Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reactions and Updates

After my post on Tim Drake last night, I felt the need to update with the news coming out of DC that a long established, previously straight character will be coming out as gay in the DCNU.

I forgot to mention that DC has a new continuity, so who knows what is still canon and what no longer happened. So in a lot of ways, this opens the door for new story telling possibilities in regards to race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc.

Now, speculation is rampant over who the new gay character is. DC is rightly coy about it. But, there are some hints floating around. The character is prominent but may not have had a presence since the reboot. It is also intimated that he or she will be involved with a major Justice League arc in the coming months.

Like other GLBT comics fans, I’m excited about which character is coming out. I can’t wait. But, I’m not going to waste my time speculating who it is until it is announced.

Now, on to the next topic.

 

Double Post! Howl’s Moving Castle (Novel and Anime) and Making Tim Drake Gay

Howl’s Moving Castle (Novel and Anime)

I’ve recently watched and read the two versions of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. The anime film by Hayao Miyazaki is loosely based on Jones’s novel. As I read the novel, I could not help but compare the two versions. And I think, contrary to popular assumption, that the anime is better than the book. Why? One word: Wales.

That Howl (Howell Jenkins) and Suliman (Ben Sullivan) are both natives of Wales (and from the lateish twentieth century to boot) living in a fictional fantasy world (Ingary) where both are highly accomplished wizards. This bugs me to no end. If the parts dealing with Wales are cut, the novel would not be hampered in any way. As it stands, Wales (our world) makes an unwelcome intrusion into a fantasy story. It does not make the story any better that I can see. All it does, honestly, is allow for some playing around with Oz and Narnia.

Taking Wales out, I’m not sure which version I prefer. I think I would still go with the Miyazaki adaptation. I like that Howl is a rogue in the novel, a coward and dissolute. But, I much prefer the more heroic depiction of him from the anime.

In the end, both works are good. But I think the anime, with its themes of pacifism, war, rebellion against power, etc. is a more enjoyable work on the whole. Jones is, however, a very good and enjoyable writer.

 

Making Tim Drake Gay

I’ve been meaning to get to this. A week ago, Comics Alliance had an article listing ten already existing comic book characters who could conceivably be “outed” as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The argument is that these (and other) extant characters have been around for years (and will continue to be so) while newly created/ introduced characters are more  likely to be exiled to comic book limbo after a while.

I see the point that Tim Drake (Robin/ Red Robin) has a stature and history greater than that of his new teammate on the Teen Titans, Bunker. And for that matter, Drake does have a higher status than Wiccan and Hulkling (who may be in the process of being sent to comic book limbo after The Children’s Crusade, though I hope not). So, outing Tim Drake (or any of the other characters on the list) makes some sense.

But some of the characters on the list really don’t make much sense. Gambit? Captain America?

As a gay man who grew up with Tim Drake as Robin, I would be thrilled if a writer and editor made the decision to out him. For me, fictional characters’ sexualities are by nature fluid. They are at the discretion of the writer. Making a character gay, straight, bi, or asexual is the choice of the writer.

Now, this brings me to reasons to argue that Tim Drake can be read as gay. GayComicGeek on Youtube has a pretty good video on this. While these reasons could help in a hypothetical coming out story (as happened with Rictor and Shatterstar), they can also be explained in other ways. That a straight man chooses to not have sex with his girlfriend or a willing girl does not equal gay. That Tim is far more affected by Superboy’s death than by his longtime girlfriend’s does not mean he is gay. There has been critical attention paid to these types of relationships (Sedgwick and Clum). And while they can be interpreted as homosocial and homoerotic, it does not necessarily make either character homosexual (nor does it preclude it).

Could Tim Drake ever conceivably come out as gay or bisexual (or even asexual)? The consensus seems to be no. Most readers do not see DC outing a major character of Tim’s status. I’m not so sure. I want to give the editors more credit than that. If he were to come out, I would be overjoyed. But if he continues to be confirmed heterosexual, then I have no problem with it.

