Anne Bean

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

Tag: comics (page 1 of 2)

Jackie Ormes: activism through comics, resistance through fashion

File this one in the “cartoonists those jerks at Angoulême should have known about.”

Zelda “Jackie” Ormes was a pioneer of American comics and the first black woman to have a syndicated comic strip.

Jackie Ormes at her drawing board

Jackie Ormes syndicated several strips from 1937-1956 in African American newspapers like the Chicago Defender and the Pitsburgh Courier. She drew several strips, either in the romance-adventure genre or single-panel subtle political cartoons. Her first notable strip, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, was about a young, glamorous woman traveling to New York City to seek her fortune. Torchy Brown was a fashionable, smart young woman who wasn’t afraid to break the rules to get what she wanted: love, a dance career, and great clothes.

paper doll of Torchy Brown with several high-fasion outfits

Many of the Torchy Brown strips came with a paper doll section highlighting seasonal fashion.

Why was this a big deal? Particularly when written or drawn by white people, black representation in comics in the late 1930s and early 1940s was often limited to racist stereotypes. Ormes sought to break these down through her comics and later, her dolls. She portrayed real people rather than caricatures.

Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem stopped being syndicated in 1940, but returned later in the strip Torchy in Heartbeats, which focused more on Torchy’s romantic aspirations, but also touched on themes of environmental justice and Torchy’s career. Romance comics were the rage in the 1950s, and Ormes’ work is a good example of the genre.

Torchy in Heartbeats comic stripAside from romance comics, Ormes also drew single-panel cartoons. Her most famous is the humorous political strip Patty Jo ‘n’ Ginger, which ran from 1945-1956. Every strip is some sort of witty banter between Patty Jo, a little girl, and her teenaged sister, Ginger. Like Torchy Brown, Ginger is a fashion plate: always in fantastic, fashionable outfits. She never speaks in the comic, and plays the “straight man” to Patty Jo’s witticisms. Patty Jo is smart and pulls no punches.

Patti Jo n Ginger comic, the caption of which reads, "It would be interestin' to discover just which committee decided it was un-American to be Colored?"

“It would be interestin’ to discover just WHICH committee decided it was un-American to be COLORED?”

Patty Jo is the epitome of speaking truth to power. She takes on racism, sexism, and injustice, sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly.

Patty Jo, dirty and unkempt, holds a football. Ginger watches in horror.

“What’cha mean it’s no game for girls? We got feet too, ain’t we?”

In this 1948 comic, Ginger is holding a pamphlet and pledge cards for the Negro College Fund, a scholarship fund that helped students get into historically black colleges:

Cartoon: Ginger holds Negro College fund pamplets; Patti Jo raises her hand and speaks out.

“Gosh–Thanks if you’re beggin’ for me–But, how’s about gettin’ our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over, so we can be trained fit for any college?”

After the 1955 lynching of teenager Emmett Till, who had reputedly whistled at a white woman, Ormes posted the following cartoon:

Cartoon: Patty Jo has walked out of the kitchen, and is wagging a finger at Ginger.

“I don’t want to seem touchy on the subject…but, that new little white tea-kettle just whistled at me!”

Unsurprisingly, Ormes’ work was not syndicated in white newspapers.

Never once was Patty Jo asked to silence herself or rein herself in: the strip just served as a place for her to be precocious, i.e. smart and politically incisive. Rebecca Onion of Slate describes Patty Jo as a “spiritual ancestor of the radical Huey Freeman of the comic strip Boondocks.”

Jackie Ormes made a Patty Jo doll with the Terri Lee doll company in 1947, which was a sixteen inch tall plastic doll with “playable hair” and a variety of fashionable outfits. It was a huge commercial success, and is now a collector’s item.

Patty Jo doll, hair coiffed like in the comic, wearing a yellow dress.Check out more about Jackie Ormes in the only (!) in-print published collection of her works, and at her biography site.

It’s Not the Goddamn Batman, it’s the Goddamn Imagination

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the limits of creator’s imaginations, particularly when it comes to writing outside of your demographic.

Two panels of Black Canary watching somthing. Text is internal monologue about how Batman's beating up a lot of guys and she's like, totes in love with the goddamn Batman.

In Frank Miller’s imagination, everyone loves the goddamn Batman.

