Local Scene News

We have new feeds added From Charleston Underground and The Defintley Loud Podcast!!

These two cover much of the local art and music scene and if you are from out of town this will give you a great heads up on what goes on in Charleston and the Rest of WV.
You can Read it here on the Empty Glass site or click on the Links and read if on the on the original Site.

Catching Our Breath and Stuff To Do 

Img_3410The PopCulteer
March 27, 2015

It has been a long week for your PopCulteer, and that’s why today we’re just going to take it a bit easy. All week long we’ve been slaving away over a hot computer, making terrific JoeLanta videos for you. Just yesterday we posted our big video wrap-up.

We’re not done with JoeLanta yet. Tomorrow evening will see us post a massive photo essay devoted to the awesome dioramas that were on display at JoeLanta. We’re also going to post raw video of the dioramas and the dealers rooms, set to loud music. It’ll be pure eye candy for the die-hard fan. Plus we have a couple of panels that should surface next week.

Sunday will see our video of The Woodbury Shoppe and The Walking Dead Museum in Senoia Georgia. Our lead photo is just a taste of that.

We will be skipping The RFC Flashback in the morning, instead bringing you a round-up of all the JoeLanta videos that we’ve posted so far. For today, you’re going to get news of a cool Kickstarter project that’s almost reached its end, and a bunch of stuff you can get into this weekend.

Frankenstein Created Bikers


Last year at JoeLanta we met Shane Morton, a make-up FX guy who’s producing the second season of Adult Swim’s Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell. Shane sends news of a movie project he’s working on, which has just a few hours left in its Kickstarter campaign…

“We’ve funded principal photography for our 35mm feature film FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS! With just a few days left, we’re trying to secure enough contributions to carry us through post-production. We still have plenty of great rewards starting at just $3! Every little bit helps. Check out this cast! Jett Bryant (DEAR GOD NO!), Laurence Harvey (HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 & 3), Tristan Risk (AMERICA MARY), Ellie Church (HEADLESS), Madeline Brumby (DEAR GOD NO!) and Jim Stacy (DEEP FRIED MASTERS).”

From the Kickstarter page…

“We’re taking our cause to the people! Our goal is to make a stand-alone sequel to our award-winning feature film DEAR GOD NO! and not loose any creative control. We love our script and this may be our last chance to shoot on 35mm, We have the stock and cameras but we need your help to finance what may be the last horror film shot on film! If you long to see something “wild as hell” and completely different in the horror genre, this is your film!”

If this sounds like your cup of tea (and chances are, if you’re reading PopCult, it does) then follow this widget!

Stuff To Do












That’s it for today’s PopCulteer, but come back for The Charleston Gazette’s best-kept secret, there’s new stuff every day!

JoeLanta 2015 in Video! 

This is it, the big wrap-up show, with highlights of JoeLanta/The Great Atlanta Toy Show 2015, with The Parachute Drop, Dealer’s Room, Dioramas, Panels, music, films and more! You will see GI Joe, cosplayers, guest speakers, GI Joe, actors, parachuting action figures, GI Joe, short films, live music, dancing Kaiju and GI Joe. It’s 50 minutes of fond memories from just less than two weeks ago.

Recorded at JoeLanta/The Great Atlanta Toy Show 2015, at the Marriott Century Center in Atlanta Georgia, March 13-15 2015. This is not the last of JoeLanta that you will see here in PopCult. Saturday’s PopCult Toybox will be an epic photo essay of the diorama contest, and we still have two panels to edit. Plus we’re going to post the raw footage of the dealers rooms and the dioramas, set to music, for the die-hard fans who want to see all the eye candy.

This video is hosted by Rudy Panucci from The Walking Dead Museum at The Woodbury Shoppe in Senoia, Georgia.If all goes according to plan, you’ll get to see a video devoted to this cool place here in PopCult before the season finale of The Walking Dead this Sunday.

The PopCult Bookshelf will return next week. Your PopCulteer is juggling deadlines and all the JoeLanta video editing and didn’t have time to read anything this week.

Creator of dental-themed literary universe hopes dreams give back 


Stephanie O. Smith has big plans.

Her small house sits on Adele Street more than halfway up one of the massive hills framing the northern rim of Charleston's West Side. A tree hangs sideways from the small, steep patch of grass in front of her porch, knocked loose of its moorings during February's winter storms.

Her living room, kept dark like much of her home to keep the power bill low, is cluttered with costumes and large painted canvases.

She sits at a small lamp-lit table, excitedly explaining her ambitions. She's an amateur author and wants to fund a series of charitable organizations of her own design using some of the proceeds from her work.

The main issue is she's yet to find a publisher for her burgeoning literary universe, which includes books, stage-plays, screenplays and musical numbers.

"And that's a dream," she says, "just to find a publisher that will take on your project."

Smith's stories revolve around the adventures of D.K. Silvercap, an anthropomorphic capped tooth, and his adventures around the world.

"D.K. Silvercap is a tooth that likes to travel," she said. "And he has a lot of stories about places and cultures and people."

The point of the stories is to teach children the importance of dental hygiene, she said. The characters, all plays on dental concepts like clean teeth, brushing, cavities and the like, live in a place called Pretty Tooth Valley.

