Wednesday, June 23, 2010

These are not the comic artists that you're looking for.

A word to the wise: do not ever, ever, ever post on Craigslist looking for a comic book artist.

I had been advised to do so by a well-meaning editor friend at Dark Horse; unfortunately, I doubt he's ever had to do that himself.

The response I got was overwhelmingly hostile. People told me point-blank that any ad that didn't offer compensation -- "no pay" -- would be flagged immediately by angry members of the Craigslist forums. Which, I understand that the economy has people down, but one might hope that CL would recognize what was going on and not just let people flag ads for removal because they're irritated about the lack of offered money.

Apparently that's not happening. So save yourself the time, the harassment, and the headache, and don't do it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movie: Toy Story 3 (and short: Day and Night) ***/****

Yesterday I drove my 12-year-old niece and her friend to see Toy Story 3, with some trepidation. My niece is right on that shaky age when she is just old enough to pretend that she doesn't really like such kid fare, but she'll still let her aunt drag her out to see it. She also has multiple Twilight posters, and is adamantly Team Edward.

I will pause while some readers shudder.

Fortunately Toy Story 3 was a bit less offensive to my pro-choice, pro-ethical-slut, feminist sensibilities. First, as with all Pixar films, we were treated to a short: this one was called Day and Night, a clip of which you can see here. In it, two odd, blob-like beings who represent the opposite extremes of, you guessed it, day and night encounter, fear, and eventually befriend one another. Using the broadcast of a Wayne Dyer speech, the short drives home a message of tolerance and acceptance, insisting that the unknown (representated as being anything different from ourselves, implicitly identified as race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.) need not be something to fear, just as Day and Night find commonality in a single moment when sunrise and sunset intersect. I was deeply pleased to see Pixar aim such a blunt message of acceptance at children, and can only hope that it sinks in with this whole generation of younglings.

As for the movie itself, it did have rather odd monotheistic undertones. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and cowgirl Jessie return for a bittersweet installment: their 0wner Andy has all grown up and is preparing to go away to college, literally setting childish things aside. Some of the living toys prepare themselves for Attic Mode, in which they wait among the dust in the hopes that some day Andy will have kids and will pass them along to be played with. There's a mixup, though, and instead of the attic the toys wind donated to a daycare center, where they're threatened by both rambunctious toddlers and the sinister Care-Bear-knockoff Sir Lotsa Love.

The aforementioned monotheistic themes lurk in the toys' devotion to Andy. Woody encourages the others to spend years, even decades, in the attic waiting and hoping for the day that Andy will have use of them again; they all speak of him as the only source of hope or joy in the universe, and fall astray only after they mistakenly believe that he has abandoned them; Lotsa even asks, "Where is your God kid now?" at a dicey juncture. If The Chronicles of Narnia is a metaphor for the Christian God, full of self-sacrifice and forgiveness, then Toy Story 3 is the tale of an Old Testament God, asking for sacrifice and (hopefully, but not guaranteed) revealing itself as benevolent in the end.

I suppose how one feels about these underlying God-themes depends a lot on one's world view. They didn't bother me so much. I was too busy detecting whether or not the film passed the Bechdel Test (it did) and the Mohr Test (it didn't), and attempting to keep my teenaged niece and her friend from seeing me tear up at a kid's film. (Oh, what. Shut up. I dare you to watch the sequence in the landfill and NOT choke up.)

Another point of interest was the character of Ken (as in, a Ken doll). Inclined towards flowery cursive hand-writing and obsessed with clothes, Ken is first introduced as a low-level and disrespected flunky to the villain Lotsa; however, he eventually switches allegiance to the good guys due to his love for a delightfully-assertive Barbie (even after she tortures him for information -- by ripping up all his best outfits). Prone to wearing his girlfriend's scarves and being gooey with his emotions, Ken breaks a lot of heteronormative rules, yet winds up co-leading the toys of the daycare center towards a more egalitarian lifestyle after Lotsa is out of the picture. It's a character refreshingly free of stereotypes, and I can only hope my young nephew goes to see the movie sometime himself.

In all, a well-made film with some tolerant messages. I liked it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Art Imitates Life?: actress Romola Garai on misogyny

The recent film The Killer Inside Me, starring Casey Affleck as a 1950's West Texas deputy sherrif who's secretly a psychotic killer, has generated a great deal of controversy due to several scenes of graphic violence.

Need I even add that the violence in question is perpetrated on women?

Critics have variously praised the film, condemned it, defended the violence as essential to the storyline, and questioned whether it was worth the storyline. No one, however, has rivaled the critical response of one Romola Garai. An actress who you most likely know as the teenaged Briony Tallis of Atonement, Garai provides her own examination of The Killer, of cinema in general, and society at large. It is startlingly insightful:
It is also a misogynistic film – but why shouldn't it be? I would argue
that something dark is lurking between the sexes and that it is seeping out into
cinema. [...] Isn't cinema simply responding to a fear of – and desire to punish
– women, especially materially successful or sexually active women?

