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“Remember all those stories you used to tell me?”

I started reading Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream as soon as it began online with the beginning of The Secret Friend Society and I’ve been wanting to write about it since it ended this summer. The story details the various trips a girl, Hailey, makes into the woods behind her house as she grows up and the interactions she has there with Salamander, a sort of magical personified salamander.

“Once upon a time,” the story begins, “there was a little girl very much like you.” And while I don’t know if all readers thought this spoke to them, I know it did to me. My parents moved a few months before I was born, meaning that these were not my woods and mine were more northern ones than North Carolina’s. My story would have had fewer pine trees, more limestone fossils, no chestnuts, but bigger ferns and King Solomon’s Seal. Perhaps because I think of Hailey as a girl very much like me, I don’t think this is a story about imaginary friends; I think it’s a love story. It’s a love story about stories and about the world and the way we can forget about those things as we get older and the importance of remembering them.

I’m still not sure if every story is in some ways a story about the creation of self through narrative, but seldom have I seen such a good example as the story teenaged Hailey tells Salamander starting on page 71. Her story swoops down through her body until subatomic particles make the same tracks that fireflies did in the outside world. (Or are they lightning bugs in North Carolina? This being a minimally wordy story, we never learn!) It’s as-above-so-below on every level, this a story of falling like Salamander’s bird ride was and really like every section of the Salamander Dream story is, dropping Hailey and the reader back in the woods for more of something. What that something is is different every time, but still united. The woods change, our understandings of the woods change, but there being woods somewhere doesn’t change.

One thing that makes this story so compelling and extraordinary (despite the in some ways quite simple subject matter) is that so little of it is told, and I don’t just mean that there aren’t many words. It’s that everything seems to flow and so much is subtext, faces appearing in the clouds or as clouds, the sky behind the pine trees like another row of pine trees, the moments of quiet recognition between Hailey and Salamander. While it’s a story about growing up and with content appropriate for all ages, I’m not sure how the story would read to someone who hasn’t moved away from home and the woods and childhood a bit. But maybe that’s me thinking this is a story about a girl a little too much like myself.

I suppose what I’m getting at (poorly, I’m afraid) is that Salamander Dream does an amazing amount with a little. There aren’t many words and it’s not a long story, but it’s a haunting one. I’m not sure if it was the contemplative experience of reading only one page a day that made it seem like the story itself had gotten into my blood and DNA and atoms and taken up residence there. It feels like it’s mine not because I identify but because it’s told so clearly and directly and without missteps. I get a little weepy at the ending every time because I don’t want to forget Salamander and the way the story makes me feel even as I read it on my laptop in my little apartment. It’s a little piece of spring that nestles inside me and helps me remember to help it grow. The story brings out all the needlessly florid metaphors in me that the text itself rejects. It’s plain and direct and deep and elusive, which I think is the point it’s trying to make about the essential qualities of life and nature, human and otherwise. We all need to be aware of quiet and the spaces between things and the way stories don’t always have easy endings but also the ways they connect and overlap and wind together, the ways we live in the world.

I’d like to say more about Salamander Dream, but it’s time for my own dreaming. And I know that every time I come back to the story I’ll be someone slightly different, growing up in my own way like Hailey. “But maybe she found another place in the world” like I hope we all do, like I hope I have done and continue to do. It’s not the same place but it might be similar, a place to reflect on old places. For me, this has been a weekend for that sort of thing and it was refreshing to reread Salamander Dream and let it pull me out of that and into something else, a kind of awareness of the now as part of all those pasts. I appreciate that and look forward to pushing into futures. And in the near future, I hope to read Salamander Dream in book form to see what the green on cream looks like between my hands, maybe near some grass this time, see what change that brings. Maybe it will give me another story to tell.


Rose wearing her Funky sweaterI’m finally getting photos of a sweater I finished more than a month ago. I had been calling this my SPX sweater, although I didn’t really think I’d need a sweater in Maryland in September. Now it turns out Steven and I won’t be able to attend this year and instead I’ll be staying with my grandmother while she goes through a surgery, which means the sweater may get to make its debut after all.