Lately, I’ve found the best examples of both success and failure in writing outside one’s demographic in the world of comics. Successes include books like Trees by Warren Ellis, and Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue Deconnick. Failures include Strange Fruit, written by Mark Waid and drawn by J.G. Ballard. As J.A. Micheline points out on Women Write About Comics, the book fails because it falls back on tired, racist tropes. Micheline notes that when white characters  say something racist, there is always someone there to contradict them or chide them for their racism, making it a magical fairy tale for white people. There is also a mute superman character, who is an alien, but looks like a black man, strong, silent, and animalistic. As Micheline says, there are real-world consequences to actual black humans when this type of trope persists: “This depiction of the superhuman black has led to dire consequences for a number of black youth in America, to name a few: Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. White police feel so threatened by black men, fear their purported strength, aggression, and animalistic tendencies, that they believe themselves justified when gunning them down in cold blood.” Micheline’s suggestion that perhaps a story like this should involve one or more black creators seems awfully apt. You can read her plea to white comics creators to create responsibly at Comics Alliance.

***

The comic I want to talk about today, though, doesn’t even touch on race. It’s entirely about white people. Which is a relief, because it still manages to be once of the worst comics I have read, and I don’t even want to contemplate what Frank Miller would have done if he’d tried to include people of color in this…well, as my podcast-mates put it during our review, this dumpster-fire of a comic.

What am I talking about?

Why, All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, of course.

actual image: a dumpster fire

Pictured: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder

This nine-ish issue series came out between 2005 and 2008. It’s written by Frank Miller, who was in the process of going from a creator of respected, if pulpy comics to a person who writes white supremacist America propaganda and other fringe, ridiculous projects. The tragedy of the series is that it’s drawn by Jim Lee, and the iconic comic artist does a fantastic job at bringing Miller’s bullshit script to life.

All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder is set in an alternate storyline to any of the main, canonical DC universes. Batman is young, and just now “adopting” (read: abducting and brainwashing) young Dick Grayson (Robin) after his parents are murdered. There are plenty of scenes with lots of first person internal monologue from a wide variety of characters.

But what this book is really about is Frank Miller imagining himself as the goddamn Batman.

Robin and Batman in the Batmobile. Robin: "Who the hell are you, giving out orders like this?" Batman: "Are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I'm the goddamn Batman."

The panel that launched a thousand memes.

In the imagination of Frank Miller, the goddamn Batman is an unrepentant asshole who revels in the most toxic masculinity possible: he hates grief and loves beating the crap out of people. He gets all the ladies because they also love watching him beat the crap out of people. He makes Dick Grayson camp out in the Batcave and eat rats because it’s going to help him become “strong”. He tells people to shut up a lot. Heroic!

But the goddamn Batman is not the only character that Miller boldly ventures to explore: we get internal monologue from Dick Grayson, Vicky Vale, Wonder Woman, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, Batgirl, Black Canary, and more. All of it makes one thing painfully clear: Frank Miller cannot conceive of what might be going on the inside of an adult woman’s mind.

Vicky Vale in a revealing evening gown talking about how excited she is to go on a date with Bruce Wayne.

Vicky Vale does not get any deeper than this. She is not portrayed as a woman, but as Miller’s anima.

If you wanted insight into Miller’s train of thought when writing the Vicky Vale scenes, fear not:

From Miller's script, with accompanying panel: "Oh, Jim, I'm shameless. Let's go with an ASS SHOT. Panties detailed. Balloons from above. She's walking, restless as always. We can't take our eyes off her. Especially since she's got one fine ass."

This is not about Vicky Vale. This is about the men looking at Vicky Vale’s ass. The male gaze, ladies and gentlemen!

But wait! Not all women are pointless sexpots. Some are straw feminists:

Wonder Woman, with internal monologue about how this city stinks of men and how awful men are and men also men

Goddess help him, I think Frank Miller thinks that feminists are constantly angry and only think about men and how awful men are.

This is Frank Miller trying his best to write a character who’s really different than he is. Unfortunately, he has only managed to write a weird shadow-self, a woman who rants about men and how incompetent men are and men and awful awful men, but then later makes out with Superman and shuts up for a while.

The goddamn Batman, then, becomes Frank Miller’s power fantasy. Women like Vicky Vale and Black Canary become his admirers; Wonder Woman becomes a foil that only serves to reinforce the role of dominant masculinity in the story. The goddamn Batman uses words like “retarded” and “shut up” to try and assert dominance over the other characters. It’s little wonder that one of the few characters who rang true to me was Jimmy Olsen, the horny teenager:

Jimmy Olsen looks at Vicky Vale while she changes even as his internal monologue is denying this fact.So what’s my point? Why am I showcasing the wretched failings of Frank Miller’s imagination?

