Our Geek-End

Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, an annual event we were introduced to last year.  Knowing what was in store for them this year, the boys bounded out of bed.  The middle two even dressed themselves appropriately, one in an Avengers t-shirt and one in his homemade Star-Lord t-shirt.  Despite neither parent having an interest in comic books or superheroes, my three younger sons are obsessed with that whole culture.  Our 9 year old in particular is a walking, talking encyclopaedia of Marvel and DC knowledge.  He can talk ad nauseam on any character one dares to mention.  It may not intersect with our interests but Mr Pict and I are always happy to promote geekdom in our children so we support their comic book obsessions.

When we arrived at our local comic book store we found that the car park was jam packed and we grabbed the last vacant spot in the adjacent car park.  Last year, the tables with the free comic books had been set up inside the store but this year they had set them up beneath a marquee outside the store.  Although we arrived just after opening time, a lengthy queue had already formed.  The queue was moving swiftly and the event  was well organised, however, so it did not take long for the kids to reach the head of the queue and start selecting their three free comic books each.  Just as last year, there was a large and diverse collection to choose from so they had no difficulty picking out three each without there being any crossover.

Having done the free bit, the kids then went into the comic book store to peruse their wares.  I thought I had seen the place at its most busy during the same event last year but it was even more jam-packed this time.  It was great to see so many people milling around from the young to the old, many in costume or at least themed t-shirts.  The staff gave my 9 year old props for designing his own Star-Lord t-shirt which had him puffed up like a wee peacock.  The three younger boys all follow a comic book series so they picked out the latest editions of each from the shelves.  My oldest meanwhile is a collector of Funko Pops so he looked at the massive stack of Pops available in the store.  In the end, the only way to compel the kids to leave the shop was to remind them that we had pre-booked cinema tickets and had to go.

DSCN0530

DSCN0527

DSCN0523

DSCN0520

The cinema trip was a continuation of our geeky day as we were off to see ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’.  To say my kids and husband had high expectations of this movie is a terrible understatement.  Sequels can often disappoint. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Godfather II’ and ‘Toy Story 2’ are rare exceptions.  In my humble opinion, ‘Ultron’ did not surpass the fun and spectacle of ‘Avengers Assemble’ but nor was it a case of “diminishing returns”.  Some characters (Hawkeye in particular) were fleshed out more in this movie, promoted from being elevated sidekicks, while others (such as Thor) were pushed to the peripheries.  The character relationships were developed further and all the individuals were shown to be working effectively as a team.  However, at the same time the movie seemed to be about fractures and splinters appearing in the group which made it a bit less rip-roaring fun.  There were stupendous action set pieces and the baddie – pretty much a personification of the internet gone bad – was effective.  There was a flabby section, however, where my eyes began to droop and I wasn’t that engaged with all the new characters.  But the cinema trip was not about me and the important thing is that my kids were on the edge of their seats throughout, loving every moment of it and lapping up all the comic book geekdom.  My 8 year old was sitting next to me and kept leaning over to whisper to  facts to me or his predictions for the movie.  He was disappointed but forgiving when one of his predictions failed to materialise.

Then we went home to cook and eat a barbecue in the sunshine.  My youngest boys decided that they should make “mocktails” for me.  They pillaged the fridge for fruit juice and fresh berries and the cupboards for candy and lollipops and constructed several drinks for me to sample.  They even made little decorations for each glass.  It was sweet, cute and thoughtful of them – even though they used up gallons of juice and punnets of fruit.  I am going to have to stock my 1970s cocktail cabinet with actual liquor so that they can learn to make me actual cocktails.

2015-05-02 17.39.51

Geeking Out at Comic Con

On Saturday, Mr Pict took the two middle-sized boys to Comic Con in Philadelphia.

