Interview with S. Elizabeth from Skeletor is Love

If you are on the internet much, you’ve probably run into the Skeletor is Love Facebook page/tumblr/twitter/etc. I’ve been following it for awhile now and I love it more than I can say. In its own strange, bizarre way, it is a uniting force in the world around us. A brilliant, wonderful woman from Florida took an absurd villain from an 80s cartoon and turned it into a force for good and comfort to hundreds of thousands of people. Things like this renew my faith in humanity. They make me love our world so much.

And so, I reached out to Skeletor is Love and asked for an interview. Sarah Elizabeth responded and we hit it off immediately. She is incredibly cool and I’m honored to be able to interview her. First, here are some links

Sarah’s blog

Skeletor is Love Tumblr

on Facebook

on twitter

Now that the obligatory links are out of the way, please enjoy!

Popgun Chaos: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do? Where did you grow up?

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Posted in Cartoons, Interviews, TV | 3 Comments

Four Color Teaching – Selecting a Text and Paying For It

In Four Color Teaching, I discuss my experiences with comics and teaching. Today, I will explain the difficulties of selecting a comic book to study in the classroom and also how to raise money for a classroom set. 

Since becoming a teacher, I’ve always wanted to be able to include comic books in my classroom in some way. Plenty of teachers have students create their own comics, but studying comics is a whole different thing because there are a number of obstacles to overcome. Ultimately, the problems with comics in the classroom boil down to three areas: 

1) Cost – comics are expensive. With single issues costing usually $3.99 and trades running at least $19.99, a classroom set can cost from $100 – $500. Considering a single issue won’t be enough for a unit plan, teachers have to lean towards a trade, but when one compares a $20 trade versus a $10 novel that will take as long or longer to teach, it can be hard to make the case for Spider-Man over The Great Gatsby.

2) Literary value – I love my monthly comics. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is a constant favorite alongside Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, and while there are themes and ideas worth study, I don’t know that I can make the case for them over standard curriculum novels. Also, given the serial nature of Batman and Thor, it’s hard to give students a complete story that doesn’t require reading something before or after.

3) Appropriate content – Perhaps the most difficult part of selecting a comic text for students is finding one without inappropriate content. Yes, I realize that most students are watching movies and television shows that as bad as or worse than any comic that I’d teach in class, but I still have to be careful because there are those parents who are just itching to object to a text. Given that comics are already viewed as being less than literary-worthy already, it makes the task of finding an appropriate text all the more difficult. Also, while I am incredibly liberal in what I read, I can’t do the same with what I present to my students, so I lean towards caution more than anything else.

These three obstacles are difficult because a text must meet all of the requirements for consideration. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men is worthy of study and doesn’t feature any inappropriate content that I can immediately think of, but given how long his tenure was on the title, it’s impossible to make it cost-effective. And the most relatable and literary worthy story (“Riot at Xavier’s”) unfortunately loses its punch taken outside of the run.

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Guest Column – Four reasons why the Cyberman are superior to the Daleks

Steven King has returned to Popgun Chaos with a great Whovian article! Let’s keep the debate going in the comment section!

dalek_vs__cyberman_by_robomaster1-d3ikw9l

The Daleks first appeared in Doctor Who in 1963, and they were undeniably a success. The Daleks are the most popular monsters on Doctor Who. They are the Wolverine of Doctor Who: include the Daleks and your ratings go up; your sales go up. For years afterward, writers and producers tried to come up with another successful monster, one that didn’t require the expensive licensing agreements from Terry Nation, the Daleks’ real-world creator. The Mechanoids, the War Machines, all failed to live up to the glory of the Daleks. But one monster succeeded where all others failed: the Cybermen!

Debuting in 1966, the Cybermen were popular and they constantly locked proverbial horns (or handles) with the Second Doctor. They continue to bring chills to children around the world. And they are far superior to the Daleks.

So here I present the evidence. While the Cybermen have had their share of crap episodes (many of which were in the 80s), they still prove to be the better monster conceptually.