Because it’s easy to see. And if we start out by looking and the goddamn Batman as an example of the limits of one person’s imagination when trying to write a variety of characters, then we can slowly expand our critical lens. It’s easy to see when Frank Miller writes women like sexy lamps, but it’s much harder to think about your own writing, and where you have blind spots. Did you just write a woman who has no thoughts or desires outside of the male main character? Are you basing your characters on media stereotypes of their demographics? Did you write a silent black superman wrapped in a Confederate flag?

We live in our own heads, and it’s hard to get outside of them sometimes. Showing your work to a wide variety of people and listening humbly and honestly to criticism is one way to expand your brain-horizons. Working with creators other than yourself, including those outside of your demographic, is another. You can also consider if you’re writing for an audience of people just like you (the men looking at Vicky Vale’s ass; the white folks who want to be soothed about racism), or if you’re writing for a diverse audience.

Spot the Literature

I think my favorite types of literature are those not easily categorized.

I was at Powell’s in Portland recently, which is an overwhelming experience to begin with: it is called “City of Books” for a reason. I asked one of the many information stations where I might find fairy tales. “For adults or for kids?” the employee asked me. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Of course fairy tales are for adults and for kids. “Yes,” I said. “Both.” I didn’t end up visiting the kids’ section because I got far enough over my pre-appointed book limit that I knew I had to cut and run. (Powell’s is dangerous.) But in the section I checked out, the “mythology and folklore” section, I found a lot of great stuff. I picked up a copy of The Turnip Princess, that collection of German tales that was discovered a few years ago; a copy of Elijah’s Violin, one of Howard Schwartz’s excellent collections of Jewish tales, and a copy of Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic, a history of The Arabian Nights.

 

The books I got at Powells. Also some sai. What? Raphael likes to read, too.

The books I got at Powells. Also some sai. Um, because Raphael likes to read, too.

I’d found some relevant things in the Classics section–classical European, Indian, and Japanese texts were there. I picked up a collection of tales about the Emperor Vikramaditya, Some of them, to my mind, fall clearly into the Fairy Tale category: Reynard the Fox, for example. Other things like the Divine Comedy and The Tale of Genji, are not fairy tales but involve mythic and imaginary imagery such as spirit possession, ghosts, the afterlife, and the Devil. So are these fantasy? Are they horror? Can we paint a novel from 1600s Japan and an epic poem from 1300s Italy with the same broad strokes as we do the rest of literature?

A transparent woman stands against vines

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, The Ghost of Genji’s Lover. Woodblock print, 19th century.

One of my favorite games is “spot the genre literature.” Much of what is considered canonical (and we know how I feel about that) involves supernatural, surreal, magical, or uncanny elements that are the hallmarks of popular sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fiction. Kafka. Borges. Marquez. Bulgakov. Shelley. Stoker. And that’s just a smidgeon of the 19th century. In fact, stories about ordinary people are a relatively new invention; myth and tales of larger-than-life heroes have been the foundation of literature for a long time. Tales of Cuchulain, Gilgamesh, Hercules, and Brunhilda were around long before we got Jane Eyre, Leopold Bloom, Captain Ahab, or David Copperfield.

In part I think I defend the supernatural, uncanny, and mythic in literature so hard is because of my devotion to sci fi, fantasy, horror…and comics. Comics is the one form in which I see the strange as being default, and stories set in the “real world” about ordinary people just starting to trickle in. Comics are also something that have an entirely different publishing industry built around them, and are therefore often difficult for bookstores to categorize. I find it amusing to go into a bookstore and ask about comics. I’ve also asked about graphic novels. This was particularly hilarious when I was a teenager in the early 2000s; I had at least one bookstore employee think I was talking about porn.

I’ll admit that I tend to preach the Gospel of Comics According to Scott McCloud, i.e. that “comics” is an umbrella term which covers single-page or single-issue short comics, serialized comics in issues or in bound forms, and graphic novels. I use the term “graphic novel” to refer to a single, self-contained comics story that is published all in one go, such as MAUS, Fun Home, or Black Hole. I write short comics. The longest thing I’ve written is three standard issues long. And yet, here I am with an MFA degree in Graphic Novel (and Fiction).

My most cynical self says that people in academia we refer to “graphic novel” because it sounds more, well, academic than “comics.” Novels are now a thing that we can accept as a legit art form. But the genesis of the novel echoes the genesis of the comic book in terms of popular literature. In his book The Rise of the Novel, scholar Ian Watt discusses the English novel of the 18th century. While books were expensive and literacy was relatively rare, with the advent of industrialization came more leisure time and the beginnings of a middle class with disposable income. Newspapers, chapbooks, and small volumes called duodecimos often printed serialized novels. Most of Charles Dickens’ novels in the 19th century were published serially. Shakespeare’s plays were a popular art form at the time. So I find the 20th/21st century emphasis on Literary Fiction vs Popular Fiction to be a bit of a false dichotomy in the first place.

