Sunday, September 18, 2011

Comics You Should be Reading: Mystic

You should be reading Mystic. 

I really thought the first of these posts would be about a webcomic. But then Marvel --big name, boring, monolithically superheroic Marvel-- decided to bribe me with  a gorgeous story about two young women fighting prejudice, fate, and steampunk robot monsters:

I don't know what I can say to hook you if that's not enough.

Well, I guess I could mention that the girls plan their schemes with no romance in mind. That they rely on their own skills and sense and not once their beauty. I could, if pressed, write whole essays about the wonderful variety in character design, not just for the two main characters but throughout the large main cast- a variety that reflects and includes body shape, age, and class, and not just colors and gender.* I could mention that the story deals with bigotry of all stripes within the context of the story world and without getting preachy. And I could maybe kind of fangirl all over David Lopez and Nathan Fairbairn's art,  or how I think I've got a new favorite writer with G. Willow Wilson, who's doing such a great job giving everyone a distinct voice.

But really: it's a steampunk revolution story with two kickass women leading the tale. It's got zeppelins, magic, and fancy dance parties that don't hide the servants. It's a mini-series, so there's no fear of committing to a never ending soap story with endless unresolved plot complications.  Mystic is, in short, just the sort of book the big publishers almost never want to risk publishing, because common publishing wisdom says no one will read it. But it's awesome. You should read Mystic: Order the first issue here:
or just go to your favorite local comic shop and ask!

* My one teensy quibble is that there could be a bit more diversity in skin color- but since this is a Fantasy Industrial Europe, more or less, I'll let them slide with what they've got. It's still more racially mixed than most modern New York City crowd scenes in comics. 

Links for more info, including some interviews with the writer:
Comic Book Resources
Comics Alliance
Marvel Sneak Peek

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Comics You Should be Reading: A Brief Introduction

Being an ardent comic evangelist in often non-comic-reading groups, I often get asked what comics X should read.This really happens! There's a weird persecution complex in comics fandom, where fans think that non-readers are just waiting to rank on them if they voice some enthusiasm, but my overwhelming experience is that most people are happy to learn about New Fun Things. They just don't know where to start.

The trouble is that I hardly know where to start either. As a lifelong fan, having someone ask me "What comics should I read" is a bit like having someone ask me "How can I have fun in life?" There are so many answers, and it depends on the person doing the asking, and I could talk for hours about any of the hundreds of comics I like well enough to follow and oh man now my brain is locking up and I need time and an internet connection and ...

And here I have both. So here, in what I hope will be a not-infrequent series, are the Comics You Should Read, with descriptions and links and everything. This by no means an exhaustive series- I'm going to stick mostly to online comics, and I have my own very specific tastes and all-- but if you're like me, and you should be if you're reading this blog, this should at least give you a place to start.

Now, what sort of stories do you like...?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Invisible Failure Mode

Righty-o, I THOUGHT I was gonna do a post about the Thor movie (synopsis: It is awesome and Thor's chest makes me wanna get [Norse] religion) but then Science in My Fiction started talking about Spirited Away.

The rest of the post assumes you have seen Spirited Away at least once. If you haven't, you need to go do that RIGHT NOW. It's got fairyland riddles and dragons and witches and soot sprites and mystery and some of the most gorgeous art direction this side of the mortal divide. It's be Miyazaki, and if that's not enough to get you watchign a thing I weep for your deprivation. Go watch it, I'll wait.


Here's the thing. Every official writeup of the film I've seen describes Chihiro as sullen, spoiled, and/or whiny. And this baffles me, because Chihiro is constantly one of the best kids I've seen. In the first scene-after a long car trip with nothing to do, over country roads, in the company of her really awful parents, moving away from her friends and life and into the unknown- she's...tired and quiet. I know, she doesn't jump for joy when her mother dimisses her entire life to that point as something she'll soon forget; good grief, who would? And yes, when her parents decide to invade the supernatural realm through the tunnel with the psychic alarm signals, she tries to stop them. And when her parents- who at this point are well beyond insensitive and arcing into criminal-- decide to just EAT SOMEONE ELSE'S MEAL, she tries again to make them act like kerning human beings instead of wallowing porcine greed spirits. And when they in fact morph into wallowing porcine monstrosities, and alien beings manifest around her, looking for a scapegoat, she scarpers...

and then starts Dealing With It. And not, say, by leaving and finding good parents to live with, as a more cold bloodedly sensible person might, but by trying to save her own pig-family (who really, I cannot stress enough, have done nothing to deserve this effort) At this point, the reviews and descriptors generally agree Chihiro starts behaving well, so I won't ennumerate her many many acts of awesome from this point on.

