Wednesday, December 4, 2013

PitchWars Mentee Bio

This is me:

So why would you want to pick me as your PitchWars mentee?

Mainly because I'm awesome. And incredibly humble about it too. Much like this guy:

Also, like that guy, I do SCIENCE for a living. I happen to be a Rocket Scientist. There are currently four satellites in space that I've touched. That's cool, yes?

I once gave an entire, professional presentation to a group of about 30 engineers in which there was an Avengers reference and picture on every slide. Seriously. For real. That happened. And my boss and my boss's boss both complimented me on HOW AWESOME it was.

I have a huge debilitating minor crush on this guy:

Because his portrayal of a certain god of mischief literally changed my life.

Cap and I agree on this, but like Steve Rogers, I love and respect everyone regardless of what they believe:

On a daily basis, this is the person I quote the most often:

Let's see what else might you need to know about me? I probably would have been sorted into Slytherin at age 11 but have since mellowed into a Ravenclaw (Slytherclaw forever), would choose to be an Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah, would probably never even rate a dragon on Pern, would kill to work at Stargate Command, would not survive the first five minutes of the Hunger Games, would pick Erudite in a heartbeat, and Loki's jail cell where all he has to do is read books is my idea of heaven.

So in summary I am a HUGE GEEK.

And here, have a bonus gif of sheer adorableness:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Review of Thor: The Dark World

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that people are asking me for this review, considering I wrote a six part blog post on how watching the movie Thor changed my life. I always intended to write this review, but then over the weekend people kept asking me "Mandy, what did you think of Thor 2?" or "Mandy, when is your review going up?" So, my friends, here it is. Part 1 of my long awaited review of Thor: The Dark World. (Yes, I said PART 1, as in there will be a PART 2! Also, unrelated, as I'm writing this, the first Thor movie is playing in the background. No one should be surprised.)

To say I liked Thor: the Dark World is to underestimate my feelings in general about Marvel and the Thor franchise. I didn’t merely like Thor: the Dark World. If this movie was a person, I would marry it—i.e. confess my love to it and make a lifelong commitment to stay true to it for the rest of my days. Therefore, if you are looking for a fair and balanced discussion of this movie and its strengths and weaknesses, then you have come to the wrong place.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s just jump straight into the spoilery discussion of why this movie was so freaking awesome, shall we?  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Orson Scott Card Problem

My general rule of thumb has been to remain silent on this topic, to not join in the endless online debates surrounding Ender’s Game and Orson Scott Card. I don’t like controversy. I don’t like people misconstruing what I’m saying. But I’ve been asked this multiple times now, so here is my attempt to explain how it is possible that I can love the novel Ender’s Game as much as I do when Orson Scott Card is such a completely vile person.

But before we delve into that particular example, let’s back up. Because there are larger questions here than the awesomeness of Ender Wiggin versus the awful terribleness that is Orson Scott Card. Prepare yourselves. This is going to be a multilayered and extremely long look into this problem, so bear with me here, dear readers.

First off, I think there are three things that should be viewed as universal and true of all art/artist relationships and the relationship the reader has with them. So these are my universal truths:

A piece of art can be enjoyed without knowledge of the creator.

I think we can all agree that a piece of art can be enjoyed without a person knowing anything about who created that piece of art. For example, I know nothing about Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, but I adore “Welcome to Night Vale.” When I go to art museums, 99 times out of 100, I know absolutely nothing about the artists who created the pieces I’m viewing. I don’t know even know when the art was created (unless there is a plaque by it stating when) or what sort of artistic movement it was in. But I can still look at that art and connect with it, judge for myself whether or not I think it’s beautiful.

A creator is not his piece of art.

On twitter the other day, Brent Weeks made a comment that he was writing a character who was expressing opinions he himself does not hold and he just knew someone was going to read it and think that was what he believed and give him grief for it. This is an atrocity. And I’ve discussed this before at length. An author is not his world or characters. They do not necessarily represent at all what he believes. They can, but they don’t have to. A main character can have completely vile beliefs, and it doesn’t mean those are the author’s beliefs. By the same token, a character can be completely in line with your morals, and it doesn’t mean the author is. A person can identify with or hate a character, and that means nothing in regards as to how that person should feel about the author. An author is not his character.

We all can and should read/watch/consume things that we disagree with.

