Dylan Marron stepped out onstage to the second microphone. He described what he was doing, looking at science stuff. Sexy science stuff. Carlos was warned not to leave, to be aware of the rogue librarian and the two men exchanged “I love you”s before Marron wandered offstage, leaving so much more to be desired from the crowd.
Baldwin received a report that the librarian had found it’s way into a theater, instilling fear in the audience as he described with such cryptic detail it’s descent into the theater before taking the show to it’s interlude, “The Weather,” where Rickman returned to the stage for another song. Her song ended, and Baldwin returned to celebrate the return of the librarian to it’s cage. He then made the audience feel gratitude to be alive, forcing audience members to turn and greet each other and congratulate each other on being alive – for now.
If there is anything to be taken away from this live reading of the popular podcast, it’s the power of spoken word. Sure, the haunting background music helps, but the writers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, string together such elaborate and convincing tales of terror and Cecil Baldwin has such gravitas and skill to bring their words to life while employing such a rounded character. The reporter Baldwin has the necessary seriousness while also vacillating to a character resembling The Dean from Community – a grown man with the heart of a teenage girl. Together, the three of them paint a deep, immersive picture. The story behind Night Vale is so rich and full of little stories that can’t all be included in this performance (or even this article) and I can only say kudos to the creators. And thank you. Thank you for creating a show that brings all kinds of people together. Thank you for creating a piece of art that goes beyond television and movies and instead focuses on our ability to listen, something we desperately need to be reminded how to do. Thank you, Night Vale, and good night.
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Anita Sarkeesian received anonymous threats to be the scapegoat for a school shooting if she commenced with her talk at USU. Photo: Susanne Nilsson / Flickr

If you are a person of the video game persuasion, you have undoubtedly heard about the latest hashtag flooding the Internet: #GamerGate. From reading hashtags alone, however, it is difficult to pin down what exactly #GamerGate is.

#GamerGate is the latest wave of Internet hate and it is … complicated. It originated back in August of this year when video game developer Zoe Quinn was publicly shamed by her ex-boyfriend and accused of sleeping with game reviewers in order to get positive reviews on her game. She has since received multiple rape and death threats and has even been forced from her home. This small act from Quinn’s ex has since spiraled into a gross demonstration of misogyny toward women in gaming (development or otherwise). #GamerGate, however, cannot be described solely as an act of violence against women because it would too easily be brought down. Therefore, its proponents wear a veil and declare themselves as standing for ethics in video game journalism.
Why, then, is Anita Sarkeesian being targeted? Sarkeesian is a YouTuber known for her videos Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Her videos analyze and elaborate on how poorly women are represented—not only in video games, but the media as well. She is an easy target for #GamerGate because she acknowledges that gaming tropes do exist. Much of the gamer population who disagrees with her opinion call her a hack, claiming that she manipulates gameplay to show the poorest representation of women possible. The fact, however, that she is able to manipulate a game in such a way is proof that the representation is awful—but I digress. Sarkeesian, like Quinn, has been targeted for threats and has also been forced to leave her home in fear of her safety.  There are many other women and even men who have been targeted in #GamerGate for their discussion of gamer culture. Even some award-winning journalists have been forced to quit due to criticism and harassment.
#GamerGate hit close to home this week when Sarkeesian chose to cancel her speech at Utah State University after three emails threatened a mass school shooting if she spoke at her scheduled appearance. One email stated that feminists have ruined his life and referred to a feminist-related school shooting in Montreal in 1989. Sarkeesian was keen to go on, with the request of pat downs and metal detectors. Utah State University denied her this request, and instead offered to perform backpack and bag checks. Utah’s gun laws would allow people with concealed-carry permits to enter the school, and USU claimed that they couldn’t do anything more because of the laws. Unsurprisingly, Sarkeesian canceled her appearance.
The story has since made national headlines. The issue is not Sarkeesian canceling her appearance because USU would not comply with her requests, nor is it the idea that Utah’s open-carry laws would allow guns inside the school. Whether or not this person making threats was a gamer or not is irrelevant. The glaring problem is the fact that someone (I will not even assume it is a man) has such a strong hatred toward feminists and their message that they threatened a school shooting, and nothing has been done about it. Had this speaker been a politician, the emailer would have been tracked down immediately. This incident has raised awareness of #GamerGate to such a level that anyone who reads the news is aware of it, not just women in gaming. This incident brings to light just how important Sarkeesian’s work is, and this threat to her safety probably did more to raise awareness than her speech ever could.
The threat to everyone’s safety has brought so much attention to #GamerGate that, hopefully, something will finally be done to end it. It’s painful and frustrating to watch these sexist asses torment and abuse people from the safety of their computer screens, using “journalism ethics” as a smokescreen for blatant misogyny. The dark side of the gaming culture may be overriding the growing number of women gamers (as of this year, women outnumber men in the gaming community), but now, at least anyone with an Internet connection and news interest is aware and can help end the abuse.
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Women in Comics
Women in Comics
Local comic book shops can help kids get excited about comics. Photo: Rebecca Frost