It’s the Funky sweater from Rowan #34, last year’s winter issue. I used the now-discontinued yarn called for in the pattern for the jacket version, Rowanspun Chunky in color Fern. I used between 7 and 8 skeins to make the Medium size. The pattern calls for 9, but I did not use the yarn to sew my seams, which might have made some of the difference. I generally knit loosely and I think used US 10.5 (but maybe 10) needles instead of the 11 called for in the pattern.

back view of Funky sweaterI think I followed the pattern as is except to add 2 inches to the sleeves to accommodate my gorilla-like arms. The hook-and-eye closures are also my innovation (I don’t really want a big, cozy sweater that is open and drafty at the front) although I am in the process of removing the ones I’ve put in and moving them so it will close more tightly. As shown in the back view, there’s plenty of room for layering under this (and the lumpiness is due to my not standing straight).

stitch pattern and shaping detailWith big yarn and needles, this was a very quick knit. I think I spent 3-4 weeks working on it only intermittently. This photo shows the side shaping, which is pretty much all that goes on here. The stitch pattern is so simple that it’s a great mindless project, but the shaping keeps it from being too bulky. I loved the rough, tweedy yarn, and it has softened considerably after one wash. There was quite a bit of vegetable matter in the yarn and I expect to be picking burrs out of it for some time to come, but I’m a sucker for its rustic charm.

detail of Funky collarAnd this, I think, is the best part, what drew me to the sweater. I’ve never seen a crazy bobbled collar like this and it fascinated me. I didn’t do the world’s best job attaching the collar, but I still like the way it looks and it, too, gives the sweater more shape and character than many bulky knits have. All in all, while it was a straightforward and relatively quick project, I do think it’s a fun and comfortable sweater I’ll wear a lot (as weather permits; tonight was not ideal for heavy wool sweaters!) and have around for years to come.


Next up is the Audrey sweater from Rowan book 35. I started working on this last December and had various spurts of effort followed by total inactivity, so I have no idea how much time was spent on it.

Rose wearing the Audrey sweater

I used Rowan Calmer yarn in the color Peacock on U.S. size 5 needles. I did not join the Audrey Knitalong but did read all the posts and benefited from them. The Calmer is amazingly soft and stretchy, though I think it will pill eventually. I had a lot of worries about how this sweater would look on me. I lengthened the body and sleeves by somewhere between 1 and 2 inches and worked the body in the round to the armholes. I did not do the raglan decreases as specified in the pattern; I thought decreasing into one purl row rather than two made a nicer line and a more symmetrical match between the body and sleeve sections. Because I was paranoid that it would be too small, I put a few short rows in the bust to make darts as well as doing the waist shaping detailed in the pattern.

detail of Audrey sweater waist shapingI did not, however, follow the shaping directions, although I increased or decreased the right number of stitches on the appropriate rows. Instead I decreased and increased in ribbing to get an hourglass shape similar to the one suggested in Tiffany’s knitalong post. I think this is a much more elegant and smooth look than the setup in the original pattern.

detail of Audrey sweater lace necklineI ended up knitting the lace directly onto the sweater (I did not bind off the neck stitches but left them all on one big circular needle) because I couldn’t figure out a nice way to sew it on. I did 18 lace repeats for the medium size and the neckline is high but not confining. My moment of idiocy was when I didn’t check where I was beginning on the lace, meaning that my seam is quite visible above my left shoulder on the front rather than on the back. I haven’t decided whether this bothers me yet. I may rip out the seam and try to do something more invisible, or maybe this is the time to finally take advantage of the current trend for pinning knit or fabric flowers on shirts. We’ll see.

I don’t know where I’ll wear this yet or how comfortable it will be and I’m not likely to find out until the weather cools considerably, but for now I’m basically happy with my finished product and definitely happy to be done with it at last. I’m going to wash it and try to stretch the torso a little bit, hoping this will even up the ribs a bit and then find some excuse to wear it in the fall.