The world has changed quickly and, for some men, there is anger,
confusion and frustration at that change – a feeling of displacement and
uselessness that is driving a wedge between the sexes. It isn't a predicament I
feel much sympathy for but I believe it exists and should be allowed to be

I'm not sure whether I agree with her or not -- after all, life often imitates art, and our cultural palate is formed by the media we devour -- but she raises interesting points.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Drumming diary: How Rachel got her groove back.

As anyone who has ever tried on skinny jeans knows -- my personal verdict: a full-body muffintop, ugh -- finding one's personal style is a lot of trial-and-error. The same holds true in drumming.

Through the process of learning other people's songs, I've played a variety of styles and have come to realize that I really, really hate playing pop-punk. Or punk. Just, that whole vein of music. I hate it. Well, wait, I don't hate the music, I hate PLAYING it. I never feel like I'm settling into a nice groove with punk, and me likey a nice groove. (Pop) Punk is all frenetic and wild and I can see how that would be fun for others, but for me, ugh, I hate it.

Me, I think I'm a fairly solid blues-rock drummer. This gives me joy! I have found my style! Hooray!

Of course, this means that I've given up trying to learn I'm Not Okay. Boo. I hate not finishing things that I start.

But hooray! A style! Now to learn EVERY BLUES-ROCK SONG IN EXISTENCE! Starting with the entire Led Zeppelin repetoire, heh.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mama, don't let your girls grow up to be cowboys.

You know what I really want?

I want there to have been at least ONE WOMAN on this list.

I have this whole dissertation about why all of our classic heroes these days are anti-heroes, and how that relates to Vietnam -- specifically, the massacre at My Lai 4 -- and how the American dream has a desperate need to parody itself in order to reaffirm that no, really, we are the good guys, despite all the evidence and dead Vietnamese civilians to the contrary.

The short version says that, well, all our classic heroes these days are anti-heroes. To not have ONE woman on that list is either a strong indication of the list-maker's bias, or our ongoing inability as a culture to see women as something to be admired, something heroic.

I mean, hello, STARBUCK??? If they're going to put Mal on there, then where the hell is Kara Frakking Thrace?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Here is a list of our demands. Meet them or the goat gets it.

Recently, comic book artist Hope Larson performed an informal survey of 198 comics-reading girls and young women to get a snapshot of their reading practices, and what they believe the comic book industry could do to encourage more female readership, especially among teens and tweens (as this age bracket is most likely to pick up comics). She presented her findings in the form of a list of demands:

1. More and better female characters, especially protagonists. Girls want to see strong, in-control, kick-ass women calling the shots.
2. A welcoming atmosphere in local comic stores is key. Many respondents reported feeling uncomfortable in comic stores. They were stared at, talked down to, and
generally treated without respect.
3. Pink, sparkly cutesy comics about boyfriends, ponies, cupcakes and shopping are widely reviled. Condescend to female readers at your peril, writers and comic publishers.
4. The hypersexualization/objectification of female superheroines makes female readers uncomfortable, and sexual violence as a plot point has got to stop.
5. Girls need good stories in a variety of genres.
6. Most girls don’t even know comics exist, or that they would enjoy them. Publishers need to advertise in mainstream media and comic shops need to reach out to girls.
7. Make comics for boys and girls. Comics with dual male and female protagonists. Comics with large casts that offer something for everyone.
8. Use licensed properties to lure new readers into comics.
9. Availability is a problem. Get more comics into schools. Get more comics into libraries—especially school libraries. Get more comics into bookstores, especially large chains.
10. There need to be more women creating comics and working in the industry as editors and publishers.

Emphasis mine, on the points that I feel are most salient. The first two are content issues, and I think any change in content will be dependent on number 10, and an increase in the number of women actually writing comics. I've been dipping my toes into the world of independent comics, and I've noticed that the further one gets up the foodchain -- from webcomic creators to the larger independent houses to the Majors -- the fewer women one meets.

Which in turn is dependent on number 6, and the lack of female readership. With few girls and women interested in reading comics, it stands to reason that not many would be interested in creating them, either.

Which, of course, is in turn largely dependent on content.

It's a vicious cycle, friends.

If comic book publishing houses want to court the female market, I would strongly suggest that they actively recruit women to work on their writing and editorial staff. There are a few determined souls out here (*raises hand*) who long to wade in and lay about them with the Righteous Club Of Gender Equality, Or At Least Not Fridging Half the Female Characters.