Seriously, I know part of the movie's arc is Chihiro becoming more than she was, but from what I see she goes from well meaning but overwhelmed to Total Badass. I've never seen anything in her behavior that invited any of the negative descriptors often used on her (and the standard synopses never mention the fact that she's being raised by the kind of parents who invite throttling in every restaurant around the world). Someone fill me in, what I am missing here?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Choose Your Messiah How

How do you define God?

In our world, of course, it's not too pressing or too difficult. Some guy comes up and waves his hand and the dead walk, hey, God! Likewise, anyone who goes around building new universes is pretty much a shoo-in for the job.

But what about fantasy? Gods run amuck in fantasy worlds- but most of them never actually do much. They "manifest" and give out vague prophecies, or perform minor acts of magic. Which makes them different from that world's It doesn't. And rarely is any explanation offered of how people know they're worshipping a true God (and how they choose which one to go with) as opposed to say, Steve in Accounting, who's figured out some foresight and projection spells.

It gets even weirder in superhero verses. Marvel has the gods of Asgard and Greece running around eating hotdogs and hitting on women. Plus multiple devils, about five universe-builders, and at least one Celestovore. And let's not forget the mere mutants who can reverse time, resurrect themselves and others, command the elements...all pretty solidly god-powers in our mythos. (My favorite bit of fictive dissonance involved a DC story where one hero explained to a sidekick that of course Santa Claus was ridiculous! Because no one can fly around the world in one night! And who would live in the north pole? And...this is in the universe where Superman lives, remember.Man who can fly around the world in the space of a sentence, lives in a giant ice fortress at the North Pole...)

A lot of fantasy 'verses seem to dodge this by giving their population a rather Classic view of the Gods- gods are just people who can ruin your life in new exciting ways instead of the usual guns and taxes, people pay tribute to them as they do to their rulers, so on and such.

So what makes a god, when the miraculous is common? And what does a god merit? And does anyone have any recommendations for stories that actually deal with this in a non-preachy way? 'Cause I'd read that.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Acceptable Breaks from Reality

As often happens, I recently ran across yet another chorus of comments decrying the unrealistic nature of Barbie dolls (this time it was in the comments of a Basic Instructions comic, but it really does happen with suprising regularity. I have no idea if this is reflective of Barbie's social significance in the regular world, or if I just hang out with people who think waaaaay too much about the implications of children's toys. I realize the existence of this blog argues the latter.) and the effect this portrayal has on young girl's ideas of womanhood.
(For those who haven't come across this discussion weekly since age 10: Barbie has an unrealistic body, and apparently at some point a large number of people agreed that this makes little girls think this is the way they should look and so eventually leads to anorexia and depression and fad diets and, presumably, Nutrisystem ads with that disturbing squirrel-cheeked woman who inexplicably wants me to look at her butt. So, you know, atrocities.)
I'm not going to contradict the idea that the art and artifacts of our culture shape our expectations. I mean, that's part of the point of a culture, to train its members to look for certain patterns. But I do wonder why Barbie (and lately, Bratz) gets all the warping-our-daughters'-minds flak. A small sampling of my own dolls, from wee girlhood, would include:
A pillow with a face and yarn-loop hair
A green plastic Gremlin- yes, the monster- that was bigger than me when I first got it
A fuzzy pre-wetting Gremlin plush, also from the movie
Fisher Price Peg People
A couple "fashion dolls", because I was way too broke to have actual Barbies
A little red plastic farm woman bravely continuing her career without a head
aaaand a porcelain milkmaid with a candle in her skirt, who I was inexplicably allowed to use as a toy.

What I'm saying is, my dolls represented an exciting range of utterly unrealistic and often inhuman body portrayals. I've seen the same thing in children's toys over the years. I'm sure the constant stylization in toys has to do with both the Uncanny Valley and McCloud's observation that identification is easier with less realistic "people", plus 5 year olds gnawing on lifelike minipeople would be very upsetting.

But why are fashion dolls the only ones held up as a bad example? If little girls are having their body image set by playthings, why aren't they growing up expecting to be peg-shaped, or eternally baby-like, or possibly ponies?* Why are pillow-dolls safe, and Barbies Eeeeevil? I suspect Fashion Dolls get the blame because their deformations are seen by some adults as being sexy, or maybe they're seen as more realistic? And frankly I find the whole thing a bit disturbing- images do have some power, but ascribing them high levels of soul-destroying control leads to iconoclast madness.

Do you remember considering any toys as a Future You?** Which ones were they? And what do you think about the whole Barbie thing, anyway?

*I confess to still being somewhat disappointed that I am not in fact a green reptilian monster. That would be SO cool.