Am I throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? Clearly, pulp sci-fi novels of the 60s are not the same as Phillip K. Dick novels of the 60s. If these distinctions important, why?

Tell us in the comments, eh?

How I NaNo’d.

This is not so much a “what you should do” list as a “what I did” list.

1. Realize that you have become obsessed with not only superhero comics in general, but you’ve got a couple of your own superheroes in your head.

2. Write down a couple of random scenes. Realize that the overall shape of the thing is about teen superheroes who have a hard time with actual adult life.

3. Do some character sketches. Develop a team. Develop character arcs for each team member.

4. Ignore the project off and on for six months. Sometimes write a scene, sometimes read books that are relevant to what you’re writing, like Marvel’s Supreme Power  or Bryan J.L. Glass’ book Furious or books about the Golem of Prague.

5. Realize that this project is what you want to do for NaNoWriMo, even though it’s a comic book. Decide to do it anyway. Get Scrivener. Realize how good that is for writing comics.

6. Go for the 50K word count, realizing how ridiculous an idea that is even as you realize that 1,667 words is between 5 and 8 comic book pages.

7. Write three issues no problem, struggle through a further two. Shake your head as you juggle the now fourteen named characters plus surprise Nikola Tesla, and three separate time periods. And that you’re gonna have to do even more research than you have done on certain subjects (the kabbalah/qabalah, reading written Hebrew, neighborhoods of Brooklyn, how Interpol works, mach speed system, etc).

8. Increasingly freak out as you realize that 50K just isn’t happening.

9. Realize that there is actually a whole community of people like you, and they are called “NaNo Rebels.” They have alternate goals intended for scripts. There are even other people writing comics, and by the way, even though you only have barely 30K words, you already won by either the 100-page script goal or the 20K script goal. Also realize that a good NaNo script goal is to write a trade-paperback-worth of comics, i.e. 5 or 6 issues.

10. Decide to go to seven issues because you just figured out  a major plot arc and how it works.

11. Keep pressing on, even though you actually have no artist, and no idea the destiny of this project. Sometimes you have to just write a thing because it’s in you and needs to get out.

***

In case you were wondering what my actual comic book scripts look like, let me show you them.

First off, I outline. As I mentioned long ago in this link roundup, I really enjoy the Cullen Bunn plot-to-script method of first outlining the scenes, breaking them down into pages, and then writing the actual pages. Scrivener makes the outline pretty easy:

Outline for my first issue

It’s not a completely linear process. Sometimes I have a scene that I’ll retroactively add into the outline, sometimes I’ll change the outline a few times during the process of writing an issue.

Either way, each page of comic script has two main bits, just like a film script: a description of what you see, and dialogue/captions in lieu of a description of what you hear.

A page from Issue Two

A page from Issue Two

I’m still learning a lot about writing comics, particularly how much detail to put on each page, and which bits I need to repeat or tell differently for the sake of the artist (keeping in mind they don’t work in a linear fashion always, and some artists don’t like panel breakdowns). But by the end of the month, I’ll have  150ish pages of practice, so that’s a thing.

And isn’t practice of some kind what a good NaNoWriMo is all about?

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.

Obsessions and Golems

Gosh. I could write about things that aren’t stock photos OR classic epic poetry today. Huh. That being said, if you’re craving some classics, follow me on Twitter (@AnneBeanTweets) for my occasional live-tweets while reading Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Also, even though Stock Photo Hell is dead, long live Stock Photo Hell. The link there is about a video/PR campaign by the Republican party that disastrously backfired, not only because they used the hashtag #IAmARepublican but because the video seems to have been made almost entirely of stock photos. And as the Republican party trying to say how your members are diverse and interesting when in reality you searched “smiling Indian doctor” on iStockphoto.com for an image to use? Cheeeeesy.

Seriously, though: caveat scriptor. Whatever you write about will come back to haunt you in weird ways, like being sent endless Disney Princess memes, being acutely aware of stock photos, or finding Google Glass creepily similar to the dystopian novel you wrote a few years back.

