The Art of Conversation

This is by far the most special art project I’ve ever done ❤. The Art of Conversation is a project that brings artists and seniors in our community together, made possible through a partnership between the Arts Council Wood Buffalo and St. Aidan’s Society. The idea is that the artist hosts a conversation with their partner and the resulting discussion becomes the muse for an art project.

Before I first called my partner Libby I was nervous- what if we didn’t click? What if I didn’t get any ideas for my piece? Happily, my fears were unfounded, as we had a great chat and I had the initial ideas for my project before we were even done talking. This project was a joy and Libby was my inspiration.

This video includes some audio clips from parts of our conversation, and video from my process creating the artwork.

On the Hypersexualization of Female Characters in Superhero Comics

I just finished up a really awesome uni course for my MLIS, and we were recently discussing portrayals of women in comics.

This is a touchy subject for sure, and as with anything I try to keep an open mind and consider the many shades of gray. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying erotic art and comics (I do!) but I’m talking about something different here outside of the context of erotica.

To be clear before I get into it, I don’t believe in the censorship of artistic work⁠— Neil Gaiman helped shape my perspective on this topic with his blog post Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?, which I totally recommend reading if you haven’t yet. I’m not interested in participating in witch hunts of particular artists because they draw or write thoughtlessly sexy women⁠—I’m more interested in the big-picture phenomenon.

When it comes to hypersexualized portrayals of women in comics, the thing that irks me is the ubiquitous nature of it- it’s OK for characters to be sexy, but when the default has been that women and girls in Western comics are contorted and accentuated regardless of their personality or the context of the scene, it becomes a tiresome, dehumanizing trope.

dav

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of comics in general, including many that feature these sorts of female characters, and I will defend any author’s right to write or draw their characters however they see fit. It’s your story, knock yourself out. Artistic freedom doesn’t mean you can’t be criticized for your choices, though, so I too have the freedom as a comic consumer to call you out and roll my eyes if you unleash yet another barely covered bombshell babe whose story takes a backseat to her… well, backseat.

So why does a female character drinking coffee at home alone in her pyjamas sit in a spine-cracking posture with her butt extended,  lips pouting,  and shine highlighting the curves of her inexplicably exposed underboob? Why does a powerful heroine need to bend her body in such an anatomically impossible way that we can see both her bum AND her boobs on display when she’s mid-action?

Why is this the standard way that women are portrayed? Traditionally comics were considered a masculine space, and as such these depictions aimed to appeal to the male gaze⁠— yet, I wonder how much of that historic imbalance in demographic is because of the aforementioned ways women have been depicted in comics and other media (when they’re depicted at all)?

“My feeling was never that the industry was that vile, my feeling was that there just hadn’t been any feeling that females were interested, and so all the content skewed that way, to that imagined audience. Which becomes self-fulfilling.” (Simone, 2014).

Just go to any con nowadays and you will see that women love comics- they’re a valid format for us just as much as anyone else, albeit with a long history of objectifying us unnecessarily.

“A woman’s sexuality is one of her many facets that she is allowed to express, however she likes. The problem is that our media landscape shows, values, and celebrates women’s sex appeal more than any of their other qualities, opinions, or accomplishments… when you grow up as a girl surrounded by sexualized images of women, it changes the way you build your identity.” (Rees, 2019, p.45).

Comics have a history of hypersexualizing women that goes back many decades, and people have been discussing the phenomenon for just as long. One more recent(ish) project that has really provoked discussion about ridiculously hypersexualized poses of female characters is The Hawkeye Initiative, in which people redraw sexy female poses with Hawkeye. I gave it a quick shot below…

Illustration4

Drawing Hawkeye like this might seem like taking “an eye for an eye”, but his portrayal it doesn’t have the same weight- besides the fact that my awkward rendering isn’t nearly as stylistic and professionally done as the original, the sexualization of male characters is certainly not omnipresent like that of female characters, and men don’t have the troubled past of systematic and oppressive objectification tailing them. The result is a cheeky satire that points out the absurdity of how female characters are so often portrayed.