One of the things that we considered in our relocation to America was that the particular area of Scotland in which we lived did not especially serve the needs of my geeky children.  With two certified nerds as parents, it was always likely to be the case that we would spawn geeky kids.  For years, the context in which we were rearing them worked perfectly.  Had they been into competitive sports, especially ones like football (soccer) or shinty, or into playing traditional music (brass band or bagpipes) or been passionately outdoorsy, then there would have been no real difficulty in continuing to raise them where we were.  However, they love movies and our closest cinema was an hour away – and it only reopened the year before we departed – and they also love museums and art galleries and comic book stores and shops selling items from cult TV stores and exhibitions of geekdom.  Every time we wanted to take them to something like that, it was at least a 180 mile round trip.  Furthermore, that trip was on roads that wiggled through mountains and glens and around the crinkly coast line of sea lochs.  Given that two of our children (oldest and youngest – boaking bookends) get very travel sick, it could all be a bit tiresome.  Therefore, while it in no way was even among our top priority reasons for relocating and, indeed, emigrating, being a whole lot closer to accessing such things is a very welcome benefit.

I have shared before that my middle two sons are comic book fanatics.  The other two also like comic books but with nothing like the zeal of their brothers.  Those two love anything DC or Marvel in particular and have now read so many books on the subject that they are geeky wee encyclopedias of knowledge of different heroes and villains, even obscure ones.  They were overjoyed to learn that we were going to be living just a very short car journey from a great comic book store.  They, therefore, just about exploded with excitement when Mr Pict told them that Philadelphia was one of the cities that hosts Comic Con.

They wanted to dress up in costume to go but opted not to go over the top.  The 7 year old wore the accessories from his Batman costume and the 8 year old dressed as Finn from ‘Adventure Time’.  One of the things they really enjoyed about their day at Comic Con was seeing all of the cosplayers in their top notch outfits.  Mr Pict told me that they were reacting as if these people were the actual characters or actors from the movies.  Their mouths were apparently agape when they saw one guy dressed as Deathstroke.

Image

The highlights of their days were going to a Q&A with Sean Astin – especially when he stated he thought the “Truffle Shuffle” was mean and did an impression of Gollum – and a Q&A with Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie from ‘Captain America – The Winter Soldier’.  The kids love the way all the movies in the Marvel universe tie together so they were geeking out getting to see two of the main characters from that movie.  They also got to sit in a Batmobile, see displays of art work, buy minifigures from a stall selling custom lego, shoot zombie targets with a BB gun, root around stalls selling all sorts of toys and memorabilia and had their photos taken against a bluescreen which put them in the line up with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Image

Image

Image

Image

(Photos taken by Mr Pict on his phone.)

Suffice to say that they came home exhausted, exhilarated and entirely geeked out.  They want to go next year too. 

 

 

Free Comic Book Day

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day.  This was an exciting day for my boys because they had never been able to participate when we lived in Scotland.  Annually, on the first Saturday in May, comic book stores give away comic books for free as a promotional tool.  It is a way of introducing new people to comic books or to get existing comic book fans to try a new comic for the first time and it also engenders loyalty and support for independent comic book stores.  One cannot, of course, go into a store and demand that your free comic be a first edition Superman #1.  The choice is limited to specially selected editions of comics.  The selection was still large, however, and diverse too.

When we lived in Scotland, our nearest purveyor of proper comic books was in Glasgow, 86 miles away.  It was, therefore, a treat the boys could have every few months but certainly no more frequently than that.  My husband and I are both proud geeks but neither of us has ever been geeky in the direction of comic books or superheroes.  The boys have created and cultivated that interest all on their own (unlike the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings obsessions that Mr Pict encouraged in them from the womb) so it is interesting as their parent to sit back and watch them interact with a whole culture I know nothing about.  The apples have not fallen far from the tree, of course, so we are proud that our kids are developing geeky obsessions and turning out to be little nerds.  It is our hope that this will make them more interesting people.

It was an absolute pleasure, therefore, to see eight eyes light up when they entered our local comic book store yesterday.  They still marvel at living just ten minutes from such a store, which sells other cult items in addition to comic books.  I had never, ever seen the store anywhere as near as busy as it was yesterday.  The place was thronging (hoaching as we say in Scotland) with people.  The staff were dressed in costumes so we were greeted by a man wearing a Green Lantern lycra unitard and directed to the area of the store where the free comic books were arranged on tables.  That area of the store was absolutely teeming.  Each person was allowed to select any three comic books.  The boys were spoiled for choice and took quite some time to make their final selections, editing as they went and checking to make sure they were not duplicating another brother’s choice.