But for real, in terms of my writing obsessions, can we talk about fairy tales? Specifically, can we talk about Jewish tales and legends?! Because they are the coolest. There are rampaging golems, vampires, a weaponized alphabet, demonesses stalking people from behind mirrors, magical artifacts, ghosts that possess the living (dybbuk), and more! A great starting place is to check out Howard Schwartz’s books of Jewish tales, such as Elijah’s Violin and Lilith’s Cave.

cover of The Golem by NeugroschelRecently I’ve been reading a collection of golem stories translated by Joachim Neugroschel. The book contains multiple stories by multiple folks including the classic 1921 play by H. Leivick. Right now I’ve been going through stories originally published by Yudl Rosenberg in 1909 that detail the exploits of the golem as raised by Rabbi Leyb of Prague. Rabbi Leyb, a.k.a. The Maharal, was a badass Rabbi/wizard who did subversive and heroic things to protect the Jews of Prague. The number one thing that endangered the Jews was the blood libel, i.e. Christians planting copious quantities of blood and/or the bodies of dead children in Jewish houses/the Jewish ghetto in order to convince everyone that Jews killed children. Never mind where the Christians were getting all these child-corpses from. (In one of the tales, a particularly nutty priest who’s been in a long feud with Rabbi Leyb actually kills a child to use in the blood libel. He is defeated by the golem and exposed for his fraud.)

So, for those of you who are not as obsessive about this stuff as me, a golem is a creature made of clay and brought to life by inscribing the word “emet” or “truth” in Hebrew on its forehead. In order to “kill” a golem, one rubs out the first letter of the word so that it reads “met” or “dead.” The golem cannot speak, and is inhumanly strong. I knew all this, coming into the Rosenberg stories. What I didn’t know was that the Golem of Prague had a name and occasionally got up to wacky hijinks. Joseph the Golem, a.k.a. the Golem of Prague, was one part protector and one part domestic servant. In fact, this one time there was an awkward situation where the Rabbi’s wife forgot to turn off the golem after she’d asked him to carry water and over flowed the…wait, doesn’t that sound a little bit familiar?

Mickey Mouse in Disney's Sorcerer's ApprenticeApparently, as Neugroschel mentions in the introduction to the book, Goerthe based his symphonic poem on the golem story, and the rest, as they say, is history. I find it interesting to track where golem mythos shows up in modern culture, from The Thing (Ben Grimm is Jewish) to incarnations in The X Files and Sleepy Hollow.

cover to Saga of the Swamp Thing #11, featuring the golem

An actual golem showed up in Saga of the Swamp Thing #11.

 

That’s all I’ve got. Join me next week for one or more of my usual obsessions: fairy tales, feminism, writing craft, and/or comics. Oh my.

Blogging on Tour

Blogging on Tour: My Writing Process

I was graciously invited by the luminous Ti Kendrick Hall of What if the Shape is a Rose? to join in a blog tour that explores writing process. It’s a bit like a chain letter except vastly more interesting and full of tasty tidbits of writer’s obsessions and processes. A few of the others on tour have included:

 

Without further ado:

1) What are you working on?

Currently, I’m working on a short story for the forthcoming pen and paper role-playing game, Strange Voyages, which has been described as “Star Trek meets the Age of Exploration.” I’m writing a story set in Cuba in 1544 during the height of triangle trade and the beginnings of Santeria.

In 2013, I finished my MFA thesis for Goddard College, entitled Behind the Magic Mirror, an ambitious combination of short stories and comic scripts that each retold a fairy tale. Two of the short stories have been picked up for publication: “Iron Henry” appeared in the Fall 2011 Pitkin Review and “Lilith’s Mirror” appeared in the 2013 anthology from Dark Opus Press, Tell Me A Fable.

I pretty much always have some sort of retold fairy tale going on, either in the form of a short story or a comic. At the moment I am working with several artists on short comics that retell tales from the Grimm brothers, Nez Perce legend, and The Arabian Nights.  I’m always on the lookout for artists who have the same obsession with weird fairy tales that I do.

I have also been working on a superhero comic, which is one part love letter to superhero comics and one part critique. A Teen Titans/X-Men-esque team of teenage heroes defeated this menacing alien invasion…this story is set ten years later, when the heroes have grown up, settled down, and really, truly, deeply suck at young adulthood.

2) How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre? 

In terms of fairy tale retellings, my tales are not blithe parody (Cinderella doesn’t need a man so she opens a shoe store omg!) nor simple setting-shifted retellings (Snow White in SPAAACE!). Oftentimes I find hidden content or untold sides of the stories to explore. Why is Rumplestiltskin so obsessed with babies? What’s with all the maimed women? Can anyone else see these tales’ queer content? Sometimes my tales are more like sequels to the original tale, sometimes they are like hidden facets of the story. I strive to maintain the open-ended weirdness that the original tales have.