Some comic fans will point out that lots of superheroes have bulging muscles that are larger than life, aiming to equate this with sexualized femme characters, but ridiculously strong male characters are different than pointlessly sexualized female characters for a few reasons:

  • generally there is an arguably valid reason that the man might have huge muscles (for example, he’s a superhero); over-sized muscles are certainly an unrealistic ideal, but they usually don’t come with the baggage of being totally pointless- they’re a boon to the character and part of his superpower
  • these muscled male characters aren’t created for the female gaze- they’ve been included in traditionally male-focused comics and could perhaps be seen as a male wish fulfillment fantasy or an exaggerated style
  • even when male characters have huge muscles or accentuated features, they aren’t habitually highlighted to the same cumulative extremes that the female anatomy is often subject to: protruding, glistening, tugging at skimpy fabric, peeking through non-functional viewing holes, angled awkwardly to be shown off at every possible opportunity, etc…

dav

 

dav
Not sure if Mary Jane or a blowup doll…

Taking it to a further and more upsetting level, a female character’s assuredly ample physical assets are very often contrasted with an underdeveloped backstory, nonexistent character arc, or her being used as a throwaway plot element or means to the ends of a violent trope, as pointed out in Gail Simone’s “women in refrigerators” movement born in the late 90’s.

alex-kyle

“At the time, you know, female readership was low, female con attendance at comic cons was low, morale for female readers was low. And I kept seeing guys ask, “Why don’t women read comics?” And for me, it felt that there was a connection between that and the fact that if you loved female superheroes, you had this endless parade of stories where the women were killed or de-powered, and they were never the focus of the story.

It felt symbolic, it felt textural. It felt like they were saying, okay, no one cares about Supergirl, no one cares about Batgirl, and so their stories rarely became about survival, they became about some dude getting revenge on their behalf.” (Simone, 2014).

Again, drawing sexy female characters in and of itself isn’t a bad thing – a sexy woman is empowering when she’s owning it – but it’s the nonchalant routine of the industry expecting this uber-sexed up default paired with otherwise forgettable, tragic, or underdeveloped characterization that doesn’t sit well with me.

To conclude, I don’t think we should be trying to ban works or shame those who read them – let the creators create what they will, and let consumers enjoy what they want in peace- but I hope more creators and publishers are beginning to realize that mindless routine portrayals are alienating a potentially huge reader base who are rolling their eyes at yet another pointlessly and predictably titillating femme fatale.

Today, although hypersexualized female characters are still common, both indie and mainstream comics are being published with much more diverse characters and successfully appealing to more demographics, which is wonderful to see.

 

 

References

Claremont, C., & Buscema, J. (2005). Marvel comics presents: Wolverine. New York: Marvel Comics.
Gaiman, N. (2008). Why defend freedom of icky speech? Retrieved from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/12/why-defend-freedom-of-icky-speech.html
The Hawkeye Initiative. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from https://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/
Houser, J., Portela, F., Sauvage, M., & Dalhouse, A. (2016). Faith. New York, NY: Valiant Entertainment LLC.
Loeb, J., Kelly, J., Churchill, I., & Rapmund, N. (2016). Supergirl: The girl of steel. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.
Marz, R. (n.d.). Green Lantern #54 (1994).
Montclare, B., Hadley, A. R., Bustos, N., Height, R., Bonvillain, T., Lanham, T., & Kirk, L. (2017). Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide.
Nelson, Kyra (2015) “Women in Refrigerators: The Objectification of Women in Comics,” AWE (A Woman’s Experience): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/awe/vol2/iss2/9
Pak, G., Parker, J., Frank, G., Kirk, L., Pagulayan, C., & Sibal, J. (2008). World War Hulk the Incredible Hercules. New York: Marvel.
Rees, A., & Esmeraldo, M. (2019). Beyond beautiful: A practical guide to being happy, confident, and you in a looks-obsessed world/ Anuschka Rees ; illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo. New York: Ten Speed Press.
Simone, G. (2014, December 01). Gail Simone: The Comics Alliance Interview, Part One. Retrieved from https://comicsalliance.com/gail-simone-the-comics-alliance-interview-part-one-batgirl-birds-of-prey-and-women-in-refrigerators/
Thompson, R. (2016). Silk Volume 1. Panini UK.
Wilson, G. W., Alphona, A., & Herring, I. (2014). Ms. Marvel: No normal. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC.

