Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 2)

Prettiness, Confusion, and Bunny Lee’s Confusing Costume

18 year old white woman with long hair, wearing jeans and a plain brown t-shirt

Me, circa 2002. I wouldn’t have thought of this outfit as camouflage at the time, but in a way, it was.

I avoided prettiness for a long time.

I know why. It’s a matter of adolescent trauma, that I can sort out objectively in my brain. I grew up attending a homogeneously white, middle-to-upper-middle class private school, i.e. a hotbed for bullying and relational aggression. We had the standard cool kid/not cool kid groups. And the cool kids were pretty. And I was neither cool nor pretty. I spent a year as The Target. It was vile. As an adult, it feels cliche and silly to be like “pretty kids were mean to me, so I hate prettiness” but at its heart, that’s what it was. Something particularly about the relational aggression and backstabby bullying I underwent seemed to mesh thematically with the idea that pretty people were false, wearing a facade and ready to betray you.

Later, of course, I engaged with prettiness in a more complex way. For one, my lovely partner Mikeatron values appearances a healthy amount. He’s got great fashion sense and helped me talk through some of my issues. I also sat myself down at some point and sussed out some of the internalized misogyny I’d been holding on to. Again, this comes back to the dang bullying: pretty girls were my tormentors, so for a while I not only rejected pretty, but also girl, or at least girly.

At this point in my life, I’m rather at peace with my own femininity, but I’m still trying to figure out what aspects of appearance and expression (gender expression, self-expression through appearance) resonate with me. I know adornment and expression go way beyond “pretty,” and that prettiness in itself is not a problem. I know I love messing with gender presentation and gravitate towards androgyny. But in what ways am I still limiting myself?

All of this is to say that Bunny Lee‘s new zine, Confusing Costume: Liberated Fashion Zine, is a breath of fresh air.

Confusing Costume coverLee’s zine is one part delicious fashion manifesto, and one part powerful call to action. “Life was vexing before I learned how to speak through fashion,” she says. Dressing up, i.e. fashion, is a way for her to physically make “accurate visual representations of my soul.” Tall order, yes? But Lee’s art and exuberance show all kinds of possibilities. Her goal? “Each of us is morally compelled to be confusing!” When dressing in a way meant to shake up the “assumptions other may make about you,” we can help bust not only those assumptions, but perhaps even people’s tendency to make assumptions in the first place. “We must be shaken daily from our tendency to simplify the Other!”

Speaking of dismantling misogyny, one section of the zine is devoted to building “The Army of Men in Skirts”, i.e. embracing femininity outside of the boundaries of gender–confusing! Vital! Great! She includes instructions and safety warnings, as femininity is dangerous enough that when men take it on, they can we seen as targets.

Confusing Costume inspires me to make more radical choices with my own adornment and costume. Instead of being frustrated at appearances existing and the physical existence of my body, I can return both to the innocence of playing dress-up, and the experience of deconstructing people’s assumptions via confusing costume.

If all this weren’t enough to make this a deeply satisfying zine, there are also coloring pages and a mix CD. <3

confusing costume mix cd

(Coloring my own bleached bangs with magic marker in college was one of my first real steps towards reclaiming my own appearance, so that song has a special place in my heart.)

You can get your own copy of Confusing Costume at Push/Pull in Ballard, WA or by emailing Bunny at bunnyleedesign@gmail.com. You can see her costume blog at confusingcostume.tumblr.com.

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white woman with short hair, exciting glasses, jacket. looking upward

Me, circa 2014. While I am not (ever) in my final form in terms of appearance, I like where I’m headed.

Tasty Media Pairing: Early Computers Edition

Some people pair cheese and wine. Some pair celebrities with photos of animals that sorta look like them. I pair comics with other media.

 

In this case, Ed Piskor’s 2012 graphic novel WIZZYWIG with the AMC channel show Halt and Catch Fire.

Both are about the early days of computers. Halt and Catch Fire revolves around an independent computer company in the dawn of the PC era (1983), trying to make a portable computer that can compete with IBM. WIZZYWIG is about a notorious hacker in the early 90s phone phreak era. Both have beautiful attention to detail and are worth your time.

WIZZYWIG: Portrait of a Serial Hacker by Ed Piskor, Top Shelf, 2012.

wizzywigcoverwspine_lgWIZZYWIG (phonetic pronunciation of WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get) follows the hacks and run-ins with the law of Kevin J. Phenicle, a.k.a. “Boingthump,” a notorious hacker of phones and computers. Phenicle is a character who Piskor based on a synthesis of various real-life hackers, most notably Kevin Mitnik (“Condor”), who was on the run from the law for years, in prison for years, and now works in IT security. Mitnik was the hacker who was said to “be able to start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone,” a phrase which comes up in WIZZYWIG to describe Phenicle. Phenicle is an ever-shifting character: contrary to the title, what you see is never what you get with him in this story.

wizzywig-preview-01-ed-piskorReasons you should check it out:

  • This is a gorgeous book, physically satisfying to hold in your hands. Perhaps ironically, I would pick up the hardcover a hundred times before going digital on this book in particular.
  • The structure of the story is fascinating. The story is told in a patchwork fashion: it combines bits of linear plot with fake news broadcasts, vignettes that help build Phenicle’s character, retrospective interviews with hackers who knew him, lists of the people he used in his schemes, etc. In this way, the structure of the book mirrors a biopic or a documentary more than a feature film. I find it refreshing; it reads like a zine, but has more plot and character arc than a zine. This book showcases what comics can do that no other genre can.
  • There are many many nods to hacker culture and the history of 90s hacking/phreaking/social engineering. If that’s familiar territory, you’ll find it delightful. If it’s unfamiliar territory, you’ll find many interesting places to jump-start your own research.