1. The Cybermen are inherently more visibly frightening than the Daleks.

Robotics professor Masahiro Mori coined the term “uncanny valley.” This valley refers to the level of comfort humans have for things that appear human but are not. Essentially, at what point does something with a human appearance stop being cool and start freaking us out? Zombies look human but freak us out, thus putting them in the uncanny valley of strong human likeness and strong discomfort for the observer.

The Daleks look nothing like humans. They are pepper pots. They look like they store condiments, at least until they decide you are not useful to them and they blast you. The Cybermen look, by varying degrees, more human. The current crop of Cybermen from “Nightmare in Silver” still look quite robotic, but the Cyberleader inhabiting the Doctor’s body was chilling. He looked like someone familiar but behaved against type. Similarly, the Cybermen in their 1964 debut, “The Tenth Planet,” were some of the most humanoid versions ever created. The design was wetsuit with tech, but the faces were blank and emotionless holes. When they spoke, they opened their mouths and words just came out. Their mouths didn’t move in time with the words, they just stayed open until the words ceased, then the mouths closed. The voices were erratic, slowing down and speeding up. The portrayal was completely unnerving. The design of the Cybermen always has to be conversant with the essential human form, which makes them more frightening when applying the uncanny valley lens. The Daleks are not humanoid, and even when they tried it out in “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks,” they decided it was too far away from their genetically pure roots. They rejected evolution. The Cybermen embrace it.

 

2. The Cybermen are upgradable.

In 2010 the Daleks were redesigned for the Eleventh Doctor story “Victory of the Daleks.” From fan reaction you would think Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had kicked a puppy. The redesign changed the Daleks from tarnished copper to bright red, white, yellow, and orange. The Daleks had always had some variation in color to denote function and rank, so this wasn’t a huge deal, but the basic shape of the Daleks was altered away from the largely unchanged design of Ray Cusick in the 1960s to a more hump-back design. Again, foot meets puppy.

The Cybermen, on the other hand, have changed numerous times since their debut. Sometimes they have handles on their heads, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they resemble men wearing wetsuits with tech stuck on. Sometimes they resemble men in silver tunics and trousers and moon boots. Sometimes they eliminate all the trappings of clothing and go straight for a robot aesthetic. And it isn’t just clothes that change; the Cyber-voice has shifted from an erratic cadence to a modified voice box effect to a deep, booming voice that shouts “Excellent!”

The point is that the Cybermen are upgradable. It is in their nature. It is a part of their concept, and that concept is the constant tension between humanity and technology, the question of what constitutes human progress.

3. The Cybermen can become a stand-in for questions about human progress and humanity’s relationship with technology.

When you get right down to it, the Daleks have a single theme: Nazism. The Daleks are about racial purity. Davros even stated in “Genesis of the Daleks” that his creations were the pinnacle of Kaled evolution. Just substitute blob and tentacles for blond hair and blue eyes. The Daleks are always shouting and their speech is usually clipped and emphatic. They are the SS soldiers of the galaxy. In early stories they would even raise their plungers in a salute from time to time. Because of this conceptual theme, their use is quite limited. The obvious theme that accompanies them is genocide or, on rare occasions, fear of the other. While there is a lot of thematic mileage to be had in fear of the other, the mileage for genocide and Nazism is limited. It becomes more about escapism because we can’t really identify with the struggle. Most reasonable people disagree with Nazism, so there is not much of a question there.

The Cybermen, on the other hand, are perfect for asking all those uncomfortable questions about human progress and technology. The original conception of the Cybermen was that they developed technological enhancements to solve health issues. In time, they became obsessed with using technology to improve themselves just because. Once they reached the point where they removed emotions (since emotions obviously hinder logic) there was no turning back.

The underlying concept of the Cybermen forces us to ask what defines humanity. Technology isn’t inherently a bad thing, but at what point does reliance on technology become antithetical to being human? “Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel” asked some great questions with regard to technology that integrates us to one another and dictates how we operate and exist. On some level, we are then at the mercy of those who control the technology, as the alternate Earth in that story was at the mercy of John Lumic. And John Lumic just happened to be an immortality-obsessed mad scientist. His character may have been a bit clichéd, but in our current age of technology, progress is pursued largely for the sake of progress, to see how far we can push and advance and evolve. We can’t un-make technology without catastrophe. When the Cybermen are being written well, they can make us ask how far is too far with technology. They force us to ask hard questions about why we produce certain types of technology: Is it for medical use? Is it for military use? What do we now just accept because it was a good idea at the time?