As for the superhero comic…it’s not Watchmen. It’s not The Incredibles. It’s not Promethea. It’s not even a convenient combination of the three. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a superhero comic like the one I’m writing, which is more or less why I’m writing it.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Aside from the above?

I write comics because I have profound love for the medium; I think comics can tell stories in ways that no other genre can. I also enjoy the collaborative aspect of making comics; as someone whose drawing skill is…say not as developed as my writing skills…I’ve had a good time working with others to realize my comics.

I write about fairy tales and superheroes because I obsess over them. I find both examples of profound cultural mythology that affects the way people tell themselves the stories of their own lives. I like looking at culturally ubiquitous literature like Dante’s Inferno as well, as you may have guessed from Stock Photo Hell. Watch out for me on Twitter (@AnneBeanTweets), because I have been live-Tweeting Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Fairy tales and myth in particular have this bizarre and tasty weirdness to them. They are simultaneously empowering and problematic. They are psychologically profound and lasting, sources of cultural commonality. At the same time, there’s straight-up weird imagery like a bear with iron fur, a young woman dressing in the skin of an old woman, a killer butterfly, a goddess who returns to her scorned ex-husband buckets full of all the semen he’s ever spilled in her… Furthermore, I marvel at the recurring themes that transcend cultures and continents: the countless women with missing hands or limbs, the animal husbands, the miraculous babies. Once you start digging into fairy tales, I’ve found, you open a well into deep cultural consciousness. It is, as the old woman said, turtles all the way down.

4) How does your writing process work?

I have recently re-engaged with the Julia-Cameron-brand morning pages, i.e. three pages of longhand brain drain writing in the morning. These are great. They reduce the amount of time I spend hyperventilating and staring and a blank page or blinking cursor by at least half.

I write most of my drafts longhand. I like to sketch out character arcs and story structures for longer pieces. I find writing in groups to be helpful; I have several groups dedicated to writing practice, and I host a group that does focused exercises and timed freewrites. I edit on the computer, usually with the input of beta readers. Frankly, it’s harder to write when I’m not in the comfy structure of an MFA program. Self-imposed deadlines are tough. This is why I write with others.

In terms of comics, I write scripts with pages and panels, but I don’t mind if my artists ignore the paneling and make up their own. About half of the time I write whatever script has popped into my brain; the other half of the time I write specifically for an artist who has agreed to work with me.

***

Next Wednesday, July 16th, check out the next group of radsauce writers:

Mick Harris

Mick Harris is a poet living in the SF East Bay. They have an MFA, but their education is far from over. They’re mostly friendly, and definitely happy to be here. You can find their work in Pink Litter and the Up, Do anthology available from Spider Road Press (http://www.spiderroadpress.com), as well as forthcoming in Fruitapulp, Deep Water Literary Review, and Digging Through the Fat. They share poetry and general brain dump at http://www.positivelysocialsix.wordpress.com.

MM Jordahl

M.M. Jordahl is a writer, blogger and feminist endlessly fascinated with the intersection of social issues and popular fiction. She has a degree in creative writing from the University of Washington in Seattle, and primarily writes science fiction and fairytales, with frequent deviations to complain about TV shows on her blog. You can find her at mmjordahl.com, or on Twitter at @mmjordahl.

 

Geek Girl Con 2013

Seattle has a lot of cons, many of them very quality and wildly popular. ECCC is becoming a contender for major US comic con alongside NYCC and SDCC. PAX sold out in nine minutes and packed the entire convention center. But this past weekend was the Seattle con that has my heart the most: Geek Girl Con. I have heard (male) friends describe the best part of going to PAX is “being with my people.” And for reals, GeekGirlCon is my people, even more so than any other con.

BW-mtojCAAAGb5B.jpg_large

Pretty sure the guy on the left won the costume contest. On the right is cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch.

How do I describe GeekGirlCon? Do I talk about the gender distribution: maybe 75% women, 25% men? Do I talk about how much more visible queer geeks, geeks of color, and geeks with disability were than at other cons? Do I talk about the high quality of cosplay, the seriously good panels, or the interesting bits that other cons don’t have, like the DIY Science section or the networking section? I dunno, maybe cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch said it best:

 

I just hope everyone else had as good a time as I did. This con was a game changer for me, and I mean that sincerely. #geekgirlcon

— ★ Chaka ★ (@princessology) October 20, 2013

 

There’s just nothing else like it! Here’s a quick rundown of Interesting Things from the con:

