I get to meet my hero! (Art Spiegelman, author of Maus)

I MET ART SPIEGELMAN!!!

Art Spiegelman, for those who don’t know, is a Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist  best known for his comic book memoir, Maus. The two-volume graphic novel details the life of Art’s father, a survivor of Auschwitz, and the complicated relationship between Art and his father as a result of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman is also known for being a pioneer in underground comix, pushing experimental comics to their limit. And finally, he is a huge proponent for “comics-as-art,” advocating that comics are more than just pulp superheroes for kids– rather, spun the right way, comics can have reach all audiences and have a huge emotional impact.

A bit of Maus' first pages.

All of these things I admire, and Spiegelman has proved a huge inspiration for me quite directly. In ninth grade, my school required us to submit an entry to the Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition— a regional contest where kids submit art pieces about the Holocaust. I went completely off my nut, and, over a period of two months, wrote a whole graphic novel spanning a little over 100 pages. Yeah. It sounds unreal even now. Better yet, I drew the entire thing with Sharpies, so by the end I looked a little like this:

The weekend before it was due I actually pumped out 40 pages in two days. It was a surreal experience.

This comic will never see the light of day, because I wrote it five years ago and therefore it’s total and utter crap. Terrible art, choppy pacing, underdeveloped story– it’s a bit embarrassing. But it was definitely an achievement for little ninth grade me, and it was completely inspired by Art Spiegelman’s work.

So when I saw a poster announcing that Art Spiegelman was giving a guest lecture at NU, I was more than a little excited.

After confirming that this was actually happening, I proceeded to freak out to all my friends:

The lecture was titled “What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?” and basically featured Spiegelman walking us through the history of comics in North America. He also elaborated on how he got into the comics industry, how he ended up writing Maus, infusing the whole thing with both wit and depth. And I, the whole time, as a comic nerd, was grinning like a fool:

He even put to words what I’ve been trying to figure out for quite a while now. People have often asked me why I like comics so much, and honestly, I’ve never had an answer. Which is a problem when you’re at a college interview, and the intimidating successful woman doctor asks you, condescendingly, why comics are your “thing.”

This is actually exactly what happened at my interview for Harvard. And, in fact, we were discussing Maus.

And then Art Spiegelman comes along and argues that are just as effective– sometimes more effective– as other forms of expression. According to Spiegelman, this is because “comics echo the way the brain works. People think in iconographic images, not in holograms, and people think in bursts of language, not in paragraphs.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So yeah. The lecture was amazing. But the best was the reception. The crowd wandered out of the auditorium, helped themselves to drinks, and waited for the chance to meet Art himself.

Coffee was not a good idea. By the time Art Spiegelman came out, I was positively jumpy:

BUT I GOT TO MEET HIM! AND SHAKE HIS HAND! Mr. Spiegelman was really, really nice and willing to listen to everyone, even jittery ol’ me.

But he was very patient, and politely asked me what comic artists I liked:

IT WAS PRETTY AWESOME. I never thought I’d get to meet one of my cartooning idols. I couldn’t stop grinning for the next hour.

Probably the most memorable moment, though, was when he was talking to a girl who was in line in front of me. She asked the question I actually wanted to say:

He reacted with surprise.

And he said it with a straight face.

And then what he said surprised me:

I was shocked.  I’ve always seen cartooning as a goal, something to strive for. A dream. But for him, a cartoonist of such huge prestige and success, it was not?

But at the same time, I realized, his words reflected my own feelings. I don’t know why I like to read comics. I especially don’t know why I like to draw comics, as it is a time-consuming and often agonizing experience. But it’s something I’ve always done, since age 7. It’s something I’ve just… had to do. That’s why I taught myself how to draw. That’s why, contrary to my parents’ hopeful predictions, I still haven’t “outgrown” comics. That’s why this blog exists. I may get my BS in biology. I can go on and get my graduate degree. A PhD, even. I could work for a company. Or maybe run my own research. Or completely change my major to International Business and work in Yugoslavia, or maybe become an accountant destined for a cubicle. Who knows? The future is totally up in the air. Except for one thing: comics. In no future of mine, in no projections or plans or daydreams or bucket lists, do I ever see myself not drawing comics.

Because comics are a passion that will stay with me the rest of my life. I know that I will never stop drawing.

And the rest will fall into place.