4. The Cybermen succeed where the Daleks fail.

The Daleks are all talk and posturing. While the Cybermen have had their share of blowhards (again, the 80s), they tend to just lay out the facts and get things done. The Daleks fought against the First Doctor in 31 episodes, and they could never kill him. The Doctor didn’t regenerate in a Dalek episode until the Ninth Doctor, and even then it was Rose’s fault. The Cybermen fought against the First Doctor in four episodes, and then he regenerated because his body just wore out. They hit it out of the park on the first try. And even when it comes to crap plans, the Cybermen succeed where the Daleks fail. In the 1964 serial “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the Daleks are attempting to hollow out Earth’s core in order to install engines that would allow them to pilot the planet across the galaxy. They failed in this. The Cybermen, however, were able to do something similar to their home planet of Mondas—which also happens to be Earth’s twin planet. Once more, the Cybermen succeeded where the Daleks failed.

As far as I am concerned, the evidence is clear: The Cybermen are far more versatile and far more successful than the Daleks. Their greatest obstacle has always been short-sighted writers from the 1980s. In an age of rapidly advancing human progress, it is helpful to have the Cybermen to make us ask hard questions about ourselves. Contrary to what the Daleks assert, the Cybermen truly are the superior monster in Doctor Who.

Art by Requiem Delacroix

Art by Requiem Delacroix

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Music Mondays – Who did it better? “Little Latin Lupe Lu”

In the film High Fidelity, Jack Black’s character makes a Monday mixtape that begins with “Walking on Sunshine” with the next track being “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” His co-worker asks if it is the Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels version or the Righteous Brothers version? Black responds that it is the Righteous Brothers and is angered when his co-worker seems less than impressed.

Wait, why am I explaining the scene when you can just watch it. Pardon the language.

It’s funny, going back and rewatching the clip made me realize that when I started working for Vintage Stock, I was like Barry in that I wanted to listen to whatever I wanted to. Now that I’m older, I’m more like Cusack – more interested in listening to something I can ignore.

And for the record, yes, I know that the debate between Mitch Ryder and the Righteous Brothers is also brought up in the book High Fidelity, but I thought more people would get the movie reference.

Also, yes I realize that my previous “For the record” was a pun when talking about a movie about a record store. I am unashamed.

Where was I? Oh yeah.

One day, while working at Vintage Stock, I decided to see which version people preferred. I won’t sway your opinion with my own or what the results were, but I’d like you to weigh in on which you prefer in the comments section, please.

First, the Righteous Brothers.

Second, the Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels

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Follow Fridays – Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream

I’ve known about this Kickstarter project for awhile now, but I didn’t realize that it was going to BE a Kickstarter. I was waiting for the book to pop up in Diamond’s Previews, but here it is: a 144 page Little Nemo book by all my favorite artists.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1576907254/little-nemo-dream-another-dream

At $100 for the book, it may be a little steep, but the sheer number of amazing artists will make this worth it. I promise.

Even if you know nothing about Little Nemo, you need this book. It is going to be a gorgeous, imaginative, brilliant art book. Seriously, support this project.

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Why we need Ann Coulter

You’re furious about Ann Coulter’s attacks on futbol/soccer right now, aren’t you? Trust me, I am too.

I’ve never really been a soccer fan but only because I’ve never gotten into the rhythm of the game. In fairness, I’ve never really been a sports fan at all until somewhat recently. As I get older, I find myself wanting to care more about baseball, football, and soccer. And don’t take that as a slight against any other sport at all. These are just the ones that I’ve found the rhythm to, and it resonates with me. As someone who is tired of internet rage and the different ways people try to divide one another, I’m done with hating on things I don’t understand. I’d rather embrace the things that other people love even if it’s not something I’m interested in.

Which brings me to Ann Coulter.