It’s almost impossible to tell by picking up a book or movie that you’re going to disagree with its morals, thoughts, ideas, or anything. So I would say most people regularly consume things they don’t like or agree with. This is particularly important when it comes to news/opinions/politics and the like. Otherwise, people suffer from confirmation bias. The problem with confirmation bias is that it causes people to view people on the other side of the issue as insane/crazy/somehow Other. Also, reading intelligent discussions on topics you disagree with can stretch your understanding of the world, and challenge your thoughts on the subject. A challenge either results in changing a belief or reaffirming it. Both of these things are good things. In the words of my friend Erika, “I read Ayn Rand so I can better hate her.”

Now here are three things that are completely my opinion and affect how I consume art.

Knowledge about a creator does not change the creation, for me.

I really love Tom Hiddleston. The more I learn about him, the more I think he’s a completely adorable person. His existence makes this world a better place.

But that doesn’t change how I feel about Loki.

Even if Tom Hiddleston was a complete whack job. Even if he beat his wife or murdered people and was sent to jail, it doesn’t change the fact that when I watched his performance as Loki it moved me to tears and literally changed my life. And when I see Loki, I don’t see Tom Hiddleston—I see a broken, hurt god trying to find his place in the universe. Outside of the movies, I can look at Tom Hiddleston and appreciate that he is a good person who portrayed Loki amazingly, and I like Tom Hiddleston all the more for it, but in the world of the movies, I am completely absorbed. Who these people are in real life has no impact on my viewing of the story. It’s a complete dissociation.

This may not be the same for everyone, and that’s ok. For some people knowledge about an actor/author/artist/creator can taint the piece of art. For others, it works the other way, the art taints the artist. I have a friend who doesn’t like Tom Hiddleston—despite his sheer adorableness—because she cannot dissociate him from Loki, who she views as a despicable evil villain (which is a valid view of Loki). I try to point her to earlier point that a creator is not the piece of art he creates—Tom Hiddleston is not Loki—but she can’t dissociate them. I view that as a problematic way of viewing the world. Because sometimes art has to be messy and dirty and disturbing. Thor, heck The Avengers, needs a villain. It wouldn’t work without him. But I am completely ok when things work the other way. If your knowledge about the creator affects your view of the creation, I understand. And that’s ok. That’s just not how my brain works.

I do not do a background check on any creator before I purchase their content. Or even after.

Most of the time I go to the bookstore I judge a book by one thing: the blurb on the back. If it sounds interesting enough, I’ll buy it without even looking at pages. If I’m iffy on it, I’ll read the first few pages in the store to see how I like the writing style. That’s it. That’s all I use to judge a book. (If I’m not purchasing it off of a recommendation. Those I purchase without even looking at anything else most of the time.)

Even when I finish the book, most of the time I don’t even read the “About the Author.” Usually I do read the acknowledgements, but that’s because I’m looking for agent and editor names (both are usually thanked in the acknowledgements section).

It’s only recently that I’ve started looking up authors online. In fact, the first author I actively sought out an online presence for was Brandon Sanderson. And that wasn’t even because I loved him. Not at the time. It was because he was taking over The Wheel of Time, and I needed to know who this person was that Harriet and the Tor team thought he was good enough to take over my favorite epic fantasy series.

I since learned that Brandon Sanderson is a good person. And that’s awesome. But it doesn’t change how I view his books. I still think all of his original stories are amazing, and that he completely and utterly messed up Mat in The Gathering Storm. The fact that he is a good person does not mitigate this error. But neither does it make him a bad person. It means he messed up. It happens to the best of us, but it will hurt every time I read that book that Mat feels off. Brandon Sanderson is not a bad person because his art is bad, and his art is not made good because he is a good person.

I rarely seek out information on an author. I only learned Orson Scott Card was crazy when the Ender’s Game movie was announced and I saw forums explode with objections to his person.

If I limited my media consumption based on who I agree with, I’d never read another book, watch another movie, or look at another piece of art.

This is just the truth. I’m a weird mix of a person, and I know very few people in this world who believe exactly as I do. Heck, I disagree on a lot of topics with a lot of my friends. In many Christian circles, people label me as liberal, and in the world at large, I’m usually labeled as conservative. I believe in evolution, I think that gay marriage should be legalized, and I am a feminist. I am also strongly anti-abortion, I think sex before marriage is a bad idea, and if alcohol magically disappeared off of the planet, never to be seen again, I’d be ok with that. If I required that creators agreed with my exact set of morals and personal beliefs, I would not be able to claim Iasaac Asimov as one of my favorite authors (he was an atheist), Brandon Sanderson as my favorite living author (he is Mormon), or heck, enjoy a Cassie Clare book (I’m told she had some issue with plagiarism in the past).