(Thanks to Steven for taking the photos of me wearing this and the flower basket shawl in the last post and for not laughing at me too much for looking vampiric in the first photo here. Believe me, the alternatives were worse!)

Flower Basket Shawl

I’ve been gone a long time and it felt really good. I’d been getting bored, I admit, and peevish and, for a time, quite sick, and so the break was welcome. I took advantage of my time away to work a lot and read and especially knit. In this post and another tonight I’ll highlight two projects I’m proud I finished and I hope to have images ready for another post Tuesday or Wednesday. Then it will be back to more word-heavy postings.

First up is the Flower Basket Shawl pattern designed by Evelyn Clark and published in the Fall 2004 issue of Interweave Knits, which was a quick knit I whipped out during the first weekend in August.

Rose wearing the shawlI stuck pretty closely to the pattern for a change, knitting on U.S. size 7 needles and using one hank of DZined wool/hemp sport weight I think in color WH12154 used single rather than doubled because of the yarn weight. My only change was that on the left side of the shawl I changed the directions of the double decreases (ssk, return that stitch to left needle, pass next unworked stitch over) to give it a more symmetrical look that probably no one will ever notice. I did the number of repeats in the pattern and I’m sure there was enough yarn left over for one if not two more. I was just being lazy and fast and didn’t want to have to rip out my work if it turned out I didn’t have enough.

This detail shot shows the slight variegation in the yarn, as well as the pattern detail, with each pattern block a basket with a flower in the middle:

flower basket pattern detailThe hemp in the yarn gives it a crisp, almost papery feel and is less stretchy than wool alone. Because of that, I think I lost about one inch in each direction from the dimensions indicated in the pattern. This makes the shawl a bit small for my purposes (though it would have been small anyway) but I think it will still be useful if I close it with a pin rather than trying to tie it.

And here is a little picture of my shawl blocking. After letting the shawl soak in soapy water, I wove string down the center spine of yarnovers and along the top and then used T-pins to secure each scallop on the bottom edge.

blocking the flower basket shawlAll in all, it was an easy and satisfying use of a few days’ knitting time. I’d already used the pattern once before with Noro Lily cotton/silk yarn to make a smaller version for my brother’s girlfriend during the winter. The lace patterns are easy to memorize and once started just keep going. I would definitely consider using the pattern again, perhaps for a slightly larger version with DZined wool/hemp/mohair, which has a bit more sheen and halo. I’m not sure where I’ll have occasion to wear a shawl, but at least now I’m prepared.

Exile in Guyville

Well, it had to happen someday. Someone’s finally asked about the existence of women comic book bloggers. And while the obvious response is that they’re all over LiveJournal, Elayne Riggs and Laura Gjovaag only name seven, including themselves. I had no trouble coming up with 20 non-pros off the top of my head, but maybe that just means I’ve been paying more attention to the issue. It’s not a community, certainly, but it’s not nothing and we’re not all invisible.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere directly, but it coincided with the first post by a woman at the new Comic Book Galaxy, although author Diana Tamblyn still isn’t listed among the official contributors. I wasn’t surprised to see that the new direction CBG would be taking included lots of writing from lots of white guys, but it was interesting to note that (by my count) 12 of the 25 contributors are also bloggers.

Before I go any farther, I’ll note that I was not one of the women approached by CBG to contribute and I have absolutely no interest in being involved with them anyway. What’s interesting to me is that so many other bloggers feel differently. I understand that many comics bloggers really want to break into comics writing and that there are already plenty of bloggers writing weekly columns (and arguably some of the best ones) for a wide variety of comics sites. I’m perfectly happy to write here and do nothing else because I get to set the rules and the parameters (in my case, in collaboration with Steven) and then write whatever I want to write. I gave up my dreams of writing professionally a decade ago, so this current setup is pretty much my ideal. So what is it that makes some of these new blogger/columnists consider shifting to a wider pop culture focus or confining comics reviews to CBG? I don’t really know beyond what they say there and I’d love to hear more because I’ve always been fascinated in why people write the way they do on blogs and what they think they’re doing with their blogs in the first place. But what do they think they’re doing with their columns and how do those replace or supplement their blogs?