Smuggling Rats Across Canada: A Charming Family Memory

Did you know that rats, particularly domesticated “fancy rats” are available in many parts of Canada as pets? Much like a hamster, these little guys are cute and charming companions. My family has a history of having pet rats, starting with my Father.

Before I was born, my Dad had a rat named Studley. He would tell me about how Studly would accompany him on walks, and even swims, and that he was just The Best Rat Ever. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, rats are cute. Look at this ‘lil guy!

rattie1

So, one Easter morning in the mid to late 90’s, when we were living in New Brunswick, my little sister and I awoke and ran into the den, where we found the usual candy, chocolate, and little toys awaiting us. After surveying our treasures, our parents peeked into the room and asked if we’d observed the cage yet. We had a large cage on one side of the room which, until recently, had been home to our rather grumpy rabbit, Peter. While Peter was quite old and sadly didn’t make it till Easter, I gazed inside and saw that two new friends were quietly exploring the cage.

My sister and I were delighted and each named one of the rats- we decided to name them after the Rugrats, Tommy and Chuckie. Tommy was my rat, and he was white with grayish markings on his back. Chuckie, my sister’s rat, had a more reddish tinge to his spots (like Chuckie’s hair!)

The rats were so adorable- while many of our family and friends who visited were squeamish of them (particularly of their tails), others would remark at how cutely they munched on their food, how diligently they cleaned themselves, and how curious and smart they were. We would let them crawl over and around us, and they loved perching on our shoulders as we watched TV or did our homework. The two were brothers, and would sleep nestled up curled around each other.

ratties2

We loved our rats very much. Domesticated rats live longer than their wild counterparts- about 3 years. Tommy and Chuckie both passed away of “old age” within short time of each-other, and it was one of my first real-life experiences with the end of the natural cycle of life and death.

A short while after Tommy and Chuckie died, my parents got us two new companions to fill the rat-shaped holes in our hearts. I asserted my tween power and declared their names would forever be known as Frodo and Sam, as I was in the middle of reading The Lord of the Rings and enjoying it immensely.

Our new rats were again white with some grayish colorations. Frodo was my little guy, and he was very active, always climbing things and wanting to have a look around. Sam was a bit lazier, but again they were best buddies as well as brothers. Sometimes we would give them pieces of French Toast Crunch cereal, and laugh at how cute they looked crunching on their little rat-sized toasts.

After we’d had Frodo and Sam for a little while, our parents informed us that we were moving to Northern Alberta, to a province far away in the middle of the Boreal Forest. I pictured us living in a quaint little wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere. Great! Sounds fun! But, although my parents didn’t want to alarm us, they mentioned that rats are banned in Alberta. While this policy is meant to keep Alberta free of wild rats, it affects pet rats too.

Image result for rats in alberta

This poster is so dramatic. “White rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges as well as recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.” – Alberta.ca

My family is united and defined, perhaps more than anything else, by our love of animals. My Mom has worked at vet clinics and at the SPCA, and we’ve had all sorts of creatures in our home over the years. Our pets are our family, and it was inconceivable to us that we wouldn’t bring the rats to our new home in Alberta. So, we prepared ourselves for Frodo and Sam’s potentially perilous journey.

My Mom actually had both of the rats anesthetized and neutered at her vet clinic (I’m thinking this procedure, for pet rats, is a medical rarity?)- they were both boys, but now there was no possible way they could breed even if they somehow escaped into the wild. I suppose she did this partly so that if we DID get into any trouble at the airport, we’d have at least a chance of keeping them.

So, we finally set out to move, with a large number of critters. Each of us was responsible for at least one pet-carrier, and we took our babies to the airport- a cockatiel (Jerrie), 2 cats (Jill and Smudge), an aging Labrador Retriever (Stinker), and the two rats.