Even if I did look up every author before I purchased their books, the odds of me being able to find out whether they donate money to an organization actively working against my beliefs is low. So how can I purchase their books knowing or not knowing whether they’re contributing money to something I may or may not believe in?

The truth of the matter is that I don’t know this about anyone. How do I know the grocers at my store aren’t actively working against gay marriage or actively supporting abortion? I don’t. And by shopping there, I’m paying them and they’re supporting these organizations I don’t support. What am I supposed to do about that?

But let’s assume that’s different, because maybe in this case, ignorance is an excuse. So not knowing is valid, and as long as you don’t know, it’s ok to pay for things. (Ignorance is bliss after all). Clearly, this is not the situation of Orson Scott Card. Not anymore.

The Orson Scott Card/Ender’s Game Problem

I read Ender’s Game in the eighth grade. This would have been the school year of 2000-2001. At that time, I didn’t really have internet. Sure, I had access, at school and at home, but for very limited times. I was only allowed to use the internet for very monitored and limited means. Mainly I used the internet for research regarding school projects. But this was a time period when I was more likely to use a hardbound encyclopedia as a reference for reports than the internet.

My father gave my Ender’s Game to read in the seventh grade, but I didn’t, because for some strange reason I felt if he recommended it to me it must not be very good. So I put it off for a year before I read it. My father knew nothing about Orson Scott Card. If you look at what the “about the author” says, it’s basically nothing. So we were living under the “ignorance is bliss” umbrella. We didn’t know.

When I read Ender’s Game, it blew my young mind. I loved it. It was more than the twist. It was Ender himself, a boy who was both compassionate and ruthless. This was a kid I could follow into battle. And his story taught me lessons about life, about how to view strangers and the world around me, that have made me a better person.

I re-read Ender’s Game on a yearly basis. I have every year since then. I cannot begin to describe the impact this book has had on my life.

So what am I supposed to do when I’m suddenly told, over ten years after the fact, that Orson Scott Card is a completely vile person?

I do support gay rights. I do not support ridiculous rhetoric about overthrowing the United States government. Is loving Ender’s Game supporting these things? Does that fact that Ender’s Game has had an impact on my life somehow make me a vile person by association?

I would say no and no. If anything the story of Ender’s Game is in complete dissonance with Orson Scott Card’s personal beliefs. Ender’s Game is about discovering that the Other, the person who is completely alien to your entire frame of reference and existence, is actually no different from you. It’s the moral of the entire Ender-Verse. Ender Wiggin would pull Orson Scott Card up by the scruff of his neck and say “How dare you demonize these people because they are different from you! Remember the Xenocide!”

So what’s a person to do? I own three copies of Ender’s Game (which I admit might seem* excessive, but one copy is my original beat up copy that will fall apart if touched again—also its signed, something one of my friends did for me before we knew anything about Orson Scott Card as a person, one is an e-copy that I now use as my reading copy, and the other is the copy I loan out). I already have my ticket to the first showing of the movie. Does this make me a bad person?

If JK Rowling was suddenly revealed to be a serial killer, does that change the fact that she impacted millions of lives for the better?

The answer is going to be different for everyone. By owning three copies of Ender’s Game, I’ve stopped dozens of other people from buying it. Because for over ten years now, everyone I know has read it by borrowing my copy. Granted they read it on my recommendation, but they read it without giving Orson Scott Card money. (Admittedly, since I’ve only known about the controversy for a short period of time, it’s not like I was actively doing this to keep him from getting money. I just really like loaning books and most people I know don’t like buying them. I have quite the extensive library.)

I don’t believe there is a wrong answer to this. Boycotting is a completely legitimate response. I also don’t think loving Ender makes you bad person. I don’t think that by buying a movie ticket, I’m somehow taking a stance against gay rights. Yes, Orson Scott Card is going to get money out of it (though I’m not sure how movie rights work. It’s possible he got paid a lump sum and it’s not based on how many ticket purchases happen), but so are dozens of actors, actresses, and movie crew. All of which support a wide variety of political, personal, and religious beliefs.

I’m not going to go see this movie because I love Orson Scott Card. I’m going to see it because I love Ender. Because knowing Ender Wiggin has made me a better, more compassionate person.

Ender Wiggin taught me the lesson that people who are not like me deserve to be loved, live their lives, and deserve our respect and compassion**. Because of him I can look at someone who does not seem to be like me--be they gay, transgendered, a different race, or a different freaking species--and understand that they are in fact like me. They just want to live and be loved.

Ender made me the progressive person I am. Ender taught me the lesson Orson Scott Card seems to not have learned. And Orson Scott Card’s vileness can’t take that from me.