The comic book store has always had a warm and welcoming atmosphere but yesterday it had a wonderful buzz to it.  We enjoyed seeing so many customers also turn up in costume or at least comic book themed apparel.  It was also the first time we had seen customers ranging from tots to geriatrics in age all gathered together.  In addition to the haul of free comic books, my three oldest boys also decided to club together to buy an omnibus book which was reduced by 50% – which still makes it the most expensive book in our household – which led to them getting to select another book for free.  They left the store feeling like pirates who had just opened a treasure chest.

It was a wonderful event and we will be sure to participate again next year.

Image

Image

Image

Image

PS  Having checked the content of each comic once home, please be assured that our children are not being permitted to read anything with mature content.

New York, You Nork – Day 1: Comic Books and Ripley’s

We decided that our first family mini-vacation in America should be to New York City.  This was partly because, at under two hours away, it was an easy city break to accomplish and plan for and partly because one of the first things our boys asked when they learned we were emigrating to the States was, “Can we go up the Empire State Building?” closely followed by, “Can we see the Statue of Liberty?”  New York is, of course, also of historic significance in many an immigrant story but that was not a factor in our decision making.

 It’s been an arduous six months for us all as a family.  We were separated, of course, when Mr Pict moved to America in advance of the kids and I following and then the whole process of settling into some sort of normal life and routine has been a bit of a strain at times, not to mention the ups and downs of trying to adjust to a new way of life in a new country.  Mr Pict and I also felt that it was important for the boys to gain a better understanding of the geography of and the expanse that is America by experiencing some travel.

 We aimed to leave the house before 8am and, thanks to our kids being pretty well seasoned travellers and Mr Pict and I being experienced packers, we managed to leave just shortly after 7.  Just under two hours later – including a pit stop in New Jersey – we were in the centre of New York City.  It was an incredibly easy journey in, a pretty straightforward route that took us through the Lincoln Tunnel and straight into midtown Manhattan.  We parked up the car – or rather a valet did, something that always freaks me out about US multi-storey car parks – and headed along 42nd Street to do some exploring.

 The boys were instantly enthralled by the sights and sounds: electronic billboards, neon signs, yellow taxi cabs, skyscrapers, honking horns, theatre posters, music; it was a sensory overload.  Although they have been to major cities in Britain, including London, I don’t think they had ever experienced anything quite like it.  From 42nd Street, we headed down Broadway – passing en route the office building that Mr Pict works from when he is in New York, a bit of personal sight seeing – and headed towards the Empire State Building. 

 First stop was a comic book store spread across two floors.  Mr Pict and I are unabashed and avid geeks in lots of areas of obscure knowledge – things like ancient Rome for him and plagues for me – so it is not surprising at all that our children have all turned out to be wee geeks.  However, neither he nor I have any connection to superheroes or comic books yet our sons are somewhat obsessed with them.  Our oldest son loves to pore over the comic books whenever we are in a comic book store – and we are delighted that we have a great one not ten minutes drive from our house – and the other three love the comics and the merchandise, the cult bits and bobs, just the idea of collecting.  So we spent a good 40 minutes in there as they oohed and aahed at the cases of books, shelves of comics and displays of models and figures and toys.

 We emerged from the comic store as the snow began to fall, just tiny flakes at first but then getting chunkier.  The ground was quite wet from the thaw of the previous snow fall and the air temperature relatively mild, however, so the snow was not settling on the ground.  That was when the boys decided they were peckish so Mr Pict stopped at a food cart and bought a hot dog for the littlest one and pretzels for the other three boys.  So they stood, the four of them, huddled in the snow against the side of a bank, chomping their way through NYC street food.  I think they had it on their checklists all along that they wanted to eat food from a street cart as part of their tourist itinerary.

