Monthly Archives: January 2012

WIR (huh) What is it good for?

(A surprising number of things, actually)

There’s this Women Write About Comics Carnival and as I am a woman who has been known to write about comics from time to (all the) time I really want to contribute. The thing is, they’ve got a theme and it’s Women in Refridgerators, 13 years later.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of Women In Refridgerators, it’s the brain child of that champion of women in comics, Gail Simone. As the story goes, one day Gail noticed a pattern, whenever things got too good to be true for our doughty (super) Hero something terrible would happen to heighten the drama and spur him into action. Frequently “something would happen” meant the violent beating, rape, or death of a female member of his supporting cast. A mother, an aunt, or, as in the most famous example from Green Lantern (vol. 3) #54, a girlfriend. The list of characters is long and it’s scary and it’s one instance where my particular brand of “how I got into comics” works against me.

You see, I’m very much a Jenny-come-lately as far as comics goes. I bought my first X-Men comic in 2006 and I’ve read a lot since then, but since I’ve missed so much, I’ll probably use something like Wikipedia or UncannyXmen.Net to catch up on the backstory of anyone I don’t recognize. Which means I get spoiled for everything, which in turnt gives me a layer of distance from those traumatic events. I know they happen before the more visceral experience of reading the books. It’s a necessary thing, but it means that I can think of precious few examples of seeing this trope in action where it actually affected me.

So, I have no huge dramatic story about how I read The Adventures of Suchandsuch #Number and the death of female protagonist seared my young soul to the bone. I do, however have my usual level of righteous indignation over the way women in comics (both characters and creators) are treated.

Because Women In Refridgerators is only a part of the problem. So’s cheesecake and every single thing that fails the Bechdel test. You see, there’s this faulty assumption in not just comics, but the larger nerdy community that there just aren’t that many women to offend, so it doesn’t matter if you do. This is blatantly wrong, of course, but being blatantly wrong has never stopped a perception from damaging anything.

I came to my decision back when the furor over Starfire went down. It came from an exchange I had with my buddy Tim on Twitter. It went like this:

We had it right. It’s not enough for us to be indignant and to speak out. It’s not enough to confront the writers and editors over this online, in the letter pages, and at cons. The only way to change the comics industry is to become the comics industry.

I accidentally reread part of Mira Grant’s Feed last night and one part stood out at me in the context of this situation:

You could tell the ones who were genuinely young from the ones who’d had all the plastic surgery and regenerative treatments money could buy, because the young ones were the ones looking nauseated by all the human contact around them. They hadn’t grown up in this political culture. They just had to live with it until they became the old men at the top of the hill.

~Mira Grant, Feed p. 483

I genuinely hope that this is true of us in the comics industry. That nerdy women are coming into our own and as our generation rises to the top of the heap we’ll be able to shed the nauseating focus on violence towards and sexualization of women. I hope that this happens, but hoping isn’t going to get us anywhere.

So I shifted a few projects around on my “to write” queue. I’m not as ready as I’d like to be and everything’s in a very early stage, but I’m talking with collaborators. We’re working on it. Because I can’t just sit around and hope anymore. I’ve gotta work towards change.

That was the end of post, but if you’ve still got an earworm from my terrible pun in the title, here’s what I’ve been hearing for the last hour while I wrote this:

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Filed under Books, Comics, Feminism, Ponderings, Writing

Adrenaline-Fueled Super Powers

I may have mentioned once or twice that I read pretty fast. This is true, partially because I genuinely read pretty fast and partially because I read obsessively. I don’t stop, I forget to eat, every part of me that is not reading pretty much shuts down. I try to savor books, to appreciate the finer details on the first read, but I can’t. I cannot stop myself and the out-of-control train that is my brain when I’m reading a book. It only stops when it runs out of track, either because I have to interact with the world or I run out of book. You can see the obsessive nature in my audiobook listening, that’s a regulated speed, but I still get through books much faster than the average person or even the average reader. I can’t help myself.

And then there’s books I’m excited about.