But then again, maybe that's exactly what they DON'T want.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Mohr test

I was thinking about the Bechdel Test today, and how in certain circles it's become shorthand for how to evaluate a given media product's treatment of female characters. The test:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.
This sounds simple -- but you'd be amazed. For instance, the film Nine, despite having nine women, does not pass. The Dark Knight does, barely. The novel Boneshaker, which I just reviewed, passes. The comic book Preacher (ugh) passes. None of the original Star Wars films pass. None of The Lord of the Rings trilogy pass, in either film or book form.

Now, try to think of a single movie, novel, comic book, or TV show, even one, in which there are 1. Less than two men, 2. who never talk to each other, 3. about anything other than a woman.

The Bechedel test might seem simplistic: obviously a story can be female-negative but still pass these requirements, and vice versa. But it is a fast and easy way to evaluate a story's attitudes towards female presence, community, and independence.

And then I started thinking about A Single Man, that recent Oscar-bait movie starring Colin Firth as a gay man who's lost his partner to a car accident. Some members of the queer community flocked to the movie but I avoided it like the plague: I have no desire to watch yet another queer character (SPOILER ALERT) be sad and miserable and alone and then die at the end of the movie.

In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of one movie or TV show in which an openly-queer (or even just heavily-subtexted queer) character has a happy ending, or at least doesn't frickin' DIE. The only one that comes to mind is the movie Shelter. Jury's still out on Kurt Hummel of the TV show Glee.

So I'm thinking that we need a Bechdel test for queer characters. (Really, we need one for characters of color, too, but I would not at all presume to make one. I am not the moral authority of racial issues, dear God.) The test would go something like this:

1. If there are ten characters in a story, then at least one of them is a queer person
2. Who is actually shown to be queer (they kiss someone of the same sex, or are mentioned as having a significant other, or anything that shows they're not a Will&Grace-neutered version of "gay")
3. And isn't thematically punished for being queer.

We'll call it the Mohr test, unless someone can think of something better.

Book: Boneshaker (***1/2/****)

Title: Boneshaker
Author: Cherie Priest

I'll confess I haven't read straight prose in a while. As a child, my mother worked out a deal wherein I couldn't start reading until after I'd done my chores for the day; she knew that once I started, nothing could draw my attention away until I had gulped down the entire book. I can't exactly remember when I stopped reading like that -- probably around college, when all of my reading time was devoured by scholarly texts.

Whilst trolling the hallowed, color-coded rooms of Powell's, I picked up the book Boneshaker on the basis of its interesting cover: a dirty-faced, dark-haired woman wearing a pair of goggles with multiple lenses stares solemnly up at the sky. In one lens, we see the reflection of an airship. The whole thing seems to be done in oil paints, adding to the sense of grubbiness. In the upper-right hand corner of the cover, Scott Westerfield recommends the book with the description "A steampunk-zombie-airship adventure."

I will pause and let you absorb that.


It's as if someone looked into my soul and gently inquired if it would like to read a book again.

Boneshaker is the story of Briar Wilkes, a hard-bitten woman in her mid-thirties, and her 16-year-old son Zeke, who live in the Outskirts, an area that has grown up around the ruin of Seattle. The year is 1880, the Civil War has been dragging on for 12 years due to small nudges of historical happenstance (it's mentioned that Stonewall Jackson didn't die at Chancellorsville), and as a result Washington is still an isolated territory instead of a proper state. Unscrupulous prospectors have been seeking gold in the Klondike and building giant drills to get under the ice. One of these drills was Dr. Blue's Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine; its creator, Leviticus Blue, was (is?) an inventor of the kinds of gadgets one expects in a steampunk story.

Except something went horribly wrong with the engine -- or horribly right. 16 years back, it went haywire all through the underground of downtown Seattle, tearing up several bank vaults and caving in streets and buildings. Worse yet, though, it tapped into some secret underground vein of poisonous gas, which the characters call the Blight. The Blight turns people into "rotters," mindless undead who feel no pain and desire only to eat. A 200-foot wall was built to hold in this plague, and the Outskirts grew up around it.

In the aftermath Dr. Blue had disappeared, along with any hope of knowing his intentions. In his absence, much of the city's wrath has fallen on Blue's wife and child -- Briar and Zeke.

As the story opens, the ostracized Zeke has decided to go in search of proof that his father was innocent and that the whole thing was an accident. His quest takes him inside the Wall. The even-more ostracized Briar follows after him. On the way they encounter air pirates, an Indian princess who's handy with knives, hordes of the undead, and the sinister Dr. Minnericht, a crazy inventor and criminal overlord who bears some resemblence to Briar's dead(?) husband Levi.

The book's a little slow to get going, spending a hair too much time describing Briar and Zeke's miserable, poverty-stricken existence in the Outskirts. Once they get inside the Wall, though, Priest moves the narrative along at a brisk if zig-zagging pace. There are a lot of different players inside the Wall, all with motivations so crosswise to each other as to form a web into which Briar and Zeke both tumble. Minnericht is the spider at the center drawing them in.

