New Marvels, New Lenses: A Podcast

What can relatively young disciplines like information science and the allied health professions tell us about society and pop culture?

This weekend I hosted a podcast featuring scientist-turned-literary-editor Yen-Rong Wong, librarian Rachel Merrick, and occupational therapist Amelia DiTommaso, all based in Brisbane, Australia.

On the eve of a new exhibition at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art, these three creative professionals got together to explore Marvel’s superhero movies through new lenses informed by their expertise and experience.

Focusing on Doctor Strange (2016), the discussion embraced magic, mystery, science, history, identity, culture, politics, heroism, and lots of laughter.

From the history of Australian censorship to the dark side of healthcare, challenges in identity and representation, plus the arcane mysteries of  “readers’ advisory”, listen now for a mind-expanding journey.

“Sorry, sweetheart, you have to help Daddy pay for his mistakes” – Una McCormack vs. Ant-Man

Busy times here at Finch Towers, both at home and work. My head was full of stuff and I needed a quick summer read. I was supposed to be reading John Tomb’s Head, a New Zealand novel about postcolonial heritage, but it was too intense. Then I stumbled on The Baba Yagaby Una McCormack and Eric Brown.

The Baba Yaga Una McCormack cover

I know Una vaguely from Twitter and I heard her speak once, brilliantly, on Doctor Who so I gave the book a whirl. Read more

The Romance of the Machine: Quietly Writing About Love

Three essays about love and pop culture 

I have a new piece out at the Cultural Gutter, a site which hosts essays about disreputable art in all its forms.

“The Romance of the Machine” looks at Hasbro’s Transformers toys, in particular their current comic More Than Meets The Eye. My essay explores how even big-brand media can be “rich enough to speak of loss, grief, thwarted dreams, the desire to do good in an imperfect world, and, most importantly, of love.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Sergeant Pepper-style cover

Read more

Captain Marvel!

Ms Marvel from The Superheroes Special Edition - British Home Stores

So you’ll have seen the announcement that Marvel is finally going to give us a female-led superhero film in Captain Marvel, due July 2018. I’m pleased, of course, that they’re making space for a badass, awesome woman to be the lead in a Hollywood superhero franchise, especially one tied to the current Marvel money train. But also because Captain Marvel – then Ms. Marvel – is one of the first superhero comics I read.

Back in the mid-eighties, the department store chain British Home Stores put out a hardback annual called The Superheroes Special Edition, filled with old Marvel reprints. My mum bought me a copy as a present; I read it over and over, put a glittery name label on the inside cover, and took it into school. I remember the X-Men facing off against Sentinels, the Fantastic Four pitted against alien dopplegangers, and the Silver Surver fighting the Abomination – all supremely awesome to the five-year-old mind.

But my very favourite story came from Ms. Marvel #5. In it, New York magazine editor Carol Danvers has a premonition that a “Super-Truck” of radioactive cargo is going to be attacked. Carol has to transform into Ms. Marvel, an alien alter ego with a separate personality from Carol’s. Not only is she at war within, but when she goes to protect the truck, Ms. Marvel is mistaken for a villain and attacked by another superhero, the Vision.

Ms Marvel #5 - Day of the Doom Wagon

I remember being captivated by this story. A superhero who was at war with her secret identity; a superhero who had to fight “proper” heroes who didn’t trust her; a superhero who uses trickery to triumph – as in the page at the top of this post, in which Ms. Marvel sets a trap for the Vision. With stories like this, I took it for granted that of course girls could be superheroes too – not just token characters, but strong protagonists facing complex challenges. Ms. Marvel was unquestionably cool in the same way that Mildred Hubble from The Worst Witch and Dinah from the Demon Headmaster books were. I have to thank my mum for buying me all of these books and introducing me to all of these awesome characters. Thanks Mum!

I’m really pleased that kids who grow up with the next generation of Marvel movies, boys and girls alike, will also see Carol Danvers battling baddies and saving the world.

Aussie high school librarian Tracy Dawson discusses feminism and media literacy with a team from Auckland Libraries and Auckland University of Technology in this blog post, XXUnmasked.  You can read a group discussion about comics for girls at Comics in the Classroom: Supporting Female Students, part one and part two. And I wrote a bit on the limits of grim male superhero characters at Here Comes Your Man: Time For Some Smiling Superheroes?