Concepts like multiculturalism are a big part of her fictional universe.

"Part of it is dental awareness and part of it is diversity awareness and tolerance," she said.

That in mind, she expanded her content profile to include visual media to better involve the whole family.

"I want to find something with a little more structure that gets the parents involved too," she said.

So, she eventually added two screenplays and a stage show to the universe.

Smith has worked at this for years, since 2006 at least by her own recollection. By her own admission, her original efforts were amateurish.

She started "as a kind of self-therapy" writing out the stories and drawing the characters in a paint program with just her fingers and a laptop track pad. She's since upgraded to a drawing tablet, but printing the books is a costly out-of-pocket expense.

In addition to that, she makes the costumes for the stage play by hand. She's on her second series of costumes, she said, the originals - made of weak material like Styrofoam - disintegrated in storage.

"So, for the past year, I started over with the costumes," she said.

She now has nine new costumes in various stages of completion, which she says she and her daughter sometimes wear in public for area children. She added they're usually surprised to find out it's black people wearing the costumes.

Kids would come up to the costumes and peak through the eye-holes to see who was inside.

"'They're black! There are black people in these things,'" she recalls the children saying with a laugh. "It's the most fun with the kids running up to you."

Smith started work on the Silvercap books during a rough patch in her life. Having her own broken teeth bridged and capped provided the inspiration for the books and the charitable organizations she's trying to get off the ground.

One of the organizations she's working on is Pretty Young Teeth For Us, or PYT For Us, which would provide money for dental vouchers. She envisions a second program creating a series of workshops to teach adults and adolescents work-life skills.

She wants the community to be able to "buy in" to the programs as well, receiving something like a stipend to do independent charity work. And, all this would find funding through the Silvercap series' income.

"I wanted a program that funds itself," Smith said. And, she wants a program that fills in the gaps left by other similar programs in the area.

The idea sounds a bit half-baked, and it is. Smith is still hammering out all the details of the sprawling program, and she's doing it almost completely alone.

"The best way to handle a good idea is to do it yourself," she said. "I found when you ask some people for help, they end up helping themselves to your stuff."

She pulls out thick reams of paper covered in type and annotated in red ink, the ever-evolving battle plans for her future organization. She's put all of it together herself, which she says isn't so much difficult as time-consuming.

"I do a lot of my own research," she said.

She taught herself how to do Canadian payroll at her former job years ago, and says if she can teach herself that, she can teach herself pretty much anything.

The trick is to set a schedule and stick to it, she says. She puts about 12 hours of every day into her work.

That time is split between making costumes, making small hand-crafts to sell at shows, getting the books printed, getting the charitable organizations off the ground and a host of other concerns.

Last year, she planned to have the costumes ready by April, when the weather isn't too hot for the costumes, but it's cool enough to practice outside. She has to practice outside because it's free, she doesn't have the money to rent stage room.

Smith doesn't work anymore, and says she'd be outdoors if she didn't own her own home.

"I have no bills except for electricity," she says. "I don't have rent, and if I did, we'd probably be homeless."

What little extra money she has, she uses to fund the dream. Right now she's looking for someone to print her books, which she binds herself to save money.

"That's what I did with these," she says, pointing to the D.K. Silvercap book on the table. "I printed them and laminated them and bound them myself."

She says she's even had a few dentist offices in the area purchase copies, in which she takes a great deal of pride. Of course, she had to walk there herself to sell them.

"You can't just start a business or say 'I got an idea,'" Smith says. You need to make a plan and stick to it.

It's an uphill battle, she admits, but she's excited for the future, which includes a feature-length film.

"In the script for the movie, I tell how they come to life and how they came to live in Pretty Tooth Valley," she said. "People won't realize the characters are black until they hear them talk."

No bones about it, Clarksburg museum display offers up close look at fossils 

By Billy Wolfe

CLARKSBURG - A group of elementary schoolchildren oohed and aahed as they were led into the main hall of the Harrison County Parks and Recreation headquarters Wednesday.

Before them loomed a 27-foot-long, 13-foot-tall skeleton of a stegodon, an animal similar to a mammoth that last walked the earth more than 4,000 years ago.

The stegodon's 9-foot-long tusks reached toward the skeleton of a woolly rhinoceros, an animal that died out about 10,000 years ago. The next room over, a smilodon, a type of saber-toothed cat, stalked a beastly prehistoric sloth.

Although the theme of this year's paleontology exhibit is the Ice Age, curators decided to bring along the always-popular Tyrannosaurus Rex, too.

"The T-Rex is always the most popular with the kids," said recreation specialist Jeff Wetzel.

"Kids like things with big teeth," said Ray Garton, a paleontologist who owns Prehistoric Planet in nearby Barrackville and advises the county parks department on several of its science-related youth enrichment programs.

Last year's display, "Walking With Dinosaurs," was the first of its kind in the region, possibly the state. More than 10,000 people - including 3,000 schoolchildren on field trips - visited the free exhibit.

"We had one group come from an hour and a half away," Wetzel said, adding that several individuals drove from Raleigh and Kanawha counties as well.

For this year's exhibit, Garton wanted a local angle.

