Friday, August 31, 2012

Now I get it

It is time now to start shifting into writing about the graphic novel, still awkward since I have not finished it yet. There are a few posts that I can definitely safely do before having it completed and posted, though I hope the long weekend sees some progress.

Also, it is an election year, and now that the convention is past, all of the coffers can be unloosed (previously only funds raised for the primary could be spent), so I am expecting an inundation of ugly, ugly ads that will make me curse the names of Koch and Adelson and raise my generally low blood pressure. There may end up being some political posts, is all I’m saying.

Speaking of awkward, when I was writing earlier about this project, I believe I expressed some embarrassment about feeling a need to create fan fiction with no commercial value. The need was there, so I was going to do it anyway, and I was going to do a good job of it, but it seemed so pointless.

I justified it as needing to get it out of my system, but also as a way to get back into writing. I had not done any screenplay writing since October or November of 2010. This way I could get back into the habit, and if I was rusty or weird it didn’t matter, because it was not going anywhere. Now I think there is more to it.

I got on Facebook in late 2008, shortly after coming back from Australia.  I had been blogging since late 2005. What you may not know is that about a year before that I had started on a writing project that had been poking at me for quite a while.

I called the document “Everything”, because it really was. I went over my faith, my fears, my family, and other things that did not begin with F. I had the feeling it would end up being about 200 pages, and it ended up being almost exactly that, except one page is a table of contents, which I added on about halfway through, when I realized I would never be able to find anything.

I have said before that writing is therapeutic for me, and cathartic, and little bits of writing here and there were helpful, but this spoke to a need for me to feel unified. It was about whom I was, and was I even being the person I wanted to be, and a lot of it was about seeing myself clearly and working out junk.  Mainly, though, I just felt it was something I needed to do.

Obviously, it took a while, and I could not even tell you how long. I have some dates scattered here and there for some parts, but it was spread out. What I do know is that within a few days of finishing I had the dream that became Jade Mask. That was my first screenplay, and over the next two years or so, I wrote six screenplays and a television pilot and workup. And of course, then things changed around and I fell badly off track.

I have documented the ups and downs of that whole time period, and getting back into it now and how writing to Aaron has helped and the blogging has helped, but getting back into the creative writing side has its own needs, and maybe one of the biggest needs is to work through the emotional static so the reception can be clearer.

One reason I mentioned the timelines for starting the blog and starting Facebook is that there was something I did with the blog before going to Australia that felt very important, and that was going over my romantic history. Romantic history implies something it wasn’t, because generally it was only what I felt, with no follow through or reciprocation. Anyway, that was an important part of “Everything”, and then it felt very important to blog it, and I felt like I needed to finish it before we left on the trip.

I believe the reason I felt like I needed to get it done then was because soon I would be connecting with these people again through Facebook, and while I knew there was a chance some people could stumble upon the blog before, if I had been in touch with people when I was writing it, the pressure would have felt too great. Recently I went through it again, though that was more about my emotional state than individuals.

The point I am trying to make is that there is a cycle to our periods of growth. I remember a friend expressing frustration once that she thought she was done with something, and here it was again, but that is so normal. Even if you face your problems and weaknesses head one right away, you can still only deal with them at the current level of your maturity and experience and knowledge. Yes, those things should grow during the struggle, and that may be more noticeable growth, but the life continues and your horizons expand, and you deepen, and suddenly you find there are corners you have not explored.  You make peace with an issue to the level of your ability, and then you have more ability and it’s time for another round. If you think that’s frustrating, try repeating things over and over again without the growth.

Anyway, what I am getting too is that “Danger Days” is the new “Everything”. It’s different in that it is fictional, and yet all of me is coming out, and I am working through things, and I suspect it’s going to unleash another sustained period of productivity. And so I am impatient that I am still not done, and yet I am also cherishing this time and this new round of growth.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Not only did Julie, Maria, and I recently go see “Jersey Boys”, but we also saw “Wicked” when it was in town. We may have been the only three people in the theater who did not enjoy it. (My sisters did like Jersey Boys.)

Seriously, the crowd was laughing and clapping and oohing and having a great time. I know a lot of my snobbier acquaintances complain about how Portland audiences are too easy, and give unearned standing ovations, so that could be a factor, or the problem could be me. Well, us, in this case. Towards the end, my sisters needed to go to the bathroom, and they just didn’t come back. I stuck it out, but did notwait for all the curtain calls, because I am evil. (But I am not “Wicked”.)

There are a few reasons it did not work for me. I didn’t mind the steampunk angle. It is a little played out by now, but it is a look that fits in well with Oz, and I didn’t mind that.

What probably would have made everything better is if the music had been great. I remember Maria watching the “Hairspray” DVD, and I was working something so I only caught bits of it, but that music totally got under my skin, and I ended up listening to various songs over and over. There was nothing like that in “Wicked”. “Defying Gravity” got close, but did not make it.

What really got me though was the way it assassinated the characters of everyone you knew and loved from Oz. Okay, I did not just see the movie—I have also read several of the books by L. Frank Baum, so it is a little close to my heart. I don’t mind the idea of giving the Wicked Witch more of a backstory, and developing her character, but couldn’t it have been done without doing dirt to everyone else?

I should have agreed with the messages of equality and justice, but they were too clumsy and heavy-handed, and again, unnecessary character assassination. Yes, if you humanize someone who has a bad end, it can make that end unsatisfactory, so they turned that around, but it was not worth it.

I think the real problem is that Gregory Maguire is a nasty little man, and it came through in the novel, and infected the musical, which needed better music, dialogue, and performance.

The reason I am mentioning this now is to go into the counterpoint to yesterday’s post. The hangups of the writer manifest in the writing, but also the hangups of the reader manifest in the reading.

I noticed this early on (though I did not understand it), when I started reading Bantam Classics. They always included a helpful foreword with literary analysis, and I always disagreed with whatever the analyst was saying. No, that is not it at all. If Mister Rochester is now safe for Jane because he has been castrated, why is it that now he can have children? Look, if he says he was in love with Priscilla and not Xenobia, I believe him. He never acted like he was in love with Xenobia. And going back to Jane Eyre, no, he would not have to have syphilis himself and risk infecting Jane because Bertha was cheating on him after the marriage and she could have contracted it after he had stopped sleeping with her.

Actually, Jane Eyre is a good bridge to the other part of this: parallel fiction. Sometimes readers have such strong reactions to novels that they need to write other novels explaining that everything was wrong.  Therefore, you have books where Maxim De Winter actually truly did love Rebecca, and killed himself to be with her again, and Bertha Mason was a spirited girl driven mad by her husband’s harshness and racial prejudice, and Grendel was not nearly as much of a monster as the people he ate, and Lolita was truly the seducer and controller in the relationship with Humbert Humbert, because you know how sophisticated 12 year old girls are.

I get loving work and being inspired by it, but it seems odd to be when the inspiration seems to be to discount everything that happened. Well, maybe they actually hated the original works, and felt the need to correct them. It seems disrespectful though.

Of course, the obvious point is that even when you enjoy a novel, you may not be enjoying it in the way the author intended. I guess it’s just a chance we have to take. But when you read something and you feel affection for the author, like you could be best friends, it’s not impossible. There could totally be compatibility, or it could all be a delusion.

The fun part of all of this is a lot of my writing about writing makes me feel like my current project is crazy, or at least ill-advised. I think it’s not though, so I will see if I can make a case for that tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bad Writing

You can have a relatively good grasp on the English language, and still write poorly. This may mean you are a bad person.

Okay, that’s a little too harsh. I am thinking about other creative writing I have read. Personality comes through in expository writing also, but interesting things come out in fiction.

In writing about fan fiction specifically, I think I have mentioned (besides the obsession with sex, though apparently that makes it specifically “slash” fiction) that there is often too much emphasis on how special the protagonist is.

When it’s written by a teenager, that makes perfect sense. That’s a time in life when you are trying to establish your identity and find your strengths, and your direction in life, and if that ends up playing out with a bit of popular culture that resonates with the writer, that’s fine. It’s normal. One hopes that at some point the writers will develop an understanding of their unique worth, developing their talents and working through weaknesses, and learn that each person is special, and they don’t need to be more special than anyone else, but that’s a lot of maturity and it takes time. It takes time to develop writing skills too, though, so it works out.

Sadly, this maturity does not always happen. I am thinking of writing I have read. It was not fan-fiction. It was also not published. It was just stuff that people wrote to be creative, and maybe they had thoughts of doing things with it somewhere down the road, but it was not very good. I may or may not be related to these people.

The one writer only had three short pieces. One was an essay, and the other two were short fiction about a rabbit. The fiction showed a lack of judgment regarding puns and repetitions, going far too long with one list, and not being funny, even though they were totally supposed to be funny. All of them displayed some resentment, and some concern over specialness, which was unfortunate for an adult male. Those things totally made sense if you knew the person, because that’s how he was in life.

The other had a few short stories and some poems. I remember my initial impression was just being shocked at some of the content, because I thought we had the same morals, and yet her characters did not act in a way reflecting that.

