She Can Fly: Is It My Story?

Appropriation is a word that gets tossed around a lot in popular culture, and with good reason. Whether regarding dance, speech patterns, or musical riffs, the concept of essentially “stealing” someone’s cultural identity has fast become a wide-spread notion.

Often times, what appropriation comes down to is whether or not someone has the “right” to tell a specific story.

Look at Disney’s Moana, a visually stunning animated film about Polynesian mythology, which many people of Polynesian heritage have critiqued as having a tone-deaf, and white, interpretation of influential and significant figures to their culture.

On one hand, telling a story with more diversity, offering up representation of non-white characters, is hugely important in our current cultural atmosphere. On the other hand, many of the people telling those stories have no understanding of the culture and diversity they are trying to represent.

Even at a more “basic” level, comic characters like Riri Williams, the newly introduced young, black, female Iron-Man, are written (and, to a lesser extent, drawn) by almost exclusively white men. While Riri isn’t explicitly anything culturally but American, she is a black girl who is from Chicago, and that is vastly different from anything most white men will experience in their lifetimes.

Many of these men have “cultural consultants” who review their comic and content with the goal of correcting issues ranging from misuse of slang to black hair being drawn inaccurately (one of a few things that was critiqued a lot when the first cover for Riri’s Invincible Iron-Man #1 was released). Some writers, like Kelly Sue Deconnick in Bitch Planet, make specific efforts to include consultants in their book’s credits, as well as offering up the valuable commodity of page space to people who are not white, not straight, and have meaningful commentary on the topics covered in the comic.

Paul Jenkin’s AfterShock comic Alters, about a trans superheroine, specifically acknowledges its story consultants, and future issues promise to include interviews with some of the people who helped shape the writer’s understanding and research of representing a trans woman. However, many trans women have critiqued Alters for representing early transition inaccurately in the costume, body shape, and attitude of the main character, ultimately saying that the comic is an inaccurate cis telling of a trans narrative. Consultants don’t make something “your story to tell”.

 

“…that skirt is a little daring without any leggings, babe.” @MagsVisaggs

 

At New York Comic Con, during the Black Mask Studios panel, writer Tini Howard, who’s title, the Skeptics, features black women in the Cold War-era, stated that historical accuracy in historical-specific stories is important, that you can’t ignore what is going on that might effect characters of color, but, as a white woman, she also knows certain aspects of that are “not her story to tell.”

The delineation of what is “your story to tell” is not as fuzzy as what may or may not be appropriation. Ultimately, “your story” has to be something that connects emotionally to you as a human being. While a writer should not limit themselves to only straight, white, male characters if they are a straight, white man, they should also not tell stories that do not belong to them, that they don’t have an emotional, intellectual, intrinsic right to.

For a good example of this, look no further than MTV’s Sweet/Vicious, a dark comedy about rape survivors becoming superheroes. The small writers’ room has a mix of men and women, but they are exceedingly conscious about what aspects of rape culture stories are theirs to tell:

It was very important to us to never take anyone’s story and rip it from the headlines. That is not our story to tell. That is someone’s story of survival that they very bravely shared in whatever medium they shared it. It wasn’t our place nor did we want to go down that road.

I’ve written on writing race and appropriation in comics before, and it’s not a clean cut or easy subject. The truth of the matter is, comics need to represent the cultural atmosphere they are written in; this means they need to have people with a variety of skin colors, sexualities, gender identities, and body types. However, writers and artists also need to be sensitive of how they represent people who they are not like: they need to be aware of differences; they need to think before they act; and, most of all, they need to do their research.

She Can Fly: This Joke isn’t Funny

The Killing Joke has never not been surrounded by controversy. The almost 30 year old graphic novel by infamous author Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland attempted to portray the Joker as a sympathetic character, a man who had one bad day, but, in foil to Batman, it took him over the edge to insanity. Of course, the Joker’s backstory isn’t what made The Killing Joke the buzzword that it has been since its publication in 1988; the crippling, sexualization, and (possibly) implied rape of Batgirl.

But, in the nature of the comics industry, the stand-alone comic was considered a huge success, winning an Eisner, often being referred to as “the greatest Batman story ever told,” and being one of the few comics (of a certain age) that has never gone out of print.

In the original, the physical and sexual violence towards Babs was meant as a motivation for her father, James Gordon; it was the Joker’s tool to break him as a man, and the supposed illustration of Gordon’s moral superiority over both Batman and the Joker. However, in retrospect, Moore denounced the story as “[not] very interesting,” and later directly blamed DC editorial for poor decisions, including what happened to Batgirl, in a 2006 interview with Wizard magazine:

I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon – who was Batgirl at the time – and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project … [He] said, ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.’ It was probably one of the areas where they should’ve reined me in, but they didn’t.

So when DC announced in 2015 that they would be producing (what ultimately turned out to be an R-rated) animated feature of The Killing Joke, reaction was mixed. Fans of the original, and of Bruce Timm-produced DC features, were ecstatic, while others were skeptical, considering the subject matter.

Immediately prior to the release of the film, right around the time of San Diego Comic-Con 2016, leaks began to slip out.

First there was a bordering on explicit sex scene between Batgirl and Batman.

This decision was apparently made because the filmmakers felt they needed to have the audience become move invested and Batgirl, and create a “deeper emotional tie” between her and Batman. Instead of a mentoring or student-teacher relationship, instead of a coworker relationship, or a friendship, or even a familial relationship, Batgirl becomes, at best, a sexual object to ultimately motivate the male characters. “It’s her decision to engage in this relationship,” the creators state. However, Batgirl was canonically, and is likely, between 16 and 19 in The Killing Joke, so the sexual nature of her relationship with Batman becomes one of Batman abusing his age, status, and power over her, even unintentionally (also, Batgirl is a fictional character with no actual agency beyond what the writers write her doing). Brian Azzarello even later stated, “The thing about this is that it’s controversial, so we added more controversy.”