The other day, a friend of mine posted a link to an article and wanted to hear feedback from a female perspective. The article was written by a father who, for the first time, takes his seven-year-old daughter to a comic book store. His five-year-old son accompanies them and has no trouble finding books he is interested in. The daughter, however, takes quick notice of the scantily clad women and asks, “Where are the real comics?” The father has an “a-ha” moment. He realizes she notices “sexy” and is upset that he has to have THAT conversation with her, because he shouldn’t—because she’s seven.

It wasn’t an article that pointed out something. It wasn’t an argument. It was an article from a father who actually noticed something that occurs in a girl’s everyday life. Girls are constantly comparing themselves and others. Of course she’s going to notice that the comic books feature curvy, busty women in poses even the most advanced yoga instructor couldn’t do. The situation was a good starting point for the father to help his daughter grow into a secure woman, all while understanding the ridiculousness of the representation of women in comics.

There is a small part in the story, however, that upset me the most. This father went to the store owner, the man who should know his inventory the most, and came back with two options: Hello Kitty and Monster High. What kind of shop is this guy running if he only carries two kid-friendly books? I thought to the store that I frequent, which has a crazy array of books that are suitable for kids and young teens. I know the guy who owns my comic book store would be a wealth of information because he’s helped me find my niche. He’s always recommended books that he thought I would like. This guy could only come up with Hello Kitty?

I commented and ranted on the post my friend had made with this article, getting mad at people who still don’t quite understand the point of feminism, and went on with my day.

My day consisted of hanging out with my eleven-year-old cousin, who is a total geek. She’s the smallest Whovian, a fan of Batman and Deadpool, eager to get into anime and overall pretty dope for an eleven-year-old. She had never been to a comic book store, and I knew a ton of titles I wanted to get her started on to help her grow into a geeky yet strong and confident young woman, so we went to Dr. Volts.

We arrived, and I introduced her to the store owner and two guys who work there. They know me, I know them, so they were awesomely friendly to her. She wandered around, looking at figurines and toys while I talked about the upcoming convention with the guys. I took her over to the books, where she ooh-ed and ahh-ed at books with Harley Quinn on the cover. I immediately thought back to the article I read earlier and noticed just how sexy Harley Quinn was drawn. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the female form and think sexy women on covers is cool, but when I see it all the time, I get mad and want something to be done about the way women are represented in comics. I had a pre-teen with me and I didn’t want her thinking that this is just how things are. Women are more than busty caricatures. I was so in-my-head that I immediately suggested we find the Deadpool trade I wanted her to read because at least Deadpool doesn’t have giant bewbs.

I found the Deadpool I wanted for her, and tried to find something in the DC area for her. She likes Teen Titans and Batman, but I am more of a Marvel gal so I had no idea how to navigate the DC books. I asked the guys for a suggestion of a book that my cousin would be into. They. Went. Crazy. Everyone started throwing out suggestions—the owner grabbed a copy of Marvel’s Runaways and explained the premise of it to her. They all decided Batman: Hush was a good book too, and still accessible for an adolescent. I was so blown away by their knowledge and considerations. We left with Deadpool (I put Hush in my hold to purchase another time) and she was stoked. She even told me as we were driving home that she wanted to remember Dr. Volts so that we could go back. Girl, if only you knew how much time I spend there.

The days before this trip, I was running through my comics inventory and kept finding books I wanted her to read. My Captain Marvel trades, the new Ms. Marvel, Ultimate Spider-Man, this little one shot I read recently called In Real Life. My list goes on. I ran through what I remembered was in the youth section at the store, stuff like Adventure Time and My Little Pony. Books still wacky enough that adults could enjoy but totally aimed at kids. I made a point to thank my store owner, telling him that I was so grateful for his considerations for the youngin’s and for being aware of what I’m into and how to steer my cousin in that same direction. That is how a store should be run. That is how you introduce a young girl to comics. While my cousin was not concerned about the representation of women at the time, if she keeps hanging out with me she will be, and I am so glad for that.

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