As summer wraps up, the school year begins in earnest, and television networks pervasively advertise the return of their fall programming, we want to reflect on some of our favorite pop culture experiences of the summer.
Emily’s Summer Picks
1) Geeky Games
Over lazy summer nights and weekends this year, I really enjoyed playing geeky games with friends. Classics like Clue, Monopoly, and The Lord of the Rings: Trivial Pursuit are, of course, perennial favorites. But this summer, in particular, I had a lot of fun playing two very different card-based games: Dominion and Geek Out!.
Dominion is a strategic card game in which players are feudal lords trying to expand their power through the acquisition of land. Players make use of resources such as bureaucrats, militias, and witches to expand their own coffers and territories while sabotaging those of their opponents. Geek Out!, on the other hand, is a party game that plays as a sort of geek-culture cross between Trivial Pursuit and Name that Tune. Cards have prompts on them which each elicit some sort of knowledge about geek culture (i.e. Spider-Man villains or Hogwarts teachers). On each turn, then, players bid up how many items from this particular category they can name. The wonderfully fun – albeit very chaotic – aspect of this game is that the answers aren’t on the backs of the cards. So if your friend swears she can name twenty-two YA dystopian novels, it’s up to you to decide if she gets a point. This game inevitably devolves into arguments about the distinctions between science fiction and fantasy and between cyborgs and androids. But that – and the glory of demonstrating that you can name more characters from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer than your friends can – is very much the point!
2) Welcome to Night Vale live shows
I’ve been a fan of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale for a while now (sometime in the fall we’ll have a blog post solely devoted to the show). This summer, though, I was finally able to make it to one of their live shows, and it was wonderful!
Welcome to Night Vale is a fictional community radio show hosted by Cecil Palmer, a citizen of the quasi-Lovecraftian desert town of Night Vale. Much of the podcast involves Cecil reporting on the week’s news while making numerous asides about both his personal life and his opinions of the other residents of Night Vale. Other characters occasionally call in to the station, or visit Cecil in his booth, but much of the show is simply one man giving a monologue in front of a microphone. Welcome to Night Vale might thus not seem like the ideal candidate for a touring live show. But, in fact, the WtNV live show experience was wonderfully interactive and communal – we cosplayed; we cheered when favorite characters were mentioned; we bonded over this strange little podcast-that-could that we love. And the show itself was aptly tailored for the live-show experience: the script encouraged audience interaction, and the actors did fantastic work bringing their radio script alive on stage. Going to the live show was fantastic, and it made me appreciate even more the live show episodes that WtNV has released on iTunes and on their podcast feed (the recorded live shows are “Condos,” “The Debate,” and “The Old Oak Doors”). I very much recommend checking out Welcome to Night Vale, and going to a live show if they tour near you!
I am absolutely in love with the current run of Hawkeye comics, which I finally started to read this summer. Written by Matt Fraction and drawn principally by David Aja, Hawkeye follows the adventures of Clint Barton, an archer sharpshooter who happens to be one of the Avengers. (Kate Bishop, a lady Hawkeye, often shares the center stage with Clint in these stories.)
First, and perhaps most directly, Hawkeye is just a really good superhero comic about a man who doesn’t have any superpowers but who bases his life around standing up for the underdog (and getting into consequent scrapes). As a writer, Matt Fraction is great, and he has fun experimenting with unconventional narrative styles. In addition to making frequent use of non-linear storytelling, Fraction pokes at the possibilities of the comics medium so that, for example, one issue is told entirely from the point of view of a dog while another explores deafness and incorporates American Sign Language. But what especially keeps drawing me back to Hawkeye is Aja’s brilliant drawings and panel-layouts: Aja is aware of the physical geometry of the comic book page like no other comic book artist I’ve seen, and his work is amazing. Fraction recently tweeted that he was working on his last Hawkeye script, so you should catch up while there are still new issues to enjoy!
Kazia’s Summer Picks
I cannot fully express my love for Lumberjanes. This summer I decided to start reading comics (like, walk-into-the-comic-shop-and-pick-up-individual-issues comics), and I chose Lumberjanes (along with the excellent new Ms. Marvel). I was not disappointed! Accurately pitched as “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls,” Lumberjanes is basically my dream come true: it’s a feminist, queer-friendly comic with a racially diverse all-lady cast who shout “Holy bell hooks!” when surprised by supernatural creatures. Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are the five campers who make up Roanoke Cabin at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Peniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types where, in addition to making friendship bracelets and earning badges like Pungeon Master, they frequently battle yetis, velociraptors, and mutant boy scouts. Written by Grace Ellis (writer at Autostraddle.com) and Noelle Stevenson (creator of the superb Nimona webcomic, also a summer favorite) and illustrated by Brooke Allen, Lumberjanes is quirky, campy, clever, and deep. The sixth issue is scheduled for release on September 10, so you still have time to run to your local comic shop and catch up.
2) This One Summer
I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels this summer, but far and away the best was This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. A moody, beautiful piece printed in blueish-purple and white, a color scheme that perfectly reflects the quiet, contemplative story. This One Summer follows friends Rose and Windy as they return to their annual summer vacation spot with their families. On the cusp of adolescence, Rose and Windy are growing up and growing apart at different paces, giving a tension to their relationship as well as the relationships around them as the summer progresses. With themes of adolescence, gender, family, and sexuality, it’s an exquisite piece and a must-read for anyone who remembers or experiences difficult transitions.
3) Emma Approved
Now for a switch in format: anyone for a serialized contemporary vlog-style adaptation of classic British literature? Emma Approved (an 72-part Youtube adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma) totally hit its stride this summer. In this adaptation, Emma, a young event planner and relationship coach for a company she co-founded with family friend Alex Knightley, is documenting her work for when someone someday makes a documentary about her. She hires intern/personal assistant/secretary/personal project/friend Harriet, and the rest (if you know the story of Emma) goes as expected. As a hardcore fan of its predecessor The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I initially found it difficult to immerse myself in the world (too many camera angles, a traditionally unlikable Emma, etc.). However, it was totally worth the wait! While it got better and better every episode, by the time we reached the turning point in the novel (in this case, Boxx Hill), it had elevated to another level. All in all it’s a really compelling and faithful adaptation, and one that I would definitely recommend (in addition to Pemberley Digital’s aforementioned The Lizzie Bennet Diaries). It’s easy to catch up and watch entirety of Emma Approved here.
What were you favorites of the summer? Comment below!