And here’s where things get ugly or controversial, and I’m just going to say what I think with the caveat (which I hope would be obvious to all readers anyway) that obviously this is just what I think and I have no vested interest in whether or not others agree or want to implement my ideas. There’s no good reason I should matter to you, right? I think if CBG were a teaching hospital, I wouldn’t go in for surgery there. It’s a site that requires copious editing, and yet not all the punctuation ends up where it belongs. Sure, it’s a work in progress, but it’s not the second coming of anything. I have a reputation for despairing that there’s not more good writing in comics, a complaint that extends to comics criticism. While there aren’t many CBG columns I think are really badly written, I’m not getting excited either, not hearing new voices, just some guys on the internet. And the real, core problem is that they’re writing as if they’re not on the internet. This is a site that has three different columns analyzing and reviewing Ice Haven in the same week with not only no conversation between them but no links from one piece to another. In fact, if I hadn’t made those links for you, you’d be stuck doing what I did and puzzling through the commentary listing to try to find where the two that aren’t listed might have been. This is a comics site that talks about comics but not in a way that makes discussions readily available to a casual reader. The google search is effective but inelegant, to say the least.

Why give up the conversational possibilities of a blog for a closed system like this? Why write something online if it might as well be mimeographed? Why have three overlapping reviews and nothing synthesizing them, analyzing the connections and dissonances (and nothing to help readers do this for themselves)? And I realize that none of these CBG bloggers have closed up shop and I really don’t expect them to. I’m sure it brings them more prominence than their individual endeavors would and it must be great writing experience to be expected to deliver the same sort of writing on a regular basis (which is yet another reason this would not be the job for me!) and I don’t think these blogger/columnists have made a bad decision in getting involved here. I do think it’s a bad idea to think that this version of CBG is the apotheosis of anything. But I’m not the whole audience, though I’m a reader, and it doesn’t need to appeal to what I think it should be.

But for those keeping score at home, I think it should be more like a blog than a webzine with near-daily updates. It could be an active conversation between all these informed and verbal columnists engaging each other’s ideas rather than writing in a vacuum for an audience in the ether. It could be easily navigable with a link for the title of each referenced comic or creator connecting to any other uses of those names on the site. In short, it could be intertextual in a way that it’s not, and I think that lack is its greatest limitation. It’s not a galaxy with any constellations in it, just a collection of loose stars. And sure, constellations are in part the stories we attach to groups of stars, but it’s a lot of work for a reader to create those stories right now and there’s no way to see whether what I call the Big Dipper is someone else’s Great Bear.

Of course I think it would be good if there were more women writing for CBG if they wanted to and had things they wanted to say, but I also know that there are already women writing for readers who are willing to look and pay attention. We don’t all have the same interests or tastes in comics or in blogging and I wouldn’t expect a woman at CBG to speak for me just because we have ovaries, but I’d be interested to see what she’d say just as I’m interested enough to read women bloggers who are writing now. But if there are other women who don’t want to be part of the move to “put more ‘gal’ into the Galaxy soon” (especially given the way contributing editor Chris Allen discusses, views and interacts with real-life women) I don’t think that’s a problem at all. I’m just glad there are other venues where their voices can be heard, and I prefer those anyway.

“The Ultimate Temptation”

I’ve been hoping to post something substantive but now that I’m peering out from under the edge of a multi-day migraine, I’ll be shuffling back to bed as soon as I can. So instead of substance, I can give vague impressions.

Greg Burgas had some thoughts about why you don’t see more Christians in superhero comics (one of the answers being because you don’t look hard enough) and while I didn’t think there was too much going on there beyond the anecdote-swapping, it reminded me that I had written about portrayals of Muslim women in mainstream comics a few months ago. Both posts have plenty of activity in the comments, too, if you’re not about to retreat to bed and are looking to kill some time reading.