If you’re surprised by Ann Coulter’s rage against the World Cup, then shame on you. This type of blind rage and mindless speculation is what has made her career. She is a shameless opportunist who will use whatever is in the news to push her message of hatred, bigotry, and divisiveness. She plays to an audience of rage-machines who love to hate what they don’t understand.

When I was in high school, I made fun of soccer because I didn’t understand it nor did I really want to. I was interested in the things I was interested in and that was all. My little pop culture world was all that mattered to me because I was a teen who was absorbed in what I liked. Yeah, that’s a close-minded way to live, but I was in high school and most high school students are this way.

Now that I’m older, I like to learn about things people love. I like to understand why people are excited for something and I especially love what people get nerdy about. I once had a student who wrote Law & Order fan fiction for fun. I’ve never really watched the show, but it thrilled me that someone was so passionate about something that they wrote fanfiction for it.

I’m getting off track. Or, rather, I start on the track and then go somewhere else. Forgive me.

We need Ann Coulter because the world needs villains to unite everyone.

The World Cup has the entire world watching to see which country will be victorious in a sport. Yes, there are still terrible things going on in the world, but we can forget about these things and be united in cheering for our respective countries and in cheering for other countries as well. It’s drama on the highest stage of them all and even though I’ve never really been a fan, even I can get swept up in it all. The beautiful, measured rhythm of the game. The energy at every new development. The excitement of just one goal. It really is something to behold.

Skelcoulter

And then Queen Skeletor comes along and has to write an exceptionally ignorant, bigoted, sexist, absurd message and dump on everyone’s fun. Instead of trying to understand why people would be excited, she chooses the path of ignorance like she has time and time and time again. She tries to make the World Cup into a political message about how cheering for the USA in the World Cup somehow makes one less American.

More than anything, Ann Coulter is what we need right now.

Because without Ann Coulter, people could get angry because Germany beat America today. Instead, they are mad at Ann Coulter for being a bigot. She unites even as she tries to divide.

The best comparison I can think of is to the giant squid at the end of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.

watchmen-squid

SPOILERS

In that book, the villain Ozymandius creates a giant psychic squid that kills half of New York in order to unite the world by making everyone believe aliens are attacking Earth. By creating a threat outside of the Earth, Ozy creates world peace at the cost of millions of lives.

By writing something so heinous and idiotic, Ann Coulter has given us a common enemy and has united the world.

What amazes me is that people still read and listen to her. The fact that people can muster any anger towards her astounds me. She is a terrible human being and has been so for years now, why does her hatred toward the World Cup surprise anyone? It’s in her nature to be a bigot and disagreeable. Would you get mad at your cat for killing a bird? Well, maybe if your cat left it on your doorstep, but you know that your cat is just doing what cats do just as Ann Coulter is doing what Ann Coulter does – showing what it means to be the worst humanity has to offer.

I didn’t want to write this post at first because there is an inherent contradiction when talking about Ann Coulter (or Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin or Kim Kardashian or any person who is famous for being famous). We want these people to go away because they are divisive figures who say idiotic things. We have the power to make them go away if we just ignore them, but for some reason, we can’t ignore them. So, people like me write about people like them, and people like you will read it and either agree, share, comment or disagree and argue.

And while this is a frustrating cycle, I think it leads to larger conversations that allow us to understand one another better. They allow us to care about one another more. They allow us to see the perspectives of other people because some bigoted moron said something stupid.

Ann Coulter writes from a place of hatred, but it leads us to a better world of understanding.

And that’s why we need her.

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I am large. I contain multitudes.

I probably shouldn’t be telling this story. This story will probably get me in trouble, but it’s a really good one, so I feel compelled to tell it. I’ll just have to make it vague in places, but here it goes . . .

I was talking to another teacher about the books that I teach in my classroom and after I mentioned The Great Gatsby, this teacher responded, “I hated that book. I thought it was awful.”

The comment was something that I had heard a few times before for a number of reasons, so I took a stab at the usual suspects, “Was it the language? The ending? The plot? The -”

The other teacher cut me off and said, “It was FILLED with SIN!”