At Comic-Con, it was revealed that, after the sex scene, Batman spurns Batgirl, and the film leaves her to pine alone before being shot, kidnapped, and…well, you probably know the story.

Fans at Comic-Con reacted negatively in The Killing Joke film panel, including Bleeding Cool’s Jeremy Konrad shouting his response to the panel saying that Babs was written as a strong female character in the movie (“Yeah, by using sex and then pining for Bruce.”). Brian Azzarello responded in a way that really emphasizes his feelings on the presentation of female characters and fan reaction: “Wanna say that again? Pussy?”

Finally, it was recently revealed that the implicit nature of the Joker’s possible rape of Barbara Gordon is made much less implied, with a scene where a prostitute says the Joker has sex with prostitutes every time he breaks out of Arkham Asylum, but that he did not come visit her after his most recent breakout, saying “maybe he found himself another girl.”

Bruce Timm attempted to refute the assertion that Batgirl is raped by the Joker in an interview with Vulture, saying:

I don’t think that [he raped her], actually. I did not think of it as supporting that. If I had, I probably would have changed the line. I never, ever thought that he actually raped her. Even in my first read of the comic, I never thought that. It just seemed like he shot her and then took her clothes off and took pictures of her to freak out her dad. I never thought that it was anything more than that.

Here’s the thing: Whether he [raped her] or not, it’s still sexual violence. It’s still a horrible thing. So in my own head, I was already self-censoring the moment. Maybe just to make it a little more easier to get through. But it’s still a very horrible, horrible thing.

Honestly, all these snippets of information about The Killing Joke, which was just released digitally, makes me feel like we’re just living through this scene from BoJack Horseman:

Screenwriter Brian Azzarello and co-producers Alan Burnett and Bruce Timm are, at their core, three white guys writing a story about the destruction of a woman; a.k.a. something they have no singular, personal experience with.

That’s what The Killing Joke is at its core: the destruction of a young woman, barely in her prime, and the defacing of her body, her spirit, and her self-identity. It also uses this destruction purely to motivate male characters. Barbara is given no happy ending, no moral resolution.

The Killing Joke did not create Oracle, Oracle came over a year later, and only at the hands of editor and writer Kim Yale and her husband, fellow writer, John Ostrander. Kim Yale was notably disgusted by the treatment of the character Barbara Gordon, and ultimately made it her mission to prevent the character from listing in obscurity by turning her into an even more powerful hero, despite, and also because of, her disability.

I don’t own The Killing Joke–book, film, or memorabilia–and I never will. I won’t see The Killing Joke, and I never was going to, but with the treatment of Batgirl as a secondary character, taking the backseat to the men, in what could have been the story of her power, personal strength, and moral superiority over the Joker, I am verbally denouncing the film. And I’m not alone.

Don’t give The Killing Joke your time. It’s not worth it.

She Can Fly: Don’t Need a Cape to be a Hero

Lois Lane is a hero.

Lois Lane is a hero, all on her own, without the strength of Superman, or the speed of Flash.

Lois Lane is one of the strongest female characters in the DC Universe.

Lois Lane is one of the strongest characters in the DC Universe.

Being a hero isn’t about wearing capes or having super powers. Being a hero is about making hard decisions. Being a hero is about doing the right thing.

Lois Lane, the most enduring female character of superhero comics, should be a character that doesn’t need powers to be powerful. However, editorially speaking, Lois is usually relegated to the sidelines, depending on Superman either as his girlfriend, his wife, or that annoying girl he sometimes pines for. And when she’s not jettisoned to a supporting role, she is often forced into dream and fantasy scenarios where she imagines she will only ever be worthy of Superman’s love if she, too, has super powers and becomes some subsidiary of the Super-brand (“Supergirl,” “Superwoman,” and once, even, “Power Girl”).

But that perspective, that many writers rely on when they have no better ideas for Lois, is wrong. Ultimately, Lois is a character that should be written as smart, aggressive, and tenacious.

Even when the character arcs of Lois make missteps–relegating her to a “dumb broad” trope, focusing her entire character around wanting to marry Superman, trying to pit her against other Superman love interests–the essence of the character (from the beginning) remains the same: a woman who pursued an “atypical” and uncommon career for females in the 1930s (crime reporting); a woman who sought to beat her bumbling coworker to the punch; a woman who put herself in danger to get the story; a woman who wanted to do the right thing.

So, the DC Rebirth pitch of having the dying (New52) Superman give his powers to Lois Lane (so that she may become Superwoman), falls flat. While the creative team on board is a fantastic one, Phil Jimenez and Emanuela Lupacchino, the solicitation for the Superwoman series already seems to boast a plot-line akin to the current Mighty Thor, while pushing Lois to fight female villains (instead of Superman’s classic rogues gallery):

Imbued with the powers of Superman, Lois Lane pledges to use her powers to protect Metropolis as the new Superwoman. The only problem is, Lois’ new powers are killing her, and neither she nor her friend and confidant Lana Lang know what to do about it. Will Lois even survive long enough to find out the deadly secret of ULTRA-WOMAN?

Yes, there are all sorts of Elseworlds and imagined stories where Lois has powers, but DC always seems to revert her to human in the end. Why?