How To Be A Big Evil Head: Fun Palaces from the Supervillain’s Perspective

Louie Stowell's secretly heroic supervillain-in-training, Mandrake DeVille
Louie Stowell’s secretly heroic supervillain-in-training, Mandrake DeVille

Louie Stowell, who contributed author videos to the Parkes Library Fun Palace earlier this month, has written about the experience of being a Big Evil Head, projected across continents and timezones in the name of fun and supervillainy.

Check out Louie’s report over at the Fiction Express blog.


Fun Palaces 2014 launch in Parkes, Australia

We’ve had an amazing start to the Fun Palaces weekend here in rural Australia. So far, since our doors opened, over 260 people have come to try their hand at the challenges we devised together with local kids. That’s great numbers for a small rural community.

To see how we got to this point, check out the previous posts on making games with your community and adapting tabletop roleplay for your library.

You can check out pictures from today at Parkes Library’s Instagram account…and there’ll be more from Australia’s first Fun Palace tomorrow!

Parkes Fun Palaces: Tabletop Supervillains

It’s the big day! Three hours from now, Australia’s first Fun Palace opens in Parkes Shire Library, New South Wales.

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Games designed and built by local kids and teens will be on display for the community to have a go over the holiday weekend. There’s also a chance to try Parkes Library classics like Paint Like Michelangelo, a dinosaur dig, and a few more surprises besides.

Events have a supervillainous theme this year because many of our activities were inspired by British author Louie Stowell’s book The School For Superheroes, so we’ll also be rolling out a superhero-themed tabletop roleplaying game. We worked with local teens to devise, design, and test this game, which is quick to learn, easy to play, and inspired by the work of sci-fi writer, activist, and journalist Cory Doctorow.

The game will be available for the whole community to play in or out of the library after the Fun Palace closes, and we’ll aim to share both the game and our design process online as soon as possible. In the meantime watch @parkeslibrary and @drmattfinch on Twitter for the latest updates over the long weekend!

In the meantime, let me leave you with a personal favourite from our pre-launch photo gallery.

The Parkes Shire Library is sponsored by a number of organisations including Charles Sturt University…which led to this glorious caption card on one exhibit of the kids’ games.

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Adventures on the Front Lines of Modern Librarianship – Guest Post from Adrienne Hannan of Wellington City Libraries

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Over the past couple of years I’ve run a number of projects testing the limits of the 21st century library – from online interactive storytelling to retail partnerships, live roleplay, and play-based learning for all ages.

With many community libraries in crisis, facing cuts and ignorance about their vital role in public life, the aim of these projects was to swiftly and dramatically push the boundaries of contemporary librarianship, setting precedents that could be exploited and developed after the first flowering.

One of my favourite places to visit during these adventures has been Wellington, New Zealand. Aotearoa’s capital city is small but lively. Its library ranks include the formidable Adrienne Hannan.

NZ Army reservist Adrienne invented the notion of the “Strategic Librarian” – a doctrine which sidesteps old-school leadership thinking to encourage innovation and accomplishment at all levels of a library organisation. Such an attitude is sorely needed if Australasian libraries, sometimes worryingly centralised, are going to avoid the fate of their kin in the UK.

In this guest post, Adrienne discusses some of Wellington City Libraries’ recent adventures on the front line of modern librarianship.

Getting back to human basics with our school holiday activities

At Wellington City Libraries we are intent on bringing stories alive for children and creating interactive experiences with them, so have embarked on a different way of running our school holiday activities recently.

We recognise that books, long seen as the bread and butter of libraries, are just a conduit to literacy, and children may require some kind of stimulating experience with the book to give it memorable context.

Read more

Radio, radio: Australian Broadcasting Corporation coverage of Central West Comics Fest

The final preparations are being made for the first Central West Comics Fest this weekend, bringing together retailers, comics creators, and fans from across New South Wales to celebrate the art of graphic storytelling.

You can hear an interview with me and Parkes branch librarian Tracie Mauro on the ABC website by clicking on this link (mp3 audio). You can also read more about the festival on the ABC website.

If you live in the Central West and love comics, we look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

Information for the 2014 Central West Comics Fest