The rats’ carrier was made of thick plastic with thin slots on the sides. Panic gripped me as we approached the security gate to get cleared for our first flight. I watched in terror as the airport staff inspected the carrier, peering inside and craning his head.

“These are…?”

He looked at me quizzically. I steeled myself.

“My hamsters.” I squeaked.

ratties3

Whether it was an act of mercy on his part, ignorance of rodent species diversity (or the regulations of our destination province), apathy, or simply not wanting to initiate a dramatic scene, he let us through without any difficulties. I can only imagine the absolute chaos that would have ensued if they had tried to take away our Frodo and Sam. It would have been devastating and traumatic for our whole family, and probably the entire room…

And so, we made it to our new home, safe and sound with our entire family, including the rats. We settled into life in Alberta. You might think that Frodo and Sam, once they lived out their few years on this earth with us, were the last rats my family would know in our new home province. However, this was not the case…

My mom continued to work in SPCA and vet roles in our new town, and as had always happened before, we often ended up fostering or adopting animals that didn’t have homes. And wouldn’t you know it, it turned out that other people in Alberta had pet rats, and in some cases (such as moving into an apartment with an inquisitive landlord) they needed to re-home their rats.

In steps my Mom, of course- she can’t bear to see an animal in need- and so over the years we acquired three more rat companions. One was a lone rat who we named Sir William after the character in A Knight’s Tale. Bill, or Billiam, as I often called him, was white with black spots, and had the softest and sweetest temperament of any rat I’ve yet met. Later we also became the guardians of two sister rats named Sugar and Spice for their respective fur markings.

I’m still living in Alberta, but my family has since gotten a home back in New Brunswick- they’ve had more rats since moving back. I haven’t myself, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more pet rats in Alberta living out their quiet lives in secrecy today.

 

Lose Yourself In the Magic of Artistic Creation

I’ve previously written about my hard times completing my Bachelor of Education. Yet, there were also some beautiful times amidst the struggles that I experienced during that time.

One such ray of light was a class my cohort took together, a course on teaching art to kids. In this class we explored the basics of artistic composition and art history, as well as playing around with various mediums and styles.

The class was EXTREMELY polarizing- people either loved it or hated it. Happily, I was one of the ones who loved it. Our teacher, a wise young woman named Tessa, exuded an air of calm, whimsy, and a hint of rebellion. I looked forward to her classes very much- she was flown in from Edmonton regularly to our small northern municipality.

We did things like unrolling a giant roll of white paper, circling it like a group of witchy practitioners in a chant, loosely dripping black india- ink from large brushes. Later we ripped off pieces from the resulting scroll which we turned into landscapes filled with strange creatures and bugs. I kept an additional scrap and made this cat:

For the class, each of us had a large black sketchbook, and Tessa encouraged us to draw in it at least once a day. Again, for some of my classmates this was torturous, but for me it was the first hint that art was something I needed in my life. It had been a long time since I’d carried a sketchbook around or devoted myself to playing with art, and it turned out to be very cathartic and calming for me.

One project was to create our own personal emblems through a print stamping process- I was stuck on what to design for myself, but ended up creating something that incorporates hints of sun rays, book curvature, flower and pawprint.

At times many of the class, including myself, became caught up in the particulars of their art, feeling inadequate or not ‘good enough’. I now realize though that the act of creating something is its own reward.

Playing with colour, mixing and dabbing, moulding and sketching- you don’t have to hold yourself to some imaginary standard to enjoy making art. If anything, enjoy it as an opportunity to incorporate play into your life and let the colours awaken your sight and boost your mood, regardless of what the end result is.

^ I remember making this weird slapdash thing thinking ‘wtf am I making’ but I just went along for the ride and had fun with it. I’m not particularly fond of it, but nor do I dislike it.

Another approachable way to have fun with art is to reinterpret or play with parts of a work you admire. This piece, inspired by Munch’s ‘The Scream’ aims to portray the technological fears and intense panic attacks I was experiencing back in those days.

