Tag Archives: books

lightness

Have you ever started a post and thought, Nah, this is really not substantial enough. (?) The idea that everything needs to have the utmost weight can be pretty counterproductive — at least when it comes to blogging, which in the long run seems to do well with the occasional sense of lightness.

So in the vein of lightness, this post is partly to show the cover of the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems. Dickinson’s poetry was, of course, extremely lighthearted. I think one of the original blurbs for this book was “In these pages, the glass is always half full … of delight!” And okay … probably not, though it isn’t at all uncommon for her writing to have this whimsical approach to wisdom — like, isn’t it funny to be wise in this particular world?

I was surprised by the kind of craftsmanship and design that went into the cover of something published in 1889. While this particular publication of her work featured tweaks to Dickinson’s poetry she didn’t sign off on, the cover really does evoke a sense of her poetry. Flowers that are a bit wilted, but hanging on.

I think she was a great writer, but I don’t think all of her poetry successfully communicates beyond herself (and not just because of the difference in vernacular from the late 1800s and now).  Some of her poems are probably a bit more tentative than others, and yet they’ve all been around long enough to be part of the canon and blindly esteemed as Literary. Apart from that, it’s pretty cool that someone can be a great writer and not always be great at creating work that clearly connects with people.

Alan Moore and the maybe slightly narrow mind

Alan Moore

Alan Moore, via Wikipedia

Alan Moore, widely considered the preeminent living writer of comics, recently suggested that devotees of superheroes beyond adolescence are ’emotionally subnormal.’   Moore may be right to an extent, but the kind of emotional emptiness filled by superheroes as escapism is probably one of the most common things in society — and it goes well beyond superhero geeks.  The antithesis of what Moore is describing — let’s call it emotional maturity — is hardly constant in the first place.

Picture in your mind someone who is supposed to be emotionally mature.  Unfortunately, people likely subconsciously look to men (primarily white) as examples of emotional maturity because that’s been the template for so long (see superheroes, also).   So, anyhow, for this emotionally mature person did you imagine the dad from The Wonder Years again?  Decent enough guy that he was, that character was a simmering pot of frustration and anger.  Life had needled him into practicality to the point where that was all he wanted to see reflected in his own family.  For such a person your average comic book is a frivolous waste of time, and so is fiction in general — and art, especially modern art … unless he was one of the many emotionally secure modern artists …

Yesterday’s standard of the emotionally secure person was probably a bit more social than the dad from The Wonder Years, but who needs social when you’ve got social networks.  The modern equivalent of emotionally secure certainly has an extremely tight grip on some kind of smart phone … but a smart phone, my friend, is no superhero. (It is a little?  Hmph.)  It’s mostly a lifestyle thing.  When someone who has gainful employment spends it on ways to enhance his or her lifestyle, that’s hardly emotionally mature.  Who needs hobbies or escapism when you’ve got a lifestyle, an obsession with up and coming neighborhoods, with the right this or that, the idea of the most spiritually meaningful way to stay healthy, etc.?  All of these measures of success — success, of course, hardly requiring that people be emotionally secure — can often easily be ascribed to, if not toys, then fixing up a really big room with lots of cool stuff and posters.

And what about an obsession with sports?  A friend of mine would say that being a fan of any actor or actress is the same as rooting for a player on some team.  Most of the time, it’s just as frivolous.

I don’t have anything against fashion, per se, but following it as intensely as some people do — even as a job — is hardly emotionally whole.  Trying to always have some look that’s in or ahead of some imaginary curve is like trying to constantly replicate immaturity .

Alan Moore doesn’t think superheroes stand for anything good, and well, few things do — though there is something to be said for the particular emptiness of something that is supposed to stand for something extremely good really being entirely one-dimensional.  But nothing I’ve mentioned here is inherently bad — far from it.  It’s just, none of it is inherently meaningful or emotionally sound.  Like any genre of fiction, superhero tales can add up to something positive.  Maybe their being part of the pop culture machine that Moore hates so much has limited that.

And beyond them, to comics that have nothing to do with superheroes — but instead usually feature upwardly mobile people grasping with feeling emotionally subnormal.  Even those can add up to something more positive than self-aggrandizing .  Really.

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The interview where Moore expressed his disdain for superheroes:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/22/alan-moore-comic-books-interview

Last four endings selected in contest to finish Roger Ebert’s short story

Among the last four entries selected by rogerebert.com as part of their contest to complete a short story by Roger, check out my own. And then check out the other three (’cause reading is fundamental) and vote for the one you like best!

How my ending begins:

“A failed Mozart?” Alex said. “That sounds like an empiricist’s nightmare. Throw him and his star-speckled wig on your science-fiction cover, Mason.”

Mason smiled a little. “Why not? Maybe all the space girl needs is an intermediator, someone who speaks the molecules’ language.”

As the waitress brought Regan the last piece of apple crumb cake, Regan tapped the bridge of her nose. “Thank you! I mean, mostly the waitress and Claire, of course. No offense to you space boys.”

“None taken,” Elliot said.