What strikes me more looking back is how often things changed. When the singer got into drugs, first it was shady maneuvering on the part of the bad boy, and then it was totally an accident, that he never intended, and he wasn’t so shady and the other love interest wasn’t so good, and then she was a burnout and then she was not and there was just no consistency. The other story was like that too, where the father was bewitched, or just evil, and the heroine was strong and plucky, but just really needed to rely on the hero. 

Again, when you know the writer, that makes perfect sense. She has no core, and so she floats around a lot, trying to find what works in the moment, and I know that now, and I figured it out long after reading her writing, but I hadn’t realized how far back it went. When I was a teenage girl and she was a young adult, I didn’t know it, but it was there.

Some of it I relate to. I totally get the paradox of the desire to have a strong heroine, and yet the allure of a rescue. At some point though, you realize that you can’t always have it both ways. Having the heroine rush into the burning building, and get people out, but then what? She goes back in and gets smoke inhalation? She almost made it out, but not quite? If the need for a rescue means she did something stupid, I don’t want it. You just can’t have it both ways all the time, and independence and competence are good.

To be fair, part of that for me was realizing that no one is coming to rescue me, and I just better be strong and independent on my own.  And it’s not that it never makes sense for the hero to swoop in on a white horse—sometimes it does. Unfortunately, this particular person has never moved beyond wanting other people to fix things for her, and most of the time it is stuff that it is not even possible for someone else to fix.

Even reading her recent poetry, there is no center. Things go back and forth, and they follow a pattern of kind of how things should be, but it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work in the same way she doesn’t work.

I know all of this sounds very harsh, and well, it is kind of a fraught relationship, but my point is that personality and character and opinion bleeds into your writing in ways that you are not even aware of. It is a very personal thing to share your writing, because hey, that’s me there, and yet the urge is there to share. Of course, the readers are bringing their own selves into it also, with interesting results there too, so hey, that’s just human relationships, with the regular set of human complications, which I will probably write about tomorrow.

In the meanwhile, there is a moral to this story, that I absolutely want to share, and it’s not just for writers. You can’t get away from yourself, so you better be someone that you can live with.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Literacy Matters

I really love getting comments on my blog posts, and generally my policy is to publish all non-spam comments. I got one today that I am not publishing, though, and the reasons for that kind of fit into something that I have been thinking about, so it all works well.

The post comment was on my “Donald Trump is a Big Fat Idiot” post, and it said something to the effect that I spent all these words saying that he was right, and then I say that the it will not really be used by members of Congress because they already have health care and this will affect the uncovered more, but millionaires will be forced to join, and my post is shameful propaganda, or something like that. It was not as coherent as it could have been, which was a big part of my decision not to publish.

I mean, obviously I disagreed, but normally I will still publish the comment and then I will write a response. With a recent post I would probably still have done that, but that was from July 2nd. The biggest issue, though, was that the demonstrated lack of reading comprehension made me feel that my efforts to clarify would be wasted. There are ways in which the Affordable Care Act affects everyone, including members of Congress and millionaires, but not the way a lot of people think, and there could be some room for explanation there. If you can read that post and think I am saying that the quote is correct, any further explanation is clearly useless.

There are a lot of stupid ideas out there, with many sad reasons, but I have been thinking about how important language is in the processing of information. Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said that “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” That probably is true, but there is more to that. I’m just going to tell a bunch of stories here.

One thing I remember from my class at the Missionary Training Center is that we had one elder who was native Lao. He was very immature, and did not seem too bright (I know, not uncommon with 19-year old boys, but even for that), but as we progressed in our study of Laotian, he really seemed to become smarter. Once in the mission field, you spend a certain amount of hours doing community service, and one thing we did for a while was tutoring a little Lao girl in Laotian. That school found that when you give ESL students instruction in their native language, they do better across the boards.

What it taught me is that when you don’t get firmly grounded in one language, it is hard to get grounded in anything. I saw this with other Lao teenagers. Often then would speak in English to their parents, and be answered in Lao, and it worked for basic family communication, but there were a lot of things that were hard for them to express, especially with emotional or spiritual issues.

The other thing that reinforced that is something that President Houck said. They had a son who was deaf, and President Houck never really had any major callings while this son was growing up. He felt like he could do more, and he wondered why he wasn’t asked, but it came to him that right now the important thing was signing to his son so this his son understood everything that was going on.

I had read an article around that time about a deaf girl who had missed out on lots of things in church, so that it was a surprise to her when she was in high school to learn that she would see her dead grandfather again. His service kept his son better-informed and progressing, and later on he ended up being one of the missionaries who opened up the British Sign Language mission. President Houck obviously became a mission president, and had been a stake president before that, and I’m sure has served in lots of ways, but at that time the most important service he could give was to  his son.

So many people, especially as budget issues become worse, talk about focusing education so that it basically prepares people for the workforce, but there is a lot to be said for preparing people for life. That involves the study of language, and rhetoric, and civics and art and all sorts of other things, but I am focusing on the language because that’s kind of my thing, and it is also the building block to everything else. Even just the ability to understand your emotions, we do that through language.

That brings me to my last story. My senior year in college there was a guy in my seminar who could not form coherent thoughts about the material, or lots of things, actually. You could see that he felt he understood the information, and he probably did feel some clicks of understanding as he read, but then when he needed to talk about it the words would not come. He ended up dropping out of school.

I had recommended he try journal writing, just to build up habits of finding words and building thoughts, and I hope he took that, or something else worked out, because it wasn’t that he was dumb. He just couldn’t express himself. And that is a tragedy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Good reasons to not write about sex

Perhaps the best reason not to write about sex is that it is really hard to do so without sounding either vulgar or idiotic. At one extreme we have quivering distaffs, thrusting manhoods, and bursting chausses, and at the other end, nothing I’m going to repeat.

Certainly it is common for people to have difficulty talking about it, but one of my clear memories of high school is in health class one guy just looking at me because he could not believe what I had just said. It was not that I had said anything really dirty, but that I could talk about it without being embarrassed. I think I owe a lot of this to my mother.

Now, in all fairness, her early attempts to educate me were somewhat plagued by the difficulty of speaking clearly about sex. When I asked how babies were made, she told me that the man plants a seed in the woman, which is true, but I was fairly literal minded and thought that you had to buy the seeds. My sisters later found this hilarious, and wanted to know if I thought they were tomato or corn seeds. No, I knew they were baby seeds. I even understood where they were planted, but I was really mistaken on the rest.

For technical details, those came from the book “Where Did I Come From”, borrowed from the same neighbor who had all the comic books. Later augmented by health class, all of my mechanical understanding came from there.

Where my mother did really well was in not being embarrassed about sex, or finding it dirty, or trying to change the subject. Yes, I believed it was something for married couples, and still do, but there was never any stigma attached to it. Even if you don’t find sex dirty and bad, acting really embarrassed about it can convey that impression, so being able to be comfortable with the topic is helpful, even if talking about it all the time would be going off the rails in a different direction.

Now, I know that one reason sex is often written about clumsily is that it is done by bad writers, but I also know that there are better writers who have taken it on, and that’s the other disturbing thing that I need to hit on, and it is the tendency to make things nasty. I am going to mention two books by name, and I recommend neither. (And I have only read parts of one, and about the other.)

One example would be The Story of O, by Anne Desclos, where a woman consents to bondage to please her lover, and ends up being passed around, then loving his brother, and being degraded more and more by the brother until finally she asks for permission to die and receives it.

The other is Lost Girls, a pornographic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. In this, Wendy from Peter Pan, Alice from Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz meet up, and their back stories include incest, attempted rape, runaways prostituting themselves and being brutally beaten, and more child abuse.

Oddly, this material seems to work for some relationships. Desclos wrote her novel to impress her lover (successfully), and Moore and Gebbie became engaged during their collaboration. Maybe it doesn’t work to write about a happy husband and wife enjoying a good sexual relationship, because that would feel too much like voyeurism, and I can see how it would, but the directions they do go should not be turn-ons either.

I have tried not to focus too much on the morality of erotic content, because not everyone weighs that equally, and I think there are valid reasons beyond morality for why this sort of content can be harmful.

One key part of my religious beliefs is that none of the commandments are random, but that they are based on what will work towards our happiness and betterment. It may not be possible to write erotically and not tend towards degradation. After all, it is only words, not sex, so it will not have that satisfaction, and perhaps like a drug where you are building tolerance, you keep needing to take it to another level to get the same rush. That would not be a good direction to go. Honestly, I don’t know. We are right around the limits of my knowledge, and I think I already know too much.

One common complaint about the rating system is that sex and nudity is treated as more offensive than violence, when they are beautiful things and violence is bad. That totally makes sense, only I know that for me, sexual images stay with me more than violence. That makes sense too. I have more interesting in physical intimacy than in violence, and that’s probably healthy—there are just too many ways that it can turn unhealthy.

So that’s why I don’t generally watch R-rated movies, or premium cable shows, and why I basically try and be careful what I take into my mind. I want to be healthy emotionally and mentally. I don’t want to get twisted ideas about human relationships (at least not any more than I already do). I want it to be easy to feel inspiration and to live a good life. If that sounds odd to you, at least consider it, because I have found it very valuable.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hurts so good?