Reasons you might want to pass it up:

  • If you are looking for a well-rounded, diverse comic, this is not it. This is a story about arrogant white guys. The most significant female character is Kevin’s grandma, and she never actually appears in the panels, but rather exists as a disembodied, floating voice. There are some women Kevin wants to have sex with or uses in his schemes. And a black guy beats him up in prison. That’s about it in terms of diversity. Actually, aside from his childhood friend, Winston, pretty much everyone
  • If you want a very linear story with clear plot points, the patchwork story structure might annoy you, I guess?!

 

Halt and Catch Fire, AMC, 2014

hacf-cast-photos-988x551-clTrue confession: I only found this show because Kate Leth was talking on Twitter about how Lee Pace’s character is bisexual and it’s frigging nice to see some bisexual men represented on TV.

Even though I started watching the show for superficial reasons (who doesn’t want to see Lee Pace make out with a dude?!), there’s a lot to love in the show. Lee Pace plays Joe Macmillan, a highly ambitious salesman who swoops into a small Texas computer company and recruits Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a sad, alcoholic visionary whose last computer project failed. Joe convinces Gordon to help him to make a new machine with an OS designed by whiz kid college dropout Cameron Howe (Makenzie Davis). They’re helped at times by Gordon’s wife Donna (Kerry Bishé), who is a data recovery expert at Texas Instruments.

H&CF-103-03

Reasons you might check it out:

  • The chemistry–sexual and otherwise–between the actors is fantastic. All of the characters are struggling with the balance between being creators and consumers–of computers and of each other. All of the characters could be shoved into single-story stereotype boxes, and yet they all somehow manage to evade cookie-cutter roles and are instead nuanced, interesting people.
  • The show is set in Dallas in 1983, and the 80s aesthetic is captured perfectly in the sets and costuming. It’s delightful. It’s a period piece, and a very well done one.
  • In terms of representation, Halt and Catch Fire beat the pants off of WIZZYWIG. In the first season, there are two significant female characters, Cameron and Donna. There are a few folks of color who show up, albeit none are main characters yet. Yes, Joe is bisexual.
  • Donna and Gordon’s relationship, in particular, is interesting and important. Donna is a working mother who ends up shouldering a disproportionate amount of the house and parent duties. Donna and Gordon have a tumultuous relationship, but at the same time believe really strongly in each other. Again, the characters are complex and fascinating.

Reasons you might pass it up:

  • You…hate…television?

Story Structure Along the Fury Road

This post will contain significant spoilers for the film Mad Max: Fury Road.

mad max fury road poster

I strongly suggest you go see it before reading the post. However, should you need convincing that it’s a film worth your time, I offer the following things I loved about it:

  1. The world-building is consistent, amazing, deeply satisfying. It’s set in a world poisoned, dead, polluted, with disposable people and a constant resource shortage/control system that means constant conflict and oppression. It’s a dying world evoked wonderfully through chrome, explosions, and cars. There is a guitar that shoots flames. There are muscle cars stacked on top of other muscle cars.
  2. It’s really well-written. Structurally, it’s great. This is what I’m going to talk about during the post below.
  3. The action sequences are intense and frequent; somehow also there is a lot of character building at the same time. Like at least four characters have character arcs. Whoa.
  4. Charlize Theron portraying a great action hero PLUS a disabled character who isn’t pitiable, “inspiration porn,” or defined by her disability. (She has a RAD mechanical arm.)
  5. The film is an action classic and also a feminist action classic, as many have pointed out in tones both admiring and revolted. I mean, this film pissed of Men’s Rights Activists, which means it’s totally worth seeing. 🙂

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Right, then, spoilers ahoy:

Best Buddy Road Trip Flick 2015

After seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, a friend of mine posted on Facebook: “It was the best buddy road trip flick of 2015.” She’s not wrong. The structural bones of the film are that of a road trip flick: protagonist goes on trip with Very Important Purpose, finds not what they expected to find but something else, something about themselves, and then returns home with new-found confidence, purpose, etc. Some examples of the Road Trip Flick: Blues Brothers, Little Miss Sunshine, O Brother Where Art Thou, Dirty Girl (which is on Netflix right now and also fantastic, go watch it). The Road Trip Flick structure is pretty darn closely aligned to the Hero’s Journey structure, where the hero must venture to the “special world” to gain allies, defeat foes, and bring the elixir of life back to their people.

So in that respect, Mad Max has a very traditional structure, and it cracks me up that a lot of articles are crying “this film breaks the mold!” I mean, it doesn’t and it does. It certainly doesn’t fall back of the tropes of toxic masculinity that many action films use–it addresses toxic masculinity, but from a place of dismantling rather than blind acceptance. So what about the plot structure is nonstandard? Well, there’s a female main character and a lot of women. And they are subjects, not objects, even the ones who were sex slaves. I wish that wasn’t such a big deal, but it Action Movie Land, it totally is.

Belle vs Max

a split face: left half is Max, right half is Disney's BelleOne thing I find helpful when looking at a film is to figure out who’s the viewpoint character and whose story the film is following. Sometimes this is the same person, sometimes it is not. In this case, it’s not. Like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the viewpoint character is not the one the movie’s overall story is about. In the case of Beauty and the Beast, we’re meant to see the tale through Belle’s eyes, but it’s Beast’s story. In Mad Max: Fury Road, we’re meant to see the film through Max’s eyes, but it’s Imperator Furiosa’s story. This is what’s pissing off the sexists: this is a film about a woman and her heroic journey to gain allies (one of whom is Max), defeat foes, and very literally bring the water *cough* I mean elixir of life back to her people.

