“Comics Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore” Or “How Not To Be A D**k”

215. GirlsDontRead

The phrase “Comics Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore” is hardly revolutionary. If you’re a female comic’s fan or creator, you’re probably saying, “Duh, obviously. We’ve known that for thirty years.”

But.

Here’s the thing. It would seem that not everybody in geekdom has gotten the memo. In fact, if recent events are anything to go by, the memo is still in the “Out” box. One of the recent events I refer to is a critique of a comic book cover that Janelle Asselin – a former comic’s editor – wrote called “Anatomy of a Bad Cover”. Asselin was an editor and associate editor on such DC titles as Batman, Batwoman, and Detective Comics, amongst many others. So, we’re talking the big leagues here. The cover she wrote about was this:

214. Comics Aren't Just ...

This is the cover of the first issue of the new Teen Titans comic. You don’t need to be Brainiac to figure out what one of Asselin’s main gripes with this cover was. Yes, that would be the outrageously anatomically incorrect proportions on the young lady to the fore (Power Girl). Her problem was not just that these are quite obviously breast implants, but that they are breast implants on a 17-year-old girl. She also made the point that – according to research – 50% of the audience of the original “Teen Titans” animated series are girls aged 15-23 with the bulk being 17. She rightly suggests that a clever marketing strategy would be to aim this new comic at that demographic but goes on to note that, “This is not a cover you run if you’re trying to appeal to teenagers, and it’s especially not going to appeal to teen girls.”

Andy Khouri in an excellent blog post entitled “Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment” describes what happened next:

Subsequently, Janelle reported that a number of men had called her a “whiny bitch,” a “feminazi,” a “feminist bitch,” and a “bitter c*nt.” And then, the online misogynist’s finishing move, the rape threats.

Yes. Rape threats. This woman received rape threats because she had the audacity to criticise the cover art on a comic book. Now, there have been a number of blog posts written – including Khouri’s – condemning this behaviour and suggesting ways in which it might be stopped. (You would think all of this was self-explanatory but as a female friend of mine put it when I told her the story: “I wish that was surprising and unusual.”) One thing that struck me though when I was reading them all was that there was another point being missed here. So if I could address the “men” in question here for a moment.

You sad sacks of shit who make these rape threats are under the mistaken impression that comics fandom is the sole preserve of you and your saddo friends, and that women have no place in it. Well, that was true once upon a time. And what was also true about that time was that comics were regarded as being for kids. There were very few superhero movies or TV shows, very few science fiction or fantasy TV shows and certainly none approaching anywhere near the kind of quality that exists today. Do you guys honestly think that the movie and TV studios are making these shows solely for you? Do you honestly think you would have the Batman and Iron Man and Avengers movies, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Supernatural, etc, etc, if it wasn’t for the female fanbase in comics?

There was a sea change in the ‘90s with comics like Sandman and TV shows like Buffy when suddenly young girls and women started to read these comics and watch these TV shows. And as the female audience grew, so did the output of superhero and fantasy product from the studios. Can you misogynist assholes seriously not see the correlation here?

I’m really sorry to break it to you guys but – not only do you have to put up with women in comics – but without them, you and your comics can go crawl back into the dark corner from whence you came and forget about ever watching another major studio superhero movie or HBO show with major Hollywood stars ever again.

 

(Click on the pics for links)

RTE Has Shamed This Country

FearImage by Eamonn Crudden

There are some – possibly many – people in this country who believe that our national broadcaster is a biased institution that too often toes the ruling political party line and ignores a lot of what should be reported. I can see why people would think this, although I have to say I would never have previously whole-heartedly agreed with it. I think there are many fine presenters and journalists who very often take the political and social elite to task.

Over the past few weeks, however, RTE has shamed this country.

