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Entertainment Recs for Anxiety and Depression

One of my biggest struggles is how difficult I sometimes find it to concentrate on stories. When anxiety and depression are bad, we really need the distraction of some good entertainment, but concentrating can just seem to take too much energy and effort, even if it’s just casually watching a TV show.

So, with that in mind, here are some of my recommendations for low-concentration entertainment for low and anxious days.

Reading

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Graphic Novels. I only got into graphic novels last year, but they’re perfect for flying through a story. They’re easy to read, visually appealing, and you can read a whole trade paperback in less than an hour, so they don’t feel intimidating. Rat Queens is a good bet, as it has a fairly simple plot, great characters, and is lots of fun. I also recommend The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, because it is hilarious. (My full review for Rat Queens is here, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl here)

Novels are tougher, but I recommend some light and breezy contemporary fiction — something that’s easy to pick up and get invested in. I particularly love Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

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6 Female-Led Comic Books That Should Totally Become Movies

Comic book movies are big. Even obscure franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy are becoming huge successes, everyone’s talking about Batman v Superman, and Marvel are so sure of their dominance that they’ve announced their movie releases through 2020, and have planned through 2028. There are bound to be loads more comic book adaptations before the fever fades, and people are eager to guess which ones they might be.

But we’re still kind of lacking comic book movies about female protagonists. They crop up in ensemble movies, or as love interests (or both), but they don’t really get to lead the story.

And that doesn’t make sense. Not only has the comic book industry had lots of success with its new wave of female protagonists, from Ms Marvel to the new Thor, but many recent successful genre movies have also had female leads, from The Hunger Games to Star Wars to Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s clearly an audience for these stories. So where are they?

With that in mind, here are the comic books with female leads that I most want to see as movies in the not-too-distant future.

Nimona

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This is a bit of a gimme, since the movie rights have already been optioned (although I can’t find any news of progress on it since last June). But still. Nimona is a fantastic graphic novel/webseries about a fantasy world supervillain, his rival hero (who he’s totally not in love with), and the shapeshifting girl who shows up one day, insisting she needs to be his apprentice. It’s all very hilarious and adorable and tongue in cheek… at least until it gets all emotionally intense instead.

And it would make such a good movie. It’s one cohesive story, with a fairly straightforward main plot but lots of twists and turns too. It’s incredibly fun and genre savvy, has lots of action, lots of humor, and lots of great characters too. Animated or live-action, this would be completely fantastic to watch. Please?

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

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I wouldn’t have chosen to read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl myself. I mean, it’s a Marvel comic about a girl with squirrel powers. What even are “squirrel powers”? Why would a superhero have them??

But I got a copy for Christmas, and I’m so glad I did. This comic is amazing. And hilarious. And amazing.

Doreen Green is the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl — unbeatable, because, through sheer skill (or ridiculous luck), she’s never been beaten in battle, not even by the Avengers’ most nefarious enemies. And Squirrel Girl because, well, she’s a squirrel girl. She has a tail. She can command a tiny squirrel army. It’s a whole big mutant-y thing. She and her best friend Tippy Toe the Adorable Squirrel have been living secretly in the attic of the Avengers Mansion, but now it’s time for her to improve her superhero-ing skills by going to college.

She composes and sings her own theme tune. She talks to squirrels. She’s a TOTALLY NORMAL COLLEGE STUDENT, you guys. It’s a shame her flawless secret identity is threatened by all those villainous villains showing up. And that Iron Man’s ignoring her despite totally saying she could be his fighting partner or whatever that one time. Guess she’ll have to save the world by herself.

Watch her face off against famous Marvel nemeses! Learn their weak points through her handy-dandy set of Deadpool-approved supervillain trading cards! See how she manages to steal Iron Man’s suit, cos she needs it right now and it’s not like he’s using it, jeez!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is so incredibly funny. It’s self-referential and genre aware, and it is absolutely unafraid to have some fun with the Marvel universe. The joke is never on Squirrel Girl or her powers — she’s just a really fun character in an innately hilarious world. And despite its references to Marvel canon, it’s also a great comic for “I’m not really that into comics” people like myself. I might have missed a couple of the jokes, but it was still laugh-out-loud funny and enjoyable from the first page. A little bit of Marvel Movie Universe knowledge helps, but otherwise, you can just pick it up and go, thanks, in part, to those super handy supervillain cards, courtesy of Deadpool, telling you everything you need to know.

And the characters themselves are fantastic. The incredibly confident, adorable, nigh-unfazeable Doreen Green. Her blunt, badass, cat-obsessed roommate Nancy. The cute if rather perplexed Resident Love Interest, Tomas. And, like, Iron Man and Galactus and stuff.

Plus there are tiny comments from the writers at the bottom of every page. And the art is really cute. And even the fight scenes are hilarious. And. And. And.

It’s honestly great. If you want a lighthearted pick-me-up, go grab a copy.

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

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Nimona is one of the funniest, cleverest, most wonderful and adorable books I’ve ever read.

Is that overselling it? I’m just excited that I read it at all, because Nimona is the sort of book that I would usually admire every time I saw it in the store, but never actually buy. The artwork is fantastic, but I’m not much of a graphic novel person. It looks fanficcy and fun, but, you know, I’m not much of a graphic novel person. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d love, but… well. Luckily, a friend took that decision out of my hands, because Nimona is a joy to read.