Unlike Belle, though, Max has agency throughout the film. Max’s motives are clear: survival (which he’s very clear about), and also redemption (which he doesn’t consciously know at first that he needs, but we sure do). These are the same motivations that Imperator Furiosa has, except that she’s consciously seeking redemption, thus her quest for the Green Place of Many Mothers. Max is along for the ride at first; although he is still acting in the best interest of his primary motive, survival. At some point, though, both Max and Furiosa make a conscious choice to trust each other. When Furiosa needs a driver during their passage through the mountain pass, she has Max do it. Max realizes that despite having gathered all the women’s weapons and technically holding the women at gunpoint for some time, that he and Furiosa both want escape, survival, and yes, redemption. Once he’s been trusted by Furiosa, he slowly morphs from Other to Ally. In some of the relatively sparse dialogue, Furiosa asks him what they should do if he doesn’t return from a mysterious mission to blow some shit up that’s chasing them in the fog. He looks at her funny and replies: “Keep driving.”

Max is often the catalyst for action. He sometimes serves as a fulcrum for the team. This has pulled him in to what several folks at FANgirl blog have identified as a key component of “heroine’s journey” stories: working with a team or otherwise affecting the entire society, not just the self. Notice in this scene (WHICH IS A HUGE SPOILER SO IF YOU HAVE IGNORED ME BEFORE GO WATCH THE FILM ALREADY, SHEESH) who’s making the plan, and how the camera focuses on the group as a whole:

There’s a reason why Max is there, but it’s not his story. He’s part of something bigger, and Furiosa is leading that charge.

Furiosa’s Journey

Furiosa’s arc could follow a number of traditional hero’s journeys. My favorite version of the hero’s journey comes from The Writers’ Journey by Christopher Vogler, although Furiosa is also very much following the Heroine’s Journey as outlined by Maureen Murdock in her book of the same name. Essentially, Furiosa’s Hero’s Journey narrative goes like this:

  • Inciting Incident: Setting off on her journey in the War Rig.
  • Mentor: None. While there are figures who fall into the mentor archetype later in the film
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies: Max (shapeshifter), “Wives” (ally), Nux (shapeshifter), Immortan Joe (enemy), all the other desert factions in the first half of the film (enemy)
  • Midpoint/First Big Test: The mountain passage
  • Boon: Full allyship with Max, then later Nux
  • The Road Home: finding the Vuvalini (there’s that mentor archetype, y’all), realizing that the Green Place is no more, deciding to come back home
  • Showdown/Climax: Final road battle that results in the death of Immortan Joe, where she kills him.
  • Return: Furiosa’s return home, flowing water, Action Hero Nod with Max as he leaves, etc.

 

There’s a lot more about this movie that I will probably talk about. We all know how big a fan I am of symbolic props, and gosh, this film used them incredibly well. But for now I say, Huzzah, a film where almost every character had at least some development and most of them had full character arcs! Huzzah, a film well-structured and well-plotted. Oh, what a film! What a glorious film!

APE 2014

I’m on vacation today, so it’ll be a quick post.

Yesterday I went to the Alternative Press Expo, i.e. APE, in San Francisco. It’s been put on by Comic-Con International for years now as an indie comics and zine focused con.

I went with no defined budget and an empty bag which … may not have been the best choice. Or was it?! Anyway, I got a lot of great comics, a sampling of which can be seen here:

books I got at APE

some of my sweet loot

One of the more interesting tables was the collection of RE/Search books, i.e. books compiled from the punk zine of the 70s, Search and Destroy. I got a book on “modern pagans,” which collects interviews and essays by everyone from Starhawk to Margot Adler to Genesis P-Orridge, whom I think of as a punk musician and a performance artist first, but apparently is also pagan. Nifty. I bought the book from the publisher himself, V. Vale, a high-energy man who wanted to take each customer’s picture with the book they bought.

I suppose with all that punk action, it was only appropriate that I also got Henry + Glenn Forever & Ever, an epic, uhh, fanfic, about Henry Rollins of Black Flag and Glenn Danzig of The Misfits as gay lovers in a sort of functional relationship that involves Satanist BFFs, Glenn’s bizarrely cheerful mother brought back from the grave, and such trials as grocery shopping. One of the most delightful things about the book is that each cover is drawn as a riff on some other comic– Archie, Hellboy, Tintin, Romance Comics, and more. A bevy of artists draw the comic itself, and the variety is great. I’m particularly a fan of Tom Neely’s cute 1950s newspaper comic style. In any case, a great series, and well worth picking up.

I also finally picked up a copy of the Eisner-nominated No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, which traces the history of and collects comics made by queer folks about queer folks from the mid 1940s on. It’s a seminal work and I’m excited to dig into it. It’s also edited by my friend and grad school buddy, Justin Hall, who has also worked on Henry + Glenn in the past.

I suppose the last two books I took a picture of sort of balance each other out?! I’ve got Smut Peddler, a yearly anthology of “sex-positive erotic comics. By women, for everyone.” It’s got works from webcomic faves like C. Spike Trotman (also the editor), Jess Fink, and Kate Leth. It’s available, for a limited time, through Iron Circus Comics.

On the less pornographic side, I got a beautiful little book by Yumi Sakugawa called Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe. It’s gorgeous and meditative and has some really lovely advice like “take your inner demons on regular tea and cake dates.” It just came out from Adams Media, and is well worth checking out.

And that’s all I’ve got time to write about today; I’m off to bounce around San Francisco.

Damsels and demons and Dante, oh my

I wanted to talk about something Dante-adjacent today, as a brief distraction from the almost-complete Stock Photo Hell series.

So I was stuck at the airport on an ungodly long layover yesterday. And aside from Live-Tweeting some of my impressions of Paradise Lost (which I do over at @AnneBeanTweets under the hashtag #MiltonLiveTweet), I was reading a comic that had been sitting on my shelf for a while: Ten Grand, by J. Michael Straczynski.