On January 11th, 2014, Rory O’ Neill, who performs under the name “Panti Bliss”, appeared on The Saturday Night Show and told presenter, Brendan O’ Connor, that organisations such as the Iona Institute and individuals like John Waters were – in his opinion – homophobic because of their opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption. Solicitor’s letters immediately followed, as did an apology and the payment of a large sum of (taxpayer’s) money (85,000 Euro according to this article in the Irish Independent) to the aggrieved parties. As if this wasn’t bad enough, RTE then decided to have a “debate” on The Saturday Night Show last night – February 1st – as to when it was acceptable to use the word “homophobia”. Colm O’ Gorman and Senator Averil Power did their best to point out the ludicrousness of the notion, but they were fighting a losing battle.

If the issue weren’t so serious, the panel would have been worthy of a Monty Python sketch or an article in “The Onion” (One commentator even uttered the line, “Some of my best friends are gay.”) After the show, I took to Facebook and Twitter to apologise to any non-Irish residents who might have seen the show and to assure them that this is not what our country is about. I was not being hyperbolic or facetious – I was genuinely mortified that our national broadcaster would have thought it acceptable – in the year 2014 – to have a discussion on what was “mild” homophobia and what was “serious” homophobia.

Substitute the word “rape” for “homophobia” in that sentence and tell me that it is an acceptable subject for discussion.

What all this achieved was summed up brilliantly by O’ Neill on the stage of the Abbey Theatre on the very same night as this farce of a programme was broadcast:

“… which is a spectacular and neat Orwellian trick because now it turns out that gay people are not the victims of homophobia, homophobes are.”

Shame on you RTE. Shame on you.

Do You Remember Your First Time?

Everyone who loves to read has different first times. The first book you remember reading, the first time you read your favourite book, or the first time you read one of the books by your favourite authors. For writers, there’s another first time: the first time you encountered the possibilities of the written word. I’ll venture to say that for most writers, this occurs sometime in their teens. It certainly did for me. As such, it’s most likely not going to be Finnegans Wake that inspires this moment. For me, it was a story in a comic called Warrior. Warrior No. 8

Growing up, I was an avid reader – especially of comics. At the time in Ireland, our comics were exclusively British comics (we rarely got any American comics). The British comics that I was reading were mostly action and war comics like Victor and Battle. The stories in these comics were black and white – in the art sense and in the literal sense. It was usually the brave Allies versus the nasty Nazis. Not that some of the stories weren’t very well-written, but there was a serious lack of nuance or ambiguity there.

196. Battle

And then I read a story called Miracleman. I had recently graduated from Victor and Battle to 2000AD, a science-fiction weekly with much more well-written and nuanced stories and characters than the other titles I had been reading. I began to see how writing could be a multi-layered thing, with sub-plots, underlying themes and – most importantly – grey areas. I began to discover the lure and attraction of the anti-hero (Judge Dredd being one of the best examples of this). Then on one trip to the newsagent, I picked up a new comic. It was called Warrior. It was a monthly comic styled on the European model of anthology comics. More pages, better quality paper, and more adult themes and stories. Also, more expensive than regular comics. And the story that immediately caught my eye was Miracleman.

In 1982 – four years before he and Frank Miller would change the face of comics with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns respectively – comics writer, Alan Moore, began work on Miracleman, a story that would lay the groundwork for Watchmen’s subsequent deconstruction of the superhero mythos. Mike Moran is a freelance photographer who – upon saying the word ‘Kimota’ – becomes the superhero Miracleman. But this superhero was unlike any I – or any comic readers – had ever seen before. He was depressed, unable to have sex with his wife, and she only conceives when he has sex with her as Miracleman. I never read many Warrior comics – being both too young and too broke – but I did pick up Warrior issue 8, which contained Miracleman Episode 7 . In this issue, Moran is at his day job in the newspaper office. When he steps into the lift, a woman asks him to hold her baby while she gets something out of her bag. Then this happens:

196. Miracleman 1

This was shocking stuff. Superheroes fought monsters and aliens on other planets and mad scientists on the streets of Metropolis. They didn’t get gunned down in an elevator. The character of Mike Moran understands this and says as much:

197. Miracleman 2

The story was probably only about ten pages long but I must have read and re-read it about fifty times. Especially those final panels. And that was it. My first time realising the true power of the written word. No more black and white. From now on, there would be only grey areas.

