Ten Online Sources of Joy That You Should Know About
Here’s Some Stuff I like.
If this were a traditional blog (heh, that’s funny, something as new as a blog already has a ‘traditional’ version), this might be called a “link-dump.” But I’m not just dumping a bunch of links for you to follow. I want to share with you some neat things that make me happy on a daily (…well, maybe weekly…well, semi-regular, okay?) basis. Some of these things are just general cool things, some appeal to my sense of the odd and macabre, some are celebrations of history, and some are euphoria-inducing combinations of several of the above.
Maggie's book about blogging.
This is Maggie Mason’s blog. Maggie may in fact be made of awesome. She’s clever, she’s famous, she’s lovely, has a wonderful young son, and she is an incredibly talented and successful writer. Naturally, I hate her guts. No, that’s not true, I think she’s wonderful and I read her Mighty Girl blog regularly. She also has several related shopping blogs that highlight various things that appeal to her. Maggie has amazing taste, so if you’re looking for gift ideas or home decorating inspiration, you might want to look at MightyGoods (for cool stuff), MightyHaus (cool stuff for the home), or MightyJunior (cools stuff for kids) as well. But start with MightyGirl. That’s where it all began.
Maggie doesn’t need the plug from me, but it’s possible that you haven’t yet come across her in the other parts of your life, so this recommendation is entirely for my dear readers, because you deserve to read the writing of people much cooler than I am.
Update: I do not like to write about the personal lives of celebrities, but apparently a lot of folks have been coming here looking for news about Maggie's recent separation from her husband. You will not find it here. I do not know Maggie or her family on a personal level, and if I did, I wouldn't be telling the internet all about it.
*Update: Apparently Maggie's MightyGoods, MightyHaus, and other MightyBlogs have been sold. Good for her, says I.
I’ve been drawn to spooky stuff since I was a kid. I liked Halloween more than any other holiday except perhaps Christmas, and that was a close competition. Or at least, I would have liked Halloween if my parents hadn’t limited me to those crappy costumes at the supermarket. You know the ones: they had a rubber-band to hold on the mask, and they typically had a picture of whatever you wanted to dress as on them. I wanted to look like an actual Stormtrooper, not a kid in a flimsy plastic Stormtrooper mask with a Stormtrooper silkscreened across his chest. But I digress. I want to tell you about the Art of Darkness.
TAOD is the blog section of Shadow Manor, a spooky e-store run by Jenna Willey. I’ve never been a shadow manor customer; my wife does not share my penchant for all things spooky (or geeky, for that matter), but I’m a regular reader of the blog for the crafty tutorials, the wry humor, and the fun links*. Jenna is especially good at finding dark, geeky, and darkly geeky things online, and she has been directly responsible for a good many of my recent belly laughs. For this I thank her, and heartily recommend her to all of you, but most especially the ones who watched reruns of The Addams Family and The Munsters on UHF back in the day.
*Two of the other links in this hub were found on TAOD, Can you guess which?
The Art of Manliness is a blog about being a gentleman in a post-gentleman world. Their idea of what is “manly” is not your grandfather’s. The writers at TAOM want to promote the good parts of old-school manliness (the strength, the dependability, the style, the self-confidence, and the clean, close shave) while condemning the misogyny, racism, and homophobia that mainstream culture used to expect of “real men.” This site provides an invaluable service for young men without male role models in their lives, as well as grown men who wish that they would have listened to the stuff their fathers were trying to tell them back in the day.
Here you can learn to tie a bow tie, sharpen a pocketknife,
manage money, dine at a fancy restaurant, and put together a wardrobe that
brings out your signature style without breaking your bank account. TAOM also
covers some heavier topics, such as how to plan a funeral, how to be a good
husband and father, and how to apologize like a man. There’s no reason the
ladies should not also visit this site, as these skills and discussions are
equally useful for adults of either sex. “Man,” in this context, really ought
to be interchangeable with “adult,” except "The Art of Adultliness" would sound really stupid. Nobody would visit the site if it were called that.
Hark! A Vagrant is Kate Beaton’s blog. Kate draws comics. The comics appear on her blog. The comics have a unique style, and usually deal with historical subjects. Yep, Kate is a history nerd, just like I am. At one point, while reading Kate’s comics, I caught myself wishing that I'd known Kate before she became famous, so I'd be able to call her up and talk history. But alas, I'm a mere fan, and probably will not get to have that conversation any time soon. Anyway, the comics.
Kate’s comics generally are one-shot strips, with the occasional mini-series, and several recurring characters. My favorites are Nikola Tesla, the Fat Pony, and Jane Austen. Kate has a very twisted sense of humor and breaks pretty much every rule of punctuation (on purpose). The lack of punctuation serves to underline the cleverness and sophistication of her comics. When you visit her site (and you’re going to, right?) be prepared for the occasional F-bomb. But if those will offend you, why the heck are you reading my stuff?