So that’s my answer to the Orson Scott Card question. It’s ok if you disagree. Ender taught me about that too.

*I say "might seem" because I have a tendency to be this excessive with all the books I own. There was a time when I had five different copies of A Wrinkle in Time. I do have three copies of every Wheel of Time book (paperback, e-book, and hardback), and I have double copies of many many books. I'm a book collector. It happens.

**Yes, my parents taught me about this too, but part of how I learn is through stories. Remember the Loki thing? No matter how many times I was told not to be the prodigal’s brother, it took the story of Loki to make me understand. That’s just part of how I learn. It’s the power of stories.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Open Love Letter to Veronica Roth

NOTE: SPOILERS FOR ALLEGIANT. Read at your own peril. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

This is Halloween! (Night Vale Style)

I really really really love Halloween, but you guys know this about me. As part of Halloween and the holiday season, I love to decorate my house. Anyone who steps foot into my house in October gets greeted by pumpkins, ghosts, spiders, and witches. I love it, and I've been known to leave up some of my Halloween decorations all year long. (I really love Halloween.)

But since I live in a house now, I've finally been able to expand my decorations to a yard! My original plan was to just go to Hobby Lobby and buy whatever outside Halloween decorations I felt were satisfactory.

And then I listened to Welcome to Night Vale.

Suddenly I didn't just want generic smiling pumpkins in my yard or cute happy ghosties. No, I wanted to make my yard the Night Vale Dog Park. I wanted warning signs. I wanted hooded figures. I wanted it all! 

I figured it was perfect because Night Vale is in the desert and so am I! Granted, the one big difference between Albuquerque and Night Vale (other than, you know, all the conspiracy theories), is that Albuquerque has real mountains. So it's hard to live here and not believe in mountains. But I had a desert-y yard so why not use it?

I've said before on this blog that I don't consider myself crafty, and that's true. But if there is one thing making a Nova helmet taught me, it's that I am an engineer by golly and I can make things. 

So I went to Hobby Lobby, bought some paint, bought some wood, and set to work!

First I painted some signs purple! Why purple? Well the Night Vale logo and website have made it very clear that Night Vale is a town that supports shades of purple.

Next I got to work with some stencils! 

Ok, so this post is going to make it look like this was super easy and I didn't struggle with this at all, but that's NOT TRUE. I ended up completely messing up the first piece of wood I had purchased. I had painted Night Vale across it, but was vastly unsatisfied with it, so I painted back over it. And this second attempt was even worse than the first! So I bought all new wood and started from scratch and this time it did work out. *wipes forehead in relief*

I made one sign like this that said Night Vale and another that said Dog Park. I bought a piece of wood/stake from Home Depot, painted it purple, and then glued both of these signs to it using Wood Glue.

Then I set to work making some warning signs. These were MUCH easier. Basically I went to Walmart, found the section where For Sale signs and Beware of Dog signs are, and bought a "Make Your Own Yard Sign" kit. The kit combined with some permanent markers and stencils gave me some lovely signs like this!

My last step was I bought some cheap, ten dollar black cloaks from Walmart. I then pinned them to the curtains on the front window of my house. Since the back of my curtains are white (ironically the front color is purple), the black cloaks really stood out. 

And voila! My "Welcome to Night Vale" Dog Park Halloween yard decor was complete!!

Happy Halloween, Night Vale!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What is "Welcome to Night Vale?"

If you follow me on twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, then you may have noticed that I have recently become obsessed with something called "Welcome to Night Vale." Undoubtedly you've had one of two reactions to my obsession: (1) "YES! NIGHT VALE IS AWESOME! OMG!" or (2) "What the heck is Night Vale and why do you keep talking about Dog Parks/Perfect Hair/Glow Clouds?"

If you're in the first camp, then I need explain nothing. Night Vale is awesome. But if you're in the second camp, let me explain why this mysterious thing you may never have heard of is completely awesome.

"Welcome to Night Vale" is a podcast that releases a new episode on the 1st and 15th of every month. Each episode is less than thirty minutes and so far there have been 32 episodes. It's a fictional radio show set in the fictional town of Night Vale, narrated by Night Vale's favorite community radio host: Cecil Baldwin (which happens to be the actor who plays Cecil's real name).

But Night Vale isn't your average town. In the words of the creators of the show, Night Vale is a town where every conspiracy theory is true and a completely mundane part of life. Vague yet menacing government agencies? Secret police? Mysterious hooded figures? Invisible clock towers? All of these are regular parts of life in Night Vale, and Cecil often glosses over them as if they are nothing, instead focusing on things we might find mundane.