The entire course felt different from the rest of our studies. It stands out in my mind as colourful splash amidst an ocean of grey lecture rooms. We were so used to sitting at tables diligently discussing theories and studying facts that in contrast the freedoms of learning about art in that sunny room with Tessa felt like a spiritual journey.

One day she told us to find an elevated area like a table or counter and lie on our backs. I lay there, expectant. Tessa noticed me fidgeting and staring up at the industrial roof.

She asked ‘what do you see up there that is so interesting, Shauna?’

I replied ‘Im looking for an interesting angle. We’re painting the shapes on the roof today aren’t we?’

Tessa laughed and smiled at me, ‘Oh, no! Close your eyes. We are going to do a guided meditation’. It was lovely.

Something very strange happened as the course came to an end. We did a sculpture project in which Tessa directed us to create a mask that represents a different side of us- perhaps one that we don’t show to people, one that represents the monsters pulling at us each day.

My mask design, with pinhole eyes reminiscent of a Dave McKean creation, represented my anxiety and narrow focus, something that I was struggling with increasingly at that time.

This was before my “hell practicum”, but even then I was in a bad place mentally.

Tessa advised us to take our sculptures, which represented our anguish and pain, and take them into the woods, leaving them to succumb to the rain and return to the earth.

I thought it was a beautiful idea, so on a sunny day I took my dog Tegan with me for a walk on the nature trails.

I gave my sculpture to the earth, hiding it behind a memorable tree with a spray-painted face.

A mere couple of days later I returned to the spot, fully expecting to see my sculpture still there in the bush. It hadn’t rained, and I placed it somewhere out of the eyesight of a casual passerby.

Yet, it was gone…

Even more strangely, something was left in its place. Right in the very spot that my mask once lay was pile of…Lentils? Seeds? To this day I’m not really sure, but I keep thinking that fairies made off with my statue and left me a little gift in return.

Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

IMG-20140612-WA0018

^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

IMG_3701

Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

Screenshot_20180505-220528

I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

jo2

She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

View this post on Instagram

#goodmorning #jasper #alberta #canada #travel #mountains

A post shared by Shauna (@hidengoshauna) on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spoiler-free review: The Tea Dragon Society

This charming story was even better than I imagined! When I saw the cover I knew I would love this book. I got what I was hoping for. The art is gorgeous, the characters are diverse, and the tea dragons are ADORABLE.

Like Princess Princess Ever After, The Tea Dragon Society is short, sweet, and full of moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

It only took me half an hour to read, and yet I felt like the characters were very well represented.

Yup, I adore this book and I am going to recommend it to everyone, of every age, at the library where I work.

Can I just say that I really want a Rooibos dragon of my own?

ALC, Jasper Municipal Library, impulse purchases, eating too much, and almost burning down our hotel room (?!)

On The Conference

The Alberta Library Conference has been a blast so far. Everyone is in a really good mood because we are in Jasper and the weather is absolutely gorgeous!

IMG_20180425_201443_193

^flags from recent Pride week, and the lovely mountains, which always remind me of The Lord of The Rings.

The conference is being held at the Jasper Park Lodge, which is super fancy (and has an awesome cafe with super passionate barista!)

IMG_20180426_164533_278

On Friday my manager and I attended a pre-conference where we learned about being savvy when talking to the media. I volunteered to be a mock interviewee (i’m trying to take opportunities to work on my public speaking, because it’s still a bit out of my comfort zone…).

We attended the First Timer’s Reception in the evening where they had tons of free books (unedited proofs and advanced readers copies) for us to take!

Yesterday I presented my session, There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!). Although my nerves did suddenly appear and I felt my face reddening, I did enjoy sharing all I’d learned about graphic novels the past few months. I saw some familiar faces in the crowd, even a few smiling strangers, and a bunch of people have come to me afterward to give positive feedback and ask me about accessing my resources lists and presentation materials, which fills me with joy!

^Playing the ukelele during group-work to avoid awkward silence!

I had about 45 people register, which is wonderful! Like I’ve said before, even if one person finds some information in my presentation useful or interesting, then I am a happy woman. I hope lots of people were inspired to take a closer look at how awesome graphic novels are! When my session was over, I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion, but the good kind.