I may have mentioned that I sometimes spend weekends reenacting the American Revolutionary War. As a reenactor, I get no end of pleasure from reading The Dreamer, a web comic by Lora Innes. The main character is young Bea Whaley, a modern teenager with the usual worries of a pretty, upper-middle-class high school girl. But when she falls asleep, through the magic of suspended disbelief, she becomes Miss Beatrice Whaley, a young woman caught up in the middle of the Revolution.
In her dreams, Bea rubs shoulders with such notables as Alexander Hamilton and Nathan Hale. Being an indifferent student of history, though, she has no idea about what will happen next and cannot warn Mr. Hale about what will eventually be his fate.
Lora Innes draws 18th century costumes as easily as she does modern clothing, and she has obviously meticulously researched her subject. She even includes some very obscure real historical figures in the story. Students of RevWar history will know the outcomes of battles ahead of time, but the details will be just as surprising to historians as to casual readers. If any of my dear readers happen to be teachers, they might find in The Dreamer a way to catch the interest of students who claim not to care about stuff that happened over 200 years ago.
The collaborative team of students Hailey Bachrach, writer, and Bridget Underwood, artist, bring us Dovecote Crest, a comic about the lives and relationships of a group of historical interpreters at a Civil War battlefield and museum. The comic is less about history than about historians. Haley and Bridget seem to understand the excitement that historians feel when they uncover some new information about their chosen time period, which leads me to believe they must be studying history as well as writing and art.
The current story arc deals with the appearance of a ghost that only two of the characters can see. I recommend starting from the beginning, on a day when you have a couple hours to yourself. You’ll want to know what happens next, and if you start reading at the wrong time, you might make yourself late for something. But it might be worth it.
And we’re back in the RevWar with The Paul Reveres. This is a really wacky concept: in this world, the Revolutionary War is a Battle of the Bands, and the music of choice seems to be early 80s punk rock. The art style is very cartoony, with clean lines and lots of strong color. The story line is up to the confrontation between Minutemen and Redcoats on Lexington Green, only instead of muskets, they’re using guitars.
This has got to be one of the most irreverent treatments of the RevWar in fiction that I’ve ever seen. Historic characters (like Paul Revere) and fictional ones (like Johnny Tremain) rub shoulders (and bicker like spoiled siblings). You might expect this to be irredeemably silly, but it really works. Or maybe I just resonate on the same twisted wavelength as creator Tina Pratt. Interestingly, Ms. Pratt is only one degree of separation removed from Dovecote Crest artist Bridget Underwood; she graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design, where Ms. Underwood is currently studying. Aspiring artists? You might want to look into this school. They’re obviously doing something right.
Hard copy of The Dreamer.
Have you ever known someone who was so dang smart that it seemed like they were a little…out of phase with the rest of humanity? The brain behind xkcd, Randall Munroe, probably knows what it’s like to be that person. I suspect that he draws xkcd as a coping mechanism to help him deal with the rest of us. He’s a physicist and a rocket scientist (No foolin’: he used to work at NASA!) and in his spare time he draws these cartoons that make my brain itch. Many of the comics are about loneliness, many are about science, and a few are about red spiders, for some reason. Go take a look, and be prepared to be confused. In a good way.
Okay, now this is just strange. One of the marks of genius is to be able to find connections between seemingly unrelated items. Of course, sometimes there is really no connection at all, but the idea of these two things stapled together is so bizarre that you have to take it as far as you can go and see what you get. The other side of this thought was articulated best by the late great George Carlin when he said, “If you nail together two things that have never been nailed together before, some dumb schmuck will buy it from you.”
I’m not sure which is the driving force behind Dave Lowe’s Paraabnormal, but I really don’t care. I’ll buy it from him. Dave can take famous art, and with a few subtle brushstrokes, turn it into something profoundly disturbing. He can also take a couple pop culture icons that could not be more different (Bozo the Clown and Boba Fett, for example) and nail them together to make something hilarious. Plus, there are shrunken heads that talk to each other.
As well as being a brilliantly warped cartoonist, Mr. Lowe also is a successful illustrator and graphic designer. If you’re in Southern California and need a wicked cool logo, see if he’s available. You could do a lot worse.
If you call yourself a nerd, and you don’t know OOTS, you need to hand in your nerd card, right now. Put it into your CD drive. I’ll wait.
For the rest of you, who made no claim to be nerds, OOTS is short for Order Of The Stick, the D&D parody comic by Rich Burlew. Rich is a man of many parts. He’s a game designer, a world designer, a game theorist, and a cartoonist with a sense of humor worthy of Monty Python. I have a feeling that Mr. Burlew and Terry Gilliam would have a lot to talk about. (I wonder if Gilliam would be interested in directing an OOTS feature film? If it happens, you heard it here first!)
If you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, some of the references in OOTS will be lost on you. But don’t worry, the strip does not depend on inside jokes to keep your interest. It’s amazing, when you remember that this strip started as a series of gags, to see the depth of the characters and the complexity of the interwoven story arcs. Yes, there are many plots, they’re character-driven, and all of the characters are sympathetic in their way. A lesser man than I might be a little embarrassed at admitting to really caring about the fate of a bunch of stick-figures, but that’s his problem. I do care about the members of the Order. Start reading the comic from the beginning, and I bet you’ll care about them, too.