Since I wrote that in February, Vimanarama has ended, and I should really update my thoughts on how it dealt with faith in both religious and secular or personal terms. I found it both satisfying and disappointing; a three-issue story is seldom enough for me these days. I’m not sure I have much more to say now. However, there clearly is more to say about Dust of New X-Men, a book I’m not currently reading in either its Hellions miniseries or Mutant Academy X formats. Steven went to buy comics today and returned to tell me I absolutely had to look at the cover of Hellions #2, but he didn’t buy us a copy. Apparently the premise is that in this issue Dust has the option of making one wish that can change her life forever, and I’m not sure what to make of the suggestions the cover implies. I’m tempted now to buy the miniseries just to find out what’s going on with her, whether she now considers her modesty a confining limitation or whether the artist can only conceive of Muslim women as seductive harem girls in the Orientalist tradition (and I hope not, since he’s the interior artist as well) or really what’s going on here. I was interested in her story because I like teenage stories about body issues, especially on feminist terms. I’m interested in smart analysis of the contrary pulls to living in an attractive body versus being just one of the guys or a brain in a vat, what it means to be taken seriously as a person and a woman. On the off chance that this is what’s going on here, I may well have a look.

I thought I had more to say, but if I can’t remember, that must mean it’s time to quit.

“Are you dreaming about playing video games?”

I’m still on the injured list, with my right arm sort of swollen and sore from today’s NCV and EMG, but when I couldn’t sleep last night I read Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the second volume in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series and because this was a gift from the author, I feel compelled to write something lousy about a fun book in hopes that I’ll feel more inclined to say something fun later. I read it twice and noticed all sorts of interesting connections on my second time through, so I’m hoping I’ll have a second post about some of those later this week.

And this is indeed a fun book. It picks up with the craziness from the end of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and just gets crazier. Ramona can still show up in Scott’s dreams (and seriously, that would be the end of the relationship for me; I’m surprised I can comfortably share an apartment with Steven, but he manages to get around my privacy barriers) and there are other dreamers too and more video-game action, not to mention melodramatic coincidences and moments of realization. We get some background on Scott’s high school days, a secret origin of sorts. And when I talked last year about how the first volume made me regain some faith in comics, this year and this volume have brought me back to and beyond superheroes. I know I’ve argued before that even Joan of Arcadia is a story about superheroes, and I’m realizing that I defended superhero comics in the past for things they could do well, but I appreciate those things even more when they’re done without spandex or breast implants. And that’s just what’s going on in Scott Pilgrim’s life, from fighting to costume and hairstyle changes to interpersonal drama, superhero stuff.

The reason I like superhero stories is because they have so little to do with the smashing and stomping that are supposed to be at their core, at least if done correctly. Instead they’re a heavy template for readers to fit themselves into a reality where certain narratives make sense and the readers can make sense of themselves. It’s not about the power fantasy but about both power and fantasy, which is something over-specific “slice of life” stories can miss. In slicing skewed lives from a slightly off reality, Scott Pilgrim manages to avoid being a dullsville story about an endearingly scatter-brained slacker who can’t bother to get a job or commit to a real and healthy relationship by instead being a story that blows up the drama of the mundane so that it looks the way it feels. Scott’s heartbroken ex-girlfriend Knives Chau (17 years old!) doesn’t just get a new look to feel better about herself post-breakup but makes herself an obsessed avenging angel able to play out the fantasies many feel after a first rejection. Sitting on a rug eating garlic bread is a t????te-????-t????te dinner more romantic than a more traditional setup. Casual contact from a lost love can leave even a hero decimated. Romantic mistakes characters make play out in their lives again and again like the returns of villains who in a more standard superhero story would be burly guys or femmes fatales rather than plain old bad habits and bad choices and things going around and coming around.