Lois classically represents humanity in Superman stories. The relationship between Clark and Lois is designed to have her as the rock that stabilizes Superman, the thing that epitomizes to him everything that makes humans wonderful. She is a grounding device for an alien that can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes. But Lois Lane is so much more than that. Ultimately, Lois doesn’t need an emblem to show her power.

DC’s Superman: Lois Lane one shot from 2014 (by Marguerite Bennett and artist Emanuela Lupacchino) not only justifies the character staying unpowered, but also exemplified how she can be a hero without putting on spandex. More recently, the young adult Lois Lane novels (Fallout and Double Down) continue the trend of giving Lois the agency to save the day, simply by being curious, intelligent, and pursuing the truth.

Lois Lane fights for the common man, whether by exposing stories, reporting truths, or by simply being a human with her feet on the ground.

Lois Lane doesn’t need a cape to be super.

She already is.

In memoriam Noel Neill.

 

Top Ten Comics You Aren’t Reading (but Should be)

Everyone knows about indie darlings that have hit it big (think Image’s Saga, Bitch Planet, and Rat Queens), but there are tons of non-“big two” titles out there that are ripe for reading. This is my top 10 list* for the best books out there that you aren’t reading right now (but absolutely should start reading asap):

*To qualify for this list, books have to be: published in monthly, single issue format; are current published/have a promise of a sequel or an ongoing series; are not based on pre-existing properties; and are from a publisher other than Marvel or DC Comics. Bonus points to creator owned series!

10. Another Castle (Wheeler/Ganucheau, Oni Press)

Still a fledgling comic (which may explain why people aren’t gushing about it like they should), Another Castle is a beautiful play on the damsel in distress story. When the kingdom’s princess is kidnapped by an evil power, the handsome prince thinks it’s up to him to save her. Except he’s not very adept at fighting, where as the princess is an expert in all things combat, strategy, and sneaking. So while the prince bumbles about, it’s the princess, and her newly-made friends (a dreamy gorgon and a sheepish, wimpy demon), to plan her own escape and save the prince, her kingdom, and her father at the same time. The clean, colorful art compliments the energy of the storytelling perfectly.

9. Tomboy (Goodwin, Action Lab)

Definitely not an all ages title, Tomboy is part murder mystery, part slasher, only the heroine of the title is the one doing most of the killing. Tomboy plays with reader expectations by setting up a story about loss, but turning it into one of revenge. The teenaged hero takes matters into her own hands when her best friend and his father are murdered, but only becomes proactive after she begins to hallucinate her favorite anime character, who tells her how to go about exacting revenge. It’s a dark story, fabulously written, with unexpectedly cute (and, at times, gory) art. The disparate nature of the art and plot may be why people don’t initially pick it up, but it is definitely worth reading for just that.

8. Jonesy (Humphries/Boyle, BOOM!)

Just recently announced as an ongoing, Jonesy should be THE comic for the tumblr generation. From its zine-inspired art, to its referential voice, this comic is all about what it means to be a modern teen. The titular heroine loves donuts, ferrets, Stuff (a musician, not just “things”), and…she can secretly make other people fall in love with anything. Of course, this power is usually her downfall. Along with her friend, her father, and her abuelita, Jonesy lives the life of a normal teenage girl. Well, mostly normal.

7. Superzero (Conner & Palmiotti/de Latorre, AfterShock Comics)

Everybody who reads comics wants to be a superhero sometimes. But have you ever actually tried to get your own superpowers? The heroine of this comic is will to do anything, and does everything–radiation, bug bites, the death of her parents–yet she still can’t seem to achieve her super dreams. Unrelentless, she keeps pushing and pushing until…well, the comic starts off grounded, but ends up going pretty far out into the galaxy. The writing hits this concept out of the park, with the art playfully reflecting its references to a range of comic origin stories. One of many great series that launched AfterShock, I suspect it will gain more popularity as the publisher expands.

6. Henchgirl (Gudsnuk, Scout Comics)

While some people want to be heroes or villains, others just want to make a living. But sometimes, in a town full of capes and cowls, the best way to get money is by henching. The heroine of this title is lazy, funny, and a little bit dense, but also lives in a world where people can fly, lift buildings, and shoot carrots from their fingers, but can’t tell that someone is the same person when they put a pair of thick glasses on. The comic is a bit like if Scott Pilgrim slapped on a mask and stopped playing music, with fantastically rough art and expressive characters. The story is fun and light, but has an underlying depth to it. This comic slid under a lot of people’s radars, but is a must read!

5. Diesel (Hesse, BOOM!)

With the first volume wrapped up, Diesel has set up a wider story than it might initially seem. The comic starts off about airships, steampunk pirates, and a spunky heroine who can sometimes shoot sparks from her fingers, but turns into a world-hopping political adventure, with plenty of intrigue and a good does of humor. Though it sounds complex, Hesse exceeds at having the comic make sense. The cartoony art compliments the more comedic tone, but also gives the comic more powerful moments of darkness.

4. Zodiac Starforce (Panetta/Ganucheau, Dark Horse)

I love magical girl stories, but it’s rare that we get more than a brief epilogue of the heroines after the great evil has been defeated. Zodiac Starforce’s entire existence is a subversion of this trope. Taking place a year after the day has been saved, the girls still have their magical powers, but no evil to fight. Then something goes awry, and it’s up to the Zodiac Starforce to save the day. The comic plays with the tropes of classic girls’ cartoon characters, but features different body types and sexualities prominently. Although the first volume just ended (and came out in trade), Panetta confirmed to me on Twitter that a second volume is in the works, with a release date to be determined. This comic needs more love, as it is a standout within the magical girl subgenre.