TenGrand-tpbI picked the comic up for two reasons: one, I like J. Michael Straczynski, and I tend to read comics because of writers I like. Straczynski did Babylon 5, also tons of comics including Squadron Supreme, an epic superhero homage/parody that I’m in the middle of right now and really, really enjoying. I also picked up Ten Grand because of the art: Ben Templesmith does cool, atmospheric stuff that’s totally down my alley.

I like the comic for several reasons. The aforementioned art is great, and they even bring in another artist (C.P. Smith) to illustrate a different area of reality. The themes are demonology and weird occult and supernatural noir, which I of course enjoy. The comic has been described as a combo of Hellblazer and Supernatural, and I find that accurate.

Unfortunately, the one glaring thing that rips me right out of the world is the same damn thing that I can’t stand about Supernatural: the damn dying damsels.

(Spoilers.) So the deal is this: Joe, our badass noir hero guy, used to have this lovely wife, Laura. Who he met when he was being all badass and her entire purpose in life was to apparently be a shining beacon of hope and continually suggest that perhaps he could stop killing people for a living. To him, she was/is everything, his entire reason for existence, etc. Yeah, she’s gone and died. They both did, actually. From a nasty demon blitz attack. But wait, there’s more! (And this is the only actually interesting-to-me bit.) Joe’s offered a deal by angels, he gets to be Heaven’s hit-man and die righteously, and after each (yeah, there are many) righteous death, he gets to see Laura for five minutes in Heaven. Otherwise he was just straight-up going to Hell. I find that conceit pretty interesting. His multiple lives and the wacky wacky afterlife hijinks are for sure the best part of the book.

Unfortunately, it further underscores Laura not really being a character or a person at all. I mean, perhaps no one has agency in Heaven…but what is she up to while he’s, like, living and stuff? Does she float around in a golden cloud sort of gently pining? Does she want him back? Does she want anything? (Again spoiler.) She’s snagged from Heaven by marauding Hell forces at some point, making her even more of a damsel in distress, even after death, gosh. Thing is, I’m not sure what she wanted even when she was alive, aside from wanting Joe to get out of the hitman business. I guess that means she wanted stability? Or her love to not be in constant danger? Seems like she’s failed to get either of those things, even in the afterlife. And the thing is, I don’t see her realizing that this continued association with her love Joe is making her life and afterlife miserable and either a) leaving him or b) using clever resources to fend off the forces of Hell and save his soul. Nope. She’s gonna do what she’s done for the entire story: nothing. Literally nothing. Because she’s a quest object and a damsel in distress and to some extent a manifestation of Joe’s anima. She’s not a well-rounded character.

tumblr_miwv3yeGsW1qj97xmo7_1280And I could handle that in one storyline if it wasn’t in a thousand damn storylines before this. I am over Perfect Girlfriend Saving Dark Man From Self characters. So deeply over them. Especially when they have literally nothing of their own going on. Without Joe, what would Laura have done with her life? Would she have existed? We don’t know! There’s not even a hint of her own personality.

How, then, did this tradition start? While I don’t have time today to really trace it back (although perhaps I shall someday. French medieval romances, I’m looking at you.), I want to talk about one specific piece of the puzzle. And that’s our buddy Dante.

So in all this talk of Inferno, I haven’t yet mentioned Beatrice. Beatrice is Dante’s great love, whom he deifies repeatedly in his poetry. She shows up in the Divine Comedy literally near the top of Mt. Purgatory in the Garden of Eden, and becomes his guide after Virgil leaves him. She guides him through most of Heaven, and is eventually replaced by St. Peter when things get too holy for even her. Dante also wrote a whole huge poem to her directly, called La Vita Nuova. It’s…creepy. This is one of the tamer bits:

In that book which is my memory,
On the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you,
Appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life’.”

-La Vita Nuova

 

Because here’s the thing. Dante had met the real actual person Beatrice Portinari…twice. Once at age nine, once at age eighteen. Both times they met at parties, briefly. And yet, he was so taken with her that in his head he built her into this savior figure, this perfect woman, this light of his life. He was the epitome of a courtly lover. The scholarly argument is that Dante’s figure of Beatrice in his writing is an allegorical character, and not to be taken as a literal pining over some woman he met twice. And that argument has some merit; for one, it acknowledges that Beatrice was never a real person in Dante’s mind and that fictional Beatrice isn’t a character who is expected to be three-dimensional. She’s a stand-in for the Divine Feminine, a cardboard cutout of a Perfect Lover.

literally one of two times this happened

literally one of two times this happened

I can’t help but think that a lot of these perfect heart-of-gold girlfriend characters are just Beatrices in disguise. For all the worshiping of Beatrice that Dante did, her existence in his writing mostly relates to him, to fictional Dante. She exists to be the light, life, feminine savior of Dante. And that’s what gets me about this sub-set of the damsel trope: these women literally have nothing else going on aside from trying to save their wayward partners. (TV Tropes suggests that Beatrice types may be Living Emotional Crutches.) Gross.

Anyway. That’s all to say that female characters are more interesting when they’re given desires, motivations, and some degree of actual, y’know, character.

For a noir comic book that has female characters with an actual character arc, check out:

The Last Days of American Crime by Rick Remender, Fatale by Ed Brubaker (best sendup of the femme fatale trope ever), and if you’d like to see an actual female noir detective, Stumptown by Greg Rucka.

Five Spooky Halloween Reads

1. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury somethingwickedthiswaycomes

This novel, published in 1962, is the classic creepy carnival story. A train full of weird, creepy carnies pulls up to a little town and while almost everyone is pretending like the carnival is all normal and stuff, our two young protagonists can see the true horrors: soul-stealing mirror mazes, time-altering carousels, etc. It’s an interesting meditation on the nature of childhood and growing up as well as a damn fine creepy tale.

