Welcome to Night Vale, created by Joseph Fink, marks its second anniversary episode on the 15th, and if you aren’t a fan yet, now could be the time.
The free podcast is presented as community radio broadcasts from Night Vale, a fictional town somewhere in the south-western United States. In each episode we find out about the town’s surreal, paranormal events through the sonorous reporting of Cecil, our host. Angels, monsters, municipal corruption, aliens – this show has it all!
WTNV parodies Horror, Dystopian and Weird fiction. The eldritch events of the town are piled on so thick it’s ridiculous, and if you are anything like me you will laugh out loud several times in each half-hour episode. It’s not all light-hearted though; some moments are genuinely chilling. Nor is it shallow: you may find yourself getting more deeply invested in the characters than you expected.
Night Vale has an extremely dedicated following, which is especially impressive when you consider that podcasts don’t tend to attract active fandoms in the same way that visual and text media do. Apart from being generally well written and awesome, I think that WTNV has taken hold in certain circles for two main reasons.
First, the show actually gives us a pretty narrow view of Night Vale. We hear everything through the radio host, who is vague and sometimes unreliable. It’s rare for us to hear directly from another character; most of the dialogue and character interaction is paraphrased by Cecil rather than broadcast. So, although Cecil gives us plenty, what we know about the town and its inhabitants actually amounts to very little in the big picture.
The silver lining lack of detail gives fans an incredible opportunity to speculate about the town and consume the show creatively. People can discuss, write fan fiction, create fan art and cosplay and have huge creative license. We are free to add our own worldbuilding and characterization because there is so much left to the imagination. Cecil himself is never meaningfully described so his appearance in fandom varies wildly. There are Cecils of all races, hair colours, sizes and wardrobes floating around the internet, although there is a trend to depict him wearing purple clothing and tentacle-like tattoos, sometimes with a third eye on his forehead, none of which is backed up by canon. Before it was strongly implied that he was human, people were even drawing him as a blob-monster. People have the freedom to make the characters whatever they want.
The second reason, related to the first, is that the show’s lack of detail is also very inclusive. Although many characters get more description than Cecil, race is almost always left ambiguous. The handful of characters that do get descriptions that hint at their ethnicity, it’s usually implied that they aren’t white, and many central characters are implied to be people of colour. Although racially ambiguous characters are often whitewashed in Night Vale fan art and fan fiction, there’s a strong push for diversity in the fandom too.
Sexuality, too, is left ambiguous. One of the central themes is Cecil’s same-sex attraction to newcomer Carlos, but the fact that this is a same sex attraction is never remarked upon. Labels for sexual orientation are never applied; despite multiple characters being implied to belong to the LGBTQ community I can’t recall any word from that acronym ever being used on the show. Cecil tends to be presumed gay by fans, but even that is technically unconfirmed. The show has many central, strong female characters. In a town with bizarre and draconian laws banning or regulating writing utensils, books and public descriptions of the moon, and inexplicable mountain-denial, there is a distinct absence of the irrational looming social horrors of the real world. No homophobia. Nor misogyny. The only character who overtly displays racial insensitivity is constantly ridiculed for it. Those characters who seem to be Queer or POCs are not defined by their queerness or their race. Those of us who belong to those groups in real life are kept engaged by WTNV because we can see ourselves without having to search through a sea of white, cis-het male faces only to settle for clichéd plot-puppets, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.
Unlike the genre it satirizes, Welcome to Night Vale ultimately does not project horror or despair, but hope, community and love. Despite living under constant threat from the organisations, monsters and paranormal events that saturated the town, the inhabitants of Night Vale are proud, and they remain strong in the face of danger every day. Speaking characters often lapse into philosophical tangents on the nature of time, existence, knowledge and belief. You will not come away from night vale with the hollowed out feeling that relentlessly depressing horror fiction can leave you with.
I hope you give Welcome to Night Vale a try. If you love it, I encourage you to donate. I would recommend listening from the beginning; although many episodes stand alone in the beginning they start setting up some very complex arcs before long. If you like to laugh and sob, if you like chills and warm fuzzy feelings and suspense and absurdness and diversity and monsters and darkness and angels and being a part of a truly dedicated community of fans, you can listen to Welcome to Night Vale here. I hope that, like me, the first time Cecil’s resonant voice welcomes you to his town, you decide to stay for good.
We’ve had a guest writer write about Welcome to Night Vale before, so for yet another recommendation, check out our previous article on the topic!)
Prepare for a giant dose of childhood feels as the biggest reboot since Star Wars hits screens in July!
A renewal of Naoko Takeuchi’s magical girl hit, Sailor Moon is set to be simulcast worldwide in July, much to the delight of fans of the original anime.
The new anime, Sailor Moon Crystal will feature a storyline much closer to that of the original manga, breathing new life into the classic which introduced a generation to the anime genre.
The first official pictures have been released, depicting our heroine Usagi Tsukino and the four inner senshi in their scout sailor fuku and school uniforms (scroll to the end to see)! Like the plot, the character design will strongly mimic the manga art style.
Adding to our growing excitement is the confirmation of the principal cast: Sailor Moon’s original seiyuu, Kotono Mitsuishi, will reprise her role as Usagi Tsukino in the reboot. “I want to hurry up and meet moving Usagi again,” Mitsuishi says, as keen as anyone to see our favourite heroine return to the screen!
Newcomers to the cast include:
Toei Animation, the studio which brought us the first series, will retain production of the new show. For fans of the original ‘90s anime, the treats keep on coming!
Australian fans can look forward to a real treat — anime fans heading to Sydney’s popular SMASH! convention in August have the chance to meet Mitsuishi, who has been announced as a guest to the 2014 event.
The official Japanese site has been launched and updates will hopefully keep flowing in.