Night Vale is a town full of horror and horrible things. But the show doesn't feel like a horror show. It feels like a wacky story about a town and its cooky residents, like the terribly racist Apache Tracker, the beautiful and perfect scientist Carlos, poor lost Intern Dana, old woman Josie who is protected by angels, and the farmer who lives on the edge of town. But this podcast definitely has its horror. Episode 19B is one of the more disturbing things I've listened to in my life. But the thing is, if you just listened to that episode alone, for the most part it wouldn't seem disturbing, just annoyingly cheerful. However in context with Night Vale and Cecil, it is highly disturbing. 

Through Cecil you come to care for (or despise--looking at you, Steve Carlsberg) these people, and you come to know Night Vale's laws and ways perhaps better than your own town's laws and ways. I've been listening to Night Vale for two weeks and I have all their rules memorized; whereas I've been living in Albuquerque for two years and only just learned weeds taller than four inches are prohibited in my yard. 

There really isn't much more I can say without spoiling the show. Half of the fun is the twists and turns it takes, how relationships and people change and develop, how the town changes and develops. All I can recommend is that you take thirty minutes of your time and listen to that first episode. If you're anything like me and Cecil, you'll be saying "And I fell in love instantly."

Welcome, dear readers, to Night Vale.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Post on Percy Jackson

I've got no post for here today, but please check out my post on about Moral Ambiguity in Percy Jackson and the Olympians!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cosplay at Dragon Con 2013

The awesome cosplay is one of the big appeals of Dragon Con, at least for me. I don't know the actual statistics, but it's one of the cons with the highest ratio of cosplayers to non-cosplayers.

This year I didn't go to the parade or any costume contests (my schedule just didn't work out that way), so I only grabbed pictures of people I saw walking around the con. But as usual the quality of costumes at Dragon Con was fantastic. So here are some highlights.

Stormtroopers are a fixture at Dragon Con thanks to the 501st legion. And every year I like to take a picture of my first stormtrooper sighting. This year my first sighting happened to be three stormtroopers who had an R2 unit with them. Apparently they did find the driod they were looking for.

The impact of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time can be seen by the fact that people still cosplay it. Link cosplays from every Zelda game are always popular, but Sheik--who is specific only to Ocarina of Time--makes a strong showing every year. I think the popularity of this costume relates not only to the awesome twist in the end that Sheik was Zelda, but Sheik is kick-butt and female fans of the game want an awesome female character they can cosplay as. Sheik is that character. 

There was one really awesome Portal themed Link and Sheik pair that I, alas, failed to take a picture of. But it was awesome. I love how creative cosplayers are and how they can mash up two totally different things into one awesome thing.

I always love a good Star Trek cosplay, even if I don't think technically Andorians would have been a part of Starfleet in the era the uniform clearly comes from. But she pulled off a fantastic Andorian and looked good in that red dress. I couldn't help but take a picture!

I really love the show Merlin, so when I saw a kid cosplaying as Merlin I had to take a picture. Then it turned out his boyfriend was there as well cosplaying as Arthur! This was a timely cosplay considering the show just ended and I think they managed to capture the aesthetic of the two characters.

And then finally my favorite cosplay of the weekend....

The Abhorsen.

In six years of going to Dragon Con this is only the second Abhorsen costume I've ever seen. (I think the last time I saw one was my first year at Dragon Con, in fact.) This cosplay was spot on. I could easily tell who she was supposed to be. Though she doesn't have the hair to be specifically Sabriel or Lirael, she's obviously an Abhorsen. And the great thing about the Abhorsen is there have been lots of them! So she didn't need to change her hair to be a specific one.

Her bandolier with her necromancer bells was fantastic, and I have no idea how she drew on (stamped on? painted on?) all the keys on the blue fabric, but it was perfect. 

Sadly, she said I was the only person to recognize her that day, which made me sad, because the Abhorsen trilogy is a fantastic set of books that you should all go read right now.

So those were my favorite cosplays from around the con! Did you guys see anything interesting? If so send me links! Either here or on twitter @Brown_Ajah.

Random note: Apparently blogger is convinced "cosplay" is spelled incorrectly. Silly blogger. Cosplay is totally a word.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My DragonCon 2013 Cosplay

I'm not going to leave you in anticipation of how my Nova cosplay turned out. So without further ado, my Nova cosplay:

I think this turned out as a huge success! I was worried people wouldn't recognize who I was supposed to be, but it was a silly worry! I was first recognized in the elevator, where someone commented about the elevator being over full and another person responded: "Don't worry. Nova won't let anything happen to us."