And I was taken aback a bit, but mostly due to the pronunciation of “sin” because it came off like a Baptist preacher on a hot July Sunday – that little extra syllable that makes it “sin-ah.” Something about the statement made me smile. It was so absurd.

After missing only one beat, I replied, “Well, yeah, isn’t that kind of the point?”

The teacher then really laid into the issue, “There isn’t one good person in the entire book! Everyone is cheating on each other and just out for money.”

I didn’t miss a beat this time. If anything, the comment gave me more time to construct my argument. “But the book is about how we as Americans want wealth, but then we see these people who are wealthy and they still want more. It criticizes the American Dream of wanting more and more and shows that we need to reevaluate and find new goals that don’t involve THINGS.”

I was about to go into an explanation about how this person was interpreting the book from a strictly moral criticism angle and that is fine, and the book has a strong moral message if one looks a bit deeper. And I wanted to say that from this person’s interpretation, the Bible shouldn’t be read either because it is filled with SIN. Everyone in that book does something terrible except Christ, so does the evil that men do invalidate the Bible? Of course not, because we are to learn from the bad things people do in order to make ourselves better.

Instead, this teacher decided to stop the conversation with, “I just think it’s really corrupt” which didn’t address any of my comments or my ideas. I realized then that I wasn’t going to win or change minds, so I walked away from it.

But that’s not what makes this story great.

A few weeks later, I was talking about wrestling with a friend of mine. I haven’t watched wrestling regularly in five years or so, but I still keep up with things from time to time and I can talk late 90s/early 2000s wrestling and 2006-2008 wrestling like a pro. In the middle of our conversation, the Anti-Gatsby teacher overheard us and looked at me in astonishment.

“YOU watch WRESTLING?!” this teacher’s jaw dropped.

And I wondered, “Do you think that I only read? That I only care about classic literature? I’ve never presented myself as a snob or as someone who was unapproachable, so why would anyone be surprised that I used to watch wrestling?”

I replied, “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

And to me, quoting Walt Whitman to the question “You watch wrestling?” is perhaps the most perfect response an English teacher can have to someone who doesn’t appreciate reading.

Hell, maybe that’s why I’m apparently not approachable.

In the end, I relayed this story to my juniors and I was delighted to find them using “I am large. I contain multitudes” in arguments. They embraced that they can be nerdy and contradictory and that they can love so many different things in this world. On their finals, I asked the question “what is the most important thing you’ve learned this year” and many responded “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

And if I can only teach them one thing, I’m glad that it is a Whitman quote that they can live by.

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Four Color Teaching – What Kids Understand That Corporations Don’t

In Four Color Teaching, I discuss my experiences with comics and teaching. Today, I will talk about a discussion I had with 5 – 8th graders about diversity. 

Every year, I teach “How to Create Superheroes” at a local youth writing conference, and I always begin my sessions with the free-write topic of “Why do you think superheroes are important?” And after five minutes of writing, the middle school students give me the same standard answers that always give and they’re more than a little interesting. 

The first is usually, “because they save people’s lives” and I always have to fight the “yeah, but they’re not real” response to this one. But, it’s a start. 

I usually get, “because we need to believe in others” which is a nice thought until one realizes that superheroes are fiction and so we have to create people to believe in rather than trust each other.

One student will always answer “because they give little kids someone to look up to” and this year, I told the story of how J. Michael Straczynski tackled a thief at a comic convention because he was near a Superman statue. And, despite not knowing who JMS is, kids seem very impressed by this story.

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Kids Tube Review – Paw Patrol

paw-patrol-post-2

Normally, I’m pretty positive on this site. At least, I’ve been trying to be. I want to talk about the things I love and avoid just being a place to rant about pop culture. However, I also feel an obligation to talk about some things that are less than good.

Which brings me to Paw Patrol. Continue reading

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Music Mondays – My 5 Favorite Bright Eyes Songs

oberst

Bright Eyes is easily one of my all-time favorite bands. No Bright Eyes album is perfect and there are some real clunker songs, but when Conor Oberst is on, he is perfection. Here are my five favorite Bright Eyes songs in no particular order.

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