Friday, September 29, 2006

The Non-Adventures of Wonderella

All I really have to say is I LOVE THIS COMIC. I already loved Kilroy and Tina, which I should probably review on account of the awesomeness, and also because it's all free now, but Wonderella is such good stuff. And she can jump hella high.

Variety, Dammit!

I had a laugh and a rant about the whole Wizard How-to-Draw books, and sketched up a fury stupidosity about it here in my livejournal. But the fact is, I really, really enjoy drawing hot ladies. Well, and hot guys, too. But ladies are easier and more fun. I see the fun in drawing hot ladies, even as I can see the sexism behind stating that female superheroes must stand differently than male superheroes, because without the sexy pose, she might as well be male.

And I see some backlash from the ranting going on in some of the posts linked from the latest WFA . The "why can't I have my sexy ladies?" all-or-nothing mentality, because everyone knows all feminists really want is no more fun or sexy thoughts. And you know, rolling eyes already.

Hello internet, you can have BOTH. And then some.

I am amazed I still haven't linked to John Troutman's webcomics here yet. I mean, he's one of my best friends and I like his comics, but also because a) he likes girls (A LOT) and draws them (A LOT) while b) he's worked very hard to draw lots of differently shaped girls with different personalities and interests and occupations because they're all his characters and he wants to write his stories well. He also has lots and lots of female characters and I get so much joy from situations where I feel like I want another male character, instead of the usual reverse. So long as not everyone is attracted to the main guy, it's okay. (Good thing for Trout's comic that most of the female characters are the main guy's sisters! No harem manga here!)

I am really, really sick of the straw argument that when feminists complain about the depiction of women in comics it means that you can't have fan service. Or comics that are nonsensical and the heroine can wear her high heels and corsets and kick ass in exclusively sexy poses. Stupid, fun comics have a place. Honestly, we need our crack, whatever it may be.

We just also want sensible, realistic portrayals in realistic, sensible comics. It's okay to have green alien babes in bikinis that would simply fall off in the real world if your science fiction is pretty much magic with different terms. And elf chicks who battle with no armor if you've got a story where a group travels around and never needs to carry food or hunt or sleep. This is suspension of disbelief writing. It's fun. You bend things and don't have to explain it.

But if you've got a world where heroes have to sleep and shit and things are practical, please please please don't give your ladies the same costume you would in cracktastic world! Or the same figure when she's supposed to be working out everyday. She'll look like an athlete, not a model. She'll move like an athlete, dress like an athlete, not like a Barbie doll.

Or you can have BOTH. Which brings us back to Trout's comics. For the most part, his ladies run around looking like normal ladies, making pretty faces and funny faces. But every once in a while he switches the "camera" to show the point of view of his main male character, Basil Flint, when he sees his love interest through "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World Cam" (aka TMBWITWC). You can have your cake and frost the lense you view it through, too.

To go back to the superhero comics, my point is that a lot of the time, the camera is always on "TMBWITWC" setting. This makes sense if the entire comic is on the same fantasy setting, but it doesn't if the rest of the comic, especially the male characters, abide by real world rules. If you're writing a realistic, gritty comic where you have reasonable sounding explanations for how super powers work (instead of just "oh, alien!" or "oh, magic!" or, uh "'s a webcomic!"), then ladies take off their high heels and use them as weapons, they don't wear them into battle.

I think people get too accustomed to how the silliness works that when they try to make superheroes more real life, they forget which translates over and which doesn't.

And seriously, I love me some Catwoman in high heeled, thigh high boots in a costume that cannot exist in real life (because, well, zippers where?). Just like I like campy Batman where inexplicable things come out of the pouches on his utility belt and guns have endless bullets.

But as soon as guns run out of after the amount of bullets they can actually hold have been shot, that's when Catwoman wears reasonable shoes and not every movement she makes is maximized for ultimate sexiness. She gets to move like a real person.

There's not an either/or, though. There are shades of reality, afterall, in fiction. All of comicdom runs the gamut, really, especially in webcomics, which is why there's very little to complain about in webcomics in terms of general trends outside those of society in general. There are shamlessly sexist webcomics drawn just for the wank factor, but they don't pretend otherwise. There are people trying to write good stories, or cracktastic hilarious stories. The problem you get into with superhero comics, Marvel and DC, is sometimes it seems like different writers are going to give us real, fleshed out stories with characters to indentify with and symapthize with, and then suddenly their women are preening and posing in every panel. It's not so much that we want only realistic stories, but that when we get them, we don't want them with the unrealistic trappings that seem to be there only because it's supposed to be what sells. Sure, it may sell other books, but if people are buying a book for its realism and different tone, that's what's going to sell it, not constant pin up poses. Readers who are attracted to men have no problem being attracted to, lusting over, slashing, appreciating the hottness, etc. male superheroes who don't show off handsome faces, don't always show off their bodies, lurk in shadows, and generally aren't constantly drawn for aesthetic reasons. Why not do the same for female superheroes? Are men (and others who like the ladies in various ways) incapable of seeing hotness in various ways?

