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Category: Comics

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?

“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.

Peiratikos Live from Pittsburgh

[Edit by Steven: Fixed David’s URL.]

I’m writing this in our hotel room in Pittsburgh, because a certain member of the Peiratikos duo insisted on a hotel with free internet access. And we’ve come to Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Comicon, except not really. The con was fairly small and jammed full of vendors and pop culture icons (for lack of a better word) with a few artists interspersed. We came for the prospect of a blissful weekend away from reality, which really just means that there will be more bills and chores for next week than usual, and to meet fellow bloggers Ed Cunard and David Welsh, both of whom were delightful company and what I’d expected and hoped for and more. I’m amazed how comfortably real and online life parts can intersect.

I don’t really know what to say beyond that except that I was a thrifty spender (Steven is still in a mostly non-comics phase, plus I’m pushier) and we have a whole bunch of trade paperbacks to read now, although I’m strongly tempted to write something about each story in Project Superior. All of that is for later, though, since the night is young and there’s so much time for me to sleep! Before that, though, I need to preserve for posterity the photographic evidence of this historic meeting.

Rose, Ed, David
Rose, Ed, David, looking our best for this mug shot.
Steven, Rose, David
Steven, Rose, David: same setup.

And that’s it for me, happy tonight.

More Klarion, Actually

Actually, I’ll say one more thing about Klarion the Witch Boy.

Does it have the funniest Wiccan joke ever? It does. The whole Puritan pagan thing? Good stuff. The basic plot is nothing new (so far), as Jog points out, but, as Roger Ebert likes to say whenever he wants to justify his praise for an ‘immoral’ movie, a story is not about what it’s about but about how it’s about it. Which isn’t really true, but it’s sort of true. And how Morrison does Klarion is lovely. And how Frazer Irving does it, that’s lovely too. The art is also my favorite so far in Seven Soldiers, even with the monotonous coloring, which I actually like.

And while I’m here, I might as well announce that I’m probably not writing about comics for a few months. I’ve got my postmodern horror, a lot of science fiction (and maybe some fantasy). Look for H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, some cyberpunk and its literary and cinematic descendents. And that pomo horror. When? Whenever I stop being lazy, of course.

Seven Soldiers and Dorkiness

Rose and I were going to have one of those What We Bought This Week posts, except it would be a What We Bought This Month post since that’s how often we go to the comic-book store. Except the store didn’t have a few of the things we wanted, so we still ended up with about half what the typical comic-book blogger buys in a week. We’d only embarrass ourselves by attempting such a post.

(Just kidding about embarrassing ourselves: I take much pleasure in not being a typical comic-book blogger w/r/t buying piles of comic books every week.)

Anyway, one of our books was Klarion the Witch Boy #1. I liked it lots. Zatanna and Klarion are my favorites so far, mostly because I prefer their kind of fantastic fiction to superhero fantastic fiction. I’ll probably wait until the series are finished to comment on them, though, because (despite Grant Morrison’s claims, blah blah blah) these first issues are not at all self-contained and I suspect some of the seeming flaws (which other bloggers have commented on) will not seem so flawed in light of the complete works. But I don’t want to jump to these stories’ defense prematurely.

I do want to talk about something related, though. A while ago, Tim O’Neil said:

While we’re tangentially on the subject, man, the more I think about it the more Seven Soldiers seems like the sophisticated-superhero version of bear-bating. It’s been designed to divide the comics electorate between “cool kids” and not-cool kids, people who “care” about old continuity and the people who are too cool for that. I’ve seen a number of people commenting on the series with something to the effect that “nobody cares about these characters in the first place” - but the fact that some people do care pretty much kills that theory. The fact that some people do care means that whether or not you will enjoy the series depends on a “litmus test” of sorts […] I don’t necessarily agree that characters should be wed to continuity one way or the other, but man, any book that makes a political imperative of chosing [sic] one side or the other of the debate in order to enjoy it is just too aggressively cynical in conception for me to get concerned about.