Image

 Ultimately, just as we arrived at the entrance to the Empire State Building, we decided to jettison the whole plan.  The snow had made the sky murky grey and the visibility was so reduced we would have been spending money on a limited view and seriously reducing the impact of the entire experience for the boys.  So we turned heel and headed back the way we came.  However, we took a diversion through Macy’s, just so we could say we had been through what was until 2009 the world’s largest department store and – much more importantly – to have some respite from the biting wind. 

Our 8 year old, the family magpie, loved all the displays of bling and I had to tell him to stop touching brightly coloured leather bags as he walked past them.  He was entranced by the chandeliers in the jewellery section of the store, one that fell like sparkling raindrops from an oval in the ceiling and one that was a combination of crystals and white feathers – like the debris from an angel.  You can tell our kids have grown up in the sticks by the way they behave around escalators: to them escalators hold the same allure as amusement park rides.  It’s sweetly sad really.  So we had an excursion up one set of escalators just so we could immediately come back down again.  Even I, however, got excited when I spotted some escalators that led to the basement level.  So excited in fact that I shouted my husband and kids back.  The cause of my excitement was that the escalators were wooden.  Presumably they were the original escalators from the shop’s opening.  I had never, in my whole life, seen let alone been on wooden escalators.  It had to be done.  So the six of us were transported downstairs on a set of wooden escalators to then immediately return to the ground floor on the companion set.  I can’t imagine where the kids get it from.  It seriously stands as one of the highlights of this trip that I can now say I have been on wooden escalators.

Image

 We popped out the other side of Macy’s and it was then a brief but bracing walk from there – past a whole legion of yellow taxi cabs – back to 42nd Street.  We had had a discussion about which indoor activity to do with the kids as we walked, presenting them with a choice of either Madam Tussaud’s or Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  In Madam Tussaud’s favour was the fact that they had a whole display about the Avengers – which my little comic book nerds loved the idea of – but against it was the fact there would be a whole host of models, sports stars being the obvious example, that really only my husband would recognise.  In Ripley’s favour was the fact it was going to be a varied collection of exhibits, rather than just room after room of looky-likey wax models, but against it was the fact that the boys might just find it a bit too obscure or maybe even grotesque in parts.  I personally was rooting for Ripley’s.  One of my geeky interests is the history of sideshows.  I am intrigued by society’s relationship with what is categorised as and perceived to be weird and abnormal.  I find it a fascinating and absorbing topic and have read all the books I have ever found on the topic of sideshows, including histories and biographies of famous “freaks” and of PT Barnum.  I find the whole idea of exploiting human difference and disability for entertainment morally repellent but, on the other hand, in a bygone era when many of these people might have been outcasts or at best dependent on others for their welfare, they were able to support themselves financially by being employed as sideshow acts.  It’s that ethical dichotomy that I find so interesting as well as the light it casts on social mores and attitudes of the time and also of our understanding of either obscure or misunderstood medical conditions and physical phenomenon. So that is another reason why Ripley’s was very much my cup of tea.  I was glad, therefore, when the decision was taken that that was where we would go.

 We had not even reached the head of the queue to buy tickets when our 8 year old was overcome with excitement seeing a Perspex case containing some swirling water because he seems to be obsessed with the word vortex.  I meanwhile was excited to see a two-headed calf in a glass case and our 4 year old loved a small glass case in which some stuffed ferrets, dressed in their gladrags, were having a dinner party.

 On entering the Odditorium, the first display was of some incredible metal armour for an elephant which the boys thought was cool.  That was opposite a stuffed six-legged cow and the world’s largest hairball.  That is just a little indication of how varied this “museum” was.  I loved it!  Weird and random is so up my street.  Happily, as well as being little geeks, my kids are also fans of the random and strange so they also scuttled from exhibit to exhibit to see what fascinating weirdness there was to find there.  There were lots of taxidermies of animals with additional limbs or heads and also an albino giraffe.  There were also models of some famous sideshow acts such as Robert Wadlow, the giant, and Johnny Eck, who was often billed as the “amazing half-boy”. 