The Inevitable Lou Reed Post

Lou-Reed

Lou Reed died yesterday, October 27, at the age of seventy-one.

Everyone knows all the “legends of Lou”: the visionary musician who formed The Velvet Underground and changed the face of rock music (Brian Eno famously said: “… the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years … I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”); the notoriously “difficult” interviewee; the one-time self-confessed junkie; the prophet and seer of New York City.  All of these will be covered by many articles in the coming days.

But the most important thing about Lou Reed was the work. And, more specifically, the lyrics. What lyrics! When he inducted Leonard Cohen into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Reed introduced him by reading excerpts from Cohen’s lyrics. After reading one verse, Reed threw his arms in the air and said, “He could have stopped there!” I feel that way about many of Lou’s lyrics. In my opinion (and there will be many who will argue with me) two of Lou’s best albums are New York and Songs for Drella.

New York is a caustic, searing – oftentimes witty – indictment of the city that Reed spent much of his life writing about.

“There’s blacks with knives and whites with guns
Fighting in Howard Beach
There’s no such thing as human rights
When you walk the New York streets
A cop was shot in the head by a 10 year old kid
Named Buddah in Central Park last week
The fathers and daughters are lined up by the coffins
By the Statue of Bigotry…”
“Hold On”

“They say things are done for the majority
Don’t believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear
It’s a lot like what my painter friend Donald said to me
“Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done”
“The Last Great American Whale”

“Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard…”
“Dirty Blvd”

“You can’t depend on any churches
Unless there’s a real estate you want to buy…”
“Busload of Faith”

Songs for Drella (an album he made with John Cale) is a much more sombre, reflective and – at times – heartbreaking meditation on Reed and Cale’s former mentor Andy Warhol.

“Andy it’s me, haven’t seen you in a while
I wished I talked to you more when you were alive
I thought you were self-assured when you acted shy
Hello it’s me…”

“When Billy Name was sick and locked up in his room
You asked me for some speed, I thought it was for you
I’m sorry that I doubted your good heart
Things always seem to end before they start…”
“Hello, it’s me”

“He’d get to the factory early
If you’d ask him he’d tell you straight out
It’s just work, the most important thing is work
No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, ‘How many songs did you write?’
I’d written zero, I’d lied and said, ‘Ten.’
‘You won’t be young forever
You should have written fifteen.’
“Work”

I could, of course, quote him all day, from “Heroin” or “Coney Island Baby” or Berlin”, or any one of his twenty-two albums. (Albums that he believed – if listened to chronologically – made up his “Great American Novel”. I love that idea.)

One of the lyrics that Lou read at Leonard Cohen’s induction was a verse from “Tower of Song” and it seems apt to finish this post with it:

“I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song”

Goodnight Lou.

John Milton & “Paradise Lost”: The Man Who Made Satan Cool

188. Paradise Lost

On this day in 1667, John Milton’s Paradise Lost was registered for publication. One of the most famous poems in English literature, it is also one of the most paradoxical. Milton wrote it to – as he put it – “justify the ways of God to men”. However, it is the character of Satan rather than God who has generated the most interest – and the most controversy – since the poem’s publication. As William Blake so famously put it, Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”. Or as William Empson put it in Milton’s God, “the reason why the poem is so good is that it makes God so bad”.

In writing Paradise Lost, Milton set out to establish himself in the tradition of the classical epics of Homer and Virgil. In the first two books of the epic, Satan is the main character and therefore assumes the mantle of Achilles/Odysseus, the flawed hero. This was a major change in the character of Satan, who had previously been depicted as “the ridiculous Devil of the Middle Ages, a horned enchanter, a dirty jester, a petty and mischievous ape, band-leader to a rabble of old women”, as Hippolyte Taine put it.