And—sorry, what? Seven Soldiers forces you to choose between adherence to continuity and rejection of continuity? It does? Are these miniseries even “in continuity”? I haven’t seen Morrison or anybody else comment on this, but they don’t look like they are. They’re totally cut off from the rest of the DC Universe. I guess some characters mentioned the JLA in Zatanna, but other than that? They’re totally irrelevant to the rest of the DC Universe. They have no effect on anything outside themselves, and even if they are “official” (which I suspect they’re not), all of Morrison’s changes will be retconned in two weeks anyway.

Moreover: where’s the “litmus test”? Are there mobs of comic-book bloggers waiting in ambuscade for anybody unhip enough to claim a dislike of Morrison’s reinterpretations? Is Morrison sitting in his lair, cackling cynically in anticipation of all the poor unhip losers who will be saddened by his disrespectful portrayal of Klarion the Witch Boy?

I doubt it.

Seriously, “political imperative”? It’s a superhero comic book. Nobody cares if you don’t like it, I promise. (OK, I can’t promise that, but I can promise that anybody who does care is definitely an even bigger dork than you.)

Seriously—Grant Morrison has founded his Seven Soldiers project on the aggressively cynical goal of making people who don’t like it feel like dorks? Um?

But frankly, anybody who feels genuinely victimized by Seven Soldiers is a dork. Harsh but true, I think.

Edit: By the way, before you get offended because I made fun of you for being a dork, consider that I just used the word “ambuscade” in public. I don’t have the moral high ground, here.

“All the books that were ever written in anyone’s head”

I’m really having trouble writing for this blog lately. I don’t know if it’s spring and the last few days of warmth before my life becomes all work all the time or what, but my brain is not here.

My body’s here, though (and there were body-related reasons for my absence, including a pretty spectacular blow to the head; from now on I’ll remember where the shelf is before standing up beneath it) and I guess that’s what I’m going to talk about. Our latest comics haul included the first girl-directed manga I think I’ve read, Paradise Kiss volume 1, as well as the first female-fronted floppy comic I’ve read in a long time, the first Seven Soldiers issue of Zatanna. There was something exciting and pleasant in reading about women for a change, even though neither is all that much like me. (Okay, I am going to confess later about how very, very autobiographical my reading of Paradise Kiss is, but probably not tonight.) It’s not that I think either was a peculiarly feminine book, but I did find myself responding differently and want to think about that.

The most interesting thing about Zatanna is that it’s not as much a story as a bunch of bits of other stories thrown together into one volume. I haven’t read enough DC stories to know if the people in her superhero self-esteem support group are standard characters or whether they were created just for this. And I can assume that the locust riders are the little fellows we met in JLA Classified, although I like the hidden implication that a plague of locusts just disguises the real invasion, the tricky riders. The backstory of any of the characters who accompany Zatanna out of the world might be more interesting than her solipsistic self-analysis, but I don’t know if we’ll ever find out why Taia’s body ages and regenerates. I assume we’ll find more about Baron Winter, the separate seventh member of the crew. And all of this would have been more interesting to me than Zatanna’s self-pity (and I think it is that, rather than guilt, that really drives her here) and it’s because of this that I assume the story is supposed to be annoying, that the support group frame story is a support itself.

Because really Zatanna’s problem is that she can’t realize she’s in a story. Even though she’s been to the world of unwritten books, she somehow still thinks she’s a free agent. And so while rational people who’ve been haunted by terrifying dreams would hear the background music rumbling ominously when considering a spell that says, “Bring me the man of my dreams,” that’s not how it works for Zatanna. She thinks that because she has the power to write the world with her spells, no one or nothing could be writing her. (And I do think there are hints enough even beyond the obvious one that the author is Grant Morrison that an underlying theme of Seven Soldiers will be something about fictionality and the way people long for and reject an author and a template for their lives.) And so she does what a person who’s been sleeping badly, haunted by horrible dreams might do: she makes a stupid, thoughtless decision that makes everything worse.

But really, that’s the problem with writing your own life. You get to sabotage your character development, get yourself stuck in ruts that would drive a reader crazy. And that’s Zatanna’s problem, that she’s become a dull character. If she can take the sort of drama that wins her a prize at the superhero support group, look the end of the world in the face and still think that it’s all about her, she has issues and she’s being aggravatingly human. To me, that’s refreshing. I’m not sure there are many superhero stories that are about the complete alienation from the doing stupid, self-defeating things that seem to comprise a lot of human existence, but they wouldn’t be very interesting to me even if there were. At the end of the book, Zatanna has lost her power to write, to create with magic, and is miserable thinking of herself as just another person, another character. I look forward to watching her embrace that more than I do the presumably inevitable return of her magic powers.