Getting back to that one woman’s comments on why she loved 50 Shades of Grey, there were two key points that speak to today’s topic. One is that while some people were condemning the reading of titillating material as something that triggers lustful thoughts, especially when your desire is only supposed to be to your husband, her desire for her husband was doing just fine. I know that some women are reading passages in the book and then sexing up their significant others with whom they are in a loving and committed relationship.

Well, how can you criticize that, right? They aren’t sleeping around or cheating, they are just injecting some extra fire into the existing framework. Still, I suspect there might be a problem, and her other point may help me get there. This was that NotEdward was into the bondage because he had been abused, and that NotBella’s love was part of what healed him, making it a beautiful thing.

(Although if I understand correctly, the healing was that they no longer needed a contract, but they were still going to do the same things. If I am wrong about that, I can live with it. Even just reading the summary for the one book was amazingly tedious.)

My concern here is twofold. The darker part is that I don’t think giving into your deepest impulses is necessarily healing. Let me just say, I can see where people are coming from when they are interested in bondage. In what I have already freely shared about myself, I have serious trust issues where I kind of expect people I love and people who love me (if they can) to hurt me, and I often would really like someone else to just take over. On a day like today, what I really want is for someone to take over all home maintenance responsibilities for me, but yes, I can see the allure of having someone take control in other areas. Apparently most of the time NotBella did not have to do much, and didn’t really have the option to do much, what with being tied up and all.

Here’s the thing though—even merely in the realm of home maintenance responsibility, I can see where giving up my share could be harmful. As tempting as it is sometimes to not want to be the grown-up, ultimately we know there is value in adult responsibilities.

Also, even when a fantasy is understandable, it may clearly be something that would not really be desirable. Romance novels will do some interesting things to make the scenarios not rape, but with a lot of those overtones. I think part of it is just the dominance theme, but also I think it comes from an attempt to have the sex happen but to not have the heroine be slutty. Well, if you think she would be slutty for willingly sleeping with the guy, then don’t have her sleep with him, or write her as a slut, but trying to have it both ways is dishonest in a way that I think is really harmful.

I think I may have just lost coherence, but the point I am trying to get at is that if you want your lover to hurt you, and that works it, it may be convenient but still not good, safe word or not. Maybe it would be better to learn that you don’t deserve to be hurt, and there are people who don’t want to hurt you, and to kind of progress in that direction instead of just enabling each other’s dark sides.

This is a point where people will be offended, because if both parties are satisfied with it, who has a right to judge? First off, I am not judging any specific relationships. I generally do not know details of anyone’s relationships, and that’s just fine. Also, I think of it this way. If someone has an eating disorder, and you are worried about that, that’s not really judging—you just want them to be healthier, and you are worried they are hurting themselves. That’s where I’m coming from, but we get weird about sex.

Wanting people to be healthier leads to the second concern. Often with some things, the issue is not so much that it is terribly bad, but that it keeps you from something better. A woman totally can read about NotEdward and NotBella, and then use that buzz on her husband, and they will probably both enjoy that, but could there be something better if the foreplay occurred with the husband instead of with the book.

I remember a psychologist friend once telling me about a colleague. I can’t remember if the colleague was specifically a sex therapist or just a marriage counselor who had sex come up a lot, but either way 90% of the sexual issues were communication. More recently there was an excellent blog post that was making the rounds about a gay man who is married to a woman and they have a great relationship and are very happy with each other, and they have a great sex life. The can’t rely on raw lust to get there, though, so they have to communicate and think about what they want and what the other one wants, and it ends up working out really well.

This reminded me of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, where Ray and Deborah tried playing a game called Sensuopoly, and Ray thought that he was great with the sex, but that she wanted more romance, but actually she did need different things in the bedroom, but she had a really hard time telling him, because it was embarrassing. Yes, but not as embarrassing as finding out that you’ve been doing it wrong for all those years. I thought it was really well-handled, and a good point.

Anyway, so yes, I will not be reading 50 Shades of Gray, and it does have something to do with my religious beliefs, but there’s more to it than that, and I hope I did not come off as sanctimonious or anything like that. I will try and lighten up a little in the next post, but I can't guarantee it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Between Consenting Adults

I'm on the road, so I have content, but won't be posting as regularly.

Years and years ago I was watching an episode of "Politically Incorrect", with Bill Maher. It was not something I watched habitually, but I remember one of the guests was Kathy Griffin. I did watch "Suddenly Susan", regularly (think of my tastes what you will), and so I was familiar with her, but as someone who did not play the most serious character.

I was very impressed with her because as the topic was going around of possibly hypocritical politicians visiting strip clubs, or prostitution or something like that, and while she was certainly all for what went on between consenting adults being their business, she thought it was important to remember that a lot of those women were incest and abuse survivors.

I don’t really remember them picking up on that conversational thread, but if we take strippers, prostitutes, and porn actresses together, one thing they tend to have in common is starting very young. Certainly, just by virtue of the age issue, statutory rape would be quite common, but often there has been something going on there that is worse.

Maybe they have been abused by a male relative, or maybe they don’t have a male relative, and some predator noticed that vacuum and started grooming them for the trade, but it’s not usually a simple matter of taking an aptitude test and deciding that’s your best career option.

I don’t think I actually know anyone who has worked as a prostitute, but I do know someone who has worked in the porn industry and a surprising number of my schoolmates have worked as strippers, at least for a while. It may be easier to focus on that area specifically, but I’m just going to say that despite varying degrees of legality and commitment, all three of these fields are basically about turning a body into a commodity. Getting a list of a centerfold’s turn-ons does not mean you know her or care about her as a person. I assume the underage aspects are more common with the prostitution because the other two being legal means some regulation, and I know it is not a coincidence. The deliberately seek the young and damaged, because it is hard to get an adult woman with a healthy self-image to sell herself. It's why tobacco companies say they don't target kids, but they do. You have to get them before they know better.

Abuse may not always be a factor. I remember an Emerald article back in my college days about different ways that students earned money, like selling plasma or working at the grocery store, and one of the featured students became a dancer at Jiggles after doing well at Amateur Night. My sisters know a guy who dances at Silverado, and he seems pretty well adjusted. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying that a lot of the girls there got there because their self-worth was whittled away, and what they are doing is probably not building it back up.

From the point of view of a bunch of guys celebrating a bachelor party by getting drunk and watching women gyrate it may seem harmless, and they could even feel good about tipping well. However, what if you knew that the girl you were watching was up there because that was the natural destination that started with molestation when she was a young girl, and included an abusive boyfriend, and that she really felt like this was the only value she had? Do you feel a little bad now? Will tipping bigger bills fix it?

I’ve said I don’t know any prostitutes, but there is a face that haunts me of a girl who worked Blackstone in Fresno while I was on my mission. She looked about fourteen, but they tend to look older, so I am afraid she might have been twelve. All I wanted to do was feed her, and get her off the streets, but I was told it was too dangerous to try and help them because that tended to get them beaten by their pimps. Convince me that it’s a victimless crime.

Maybe this is where women do have some superiority, because they do consume less here, or at least they have historically. The last I knew, about 90% of prostitution customers are male, there are more male magazines, and there are less strip clubs for female customers, where they often have touring groups instead. As far as I know, there is no female equivalent of The Beaver Lodge.

How the internet has changed things up, I have no idea. Obviously e-readers have made some things more accessible with less embarrassment, hence the amazing sales rate of 50 Shades of Grey, though people are buying the hard copy of the book at a fast pace as well. In this case, there are no minors, or really any participants besides the author and the reader, so have we found something where there actually is no harm and no foul? Well, more on that next time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex

This is where I am worried the most about offending, because I am going to be criticizing some things that are very popular right now, and criticizing their popularity. Obviously, I am referring to “Magic Mike” and “50 Shades of Grey”. I have not seen the movie or read the book, and I’m not going to, though I have read about them both, and for what I am going to write, it is not so much about their specific content as themes and trends. So, that’s where I’m coming from.

Some of my more interesting reading came from a friend on Facebook who posted a link to a blog “I will not be reading 50 Shades of Gray”. I thought that was interesting, because I have been surprised at some of the people who have been reading it. I clicked on the post, and, well, it’s not that her points were bad so much as they were made in such a self-righteous, supercilious manner that it was pulling the wrong reaction from me—you know, like those anti-smoking commercials that make me want to start.

I was fairly solitary in my feelings. Of course, it being a Christian woman site, there were many supportive comments, with people sharing how they felt the same way, or had just decided that they needed to give up television to avoid bad influences, or how they felt sorry for those other women who were reading it.

One of the dissenting comments was especially interesting. She criticized the judging, which is also in the Bible as something not to do, that since the girl is still a virgin upon graduating from college she is clearly moral, the guy suffered horrific abuse and this was his healing process, besides which he was a total romantic, always opening doors and offering jackets, and finally, this was completely different from porn and her desire for her husband was doing just fine.

There is so much wrong there, it is hard to know where to start. One thought is that even if you managed to make it untouched through college graduation, but then shortly thereafter you essentially signed a prostitution agreement (a kinky one), regardless of how attracted you are to the john/pimp, it just seems possible that maybe the reason for your continuing virginity is not really strict morality.

Also, I am not sure that opening doors is such an important part of chivalry that it outweighs spanking for all offenses. Likewise, the concern for nutrition could be seen as very caring, but putting it into the contract (even with room for negotiation), moves it from caring to control freak, in my opinion.