The first panel I went to was about female characters in videogames. The panel was well-chosen: two game designers, Shoshanna Kessock and Kimberly Voll, and two gamers/critics, Anita Sarkeesian and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry. They talked about how to make good female characters. (Protip: Agency. Making choices that affect things in a meaningful manner.) They talked about the difference between choose-your-own-gender games and games where there is a female that you must play. They talked about the silly double-standards revolving around emotions: women have too many, men have none or maybe one. Douchey game developers have argued that women have too many, and even that anger (the only male emotion obvs) is just easier to animate than more complex emotional states. Shoshanna Kessock said she’d actually heard an argument against female “must-play” characters that goes like this: “Why would men be able to feel through the avatar of a woman?” I think if we could determine why many men wouldn’t be able to feel through the avatar of a woman, or if those men could figure it out for themselves, then we’d actually be on our way to a more just society. Not just in games and geek culture, but in general. To me, avatars and empathy is an example of the positive power of games.
Later in the day, I went to a panel entitled “Rule 63 Cosplay,” about genderbent cosplay. The presenters were my buddy from childhood (no kidding) and cosplayer extraordinaire, Torrey Stenmark, and turbo-experienced cosplayer Jonnalyhn Wolfcat Prill. They highlighted the difference between crossplay and gender-swapped cosplay. Crossplay is where one dresses as an differently-gendered character attempting to look like that character’s gender.

Jareth, the Goblin King (Torrey Stenmark)

On the other hand, genderswapping is where one dresses as a version of a character that is as if that character had been written a different gender.

tumblr_ms5cxgBxMq1sam2qwo1_1280

Steph Rodgers, Captain America. (Torrey Stenmark)

The radsauce Kelly Sue DeConnick gave a fantastic spotlight presentation where she talked about her upcoming title, Pretty Deadly, and a host of other topics. Kelly Sue is so smart, down-to-earth, and genuine in her presentation. I am consistently impressed by her as a writer and a human being. She talked a lot about Captain Marvel as well. She had a simple, humble moment of apologizing for screwing up by not putting in a black servicewoman into the Banshee Squadron. It’s an idea she’d gotten and discarded because it seemed unrealistic to her at the time. “I have these women with guns that they somehow know how to use fighting aliens in the South Pacific,” she said. She was saddened to later realize that she’d found a black servicewoman somehow *less* realistic. “I screwed up,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.” God damn, I wish more creators and cultural curators could/would do that when they screw up. What a world that would be.

When Trade Secrets! reviewed Captain Marvel, incidentally, one thing we weren’t so hot on was the time travel aspect to the story–the pacing felt a little weird to us. I now know the heart-wrenching reason why she did a time travel story right off the bat: she really wanted to get to the banshee squadron and some of Carol’s relationship with Helen Cobb, but was also convinced that the story would be cancelled after six issues. So she got what she wanted to write about most done up front. I, for one, am glad that Captain Marvel didn’t get canceled after six issues. I heard several women talking about how they started reading comics because of the title–wow. We need this. Representation matters.

Lastly, let me give you a beautiful gift that Kelly Sue DeConnick gave the audience: The Sexy Lamp Test.

Deluxe Lit Leg Lamp mediumThis is a good test of whether or not your (female) characters have agency. It goes like this: “If you have a female character and you could replace her with a sexy lamp and the plot still works, then FUCK YOU.” *Cough* I mean, then re-examine her, give her a real purpose and like maybe a character arc or something, give her some agency, and let her choices matter.

 

So, GeekGirlCon! There are important conversations about women and race and disability and all kinds of neat things! There’s a lot of rad cosplay! There is actual science! There is a non-creepy vibe! (And yes, you can totally come if you’re a dude. Aside from it being FUN, it’d be a good exercise in what-is-it-like-to-be-female-at-most-other-cons.) It is a magical place. See y’all next year.

 

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.

nimonabanner

And I was MIGHTILY PLEASED!

nim17_2

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.

Genre Fiction Gets Personal

tamora pierce with quote

Tamora Pierce

I once asked YA fantasy author Tamora Pierce how she dealt with writing genre work in a literary scene that often devalues any work not considered “literary,” read non-speculative. She just waved a hand dismissively. “I try not to pay too much attention to the navel-gazers,” she told me.

Seattle is a good town for me because the voices of the navel-gazers have been turned down to a dull roar. Sure, sometimes I see stuff that fills me with righteous rage, like Small Press Distribution’s impressive lumping together of all the genres:

Our emphasis is on contemporary poetry, non-mainstream fiction, literary translations and literary or arts-oriented criticism and literary nonfiction. (We don’t carry genre publishers—thrillers, sci-fi, romance; self-help or “inspirational” books; technical or academic specialty publications; children’s books; or monthly or weekly ad-driven glossy magazines.)