West Virginia doesn't have any true dinosaur fossils because the rocks here were formed long before the dinosaurs evolved, Garton explained. In addition, most of West Virginia was covered in shallow seas for much of the dinosaurs' reign.

"We do have precursors to the dinosaurs like the dimetrodon (the sail-backed, reptile-like synapsid that went extinct 40 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared), but no dinosaurs," Garton said.

However, West Virginia is a treasure trove of Ice Age fossils.

"There were a number of animals found right here in West Virginia that we could represent with fossils," he said. "West Virginia is also one of the premiere places in the world to find fossil plants. Scientists have come from all over the world to collect and study plant fossils."

Mammoth bones have been found in Wood, Marion, Brooke, Pendleton, Ohio and Wirt counties. Saber-toothed cats, in addition to prehistoric cheetahs and jaguars, have been found in Greenbrier County caves. And pieces of one very special sloth were discovered in a Monroe County Cave in the 1790s.

The pieces, which were discovered as workers mined for saltpeter for use in gunpowder during the Revolutionary War, were sent to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote one of the first American paleontological papers on the specimen.

He actually misidentified the specimen as a type of cat, Garton said. Years later, another American scientist named Casper Wistar set the record straight.

It was partly because of the specimen's connection to the third U.S. president that state lawmakers voted in 2008 to make the sloth the official state fossil, he said.

The display, which will remain up through April 3, has more than 75 real fossils, including a T-Rex tooth, a small velociraptor skull, mammoth teeth and many others. Many of the specimens can be handled, Wetzel said.

The major pieces on display are replicas made from actual specimens. That disappoints some people, but Garton is quick to point out that is usually the case, even in some of the world's largest museums.

"The Smithsonian's T-Rex and their triceratops are replicas," he said, "but they are changing that now and putting in more real bones."

There are several reasons museums use replicas.

"The main reason is that there aren't enough originals to go around," Garton said.

Actual fossilized bones are enormously heavy and are often in extremely fragile condition. Many need to be stored in climate-controlled rooms. In addition, scientists often want to have easy access to the bones to conduct testing. Most skeletons are found incomplete.

The T-Rex, for example, was made from a specimen found in South Dakota.

"The last I heard, the original specimen was in Saudi Arabia and was for sale for $11 million, but I doubt they get that much," Garton said, adding that the most complete T-Rex ever discovered, a specimen named Sue, sold for just $8 million a few years ago.

The largest of the real fossils on display is a mammoth leg that is more than 6 feet tall.

Garton and Wetzel have big things planned for next year's display.

"We're tentatively calling it 'Prehistoric Seas and Skies.' It's going to be primarily marine, or aquatic, fossils," he said. "We'll have a 48-foot-long plesiosaur, and an archelon, which is a prehistoric turtle. Flipper to flipper, it's 20 feet in diameter. We'll have sea scorpions that are three feet long.

"These are the things that were in the oceans during the time of the dinosaurs. We probably will bring in a big armored fish called a dunkleosteus, too," he said.

The exhibit will also feature prehistoric sky creatures like pterosaurs and pterodactyls, he said.

It's Garton's dream that West Virginia will one day have a fossil repository of its own.

"I'm a passionate West Virginia native," he said. "One of my pet peeves is that all of the good stuff found here leaves the state. I would love to have a place in West Virginia to actually keep the stuff."

Garton said he would love to see a permanent home for fossils somewhere in the Marion/ Harrison County area.

He also would like to take his fossils on the road, but said that money and finding the right venue have proven a challenge.

"The only true science center in the state is the Clay Center," he said.

Garton is also the curator for the tiny West Virginia Geologic Survey museum in Cheat Lake.

"It's severely under-utilized," he said.

But it's also the only place in West Virginia where you can see a complete, original dinosaur fossil.

Garton found the specimen, an edmontosaurus, in North Dakota about 10 years ago.

"It was one of the duck-billed dinosaurs," he said. "He was the food for T-Rex."

The Ice Age exhibit is open 4 to 8 p.m. today, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, and 4 to 8 p.m. next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which is the final day. Admittance is free.

Wetzel said he might decide to open the facility Monday and Tuesday as well. He encouraged anyone planning to attend to first call 304-624-0481. The facility is located at 43 Recreation Drive in Clarksburg.

Reach Life editor Billy Wolfe at life@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4830.

Arts and culture briefs for March 26, 2015 

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers ZZ Top will perform at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

The band is comprised of guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist and co-lead vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard. One of the few major label recording groups to have held the same lineup for more than forty years, ZZ Top has been praised by critics and fellow musicians alike for their technical mastery.

As a group, ZZ Top possesses 11 gold records and 7 platinum (13 multi-platinum) records; their 1983 album, "Eliminator," remains the group's most commercially successful record, selling over 10 million units.

The rock band's most famous hits include "Sharp Dressed Man," "Give Me All Your Lovin'," "Legs" and "Tush."

Tickets range from $49.50 to $69.50 and are available at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena box office, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

The W.Va. Music Hall of Fame presents a second tribute to Little Jimmy Dickens at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tamarack.