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How to deal with stress

It’s that time of semester again:

I believe this happens every semester. Where students reach their saturation point, and are ready to go home and drink martinis on the beach. Alas, there is a month left in the semester. What’s a girl to do?

I’m a pretty high-stress person, so over the years I’ve developed a coping mechanism. You know, to keep my sanity.

Most people recommend taking breaks. However, I am far too neurotic for this to work.

In the end, I find that the most effective way to reduce stress is to remove the cause. Meaning I have to get my sh!t done! Or I will never be at peace.

So, to all the students out there? Struggling and stressing and having a rough time of it? GOOD LUCK! YOU CAN DO IT! You’re not the only one trying to make it through the year! Never lose sight of the white sands and pina coladas awaiting you in the near future!

(Actually, I think I just stress out too much. It’s probably just me.)

The St. Patty’s Day parade is really just an excuse to drink

South Boston holds a parade every St. Patrick’s Day. Drawing somewhere around 600,000 people each year, it’s known to experience troubles. Alcohol troubles. Also known as drunk people everywhere.

My sister was visiting the weekend of the parade and decided that sounded like a good time. She declared that we should go to the parade. And go we did…

Slowly.

The reports weren’t exaggerating about the size of this parade. When my sister and I took the T, it was incredibly crowded. I’ve never seen the subway that packed in my life:

Boston knows how crazy it gets on St. Patty’s Day, though, and had the foresight to increase train service that day. So we moved through the pack relatively quickly.

And when we finally reached our stop, we found that it was just as crazy as the T:

Southie is historically a working-class, Irish-American neighborhood also known for its long record of organized crime. In recent years, however, Southie has changed drastically: The Boston Redevelopment Authority targeted Southie for redevelopment and property values have increased. And certainly, the day of the parade, there was no signs of Southie’s turbulent history. Rather, there was

…and, of course, the elderly, kids, and their parents. But in a city that has tons of Irish-Americans, and tons of college kids, and tons of people who just want to party, what else can you expect on St. Patty’s Day? We passed by houses full of college parties, tons of people toting their open containers of beer, and plenty of bottles littered on the ground.

Because the parade has had problems with drunkenness before, the police were out in droves:

So my sister and I, along with my suitemate, were content to perch up on a hill to observe. Unfortunately, the T could only drop us off at the latter end of the parade. We ended up waiting two hours before the parade actually reached us, by which time we had to leave anyway. At least the weather was nice.

And we did manage to get a peek at some cool floats.

Darth Vader waving like a boss from a truck. He was accompanied by a squadron of stormtroopers and jedi.

Ghostbusters.

People went crazy for this tank. BECAUSE IT WAS AWESOME!

Although I think I’ve had my fill of bagpipes.

Though drunk people never get old.

How to get your own seat on the bus

To get back and forth from Boston to Philly, I take the bus. It’s the cheapest option, though not always the most comfortable. It can get a bit cramped at times, especially on the weekends. And sitting for 7 hours straight ain’t that cozy either.

So it’s most advantageous when no one sits next to you. Two seats to yourself to sprawl out and relax! However, when someone asks to sit next to you, you can’t say no. That’s simply rude.

Unless no one wants to sit next to you in the first place.

Like when I was on the bus the other day:

And that’s how I ended up with my own seat on the bus.

(In all fairness to myself, though, I really am sick. I need to buy more cough syrup tomorrow.)

Tschüss!

Why I like cosplaying

I’ve always been pretty shameless about my dorkiness. Pokemon, video games, manga, comics– I’ll proclaim these loves to the heavens. But there’s one love of mine I’m more hesitant to mention:

Cosplay.

Cosplay, broadly speaking, is the art of dressing up as a character. Typically the term implies characters of Japanese origin, such as from manga or video games, but cosplay can include characters from any source. To clarify, here’s some examples:

Link from the Legend of Zelda series.

Babydoll from Sucker Punch.

Jesse and James from Pokemon.

The thing about cosplay, though, is that it has a bad reputation. Because not all cosplayers are good. More often than not at an anime convention, you’ll come across cosplayers like this:

Sailor Moon?

Might Guy from Naruto?

Which is why I have actually heard people say

I mean, liking comics is one thing, actually dressing up in costume is something else entirely. So back in high school, when I went to my first anime convention, I didn’t dress up. I had always wanted to, but I felt as though it was just too dorky. But then, when I went, I found a huge surprise:

By not being in costume, I was the minority! In fact, I was missing out on a lot of the cosplay revelry. I was amazed. So I decided that the next year, I needed to cosplay. This was going to happen.