…and then I want to scream about the “literary” and “non-mainstream” fiction that is technically science fiction, fantasy, or has overly supernatural elements that they probably consider canon: George Orwell’s 1984. Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I could go on. There’s a whole soapbox in the corner of my office dedicated to my rant about why “comics” should be preferred nomenclature over “graphic novel,” particularly as someone who writes short comics…”graphic short stories”…what. the hell. academia. Aaand I’m back. Moving on.

My point here is not O Damn The Mainstream, It Ignores Us Sometimes. I want to talk about things that genre fiction can do, sneakily or overtly, that are really neat. There’s been plenty of discussion about how hero’s journey stories help us conceptualize our own journeys or provide catharsis… There’s been talk of how, by looking and things that are not human, we can have a better concept of what it means to be human… But today, I want to talk about the ability of genre fiction to tell a deeply personal story, sort of the counterpoint to the “escapism” that science fiction and fantasy are often accused of being.

My Goddard advisor Susan Kim first got me looking at how genre stories can be personal in a workshop about the movie High Noon.

 

Gary Cooper in High Noon

Gary Cooper in High Noon

High Noon, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is the tale of a sheriff of a small town who knows the outlaws are comin’ in on the noon train and is desperately searching for allies to help him fight them. A lot about High Noon tips genre conventions on their collective ears: the women are active, smart participants in the story; the sheriff can’t find anyone to help him; and the end is not a O.K. Corral-style gunfight, but rather a guerrilla warfare situation with a lot of running and hiding.

Here’s the kicker: Carl Foreman, the writer of High Noon, was blacklisted for Communism while he was writing the film. He knew would never make another movie in Hollywood, or really anywhere in 1950s America. So he wrote an intensely personal story. Foreman, like his protagonist, was on a desperate search for allies, and found none. In the film, the sheriff lives against all odds; perhaps Foreman was doing his best to give himself a hopeful ending as well.  Foreman moved to England and kept writing, producing ten films. In 1956, with another blacklisted writer, he wrote Bridge Over the River Kwai, a film that would win the 1957 Best Picture Oscar with nary a mention of either of the screenwriters’ names. Foreman’s influence in the British film community continued for many years; even if he “had to leave town,” as the sheriff does in High Noon, he did okay elsewhere.

 

valis

Sometimes the personal in genre fiction is pretty blatant, like Phillip K. Dick wrestling with his mystic (or religious…or hallucinogenic…or psychotic…depends who you ask) experiences on the page. Themes from his personal life show up in many of his novels, but particularly VALIS. Check out this comic by R. Crumb for more details.

What I find interesting about Dick’s work is that not only does he have some directly autobiographical novels like VALIS, but the themes that he obsessed with in his personal life echo through all of his work. Sure, you say, most people write about what obsesses them. But Dick couldn’t have expressed what was happening to him without delving into alternate realities, dystopian drugs, and psychic entities. In my estimation, there is a lot of human experience that needs extraordinary circumstances to be told. Dick didn’t just need to write a drug novel, for example. (Although he did write a lot about drugs…however, his so-called “classic LSD novel,” The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, was written before he’d ever taken LSD. So make of that what you will.) Dick needed to write from his personal experience of reality, or lack thereof.

 

Also, you can cosplay her and have as much skin covered as most male superheroes. Bonus.

Also, you can cosplay her and have as much skin covered as most male superheroes. Bonus.

And in more recent literature, I just read the first trade paperback of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s run on Captain Marvel. It’s the story of Carol Danvers, former head of S.H.I.E.L.D., who has become super-powered through an accident involving the former Captain Marvel. She spends the story arc figuring out how and if she wants to take on the mantle (and specifically the name) of Captain Marvel. Danvers ends up getting connected with her heritage (in the form of a mentor and a team of WWII female pilots) and coming to the place where she’s ready to go forth and Captain.

What does this have to do with Kelly Sue, though? Somehow, the tale of a woman figuring out how she fits in and can hold power in a traditionally male-dominated industry seems relevant. Deconnick has had to deal with more than her fair share of shit for being a woman writing comics, particularly for the Big Two, particularly since she is married to a man who also writes for Marvel. Of course she’d been writing for years before her marriage, but still people consider her career to be some sort of remora-fish of her husband’s. It’s truly appalling. Here, I’ll let her rant about it for me.

 

 

In conclusion, I submit that genre writing is no less personal than prose without speculative elements. It’s yet another way to do what poet Nikky Finney calls “coming in through the window,” and in come in through the window of your (life, obsessions, emotions) in order to get them on the page rather than busting down the door.

Older posts

© 2017 Anne Bean

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