3. Princeless (Whitley/Various, Action Lab)

I will never not take a chance to praise Princeless, a series all about princesses saving themselves. The most significant thing about this comic is how all the princesses are women of color. The story follows one of seven princesses as she escapes her tower by befriending the dragon that protects her, and then goes on a quest to save her sisters. The book plays with gender roles, but allows each character to be who they are without judgement. One of the best examples is when the eldest sister, a girly girl who is obsessed with her appearance, refuses to be saved from her “captivity” because she likes where she is, and she is helping the people in her own unique way. Princeless celebrates the difference in women (and men), while also being a fun-filled book of adventure and daring.

2. Shutter (Keatinge/del Duca, Image)

This comic is a hair’s breath away from being number one on this list. Since issue #1, I fell in love with the dreamy art, the modern take on a pulp story, and the fully realized characters (including a lead WoC and a supporting trans character). The comic has only gotten better since then, including meta-textual moments, a variety of beasts and aliens (all of whom co-exist with humans), and a sentient cat clock named Cassius (with all the implications that brings). Each issue of Shutter goes places that the others have never been, but always stays true to its roots and inspiration as an action/adventure comic that pays homage to the pulps of yore. Unlike some of its brothers and sisters at Image, Shutter has been quietly successful and has a very loyal fanbase, but I feel it is due much more praise and attention.

 

Before we hit my choice for number one, honorable mention shout outs to Insexts (Bennett/Kristantina, AfterShock Comics), Paper Girls (Vaughan/Chiang, Image), and Goldie Vance (Larson/Williams, BOOM!), which are just a few more great books out there that are definitely worth picking up if you haven’t already.

 

1. Public Relations (Sturges & Justus/Hahn & Marzán & Wilson, Devil’s Due/1/First Comics)

Public Relations has it all: dragons, damsels, scathing satire, dirty jokes, its own recorded music for the in-comic band Peter Smurfy, Garfield references…the list goes on. The reason this title is at number one is because I’ve yet to meet someone else who shares my passion for it. I text my friends random panels from Public Relations every time I get a new issue, hoping to share with them a fraction of the giggles I got from it. This is one of the best comics being published right now, with slick art, sharp writing, pop culture wit and awareness, yet no one seems to be reading it! This is the number one, must-pick-up title of 2016, if only so I can have someone to talk to about it.

 

Have you read any of these titles? What comics do you think this list is missing? Let us know in the comments section!

Whatever Happened 2: Electric Breakdancing Superheroics

This will likely be the last in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

Why is this the last? After this column, it won’t matter anymore. We will have broken the code. AoG Editor Mike and I have been donning the tinfoil caps researching this one. We broke the 52 Issue code of New 52, and we predicted some sort of Convergence type event.

Of course, like any Uri Geller wannabes, we are right sometimes and wrong other times. Battleworld did not end up being Nu-Earth for example. But, you gotta at least try: a defeated Clock King is still right at least twice a day.

Rebirth news has been trickling out, and Mike has every available resource dedicated to compiling this information. #wheresbluebeetle

pantyfiend_logoNot every product launch can be Qwikster or Pantyfiend.com.

Confused? These two products never got off the ground, or were kiboshed pre-launch, or immediately post-launch.

The year is 1986, what the DC Universe needs is a Hispanic, breakdancing superhero.

#relevant

Many look back fondly on the Justice League Detroit era. It sure wasn’t West Coast Avengers. (I don’t recall Del dropping any JL: Detroit lyrics).

dazzlerBut sometimes, ideas need to evolve and change.

Because, the roller-skating superhero isn’t always going to remain relevant.

Tangent: When was Guy Gardner’s haircut ever relevant?


 

Justice_League_of_America's_Vibe_Vol_1_1(Be sure to follow the links for full details!)

Vibe is DC Comics Newest Keystone Series, 2013

So, that didn’t necessarily work out too well.

Going back further, 2009.

Geoff Johns: (…)we want to turn Vibe into a pillar of the DC Universe, just like Green Lantern has become a pillar. Our goal is to elevate the Vibe Universe.

(UPDATE: see comments below, apparently the above was an April Fool’s joke: “VIBE REBIRTH article was a April Fool’s Day gag coordinated across several sites years before Vibe actually came back. The crazy thing is we were right about Geoff Johns involvement! Ha!”)

But, look at the name of that series: Vibe: Rebirth. What event slash non-event is coming up soon? Rebirth.

I figured it out.

The case for:

The power players at DC want to make Vibe relevant.

Rebirth!

Given the speculation that part of the post-Rebirth publishing will be tie-ins to the TV and Cinematic DCUniverses, well, FlashU has Vibe already. OK, it’s not Vibe, but unless they are going the Hank Henshaw as Martian Manhunter route, it has to be Vibe, right?

And of course, Vibe was featured in a Convergence series.

Acotilletta2--Luke_CageThe case against:

Vibe was approaching offensive stereotype upon his launch. He has not necessarily been written well enough to move past this, ala Luke Cage.

George Pérez: Oh, I sincerely say he’s the one character who turned me off the JLA. If nothing else, every character that was introduced was an ethnic stereotype. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Come on now!” These characters required no thinking at all to write. And being Puerto Rican myself, I found the fact that they could use a Puerto Rican character quite obviously favorable since the one Puerto Rican characters in comic that existed, the White Tiger, is no longer a viable character. But having him be a break dancer! I mean, come on now. It’s like if there were only one black character in all of comics, are you going to make him…

The facts:

Sometimes hype is just that, hype. Sometimes the ending of a TV show can suck, because the buildup is too much, or just out-and-out falsehoods. (Lost? Mad Men?) Sometimes cheese is just cheese.