Due to the overwhelming response to the tribute show earlier in the month, a second evening will celebrate the music and the life of Little Jimmy Dickens, one of the Mountain State's best-loved and most popular musical ambassadors.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. in the Hulett C. Smith Theater.

The musicians performing include Billy Payne, Roger Hicks, The Carpenter Ants, Robert Shafer, 2015 WVMHoF inductee Russ Hicks, and Grammy winner and former Ralph Stanley fiddler James Price. WVMHoF board member Bob Brunner will serve as emcee.

Admission is $7.50. The show is close to being sold out so please call in advance.

For tickets, contact Kelly Elkins at kelkins@tamarackwv.com or 888-262-7225.

For more info, contact the WVMHoF at wvmhof@gmail.com or 304-342-4412.

The Exiles will be returning to the Marmet Recreation Center at 7 p.m. Saturday to perform their rock 'n' roll/soul dance music that they've been making for more than 40 years.

The band was formed in 1967 in Marmet with members attending both Marmet Jr. High and East Bank High Schools. They frequently performed at the Marmet Recreation Center in the late '60s and early '70s.

For more information or advance seating reservations contact 304-949-9692

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, an award-winning bluegrass and gospel band from Tennessee, will be performing at the Mountaineer Opry House at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

With nearly 40 albums to their credit, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have multiple Grammy, Dove, ICM, IBMA and SPBGMA Award nominations, and are 7-time winners of IBMA's Vocal Group of the Year.

Concessions at the event include hot dogs, BBQ, soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn, chips and candy.

Tickets may be purchased at the door the day of the show and are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 55 and older and $5 for children 12 and younger.

For more information, call 304-743-5749.

Artist Brooks Dierdorff will make his Marshall University debut with an exhibition titled "Midnight Sun" at the Visual Arts Center.

Dierdorff has shown his work across the United States and in Canada, Germany and Italy. He said his work uses a range of media, from sculptural iterations of photographs to silver gelatin prints to video productions, but one form continues to grab his attention.

The exhibition is open to the public and will be on display in the Visual Arts Center gallery until April 7. The gallery, on the first floor of the Visual Arts Center at 927 3rd Ave. in Huntington, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information about this exhibition or the Marshall University School of Art and Design, visit www.marshall.edu/art. For more information about Dierdorff, visit www.brooksdierdorff.com.

Leota Smith and WQBE will present the 18th annual Capital City Gospel Sing at 7 p.m. March 27 at the Municipal Auditorium. Performers conclude Primitive Quartet, McKameys, Inspirations, Archie Watkins & Smoky Mountain Reunion and Mike Upright. Tickets range from $18.50 to $22.50 and can be purchased by calling 1-800-745-3000 or by visiting ticketmaster.com.

Charleston's Mac & Cheese Cook-off promotes local food, showcases culinary talent and provides a fun annual event - all while raising money to support free therapy for children.

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 28 at Capitol Market.

Awards will be offered for best hometown cook, corporate team, restaurant and nonprofit.

Proceeds benefit the Childhood Language Center, a nonprofit in Charleston. The CLC provides free speech, language, swallowing and feeding therapy to nearly 100 children in eight counties.

For more information, visit www.childhoodlanguagecenter.org.

The Montana Repertory Theatre will perform F. Scott Fitzgerald's world-renowned story of the Roaring Twenties on stage at 7:30 p.m. April 2 at the Clay Center.

Experience the fervor of Jay Gatsby's energy - tempered only by the charms of Daisy Buchanan - and the disarming humility of the naive Nick Carraway as they navigate the temptations promised by the American Dream.

Tickets range from $15 to $35 and are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

All children ages preschool through the fifth grade are invited to attend a free Easter Eggstravaganza event at Teays Valley Acres from 2 to 4 p.m. on April 4.

The event is free and will feature egg hunts, pony rides, free clothing give away, crafts, inflatables and more. One of the egg hunts will be designed to meet the needs of children with special needs.

The egg hunt times are as follows: Preschool at 2:30 p.m.; kindergarten through 2nd grade at 2:45 p.m.; 3rd through 5th grade at 3:25 p.m.; special needs children at 3:30 p.m.

Teays Valley Acres is located one mile east of Teays Valley Church of God at 8056 Teays Valley Rd. just east of Rocky Step. Call 757-9222 for more information.

Martin Sexton, Milk Carton Kids, Feufollet, Alison Brown and Amy Speace are scheduled to perform on Mountain Stage at 7 p.m. April 12 at the WVU Creative Arts Center in Morgantown.

Martin Sexton launched his own label, KTR, in 2002 and since then has infiltrated many musical worlds. Sexton has performed at concerts ranging from pop (collaborating with John Mayer) to the Jam scene to classic rock (collaborating with Peter Frampton). In 2007 Sexton began his most successful years to date with the release of his studio offering "Seeds."

The Milk Carton Kids is an indie folk duo from Eagle Rock, California, consisting of singers and guitarists Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, who formed the group in early 2011. The Grammy-nominated flat-picking harmony duo has emerged in the last three years as a powerful voice defining the continuing folk tradition.

Feufollet is an Americana/Cajun band from Lafayette, Louisiana. The band has been recognized through awards including receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album for their 2010 album "En Couleurs." They also received the Big Easy Award for "Best Cajun Band."