I hate having to remind people, but sexism hurts everybody. Remember when that Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" came out? Stupid or not, the reaction I most heard from men was "FINALLY! HOT WOMEN IN ADS!". They wouldn't necessarily be talking about the same model, either. This is why guys often have different favorite artists, because there is no one best way to draw a hot lady for all of maledom.

I was sketching out character designs for a project and drew a thin and wiry, athletic girl with a round face and messy, almost punky hair. My buddy and partner in webcomic crime Andy thought she was hot. I thought she was hot. Trout didn't. He liked the curvy, fleshy other girl. So did I. And then Andy tries to make me draw gothy girls, who I don't think are hot and neither does Trout. But I consider that a challenge to myself as an artist, to draw people I don't find attractive to myself. Andy also pushes me to draw bigger guys, when I like soccer player build, not football. Then there's the problem with drawing people not in shape. Skeletal people are easier to draw, because, well, skeletons and stick figures are easier. Skin tight clothes are easier than realistic folds. I guess I just expect way better art from professionals than what I can produce. I want people to learn from so I can get better. I don't want to look at a "How-to-Draw" book and think that I more realistically, even with my cartoony style.

I'm going to try and come back to this topic later, because I'm being extra rambly today and not as cohesive as I like to be, but I'd already had a pot of tea this morning when my husband brought me coffee, and well, buzz. The problem is there's a lot going on here. How women are depicted, perceived audience wants, selling comics to a broader audience vs existing, the general sameness of superhero comics, wank material, meaningful stories vs fun stories, realism vs fantasy, personal taste in hotness, the place of hotness in storytelling... No wonder I seem to have lost all my essaying skills.

So, Summary: Variety. It wins.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Makeshift Miracle and a visit to Toronto

I forgot to mention here that I did a guest column over at Comics Should Be Good, mostly because I was in Toronto when I wrote it and only got back late Wednesday. And then immediately got sick. It was a pretty "pass the sick around" weekend, but mostly it was all about comics. My husband was there for work (which is how we got the free rental car, because we are car-less bums), but I was there for the comics. Pretty much our first stop was the Beguiling and from there through the course of the visit I pretty much hit every single comic book store in the Toronto area. Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley missed their flight out for their original signing on Saturday, but I lucked into meeting them very quickly the day after and bought two of Hope's books, Salamander Dream and Gray Horses, both of which I now love and am really glad I finally got. We were mostly there, though, to hang with Jim Zubkavich, who we met through webcomics and is a very awesome friend. He was incredibly helpful in helping me move up to Canada, for one. I have a blog post brewing around my head about why I associate webcomics with drinking and he's a big part of that, wink wink.

At one point I was talking to Jim about this blog and what things I want to cover about stupid things webcomics do, like one where characters keep changing gender "because... it's a webcomic" I say. It's funny, but it's true, in both the damning and uplifting senses. Webcomics are a chance to do whatever you like for absolutely no reason. This is not necessarily a good thing, as horrors are daily unleashed because of this freedom, but it's still freedom and it's fun. For maybe the person drawing it. Hopefully. (Kids, don't write in gender swapping rays just because. This is your brain on just because.)

When I was a kid, I didn't read any comics. I knew about them, because I'd wander down to Oxford Comics when it was located in the creaky old house beneath Oxford Used Books, where I made pilgramage as often as I had a few dollars to buy cheap sci-fi. I'd pretty much only read some Elf Quest, which was fun, but I never really got into. And I wondered why that seemed to be all the fantasy I ever saw in comics. The rest seemed to be about fighting with some sci-fi gobbelty gook used to make it more "awesome". It seemed to me, even as a pre-teen, like a big waste of the medium. This is back when it was hard to make convincing effects for movies, but comics, I reasoned, had no limit. It was as cheap to draw a dragon as a tank. As cheap to set the story in ancient cities of gold as a wooden shack. Why wasn't there more imagination? Granted, I wanted fantasy personally. I wanted desperately to see a comic with a freaking unicorn on the cover and please let it be a one shot, because even then I was scared of "issue 4 of 6"! But where was the fantasy? Where was something that really took advantage of the visual medium like those illustrated kids' books that never had the same style as the next? Why was everything a bunch of white guys hitting each other?

This gets us back to Jim Zubkavich. Jim did so many things oh so right when he started his webcomic, The Makeshift Miracle. It helps he already knew plenty about how to make a comic and storytelling, but he also had a good number of comics queued up so he wouldn't run late for a while. His comic is my favorite example of a comic that hit the ground running, as it seemed to get noticed and linked to right off the bat. Mostly, I think, because even to the already weird and imaginative mini-world of webcomics, this was something amazing and new.