Good companion piece: “The Shining” by Stephen King–talk about the power of setting to warp characters’ minds!

2. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

11187While I’m on the subject of classics, let’s chat about this book. I’d seen the original, chilling 1975 movie starring Katherine Ross, and the 2004 remake with that ridiculous remote control boobs scene, but I hadn’t read the book until this fall. The book’s plot is not much different than the movie, aside from being a bit more overtly political. Joanna Eberhart is truly lonely in a new town, and so she tries to make friends with the town’s oddly perfect women. She and her one buddy, Bobbie, try to get women to band together, join a NOW chapter, and they all just politely wave her off because they are TERRIBLE WIFE-BOTS OMG. Spoilers. Um. But the thing is, I didn’t care that I knew the ending: Hearing the story through Joanna’s earnest point of view was terrifying, in part because much of America, suburbia in particular, has not really moved too far past Stepford. We are culturally haunted by Stepford: a secret conspiracy of average suburban men who somehow end up making “perfected” simaculra of their wives and then offing the originals.

 

A good companion piece to this would be the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark.”

3. Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Pretty-DeadlyThis is a brand-spankin’-new series put out by Image comics—as in you have to walk into a comic shop and pick up Issue #1 if they still have it in stock. This book is dynamite. It’s a supernatural western starring a mysterious Death-like character, narrated by a dead rabbit, and with a varied and interesting cast of bad-ass people doing dirty deeds. It’s got a stellar creative team: Emma Rios’ art is perfect for the feel of the story, I heart the crap out of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing, and I’m really excited about Jordie Bellaire’s colors. I mean, I rarely know the name of a colorist, much less get really excited about them. Anyway. Pick this one up, kids. It’s worth your time.

 

Great companion read: The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn (ongoing series)

 

4. The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

tlh-photo-mainHow’s about a comic for the low, low, price of free? Well, aside from your compulsive need to throw money at Abby Howard, its creator, because of it’s genius and sexy exciting merch. Also you may end up giving away bits of your soul, but…yeah. Pay no mind. Free comic! Hooray!

Abby Howard, of Strip Search fame, has launched her deliciously wicked comic, The Last Halloween. It’s an adventurous tale of horror and skullduggery with a cast of supernatural beasties and gorgeous black and white art to boot. It’s also got a wicked sense of humor: This comic in particular reads very Jhonen Vasquez-y, and I like it. Take a look: You won’t want to miss this one.

www.last-halloween.com

Good companion read: Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez.

 

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

GraveyardBook_01-1024X768

Okay, here’s a latter-day classic that you can read with young-ish-uns without traumatizing them too badly. The Graveyard Book tells the tale of Bod, short for Nobody, who has grown up in a graveyard, raised by ghosts. The tale of how he got there and who he really is unfolds a mysterious man named Jack keeps making attempts of his life…

Good companion read: “The Juniper Tree” by the Brothers Grimm. For fifth grade and up, it’s a great, gross, terrifying tale.

 

 

Anything That Loves Orange

So, two pieces of media have recently come into my life and have been interacting in interesting ways:

The first is, as I mentioned last post, the new anthology of comics about non-binary sexuality from Northwest Press: Anything That Loves.

The second is the Netflix Originals show Orange is the New Black.

1

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Anything That Loves is a collection of comics that explores the sexual territory that falls between black-and-white concepts of “gay” and “straight.” Some of the material in this is reprints of classics, like Erika Moen’s Queer, as well as brand spankin’ new content by the likes of Amy T. Falcone, Bill Roundy, and Roberta Gregory. (New content. Roberta Gregory. For the maybe one of my dedicated readers that got how cool that is, you’re welcome.)

Some of the issues that are addressed in Anything That Loves include:

  • A bisexual woman who’s androgynous in appearance (Leanne Franson)
  • A gay man who gets blowback from the gay community when he starts dating trans*men (Bill Roundy)
  • An adolescent boy whose only source of information on sexuality is Loveline… “You had sex with a man? Or a crush on one? You’re gay!”
  • A staunchly lesbian warrior who ends up in an unexpected situation (Leia Weathington)
  •  How women seem to be more “allowed” to have a fluid sexuality than men. (Kate Leth)

 

Overall, the book is a damn fascinating examination of bisexuality, queer sexuality, biphobia, and the myriad ways one can be a human with desires. The various comics specifically address discrimination and ick that come from the “straight” world as well as the “gay” (“lesbian” “queer” etc) world. Some people will connect with this book, or at least one piece in it, on a personal level. (I just want to high-five Leanne Franson, for example.) For those that might not connect with these comics regarding yourself, please read this for all the folks you know who may deal with not fitting into neat little boxes of policed sexuality. Also, read it so you can have critical feedback and discussion about portrayals of queer sexualities in the media. Like, for example, when watching Orange is the New Black.

 

Orange is the New Black I find a fairly satisfying combination of problematic and actually good. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s about a privileged white woman, Piper Chapman, who ends up serving a prison term in a low-security facility for being part of a drug deal ten years ago. Like a fashionable-suitcase-carrying-in-other-countries-with-hot-girlfriend type drug deal. The show is highly fictionalized version of a real privileged white woman’s memoir about her stay in the notoriously “cushy” low-security prison, Danbury, i.e. the prison where Martha Stewart went. There are plenty of differences between the show and reality, because it would be a crap show otherwise. One of them is the frequent women having relationships with, sex with, and/or crushes on women. Actual prisoner Piper Kerman says in her memoir, also entitled Orange is the New Black, that she was “struck by the fact that there did not seem to be any lesbian activity…A lot of the romantic relationships I observed were more like schoolgirl crushes, and it was rare for a couple to last more than a month or two.”