And honestly I was a tiny bit worried about what direction this book would take, although I expected the humor and the lovely art. I don’t like stalker romances; they’re creepy in general and hit too close to home. And yet Scott’s relationship with Ramona is able to blossom into something real because the world around it, the league of evil ex-boyfriends, is so unrealistic that “normal” reactions or behaviors don’t enter into it at all and none of this bothers me. It’s the romantic version of cartoon violence, although the pain is palpable (and so is the thrill). But love is scarily full of possibilities, and I did basically love Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. But I enjoyed its successor, too, and I remain charmed and excited. Last night I would have told you that I still prefer the first book, the mixture of inanity and wackiness, but tonight I was leaning toward the second. It may just be that I can’t really choose or separate them. And maybe on a larger scale separation just isn’t the point. Dreams and video games and real life are hopelessly muddled in this tale, as big bosses steal girls and vanquished foes leave only coins behind them. One thing flows into another, and while there’s some game physics going on, it’s not really clear if this is dream logic or life logic underlying the emotional narrative. I’m certainly still a fan, a Scottaholic as my little pal Knives would say, and If I can’t sleep tonight I’ll be reading again (though really I’d rather be dreaming myself).

Sex, Lies, and Online Comics Writing

I can’t stay gone because I can’t stand to stay silent right now. Manga Life is a site from the folks who brought you Silver Bullet Comics: “Our aim is to guide you through the masses of manga appearing on the shelves of your book store, to pick out THE essential books to own.” While it was Johanna Draper Carlson who brought this to my attention, their review of From Eroica with Love deserves a close read. I realize that comics journalism on the internet is pretty dire and assume that there is little editorial oversight anywhere, but apparently the SBC/ML crew are okay with statements like “[homosexuality] is a gender, not a ‘Lifestyle choice’” and “[the male characters] look like women in drag! ” (since I’m assuming the author, Michael Deeley, doesn’t mean they do, in fact, resemble women in drag, who could pass as men) being prominently displayed in their reviews. I mention this because his input alone is enough to make me want to avoid the site. But I’m not just offended by the total lack of empathy or tact (”Also, the gay love scenes made me cringe. I????????m open-minded; not open-bodied.”) but by the fact that this is just horribly written. I don’t want to hear from an editor about how they’ll do better in the future; the present matters and it’s awfully grim.

Enough. I just wanted to pause a moment and go back to that (sort of) to boil things down to the most generic level and say that, basically, people have sexes (biological/genetic), genders (cultural expressions of masculinity/femininity), and sexual orientations (straight/gay/bisexual) with several other options that could be tossed into each of my parentheticals. Anyone who can’t handle this level of terminology probably shouldn’t be talking about any of this.

And have you guessed yet where I’m going with this? Maybe, if you saw that I already sputtered about this this morning, but here I go again. I’m a big proponent of conversation, communication, mutual understanding, which I hope would be clear to anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time. I think that at some fundamental level we do end up with Roman Jakobsen/James Smith-style mutual untranslatability where each of us uses language in a unique enough way that to some extent we can’t fully speak to one another. And so if I were James Meeley, I would never have assumed that “explor[ing] the kids’ identities — sexual and otherwise –” meant to everyone what it means to me. In fact, I know it doesn’t, since to me exploring a sexual identity means trying to figure out what sort of people you find attractive, dealing with fluttery yearnings and awkward kisses and awkward suitors and unrequited affection. And sure, at some point, sexual activity probably comes into the picture, but it’s by no means the core. And so my first objection to Meeley’s first objection to the aforementioned trend in Young Avengers is that the simplest response would be to clarify the terms, not draw up battle lines. But that’s why I’m not the sort of person who sends offended letters to comics publishers, I suppose.

My second and more important objection to both that and his second objection is that if he wants to convince everyone there’s no homophobia here, I’d like to see a little logic. Meeley’s complaint is about alleged future sexual content in an “all-ages” title. I see no point in disputing about what the future may hold, but you just can’t argue that this is an all-ages title. It’s quite clearly labeled PSR, which as a retailer of sorts is something he should understand means this is material suitable for 12-year-olds and older readers. While this is what Marvel used to call PG back when they were stealing terms from the MPAA, but clearly it’s more equivalent to their PG-13 rating. And what does PG-13 mean? It means that parents are strongly cautioned that some material may be inappropriate for kids under the age of 13. Marvel’s PSR is appropriate for most ages but parents should review it before or with young (presumably sub-12) children. Whether or not Meeley thinks this should be an all-ages book has no bearing on its status in reality. (Both Marvel and the MPAA share what I consider a disturbing tendency to let kids see tons and tons of violence per rating level, but that doesn’t really factor into this argument, thank goodness.)