I’m getting repetitive, so I’m not going to go on about this anymore and will save Paradise Kiss (which I really enjoyed) for another night. I’ll just add that when I was a tiny girl, age 3 or 4 or so, when I’d get tired I’d start talking in a sort of third person. “‘I find myself getting tired,’ she said,” I’d say. The boundaries between fiction and non- would start to blur, and I’d be narrating myself. Luckily my relatives found this endearing rather than disturbing, but I think it was a telling sign about how I viewed the world. It was hard for me to believe that I wasn’t story fodder for someone (maybe God, although I hoped he’d have the decency to check in on someone else when I was in the bathroom) and that stories weren’t real in their own ways. I was convinced that because of the word-power of my name I could hide in wild rosebushes during hide-and-seek games and that they would accept me as one of their own. This seemed to work, but maybe would have worked for anyone small who was willing to move deliberately. Later I decided I was my own writer, which has its ups and downs. I wish I were more dedicated, more self-assured, more willing to let myself have great adventures, but I instead had to focus on Zatanna’s story arc, stopping myself from being a martyr and denying myself anything that could lead to happiness or satisfaction. Now I don’t know what I believe, but that doesn’t matter to me. I know how to treat myself and try to treat the other characters I meet with respect and interest. This goes for Zatanna too.

“In the world of the super-cowboys, there’s always blood.”

And I’m driven to post again! Have I mentioned yet that I think I’m in love with James Smith’s blog? Clearly the best blog source for non-stop really good writing on comics is Jog - the Blog, but I’ve really been enjoying James’s takes on comics and blogging. And then today’s installment was so full of things I find interesting that I finally felt compelled to actually write a post of my own rather than just spout off in the comments thread (though I may find myself doing that anyway at some point) to talk about sex, violence and recent Grant Morrison. I’ll start by saying I’m going to disregard everything Grant Morrison says, because I think he’s really only useful when writing fiction. His interviews seem manipulative and ridiculous, though I read and enjoy them anyway.

I think I’ve always been public here about my discomfort with overt violence in life and art. I (used to) go berserk watching movies with car chases because there are never any repercussions, never any reparations for the property damages. And I care more about all the fictional people whose lives are being ruined when their stores are destroyed and their cars smashed and so on than I do about the perfect-haired protagonists. And it’s not that I’m trying to hide from the fact that violence exists in reality. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading about the Holocaust and dressing like a WW II war orphan. After a few years, this led into stories about nuclear holocaust, and from there to nonfiction accounts of life in warzones of several sorts. There are some nasty (although not really violent) episodes I’ve suffered in my own history, and I’ve ended up doing a lot of counseling for other sexual assault survivors and tons of education on the topic. It’s not that I think any of this should be glossed over, but that I think the standard portrayal of violence does just that. It’s because I know how real the real world is that I don’t like rape jokes or movies starring automatic weapons or anything in which people get kicked in the crotch. Other people know about the real world and like these things; I’m really just talking about me.