The show has many cringeworthy discussions of identity and orientation, especially given my mindset after reading Anything That Loves. Almost any time that Piper Chapman (or anyone else) talks about her past relationship with a woman, it’s through the lens of “lesbian.” “I was a lesbian,” she says. Which makes sense. But there’s a lot of discussion of Will She Revert To Her Lesbian Ways and “What, are you lesbian now?” This is at one disheartening and hilarious because it would seem that Chapman was never actually, to my understanding of the word, lesbian. She was always bisexual, it’s just that sometimes she was in a relationship with a woman and sometimes she was in a relationship with a man. And sometimes she was engaged to a man, in prison with her ex-girlfriend, and real awkward. Y’know. Like happens. It makes sense that the weirdo prison counselor would talk about “lesbian activity” as his anaethema, because he is a scumbag with a mail-order Ukrainian bride. It makes less sense that not one other character on the show seems to think of the word “lesbian” as a woman who exclusively has relationships with women. The de facto definition seems to be a woman who has sex with another woman. I fear that there is a large portion of the country who have only this much of an understanding of sexuality. (Actually I fear that there is a portion of the country that is more or less Pennsatucky.)

In any case, naive as this may be, I have a hard time understanding why bisexuality, or at the least relationships with a variety of gendered people, is so damn hard to grok.

(Of course, for every time I say “Come on now! It’s 2013!” something tends to slap me upside the head and remind me that some people are living decades ago.)

 

In conclusion, this was less of a review, and more a ramble about sexuality. That being said, absolutely go pick up a copy of Anything That Loves. It’s a monumental collection about an under-discussed topic, and well worth a read. And heck, watch Orange is the New Black. It’s pretty good, it’s got some problematic aspects that serve as chewy food for thought, and it’s got some supreme acting talent. Laura Prepon, a.k.a. Donna from That 70s Show, as a drug dealer! Michelle Hurst! Samira Wiley! Lots of amazing PoC actors that I haven’t seen much of before because damn the Hollywood machine! And…drum roll please…

KATE. FREAKIN. MULGREW.

That’s right. Janeway runs the kitchen and will totally cut you.

 

Ideas about nonbinary sexuality? Reactions to the show? Put ’em in the comments, y’all.

Comic Review: Nimona

First, a fairy tale:

Once upon a time, in the Magical Land of Hollywood, there was a grand celebration known as the Teen Choice Awards 2013. There were many superhero movies represented at this magical occasion, and the public cried, what is up with that? So during that celebration, several white males came together in fellowship and told the world about comics. None of these men were particualrly asshatted, aside from Todd McFarlane. And lo, they told of how “comics follow culture; they don’t lead culture” and how the reason why superheroes are so often white and male is because comics are the domain of men fulfilling their testosterone-fueled fantasies. And lo, the panel moderator, Alyssa Rosenberg asked if they felt like comics could possibly lead society in a positive direction rather than following it, and the panel shrugged and said not really, no…and Rosenberg straight up said, “That seems like a really unambitious position,” set the mic on the table, and left. (Check out her article here, including some choice quotes.) And a great cry of “what the crap, you guys” arose from the Twitterverse. And one of those tweets read as follows:

 

 

And so I went and read it.

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And I was MIGHTILY PLEASED!

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In a nutshell,

NIMONA

tells the story of an evil scientist/superhero named Ballister Blackheart and his sidekick/shark/shapeshifter, a teenage girl named Nimona, as they struggle against the weirdly authoritarian techie-medieval society and Blackheart’s personal nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin.

 

Things to love about this comic:

  • Worldbuilding: This is a fun freakin’ fantasy world, I tell ya. There’s magic, which seems like it’s being increasingly pushed aside by technology and science. There is just enough lack-of-explanation as to how this all works to keep it interesting; it’s clear to me that Stevenson knows the rules of the world, and I feel just fine being exposed to cool medieval armor, and shape-shifting sharks, and floaty glowy screens. The sequence with the kingdom’s science fair is particularly fun. I feel like this world is sort of what Steampunk wanted to be had it been more obsessed with knights and stuff instead of mustaches and bowler hats. I’m sure that’s already a thing. MedievalPunk? Whatever, this world is awesome.
  • The characters: The three main characters, Nimona, Blackheart, and Goldenloin (SNRRRK) all have pretty complex backstories that have the potential to go a lot of interesting places as this comic develops. Nimona has had some kind of traumatic science-based experiences that she’s not telling us about. Blackheart and Nimona have a frankly adorable, non-creepy father/daughter vibe going on. Blackheart and Goldenloin used to be best friends; the jury’s still out on exactly what happened during their Friendship-Ending Incident.
  • Moral ambiguity: The main characters are villains. The adorable teenager likes to kill the heck out of innocent bystanders. The evil scientist does not; he’s got more of a Doctor Horrible vibe going on except with more social skills. Sir Goldenloin feels conflicted about the creepiness of his governing body, the particularly when they ask him to assassinate peeps in cold blood. There’s no black and white storytelling here. It’s delicious.
  • The art: Noelle Stevenson’s art is LOVELY. Her character designs are unique, her sense of line and color are great, and I find her oft-derpy characters are hilarious. Her art reminds me of some mashup of Kate Beaton and Abby Howard. It is whimsical in best, least “cute cat figurine in your grandma’s kitchen” sense of the word, and super-expressive. SO GOOD.
  • The comments section is not filled with scum, bigotry, and flame wars; it’s actually filled with FUNNY COMMENTS ABOUT THE PLOT. <3
  • If you needed sexy pinups of the male characters, you can find them HERE and HERE. Aww yesss, equal opportunity exploitation. I want to send a copy of each to Todd McFarlane’s and Gerry Conway’s daughters. (For the record, Gerry Conway says his daughter “only reads comics by someone named Faith Erin Hicks.”)