The other two things are really important, and their own topics, dealing with how a relationship should function, and what is porn, and what makes it bad.

The commenter’s point (and I am doing some extrapolating, but not as much as you might think) was that the purpose of pornography, which is pictures of actual people, is to cause men to have an unrealistic image of a woman, which would come between a husband and a wife, and the reading and being turned on does not do that.

Actually, I thought the specific purpose of visual porn was simply arousal also, and maybe getting a false ideal of how a woman should look is one side effect, but that could certainly be an issue with written content as well. I know of at least one woman reading Twilight and wondering why her husband could not be more like Edward, and it totally seems like the same thing could happen with NotEdward, and that the more sexual nature of the content would not lessen the likelihood of that.

This is not a particularly new argument. I remember years ago having a discussion with a friend who had just been house-sitting, and a mutual acquaintance was gossiping with her about how the couple who owned the house was splitting up, and he was so awful because he had porn. My friend was surprised by this, and mentioned it, because she had noticed a large erotica section of the wife’s in the library, and it seemed a little hypocritical. Well her friend was shocked, because the two are totally different.

I think we have two ideas that lead to this concept. One is that words are classier than visuals, and the other is that women are classier than men. Therefore, 50 Shades of Grey is classier than Playgirl, but both are classier than Playboy. I am not convinced that this is true.

I notice men being stupid pigs just as often as any other woman, but I also notice men being smart and loyal and classy, and I see women being stupid and mean and crude, and really, there is no inherent moral high ground for either gender. Men have a longer history of subjugating women, because they have a longer history of being in power (much bigger topic there), so that probably does make some things feel different, but ultimately if it is demeaning for a man to stuff dollar bills into the g-string of a women, then it is demeaning with the genders reversed. I am totally equal opportunity in that way.

I guess my first point here is that “mommy porn” is not superior to any other kind of porn, and the Chippendales are not superior to, hmm, I guess the closest equivalent would be Stars Cabaret (I admit I am out of my element here). I suspect women are less likely to put up with poor hygiene and needle tracks, so there may be some improvement there, and that is probably its own post, but the point is, stripping is stripping.

And, the point I was going to make before I got sidetracked there is that if Magic Mike is superior to show girls, it is not because of inherent moral superiority, but it probably did have a better script and choreography, based on what I have heard.

I think that’s already getting to be a fairly long post, so I think I will break for today, and separate the remaining content into two separate posts, both related to the topic of consenting adults, and I have no idea which one should come first. I told you organization was a problem.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Adult Content, part 2

I saw this coming, but I am having a hard time writing about sex.

No, it’s not especially awkward, but there is so much content there that organization is kind of an issue, and also, I will be criticizing some things that are quite popular right now, and while my intention is not to offend anyone, I totally could, so I am trying to do a really good job with the material, which seems like it may necessitate more time. Obviously, it is time for more hedging.

So, I thought what I could do today is write a little more about how I am handling this type of material in the graphic novel. I am kind of reluctant to write about it before it is finished, because then I am giving out spoilers, and then no one will feel a need to read it. I know, initially I had thought no one would ever read it, and now I feel like I will post it somewhere, and so now just as I decide that people can read it, I take away their motivation. Well, I’ve said before that I am not always logical. So I guess I am posting this today, writing a few days’ worth of sex content, and then going on vacation to Idaho. Seems like a plan.

So, for the sex itself, there actually is a sex scene. Well, that’s not true. There is a lead-in to a scene where you know two of the characters will be having sex. I felt this was necessary, because they are two fairly star-crossed lovers. After six years of separation due to a global crisis and communications breakdown they are reunited, and then are dealing with severe injuries, impending death, presumed death, and emotional trauma that leads to a communication breakdown, and then they do die and on their last night on earth they have no privacy whatsoever. So, I did not want anyone to be reading that and thinking that after all of that and even getting married that they were still never able to consummate the relationship. I’m not a cruel person. Personally, as the author I can see where they would have had other opportunities too, and taken advantage of them, but at least that one time it is clear that they did manage a physical relationship.

For swearing, the tricky thing is yes, I don’t do it, but I often have characters who totally would. I actually have included two minor swear words and one major but interrupted one. Oddly, they are all spoken by Mikey. It’s just how it worked out.

I think I covered how the violence is handled pretty well in writing about that one. It occurs to me that in writing about violence, it was very much about it in entertainment, where writing about the profanity was more about life, and the sex is going to go back and forth. This is probably because violence is more discouraged as a part of actual life, where it can result in arrest, and that is not so much true of the other areas.

That being said, I only made passing mention of gore in that post, because most of what I wrote about violence applied to gore. You can be violent without being gory, and that could be irresponsibly choosing to show violence as consequence free, or it could be a matter of choosing a different focus in the depictions. I do have a gory scene.

Like so many things, it did not come about intentionally. There is a character who has a tendency to revive. In thinking about how to make a permanent death for him, my initial thought was that you would have to destroy the cerebral cortex, and then I realized that made no sense, and obviously it would be the brainstem that you would need to destroy.

Well that’s all well and good, until you think about how, with limited tools in a field setting you would make that happen, and it gets kind of difficult. Suddenly the scene involved decapitation, and sawing and slicing and attempting to squish and finally burning which just happens to also involve destroying the remnants of some happy memories, and it was kind of brutal. It would not have to be drawn explicitly, and it shouldn’t be. The point of the scene is not about reveling in grossness. The point is frustration and desperation and just when it seemed like things were kind of getting better, being proved wrong once more. It’s not cool, so it shouldn’t look cool.

That being said, I have always had an aversion to zombies, because with the decaying flesh and the brain eating and the infectious nature, it is just ugly and gross. After writing that scene, I started to think, well, maybe I could do something with zombies. There would have to be some point to it, but there usually is—just because I don’t like zombie movies doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge their often trenchant social commentary.

I was thinking that the next thing I worked on would be a romantic comedy, but maybe it will be zombies. Or both. Then you have the perfect date movie because there’s something for everyone.

Monday, August 20, 2012


My sisters and I recently went to see Jersey Boys. At one point I nearly walked out due to the heavy profanity. This is unusual for me, but it was flying fast and loose and really served no purpose except to make you remember that people in New Jersey swear. Well, they were using it for cheap laughs, and they were getting it.

I have heard that Deb on Dexter uses some creative and hilarious profanity. Mamet is known for being profane and brilliant. This was not. It was repetitive and pedestrian, and they did not deserve the laughs they were getting. The funny thing is that in the second half, when Bob was telling Frankie that he didn’t want to perform anymore, they did slip in a use of the F-word that actually was really funny, but it was standing alone, so there was contrast, and it was an unexpected direction, and it just worked.

I want to be clear that while I personally don’t swear, I am around it all the time (family, friends, public transportation). I am usually not bothered by it, and I have never called out anyone who was not a relative for using bad language. It was unusual for me to be bothered at the show, but they were overdoing it, especially in that section, and again, it was so pointless.

I had a Drama teacher in junior high who gave us a great assignment, where we had to go through and edit a play for language. It really made you think about how words were used, and what their value was. Watching Top Gun after that, I saw that you could remove most of the language easily, with very few words even needing replacements. On the other hand, The Princess Bride has one swear word, when Inigo is confronting the Duke, and I don’t think any other phrasing would have the same impact.

Part of it may be that “strong” language gains its strength from its rarity, so overusing it dilutes its power. There is a poem by Jacques Prevert, Barbara, that again has only one “strong” word in it, but it’s a big one. I guess it would come closest to the F.word in English, but there is an added aspect of stupidity to the awfulness, and he uses it to let you know exactly how he feels about the war after contrasting some scenes before and after the war, just in case you had any doubts where he was going. It is effective. If he had used it several times, or if he used it in every poem, it would not mean that much.

I’ve never hid being a word nerd. I get invigorated by good word use, where emotions are captured and pictures are created, and even by the simple transmission of knowledge, which is so simple that we take it for granted, but which is vital. So, I like it when words are used well.

I suppose one thing that I don’t like about swearing is that because it is a shortcut to punching up your language, it probably keeps some people from actually learning how to speak well and effectively. They stop at swearing. Also, I think it adds to a general coarseness in society that is beneficial to noone. That is not even touching on the aspect that you take a name for something that is sacred or important or beautiful, and use it as if it is common and filthy. Or maybe that does touch on it, because you are chipping away at respect for things, which leads to chipping away at respect for each other, and maybe that’s how we all got so course.

(Also, “bitch” is really overused. Other people have written about this, and how it is such an easy way to denigrate a woman, especially relating to any time that a woman is being assertive or in authority, and there is no real equivalent for men in terms of how it is used, and they’re right. That would be a whole different topic though, and I’m not going there right now.)

That being said, I can see how swearing it can be valuable for some people. It starts (like so many things) with a story about My Chemical Romance, posted on one of their videos on Youtube.

A girl wrote that she used to cut herself and she was at an MCR concert in front, and Gerard saw her arms and he took her hand and told her to never do that again; she was too beautiful for that and if anyone ever made her feel like she wasn’t, she should tell them to, well, I think it was F off, maybe F themselves, but something like that.