My brother is 13 and I’d have no qualms about letting him read Young Avengers. I differ from James Meeley in that I would still lend him my copy if there was some gay romance, although I’m still not sure what this “sexual exploration” that so frightens him entails. And I suppose I’d let him watch PG-13 movies and have in fact taken him to a few myself. One I haven’t taken him to see but enjoy a lot myself is Saved, which I think could teach us a thing or two about the PG-13 rating (and, by extension, what sort of material is appropriate for the 12-and-up crew who are the explicit target audience for Young Avengers). In Saved, Mary is a student at a Christian high school whose classmate and boyfriend confesses to her that he thinks he’s gay. She decides to have sex with him (on screen, though with tasteful editing) to try to encourage a conversion experience that will make him straight. The experiment is a failure: he gets sent to a “recovery” program and she ends up pregnant. The rest of the film deals with these high school students (I don’t think I’m old enough yet to call them “kids”) exploring their identities — “sexual and otherwise.” This means everything from Mary’s sex with Dean to her later shy flirting with new student Patrick to her super-Christian friend Hillary Faye’s ends-justify-the-means attempt to draw attention to a topic she cares about to Cassandra’s ups and downs as a Jew at a Christian school and her boyfriend Roland’s experiences as a paraplegic. Because it’s a PG-13 movie set in a Christian high school, there’s not a lot of profanity, though Mary says “fuck!” after finding out she’s pregnant. In PG-13 movies, apparently, you can get away with one non-verbal “fuck” that doesn’t refer to a sex act. I’m pretty sure that’s not true even of PSR+ books at Marvel. Would I have taken my brother to see it? Probably not, because he’s young for his age and still sort of disgusted by kissing and also because my parents’ views and mine differ on religion and I wouldn’t necessarily want to get into that with him or upset them just because of a movie. But I’ve lent it to the brothers older than him and wouldn’t mind at all if he wanted to borrow it in a year or two when he’s ready for that sort of story.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, really, because Meeley’s response when David Welsh posed the question of ratings to him this morning was just to say that Young Avengers ought to be all-ages. It’s not entirely clear whether this is a “some imaginary world, like, in my head” kind of response or that he simply wishes there were more all-ages comics or that he’s seen the recent darkening of the Marvel and DC universes and plans to rage against the dying of the light. The facts are that Young Avengers isn’t an all-ages title and doesn’t have any homosexual content. I don’t see why there’s any reason for it to be a last stand in the culture wars. By all means, it’s fine to write to Marvel to ask them to bring back Bucky or keep queers out of the limelight or aim for a no-prize in explaining what’s really up with The Scarlet Witch, but I hope no one doing this would be surprised when the response isn’t total concession from the publisher. Maybe as a woman and a feminist and someone well outside the target audience I’m just used to the idea that my preferences won’t be heard or reflected in most superhero comics, but I would hope that’s a more universal response.

And as usual, I don’t like the idea that comics need to be for kids. I wish there were more comics for smart people of many different ages, and it’s that lack that I’m feeling most acutely now. Young Avengers could perhaps be just such a title, a book young teens could read about the perils and excitement of being a teen writ large. I doubt it will be, but unlike some people I’m willing to hope. And I’m willing to say my piece and go away from things that don’t appeal to me, so this should be the last you hear from me about Manga Life unless things change drastically. But I think it’s worth having a conversation rather than sermonizing, don’t you?