There’s a handfull of them, past and present: Wheel of Time, obviously, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, any Brandon Sanderson book, Seanan McGuire books. Those books are the ones where I obsess, count down to the release date and clear my schedule in order to read all the more speedily. Something more happens to me when I read them. I get this rush from finally having the book in my hands and then…. the book’s over. In far less time than should have been possible. I don’t know how it happens, maybe I was bitten by an irradiated book at one of the Harry Potter release parties.

Today my powers kicked in good and strong. Why?

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 (Avatar: The Last Airbender Book Four) came out today (in comic book stores, it’ll hit bookstores February 7). I’m hearing about sell outs all over. Which means that hardly any of my friends have read it while I read it twice before 1pm. And that sucks.

It sucks because the book continues Aang’s story after the end of the TV series and it’s perfect and wonderful and everything I could possibly hope it could be (except long enough).

Since no one seems to have read a copy of this except me, I’m gonna say what I can without going  into spoilers. I believed every word coming out of the characters’ mouths. They sounded actually, perfectly right. The new characters, jokes, and  antagonists feel like a logical extension of the world as we know it. The art (as you’d expect from Gurihiru) is gorgeous and translates the characters from animation to comics wonderfully. Appa and Momo appear and are important. We get the rest of that Zuko “Where is my mother?” scene.

The book was good. Very good. So good that I’m ready to call it best comic book adaptation of a TV show, ever. Better than the Buffy, Firefly, or Dr. Horrible comics (which are some damn good comics). Miles better than the Heroes comics. Better even than the All Robins issue of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic (an issue that was in last year’s top 10). The Promise Vol. 1 was everything I loved about Avatar: The Last Airbender brought to life by people who seem to love it as much as I do. They expanded and grew the world in a way that made sense and kept me turning pages with that freakish speed I only experience on the rare occasions when anticipation meets quality.

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A Tale of Two Series

I haven’t written about what an amazing experience it was to be a supporting member of Renovation last year, to vote in my first Hugos and to get a chance to experience my first Hugo voter’s packet. Honestly, I’m still reading through it, but I made it though enough of four of the novels to be sure about my decision. Which then lost, as did my second choice. Looking back, though, I wish I could have told past!me that I want people to read our second choice book more than I do our first.

Let’s rewind the clock back six months, to late July when I was pondering my choices for the Best Novel Hugo. This one means the most to me and I had narrowed my final choice down to two exceptional novels: Feed by Mira Grant (Bloggers fight corruption, disease, and zombies in pursuit of the truth) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemesin (A princess from the far flung edges of an empire is suddenly in the running for empress, with all the God-controlling powers that come with it). I absolutely loved both of these books, I was lucky enough to get my hands on copies on the sequels of both, both of which were actually better than the first entries in the series. I thought all of the books were innovative and welcome additions to the genre, but I could only give my first place vote* to one book and in the end my vote went to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because it read to me like fanfiction. I mean that not in derision, but because it took attitudes I kinda hate in the fanfic context, like “Oh everyone totally sleeps with everyone else all the time and we’re all okay with that,” gave them an in-world reason for working, and made me enjoy the hell out of it. On top of that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is diverse and well written without trying too hard. I love it, but a big part of that love, for me, comes from a place of being in Fandom and I talk to people about books who, well, aren’t. This is a specifically me thing, but it means that I won’t be hounding people to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms unless I think they fit in that narrow Fandom slice of my life.

And then there’s Feed. What can I say about Feed?

Feed is flawless.
I hear Feed’s virology is insured for $10,000
I hear Feed does car commercials… in Alaska.
Feed’s favorite move is Dawn of the Dead.
One time Feed met Publisher’s Weekly on a plane…
–and it told Feed it was “gripping, thrilling and brutal.”
One time Feed punched me in the heartstrings with a rusty hacksaw. It was awesome.