Every time someone recognized me, they felt the need to say it. As I walked down the street or through the building people did double takes and shouted "Nova!" Someone commented that I was the first female Nova they have ever seen. And several people stopped me and asked for my photo. 

I saw only one other Nova the entire weekend, and he was cosplaying the Richard Rider Nova. Unfortunately I was unable to snap a picture of him, and it was on a day I wasn't wearing my Nova cosplay, or else I would have gotten a picture of the two of us together!

Also worthy of mention, the outfit was not stifling (I didn't even come close to dying of heat exhaustion!) and the helmet was fairly comfortable. After wearing it for twelve hours it did start to hurt my nose, which gets mashed flat by the front of the helmet, but considering it took that long, I'm still counting it as a success.

Nova was my Saturday cosplay, but on Friday I cosplayed as the Doctor. The Doctor is always a popular cosplay but I still had a ton of fun wearing it. 

Sunday is always steampunk day for me. I've been wearing the same Victorian suit for the Sunday of DragonCon for the past three years, but I still think it goes over well. Though I have plans to change things up for next year.

I wore a Camp Jupiter shirt on Monday but I had to accessorize it with my Nova boots and a steampunk hat I had just purchased, so it became less of a cosplay and more of a "things that don't fit in my suitcase" look. So I didn't take a picture of it.

So those were my cosplays from DragonCon 2013! If you cosplayed please share! Put a link or pictures in the comments!

And if you want any specific information on my cosplays, how I made things or wear I purchased them, just ask! I'm always willing to help!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cosplay: How I Replicated Nova's Helmet

When it comes to cosplay, I'm pretty much a novice. Yes, I've dressed up, but the most hardcore cosplayers make their own costumes from scratch. And you see, I can't sew to save my life.

But I wanted to make something this year, something that I could take pride in for making myself. So I decided I would make Nova's helmet myself, from scratch.

I can't sew, but by golly I'm an engineer. I can make a helmet! 

I wasn't sure it would work out. This was a pretty ambitious project for a novice cosplayer, but I think it turned out well. 

The first thing I did was search the web for how other people had made helmets, and I quickly found this tutorial, which explains step by step how to make a Mandalorian (aka Boba Fett) helmet. One of the many things I love about the cosplay community is how everyone shares their own tricks of the trade, and I am seriously indebted to that tutorial for how good my helmet turned out. 

The first thing I did was print out the helmet pattern, but instead of printing it out on regular paper, cutting it out and then tracing it on poster board, as the tutorial suggests, I instead just printed it directly on cardstock. I then cut it out and put it together with hot glue, leaving out the indents that would be necessary to make it a proper Mandalorian helmet. 
The pattern all put together!
This is a great base for any helmet, but obviously it doesn't have the star (which I fondly call the Starfish) that makes up the new Nova's helmet. And as opposed to the old Nova's helmet, the star isn't just a star taped on sort of after the fact. Sam's star curves along the lines of his helmet. So this presented a bit of a challenge.

After some thinking I decided to make outline of the star first in pipe cleaner. I hot-glued the pipe cleaner to the helmet so that it curved appropriately. I then traced the lines on the cardstock and hot-glued the cardstock onto the pipe cleaner. 
Progress Pipe Cleaner Shot

Front Shot of the completed star
Side Shot of the completed Star. Yes, I did have to cut those pipe cleaner tips down.
The next step was to cover the star with fiberglass. The tutorial tells you exactly what kind to use, and it's what I used. This, like all my materials, I was able to find at Walmart. I didn't have to go to any place fancy. 
Fiberglass Front Shot
Fiberglass Side Shot
Something that you can't see in the picture but I should mention is that one of the sides of my helmet (in fact the opposite side of the one shown in the side shot) ended up being a little flimsier than the rest of the helmet. The reason was I didn't mix enough hardener into the fiberglass, so it just ended up being structurally weaker. This was something that caused me problems for the entire rest of the process, and that side is still noticeably weaker. It holds up and can hold its own weight, but you can't put too much pressure on it. 

As you can see this is pretty rough. The tutorial recommends rough sanding it down, which I did, though perhaps not with the same diligence the person who wrote the tutorial did. I used a metal file and put a couple of days into it and then skipped ahead to the next step. Which was covering it in the next layer. 
Second Layer!
This is really rough and not smooth at all. The next step required smoothing it down to being basically perfectly smooth. This involved A CRAPTON OF SANDING. Seriously, there are no words to how much sanding it required. Hours and hours and hours and hours. I should have kept a log, but I worked on it about two hours a night ever night for weeks. 