I know Mike will be thanking me if Vibe is part of Rebirth and Mike’s DC is brought back. And although I have a pretty decent track record of predicting some of this stuff, as of right now, there is no indication Vibe will be featured.

She Can Fly: I Took My Mom to Comic Con

I sat on the bus, bag of newly purchased, unread Wednesday comics on my lap, suitcase underneath my feet on the luggage deck below. It was my yearly pilgrimage to the mecca that was New York Comic Con.

But this year was a little different; a little more filled with anxiety–not borne of my upcoming interviews with Greg Pak or the guys behind the Venture Bros or Leila del Duca and Joe Keating–instead, it was because my mother could be accompanying me to Comic Con.


I was in love with comics from childhood: Calvin and Hobbes and Liberty Meadows inspired me to learn how to read, I loved to illustrate my own stories, and the day I found out my older brother had a collection of X-Men and Spider-man comics under his bunk bed was the day I aspired to steal them and start my own collection.

My mom never really got it. My older sister never had a comic book phase (as far as I knew), and my brother grew out of his at the age of 13. So when I started reading comics and manga actively at 13, and kept reading them staunchly and stubbornly through high school and beyond, I think my mom started to get confused. On some level, I think she worried my reading comics was a form of arrested development; a desire to remain childish and detached from adulthood. In a word: immature.

What she didn’t know was that my love of comics made me grow and improve. I began searching for literary allusions in comic strips for extra credit in English classes. I relished in finding graphic novel adaptations of historical stories and “great literature.” I applied art history to pop culture, and examined the difference between high and low culture (and if there even was a difference to begin with). I started writing, and my writing improved because I was absorbing so many different writers’ styles, tones, and genres. All of this happened because of comic books.

But I never really told my mom about the intellectual side of my hobby. All she knew was I spent too much money on anime, manga, and comics, and she didn’t really understand why an adult would be interested in that kind of stuff.


The bus ride to New York City was uneventful. I read my weekly pull, checked Twitter for updates on who had already arrived at the convention, and fidgeted impatiently for my impending arrival at Penn Station. When the bus finally pulled in, I was quick to escape and make my way to the hotel, where my mom had already arrived.


My mother is a watercolor artist who is nationally, and internationally, known and ranked. She studied fine art for most of her life, and comics represented, for her, a baffling antithesis to John Singer Sargent and van Gogh.

The small pieces of anime and manga she witnessed me watch and read looked the same. The characters were interchangeable, and if you swapped their hairstyles, they looked like one another (which is a fair critique). She felt I was limiting my artistic ability by only drawing cartoons, and not participating in life drawing and classic art classes.


I met my mom at the hotel, and we spent the evening in the city, eating at a deli, seeing the sights, looking at off Broadway plays and comedy shows we could go to. When we finally returned to the hotel, we both readied our costumes for the next day, my first (and her only) day at the con.


Cosplay, another hobby of mine, was much less baffling to mom. In addition to being an artist, she was also a theater major in college, and did costume designing as a job. Mom helped me make my very first cosplay when I was 16, and didn’t question my enthusiasm or interest in learning how to sew. When I told her that part of my convention experience was dressing up in costume and taking pictures, she jumped at the idea. She loved it, and wanted to dress up along with me.

I began to share historical insight I had on different characters and costumes; I sent her emails with pictures of Catwoman’s different costumes, stories about the Black Canary mother-daughter legacy, offering up thoughts and ideas on different comic heroines and cartoon stars she could dress as.

She changed her mind (first Catwoman, then Supergirl, then the 80’s show Space Cats) until she finally settled on a her own design: a 50’s housewife-style Supergirl.


12144779_10208194810015093_1624722004017802763_nDressed in our finest, we made the short trek to the Javits Center, and both sorely regretted our choice of high heels as our footwear, and that’s when she saw it: the three block long line of people, in costumes and nerdy shirts, who already had their tickets for the con.

“Is the line always like this?” She asked.

“Yeah, New York’s numbers rival that of San Diego Comic Con.”

She nodded, amazed. “What’s it like inside the convention?”

I paused for a moment before I answered, “huge.”


In the weeks before the convention, she emailed me, concerned; “are people okay with their pictures being taken?”

I had to laugh to myself. “Absolutely! People love it, but do make sure to ask them, first.”


tumblr_nw6p6kVbnr1tvmnaho1_1280When we got past the line, and into the blacktop area of the convention, people began to stop mom, asking her for pictures. Every ten or so feet, another person asked her for a photo, and she glowed, pleased that her effort and hard work was being acknowledged. She gawked at a massive Hulkbuster Iron Man costume, and complimented a small child on her Supergirl costume.

She pointed to a group of men in the same masked costumes, “look at all those Spider-men!”

I snorted, “that’s actually a bunch of Deadpools, mom, but that was a good guess.”


The day was a blur. She was amazed at the size of the convention, even on its most docile day (Thursday), it was bustling with energy. The moment we entered the Artist Alley, something suddenly clicked for her.

As we passed the rows and rows of artists and writers, and I pointed out some of the people I had interviewed, or was planning to interview, she nodded, studying each artist’s banner and prints.

As we left the hall, she turned to me. “I finally get it now.”

“Get what?”

“I get why you like comics. It seemed like you always used to read things that all looked the same….same art, same color, same style. But looking at all those artists in there, the huge variety, I get it. I see how beautiful some of the art is, how many different styles and kinds of stories they are telling. I understand why you love comics.”


As an adult, I like to think I have a pretty good relationship with my mother. We talk openly and frankly, and I feel lucky to be able to be so honest with her.