So, I had heard something similar at a different concert, where it was Tonic (opening for Goo Goo Dolls, I think), and before singing “If you could only see”, where the lead singer instructed all of us to say that to anyone who did not treat us like gold, and I could not have been less impressed, but this was different.

You see, I had a friend who did cut herself for a while, while she was in a bad place in her life, due mainly to an abusive boyfriend, and it felt like the cutting was the only pain she could control. I was not spending a lot of time with her then, and I did not know what was going on, so I admit that my feelings are messed up on this one. She says I could not have made a difference, and she might be right based on other people who did know, but I still feel a lot of guilt for it. With that in mind, there is no vile thing that she could have said to him that I would not have applauded. I would have been in favor of anything she could say that would have helped break his hold on her and helped her see how worthless and evil he was.

If profanity can function as a shortcut to power, there might be people who really need that shortcut. I’m not going to fault anyone for that. Being able to value yourself is so key, and sometimes that will require making waves, and if that’s how you can manage it, go for it.

It doesn’t make casual usage sound any better. Also, it would not have been helpful for me. When I have tried swearing, I just feel cheap—not I am ashamed because I have been a bad girl, but just hey, you know better than that. At the same time, for all of my faults, finding my voice hasn’t exactly been a problem. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t resonate for me.

I guess what I am saying is do what you need to do, but also think about what you are doing. Examine that life because it does have worth.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Violence and Gore

I mentioned that I am covering these topics at least partly because in my writing all of them come up, and while in a way violence is the easiest to treat, it is also the one that I have the least satisfactory resolution for in my own writing.

Set in the post-apocalyptic dystopian future, the heroes are constantly under fire, and while most of them do end up dead, they also end up killing quite a few themselves, and yet I have portrayed them as good people.

True, most of the killings are in self-defense, though several happen on a rescue mission where they technically are taking offensive action, but for the purpose of rescuing comrades, so there is that, but I guess what I was thinking is that even if every killing is justified, it seems that killing should take an emotional and spiritual toll, where you would eventually build up some hardness and callousness. At least, I think it would take a lot of conscious effort to fight that.

For this particular piece, I end up not doing too much with it because the good thing about this harsh lifestyle is that no one spends too long in it really, generally ending up dead before they have had a chance to get too hardened. (Obviously, it’s a really upbeat story.)

I am pretty much okay without dealing with the issue in depth, because I think you can raise questions in fiction that you don’t answer, but just leave them as food for thought. (This is much less satisfying in non-fiction.) The questions are raised. There is an early scene and a later scene that both kind of address it, and you are left with is a feeling of discomfort: this is not good, but there better choices are missing.

That is probably the right attitude to have about violence. Sometimes it is necessary, but you should never love it. One thing that makes the killing easier in this story, and a lot of others, is that the bad guys are mostly faceless and identical drones. When I saw Star Wars, I initially assumed that the storm troopers were robots. They looked mechanical, but that was because the of the body armor which dehumanized them and made them indistinguishable from each other.

In this case, my interpretation of the Draculoids was influenced largely by my reading of A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier (but not for Kony—lots of bad guys use kids). Anyway, something they did to keep the children as soldiers is that they were constantly on drugs and when they were not out fighting they would watch violent films. There is still a human there, but harder to get to.

I figured it would be the same way with the Draculoids. For one thing, it gives them a motivation, and also I figure that if they are constantly high they are going to be worse shots, and that makes it more plausible that the good guys keep surviving their engagements, because normally you would expect the casualty rates to be evened out a little more. As it is, the Draculoid deaths definitely outnumber the Killjoy deaths.

It is also different in that the Killjoy losses hurt and are mourned, and the Draculoids are really just cannon fodder for the people who are over them. So your bad situation comes because you have people against you who don’t value human life, and will greatly abuse human life to get what they want, but it also leaves people who do care as killers, or dead, or eventually both.

As you can see, there is not an easy solution to maintaining your humanity while living in a war zone, but what we have picked up along the way is that violent images do make it easier for people to be violent (also drugs, but no real groundbreaking news here), and also what I am hoping you will just agree on, is that human life is important and valuing it is important.
So, how to do you create a fun, action-packed, adrenaline-crazed tale without being part of the problem?

There were some extras on the Austin Powers Blue-Ray that would totally not have worked in the movie, as they would have slowed and dragged it down horribly, but that were still pretty funny. You saw the reactions to the deaths of two of the evil henchman. One scene was the wife and stepson of the guy who got steamrollered, and then the friends of the one who got his head eaten by ill-tempered mutant sea bass. The ridiculous nature of the deaths took away from the solemnity a little, but the point was that henchmen could have friends and families too.

So, I have to think about these people, and I shouldn’t be taking too much pleasure in their deaths. It’s disturbing that we have gone from where it was just heroes shooting lots of bad guys, which was bad enough, to where a new term was invented, “torture porn”, for a genre that delights in how creatively and gruesomely various people can be killed. It’s a normal progression though. Killing one guy is no longer a big deal, so you kill more, but you can’t keep upping that past a certain point without making the film too long, so just make the deaths worse, and then they need to keep getting worse. Make it squishier! More entrails! It’s not a good direction to go.

We often use the word “gratuitous” with violence and sex and language, and generally we use it meaning that it’s just there for the sake of being there. It comes from “gratis” though, meaning free. Here you go: violence at no cost! There is a price, though, and so ignoring what the actual price would be is something that is paid for in desensitization.

I’m saying this as someone who loves a good action scene, which perhaps is why I am having such a difficult time arriving at a point. The difference is that in the movies you can have the enemy be orcs or destructive aliens, where you just want to kill them all as quickly as possible, and it is no crime. That doesn’t happen in real life.

In films without the fantasy or science fiction element you can have the villains be Nazis or drug dealers or something else awful and clear the conscience that way, but then they are still people. They look like people, they bleed like people, and they probably still love their mothers, even if they are really bad people.

Actually, it’s not that in these films that you don’t care about death—you just don’t care about the bad guys dying. You want the hero to live, and maybe his love interest. Hopefully you care when his minority sidekick dies. Possibly the whole thing was set off by the death of family members. In that scenario, it’s only bad if it happens to us. Actually, there is a lot of that going around financially, and some of it does become life and death.

I guess ultimately I am just against mass killings. It’s not really that controversial a position stated that way. I’m also against recreational killing, even if it’s fake. And I’m against narcissism and selfishness. I can’t really tell you any rules I have for writing violence. It is more than I have this ethos behind it, and so that affects how things are treated. And I find that I don’t write throwaway characters. Even if they only have a small part in the story, they have an existence beyond what is seen, and they are a real fictional person, so that has to be taken into account.

Now I need to get back to the story. I killed off six last night, but there are a lot more to go. (And two of them really hurt, but now I am feeling bad about the other four.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Adult Content

Homer: “Well if kids are so innocent, why is everything bad named after them? Acting CHILDish, KIDnapping, CHILD abuse…”
Bart: “What about ADULTery?”
Homer: “Not until you’re older, son.”

It is unfortunate that so many of the words we use to connote maturity have some sort of negative meaning. It makes sense in that we view children as uncorrupted, and part of getting older generally involves becoming more corrupt, and better able to conceal it, but it’s not a good thing.

Writing about the misogyny, on one level I feel like good people wouldn’t do it. Now, if it is the norm, and people don’t think very much, it’s easy to go along with something without being an ill-intentioned person, but a big part of maturity is thinking about long-range consequences and ramifications and the motivations for things.

I have been thinking about this not just because of what I have been reading, but also because of what I have been writing, and also because of things I have read about what other people are reading and viewing.

So this is going to be tricky, because there is certainly room for self-consciousness as I criticize things that are very popular, and I may come off as judgmental though I promise I am just going for analytical. I don’t intend to alienate anyone, but these are things that I not only believe, but believe are important.

It will also be tricky to discuss these things in a mature and reasonable manner. For example, writing about swear words, filling the post with references to the F-word and B-word seems a little ridiculous, but filling it with the actual words in wrong in a whole different direction. As for writing about sex without either sounding stupid or being vulgar, well, it will be a challenge.

Basically, I will have posts about all of the things that will get you a Mature or Restricted rating, depending on the type of media: language, violence, and sex. I think I can manage just one on each topic, but I can’t make any promises.

Technically, there is a fourth, which is mature themes, because some things don’t necessarily involve any of the main three, but are still just kind of heavy. It probably makes sense, but I am amazed at what kids miss. Like in “Up”, there were people who thought it would not be for kids because some of the content is so sad, and yes, it is really sad for an adult, but it doesn’t seem to hit kids the same way.

And of course, I am still amazed by the things I saw on the networks during primetime when I was a kid. I am still scarred by The Dirty Dozen, The Green Berets, Hang ‘Em High, and either For a Fistful of Dollars or A Few Dollars More (I get them mixed up.)

At the same time, I was fine with watching a scary, illiterate hag torment Mary on Little House on the Prairie, and I am way more upset watching “Sylvia” now then I was then, because now I see how young she looks. It’s hard to tell how things will affect a kid. Also, Michael Landon was twisted.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Objectification and Misogyny in Comics

I was bound to get here sooner or later.