Some other highlights of the conference:

  • Keynote speaker Scott Bonner, Director of Ferguson Municipal Public Library, on his experiences serving the community during turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • Adventures in Animation, where many practical ideas were shared about lively, community-focused programming

IMG_20180427_153046_499.jpg

^these feminist posters are so awesome!

  • Stand Up! Access to Justice, where I learned about recent and upcoming resources being created by the Centre for Public Legal Education in Alberta (CPLEA)
  • an author talk by Trevor Herriot, where he shared his passions about birds, grassland environments, Indigenous traditions and meeting places, and conservation
  • Keynote speaker Sheila Watt-Cloutier sharing her deep knowledge on the current condition of the Arctic and Inuit adaptation to a warming climate
  • Learning, Art and the Third Age, where we looked at the importance of art programming and created a quick, cool, group art project

artything.JPG

^colourful community art that took only minutes to create

  • Up With Voices: Zines, where we learned about zine collections and creation, zine workshop programming, and an exciting Indigenous zine project currently in the works

These are just a few highlights, but overall this conference has been amazing and I wish I could have attended every session!

Jasper Municipal Library

Of course we had to visit Jasper Municipal Library at some point! Thursday morning we got directions from a lovely woman at the Jasper info center. The library is a mix of modern and cosy. I am in love with the cute manga-style posters welcoming you in. A library staff told me they were created by a local teen for a program!

We also stumbled upon this adorable Little Free Library in town.

IMG_20180426_112142_377

Regarding Impulse Purchases

We had some time to explore the Jasper shopping scene a little bit.

I promised myself I wouldn’t spend any money on cheesy souvenirs, but we were exploring on Thursday morning and I fell in love with these finger puppets. A grown woman can spend her money how she likes, right?

Not pictured: the one I got for Mom for Mother’s Day 😉 SORRY MOM, IT’S A SECRET.

I also tried on some really expensive patterned pants in the Fairmont Lodge store, and of COURSE they fit me perfectly. Comfy + cute pants are tricky to find, so I got out my wallet resignedly.

Brookies, Lattes, General Facestuffery

On Wednesday evening when we arrived, we had a delicious meal at the restaurant beside our hotel, and a quick soak in the outdoor hot-tub, we retreated to our room for the night.

IMG_20180426_081311_368

^ My wellington was super yummo.

We also ate in Jasper town-site as well as the Jasper Park lodge buffets.

The Coco Cafe has the coolest bathroom design, and lots of funky art throughout.

View this post on Instagram

@mscocojasper #cafe #jasper #latte #breakfast #art

A post shared by Shauna (@hidengoshauna) on

At the Fairmont Fitzhugh’s To Go, I tried my first ever Brookie (Brownie/Cookie) and Cruffin (Croissant/Muffin).

The Brookie was the winner.

On Nearly Burning Down Our Hotel Room

On thursday morning, we knew we would have to talk to the hotel staff because our room was ridiculously hot. We had kept the air conditioning on all night but with no success. We talked with the hotel desk staff who said that the air conditioning wasn’t set up properly from the winter and that we shouldn’t use it. We advised them that it was emitting cold air so they basically said “oh, OK then, guess it’s alright”.

When we returned that evening the room was like the deepest steaming crevice of hell. Something was obviously messed up. We called the desk. A guy came up and urgently advised us that there was no exhaust hose connected to the air conditioning, so although it was providing cool air from the front, all of the hot air was escaping out the back directly into the curtains behind. “This is bad” he said. “This could have caused some damage.” My manager and I imagined having to call our library admin staff to advise them we’d burned down our hotel (this became a running joke for the rest of the shenanigans we got into on the trip).

Ah well, what happens in Jasper stays in Jasper.

It seems like Elijah Wood didn’t take up my offer in a previous post to crash the conference, unfortunately. IT’S COOL I’M STILL FANGIRLING FOR YOU ELIJAH 😀

“Japanese comics are very explicit”

The following is an email I received recently from a co-worker (shared with permission):

Hello,

I had a patron make a comment about a new manga series we received, called Trinity Seven. The patron told me that most Japanese manga are quite explicit and that these items should not be out for children to see. The items in question do have warning labels on them, however the covers are very suggestive and they were displayed on one of the panels facing the stairs…

The manga in question were on our New Titles Display on the second floor of the library, which is a quiet floor and houses our teen and adult collections.