Either with established characters or with newly created ones, the numbers of glbt comic book characters are growing, slowly but steadily. These characters, whoever they are, give glbt comic book readers characters to look up to, to read about, maybe to even identify with.

 

 

New Directions and the Approach to Two Hundred

So, I was planning on getting a comparison of the novel and film versions of Howl’s Moving Castle posted. But, as with much of this blog, other events have preempted it. In addition to the Howl post, I was thinking of writing my thoughts on the role of the critic. However, I think I can actually incorporate that post into the present one. So, what is this post about?

Well, it’s about taking stock of things. Of analyzing where I’ve come and where I’m going. It’s about questioning ideas and directions. It is, largely, about revising.

For one thing. I’m not going to do a post, an essay, a research paper, etc. on the grimdark in fantasy. I’m interested in the topic. But, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to waste my time reading books that I don’t like several times to make sure I don’t mess it up. I certainly don’t want to waste my time reading a bunch of secondary sources and texts of influence that will bore me to death.

The simple fact is that I really don’t want to be a critic. I’m not a scholar. I don’t have the credentials or, honestly, the wherewithal to do it. For a while, I wanted to be an academic. To be a professor of English. But not any more. So, why should I beat a dead horse anyway? I shouldn’t.  Time to buy the damn thing.

And, finally, wasting my time with all of these genre fights takes time away from me doing what I really want to do. Which is writing fiction. And I don’t need distractions.

As many of you who read my blog on a regular basis know, I am keenly interested in writing comics. Lately, I’ve taken a harder look at that interest.

My harder look has convinced me to pursue both novels (prose) and comics. Some of my ideas clearly make better novels than they would comics. And some of my ideas positively demand to be comics.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of writing a manga influenced series. But I’ve changed my mind on that. For one thing, Deb Aoki’s recent posts on About Manga have explored the problems of “original English language” manga publication very well. To be honest, unless something changes, it is nigh impossible for “OEL” to even begin to gain in popularity. I hope that is not the case, but I’m not sure how the situation can change.

Another problem with me doing manga style is that I’m a writer not a drawer. I wish I could draw, but I don’t have the talent. My lines are crooked and never look right. I’m not very good at it, period. So, I’ll need actual artists to work on the art side of it. And manga style is largely a melding of the role of writer and artist.

Finally, the more I think about the differences between manga and American comics, the more I’m convinced that I’m split. I like the storytelling style of manga. But I love the artistic style of American comic books more.  And when I envision my embryonic comic book series, I see it being a series that would be carried in a comic book shop.

Now that I’ve got all of this hashed out, where do I go from here? Well, there is publication. I’ve looked into traditional publishing in addition to self publishing. Honestly, I don’t think self publishing is the way I want to go. If I were to go the route of self publication, I would demand of myself as nearly professional level of editing, book design, etc. that a traditional (and more experienced) publisher can bring to bear. Honestly, I don’t have that kind of money. And I don’t have a sense for business (yet). So, I think a more traditional publisher is the way to go, at least for now.

So, that’s it for now. There’s a few things I want to do before I go to bed in an hour and a half. But there is one thing I want to  do before I leave: a taste of the posts coming as I march to our two hundredth post. Next time will be the Howl post. Then comes a post on research. And I’ll cap off with Post 200- Why I  love Fairy Tail.

Well, since it is so near my bedtime, I’ll leave you with a goodnight.

Theory: Influence and Interpretation

It is not uncommon for some writers to utilize a theory to influence or provide the foundation for their work. The best example, I think, would be China Mieville. His Marxism is clearly a foundation to his work. Now, it is sometimes problematic when an author’s politics, religion, or pet theory so heavily influences a work that the work is either unintelligible for those unfamiliar or ejects readers who do not agree,

This post is aimed, hopefully, at exploring the role of theory as influence and questioning the need to fully understand an author’s influences. Personally, unless you are a scholar or academic, I don’t think a reader needs to be expert in any or all theoretical systems a writer uses. But, I do think that one should try to gain a good foundation of the various theories out there. Both to understand theoretical frameworks as well as to expand one’s own interpretive framework.