In both books, Satan displays what could be described as great courage in the face of adversity. Having been cast out of heaven, he says,

“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost—the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield”

He is painted as a strong military leader, whom the other fallen angels look to for leadership, and who will not submit to the will of a tyrannical monarch. Readers of the poem in 1667 didn’t have to look too far to see similarities with a certain real-life figure. Milton had long been a supporter of Oliver Cromwell – amongst many other political tracts, he wrote Eikonoklastes, an explicit defence of the execution of Charles I, as well as Defensio secunda, which praised Oliver Cromwell. Needless to say, all this didn’t go down too well with Charles II. After the Restoration in May 1660, Milton went into hiding, while a warrant was issued for his arrest and his writings were burnt. He re-emerged after a general pardon was issued, but was nevertheless arrested and briefly imprisoned before influential friends intervened.

In Paradise Lost, the “ways of God” that Milton has to justify are particularly harsh. As Ian Johnston puts it, “[God] sounds like an irascible, peevish, irrational tyrant, filled with a self-defensiveness” and “a harsh egotist whose major interest seems an inadequate defence of His own actions and grim delight in the pain He can now inflict.” So, in writing Paradise Lost, Milton is faced with a dilemma – how does someone who has spent his life advocating justice and liberty write a narrative defending the actions of a would-be tyrant?

It seems that Milton’s solution – in the latter half of the poem – was to paint an unflattering portrait of Satan: because if he cannot convincingly defend God’s actions then he can, at least, show the extent of Satan’s evil. Satan begins to display characteristics – envy, jealousy and spite – that are a far cry from his earlier nobility. What previously had been an issue of pride – to strike back at God for injuries he had inflicted – now turns into malice for its own sake.

There are some critics, such as Stanley Fish in his influential book Surprised by Sin, who claim that Milton deliberately makes Satan attractive at the beginning of the poem to seduce the reader in; his subsequent degradation is a warning to the reader of the dangers of sin, especially the sin of pride and arrogance.

But to many readers – this one included – it would seem that, however unwittingly, Milton sympathised with his antagonist. Perhaps he realised this after he had written the first two books and tried to set it right. If so, he doesn’t succeed. The strongest character in the poem remains the character of Satan. A proud, flawed, and – ultimately doomed – anti-hero.

And what reader doesn’t love one of those.

The Truth About … the “Wild West”

Gunfighters 6607

One of the biggest historical myths is that of the “Wild West”. It’s not hard to see why this myth has thrived. Names like Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickok, places like Tombstone and Deadwood and events like the Gunfight at the OK Corral, have ensured the public’s fascination with gun-toting cowboys. However, the truth is a far cry from such stories.

The main part of the myth is the level of violence in the “Wild West”. If the stories and movies about the period are to be believed, cowboys were running riot throughout the frontier towns, shooting anything that moved. However, the article “Violence in the Wild West?”  highlights the real truth:

 “There were never more than five murders in any given cattle town during a single year despite the presence, on both sides of the law, of gunfighters … During the peak years of cattle towns, the average number of homicides was only 1.5 a year for each town.”

In the article “The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality”  Thomas J. DiLorenzo writes:

 “Eugene Hollon writes that the western frontier ‘was a far more civilized, more peaceful and safer place than American society today’. Terry Anderson and P. J. Hill affirm that although ‘[t]he West … is perceived as a place of great chaos, with little respect for property or life,’ their research ‘indicates that this was not the case; property rights were protected and civil order prevailed’.”

The reason for this?

“Private agencies provided the necessary basis for an orderly society in which property was protected and conflicts were resolved … organizations [such] as land clubs, cattlemen’s associations, mining camps, and wagon trains.”

“The wagon trains that transported thousands of people to the California gold fields and other parts of the West usually established their own constitutions before setting out … Ostracism and threats of banishment from the group, instead of threats of violence, were usually sufficient to correct rule breakers’ behaviour.”

So how did the image of the “Wild West” come about? Partly through some individual’s self-perpetuation of the myth (Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickok, for instance); partly because of certain newspaper editor’s wild imaginations; and – with the advent of cinema – partly because of the equally wild imaginations of certain film writers and directors.