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Taking mom to NYCC was completely intimidating and totally exciting. I wanted her to understand that I am truly passionate about comics as a medium and an art, but also as a piece of history and as a reflection of popular culture and society. I couldn’t think of a more perfect convention to take her to, with New York Comic Con’s strict anti-harassment policy, family friendly vibe, and variety of programming ranging from critiques on representation to artist profiles.

I think the experience helped her really understand the industry of nerds, and I got a chance to share a big part of my world with her.


A week after the convention, I got a phone call.

“So, do you think your dad would want to go with us next year?”

My dad? A smart, hugely nerdy man who wasn’t the biggest fan of crowds?

“Gosh, mom, I don’t know, maybe? I definitely think it would be fun to have him come.”

She laughed. “What do you think we could get him to dress as?”

Maybe that’s a blog post for next year.

Whatever Happened To… The Flaxen Femme Fatale

The latest offering in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence), and are gone now.

This week’s character is a bit of a black (or should I say blonde?) horse: the Blonde Phantom.

Originally created for Timely Comics (marvel’s predecessor), Louise Grant came into being in the mid-1940’s as an attempt to increase female readership. The Blonde Phantom released a few years after Wonder Woman made her first appearance, and offered stories within the vein of noir, a somewhat darker response to Timely’s other leading ladies like Millie the Model and Venus (who headed romantic comedy titles) and Namora and Miss America (who were in more straight superhero books). The Blonde Phantom echoed Quality Comics’ Phantom Lady, and is occasionally viewed as, on some level, the inspiration for the first Black Canary, as Louise was a mild mannered secretary in her day job who fought crime at night with her expert martial arts skills and a sexy ensemble.

Purportedly, the Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and artist Syd Shores as a direct response to Wonder Woman’s popularity, although Al Sulman also claims to have been her originator, and the writer who was behind All Select Comics, the title in which she debuted (which was immediately renamed Blonde Phantom Comics after her first appearance).

As with other Timely titles aimed at women in the 1940s, the series only lasted about 2 years, but there were a number of crossovers and interactions between all the ladies of Timely. Blonde Phantom Comics eventually changed title and format to become an anthology series of romance strips titled Lovers.

But Louise Grant’s adventures as a crime fighter didn’t end there…

The case for:

–       Louise Mason (nee Grant) was a major supporting character in John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk.

–      The only character other than Shulky able to break the fourth wall in Sensational She-Hulk, Louise acknowledged her storied history, as well as how aging works for comicbook characters in a charming and unexpected way. Not only did her inclusion in the series inspire some of the storylines in Dan Slott’s She-Hulk run, but with the success of characters like Deadpool and Harley Quinn, this bender of reality could find huge success in the current comics atmosphere.

–      Millie the Model dressed as the Blonde Phantom for a cosmetics company concurrently with the release of the actual Blonde Phantom’s first appearance. That kind of kismet is pretty rare and special.

–       Mark Mason and Louise had a reverse Clark Kent/Lois Lane relationship; Mark was in love with the Blonde Phantom and though Louise was a bit of a bore. This subversion of the classic superhero romantic trope could resonate strongly with a modern comics audience.

–       Women are the majority audience for comics now, and with the success of oddball titles like Harley Quinn and female-led crime and mystery stories like Black Widow, Pretty Deadly, Spider-Woman, Sex Criminals, Elektra, Poison Ivy, Bitch Planet, Catwoman, and the upcoming Vampirella revamp, the Blonde Phantom could easily find a niche on the waterfall racks.

–       The Blonde Phantom is technically a female legacy character, with Louise’s daughter Wanda briefly donning the domino mask. Wanda was last mentioned in 2007’s the Initiative.

–       Howard Chaykin’s Avengers 1959 miniseries teamed up the Blonde Phantom with her old friend Namora, as well as Nick Fury, Sabretooth, Kraven, and Howard Stark, and was instrumental in defeating the Spider-Queen and Dieter Skul.

–       A native of Hoboken, New Jersey, experienced in legal proceedings, and an expert detective herself, the Blonde Phantom would fit right in with the current new and different Marvel universe pretty well (she could team up with Patsy Walker’s new company, or offer an old school perspective to Kamala).

–       With Marvel going back to their Timely roots, featuring Millie the Model in Secret Wars and giving romance comic star Patsy Walker her own solo title, Louise Grant doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched heroine to return to the pages, young or old.

 

 

The case against:

–       Louise has a lot of history, and last we saw her she was definitely not how you would imagine a superheroic leading lady: older, heavier, and not as interested in fighting crime.

–       Despite her most recent appearance only being a few years old, the 2011 mini series Avengers 1959 did not solidify her relevance in the Marvel U.

–      With the introduction of paralegal Angie Huang in the most recent She-Hulk solo series, Louise’s most successful niche was filled by someone else (with apparent supernatural powers).

 

The fact remains…

There’s still a chance Louise (or Wanda) could find success. While the Blonde Phantom doesn’t represent something wholly unique to modern comics (as a white, blonde woman), Louise does offer up an older perspective, a chance to show more body diversity a la Valient’s Faith, and a chance to have some real commentary on the condition of comics without it coming from a nutjob like Deadpool.

I could easily see Louise playing a Jarvis-style role to a younger woman who’s just starting out in the superhero business, or a woman who, while a veteran of the cape game, needs smart and sarcastic support…

Say, maybe Spider-Woman needs a secretary-slash-nanny?

Whatever Happened To… The Rabbit Of Tomorrow

The next in a short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

This week we take look at the lovable lapin, and Earth-C’s writer and artist for the JLA (Just’a Lotta Animals) comic, Rodney Rabbit, a.k.a. CAPTAIN CARROT!