Alison Brown is an American banjo player and guitarist known for a soft nylon-string banjo sound. She has won and has been nominated on several Grammy awards. In her music, she blends jazz, bluegrass, rock, blues as well as other styles of music.

Amy Speace is an American singer-songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland, who is notable for her critically acclaimed music.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $18 by calling 304-293-SHOW, online at ticketmaster.com or at the CAC Box Office. Tickets purchased the day of the show are $25.

Compiled by Andrea Rectenwald, who can be reached at andrea.rectenwald@dailymailwv.com.

n CITIZEN COPE: The singer-songwriter will play an intimate acoustic set at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Clay Center. Tickets are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n RODNEY CARRINGTON: The American comedian, actor and country music artist will perform stand-up at 7 p.m. April 11 at the Charleston Civic Center. Tickets are $40.25 or $175.25 for VIP and are available at charlestonciviccenter.com. This show is for mature audiences only.

n MEMPHIS: The musical will be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 23 at the Clay Center. It tells the story of 1950s rock and roll in Memphis. Tickets are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n DAVID WAX MUSEUM: The Mexo-Americana band will perform at 8 p.m. April 24 at the Clay Center with opener Bombadil. They combine traditional Mexican folk music with indie rock for their unique sound. This show is part of the Sound Check Sessions series. Tickets are $15 and are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n FRANK CALIENDO: The well-known comedian from MADtv, Fox and ESPN will perform at 7:30 p.m. April 26 at the Clay Center. Tickets are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE: The country band will play May 1 at the Civic Center. Tickets go on sale Friday at the Civic Center Box Office, online at LiveNation.com or Ticketmaster.com or by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

n MATTHEW WEST, COLTON DIXON: Two of the most popular artists in Christian music today will sing at 7:30 p.m. May 3 at the Clay Center. Tickets range from $15 to $55 and are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n RON WHITE: Comedian to perform at 7 and 10 p.m. May 9 at the WVU Creative Arts Center in Morgantown. The show is for mature audiences. Tickets are $42.75 or $37.75 for WVU students with ID. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 304-293-SHOW or 800-745-3000.

n BLUES TRAVELER: The popular rock band known for hits like "Run Around" will perform at 8 p.m. May 15 at the Clay Center. Tickets are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n ARETHA FRANKLIN: The queen of soul famous for hits "Respect," "A Natural Woman" and "Chain of Fools" will perform at 7:30 p.m. May 17 at the Maier Foundation Performance Hall in the Clay Center. Tickets are available at www.theclaycenter.org or 304-561-3570.

n JASON ALDEAN: The country singer will perform as part of his Burn It Down Tour May 28 at the Civic Center. Special guests Cole Swindell, Tyler Farr and Dee Jay Silver will be joining Aldean. Tickets are on sale now at the Civic Center Box Office, online at LiveNation.com or Ticketmaster.com or by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

n ALABAMA: Country music band ALABAMA will play at 8 p.m. Aug 14 at the 91st Annual State Fair of West Virginia. Tickets range from $45 to $50 and are available at www.statefairofwv.com or by calling 1-800-514-3849. Tickets are limited.

"Phoebe and Her Unicorn" cartoonist draws inspiration from life 

Comic featuring girl, unicorn best friend hits Daily Mail pages Monday



Unlike lots of other creative pursuits, authoring a comic strip is usually a solo act.

That means creators often can't help but infuse themselves into their characters.

Such is the case with "Phoebe and Her Unicorn," the hilariously endearing comic strip by Seattle cartoonist Dana Simpson.

Phoebe is an odd girl who doesn't fit in at school. While walking through the woods one day, she meets Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, a resplendent-but-paralyzingly-vain white unicorn.

Marigold, daughter of Sparkleface the Shimmering and heiress to the Rainbow Caverns of Undying Delight, is helplessly staring at her own reflection in a pond when Phoebe stumbles upon her. This happens every time Marigold catches a glimpse of herself; she's simply too beautiful to look away from her own reflection.

Phoebe skips a rock into the water, shaking the transfixed Marigold back to reality. In exchange, the thankful unicorn offers Phoebe one wish.

"I wish for you to become my best friend," Phoebe tells her.

"You could wish for a LOT of gold," a hesitant Marigold suggests instead.

"Let's braid your mane," an ecstatic Phoebe says, hands reaching wildly for Marigold's flowing white locks.

"I would say that all of the characters in the strip are at least half me, but certainly the two leads are the two sides of my personality talking to each other," Simpson said during a recent phone interview. "That's one of the defining things of comic strips as an art form - it's one mind and everything gets kind of filtered through that."

The Daily Mail begins carrying "Phoebe and Her Unicorn" on its comics page Monday.

Simpson drew on others in her life for inspiration for the supporting characters. Phoebe's best human friend, Max, was inspired by Simpson's husband, Dave.

"Her rival, Dakota, is a composite of the girls who gave me trouble in middle school," she said. "But she quickly became my younger sister Nicole's favorite character, so she's taken on some of Nicole's personality."

Simpson has always drawn.