Throughout the book, I had some difficulty picturing the environment through which the characters moved -- but methinks this was a deliberate move on Priest's part, as the interior of the Wall is filled with soupy Blight gas on top of the infamous greyness of Seattle's weather, and much of the action happens underground in tunnels that branch throughout the ruined city. All the characters wear masks to protect them from the Blight gas, and the descriptions might unsettle the claustrophobic among us.

I would complain that some of the characters in the story are underdeveloped, but I'm too delighted at the realization that all the underdeveloped characters are men, while the strong, fleshed-out ones are women: Lucy the mama-bear bar owner with her mechanical arms built to replace the flesh-and-bone ones that she lost to the rotters; Ms Angeline the aforementioned Indian princess who has her own vendetta against Minnericht; and above all, Briar Blue Wilkes.

Oh, Briar. I love her beyond words. Stubborn and strong and weary and unflappable and determined, Briar's as prickly as her name: she holds the world at arm's length, including her son. It's not out of lack of love...rather, because of it. Briar has many burdens, and the story is a process of peeling them slowly from her white-knuckled clutches. It isn't until the last pages that the final, crucial one is revealed, and her character wholly makes sense; but trust me, the wait is worth it. Zeke's a delight, too, brave and stupid in the way of young men, with his mother's stubborn spirit. He's a soul full of questions, and some of the answers he gets aren't too dandy; but he handles himself well in the end, and you get the sense that's just what Briar desperately needs.

In closing, there's a scene on page 382 that had me cackling with glee. In it, Lucy, Miss Angeline, and Briar meet. One woman has just killed dozens of rotters, one just cut a man's throat, and one just led a full-scale militia attack.
Lucy had found or fixed her crossbow, and it was affixed to her arm, ready to fire. She aimed it back at Angeline before she realized who she was. Then she brought it down and said, "Miz Angeline, what are -- ?" Finally, she saw Briar, and she almost laughed when she spoke the rest. "Ain't this a pairing? I swear and be damned. We don't have too many women down here inside the walls, but I sure wouldn't mess with the ones we've got."

Highly recommend this book, despite some flaws. I coulda done with more resolution at the end, but hey, that's what sequels are for. (And to the fandomites out there: check out the back cover for a laugh, there's a quote from one Cassandra Clare.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Drumming diary: I'm Not Okay

I thought that I'd be learning "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones this week, but couldn't find an accurate beat sheet for that song, so I went with "I'm Not Okay" by My Chemical Romance instead.

Drum notation can be extremely difficult to work out. It's not like the guitar or bass or piano, where there's a specific melody to follow and thus some kind of formula based on the rules of music theory: with the drums, you only have the meter and the count. Within the space of a given measure all kinds of shit can be going down and you've got to a) pick apart where each hit happens in each measure and b) figure out what hit goes on what. It's tough, thankless work, so there are plenty of screwy tabs out there. Before attempting to play any song, I strongly recommend listening to it and reading along with the tab, noting the times of all major song changes (new chorus, etc), and determining whether the tab looks like the song you're hearing.

Sometimes, of course, even this process doesn't clear the waters completely. For instance, are the staccato 1&2&3&4& hits that start at :08 in "Paint It Black" on the snare, or a tom? It's difficult to say, especially given as every drummer will tune hir kit differently. Maybe sie likes the toms just as high and tight as the snare. Maybe hir floor tom sounds like a bass. It can be hard to discern even to the most highly-trained ear. Not helpful is the fact that musicians or their labels will often go after websites that offer tabs, claiming copyright infringement. Which, seriously, fuck those guys.

SO. Rant aside, I've tracked down what I think is a fairly accurate tab of "I'm Not Okay." I did modify it slightly so that it only ran two pages long and I can fit it onto my music stand. The drummer is Matt Pelissier. Tempo is 180 bpm, which makes it the fastest thing I've ever tried to play. The song itself is fairly simple, minus the way it jumps between quarter notes and eighth notes; the challenge will be the speed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Comics: 30 Days of Night (-/****)

Title: 30 Days of Night
Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Ben Templesmith

This one's gonna be short: I got through about two dozen pages of 30 Days before I called it quits. It was well-written, the story concept was awesome -- I have a not-so-secret fondness for stories in which ancient myth and modern reality collide, and authors find new ways to imagine how creatures like vampires might exist in the world -- but I could just not get into the art. Templesmith has a very unique, abstract style that also put me off Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse; while I appreciate the attempt at something other than the typical, I felt supremely distanced from the sketchy, blurred representations of people as they smushed and oozed their way through the wash of their snowy environments.

Ah, well, I tried. Sending it back and moving on.

Listening to: NIN, "Closer"
Playing: My Chemical Romance, "I'm Not Okay"
Reading: Runaways