Until then, grab your magical girl transformation lockets and start the countdown!
Sailor Moon Crystal will be broadcast worldwide via Niconico from July 5.
Pictures courtesy of Nerdist
I’m not sure how many of you will have heard of this webcomic by Jenn Manley Lee. I never had until my friend lent me the published, real-paper version of the first volume (the author is currently part way through the second volume of a planned three). It can be read at www.dicebox.net
The reader follows the journey of two friends, Molly and Griffen, who travel together in a let’s-see-what-happens kind of way, paying their way by working on ships or in factories. Griffen is witty, obnoxious and self-destructive. Molly is strong, pragmatic and optimistic.
Dicebox takes place on multiple planets and space ships. It reminds me quite a bit of the Firefly universe: everyone goes about their business pretty much the same way they do in real life, but in space. There don’t seem to be any aliens or androids around, just people, non-sentient machines, and some weird bugs. This means that the story is more character-driven than a lot of science fiction. Recurring themes are Griffen’s mysterious past and Molly’s disturbing nightmare visions. Molly spends a lot of time trying to keep Griffen out of trouble. There isn’t a lot of exposition, and that’s part of what keeps you reading: the working-out how who knows whom, why they act in certain ways toward each other. I found it pretty hard to follow at first; it’s the kind of fiction that makes you work a little harder. This also means it’s worth a second read; I was amazed how much I had missed the first time.
If there is one thing I love about Dicebox, it’s the way it deals with gender and sexuality. The Dicebox universe, or at least the parts that Griffen and Molly visit, is a utopic melting-pot of gender and sexuality representation. For starters, there’s a gender neutral pronoun that many of the characters go by, which every character seems to be familiar with: “peh”. It is used when you don’t know the person’s gender identity or when it isn’t relevant, but many characters seem to go exclusively by peh, and those that do tend to exhibit a mixture of masculine and feminine traits. Speaking as someone who has always struggled with gender, the inclusion of a third pronoun gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of representation.
But “peh” isn’t used by every character who wouldn’t fit into our gender binary. Griffen goes by “she” despite looking so androgynous that I didn’t realise until quite a while into the first volume that she wasn’t a man. Though her sex is canonically female, the author of the series describes Griffen’s gender as “a little more elusive.” Likewise, there are people in the story who appear to be presenting as one gender or the other, yet still choose to use the gender-neutral. In the comic so far, there is no obvious conflict stemming from gender issues, and being Trans or non-binary doesn’t even seem to be noteworthy.
Given the nuances of sex and gender in Dicebox, it’s unsurprising that terms like “gay,” “lesbian”, “bisexual” and even “queer” seem to have been dropped from usage. Sexual preference is never noteworthy, it seems to be taken for granted a person will be attracted to whoever peh is attracted to. Griffen and Molly seem to be attracted mostly to males and females respectively, but it wouldn’t be right to label Griffen as straight or Molly as gay because of this. No character ever labels anyone’s sexual orientation in Dicebox, even their own. The sex scenes have the touching awkwardness and lack of grace that anyone who has had or seen real-life sex will instantly recognise, a welcome relief from the choreographed, over-romanticised, porn-like sex in a lot of fiction.
Ethnicity is dealt with in much the same way as sex. Despite the racially diverse setting, racism never comes up, with no instance of anyone even mentioning race or nationality. This doesn’t mean that cultures have been lost, however; the names, clothing, and architecture of Dicebox is a jumble of different aesthetics clearly based on those from cultures in the real world. Everyone seems to speak the same language; it’s unclear whether this language is actually English or just written as such for the benefit of us present-dwelling chumps.
The comic updates with one page a week. The art is higher quality than most published graphic novels, let alone webcomics. Unfortunately this brings me to a drawback of Dicebox: it doesn’t fit into a webcomic structure very well. No page is stand-alone; scenes and conversations last for many pages. I read the first volume printed and bound and loved it. Then I went online and read all of Volume Two that had been written, and even though I like it on paper better, it was great. But once I got up to the point where I had to wait a week for the next page, I found it frustrating. Even if the format doesn’t fit quite right, I’m glad that Dicebox is a webcomic, because I have a feeling that, though brilliant, it caters for a small enough niche that it might not have been published otherwise. If you can bear reading the pages week to week, good for you, but I prefer to check back every few months, and intend to buy the second volume on paper.
Dicebox gives us a world of rich, strong characters and realistic interaction, and not just that: It gave me what I had wanted to see for a long time: a story in which there are trans people, non-binary people, people of colour, queer and pansexual people everywhere, but none of these characters are defined by the single trait of being in that group. We are all sick of LGBT and POC characters whose entire story or motivation is their gender, sexuality, or race, and Dicebox represents a refreshing step away from that kind of half-hearted representation.
43 Cartoon Theme Songs, all played by the Ensemble ACJW from “The Academy”, a program of Carnegie Hall, The Julliard School, and the Well Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education
…and edited with incredibly awesome post-production cartoon geekiness!
The squees can be heard from a mile away.
Can you list the 43 Theme songs?
The Australian comic book industry is a small community, concentrated in Melbourne, straining at the seams with brave and original talent. On Australia Day this year, the good people at Sci-Fi and Squeam from Joy 94.9 FM - a Melbourne-based independent radio station catering to the gay and lesbian communities – did a two-part podcast about women in the Australian comics scene.
The podcast includes interviews with women in the industry, as well as broader discussions about sexism, the roles and experiences of women in the industry, and the challenge of finding a place for women within a male-dominated, male-oriented medium.
We also recommend the regular Sci-Fi and Squeam podcast every Tuesday night from 10 to 11 for fun news and discussions about all things gay and geeky.
[Image from Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg, via SMH]