And then there’s sex, which I’ll touch on quickly before dropping (I hope). I wrote about breasts in Sgt. Frog, and I keep thinking back to that in the recent discussion of gender roles and sexual violence in manga and for manga readers. I had surmised that some young, female readers might not see the breasts as offensive but be willing to read against the grain for a more liberating version of events. I don’t know what girls actually do think about this sort of thing, and that seems to be the question everyone is wondering about. Having been a girl not long ago, I can only assume the answers would be ambiguous and passionate and a bit muddled, or else that the speakers might change or expand their opinions in a few years. I know that sounds awfully dismissive, but I imagine in a few years I’ll be able to look back on this post and see it as not only uncharacteristic of what I’ll believe then, but not wholly aware enough of my situation now. Anyway, the point is that I’m sure there are plenty of problems with sexism and non-consensual sex in manga, and that this is something manga fans should be analyzing and addressing. I don’t like the idea that just because the problem may be different and bigger in American comics, particularly the superhero ones, there’s no room for people to be critical of issues in manga and among manga readers. (This is all an aside I did not mean to make.)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about sex in the way James talked about sex, looking at The Whip from Seven Soldiers #0. This is completely my own crazy bias and I realize it makes no sense, but my general thought is that characters who are wearing more fetishy clothing (The Whip, new Batgirl, especially in her sewn-shut mouth days) seem more self-assured, as if they have made choices about their attire. I’m not sure what I’m comparing them to, but The Whip is much more palatable to me than Phoenix, at least costume-wise. The self-aware characterization helps, of course, but I’m more comfortable with sex and sexualized bodies when they’re not also being sold as wholesome. (And maybe Phoenix isn’t the best example there, but instead The Wasp or something. I dunno.) Since I’m not actually making an argument here, I’ll just add that I’ve been wanting to make a joke about how the real reason I read superhero comics is because they make me feel normal for having scoliosis. But even my body doesn’t twist the way superheroines’ often have to. And of course the best place for an abstract joke is way in the middle of an unrelated post. Maybe I’ll resuscitate it someday.

In mentioning Vimanarama #2, I said that I wasn’t sold on the coloring, and was reminded of that when James talked about the uneasy mix between romantic comedy and fairly grisly violence. Because the violence is just as shiny and pretty as everything else, I think we’re supposed to infer that there is no break, no real division. And despite talking about the place of violence in the fabric of reality right above, I’m going to say that I don’t like its place here. I don’t like that it’s as cartoony as everything else, that head-smashing has the same weight as the moment before a kiss. Maybe it does in reality and maybe it should in some stories, but I’m just not convinced that this is the right story, the right balance. But maybe the problem, too, is that I fear I’d like the story more if the fighting took place farther off-panel and the other sorts of conflict got more pagetime.

And yet I don’t have the same problem with The Manhattan Guardian #1. The violence is lurid and vibrantly colored but I was able to skim over it without feeling bad for not being more invested and without feeling like I was missing out, as in Vimanarama. It was just a violent backdrop, an extremely violent backdrop, to what is probably going to be a violent story. Like James, this elicits no real emotional response from me. Am I supposed to be horrified? Intrigued? Aroused? Beats me, and not just because I don’t go in for that authorial intent stuff much. I just don’t go in for watching people beat each other up, have never found it cathartic to read about a pivotal punch. So why do I read this stuff? Beats me, at least to some extent. I guess I find it interesting to see what gets built around the violence, what the rest of the story is. I let myself believe/pretend that everything else is the real story with the violence as some sort of metaphor-heavy frosting. I’m not sure if those of use who read this way (James, I think, and David Fiore and myself) all do it in the same way and if our readings differ greatly from the normal ones. I guess the more important thing is that it doesn’t matter to me and that I keep on doing mine. So this is some sort of segue back to blogging, I hope.

“Careful! It’s razor-sharp.”

So I haven’t been here in a while, it seems. I’ve been sick a lot this winter, but also just completely worn down. I don’t know when either of those will relent for good, but I’ll aim for weekly posting and see if I can work up from there. If I have anything to say (and I do have a big post on identification festering, but it’s not written yet) I’ll try to get it up here somehow. For tonight, though, just a few quick truths with little analysis.

Vimanarama #2 made me cry a little, but only a little. Dig the Taj Mahal interior, though! I’m not sold on the coloring and I read a lot faster when the Fireborn are doing their thing. I wish this were going to be more than three issues long.

What’s up with the (potential) total depletion of other Kentucky comics bloggers? To make up for the gaps in my pseudopeer group, I’m pushing for a clique of comics bloggers who read manga in the bathtub. It looks like there may be some overlap with the comics bloggers who enjoy gin (a more casual grouping that exists only in my head, as far as I know) which suggests some clear options for socializing that I’ll bet we’ll never try.