The Bakker Fracas among other recent issues has forced me to think harder about the role of theory in speculative fiction. I am unfamiliar with much of Bakker’s theoretical basis. I’m working on the assumption that he bases much of his writing in an evolutionary psychological framework. Furthermore, his citation of Jonathan Haidt’s work places him in a specific camp of evo. psyc.  I know a little bit about evo. psych. I flirted with literary darwinism a few years back and determined that it does not make a good theory of literature. I have not, however, gone into much depth.

With that in mind, I decided to read Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. And I did not complete the first chapter before putting it down. And people say Derrida is a nightmare. . .

So, I’m wondering if the whole Bakker Fracas is nothing more than a competing theoretical frames. Bakker has gone on record that he dislikes the literary establishment. A Cracked Moon utilizes a rhetoric that is highly reminiscent of oppositional discursive tactics deployed by feminist and postcolonial influenced writers and critics. Makes me wonder. . .

As I mentioned in a comment on another blog today, I had an uncomfortable experience last year during round one of the Great Grimdark War. This event illustrated the need for the Russ Pledge to me. I do need to read more fantasy by women. And I do need to reacquaint myself with feminist literary theory.

Given the state of speculative fiction today, it is clear that some knowledge of feminist and postcolonial theory is very necessary. When my goal was getting a doctorate in English Literature, I was strongly interested in critical theory. But, I only have a smattering of it. And it has been years since I’ve read those works. A refresher is necessary, thankfully I still have my critical anthologies.

In some respects, I wish some of the more academic writers working in the genre would get together and work on a theoretical primer. This may increase understanding and give a common foundation when these debates rear up every few weeks.

It is important to learn about other cultures, other ways of seeing the world. But it is also incredibly hard. Maybe it is even impossible to fully understand another person, another culture, another gender, another sexuality. In the end, however, one must ask this question: Is it not worth it to try, even if one is likely to fail miserably?

 

 

Double Review: Escape from New York and The Omen

Escape from New York (1981 dir. John Carpenter) is a very good movie. I recently watched it for the first time on TCM recently and was blown away. The film is that good.

The film is set in a near future 1997 (now an alternate 1997) America racked by crime (up 400%!) and Manhattan  Island is a maximum security penal colony. In this authoritarian and dystopic America comes Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a sociopathic criminal and ex black ops. With the hope of a pardon, he is tasked with infiltrating the prison island and rescuing the stranded POTUS (Donald Pleasance).

The movie is very similar in style to the Mad Max franchise, although considerably darker and lacking the postapocalyptic setting of MM. Even though the setting is not explicitly apocalyptic, there is a strong sense that the end has already come for Manhattan. The prisoners are on their own. Left to their own devices, the world at large seems to not care about what happens to them.

And the prisoners themselves don’t seem to care about each other, either. This is a dog eat dog world, literally. The only character who is not in it for himself is the Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine). Even the President is a sociopath (he shows no concern, no sympathy for the people who died to free him or his aides who died on Air Force One).

In this dark world, how does an audience enjoy the movie? Because Snake Plissken is a remarkable charismatic character. Despite his sociopathy, or maybe because of it, he is a hero. He risks his life to get his pardon and he honors his companions’ sacrifice by playing the President for a fool.

I also enjoyed this movie because it clearly provided the inspiration for The Suicide Squad and Salvation Run from DC Comics. On the whole, this movie is excellent. If you haven’t seen it, take the time to do so.

The Omen (1976 dir. Richard Donner) is an equally good movie. I’ve been wanting to watch this for some years now and have finally taken the opportunity to do so.

Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) becomes convinced that his secretly adopted son, Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) is the antichrist. What follows is a string of build horror and deaths to a frightening conclusion.

The Omen is a classic changeling story. Damien is a monster child who is Other. He is adopted and brought into the home. And he grows up, things begin to happen.

Now, this movie forces one to bring up the other great movie about the birth of an antichrist, Rosemary’s Baby. Which film, though, is the more terrifying?