The series, Trinity Seven, does indeed feature titillating cover art:

However, I very strongly disagree with the sentiment that “most Japanese manga are quite explicit”.  Certainly some are explicit, very much so. There are tons of explicit manga out there. But there are also tons of manga that aren’t explicit- manga on a wide range of themes and topics. My library has manga titles for all ages.

Just as with other comics and graphic novels (or books, or audiobooks, or DVDs!) , manga are a format, not a genre. Manga are generally quite heavily influenced by Japanese style and culture, but within the world of manga there are titles in any genre imaginable.

Family friendly, romance, horror, action, mystery, informational, slice-of-life, humour, fantasy, I could go on and on.

When we visited Japan last year (BEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE, YO), I saw manga comics and characters everywhere- in advertisements, as mascots, in cafe and restaurant themes, informational signage, decor, art installations, convenience stores, and in the hands of people young and old.

Here are just a few manga series that I have enjoyed that might challenge what many people think of when they think of manga:

 

Tokyo Tarareba Girls 

tarareba

The sharp new comedy from Akiko Higashimura, creator of Princess Jellyfish!

I spent all my time wondering “What if?” Then one day I woke up and I was 33.”

Rinko doesn’t think she’s that bad-looking, but before she knew it, she was thirtysomething and single. Now she wants to get married by the time the Tokyo Olympics rolls around in six years, but that might be easier said than done! 

By Akiko Higashimura.

 
Akiko Higashimura is one of my favorite mangaka. If you haven’t read Princess Jellyfish yet, you should- it’s hillarious. Similarly, this newer series is also just as hilarious and is filled with a cast of interesting, mainly female, characters. It’s refreshing to see main characters who are in their 30’s, as many manga focus on the high school demographic.
 

A Silent Voice

silentvoice

Years ago, Shoya Ishida led his peers in tormenting a hearing-impaired classmate, Shoko Nishimiya. When she transfers schools, Shoya finds he has gone from bully to bullied, and is left completely alone. Now Shoya struggles to redeem himself in Shoko’s eyes and to face the classmates who turned on him.

This emotional drama is one of the most critically-acclaimed manga of the decade, earning an Eisner nomination and accolades from teachers and the American Library Association. An animated film adaptation from Kyoto Animation has swept the globe, arriving in US theaters in October 2017.

“A very powerful story about being different and the consequences of childhood bullying … Read it.” —Anime News Network

“The word heartwarming was made for manga like this.” —Manga Bookshelf

By Yoshitoki Oima

The unique plot of this manga drew me in. It’s certainly different than the types of stories I usually read, but it touches on important themes of bullying, isolation, shame, and wanting to make things right.

OISHINBO

oishinbo

The best selling and most beloved food manga of all time!

Created by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki 

As part of the celebrations for its 100th anniversary, the publishers of the Tōzai News have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. This all-important task has been entrusted to journalist Yamaoka Shirō, an inveterate cynic who possesses no initiative—but also an incredibly refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food.

 

Source

Oishinbo is one of the first manga that I read which challenged my own preconcieved notions of what manga could be. It is funny, informative, and well written. For those who want to learn about Japanese food and culture, this manga is highly recommended. Fans of films like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Birth of Sake will love Oishinbo.

 

Happiness

 

Image result for happiness manga

The latest foray into the darkest corridors of adolescent dread—with vampires—from manga master Shuzo Oshimi (The Flowers of Evil).

Nothing interesting in happening in Makoto Ozaki’s first year of high school. HIs life is a series of quiet humiliations: low-grade bullies, unreliable friends, and the constant frustration of his adolescent lust. But one night, a pale, thin girl knocks him to the ground in an alley and offers him a choice. Now everything is different. Daylight is searingly bright. Food tastes awful. And worse than anything is the terrible, consuming thirst. The tiny shames of his old life have been replaced by two towering horrors: the truth of what will slake his awful craving and high school itself.