Honestly, I was lucky in that I didn’t encounter much that was terribly awful. I think part of that is that the majority of my reading selections came from reading good reviews of the books and remembering them, plus getting advice from a friend who shares comics with her children. The worst for me was Love and Rockets, which came about completely randomly, as another friend had been given it, and happened to have it with her while we were talking.

The interesting thing about Love and Rockets is that it’s supposed to be considered fairly progressive, in that the characters are allowed to age naturally and have different body types, and this was totally true. At the same time, there was one feature that consistently stood out, and I can’t find a good way to explain it without it sounding like I am making some crude pun—a big emphasis, prominent—but yes, sure, some women were fatter or older, but they all seemed really chesty. Maybe none so much as the one girl who kept getting asked if the movie she’d just made was porn, but still.

I need to give them credit, in that the characters were diverse from each other, mostly independent, and so in some ways there was a lot of respect, but the breasts were just so in your face. It may have been worse because I didn’t care for their writing or artistic style, so I had this vague sense of irritation throughout the entire magazine. Actually, I don’t think what we have here is really either misogyny or objectification, but maybe just a breast fetish. Congratulations?

Even if the Hernandez brothers are off the hook, that does not mean that the issue doesn’t exist anywhere. I had read an excellent article on it some time ago, which I could not find, though I found several other good articles.

I do not have a problem with artists drawing attractive people with good figures—that’s how typical casting ends up in Hollywood. The nerdy girl with poor self-esteem that was always feeling slighted by Peter Parker was just as attractive as anyone else except that she wore glasses, so yes, that’s how it works.

It is a more disturbing though that the female costumes are so much more revealing than the male costumes, and that it is considered so necessary to draw women in such a way that both breasts and butt are prominently on display that they have a nickname for it: the “brokeback.”

(And yes, having such wildly disproportionate breasts would tend to create back problems, but not like that.)

One post I’d read argued that maybe part of the problem is that the trade draws certain personality types to it, where they are more likely to have poor social skills and a weird mental relationship with women. People like this might be more likely to create the kind of art where you would expect the following:

“One study conducted by Jessica H. Zellers shows an examination of how women are depicted in eighteen graphic novels. She finds that “of the suggestively clad, partially clad, or naked individuals, about three times as many were women (296) than men (107).” From the graphic novel sample where there were 1,768 male characters and 786 female characters, only 6% of all males were suggestively clad, partially clad, or naked; while of all the females, 38% were suggestively clad, partially clad, or naked. Additionally, of all males, 2% were naked, while of all females, 24% were naked. Zellers writes: “It is incredible that almost one out of every four females was, at some point, depicted in the nude” (2005).”

Honestly so much has been written and argued about this, that I’m not sure that I have anything useful to add, and most of the arguments end up being this is bad versus people like it, and the men are objectified too. (No, it is not the same.)

What I will say though, is that I am becoming more aware, especially with the recent discussions on funding birth control, that there is real misogyny out there, and real fear of the empowerment of women, even though we should have conquered this long ago.

I also believe that you can’t really have misogyny without having misanthropy as well. Women are an important half of this world, bringing many good things to the table, and if you cut us off because you regard us as something lesser, there is a loss. Subjugation of women does not only hurt women, just as racism does not only hurt minorities.

One argument on the sexism that had kind of a point was that sure people just say that it’s a moral outrage, but they don’t suggest any alternatives so it’s just whining. Well, if you know something is wrong, but are not sure what to do about that, I don’t think that means you are not allowed to say anything about it, but okay, here are some of my suggestions.

One, comic book publishers can have a huge impact by the artists and writers they hire. They can ask to have the G-cups brought down to D-cups. They can limit use of the brokeback. Is that censorship? No, you are not making things illegal, but you are deciding that you have standards for your product. Since these are corporations, and the G-cup brokeback sells, I do not expect to see this happen, but it still would not be unreasonable on their parts.

Something that might be more likely is the comics industry making more of an effort to recruit female artists and writers, and maybe even males who just seem to have healthier attitudes. This can be combined with efforts to increase the reader base, removing the stigma of comic fans as basement dwelling scary people. That’s good for the genre overall.

For readers, don’t buy the trashy ones. Write about you complaints. Tell them, I was reading this series, but I have to stop because of what is happening with Starfire. That’s not censorship; that’s capitalism.

For the readers, writers and artists who are totally down with the way things are, I won’t recommend diversity training, because apparently that just makes things worse. However, meet more people. Talk to different kinds of people.  Male and female, different ages, different jobs. Get to know them. This will feel weird for the less socially adept, but it can be very rewarding, and it may change your worldview.

Actually, all of my solutions always come down to having better people out there, which is unfortunate because it is the hardest thing to manage. But it would improve things so much!

Edited because I came across one of the articles that I could not find when I wrote this:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Comic Book Highlights, Lowlights, and Random Thoughts

Going forward, there are things I know and things I don’t. I had been feeling like all of my superhero reading had been Marvel, and that I should take up some DC, but my purchases at the comic book shop were all DC, and the Sandman is DC and he meets up with Constantine, Mr. Miracle, and Martian Manhunter, so that has probably been somewhat balanced out now.

The DC Universe seems to be a lot bleaker. Perhaps that is necessary when you have more awesome powers, or there’s no challenge, but I would rather just not be ultra-powerful, and have a better world. That’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

I know I will read more by Marjane Satrapi, and that I will look for more Flaming Carrot. I think I will try and find some Tick comics, though they will not replace the cartoon. I will try more in the Amulet series. Obviously, I will be right there for Danger Days when it comes out. Maybe as we get closer to that, it will be the right time for my next round.

American Splendor: This one was a lot of work. Initially I thought maybe I should just flip around in it, but I did not feel right doing that, so I gave myself a break and then came back and read some more. It turned into my comic book version of “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. It ended up being very rewarding though, and it was a nice surprise to suddenly come upon a sketch of Multnomah Falls.

Maus: There is a segment where Art’s father is upset, and his stepmother thinks it is because he saw an old comic of Art’s where he went over his mother’s suicide and what that put him through. Never expecting it to be seen, Art is horrified, but when he talks to his father the main thing he says is “I’m glad you got that out.” He is a frustrating man (or mouse) almost throughout, but I found that moment really touching. Not only did he put his son’s feelings above his own discomfort, but he understood the value of his art.

Rapunzel’s Revenge: Why is this annoying me so much. The art’s good. Things are moving along pretty quickly. I think it’s the Old West dialect. I think it’s my aversion to rednecks.

Absolute Sandman: I have heard that Batman #666 resembles Grant Morrison, but I think Dream, especially the Sam Kieth version, looks like Gaiman. Of course, at other times I think he looks like Stephen Rea, Jamie West-Oram, or Marky Ramone, so I really don’t know. I guess hair has a lot to do with it.

Elfquest 1: Wolfrider: That little kid who is going to be the old guy’s protégé is the same one who died at the beginning of that other book I had (I think), leading to the burning of the forest, the trolls tricking them into being trapped in the desert and meeting up with the People of the Sun, so it all connects. Also, when did I get over fantasy? Because I think I am.

The Umbrella Academy: Scott Allie of Dark Horse has named this as one he would like to see turned into a movie, and that could be awesome, but I think it would be difficult to find a child actor to portray “The Boy” well. Maybe Miles Iero in a few years. Actually, based on some of the things her father tweets, maybe Lily.

Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man: I think he is favoring Daredevil over Spider-Man, and I am not sure I approve. Are those tantrums really in character? Although, he has a scene set at CBGB’s and there is an Elvis Costello reference, so I can’t find it completely uncool.

300: I can totally see how people wanted to turn it into a movie. It is very cinematic.

Frank Miller in general: I appreciate that he does not give the women ridiculous breasts, but there are other things that make me wonder if his is just more into butts.

Batman and Catwoman: Trail of the Gun: It’s a bit preachy. I don’t even disagree with the message, but I think some subtlety works better.

JLA: World Without a Justice League: There is a bit where Diana Troy takes off with Super Girl and Red Tornado, not having time to deal with people with lesser powers, and it really gets under Green Arrow’s skin. I think that’s worth exploring. It’s relatable.

Ghost World: It seems somewhat telling that someone who has created characters filled with so much self-loathing and contempt for the world, appears to have inserted himself into the book as a creepy guy with a bad vibe.

Watchmen: It’s still all about that last page in Chapter 11. I’m never going to forget that.

Unfortunate stereotypes: Both Watchmen and Absolute Sandman have lesbian couples whose breakups involve physical violence.

This is the article with Scott Allie and several other key comics figures talking about comics and movies.

Also, once more recommendations for the web:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Comic Book Overview

We are nearing the end of this small journey of exploration, and the first thing I am finding out is that I am not really done, so there will be future reading. I don’t know that it will be an annual event, like Black History Month or Native American Heritage month, but at some point I will take another crack at it.

I have mentioned various works in different posts, but here is the work in the order in which I read it. Generally speaking, if there was a different author and illustrator, the author is listed first, but sometimes the lines blur, and with the Hernandez brothers I think they both do both.

Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (Art Spiegelman)
Maus II: And Here My Troubles Begin (Art Spiegelman)
Rapunzel’s Revenge (Shannon Hale/Nathan Hale)
The Umbrella Academy 1: Apocalypse Suite (Gerard Way/Gabriel Bà)
The Umbrella Academy 2: Dallas (Gerard Way/Gabriel Bà)
Love & Rockets (Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez)
Persepolis The Story of a Childhood (Marjane Satrapi)
Amulet, Volume 1: The Stonekeeper (Kazu Kibuishi)
Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)
Elfquest 1: Wolfrider (Richard Pini/Wendy Pini)
Wolverine (Chris Claremont/Frank Miller)
Mystery Men (David Liss/Patrick Zircher)
Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man (Frank Miller as the illustrator, different authors)
American Splendor (Harvey Pekar/various, including Robert Crumb, though I think Gregory Budgett was my favorite)
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (Marjane Satrapi)
300 (Frank Miller)
Flaming Carrot’s Greatest Hits (Bob Burden)
Watchment (Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons)
Absolute Sandman, Volume 1 (Neil Gaiman/multiple)
Batman and Catwoman: Trail of the Gun (Ann Nocenti/Ethan Van Scriver)
JLA World Without a Justice League: Infinite Crisis Crossover (Bob Harris/Tom Derenick and Dan Green)
Wonder Woman: From the Flames (J Torres/Julian Lopez)
Batman: Shadow of the Bat (Alan Grant/Mark Buckingham and Robert Campanella)

First off, I need to point out that my initial premise was off. My thought had been that sometimes when I am on a run of socially conscious reading, I start to tire of humanity, and I thought if I would just put a comic book in between other books, that would give me a little break. I was wrong in two different ways.

One is that I was not really picking light reading. I started off with the two Maus books, and, well, using animals to represent the different races may alleviate some of the horror in some ways, but it’s still Holocaust literature. I’m not saying that there was no light reading, as some of them were, but some of them were quite heavy, dealing with topics like alienation, oppression, and the elusive nature of the American dream.

Also, yes, a comic book will often be shorter than a regular book, having both a page and word count. That being said, they do have a higher image count, and that takes some processing too. It’s working a different part of your brain, but it’s still working it. So when I referred to people who hypothetically just hate looking at pictures when they read, that could totally make sense, just as there are people who get tired easily reading text.

Also, don’t assume the material should be easy. One friend pointed out how the comics tend to have a fairly advanced vocabulary, which is true, but you will also often have fairly layered plots and a large cast of characters.

I’m not saying that comics can’t be escapism, but they may make you work for it.

Tomorrow I will cover some of the highlights and lowlights, and then I am going to go into an area that will lead to a broader discussion, and then, yes, the plan is to get into what I am working on. I wish I was sure I would be finished by then.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Field Trip!

This post has been delayed because I was out in the field doing research.

I had originally said we were going to do that Monday night, but we were running late, so we decided we would postpone Wunderland and only do Heroes and Hobbies, and then we saw that they were closed Monday. Tonight we tried again.

That sign that said it was closed Monday (and Sunday) also indicated that they opened at 4:30 on other nights. That is not true. We got there around 6:30 and it was still not open. We walked over to Wunderland, and as we were going in we saw someone open the door and the sign go on.

Heroes and Hobbies is a one-man shop, and so it helps to be a little flexible. The phone message says hours vary and to call first. This is definitely true.

That being said, I have to say that the owner was very friendly and helpful and will clearly go out of his way to help you. I expect we will go back at some point.

There were a few goals to the trip. One is that I realize that in my checking out bound volumes from the library, I am completely missing out on the experience of seeing the monthly magazines and reading them that way. I wanted to try that, too, so there was the goal of looking, and the goal of buying, taking home, and reading.

(Julie and Maria basically went out of curiosity.)

I ended up choosing four comics, all DC, and I chose mainly on the basis of cover art. The prices were not bad, though I should mention that Heroes and Hobbies is cash only.

I do have some new items, and I will check those out. I can’t necessarily say the goal was completely accomplished, because this is very much used, and there are a lot of figures and cards as well. I can imagine a place where there are a lot more comics, and where the new issues are prominently displayed, so I’m not saying that there is not more to experience. This experience, though, was a good one.

One other random thought: right there we have sort of a triangle of a comics and hobbies shop, a Lego shop, and a nickel arcade. Could this be the center of the Beaverton nerd-iverse?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Comic Strips, Cartoons, and Live Action TV Shows

Although I have not had a lot of experience with superhero comic books (thought it keeps ending up being more than I realized), I did get exposure to many of the standard heroes of both DC and Marvel through other means.

First of all, of course I was raised on Super Friends. We all watched it. At the time all I remembered was the later episodes with the Wonder Twins: form of an ice berg and all that. I could not really remember any gripping conflicts or ingenious solutions, though I do remember an episode where there was a mouse stuck in a computer unit messing things up, and they used special guest Plastic Man to get him out. (I also watched Plastic Man on Saturday mornings.)

I think the following clip may give some clue as to why the Super Friends did not leave more of an impression on me:

Now, going back and seeing it, the most exciting thing is now knowing who all of those Legion of Doom members are. Hey, that’s Solomon Grundy! And the Scarecrow! Now I get it. On the Marvel side, I’m afraid that Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends did not much more for me.

Both DC and Marvel did much better later in the early 90’s, with Batman (the Animated Series) and X-Men. When these were on, well, I was working my way through college, and did not have quite as much time for watching television, but that they were geared towards kids did not seem to be an issue. I specifically remember always being impressed by how relatable the Batman villains were. This was not simplistic, cackling evil—especially Mister Freeze and Poison Ivy.

With X-Men, I don’t always remember the enemies, but I remember the relationships between them, especially Wolverine. He had a heart, even if that did not always come through in the books.

It’s nice getting other sides of things. For example, there were Spider-Man and Batman comic strips in the paper for a long time. With Batman, again, they were always careful to show the humanity of the villains, and it was a gentler world with them. The Riddler and Two-Face actually ended up having pretty happy endings.

With the Spider-Man strip, maybe the shorter format helped. Basically you have three small panels a day, with a little bit more on Sunday. Because of this, I don’t really remember Spidey ever spending time whining or throwing tantrums, and I have to say that I appreciated this. I’m not saying that Peter Parker is not a hard-luck character, but hey, he also has superpowers, a loving aunt, and he dates models despite being a nerd and broke. You need to maintain some perspective.

I will say Spidey never caught a break in his segments on The Electric Company, and that eases our transition into live-action. At first I thought that the only real superhero show like that I had ever watched was Wonder Woman, but then I remembered The Greatest American Hero. Indeed, how could I forget him? That was a fun show.

I know the Wonder Woman reboot did not go well, and No Ordinary Family did not last, but a cool idea is not enough. You need good writing and acting and luck in finding an audience. Also, we have a jaded audience now, and too perfect superheroes are going to be harder sells. It helps to have some humor in it, but going back to the animated Batman, it was not particularly funny. It was just good. Also, that was twenty years ago and we may been less jaded.

I remember something a writer’s conference speaker mentioned once in that audiences like dark pieces in good times and light pieces in bad times. I guess it really is about escapism. He was talking specifically about movies, so if you think about the amount of time it takes to create a film, from pitch to premier, without a crystal ball you do not know if the audience is going to want you or not. All you can do is produce quality work you are passionate about. (Though, apparently not everyone reaches that conclusion.)

You know what show I really loved? The Tick. The live action show was fine, but I loved that cartoon. They can bring that one back any time. Spoon!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why pictures?

That’s something that I have been thinking about throughout this reading.

I was especially thinking of it while reading American Splendor. There are stories where all you see is images of Pekar directly addressing the reader. His face may change a little, and he gestures, but there isn’t really any action. Why not just make that an essay? It’s not like he was drawing the figures himself—he was giving the artists mockups with stick figures.

I suspect some of it is that some people are just more visual in their thinking. They see it a certain way, and they can just write what they think, but then the reader may not get it right. Or, to try and create the correct image, you need to add extra words that will overwhelm the meaning and the feeling, all of which you can avoid by just showing.

Some of it may simply be that it’s what the material dictates. I will write about this more later, but often when you are creating you are not in complete control. Sure, you can force yourself upon the material, but it won’t feel right, and you won’t produce anything very good if you take away the story’s ability to grow organically.

I notice this more with plots and characters, but the medium is also a factor. There have been things that could only be short stories or only be screenplays, and there was one essay that did not work at all and then it worked as a poem. There is poetry and there is song, no matter how blurry the lines get.

Also, lately, it is impossible to deny how much power the pictures can have. I say this as someone who loves words. Some phrases have just echoed through me and words have insistently repeated until I would get the point. It’s not that there is no power without pictures, but maybe some messages need a specific power, or maybe it is some messengers.

I just finished Watchmen. I can’t exactly say I like it. The most likable characters are pretty frustrating, and a lot of them just aren’t likable. There is also a worldview there that I find repellent. I don’t even know if it’s in any way reflective of Alan Moore’s real views, or just something he created because it was necessary for some of the character’s voices. Despite finding a lot to admire in the material between chapters, and totally seeing ways in which it is brilliant, I don’t see myself reading anything else of his, or reading Watchmen again.