"Every kid draws, I just never stopped," she said. "I drew constantly when I was a kid. My mother said if she wanted me out of the way she could give me some markers and construction paper and I'd be in one spot for five hours."

She made her first comic strip when she was 5 years old. It was about easily frightened, narcoleptic ghosts.

"It was called 'Boo.' It was about ghosts and I'm not sure what the joke was supposed to be," she said.

While attending Evergreen State College, she was a finalist for the Scripps-Howard Charles M. Schulz College Cartoonist Award for her web comic strip "Ozzie and Millie," which she drew for 10 years.

For a time, she drew and wrote a political cartoon called "I Drew This," which appeared in several newspapers and the magazine "Funny Times." It was short-lived.

"I didn't want it to be my job to think about politics," Simpson said. "I don't want to be professionally obligated to think about stuff that makes me angry."

Plenty of people have described the comic as a girl's answer to "Calvin and Hobbes." Simpson is just fine with the comparison.

"I love it," she said. "It's a tremendous compliment to be compared to the greatest comic strip of the last 30 years."

But it certainly isn't a rip-off of Bill Watterson's beloved comic.

One striking difference is that everyone else is able to see Marigold. Hobbes, Calvin's best friend/stuffed tiger, was a living, breathing character to the boy, but appeared as a toy to others.

Instead, Marigold has the magical ability to seem unspecial to most people.

"Our magic allows us to pass undetected," she tells Phoebe shortly after their meeting.

"I do that at school," Phoebe answers dryly.

Phoebe's parents think nothing of having Marigold over to dinner, and her teachers don't find it odd when Marigold storms into gym glass to rescue Phoebe from a dodge ball. The relationship is a big inside joke between best friends. No one else gets it.

Simpson has spent the past couple of years drawing the comic furiously. She keeps a sketchbook with her and uses it to map out each panel.

"It's mostly just squares with text, an M will indicate where Marigold is, for example. It's really rough at that point," she said.

The actual panels are drawn using a digital pencil tool in Manga Studio, a type of software used by illustrators.

"There's no actual pencil and no ink involved in the final version. The font for the strip is made from my own handwriting."

The first book, "Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle," was released last year.

"Book Two is coming out in May," she said. "And I have enough for three and four already.

"I can draw Marigold and Phoebe in my sleep but others take more time."

So, why a unicorn?

Simpson explained that, during the creative process, sometimes a character is supposed to be in the background but instead winds up the star. Writers for TV shows know this all too well, she said.

Asked for an example, she said the wildly popular show "Breaking Bad," about a chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin and his screwup sidekick, Jesse, came to mind.

"Jesse Pinkman," she said. "The unicorn is my Jesse Pinkman."

Phoebe started out as the lead character in a strip called "Girl," which won Simpson the Amazon/Uclick Comic Strip Superstar Contest in 2009.

"She didn't have a name, but she was Phoebe," Simpson said. "She hangs out in the woods with talking animals, and she calls them 'bird' and 'squirrel,' and they called her 'girl' ..." She trailed off for a moment.

"I still think that's funny," she said.

"Anyway, I experimented one day, and I wrote a strip with a unicorn in it. I knew I'd hit on something. This character just showed up.

"She was what made the strip work," she said. "Everything else just kind of fell in place."

Nearly 100 newspapers are now syndicating the strip. The success has come as a welcome surprise.

Still, she's looking to the future and doing lots of daydreaming about Phoebe's and Marigold's futures. The work of a cartoonist can be somewhat solitary and there's lots of time for that sort of thing.

"I would love to do a Disney/Pixar movie one day, and I would cast Jane Krakowski from '30 Rock' as Marigold," she said.

"Phoebe and Her Unicorn" will replace "Shoe" on the Daily Mail comics page.

"We're excited about this new strip, and we hope readers will be, too," editor and publisher Brad McElhinny said. "The comics and puzzles survey we did last fall showed a hunger for gentle, character-driven humor. 'Phoebe and Her Unicorn' is a great entry to this realm."

Reach Life editor Billy Wolfe at life@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4830.

Dreams draw performer, mom to big city  

Duo leaves W.Va. for New York City to facilitate teen's Broadway aspiration


Daily Mail Staff

Steffanie Peterson and her daughter recently moved from Charleston to New York City, where 14-year-old Hannah would have a better shot at chasing her dreams.

They stretch a tight budget, walk or use public transportation, and along with two cats live in a one-bedroom apartment where space is so tight they sleep in bunk beds.

"Everything we own is under our bed," Steffanie said. With no space for storage "we left the Christmas tree up. It is now where Hannah puts her 103 hair bows. It is now a bow tree."

They could not be happier.

"I don't know how I could have written my story any better," said Steffanie, 42. "We're thrilled. We miss home in West Virginia. We love our life here. It's so liberating to know we took this jump. We consider it a complete privilege to live this life. We keep taking these steps. God is in control of this entire situation."

The story begins with Hannah's talent as a performer and a driving desire to give her the opportunity to soar.

Performing began five years ago when Hannah, at age 9, played the lead in "Annie" at the Alban Arts and Conference Center in St. Albans where Adam Bryan was the first person to cast her in a production. Other roles followed in various community theater productions with Charleston Light Opera Guild, Children's Theater of Charleston, and Contemporary Youth Arts Company as well as school productions at Horace Mann Middle.