But one of the main reasons for the violent image of the “Wild West” is because of the US government’s treatment of the Native American population. Following the Civil War, the huge project of constructing a Trans Continental railway was undertaken. There was enormous amounts of money to be made from such a project and the men who stood to make that money all had ties to the ruling Republican Party. Only one thing stood in their way – the Native Americans.

When he became President, Ulysses Grant put his fellow “war heroes” General William Sherman and General Phillip Sheridan in charge of the “Indian problem”:

“Thus,” writes Michael Fellman in Citizen Sherman, “the great triumvirate of the Union Civil War effort formulated and enacted military Indian policy until reaching, by the 1880s, what Sherman sometimes referred to as ‘the final solution of the Indian problem’”.

“During the Civil War,” writes John Marzalek, author of Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order, “Sherman and Sheridan had practiced a total war of destruction of property … Now the army, in its Indian warfare, often wiped out entire villages … Sherman insisted that the only answer to the Indian problem was all-out war – of the kind he had utilized against the Confederacy.”

Fellman goes on:

“What Sherman called the ‘final solution of the Indian problem’ involved killing hostile Indians and segregating their pauperized survivors in remote places … Sherman gave orders to kill everyone and everything, including dogs, and to burn everything that would burn so as to increase the likelihood that any survivors would starve or freeze to death. The soldiers also waged a war of extermination on the buffalo, which was the Indians’ chief source of food.”

And so emerged the Hollywood image of “Cowboys and Indians” constantly attacking each other. In Hollywood movies, it was usually the Native Americans who were portrayed as the aggressors. In truth, it was the other way round. Of course, tales of the US government’s mistreatment of the Native Americans is not anything new. But it is interesting that this is one of the reasons for the myth of the “Wild West” as a violent and lawless frontier.

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Wild Ride

185. Hunter S Thompson

If there was ever a person for whom the phrase “larger than life” was invented it’s Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson blazed a trail of drugs and excess through his life, inventing a new style of journalism along the way. He once ran for Sheriff of Aspen on a platform of decriminalising drugs, turning streets into pedestrian malls, and renaming Aspen “Fat City” to try and keep investors away. Also, hilariously, Thompson shaved his head and referred to his opponent – who had a crew cut – as “my long-haired opponent”. In the end, Thompson narrowly lost the election.

But Hunter was also a serious journalist. In 1970, he wrote an article which would spawn a new type of journalism, one which he would become famous for: Gonzo Journalism. The article, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” was a result of a last minute deadline. Pressed for time, Thompson started sending the magazine pages ripped directly from his notebook that he hadn’t edited. The style which would become known as Gonzo involved the writer placing himself into the story (as opposed to the objective and invisible journalist).

The book that would make Thompson famous was written on a trip to Las Vegas, ostensibly to interview a Mexican-American attorney for an article Thompson was working on, as well as to write a short piece on the Mint 400 motorcycle race. The subsequent book – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – turned out to be a whole different animal altogether. This was evident from the opening paragraph:

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive …’ And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: ‘Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?’

 Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. ‘What the hell are you yelling about,’ he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. ‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘It’s your turn to drive.’ I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.”

The contents of their trunk have gone down in literary history:

“The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-coloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls … Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would be a rumination on the death of the American Dream and the failure of the 60s counter-culture. Hunter’s disgust at the death of the American Dream led him to become more interested in politics. He followed the candidates on the Campaign Trail for the 1972 Presidential election, which became the book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Thompson saved some of his finest vitriol for Richard Nixon. He once described him as a man who “could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time” and said “[He] was an evil man – evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it.”

In the 1980s, Thompson became more reclusive and spent more time at his “fortified compound” in Woody Creek. He died there in 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His family believe it was not a sudden decision but something that Thompson had planned. He was in chronic pain due to a number of different medical problems. The note that Thompson left behind would seem to confirm this:

 “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

 His friend Ralph Steadman said, “He told me 25 years ago that he would feel real trapped if he didn’t know that he could commit suicide at any moment.”

Hunter once said, “I hate to advocate drugs or liquor, violence, insanity to anyone – but in my case it’s worked”.

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