Created by Roy Thomas, Scott Shaw! , and Gerry Conway, Captain Carrot made his first appearance as a preview in the top selling comic at the time, the New Teen Titans, and had a well-loved 20 issue series in the mid 80’s. But are funny animal comics even relevant anymore?

The case for:

–       Captain Carrot (and his Zoo Crew) parodied the DC Comic character roster at the time, telling fun, lighthearted stories that are much in the vein of current DC You titles like Starfire, Gotham Academy, Bizarro, and Bat-Mite.

–      Captain Carrot represented DC’s awareness to the relevancy of funny animal comics being produced for more mature readers, a big comicbook trend in the 80’s.

–       Rodney was a writer and artist at the DC Comics of Earth-C (think of the parody possibilities: Dan Dog-dio, the hounding co-publisher!).

–       He was a star in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, and a clear favorite to draw for many DC artists.

–       Zatanna’s pet rabbit Lucky is actually Rodney’s son.

–       Captain Carrot was a big part of DC’s Final Crisis, even having his own miniseries during the event.

–       He’s a founding member of “Operation Justice Incarnate,” and helps keep the DC Multiverse safe.

–       Is basically Superman, but with the cutest buck-tooth grin. (And his greatest weakness is that his powers run out 24 hours after he chews on a Cosmic Carrot.)

–       Marvel has had recent success with two anthropomorphic animal characters headlining their own series: Howard the Duck and Rocket Raccoon.

–       Wizard Magazine #151 already imagined what a modern retelling of the Zoo Crew might look like:

The case against:

–       His original name (Roger Rabbit) was changed to Rodney partway through his first series in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit from Gary Wolf (and later, Disney), which led to a fair amount of reader confusion.

–       Though he’s sprung up here and there in the DC Universe prior to Convergence and Multiversity, references to Captain Carrot were made mainly as an in-universe joke…

–      Except for that whole Threshold comic, starring Captain K’Rot. Yuck!

 

The fact remains that Captain Carrot starred in both a Convergence series and in the Multiversity miniseries…

And, despite the number of times he popped up in the backgrounds of almost every issue of Convergence, he’s not in the new DC Universe.

It seems unlikely that Captain Carrot or the Zoo Crew would show up in an ongoing series, even with the new, more humorous tone that many DC comics are taking on. Captain Carrot was never a one-off joke like other funny animal superheroes of the 80’s, and he’s had about as many series as Power Girl, Stargirl, or other B-list heroes. The most frustrating thing about DC’s apparent lack of Rodney is the fact that he seemed to be played up as an important character in Convergence, yet his crossover title with Harley Quinn ended up with the clown blatantly killing our hoppy hero. That’s not such a dignified way to go for a rabbit who represented truth, justice, and the Animerican way.

 

She Can Fly: Wagon Wheels and Fuzzy Philosophers

30 years ago yesterday, a small cartoon strip began its journey with a five year old boy trying to trap a tiger with a tuna sandwich. In less than a year, Calvin and Hobbes became syndicated in over 250 newspapers in the United States, and soon after found successful circulation throughout the world.

The strip was one of three bodies of work that truly inspired what would become my voracious appetite for books. Alongside Winnie the Pooh and the original Grimm’s fairy tales, Calvin and Hobbes appeared easy to digest; its clean lines, simple color pallet, and distinct style easily entranced young readers. As a child, Calvin and Hobbes became something more to me than a comic. Each strip opened up a new world of opportunities: from living stuffed animals to spaceman adventures in the principals office, I was inspired to let my imagination be my guiding force. The strip also opened me up to new, often verbose, language, and had me searching for a deeper meaning in each panel, learning about new words, undiscovered concepts, and ultimately birthed in me a passion for the high culture in pop art.

Bill Watterson masterfully wrote and illustrated each strip. In his art, you can see the philosophy of Eisner, the simplicity of Schultz, and yet his inks speak of something so intrinsically his own. He never treated his audience as children, never spoke down to them. Instead, he spoke up, offering lofty theories, combined with sly comedy and astounding allusions. Calvin and Hobbes, in my eyes, is what truly great pop culture can be: the beautiful, self-aware  marriage of “high art” and “low art.”

 

Bill Watterson , too, is a fascinating figure, and makes Calvin and Hobbes that much more enigmatic as a cartoon. The strip, which has been serialized in 18 volumes, has never been merchandized (beyond a few books) by explicit request (some would insist “order”) of Watterson. Furthermore, the reclusive author has declined interviews for books, documentaries, and most newspapers, and is rarely seen or heard from by people, except for those who live outside of his hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio and Cleveland Heights, which he relocated to in 2005.

On rare occasions, Watterson’s post-Calvin and Hobbes art has graced the public, including an oil painting of one of Andrews McMeel’s characters from his stip Cul de Sac (sent as part of a fundraising project for Parkinson’s Disease), a poster for the documentary Stripped, and three strips of Pearls Before Swine that were illustrated (initially in secret) by Watterson in 2014.

Watterson’s eremitic nature aside, or perhaps because of it, Calvin and Hobbes is one of the most influential and enduring comics. Timeless because of its reliance only on the worlds a child can create outside of the constraints of reality, Calvin and Hobbes transcends what it means to be a comic, and becomes something more powerful and significant than lines on a page.

She Can Fly: They’re Here, Queer, and Kid Friendly

Media informs, and is informed by, life; but if media presents itself as afraid of something, often, so too will society.

This is why the presentation of LGBTQ+ characters in pop culture is so important. The world perspective is shifting, with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same sex marriage and the increase of queer (and to a lesser extent, trans) characters in prime time television, yet there’s one facet of pop media that seems hesitant to present gay characters at all, let alone in a positive view: kid’s content.