Steven is on spring break and thus did a Wednesday comic run, which still seems sort of weird and obscene to me, but I hoped it would net us Project Superior, which the store had not ordered. They should have one for us next week, and I do realize that if we weren’t so passive and uncomfortable talking to people we would have had one now. So there was none of that and no manga for my bath, so I resorted to feminist essay collections. From Feminism Beside Itself, I liked Elspeth Probyn’s piece, “Perverts by Choice.” She writes of belonging/be-longing as “a loose combinatoire of being and longing, becoming and nostalgia, as composed of lines of desire that run along the singularities of sexualities, bodies, spaces and places.” (264) I quote this not to scare anyone off from drinking gin or enjoying bathtime manga, but because it’s something I’m going to be thinking about off-blog and possibly but probably not on-.

I know not everyone liked I ♥ Huckabees, but I think the mud sex scene was one of the most emotionally realistic portrayals I’ve ever seen in a movie. Anyone who disagrees is wrong, but that’s ok; I know beauty when I see it. I got the double-disc set as a birthday present (thanks!) and am looking forward to rewatching the film itself this weekend. I got very close to finishing a major in philosophy before dropping it, in large part because I hated so many of the other students, so I’m not sure if that means I’m more sensitive or less sensitive to dopey philosophy stuff, but nothing in Huckabees bothered me.

And continuing my trend of no real segues, I’m probably going to be teaching a class on sock knitting, so I’ve been doing a bit of it myself. I have a really hideous pair I made to test some techniques and a cotton/wool yarn (I’ll have to teach on larger than sock yarn, though, because apparently size 0 needles terrify new knitters) and I should probably put a picture of them up here so that the ugliness will be a good incentive to post something substantive to get it off the top of the page. The plus side is that they fit me perfectly and keep my feet warm when it is too, too cold in the apartment, which has definitely been the case over the last few nights.

I haven’t yet done any blogger interviews because I haven’t really done much of anything except work ridiculously long hours and try to sleep (well, and knit socks). I think I’m getting close to having my research done for the first, though. I’m hoping I live in enough of a shame culture that my commenting on this will push me to do it, but past performance has not been a positive indicator, to use work-speak. Maybe soon.

Rose’s Little Brother on Seaguy

Several months ago, Rose and I lent her brother Seaguy #1-3 after extracting a promise that he would tell us what he thought about them. The idea was to get a thirteen-year-old’s perspective on an esoteric Grant Morrison comic book and present it for the benefit of the comics blogosphere. Rose mentioned a few weeks ago that I never got around to posting about this, so here it is now, a thirteen-year-old’s thoughts on Seaguy:

Rose’s brother:

I liked them. They were kind of confusing, though. For example, what are the “Mickey Eye” people doing everywhere? What exactly is the Xoo? What is that giant beetle doing on the moon and why did it stop the revolution of the moon?

Do you have the fourth one?


Unfortunately, there isn’t a fourth one, yet. This is a complete story, but there may be another story later.

Do you have any theories about what Micky Eye and its people are doing, or what Xoo is? I have my own ideas, but I wonder what yours are.

Rose’s brother:

Mickey Eye is these things, since they’re in the comic-
-They’re against the Xoo people.
-They’re trying to wake up the beetle or something.
-They are very wide spread.
-They have plenty of money.

Xoo is these things-
-A substance made that can become conscious.
-Manufactured for use for anything.

So these are my ideas-
1= Mickey Eye is an evil organization that wants to wake up the beetle to take over the world, and Xoo is the only thing in its way.

2= Mickey Eye is an organization that wants to stop Xoo’s spread because Xoo is too powerful, or a threat to their power. The beetle is the only thing that can stop Xoo, and Mickey Eye is trying to wake it up.

3= Mickey Eye and the people who make Xoo are both evil and want to take over each other, and the people who make Xoo created Xoo to destroy Mickey Eye. Mickey Eye is planning to counter with the beetle.

4= Mickey Eye and Xoo are working together, for reasons unknown.

What do you think?


I think everything you say makes sense to me. I don’t know how Xoo fits into the big picture—it seems to be a wild card. Mickey Eye made (or discovered, it’s hard to tell) Xoo, but it can’t control Xoo. I think what Xoo is, basically, is the New. I mean, not any specific new thing that Mickey Eye has invented, but a strange physical manifestation of the abstract concept of novelty—that’s why it can be used for anything. Mickey Eye wants to control how people are exposed to new things, and they want to control how people think about new things, but Xoo (New) is too powerful, especially with meddling heroes like Seaguy getting involved.