First I did some rough sanding with the metal file.
You can't tell from the picture but this is the previously mentioned weaker side
Then I bought a medium grit sanding sponge (mainly because it was easier to hold and didn't fall apart as much as regular sanding paper) and set to work. For weeks. Seriously. Weeks.
After about 2 weeks of sanding
After about another two weeks. It's noticeably smoother.
At about this point I was getting really frustrated and about to hyperventilate. I didn't think I could ever finish it in time. It was mid-July and I knew I was going to be on travel for work most of August. And DragonCon is Labor Day weekend! 

I was really seriously worried it was never going to smooth out and get to finished status. 

One of the things I knew I needed to do was cut out the eyes and the mouth. To do that the tutorial recommended a Dremel, which I don't own. Luckily I mentioned it to one of my co-workers. He had been looking for an excuse to buy a Dremel. So he did. The last weekend of July I then went over to his place and he cut out the eyes and mouth. And then we figured we could smooth the rough edges with the Dremel as well.

OMIGOSH it worked so well! I should have done this from the beginning. 
After we hacked at it with the Dremel
I then took it home and did some more sanding with my medium grit sanding sponge. 
After a couple of hours of sanding.
You can see some of the fiberglass layer is exposed
I apparently failed to take pictures of the next couple of steps. But basically I put it even more hours of sanding and sanding and sanding. And then I decided that some of the dents weren't going to be smoothed out with sanding. So I went over the entire thing with the putty that's supposed to be used for filling holes. I looked for every hole, every weird dent and line and puttied the heck out of it. And then I sanded some more. The putty comes off super easy with sanding but it really helps smooth it all out. 

And then finally I was like "It's time to paint this baby."

So I went to Walmart and bought some paint. First I primed it!
Seriously, once I primed it I was like "WOW, this actually looks decent." And you know, it does. 

For the colors, I bought glossy paint. The tutorial recommended adding some wax based paint to make it seem metallic and then using semi-gloss paint. I skipped the wax based paint step, because I'm not making a Mandalorian helmet and Nova's helmet is basically just super shiny. 

First I went over the front with red, to get the star to the right glossy color. I chose a color called "banner red." It was either that or "cherry red" and I was worried cherry red might be too dark. I think it turned out ok.
Side Shot. As you can see I didn't go over the entire thing with red. Just the star area.
Now my next big concern was how to cover the rest with black without messing up the red. My solution? Cover the entire star with painters tape. Full disclosure up front, I probably should have waited a day or done this while it was less hot, because the painters tape did end up taking off some of the red and some of the gloss. But I still think it turned out acceptably. I'd go over it with another layer of red if I didn't think it would mess up the black. It's not perfect but it's good enough.
Gotta keep the star red!
Then I spray painted it with the glossy black. This pretty much took an entire can of spray paint. If you're going to try this, you might want to get two cans, just in case. 

Also I spray painted the inside black so if I'm holding and people see into it they don't see the white card stock. Instead the see the black inside of a helmet. 
WOO! Black!
After it was dry it was finally time to peel off the tape. I mentioned that this caused some problems but looking at the pictures, you really can't tell. 
Front view!
Side View!
I think it turned out pretty well, but I'm partial. 

I'm proud of myself considering this is my first foray into really making something for my cosplay. Clearly I believe in "go big or go home." But I figured it didn't hurt to try and I think it turned out pretty well.

The only thing I have left to do is to add some sort of cushion inside the helmet. Because the top of the inside is pretty much a hot glue mess. And I don't think it's going to be too comfortable for hours on end. 

Another concern I should mention here. Last year when I made my steampunk fascinator, I ended up tripping and dropping it as I exited Marta in Atlanta. It exploded into a million pieces. I then had to super glue it together. It looked alright, but it didn't operate like a clock should. I was so pissed. Seriously I got it all the way safely from Albuquerque to Atlanta and then dropped it in Marta. How could that not be frustrating?

That last thing I want is for that to happen to this helmet. So I'm going wrap it in a towel, put it in a bowling ball bag, and carry it on the plane. I'll let you know how that turns out for me.

But there it is! My Nova helmet! Lots of hours and money went into this. Materials alone cost over $75 and then the man hours I put in were ridiculous. So remember that when you consider doing this for yourself. Cosplay isn't cheap or easy, but it is worth it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cosplay: Why Nova?