By Shuzo Oshimi

Source

I absolutely adore vampire stories, and Happiness was certainly a happy find for me. I love the unique art style of Shuzo Oshimi, and this vampire tale feels more realistic than many I’ve read.

Fans of horror should also definitely check out the works of Junji Ito!

 

Neko Ramen 

nekoramen

Saved from a hard life on the streets by a caring ramen shop owner, former kitten model Taishou now takes pride in his noodles and shows little tolerance for dissatisfied customers. Original.

by Kenji Sonishi

Source

 

This is a manga I happened upon in a bookstore and simply had to read. It has a special kind of absurd humour- I especially love how Taishou’s main customer, Tanaka, breaks the fourth wall from time to time because he realizes how completely absurd Taishou’s various shop-improvement ideas are (not to mention the fact that he is a cat… running a ramen shop… something that Taishou doesn’t seem to notice or care about!)

Neko ramen features lots of small story arcs and yonkoma (4-square panels), so it is a convenient manga to read if you want something you can put down and pick up again easily on work breaks, between bus rides, etc, but if you’re like me you’ll devour each volume in one sitting!

Yotsuba&!, 

yotsuba

Hello! This is Koiwai Yotsuba, Yotsuba Koiwai…um, YOTSUBA! Yotsuba moved with Daddy to a new house from our old house waaaaaaay over there! And moving’s fun ‘cos people wave! (Ohhhh!!) And Yotsuba met these nice people next door and made friends to play with (one of ’em acted like one of those bad strangers Daddy told Yotsuba not to go with, but it was okay in the end). I hope we get to play a lot. And eat ice cream! And-and-and…oh yeah! You should come play with Yotsuba too!

Source

Yotsuba took me by surprise. I read it because I wanted a quick read and my library had multiple volumes. I got hooked on the stories of her antics, especially because they gave me real, true belly laughs. Yotsuba feels more like a real kid than any child I’ve read in print. Kids truly say and do the darnedest and most unexpected things.

 

My Brother’s Husband 

 

brohusband

ABOUT MY BROTHER’S HUSBAND, VOLUME 1

Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki, father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it.

Source

This is a sweet, sad, and thought provoking story. Curious young Kana, asking questions without a filter as children do, acts as a provoking force for Yaichi in addressing topics that might be considered uncomfortable to discuss in Japanese culture today.

 

My Neighbor Seki

 

neighborseki

Toshinari Seki takes goofing off to new heights. Every day, on or around his school desk, he masterfully creates his own little worlds of wonder, often hidden to most of his classmates. Unfortunately for Rumi Yokoi, his neighbor at the back of their homeroom, his many games, dioramas, and projects are often way too interesting to ignore; even when they are hurting her grades.

Source

My Neighbor Seki is one of those manga I bought on a whim, and I’m glad I did. I definitely identify with Rumi, the student who just wants to pay attention in class but keeps being distracted by her classmate’s Rube-Goldberg type creations. The humour is magnified by Rumi’s incredulous inner dialogue, the obliviousness of the teachers, and the silent but ever-escalating antics of Toshinari.

 

The session I am holding at the Alberta Library Conference on Friday is called There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!), and covers Manga in several parts, but I could also easily imagine creating a There’s a Manga for Everyone (Yes, Even You!)– maybe something I can consider submitting for next year’s conference!

I love learning about new series, especially ones that are unique or unconventional, so please leave me a comment if you have any recommendations, dear readers!

Candy Journalling

A couple of years ago my hubby bought me a Japanese subscription candy box for my birthday. It was the perfect present, as I absolutely love Japanese culture AND candy.

The wrappers of Japanese candies and snacks were so cute and interesting that I couldn’t bare to throw them away. But what does one do with a bunch of old candy wrappers?

I decided to start a Candy Journal. I’ve kept at it, and I am now at 81 pages! I love looking back at all the yummy candies I’ve tried. It also helped me to make more educated candy decisions when we went to Japan last year! 🇯🇵💙