The youngest two boys loved the fact there was a bookcase that slid away from the wall to reveal another room, and every new room in fact contained a plethora of diverting, intriguing and fascinating items.  That is another reason why the visit worked so well: whereas a visit to a less eclectic exhibition might lead the kids to get bored (and even I admit to being thoroughly sick of Minoan libation cups after seeing the umpteenth display of them in the Heraklion Museum), the very diversity and randomness of this collection of oddities meant that every room could be relied upon to have something for everyone.  Our oldest son, for instance, finds scientific things interesting so he thought it was cool to see a knobbly shard of glass that had formed when lightning struck sand; our second son likes creativity so he loved a display, showcased beneath a glass platform floor, of the Spanish Armada made entirely from matchsticks, a feat of human patience and fine motor dexterity; our 6 year old likes anything rude or gross so both he and I were amused by a club made out of walrus penis; and our youngest loves animals so was captivated by the calves with extra heads and the chickens with extra legs or the length of the stuffed anaconda or the wine in a bottle filled with snakes.  My poor husband really doesn’t get the appeal of freaky stuff so was just dragged along in our wake but even he found Napoleon’s death mask interesting and the locks of hair from historical figures diverting.

Image

 

There was one particularly gross room – which is a positive in my regard – containing instruments of torture.  My kids are pretty gruesome so loved the macabre items such as the Iron Maiden, the iron gibbet (which they recognised from pirate movies) and they all had a turn in the stocks.  There was also half a human head, sectioned in profile, which they found appealing and repellent in equal measure.

 

Image

 A nauseating, dizzifying walk through a rotating tunnel – a very clever optical illusion in which the brain convinces the body it is doing something other than walking on level ground in a straight line – took us into a room full of shrunken heads.  We all had a go on an interactive screen at turning our own portraits into shrunken heads, which was fun, and my oldest son and I (both having a long-standing interest in such things as shrunken heads and mummies) toured the cases looking at each of the examples.  I am always morally torn when looking at things like mummies: I find them utterly fascinating and enjoy the opportunity to study them up close but at the same time I cannot shake the feeling that this was once someone’s child, someone’s parents, someone’s sibling and now here they are shoved in a glass case on display for the entertainment of others.  They are quite amazing things, however, and for all that they are grotesque and perhaps a bit on the creepy side to our 21st Century, western standards, the fact that people put the heads through this process as an act of preservation, to keep their ancestors and loved ones close to them, is quite touching at the same time – though I am not going to be shrinking anyone’s head for posterity when the time comes for my loved ones to shuffle off their mortal coils.

Having enjoyed our tour of Ripley’s, the kids needed to rest their legs and have an energy boost so we found a nearby café where Mr Pict bought them each hot chocolate and a soft baked cookie to dunk in it.  I sipped a cup of tea and we had a rest and a chat before we then headed to our hotel to check in.

My husband had found a hotel with an apartment room that could sleep six and which had a small kitchen which would enable us to eat in for two meals per day while taking packed lunches for the third.  It was ideally situated not far from 42nd Street.  We checked in with ease and Mr Pict went off to the car park to collect our suitcases and the bags of food we had brought while the kids and I explored our “home” for the next two nights.  It was a lovely set of rooms – a bedroom for all four boys to sleep in and a multi-purpose room for cooking, dining, sitting and where the husband and I would sleep on the sofa and a folding bed – smartly decorated and nicely presented, bland but comfy.  We even had a balcony, although it overlooked a busy interchange and some water tanks on the adjacent rooftop, except we could also see One World Trade Center in the distance and, if you looked sideways, it was possible to see the Empire State Building.

We had had a plan to go out to find something to eat – a meal out as a treat – and then wander around Times Square in the dark to see all the lights but the snow was falling again and actually settling plus we could sense a rebellion might be mounted by at least half of the kids so we decided not to push our luck at the end of what had been a really great day of family fun.  Instead Mr Pict went out to get some Chinese takeaway and thus fulfilled one of my ambitions since I have never before had Chinese food served in those little cardboard cartons.  So we ate our takeaway buffet and the middle children watched ‘Iron Man 2’ on the TV while the rest of us played pontoon.  Then we read to the boys and settled them down to sleep at the end of a successful first day in New York.

Image