In December of 2013 Hannah auditioned in an "open call" in Charleston with ARTS, Applause Rising Talent Showcase. Kim Myers, of ARTS, was searching for talent for a showcase in Orlando, Fla., where agents and directors from throughout the country would be on hand. Myers encouraged the Petersons to travel to Orlando in June of 2014 where Hannah's performances were met with enthusiasm.

"We got 12 call backs to meet with agents the next morning," Steffanie said. "They said 'she's fantastic' and they encouraged her to chase her dreams."

Agents also pointed out it's difficult to get to Broadway when you live in West Virginia.

Mother and daughter then visited a relative in Florida and headed to the beach where options were considered.

"I'm divorced and I have no other kids," Steffanie said. "I thought 'I have to do this.' We were sitting on the beach when we decided we had to move."

They returned to Charleston and began taking steps toward that goal. It would mean a job hunt for Steffanie along with a search for a performing arts school for Hannah. They also needed a place to live for the two of them and their two cats. They looked at 22 places before finding their current home, a ground floor, 700-square-foot apartment in Astoria in the New York City borough of Queens. Rent is $1,700 a month. While the amount is a far cry from the $550 they paid in Charleston, they manage through strict budgeting. Steffanie left her job in Charleston working for a plastic surgeon and found a similar position in Manhattan.

Their search for an apartment garnered a real estate story in the New York Times on March 12, 2015. The article focused mostly upon the search for affordable housing in various areas and challenges, from lots of stairs to other potential renters trying to get the same spot.

Finally, a broker was hired to assist. The Petersons found their spot within half a block of a grocery as well as reasonable walking distance to public transportation.

In November of 2014 they left behind everything familiar in West Virginia and moved to New York City.

Hannah is now an eighth-grader at Horace Greeley, a prestigious performing arts school in New York City. She and her mother take the subway each morning to get to school and work. Hannah walks six blocks in one direction while Steffanie's eight blocks separates her from her daughter for a good distance. Along the way, Hannah reports her whereabouts to her mother by text messages and also talks along the way to her grandfather, Jim Myers in Charleston. It gives them a chance to catch up.

Steffanie sees her walking time in a positive light.

"I've lost 15 pounds," she said. "That is my quiet time to relax, pray and people watch."

Hannah is thankful for every opportunity.

"For a long time I have wanted to go to a performing arts school," Hannah said. "But I never really thought I would have the chance. And I really didn't think I would get to go to one in New York City."

Hannah is working with voice coach Kristy Cates and has landed a spot in an off-Broadway ensemble. Previously, she had good training from her Charleston coaches, Noel Hardman and Brian Vannoy.

She has a scholarship for the coming summer to attend New York Film Academy.

While financial struggles are real for the Petersons, they take in as many shows as possible, an expenditure they consider an investment.

Hannah loves where life has led and looks forward to what is to come.

"It's fun living in a small place with my Mom and our cats," Hannah said. "I don't think either one of us thought we would be sharing a room, much less sleeping in bunk beds. But we have a lot of fun. She is my best friend.

"Nothing makes me happier than to make people feel good when I perform," she said. "Broadway is the goal, but I really hope I get the chance to do a little bit of everything - TV, movies, music. Whatever doors God opens, I want to walk through them."

She hopes her story will encourage others to follow their dreams.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1246.

Left of the Dial: Venues set the stage for music performances 

Of the many genius things in the book "How Music Works" by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, one of the most striking is his examination of music venues.

Particularly, he talks about how an environment shapes the music performed there.

It's a simple conclusion, sure, but Byrne points out that the Heads' origins were spurred by the atmosphere at New York City's legendary CBGB, where he and his band found an early home.

They weren't alone. The Ramones, Patti Smith, Television and The Dead Boys all benefited from the grungy, cramped quarters. There's no doubt the space helped create a scene.

West Virginia has yet to produce acts as recognizable as those who frequented CBGB, and it isn't nearly as focused in terms of genre, but there a few venues around the state that have played a significant role in developing their own scene, so to speak.

Here are the ones that come to mind and why:

n 123 Pleasant Street, Morgantown

Home to various bars and clubs through the 20th century, 123 Pleasant Street was known as The Underground Railroad through the '80s and then The Nyabinghi Dance Hall through most of the '90s until settling upon its address as their moniker.

When local scene champion and bar owner Marsha Ferber disappeared after leaving the venue for the night on April 25, 1988, mystery provided an odd framework for the historic list of acts that made their way through.

Past guests seem almost unbelievable, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing in the room during one of their earliest U.S. tours. Bluesman Bo Diddley played there in January of 1985. Internationally recognized stoner rock band Karma to Burn got their start playing there in the mid-'90s. Nowadays, you're likely to catch some legendary act alongside a worthy local.

If you ever find yourself in Morgantown near a man with a Pittsburgh Pirates hat and sunglasses and sporting a gray ponytail and beard, that's "Punk Rock" Larry Dowling. He's been around the scene for years and, as a filmmaker, has been working for some time on a documentary about the venue's history.