Go check it out, what are you waiting for? Critical acclaim? Oh. Well, so far Nimona has been nominated for a Harvey Award and gotten awards from i09 and the Center for Cartoon Studies. It takes a couple of hours to mainline the archives, and then you can get a fresh dose on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you’re allergic to the Internet, a) what are you doing reading this blog and b) you can buy Nimona in paper form when it gets published by HarperCollins in 2015.

On Personal Oceans, and the Landscape of Childhood

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Waiting at the Burlington Airport, watching the jets go, reading.

At the Burlington International Airport, on the way home after getting my MFA, I impulsively bought Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane to read on the plane, never mind that I was going to go see him read at Town Hall in Seattle the very next day.

I think it was the perfect book to read on the way back from Goddard College, a place that felt a little bit like the coolest writer sleep-away camp ever and a little bit like a memory of times already past. The Ocean at the End of the Lane deals with memory, and landscape, and the terrors that childhood holds. The sense of childhood horror is well-stated in the book’s epigraph, a quote from Maurice Sendak in conversation with Art Spiegelman: “I remember my own childhood vividly…I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”

And the horrors that children know and adults try to blind themselves to is perhaps the emotional crux of this short and poignant novel. At his Town Hall talk, Gaiman explained some of the genesis of the book; he was missing his wife, Amanda Palmer, and wanted to write something for her. But she, apparently, doesn’t really like fantasy (I know, right?)…”but she likes me,” he said, “and she likes feelings. So I put some feelings in and toned down the supernatural a bit.” He also added a setting from his own Essex childhood; the picture on the back of a boy climbing on a house is a photo of Neil, Age Seven. (Although I skimmed the interior back flap too quickly and for a moment though they were describing the author photo, leaving me with the impression that NG had sprung fully formed from his mother’s forehead…) I find this novel differs from Gaiman’s other novels for adults because it has more feelings, quite frankly. He gets me right in the nostalgia. And no, my personal nostalgia does not revolve around the aftermath of a stranger’s suicide on a tiny rural English village, nor is it about a trio of maiden/mother/crone types who may or may not be an old farming family and/or supernatural entities from the dawn of time. But the sense of an adult going back and feeling intense nostalgia about childhood, both for the magic of being a child (literally, of course, here) and the terror of being a child. From a craft perspective, the first and last chapters do a brilliant job of lowering the reader into the world of the story through the layers of memory of the adult who is narrating about his childhood. This really is, as Gaiman asserts, a book for adults with a child narrator. I think it would be a fun read for a child or teen, but you wouldn’t really get the emotional punch until you were an adult, and especially an adult who had left home.

The poet David Wagoner introduced me to the lovely term psychotope, or the shape of the psyche. How hot is “hot.” How far is “far.” What “rain” looks like. And the narrator’s psychotope is clearly laid out in this novel: I could picture the mental map of this child’s world, the details of the dirt lane he lived on, the important places and things in his life. His logic, even when it seemed fantastic or illogical for the adults around him, is laid out clearly for the reader. And more importantly, I can remember when having a world map like that made sense. I found myself thinking about the five acres I grew up on in semi-rural Colorado and the intricate world of myth and magic I built for myself. (The fairies lived across the little stream in the meadow with the big Ponderosa pines, the Tolkein-style elves lived back in the mossier, darker woods, etc.) Inside my house was more a landscape of monsters, both mine and my brother’s. For him, Darth Vader lived in the basement shop behind the ominous wood-stove that provided most of our house’s winter heat. For me, the one spot just to the right of the hall that I always avoided because of an incredibly vivid dream wherein an invisible man picked me up off my feet by my collar and I just knew he was standing there day and night, biding his time. I had rituals about how fast I had to book it up the stairs (before the door to the garage, on its hissing automatic closer, closed with a final thump). I think everyone had at least one little ritual or piece of magical thinking in the landscape of their childhood home. I imagine many of them were much more terrifying than Darth Vader or the ubiquitous invisible man. I imagine for children with more real-world trauma in their lives daily, a great deal of ritual and magical thinking is put into trying to control the behavior of those adults or other children around them whose behavior cannot be controlled.

What Gaiman does so nicely in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is to take the magical thinking of childhood and conflate it elegantly with real magic. It’s a book about how hard it is to be seven. It’s also a book about family. It’s also a book with enough very real magic to feed the hungry child in all of us. You can check it out here or just go buy a copy. The hardback is really attractive. It’s got deckle edges, O Kindle users, which your Devices will not be able to accurately replicate. Just sayin’.

 

In the comments, please tell me a ritual or piece of magical thinking from your childhood. I’m also curious, for those of you that read it, what you thought of the book.

Review: iOS Games

Before I begin, a note.

I wanted to write something about the swamp of emotions that the George Zimmerman case brought up in me. I do not, at this time, have the words. So I point you to others’ words, others who can say it better than me: Ti Kendrick Hall, bell hooks et al., and this white guy on Facebook. I also recommend checking out this video as a reminder of the state of race (and gender) socialization in America.

***

And now for something completely different: video game reviews.

Infinity Blade II

Infinity Blade II is a adventure/fighting game for the iPhone. I have not played the original Infinity Blade, also developed for iOS, but I imagine it being pretty similar to this one. Comment below if that is not the case; I’m curious.

This game’s strengths lie in the fighting mechanics and how they interface with the touch screen. Its weaknesses mostly revolves around plot. But let me start at the beginning.