Personal opinions aside, it is so important for kid’s shows and books to include “non-normative” characters, because the landscape of the world is changing. From race to gender to sexuality, presenting diverse characters in all-ages, kid-friendly, and young adult content offers new perspectives and world views to children who may be cloistered in an area that is overwhelmingly homogeneous.

Some argue that gay characters in kid’s media will brainwash children into “becoming gay;” others insist that animation and comics have had a “gay agenda” since the introduction of Spongebob and the Teletubbies in the 90s and early 00s. One pastor even created a “study” in which he insisted that Pokemon cartoons and video games cause a number of individuals born between 1985 and 1999 to become gay (due to the phallic and yonic shapes of the pocket monsters, among other reasons).

In this atmosphere of hysteria and misinformed fear, some comics and cartoons intended for children continue to test the boundaries of what is “acceptable” for children to consume, and do so with grace and aplomb.

Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless introduced one of the first gay characters the really caught my attention. Raven, the eponymous Pirate Princess, likes girls. Raven’s moments in Princeless with Adrien, the main protagonist, are quiet, but significant. Raven dances around the subject, and there’s never a moment where it is stated that she’s a lesbian, but a clear attraction is shown between her and Adrien, with it potentially being mutual. These moments, however quiet, represented a huge shift to me, not only for the comics industry, but for all-ages content in general.

UntitledAnd with Raven now starring in her own comic, the presentation of gay characters is advancing. The Pirate Princess builds on this core of Raven’s character; not just that she’s gay, but also that she’s strong, smart, caring, brash, and obstinate. Raven is a fully realized character, not just some caricature. Young gay women can relate to her both as an adventurous pirate and as a romantic character, who, though confident, is ultimately unable to say the things she wants to to the people she loves. Each issues, Raven grows and matures a little more, and I suspect there will be a time where Raven openly comes out, whether it be to her all-female pirate crew or her pirate king father.

Around the same time Raven was introduced, it was revealed on the fifteen minute Cartoon Network show, Steven Universe, that fan favorite Crystal Gem Garnet was actually a fusion of two Gems who were deeply in love. Much like Marvel’s mutants in the 90’s could be read as an interpretation of the plight of gay individuals (with the Legacy virus seen as analogous to AIDS), Steven Universe uses fusion, the combination of two or more Gems, as a way to comment on the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in today’s society. Fusion represents a deep physical and emotional relationship, and the show handles the gay interpretation of this very literally: “Can you please unfuse?” One character, a reformed villain, asks of Garnet, “you’re making me incredibly uncomfortable.”

(An interesting aside: Gems are also non-binary, meaning they are neither female, nor males, although female pronouns are used almost exclusively to refer to them, something which is essentially addressed within the show itself.)

In the Jem comic, Jerrica’s younger sister, Kimber, is now gay. Everything that was established about her character in the original show, her fun loving attitude, her annoying, little sister personality, and her boy craziness, are there, the only thing that’s changed is that Kimber likes girls, not guys. Kimber’s relationship with Stormer, of the Misfits, is one of the biggest aspects of the comic’s first arc, and promise to continue to be a large part of the story.

Other kid’s content are pushing to be more inclusive: the Shezow cartoon revolves around a boy who becomes a superhero by turning into a girl; Adventure Time has a (not-established-in-the-show) prior romantic relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, the Vampire Queen, which is being toed at in the popular tie-in comics, as well as confirmed in an interview with actor Olivia Olson (and purportedly the show’s creator, Pendleton Ward); but some shows struggle, like Gravity Falls and Clarence, both of which fought to feature romantic, same-sex background characters (and sometime lose that fight).

bunnyinthehallway_by_sadwonderland_by_sadwonderland-d98xu2eWhen I spoke with M. Alice LeGrow, author and artist for a number of all-ages titles released through Action Lab, at New York Comic Con this year, she mentioned that while working on her upcoming series, Toyetica, she had an initial struggle with two male characters who ultimately presented themselves to her as gay. When she brought this up to her editor, looking for advice or guidelines on using gay characters in the comic (which, not even released yet, has already been optioned for dolls, cartoons, and a possible film), their response was “Steven Universe is a thing now. Make them gay. No one cares.”

This sort of positive support, the idea that gay characters are no longer a taboo, is huge.

Comics historically have been afraid of labeling characters, often opting to leave it up to the readers’ discretion to see between the lines (see trans character Sera and her “paramour” relationship with Angela over at Marvel Comics; neither of them has been directly labeled as gay–or, in Sera’s case, trans even–and in interviews, editorial staff remains cagey, at best, when asked up front about the sexuality of characters). Even in the modern landscape, where presenting non-cis, non-hereronormative characters is becoming more and more accepted, only a few characters are actually labeled (Batgirl’s former roommate openly stated she was trans; Iceman is one of the few characters officially labeled as “gay” in the pages of the current Marvel Universe).

When you speak to many members of the queer community, they often emphasize the importance of labels, especially the importance of labels in canon text. It’s wonderful that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner acknowledge in an interview that Harley Quinn is bisexual (or, at least with Poison Ivy), but the weight of that information is lost on people who don’t read comics interviews. However, if Harley’s sexuality were openly stated within the pages of the comics, that would be entirely different. It effects a much larger (though still small) audience, and opens up the possibility of coverage from bigger news outlets.

The increase of queer characters, especially in kid-friendly media, is amazing, but the next step is to no longer mince words about the sexuality of these characters. One day soon, they’ll be here, queer, kid-friendly, and open about it.