And as for Mickey Eye, I think it’s supposed to remind us of Disney (hence the “Mickey” mascot and the amusement parks). Not that Disney is as powerful as Mickey Eye, obviously, but just imagine what things would be like if Mickey Mouse ruled the world: the whole world would be Disney World. Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, but it would surely get oppressive if you always had to live in manufactured bliss and weren’t allowed to stop being happy. That’s the world Seaguy lives in.

(By the way, does anybody remember which blogger first came up with the Xoo/New idea? I remember reading about it when Seaguy #1 came out, but I don’t remember where.)

“How can you be so shallow at a time like this?”

I think you can probably take it as a given that I’m going to remain a bad blogger for a while, but I’m not actually giving up. Instead I’m going to rant a bit (at least tonight) and that’s making me really excited. Rant!!

Steven and I got Vimanarama last week, since it was one of the few comics that needed to be bought the day it was out. Of course, it’s taken me almost a week to talk about it, but at least I’ve got an angle. Grant Morrison and Philip Bond have created the first segment of a three-part story about a young South Asian British guy, Ali, who meets his betrothed, Sofia, as they set off what may become the end of the world. I think the idea is sort of a Bollywood manga with Muslim leads, which was enough to have me sold on the story, but I’m afraid it may be just too alien for some readers. Even Jog, in an otherwise excellent analysis didn’t notice that the characters were in England, not India. Of course other readers didn’t notice that soccer is played with the feet and a black-and-white ball (I tease, Johnny! But is youth soccer not huge in your part of the state?) so maybe I shouldn’t write it off as cultural disconnect issues. Anyway, I very much enjoyed the book, but that’s not quite what I’m going to talk about.

Still, there’s one thing that’s getting to me, and that’s the issue of hijab, or Muslim dress (I use it here to mean specifically women’s headcoverings, but it’ll go a little beyond that). I’ll be quite open in saying that I’ve never been to the UK, but I think I can speak with a fair amount of certainty about young Muslim women in the American Midwest, and so that’s mostly what I’m going to do. Now, this is only the third mainstream comics story I’ve even read that involved veiled women to any major extent, the most recent previous being Morrison’s introduction of Dust in New X-Men. I know Dust is still an active character in the spinoff Mutant Academy X stories (or whatever the official title is now; it had two colons when I was reading it) but I haven’t kept up with those, despite being interested in what becomes of her, since what became of the rest of the characters didn’t mean anything to me at all. I was a little annoyed by the outfit she wore, since she’s from Afghanistan, which was certainly a topical locale, but where the blue burqa has taken on an almost mythical symbolic status, and yet she wears all black, scarf, gown, and face scarf (niqaab) which is a look I associate with Saudis or women from the Gulf states. It’s visually different from the Iranian chador, which generally includes a blanket-like rather than self-closing headcovering and no face-veil. So Dust was dressed this way because it made a good visual counterpoint to Fantomex, who had a similar amount of skin showing beneath his white helmet and bodysuit. I was just never convinced there was a good cultural justification and kept waiting for it to show up. I know modesty and self-respect are issues that are playing out for her in the newer X-Men book, but I’m not sure how well that will work.

The prior instance was a story written by Brian K. Vaughn for the JLA Annual #4, in which the JLA meet Turkey’s defender, young humanitarian doctor Selma Tolon a/k/a The Janissary. Her costume incorporates the Turkish flag and includes both a face veil of sorts and a red hijab. This made me laugh a lot, since part of Atat????rk’s secular revolution involved outlawing headcoverings for women in public schools or civil service positions. So Turkey’s great defender is a scofflaw! But this is an interesting point that ties into Vimanarama, because women who think that exercising their religion means covering their hair are stuck in a situation where they have to either leave the country or get some sort of religious schooling. So the Turkish women who study in the U.S. will disproportionately wear headcoverings, because they don’t have options at home. In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I don’t have anything against hijab and actually can understand the appeal. It’s really empowering to be able to make yourself un-sexualized, to force people talking to you to look at your face, but of course there are practical drawbacks both in the Midwest and, I assume, in Britain, where Vimanarama is set. I do think it’s only a good choice if it is a choice, though, if there are legitimate and legal options (e.g. not Turkey and not Iran, pre- or post-Islamic revolution) .