It won't take long for you to realize he'll get the story right.

n The Empty Glass, Charleston

The capital city's East End wouldn't be what it is without The Empty Glass. The small boxy room on Elizabeth Street is sort of everything that's been romanticized about live music on a smaller scale.

With its mirrored walls behind the stage and plywood floors, The Glass is arguably the most quintessential dive bar venue in the state.

Offering live music seven nights a week is no easy task, but the Glass maintains that's the best way to deliver everything one might desire. And despite a small, dedicated crowd through the week (unless a well-known national act is stopping by) the talent is oftentimes worthy of a much bigger turnout.

Huge names have played there on their rise to national fame and many of them - along with some younger up-and-comers - find their way back after a gig on Mountain Stage. With those jams - hosted by Charleston's own The Carpenter Ants - attracting sit-ins from the likes of Jason Isbell, Dawes and many others, there's a spontaneity to the Glass on certain Sunday nights that can't be matched.

n V Club, Huntington

Opened in 2006 by father and son Pat and Patrick Guthrie, V Club provides the biggest capacity of any standing room venue in the state. Through the years, venues have come and gone (and waxed and waned in popularity) in Huntington, yet V Club has remained the most respected around town. As such, the Guthries have managed to pull some of the larger regional and national acts coming through while helping foster a thriving local scene.

National acts like Todd Snider, Clutch, Hank III and Unknown Hinson have made their way through multiple times, but the local talent has its place and draws just as much of a crowd. Groups like Ona, Tyler Childers, Deadbeats & Barkers and AC30 consistently fill the huge room, making it nearly impossible to acknowledge the strength of what's happening around town.

While the inside (equipped with a giant rectangular bar in the middle of the room and a decent sized dance floor) is well-kept and feels accommodating, the bar's sprawling outside patio gets busier this time of year.

If you catch a show in the coming months, you'll want to make sure to enjoy that part for a moment or two.

So get out, see a show and enjoy the room you're in. If you come back often and pay close enough attention, something bigger might be developing before your very eyes.

Dave Mistich is the digital editor/coordinator for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. He wrote a longer-than-normal column this week, so no silly stories in the tagline this time around. Dave can be reached by email at dmistich@wvpublic.org or you can follow him on Twitter: @davemistich.

One Direction announces Zayn Malik leaving band (video) 

By JILL LAWLESSThe Associated Press

LONDON - And then there were four: Zayn Malik said Wednesday he is leaving chart-topping boy band One Direction "to be a normal 22-year-old."

In an announcement that broke teenage hearts and sent social media into a tizzy, Malik's bandmates said they were sad to see him go "but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future."

Malik, who quit the band's world tour last week citing stress, said in a statement that his time with One Direction "has been more than I could ever have imagined."

"But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band," he said. "I'd like to apologize to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart.

"I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight."

Although rumors had swirled that Malik was unhappy in the band, fans expressed surprise at the news.

"I'm a bit shocked as to why he's leaving," said 19-year-old student Sophia Staite.

"It seems strange. It seems they could have gone on for much, much longer, they do have the best fan base of any group or singer. It's quite sad because they have always been quite a close band."

One Direction, which is currently on a world tour, said it would continue with the four remaining members and would record a new album later this year.

Last week Malik flew home from a tour stop in the Philippines, citing stress.

Malik's departure from the tour came after he hit back at rumors of trouble in his relationship with fiancee Perrie Edwards of the band Little Mix.

Before his departure authorities in the Philippines imposed a $5,000 "weed bond" on Malik and fellow band member Louis Tomlinson, with the money to be forfeited if either was caught using or promoting illegal drugs.

A video that circulated online last year appeared to show Malik and Tomlinson smoking cannabis and joking about drug use.

The next scheduled date on One Direction's "On the Road Again" tour is in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday.

One Direction formed in 2010 after five teenagers - Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Tomlinson and Malik - auditioned individually for the British TV talent show "The X Factor." Simon Cowell had the idea of putting them together as a boy band.

They didn't win the competition, but they went on to top charts and win young hearts around the world with their cheeky personalities and perky pop.

Cowell said he had grown "very, very fond - and immensely proud" of Malik over the years.

"As for One Direction, fans can rest assured that Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis are hugely excited about the future of the band," he said.

But music industry watchers, and fans, expressed uncertainty about whether the band could continue without Malik.

"It's just changing everything in their dynamics," said student Alia Alhaddad, who had been glad to see a handsome performer with Pakistani heritage in a successful band.

"It's nice to see someone familiar in a band like that," she said.

"His voice is different from the rest of them, he makes a difference to the group. In terms of their separate careers, it's hit or miss."

A Taste of The JoeLanta Dioramas 

The PopCult Toybox

Img_3205The big PopCult video wrap-up of JoeLanta is in production, but will be delayed until tonight, or possibly tomorrow, due to some technical issues caused by intermittant power outages here at Stately Radio Free Charleston Manor.

To hold you over until it’s ready, here’s another mini-photo essay of the JoeLanta Diorama Contest. We’re not going to provide captions with this collection of pictures. A huge photo essay, complete with the names of all the creators, will be posted here on Saturday.

This is just a taste.