Myself and @Auhim as Hogwarts students
There reaches a point in every year when a person has to make an important decision. Namely "What will I cosplay at next year's con?" For me, *that* con is DragonCon. Though there are other smaller, Albuquerque conventions I attend, DragonCon is the only one I dress up for. I've cosplayed for the past two DragonCons and of course I intend to cosplay for DragonCon 2013 as well.

So it was approximately last March when I was trying to figure out what new cosplay I wanted to add to my collection. I still had my Loki cosplay, my steampunk cosplay, and my Ravenclaw cosplay, but I like to add something new each year. And this year I wanted to do something that I would fit my skill set so I could make most of it myself. At least, that was the hope, as per usual. 

I don't like to cosplay as just anything. I like to cosplay as things I like. I love the aesthetic of steampunk, I love Harry Potter (in case you couldn't tell by our three part podcast on this subject),  and of course, I adore Loki. So what could I find this year that matched the same level of awesome as dressing up as my favorite supervillain?

Well, this was the year I started reading comics, so I looked there for my inspiration. My first thought was Batgirl, ala new 52, and I did some early sketches and design work to that effect. But the more I thought about it, the more and more I was drawn to Nova. 

Nova as depicted in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon
Who is Nova you ask? I was introduced to Nova via the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, which I watch regularly. (Don't judge me. Some of the greatest shows ever are cartoons, case and point Avatar: the Last Airbender). In the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Spider-Man is sort of a superhero-in-training for SHIELD, and part of his training is that he leads a superhero team of other teenaged superheros. Most of the other superheros take Spider-Man's leadership pretty well, but Nova is constantly challenging Peter. He doesn't have quite the same level of snarky quip power as Peter, but in general he's a pretty good foil for Spidey. And the more I watched the show, the more I loved him. 

So of course when the Marvel Now Nova comic came out, I started reading it. I picked it up on the second issue, which is not something I can say often. 

Nova in the comic isn't quite the same level of jerkface that Nova in the cartoon is, but I still enjoyed the character. And I love how the comic spent more time in space, and how Nova was being trained by the Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm a sucker for space and I currently adore the Guardians of the Galaxy, so of course I ate the comic up.

Richard Rider, the first human Nova
Longtime Nova fans know that Sam Alexander, the Nova of Marvel Now and the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, is not the original human Nova. That honor goes to Richard Rider, who is completely awesome by all accounts. A lot of people haven't quite taken to Sam because they miss Richard, and Sam's entire backstory seems to contradict Rider's. (I say seems because I'm pretty sure the creators are going to address the "Rider was the only human Nova" issue at some point.) But I knew nothing about Richard, only Sam.

And many of the reasons why I love Sam are the reasons why I love MG and YA fiction, the reasons why I love Ultimate Spider-Man and the Young Avengers. Sam's story is a coming-of-age story. It's the story about a boy discovering himself and his place in the universe. That's a classic story, and a story that I've always been drawn to. I mean it's the story that's the basic template for most epic fantasy! And you guys know I adore epic fantasy.

But one of the appeals of Nova, outside of Sam or Richard, is that Nova unlike Spider-Man is not a name given to any one person. Every Nova is part of the Nova Corps. Basically, Nova is Marvel's answer to the Green Lantern. So I could be me and be a Nova. I can be a girl and be a Nova. I can be Mandy and be a Nova. And that's a very appealing idea. I don't have to be anyone else. I can be me and be a superhero.

There is another less noble appeal as well. One of the things about being Loki last year was that there were a
Sam Alexander as depicted in the comics
ton of Loki's. The Avengers had come out the previous May and Avengers cosplays were a dime a dozen. Nova would be unique and ahead of the curve, because it was revealed around the time I was working on this cosplay, that the Nova Corps would play a part in the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie. And then only last week the first glimpses of the Nova Corps were revealed. (Though I hope desperately that the guys in those pictures are only grunt level Nova and that there are more awesome costumes for the Nova corps). So for once I'll be ahead of trend, and I'm pretty excited by that prospect.

One appeal of Nova was also the awesome helmet. I can't sew to save my life so when it comes to making costumes, there is a lot of searching the web and stores for different pieces to make the perfect conglomeration of awesomeness. But I'm an engineer and looking at the helmet I was like "yeah, I can make that."

And so I did. 

So why Nova? Because he's awesome, because I love him in the cartoon and the comics, and because he's got a sweet uniform. And because I can be me. 

Thursday I'll post about how I made the helmet. I chose to model my costume off of Sam Alexander in the comics, not in the TV show or Richard Rider, because I really like the pop of red on the black background. 

And then next week hopefully I'll post about how I put together the rest of the costume with the help of my friends. 

I'm really looking forward to showing off this cosplay at DragonCon this year.