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Here’s the story you’re presented with at the beginning of the game: You’re a Dude Warrior. You killed the God-King in the last game, emerged triumphant, and are now chillin’ and chattin’ with  your buddy, Lady Warrior. (Clearly I am awesome at remembering names.) Your enemies are medieval robot zombie guys called the Deathless. You are on a mission to take them out forever, as they are ruling bits of the world in a dictatorial and bad way, and you are determined to reclaim the world for humanity. The ironic bit is, you’re not *entirely* human yourself, as when you die, you just go regenerate for 6 months or so and then pop right back up, ready for fighting.

This makes for a nifty gameplay mechanic in terms of when you die, you get to see yourself waking up in the regeneration place, and you get a screencap that says “6 months later…” and you’re back. There’s actually a logical explanation for dying. There are also many times when you *have* to die. If you’re just fighting a random enemy (they’re called Titans) and get defeated, then you can reload to your last save point (i.e. right before the fight) OR your last regeneration (i.e. beginning of the castle). It’s nice to do that sometimes because it’s a good way to grind for a while and gain XP and gear. Sometimes you have to die, usually after fighting a boss. You’ll unlock a seal thingie in the floor or wall (in your effort to free the mythical dude-who-can-supposedly-help-you, Worker of Secrets), and by “unlock a seal,” I mean, “stick your hand in a hole and then there’s a flash of red light and you die.” This quest, it turns out, would really suck if you weren’t sorta pretend immortal.

The fighting in the game is, to my mind, its strongest point. You start outside the castle where Worker is imprisoned, and wander one of several ways into the castle towards some boss or other, fighting dudes along the way. The graphics are based on the Unreal engine, so as you can imagine, it’s reaaal purdy. There are three types of weapons that you (and enemies) can use: A light weapon with a shield that’s more stabby (a tap to the screen), a heavy two-handed weapon that’s more slashy (a swipe to the screen, often with arrows to point your way), or dual weapons that are mostly about dodging and slashing. You defeat enemies by blocking, parrying, and dodging until you have an opening, as well as using a ultimate power attack and magic, both of which recharge over a period of time. The magic is cool in particular because you trace a sigil in the air in order to cast a particular spell. You also spend time leveling up gear: rings that have different spells attached to them, plus better weapons and armor. There are a few silly weapons in there, too; at one point I had cardboard armor and was slapping baddies with a rolled up newspaper, because that’s the sort of gamer I am.

Here’s my big damn issue with the plot: At the end of the story, (highlight to see the spoilers, y’all) you bring the God-King’s almost-dead body to the Worker of Secrets, who (*gasp! curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!*) leaves you to rot in the pit and buggers off to go be evil. So you are trapped where the Worker of Secrets had been, and then the cut-scene flashes to Lady Warrior, who is standing outside the castle where you had started! I got super-excited! I thought, Hey, now I get to play the game again except I am Lady Warrior going to save Dude Warrior and then we’ll take down the Worker together, omg, this actually has another act and a plot and oooooohhh dang it now the story’s starting all over again, and I’m back to being Dude Warrior at the beginning. Guess replay value means going back as the same character and trying to do the bonus non-story-essential quests I didn’t get to before. And getting some nicer gear. Because, gear. Le sigh.

Just saying, developers, it would have been both easy and satisfying in plot terms to chuck in a second act with Lady Warrior as the viewpoint character. So easy! Damn you all. *Shakes ragefist*

You can get Infinity Blade II for $7. I got it for free at Apple’s 5-year anniversary sale.

 

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

Of all my cell phone games right now, this one wins hard-core. You can get it on iOS, Mac, PC, or Android. I think for Android it’s packaged in the Humble Bundle.

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It’s an adventure game, which makes clever use of the rotateable nature of your iDevice, has a killer soundtrack, and a great dry sense of humor. You play the Scythian, who is a warrior (a female warrior, MIGHT I ADD) on a sort of ambiguous quest that’s narrated in little tidbits like, “We spied a few worthless sheep lazing around in a meadow” and “We had heard about the gateway to the infinite at the summit of Mingi Taw & we thought it sounded like something cool to see.” You meet allies, such as a woodsman named Logfella and a dog named Dogfella, and enemies, such as a weird bear that does a creepy dance and a large skullmonster that totally kills the heck out of you. There’s a way to defeat it, don’t worry.

As a whole, the gameplay experience is chill, more about solving puzzles and exploring than it is about fighting, although there is enough sword in with all the sworcery to keep things interesting. There’s good use of mobile/touchscreen tech, although it’s not *so* essential that you couldn’t play this game on a computer and still be satisfied.

It’s awesome, too, because of the social media aspects: you can tweet about where you are in the game really easily, and the company does cool stuff like have fan art fests.

See! Here’s the Scythian and Dogfella, drawn by the radsauce Monica Ray!

 

You can find out more about it and buy it here! It costs five bucks (less during Steam Sale o’ clock, computer users) and is worth every penny.

 

Dungeon Raid

This is a puzzle/adventure game. It is totally stupid. I won’t even lie. But it’s addictive and a great game to play while waiting for the bus/waiting in line/sitting awkwardly in the backseat of your partner’s parents’ car while they argue about directions, y’know. Versatile. Fun. Doesn’t require all of your attention. Good stuff.

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Here’s the deal: You’re one of eight character classes of adventurer who’s on a quest in a dungeon. You get one of several randomly generated, hilarious backstories at the beginning of the game, which have zero relevance to the gameplay. Then you spend your time connecting up symbols (swords, shields, coins, health potions) to make them disappear and gain their benefits. You also get skills and “level up” your gear, adding attributes like more health and stronger attacks. You defeat monsters, which show up as skull icons. There are a few gameplay modes: an infinite dungeon, a 100-turn dungeon, and a “Pretzel Hero” challenge where you try to connect your icons together using as many loops as possible.

I would say it’s totally worth the $2 I spent on it.

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