**I would also have accepted Giant Robot T. Rex! Alas, puberty failed me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MMPAG: Massive Multiplayer Art Generation

A while back, Roger Ebert wrote an unfortunate post claiming that video games couldn't be art. Of course the automatic reaction of the game playing and general culture geek community was "Roger Ebert is an idiot" along with a chorus of "Not mad, just very disappointed" from many people who had assumed Ebert was too smart a guy to go around attacking genres he didn't personally follow.

To Ebert's credit, he did later admit his own ignorance on the subject of video games, which is a lot like my own ignorance of Cricket. * The furor died down, and the whole thing is quick moving into the realm of shared geekculture memory, like the concept of slashfic or the memory of Wertham's anticomic crusade.

I was right there with everyone else rolling my eyes at the idea that video games can't be art-- they present ideas! They involve the audience emotionally and conceptually! By my foma, they change the very patterns of society!** What else does art require?

But Alexis, over at Failbetter Games' Betterblog, brings up an elaboration that I hadn't been able to articulate to myself before- that video games (all games, really) don't become art until they're played. *** It's an interesting point. I think it's accurate.

I also think it's the reason so many critics can't see games as art, and the reason so many players and producers have trouble defending the medium. People are used to the idea of art as a complete preexisting thing, an entity to itself. A painting reflects the same light wavelengths when no one's looking. A novel doesn't gain or lose chapters based on who reads it. Ebert's original unfortunate post explored this a little with his discussion of "authorial intent", the idea that a work of art is the vision of a creator, complete as it stands.

He didn't explore it much, though, and given his usual field of criticism it's a weird omission. Because while a script (or a piece of scenery, or a given costume) may be a work of art on its own, a play or a movie simply does not exist until a group of people come together and contribute their own individual arts- plural, as a discipline- to make a work thereof. Symphonies and architecture, musical performances- none of these are really complete without a collaboration. Are things less art for involving multiple people? Does art not exist until it's finished?

I wish these were just semantic questions. Why they aren't is for another post, because, well, I'm lazy. But what do you think? When does art happen, for you? And have you ever played a particular video game you honestly felt was art?

* Not my thing, not interested in making it my thing, way too busy to bother learning about it beyond its sheer existence, which baffles and amuses me enough. But this ignorance does not make me a better person.

**Ask an old geek-- say, 40 or 50 years old-- about the effect of the original Star Trek computer game on workplace productivity and personal computer use.

*** But since Alexis is a professional game developer, and I'm an amateur comic artist. I'm not particularly abashed that he's more eloquent on the subject. Bet I've got all kinds of deeper thoughts on the subject of gutters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Off to Outer Space! Engines to full!

Since I'm about to restart this blog up proper (really, I have posts lined up and everything!) I thought it would probably be a good idea to say what exactly the point is, here.

And the point is, that there are people who put way too much effort into defining the point. People who say not "I like Wicked, but I actually think the play was better than the book" or even "I hate that Idina Menzel had to share the stage with that scene- stealing Kristin Chenoweth " but "Given that Oz was originally a progressive idealist fantasy version of America, I find the modern attempts to revision it as dystopia disturbingly reflective of the growing trend towards regressivism and, indeed, outright superstition in American culture."*

People who would never admit "Oooh, Twilight's my guilty pleasure! Ok, it's for teenagers, but it's still so romantic!" but who would argue "Twilight's clearly written with juvenile intent, but I think it provides a fascinating, if unwitting, deconstruction of the standard love-as-salvation storyline. Edward's constant apparently motiveless "love" of Bella, despite the insistence of the narrative on her essential weakness, parallels medieval Christian morality plays about the unconditional love of Christ for flawed humanity, while the vampiric curse of sterility suggests that such love is in fact ultimately corrupting."**

People whose main dispute about chili is not whether or not it should contain beans, but whether it represents the organic synthesis of cultures that regularly occur at the borders of dominant cultures, or reflects the cultural imperialism of mainstream American culture at the turn of the nineteenth century.***

People who, in short, overthink things to a staggering degree.

This blog is for those people,their overthinking, the arguments, and, of course, the discussions about Nathan Fillion's pants.

See you Tuesday!javascript:void(0)

*Yes, this actually is a part of my opinion on Wicked. But that's a whole post in itself.

**No, I don't actually think this. I'm firmly in the Twilight-is-teenage-girl-porn camp. But I bet I could get an A on the paper!

***The answer, of course, is that beans in chili are the devil's work. Chili is what you eat on the trail to get the heck away from beans for a night. It's based on German beef stew for crying out loud! What is wrong with you bean-adding lunatics?!?