The art got a lot of the initial kudos, but very soon it seemed like the art and the initial pages were merely sucking the readers into something much more vivid. Words freaking fail, look at the pretty pictures.

And the story and art work together perfectly. The art shows you what kind of story this is more than I could describe.

Inbetween his busy schedule being awesome, Jim's remastered this puppy and it's coming out as a book. Which is great, because despite my great love of webcomics and high speed connection, I really honestly prefer reading books. Especially when they're something so interconnected in terms of plot as this. And re-readable. Reading it again now, I'm surprised at how fresh it is and how much I really love it, despite having read it all as it was coming out. Good stuff don't get old, y'all.

But the main point is, I would have picked up this book at any point in my reading career when I was old enough to pick out books for myself. No unicorns on the cover, but I think I might have outgrown my need for a certain amount of unicorns in my diet. Makeshift Miracle is fantastical and inventive in its own way and really uses the fact it's a comic for all its worth. Historically, it may even prove to be a big shift in all of webcomics, where after this I know I personally saw a bunch more people creating more lavish and less newspaper strip like comics. I personally signed up for Modern Tales mainly because Makeshift was moving to it, and I know I'm not alone.

Buy the book already! I'd like to talk about the ending here (as it's got a male/female element to it that's really interesting), but I don't want to spoil it for anyone!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Girls beating guys = Comedy Gold? PART II

Everytime I write something and publish, I think of two million more things to say.

I went back to the Pandagon post that inspired me to have something more to say on the subject of women hitting men and considered some more. It occured to me as funny that in the first snarkoleptics post I linked to before that twice someone brought up the lesson they learned as kids that just because someone hits you or says something bad doesn't mean it's okay to hit them. It is very often considered childish to lash out violently and be goaded into hitting back is shameful because you're lowering yourself to a childish level of behavior.

At Pandagon, Amanda quotes a Dr. Helen:
Scalzi shows a picture of Krissy with a baseball bat and a caption reading, “Respect me for me. Or because I will beat the holy crap out of you. Really, it’s your choice.” How charming. So the implication is that if one is a woman, she can beat the crap out of someone for “disrespecting her?” This regressive behavior is typical of the violent youth I see who have so little impulse control that they beat someone up for “dissing them.” I would hope a grown woman of Krissy’s obvious intelligence would have more sense than that. But no. She decides that a man in an open public place just trying to touch her warranted shoving him against a wall and putting her hand to his throat.

This quote reminded me of the same thing it did Amanda, it seems. Blaming the victim, especially in rape cases.

There are plenty of cases where I applaud someone for being "bigger" and finding a difficult but just solution to harassment or verbal assualt. But I can't blame anyone for wanting to scare the hell out of a jerk by reacting violently. Sure, it could instigate violence out of the jerk who was all talk until then, but if someone doesn't take you seriously, it certainly sets a different tone.

I remember getting in a bad fight in 6th grade. I was tiny and white and my bus to school was entirely non-white and had a lot of boys on it. So I got picked on since I was an "other" and things were thrown on me. What they didn't know was that I'd punched the one school bully at my elementary school in the gut and from then on, she'd left me alone and I was full of pride and vinegar. So when they threw an egg at the back of my head, I turned around and declared war. I lost the fight, but they didn't mess with me anymore. I wasn't worth the trouble.

What I remember was that they all stopped laughing when I formed my little hands into fists.

So maybe on that level it disturbs me that a woman being violent is funny. Because so often in real life a woman turns to violence to show how serious she is.

Of course, I still don't consider this admirable behavior. There's a reason why I didn't tell my parents about the fight and hid my one bruise on my face with makeup (oh, and it was right before the school Christmas concert, too! So I had an excuse to wear makeup!) It did feel like lowering myself. But I knew that telling on them would do nothing and I had no other choice for getting to school. The bus was seriously overcrowded (3 kids to a seat) and I was the last stop, so I couldn't hide or sit upfront. It felt like a last resort. And it certainly feels hypocritical to praise any sort of violence when I'm a NAPper. Throwing an egg at me and insulting me in languages I didn't know wouldn't have justified me kicking all their butts even if I'd been capable of that. So neither do I think threatening violence towards a friend, even in a joking manner, is an appropriate response to their saying something offensive. But maybe it's a learned behavior women pick up on - that guys will treat your complaint seriously if you threaten or use violence. Even if you're joking. Or half-joking.

If that's the truth, then, well, it's a shame.

Girls beating guys = Comedy Gold?

There's been a bit of discussion in the livejournal snarkoleptics community about webcomics where a girl hitting a guy is played for comedic relief (starline's post on Questionable Content, kdsorceress's on Dominic Deegan). My first thought is that this is something often done but not so often thought through. So let's think this through.