Goodbye (this is not goodbye)

After a long spring of frustrating writer’s block, I suddenly find myself with so many things I want to talk about and things I’ve made promises to discuss that I finally feel ready to fulfill, but I’m not going to be doing any of that for a while. My job is more taxing than it really ought to be and we’re in a heavy season right now, which always brings a lot of pain for my poor curved spine. But now there’s something new, pain all along my right arm to the point where it’s hard to hold a hairbrush even. I’m using a trackball at work as of today, which does seem to help a bit, although it will be some time before I get my thumb motions coordinated enough to do a really good job moving the cursor. It will be another week until I can see a doctor and I have no idea what will happen next. I just want to feel better, and so I’m trying to stop as much recreational arm use as I can for now. So don’t think of this as a hiatus, just a medical leave of absence. If I get desperate enough, I can do what I’m doing now and peck with my left hand, but no matter what I’ll still be reading here and on the other blogs I enjoy and will return in full as soon as I’m able.

“You don’t need to understand the words to watch TV.”

Steven is gearing up for exams, so I got to spend the entire evening alone, which is the first time I’ve had 4 hours to myself in years I think. I squandered it on a gin hot toddy and microwaved Indian food and then watched Casa de los Babys, and now I’m happy. Well, happy and exhausted and headachy, but you can’t have everything. What you can have is a short post from me, it seems.

See, Casa has got me thinking about stories and scale and what people prefer. I guess this was on my mind this weekend in Pittsburgh, which I think was my first major group comics shopping expedition. Part of what I’ve really enjoyed in being a comics blogger is seeing what people like and especially why. What I’m realizing more and more, though, is that I like the little things best. I don’t care if worlds will change and paradigms will crumble; I just want to see some interesting characters do or think or say or be interesting things.

And while I’ve always assumed that at bare minimum gender keeps me out of the target demographic for Marvel and DC, I’m also just not going to be interested in whatever exploding-continuity mega-crossover story they offer not because I don’t care about superheroes but because I don’t care about the scale. I have no interest in the Marvel universe, but I think useful stories can be told within it. I know I’m talking about the same things over and over again, that I care about property damage and innocent bystanders in superhero and action movie carnage, that I’d like Vimanarama much more if it were just a love story without all the cosmic strife, that I often prefer the throwaway characters to the egotistical protagonists. I know this is all about me and it’s nothing especially new.

In Casa de los Babys, six women have come from the United States to a Latin American country, where they wait together for the babies they hope to adopt. Meanwhile there’s a fully realized world of maids and child beggars and students and bitter revolutionaries and hopeful idealists. And people live their lives and have the moments of communication and revelation and missed opportunity that happen in life, and then the movie is over. And to me that’s much more successful than if it had all been wrapped up nicely with a montage of smiling pastel babies and a soundtrack surge that reminds me I should be weepier. It helps, of course, that there was superb acting on both Mexican and foreign fronts, good writing that was specific and sturdy without being overwrought, a world without angels (or villains).

But I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the minority here, too. I keep saying I’ll write about Project Superior, which I do hope to do, but not when I’ll be into overtime hours by lunch tomorrow with a full day’s work and more on Saturday ahead of me. And the thing about Project Superior stories is that many of them were pretty straightforward and clear, making a point and then getting on with things, even the ones that presented themselves as slice-of-life. But there’s a big difference between unpretentious revelation and portentousness, and I think that’s what Alan David Doane misses in his praise for only the most trite (if still a bit touching) story in Flight 2. Not all comics have to be symbol-heavy because honestly not all comics creators have the brains and intuition to pull it off. And as an aside, I’m so tired of people saying that Grant Morrison is all ideas and no execution, because I think the opposite is far more true. (And no, I don’t think it matters what I think, either.)

It’s someone who understands taking little, mundane things and making them hold, making them strong enough to withstand some insight and inquiry that makes the kind of art I prefer and enjoy. I don’t care about the epic plots of triumph and tribulation anywhere near as much because I don’t think life requires (or allows) solving some magical jigsaw puzzle. I don’t think there’s a narrative that makes it all make sense, but it’s only because there are so many narratives that we can make sense of anything at all. And I don’t expect anyone to cater to my preferences, but I still enjoy finding things I like when and where I can. It’s like having a quiet night alone to relax and think and be happy, and I wouldn’t mind if my life had more of both.