Sunday Read, Supplemental: Dancing Zombie Cops Can Only Be A Good Thing

I just saw the Running Man Challenge video recorded by police in New Zealand Aotearoa this week.

The video is part of a drive by Kiwi cops to recruit more officers, especially from Maori, Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Island, and Indian backgrounds.

I did a double take, because the cop who closes out the routine is Sergeant Sonny Iosefo of South Auckland.

Sonny also starred in our 2013 zombie siege at Tupu Youth Library, as an officer who came in to protect a group of teens from an invasion of the living dead.

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Sunday Read: Beyond Secret Cinema

My belated Sunday morning read is this piece from the Guardian on London’s Secret Cinema, which blends movie screenings with theatrical experiences and themed activities:

I’m a big fan of participatory live-action storytelling and I’m fascinated by opportunities to blur the line between fiction and “real” experience, creating events where attendees shape the outcome of a story.

I went to a Secret Cinema event a few years back and was pretty disappointed – the set design and costumes were fancy, but the opportunities to get involved in the storytelling were minimal. I’d gone to see Casablanca and while it was cool to sing La Marseillaise at a bunch of actors in Nazi uniform, the rest of the “immersive experience” consisted of overpriced snacks and a “casino” barely worthy of a student union’s James Bond night. The Guardian piece captures the extent to which Secret Cinema events are now more about taking your money than letting you step into the world of a story.

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Central West Comics Fest, VALA, Parkes Writers’ Group, Sci-Fi and Squeam

Aaaand we’re……back from the long summer holidays in the sweltering Aussie heat! And straight into the whirlwind of adventure.

Saturday, February 15th 2014 is a historic date for comics fans of all ages from across the Central West region of New South Wales – marking the first comics festival for this part of rural Australia.

Australian comics creator Pat Grant, author of the acclaimed meditation on youth, migration, and coastal identity Blue, will be offering workshops to adults and older teens alongside Marcelo Baez, who has drawn for everyone from Marvel to Microsoft, National Geographic to GQ Magazine, and will be schooling us in the ways of comic-book storytelling. In addition, the lovely folk at Sydney’s Kings Comics are venturing out of the CBD to offer their wares to people from across the region – a chance to peruse and purchase the latest comics, merch, and memorabilia without making the epic voyage all the way to Sydney.

More information can be found on the Central West Comics Fest poster:

Information for the 2014 Central West Comics Fest

In related news, I was recently interviewed for Melbournian radio station Joy FM’s Sci-Fi and Squeam podcast, talking about pop culture, libraries, and, inevitably, zombies, with the smart and suave Emmet O’Cuana – you can find my segment on their podcast, from 26:50 on the Joy FM website.

There were also some kind words for Parkes Writers’ Group from 2013 Banjo Patterson Poetry Award winner Jim Cassidy (although I’m not sure how I feel about being compared to Andrew Flintoff!) – you can read them at the Parkes Champion Post website here and see the kind of strange, all-ages, continent-hopping, Barbra Streisand-themed activities we get up to at the group here.

Finally, next week sees my keynote speech to the biennial Australasian culture-and-technology conference VALA – expect Doctor Who references, current affairs, the history of librarianship, and musings on hipsterity alongside the usual celebration and championing of public libraries.

<vworp vworp!>

A brief round-up on All Hallows’ Eve

I’m just back from Manila after flitting around Australia and the Philippines for a couple of weeks, running various events for libraries and art galleries. 7 flights in 8 days…that’s more than enough!

Zombies are people too - a survivor tries to escape the zombie hordes in Tullamore with a disguise
Zombies are people too – a survivor tries to escape the zombie hordes in Tullamore with a disguise and some pro-zombie sentiments

On the 10th and 11th of October, Parkes Shire Library ran our biggest and best zombie roleplay event to date, working in collaboration with three local schools, police, firefighters, and student volunteers from Charles Sturt University. We had two days of around 70 people taking part in a 4 1/2 hour unbroken zombie-fighting roleplay with real emergency services. You can see video from the news coverage at the ABC website. 

That event was the culmination of about a month’s work creating immersive theatre and learning activities in country libraries; you can find out more under the Finding Library Futures tag at this site. As the zombie dust settled, I spent a week training librarians around the region before flying to Sydney during the bushfires, which give the city a rather unnervingly apocalyptic skyline:

Sydney skyline - image via @peteresho's Twitter account
Sydney skyline – image via @peteresho’s Twitter account

The next day, I was off to Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design to give a talk and run another day of events. This included activities like making storytelling dice with comic-book panels on each face:

Teens make comic book storytelling dice at Manila's MCAD art museum
Teens make comic book storytelling dice at Manila’s MCAD art museum

The kids were very cool but it was pretty intense work – in fact, just walking down the street was pretty intense! Tho’ I’ve been to bustling cities in Peru and Indonesia, this was another level of wild traffic, wealth disparity, and sheer volume of humanity. Five minute taxi rides generated impressions that will take a long time to process. I felt privileged to be invited to work with the talented staff at MCAD and the youth museum Museo Pambata.