That being said, I do keep going back to one specific page. It is the last regular page of Chapter 11, before the interview with Veidt, where, if I did not already hate him, that would seal the deal. It is when the event occurs. I don't know how much of how the page is executed is from Moore, or from artist Dave Gibbons.

There are no major characters featured on this page. There are people you have seen before, but their roles have been pretty small, mainly serving as background. You see the spreading horror, and all of the color, which has been brilliant (color by John Higgins), has drained, and as everything ends and all of the little references to Hiroshima pay off, there is this moment of grace as a kid turns to the man he doesn’t really know, but who has been a presence in his life. He turns to him for shelter, and the man tries to provide it, and then there is just a white, empty square.

I cried reading it the first time. I have teared up going back and looking at it again, and I am crying a little writing about it now. It’s not that what preceded wasn’t important—especially the pages right before—but that page is a masterpiece, and if I ever decide to buy my own copy of Watchmen (this is from the library), it will be for that page.

It doesn’t always happen, but that is something pictures can do.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

I had mentioned in the last post that I felt like it was time to watch this movie. It involved another milestone—my first streaming rental. Well, I’m not sure that it was technically a stream. I think it is more like I watched it from the cloud, and I can do so as many times as I want within a 48 hour period.

I had kind of been thinking about watching it anyway because during Comic-Con I was seeing a lot on it. I got on Twitter so I could follow various Grimm people, plus with Seth Green and a few others, well, it kind of seemed like the whole world was there, but none of the political writers I follow mentioned it, so clearly that was an illusion. (They are all over the Paul Ryan selection though.)

I seem to remember the initial review saying that it was pleasant but did not touch on some important things. Reading the comments on IMDB, there was a lot more of that, with people feeling like this was missing or that was missing, and everyone disagreeing about what was missing. Maybe it’s because I have never been, so I don’t have a horse in this race, but I loved it.

I guess I had thought it would focus more on the fans attending to browse and watch and dress up, and that does get covered, but in this case they focused on a few people, all there with specific goals. There were two aspiring artists, one comic book vendor, a costume designer with her crew participating in Masquerade, and also a couple where the guy was planning on proposing during the Kevin Smith panel. There was also a collector. They did not spend a lot of time on him, but I think it was probably enough.

I have to consider it a successful film. I believe it gave me a good feeling for what the convention would be like, and I was emotionally moved.

(Mild spoilers follow, but not ones that should necessarily wreck your enjoyment of the film. Biggest ones just in the next paragraph.)

When the seller sold enough, that he decided that he did not need to sell his first issue Red Raven, and announced that it was no longer for sell, that felt good. When the team got the animatronics glitch repaired before going on, and they got a positive response and won their prize, that was great. I did not have a huge response to the collector getting his figure, or to the proposal, perhaps because I have no heart, but hey, they accomplished their goals.

The two artists were the ones that affected me most. I know at Stumptown they have had options for people to have their portfolios critiqued, but here people are actually looking for jobs. It’s like doing the pitches at Willamette Writer’s Conference, though I am not sure if the odds are better or worse.

I liked the Soldier better than the Geek (as they were designated), but in a way the Geek’s journey was more moving, because he is getting told really important things, and it is not a sentence of doom, but it is discouraging, or are you going to take it and build on it? And there was a real question there.

(And believe me, I get it. I’m still waiting for someone to say “Not only do I think your stuff is good but I actually have a funds, and pull, and I will put them behind you. You ARE what we are looking for!”)

I suppose the reasons why I cared about those storylines more, rather than the couple or the collector, is that there are combined passions. Someone is into gaming, and design, and they put them together. Someone is into comics, and drawing, and they develop that talent and then they want to capitalize on that talent. And an old man who is a 38-year veteran of Comic-Con will put his prize possession on the line because he is not going to let his business die. I get that, and it got to me.

There were other things that were cool too. Interspersed with the various plot threads were interviews where there were regular ordinary fans, and industry insiders, and all sorts of cool people.

First off, Gee! This should not be a surprise at all—I know Gerard Way has gone to Comic-Con before—but it nonetheless was a surprise, and a pleasant one. And I don’t think I had seen that particular hair color before.

Also, Seth Green! When he refers to My Love, @claregrant, in his Tweets, I did not know that was where there relationship started. It makes total sense, but it is fun to know.

And Grant Morrision! So previously I have only seen him in a couple of MCR videos (speaking of Gerard Way), and he has been pretty terrifying. Here, he is speaking, and okay, I knew he was from Scotland, but there is knowing it and hearing him being engaging and charming in that accent, and talking about Dr. Manhattan while I am reading Watchmen, and okay, now he is not scary.

Other fun interviews include Joss Whedon, Matt Groening, Eli Roth, and Guillermo Del Toro being adorable. Oh, and Frank Miller. I’ve been reading a lot of his work lately. I feel like I am forgetting some, but ultimately, I liked the movie. I was charmed by it. Maybe it’s different if you’re an insider, but they got a lot of insiders to talk to them.

There is one question that does not quite get answered. Well, it isn’t quite asked, but it is addressed. The vendor and others mention how it is not just comics anymore. Initially there were the movies and shows that came from comics, and that is kind of taking over, even without direct connections. So, for some people that’s a complaint, or a concern that can totally be legitimate. For other, it is being offended that they are surrounded by those that are not geek enough, which I find a little more questionable. The question it raises for me overall, though, is the future. What happens to comics? It’s not a simple question.

First of all, yes, Lucasfilm takes over the loading dock, but I believe those films end up leading to several comics. Lots of shows that don’t start out as comics end up as comics. There will be more content. Also the presence of those shows should be something that increases the exposure, increases the ability to get good guests, and increases the availability of swag. That can be a positive influence.

What seems important then, is that the comics remain viable—that they can take advantage of the increased exposure, and be appreciated and bought. As I do this, I am seeing that there is so much to comic books that it is not an easy question or an easy field to predict, but I keep coming back to that passion coming through with the main characters, and with the interviews who are not ashamed to let their geek flag fly. I have to feel positive. There’s something there.

Good job Morgan Spurlock!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comic Con

Yesterday’s Oregonian surprised me with a sidebar article on the front of Living announcing a new Portland Comic Con based on San Diego’s Comic Con. It seemed timely, based on what I am doing now, so of course I read, but also, Double Tree Hotel? That sounds a lot like Stumptown Comics Fest. Are they just changing the name? I like Stumptown. Wait, Stumptown happened at the Convention Center in April? I am out of the loop. Well, I did sort of know that.

Anyway, special guests were listed as Holly from the original Land of the Lost and Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica, and it sounds like they are going to try and have more workshops and networking, rather than just a bunch of tables set up, so that could be good or bad but I was thinking it was at least worth checking out.

My sisters come home and I tell them about this, and they make a few jokes, and yet are intrigued, which is their normal approach to my journey here, and they ask if I am going, and I said that I think it could be worth checking out, depending on which artists will be there, but I will not go in costume.

“Fine, just don’t fit in.”

(Honestly, I have no idea if they are even encouraging costumes, but I’m not up for that._

The discussion continued, and they were trying to think about what would induce them to go. This was kind of timely, because the other night we went to see the Fixx at Music Millennium (I will write more about that later), which was our first time there, and it was kind of cool, but it is not completely convenient, and so we were discussing whom else we would go for. Most of the bands we still follow just play bigger venues, even if they are not huge, and what I finally decided, and they agreed, is that we won’t know in advance—we will just see the name and be like “Going!”

So, Maria decided that the guest that would get her to Portland Comic Con would be Dirk Benedict, whom we definitely watched as Starbuck on the original Battlestar Galactica, but whom we love even more as Face on the A-Team. She said that, and I said, well, they only have Apollo. Pause. Okay, we’re going.

Okay, that will be an interesting experience for us. Fine. I go online for more information. The guest page shows Kathy Coleman (Holly), but not Richard Hatch. Instead it shows Noah Hathaway. Hatch/Hathway, Apollo/Boxey. Somehow that does not feel the same.

Maria comes in and I tell her.

“Who’s that?”
“What’s that?”
“Well, he was also in The Neverending Story.”
“He was Atreyu?”
“Yeah. Didn’t you know?”
“I don’t go see stupid movies.”
“Then how did you know the name?”

There was no answer to this. Frankly, I am pretty sure they both saw it, because I think they are the ones who told me that Ozma from Return to Oz was the Childlike Empress in The Neverending Story. I have not seen the movie, but I understand a horse dies, so they totally could have blocked it out. Also, I think there is a band named Atreyu, so she could know from that. Anyway, Comic Con was back off.

However, today I go back to the page, and now they show both Richard Hatch and Noah Hathaway (and Holly). I feel a little jerked around, but it might be back on. I don’t know. None of the artists whose books I own and would want signed are featured, but I guess I’ll see what workshops they have and decide. Obviously, Portland is not a huge city, but it is artistic, and this could be a really good thing. I am not sure if both Stumptown and Rose City will continue, and if they do, if that will be bad competition or good for keeping the scene alive, but you know, it will be interesting to find out.

In other news, I decided it was really time—I must watch Comic-Con Episode 4: A Fan’s Hope. Also, we have decided our trip to Heroes and Hobbies, and to Wunderland, will be Monday night, so I guess it is Family Home Evening.