Violence is funny, especially between friends. I mock hit my husband when he says something stupidly funny on purpose. I quote "One of these days, Frankie! Bang, Zoom, right to the moon!" (and gaze wistfully at the sky, because the more references you can do in one joke, the better). Between some of my girls and myself "Bitch, Ima cut you" or any phrase using the word "cut" is rife for giggles. It's funny between us because it's totally understood we all love each other and would do anything to not hurt one another. Counterpoint - injokes don't usually translate well to a broader audience. If the audience doesn't understand the years of love and trust behind the actions, it's a swing and a miss, quite literally.

Underdog violence feels good while being funny. We cheer when the weaker party lands that one blow on the cocky stronger party. Tom and Jerry cartoons are a good example. How else do you get past the horrendous beatings a little mouse puts down on the big, predator cat?

I don't think you can even have a discussion on why it's supposed to be funny when a girl hits a guy without understanding either above point, or the inescapable idea that women are weaker than men. Sure, there are several exceptions, but who today, when presented with the phrase "the weaker sex" thinks of men?

I am also a big fan and, at the same time, bitter enemy of switching sex to see if it feels the same with men and women in the other's places. It sure makes a point, but shouldn't be an end all to the discussion. That said, I'm going to start with the obvious. Take the recent Uma Thurman movie, with her palying a superhero who wigs out when her boyfriend dumps her and does funny things like throw a shark at him. Putting aside the fact that throwing sharks is the coolest thing ever and I want that for a super power despite how impractable it would be and how I'd cry myself to sleep each night because I love sharks, any male superhero going around wrecking up his ex-girlfriend's pad and throwing marine life at her would have to fast for 2 months on burning coals while sewing clothes for orphans who love sharks before most people would consider him even on the road towards repentance. Somehow I doubt Uma's character did that in the movie.

So what about the friends in Questionable Content? What if Marten was the girl and Faye the boy? Is this an in-joke between these two friends? I don't really know QC that well, as I find it as easy to follow as your average soap opera, by which I mean I used to watch maybe 2 weeks total in an entire year of Another World when it was on and I could follow it just fine. (And I loved it. I wish all soaps were smoking the same crack and not pretending to be realistic while bringing people back from the dead and enacting evil plots for love! PS Rachel and Carl forever!) Anyway, from what I can tell, there is that basic understanding between the two characters that they are friends, but there's also a sort of real fear on Marten's part that Faye might indeed react violently if Marten says something wrong.

Faye also seems to react this way to just about everybody (check out Starline's examples in her post), which makes it more of a character trait. As brought up in the discussion in the thread, this seems to excuse it a bit. In my way of thinking, this only excuses it if it's brought up. Maybe someone can point me to the story arc where Faye gets brings this up at counseling and wonders why her first response to things that offend or upset her is violence or the threat thereof. THEN it's a character trait. If no one notices that she does this all the time, except to cower or cut off what they're saying around her, then it's a failing and needs to be addressed. Having said that, this is an ongoing comic that seems to take forever to do story or character developement, like most comics that have a few panels with a punchline at the end. J. Jacques could just be getting around to it.

In which case, he'll also have to deal with Dora doing the same thing half the time. When both your main female characters threaten violence as a joke and sometimes as an actual solution, you really can't leave that sitting around. "Addressing" it doesn't mean solving it and everyone goes on happy happy, but let the cast notice it, even if they do nothing about it.

To bring this back to the wider picture, I think the reason this bothers me and so many others is that it is so prevalent. Like using rape in a storyline, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept, as fiction is not an idealized world where everyone has no flaws and bad things don't happen. It gets to be a problem when it's used often and often used badly. Unless it is used as an injoke between friends, it's hard to see the "violent little woman" as anything other than playing with the "women are weak" concept. And if your joke rests on a negative stereotype, I fail to see how you're committed to destroying said stereotype. I adore breaking stereotypes for humor, but there does come a point where you're trying to build a complete character and the stereotype is near death, and the only thing that's keeping it alive is the stereotype breaker herself.

You see this often with "tomboys", who are so determined to not fit into the classification of girly girls, they perpetuate the tea parties with stuffed animals as typical girl behavior just to set themselves apart. I was a tomboy for certain, but I did realize at one point I could do what I wanted to do without having to make fun of the girls who swooned over the New Kids on the Block. I didn't have to classify myself as anything or anti-anything. Funnily enough, I realized this when the other hardcore tomboy in my 5th grade class seemed to think there was a competition between us for the most boyish and I thought that was the dumbest thing ever and we should be friends since we had so much in common.

In summary, perpetuating a stereotype in order to do anything that shows how against that stereotype you are = dumbest thing ever. Not that girls hitting boys is necessarily doing that, but it so easily can. Girls beating guys should not automatically equal comedy gold.