And that brings us to Vimanarama, where seemingly secularized Ali wonders about God’s plan for him while threatening to kill himself if the girl he’s supposed to marry is ugly. He’s bringing a prayer rug to his injured brother, even though I think we can safely assume that traumatic head injuries are the sort of thing that exempt you from required prayers. And somehow Ali’s father, who is traditional enough to be arranging a marriage for his teenaged son, isn’t traditional enough to require that he change out of his tracksuit. It turns out Sofia’s parents are equally lax, letting her travel unaccompanied in capri jeans and a midriff-baring top beneath her hooded sleeveless sweatshirt. This strikes me as a little odd just because I think it’s not a culturally specific situation for parents to press their children to dress up for high-pressure situations like this, but we’ve still got 2/3 of the story to go and I won’t be sad if this point is never explained. As it is, I think it’s meant to set up Ali and Sofia as something new, both aware and accepting of their South Asian heritage while not keeping all the markers of Muslim identity, which is going to create a nice triangle with what seem to be Hindu god-beings they’ve roused. But I want to get back to those markers of identity, because while I realize there’s a re-veiling movement going on worldwide (not unlike the Turkish example above, in part as a way to mark the wearer as separate from secular society, to make a political statement) but, at least in the area I know, it’s not big among the Pakistani population. That’s why I was a little surprised that Ali’s home looks like this:

Ali's family, featuring two differently veiled women

The woman with the white headscarf is his sister Fatima, but again her outfit is just a little odd. In my experience, South Asian women who wear headcoverings wear loose, colorful scarves that may not even totally cover their hair (or they may have another tight hair cover beneath that) and often a salwar kameez, or loose pants with a tunic. But anyway, not only is she wearing some sort of jilbab (long coat) with her white scarf, but it’s a black one. And the other woman, potentially Ali’s mother or Omar’s wife or someone else entirely, has a face veil as well and in all black. I don’t know if this is common among British Muslim women who veil, but it is not the standard here and struck me as odd. I wouldn’t think it was all that strange for this one family to be more formal about covering or even to be part of a group that keeps stricter than standard dressing requirements, but I’m not sure how it fits into the story and what exactly is being portrayed. Is this a literal representation of the clothes women in a family like Ali’s would be wearing, or is it supposed to be symbolic of the roles they play as Muslim women? It’s because this is such a powerful symbol that there are arguments about veiling and control of veiling in post-revolutionary Iran and Turkey and the recent school legislation in France. It’s an issue of personal choice, but also more, and I’m interested to see what the “more” in this case will turn out to be. Of course, there’s good reason to disagree and say that Vimanarama isn’t set in a world that’s like ours but for the magic stuff, but in one that’s fundamentally different in many ways.

Ali meets Sofia

Wrapping things up a bit, Marc Singer already noted what I was going to comment on, that the Adidas-like logo on Ali’s jacket approximates the shape of the magical lotus. I do still want to point out Sofia’s first appearance, above. Covered in darkness, her hair and upper face are covered as if by a veil, her eyes pupilless slits. And so the focus is on her mouth and neck and shoulders, a sort of anti-hijab that at the same time draws Ali to her face, although he definitely later gets around to checking out her body. Her still face seems like an allusion to the masks Morrison so often uses, a reminder that all of these women are bodies onto which things are being projected. Ali’s eventual task is not just to find Imran (and wow, “Looking for a baby?” is some pickup line!) but to find the real Sofia beneath her collected facade and, along the way, to find himself. But beginning with this scene, Sofia is in control, the more secure and active of the two. Until that point, Ali had been the go-to guy in his family, the one who could be depended on to take charge (even if with some sighs) and do whatever needs to get done. And yet as the world shifts, Sofia is the one who finds the clues to get to Imran’s location, despite being new to the region, not to mention this magical area. Yet with the appearance of the Ultra-Hadeen, there’s another shift, and both Sofia and Ali are unsettled, among strange beings who are not their God, and ready to embark on something very, very new. I know I’m right with them.