Originally a webcomic by Noelle Stevenson, Nimona is the story of a shapeshifting girl who talks her way into becoming supervillain Ballister Blackheart’s assistant in evil. Together, they plot to take down the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics, especially Blackheart’s nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.

But of course, Blackheart and Goldenloin are “nemeses” in that Hark! A Vagrant way — something that, instead of just being fun subtext, becomes very much Text as the story continues.

The story has lots of tongue-in-cheek moments, playing with expectations and cliches in a way that will really appeal to readers with fannish tendencies. But the story also has a lot of heart. The characters have so much personality that you can’t help getting attached to them very quickly, so when bad things happen to them… well, let’s just say it’s emotionally resonant too.

And it’s all set in a very modern heroes-and-villains fantasyland, with movies and pizza delivery and evil science labs… and dragons and medieval peasants and tournaments and villainy.

It’s a wild adventure of a book, wonderful and clever and incredibly well-told. If you’re a fannish sort, you should definitely check it out.

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Hugo Nominees 2015 – Ms Marvel: No Normal

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Ms Marvel is a really fun, adorable comic — yet another win for a reader who “didn’t like graphic novels” a few weeks ago, and who now is glaring at her library’s waiting list, eager for more.

It was hard to miss this reboot of Ms Marvel when it came out. A Muslim, Pakistani-American Ms Marvel? The internet went into fits of glee, and it was one of the best-selling comics of the year. And that’s no surprise, since not only is it refreshing diverse, it’s also incredibly fun to read.

Kamala Khan is a fantastic and refreshing female protagonist — a gaming expert, an Avenger fangirl, a fanfic-writer, and a little bit of a rebel. She’s undergoing something of an identity crisis, wishing she was more like the “beautiful” cool girls but not actually wanting to be like them, when a strange cloud smothers her and she wakes up with the ability to transform herself at will.

The result is a story full of diversity, family, friendship, and humor, with an interesting setup for stories to come.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Marvel explores a lot of common “superhero origin story” themes, and this is both a strength and a weakness. The first volume barrels through a lot of superhero-identity questions in one go, and a lot of the themes were dealt with so bluntly that they seemed to lack finesse. Kamala, for example, starts the books wishing she could be pretty and blonde like Captain Marvel, but realizes through her body-morphing powers that “being someone else isn’t liberating. It’s exhausting.” These themes are important and interesting, but this volume discussed every one of them head-on, and then quickly moved on to the next.

A lot of the plot-points are also fairly by-the-book for a teenage superhero’s origin story — most notably, perhaps, the fact that she hides her powers from her parents. At some points, this made the story feel a bit too predictable, and I was longing for the inventiveness in character to be reflected in the plot.

But perhaps that’s a good thing too. Ms Marvel‘s biggest strength point is its diversity, and the familiar teenage superhero story is familiar precisely because it rings true to the teenage experience. Cynical older readers might comment that they’ve seen all this before and want something new, but there are female readers, Muslim readers, Pakistani readers — many readers beyond the white male reader — who haven’t seen this before in a character that they can see themselves in. Ms Marvel doesn’t necessarily have to re-invent the wheel in superhero storytelling, because its characters are fresh and new, and provide representation to a lot of readers who’ve been sidelined or excluded before.

All in all, Ms Marvel is an exciting mix of classic superhero and refreshing diversity, with slightly predictable plotlines transformed by fresh, well-written characters and a gorgeous art style. I’m probably one of the last people to pick this one up, but if you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance. Even if you’re not usually a comic book person, it’s definitely worth a look.

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Hugo Nominees 2015 — Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery

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Let me preface this by saying I’m far from an expert on graphic novels. I’ve read some of Buffy Season 8 (but found it too weird for my tastes), and, more recently, some of the Fables series (until it got too disturbing), but after a few failed attempts, I’d concluded that I’m simply “not a comic book person.”

And then I read Rat Queens.

I ended up devouring the entire thing in one go.

The back of the book describes the series as “Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack.” But I’m not sure this description does it justice. It’s a Dungeons and Dragons-esque quest and monsters fantasy, except it’s about an all-female team of total badasses who joke and fight and scheme their way through life and have more personality in their little fingers than anyone in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. The art style is just plain gorgeous to look at. And the characters… the characters! There’s Hannah, the reckless elf mage with a very short temper, Betty the Smidgen (like a halfling) who loves girls, sweets, being adorable and breaking and entering, Dee, the atheist introvert cleric, and Violet, the rebel dwarf fighter who shaved off her beard to make a statement but might just regrow it now everyone is copying her.

The secondary characters also have a lot of life to them, and the comic is bursting with diversity — diversity in skin color, in sexuality, in fantasy races (female orcs! Female trolls!), and even just in body type and general look. None of that “all female faces are alike” Disney thing here. They’re all different, and they’re all badass in their own way.

I was absorbed into their world within a couple of pages, and by the end, I was converted from a reluctant comic book reader to someone absolutely desperate to see what would happen next.

A very funny, tongue-in-cheek take on D&D adventure, that somehow also manages to have a strong emotional heart. I need the next volume immediately.

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