On my last night in the city, I went to a gallery launch but ended up sneaking off with another artist, Leeroy New (designer of a Lady Gaga dress, not the infamous meat one), to see his exhibition Gates of Hell, which I found utterly wonderful:

Leeroy New as Buddha encased in expanding foam
Leeroy New as Buddha encased in expanding foam

Leeroy’s transgressive, playful, pop-cultural take on the sacred had an impact as soon as you entered the room, yet when you ventured beneath the carapace of oozy foam which encased many of his holy subjects, there was a serious engagement with the numinous and transcendent. Gates of Hell reminded me of one of my favourite novels, Toby Litt’s troubling, surrealist fairytale-for-adults Hospital. With its psychopomps and defiantly rebellious bodies, its unyielding but indefinable laws of magic, It’s one of those flawed yet lingering novels – see this Telegraph review for a decent skewering of the flaws – which, despite it all, I can’t recommend enough.

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I loved Leeroy’s work for recalling the grotesquerie of Bosch as much as the claymation splurge of the British 1980s cartoon Trap Door. Gates of Hell marked a perfect balance between pop culture and traditional spirituality, those two rival paths towards a world beyond the everyday. No wonder Lady Gaga had Leeroy make wearable art for her.

After escaping the Gates of Hell, I chaired an evening panel on monsters in children’s literature for the New South Wales Writers’ Centre (you can see a great write-up here from panellist Nyssa Harkness) before finally flying home (my 7th flight in 8 days)…

To recover from all that adventure, I spent a long weekend in a darkened room with too many comics and now I’m back in the game. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s big interview/discussion piece on e-books, publishing, and the future of libraries…

Update: just to round off the festivities on this ghoulish night, you can find a six-minute recording of my piece There’s No Terror In The Carelessness of Flesh online at Soundcloud. Strictly NSFW – an adult exploration of blood, bodies, desire, and dismay. Happy Hallowe’en!

Why are New Zealand libraries letting their enemies write “the final chapter”?

A local politician in Marlborough, New Zealand, has suggested ditching the district’s libraries in favour of distributing e-readers to residents.

The Kiwi TV show Breakfast on One reported this news in a piece titled “The final chapter for libraries?”

Although Kiwi librarians are attempting to push back with the Twitter hashtag #morethanbooks, responses have tended to focus on the fact that libraries use e-books too, and include other items like music in their collections as well.

 

The simple truth is, libraries aren’t about books on shelves, or compact discs, or even e-readers. Those are tools, mere means to an end.

Libraries are about helping the public to explore the world of knowledge and culture on their own terms. That might mean performance art in British libraries, bringing books to life through gaming in Toronto, or holding teen zombie battles in Auckland.

A library isn’t just a storage space for books on shelves – it’s also a place where musicians perform; where computer software is written; where teens get to wrestle a zombie-bitten police officer to the ground while debating the ethics of surviving a disaster scenario.

Yet one local politician has said “Why not replace libraries with e-readers?” and Kiwi librarians are on the defensive, letting their enemies set the terms of the debate. Read more

Zombies at Tupu Library, South Auckland

Auckland Libraries' Anne Dickson in zombie makeup
Auckland Libraries’ Anne Dickson led teen zombie hordes against a group of survivors in Tupu Youth Library

Last Friday in Tupu Youth Library, South Auckland, I ran an interactive live-action zombie event for teens on their school holidays.

The ‘survivors’, aged from 12 to 18, found themselves besieged in a meeting room while zombies feasted on hapless victims outside. Teens made barricades from furniture, used library resources to plan their escape from South Auckland, and faced special challenges including detecting potential zombie victims and even wrestling with a zombified police officer!

See the Tupu Zombies on New Zealand’s TV3 News and find more coverage at New Zealand’s Stuff.co.nz website.

The zombies of Tullamore: A library youth programme with a difference

As my regular readers will know, Friday 9th November saw a very special event in Tullamore, New South Wales. Australasian libraries have run a lot of innovative youth activities in recent years – but I think this was the first time that they had gone so far as to summon the living dead in the name of literacy…

A zombie lurks at the windows of Tullamore Library, New South Wales

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Zombie Pandemic! Comic books and public health communications from the CDC

Can a comic book help you prepare for hurricane season?

What about bioterrorism? Or a natural disaster?

What about a zombie pandemic?

Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic comic from CDCIn the 21st century, using comics in education stretches far beyond the campus or the classroom. Health organisations around the world are increasingly looking towards comic strips as a medium for public health communication.

The ‘graphic medicine’ movement had a cover feature in the 2010 British Medical Journal, looking at a range of applications – from training doctors to understand patients’ healthcare experience through to public information and outreach programmes.

Last year, America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an unusual educational comic called Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic.

In it, everyday folk caught up in an apparent attack by the walking dead turn to the CDC for advice and support.

I caught up with Maggie Silver of the CDC communications office to find out more, and to make sure I’m ready for the coming zombie apocalypse.

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