The movie itself is excellent. Especially the acting. Led by Peck, the cast of characters are all well realized.

Again, if you haven’t seen this movie, why not?

 

That’s it for this post. I’m aiming to get another one in later today discussing the theoretical inspirations of sf/f authors’ works.

And Here I Wanted to be a Recluse

This morning, The New York Times had a story detailing the increasing productivity demands placed on authors. Basically from getting by on one book a year, authors are now expected to churn out maybe two novels and several shorter works in an average year. Personally, I have several issues with this development. 

For one thing, having this amount of productivity precludes in most cases authors having jobs outside of their writing. Only the most successful authors can afford to write as their sole career. Most writers have to find employment in other fields to supplement their writing. So, is writing two novels a year and ten short stories  really feasible?

I also fear that this pressure for quantity will drastically limit quality. As seen with many works, when authors begin publishing a book a year, the overall quality decreases. The reason is that writers do not have the time to make their work the best it can be, even before being shipped off to the editor. What will the effect be when two novels a year are expected?

My third issue is the expectation of connectivity. I don’t like to talk about myself or my life (and I don’t think that will change). Part of me would like to be able to just write something and send it out. I get that writers need to have contact with their fans, but I don’t want that contact to force me to reveal information I don’t want to. 

Publishing is changing. I don’t like the new publishing world painted by the article. But if one wants to write for a living, then adaptation is a must.

America Revealed and the Problem of PBS

I can’t say that I’m a fan of PBS’s four part series hosted by Yul Kwon called America Revealed. The production values and cinematography are gorgeous, almost like what you will see if you watch Planet Earth or any of its spin off programs. My problem with the series is that it provides an uncritical look at American infrastructure. That Dow Chemical is a primary underwriter is equally problematic (even if their funding came post production with no editorial input). However, corporate editorial input is not need for the program. The thesis does a nice job of emphasizing a business friendly message on its own. But, a review of America Revealed is not the topic of this post. The problem of PBS, and television in general, is.

I’ve blogged about the problem of PBS before. PBS is a mixed bag when it comes to programming.It is key to remember, as Michael Gettler (PBS Ombudsman) has oft stated, that PBS is a distribution service. Each station that carries PBS programming is independent. Now, some stations do produce their own programming for local and national consumption. With this in mind, it is not difficult to see that PBS varies, sometimes wildly, when it comes to the quality of programming.

Has PBS declined in quality over the years? That is a question of taste, to be honest. And it raises the question of nostalgia. Am I nostalgic for the programs of the past? And do I hunger for those programs of the past that I’m too young to have seen? I don’t know, but some of that may play into my attitudes towards the current state of PBS.

I loathe much of contemporary television. My favorite programs are usually edutainment or infotainment (with the occasional scripted television series thrown in). My frustration is, partially, a recognition of the fact that PBS’s commercial competitors have declined even worse than PBS seems to have.

I mean, come on, how many hours of History’s programming is devoted to reruns of Pawn Stars? And hell, History International has become H2, the dumping ground for crap shows that History no longer airs. So, I guess the slim sliver of shows with an international focus is even more marginal. And Discovery? For all of the channels in the Discovery family, you have to be lucky to catch anything worth your time on Science or Planet Green.

And for arts programming? PBS is your only bet. Why? Because how many years has it been since A&E (Arts & Entertainment) and Bravo went into the pits of repeats and crap reality shows? I want foreign film. I want more avant garde cultural programming. And damn it all, I’m not getting it.

Okay, I get that PBS has a lot on its plate. There is an insurmountable amount of slack that needs to be picked up. I also get that my tastes as a viewer are in the minority. How many people actually watch the kinds of shows I enjoy? More than you think, but less than I’d like. Certainly not nearly enough to keep the good stuff on. Even the old exile of digital has given way. Now where do we find it?

People’s tastes have become more crass, more geared towards cheap reality. Is it possible for a counter programming movement to work? I don’t know. Is it possible that, with the improvement of online streaming, that the good stuff can find a niche on the web? I hope so.