Yeah, I liked Feed. A lot. So why didn’t I vote for it back then? Well I had some reserations about the writing during my first read. I thought it came off as preachy. However, I have since discovered that preachiness comes partially from the narrator, not from the author or the world. It’s an important distinction, because Georgia, the main character, is a little preachy about the importance of honest journalism and I love that about her character. If it was bias on the authorial level other narrators would participate in that preachiness, but they don’t. It’s something you don’t notice at first because Georgia narrates the bulk of Feed with only short interludes from others. The other reason took some research to track down. Reading backstory on Feed (because I am a nerd, I love to read author blogs,and Seanan McGuire’s** blog is really good) I found out she started working on it in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That makes a world of difference, because the blog was the be all and end all of communicating with the world back then. Nowadays I get 75 hits on my blog on the best days and over 1,000 people see every one of my tweets. Technology outstripped the publishing process and that’s okay. Resolving those two things really killed off my reservations about Feed, leaving behind only a desire to make everyone I know read it.

In my second impassioned plea in as many days, I now ask you all to please go read Feed and then come back here and squee about it with me. I need to squee about Feed like I get to do about comic books or Doctor Who or Sherlock or musicals or the million other things I squee about on a regular basis.

*Hugo voting is a little confusing, but here’s basically how it works. You rank the nominated books in your order of preference, then the votes are counted. If no work has a clear majority the book with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and its votes are redistributed to the next eligible book on the voter’s ballot. This continues until one book has a majority. It’s cool because your second and third and fourth choice matters. You want to have read as much of the material as possible, so you can make an informed choice.

**Mira Grant is a pen name for Seanan McGuire, who writes other, excellent, books under her own name. I like pen names, especially how they’re used by genre authors skipping around genres. I will probably tell you about the Seanan/Mira thing if you get me talking about Feed. No Twitter Nat teases me about it.

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My Letter to Senator Franken

As today is the blackout to raise awareness of the SOPA/PIPA bills in the United States Congress and Senate I decided to contact my representatives with my thoughts. I used my Twitter to thank my congressional representative, Erik Paulsen* for not supporting SOPA, I called Senator Amy Klobichar to tell her how upset I was over her support of PIPA and I’ve posted my letter to Senator Al Franken about his support of PIPA below. I urge you all to research the bills, form your opinions, and, should you agree with me about the threat they pose, to contact your representatives.

Dear Senator Franken,

I cannot describe how upset I was when I found out you were supporting PIPA. I can understand your position, unlike most Senators, you have Intellectual Property to protect. I hope to publish a novel someday and I know that if it happens chances are my book will be pirated. Heck, people already steal posts from my days at Marvel Entertainment and post them on their blogs with little to no attribution (sometimes they’ll even translate them into Russian first).  I do not look forward to that day. However, as someone who got his start in comedy I cannot believe you want to hand control of the internet over to people who gladly pull down YouTube videos for “copyright infringement” that routinely turns out to be Fair Use (it happens to This Week in Tech, a widely-respected tech news show, with startling frequency).

These are people who would stand in the way of progress, who would rather see their current model continue rather than take that next step into the future. You would be handing the keys to the future of content to people who want the electric car kept in the garage so they can keep driving their Hummers without guilt.

I know that PIPA would not explicitly hamper innovation and freedom of speech, but it would give people with the desire to protect their property at any cost the tools to do so. It would inspire fear in anyone who wanted to post a video of themselves playing the ukulele and singing a song by the artist du jour, in anyone using examples to discuss the implications of the treatment of  women in the latest controversial comic book, in anyone who wanted to make a joke or parody about copyrighted material. They could get sued for everything, or maybe, if they’re lucky, their website will merely be blocked from the entire United States until they are able to clear their name.

I’m not opposed to protecting the intellectual property of the fine content creators of the United States and beyond, but I would rather eliminate piracy by allowing a well-informed public to purchase or borrow easily-available content than keep them away from that same content through fear. I would like to buy a book because I want to support the author and publisher, not  because I’m afraid of what would happen if I downloaded a copy.

Please, Senator Franken, reconsider your position on PIPA.

Yours Sincerely,

Erin Kelly

PS: I posted a copy of this email, along with illustrative links at my blog https://literateknits.wordpress.com

*admission: Erik’s an acquaintance of mine and he knows my Dad, I was really glad to avoid raking him over the coals on this.

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