And it did, the night before, as I threw together an outfit:

Yup. I dressed up as a Pikachu. Kind of crazy, huh?

Less so than I thought. At anime conventions, not only is cosplaying commonplace, but photo-taking is as well. Dozens (not an exaggeration) of people came up to me and asked to take my photo:

And I, in turn, assaulted tons and tons of people asking for their photo:

I even got roped into a group of Pokemon cosplayers staging a Pokemon battle:

My friends still have the video from that "battle." It shall never see the light of day.

It was nerdy. It was dorky. It was all things geeky. I should have been ashamed, embarrassed out of my mind.

But instead, it was really fun.

And now I realize why.

Everyone was there for the same reason: we all loved manga and anime. Sure, maybe our costumes sucked. Sure, maybe we didn’t look a thing like our character. Sure, maybe our dorkiness was looked down upon by the rest of society.

But there, those days, in that dimly lit convention building, we were all there to simply appreciate the geek culture we all knew and loved. We just wanted to have a good time. Every effort was appreciated. No judgement was passed.

I was once told that the root of cosplay is confidence, and it’s true. You can’t rock a cosplay without a good deal of confidence. After all, stepping into public dressed like a cartoon character already takes a degree of courage. All those “bad” cosplayers, who we laugh at, make fun of– they, at least, had the confidence to try. They put effort into their costumes. They, and I, and everyone there, just wanted to have fun.

After I returned from my convention that year, I showed my friends the cosplay pictures I had taken– good and bad. They laughed and hooted and roared at some of the worse cosplayers. I chuckled along, but felt horrible for doing so. For all I knew, people were doing the same to me.

I guess the moral of this story would be to be shameless. Though people may think you’re weird, and nerdy, and a total loser (and trust me, those are three things I get a lot) there’s no reason to, well, care. Because there are always those who will accept you. And like you. And screw the ones who don’t.

Which is why I’ll show my latest cosplay with pride. I’ve been working on this costume for hours on end, and finally completed it. It’s of Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy VIII (whose haircut I actually requested back in December):

Don’t judge me bro.

Older sisters are terrifying

When I was younger, I was terrified of my older sister.

Why? Older siblings are abusive. They’re manipulative. They push their younger siblings around to get what they want.

My sister has a history of making me do menial tasks for her:

The idea of middle school, apparently, was enough to make me climb the stairs to retrieve her toothbrush. Secondary school, after all, is a frightening and mysterious thing.

Alternatively, she liked to cheat me out of things. Once it was chump change:

Although more classically it was Halloween candy.

There was one tactic she liked using the most. Like any little kid, I was attached to my stuffed animals. I was particularly fond of one plush dog I owned. And my sister, of course, abused this to the maximum:

In all fairness, my sister had to put up with her share of abuse as well. I would hit her. Throw things at her. Bother her incessantly. My poor ol’ sister had to put up with quite a lot. While she could take advantage of her seniority, I could take advantage of my youth:

It was classic sibling strife. Much of it declined as we got older, anyway. And my sister is the greatest. She’s put up with me for 18 years. She gives me advice. Lets me complain to her. Tells me how to not dress like a total scrub. I wouldn’t trade her for any other sister in the WORLD!…and so on. After all, who else can I rely on to dance the Irish jig with me?

My cousins

My cousins share an interesting relationship.

This relationship is best summarized by the phrase, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”

Because my cousins and I are as different as night and day. Black and white. Apples and oranges. Link and Ganondorf.

Now that I’m done hurling cliches, let me show you what I mean. Here are my cousins:

Put us all in a room together, and it’s bound to be chaos. My cousins and I have a history of harassing each other, since day 1…

…all the way to the present day.

Sometimes I wonder how we’ve managed to coexist this long.

Then, however, I remember that they’re my cousins. They’re the ones you grow up with. Your first friends as kids. They’re the only ones who can truly understand the ins and outs of your crazy family. We’ve suffered some trials and tribulations over the years:

And so my cousins and I are all friends. Even though we’re getting older– going to college, getting jobs, not being able to see each other as often– when we do get together, everything’s the same. My favorite family gatherings are always the ones with my cousins. My family may be huge, and loud, and crazy, and chaotic, but I can’t imagine it any other way.

Although I could do with a little less harassment.