Find all of the entries here:

http://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/the-thinking-molecules-of-titan-the-final-batch-of-four-endings

Gotta note: the great illustration above is by Krishna Bala Shenoi and was done for my own little ending (He’s done some really cool stuff for each of the others selected, as well).

That’s all for now. Have a good day and/or night, folks.

Robert Rudney on why he wrote a novel, living with a disability, and pity

rudneynovelIt’s a tale we see time and time again: a man with left-side paralysis joins a self-help group for people with disabilities, and finds himself falling for a woman dealing with multiple sclerosis.  Okay, wait, I may have exaggerated by about 1,000% what we do see of such fictional portrayals.  But with Robert Rudney’s Lovers Lame, there’s one solid story about people with disabilities being all human and stuff — and it’s by someone with a disability. See my interview with Rudney, a defense specialist and former head of an employment self-help group for people with disabilities, below:

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Maybe you weren’t conscious of it at the time, but when you were writing Lovers Lame were there any mainstream books or authors that made you think there was space on that shelf for what you wanted to do? 

There has been no disability novel written by an individual with a real disability.  Temporarily able-bodied authors like Jodi Picoult make an effort in books like House Rules.  But no one has caught how it feels from the inside to have a disability and how difficult it is to form intimate relationships with other human beings.  That’s why I wrote Lovers Lame.

I once heard the sentiment that the reality of society is marginalized people remain marginalized.  What makes it particularly significant is that it’s the only time I can recall hearing that from a person whom was also pretty liberal.  As someone who ran a networking group for the physically disabled, do you think there’s truth to that?    

Lots of surveys these days show an increasingly inequitable distribution of wealth.  People with disabilities are caught in the downward spiral because they are forced to depend on entitlements like SSDI, SSI, Medicare and Medicaid that entrap them in genteel poverty.  That was the case for a lot of individuals in my networking group.  Many couldn’t take a job because they couldn’t risk losing Medicare or Medicaid, and employer health plans (if they existed) were not sufficient for their health needs.

The employment conundrum is a key sub-theme of Lovers Lame.

Have experiences that come just because you’re physically disabled made you empathize with other marginalized people?  Or do you find that there are divisions between you and people whom have similar experiences from different vantage points?

I have been pitied and over-accommodated and advertised as a “poster child” for people with disabilities.  However, I was able to transcend my disability and make it up the career ladder with little or no assistance from legal protections like the ADA.  I was one of a small minority in this respect.  Every disability is different and has its own unique vantage point.  The difficulties in communicating among people with disabilities is another key sub-theme of Lovers Lame.  The narrator, David, has something close to cerebral palsy and falls hopelessly in love with Jessica, a tempestuous artist with multiple sclerosis.  Their failure to communicate is one of the driving forces of the novel.

Every disability is different and has its own unique vantage point.  The difficulties in communicating among people with disabilities is another key sub-theme of Lovers Lame. 

I think, with mainstream culture being what it is, there’s a strange dichotomy between normalcy and having to come to terms with the fact that a certain amount of what is good syncs up with looking a certain way, with taking certain roads home.  David, the narrator of your book, seems like a guy who carries a certain weight with him in this regard.  A quick glance at the guy in certain situations and he may look ordinary enough, but anything beyond that, and his left-side paralysis doesn’t make for someone who looks normal.  As he is initially in your book, he seems introverted and closed off, even to himself somewhat.    

Yes, we have a packaged, programmed view of what people should look like, what is accepted to be ‘normal.’ In  Lovers Lame, David draws a sharp distinction between his condition and that of his brother Ted, an able-bodied athlete, affluent businessman, happily married.

At times, David (like me) tries to hide his disability and usually fails.  Too many experiences like this induce a heavy dose of introspection and introversion, both in fictional characters (David) and ‘real life’ (Bob Rudney).

With how rare they are in general, have typical portrayals of people with disabilities been something that you’ve  found alienating?

All those condescending poster-children portrayals drive me up the wall.  In the immortal words of Ed Roberts, the pioneering disability activist:  “Piss on pity.”

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Thanks to Robert for his time.  Find out more about him and his novel at these links:   

http://booklocker.com/books/6101.html

http://www.loverslame.com

In fictional portrayals of people with disabilities

rudneynovelLovers Lame is a mature literary novel with main characters whom have disabilities.  Such is rare, but add that its author, Robert Rudney, is no stranger to the realities of that world.  He’s physically disabled and has headed a self-help group for people with disabilities seeking work.  Rudney wants to humanize the perception of the disabled without ignoring the very real challenges they face–as can be the case with depictions of the disabled whom overcome challenges not so easily worked against without an able- or privileged-sensibility.  That extends itself to the search for love.  Below, find a summary of Lovers Lame and a link to its website.

When David Levin, an acerbic, out-of work editor with left-side paralysis, wanders into a self-help group for job seekers with disabilities, his lonely and tightly controlled world is turned upside down. David grudgingly befriends a motley group of self-styled ‘crips’ and becomes infatuated with Jessica Cowan, a mercurial artist battling the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis.

David falls hopelessly in love, while Jessica insists on maintaining her distance as she comes to grips with her own tempestuous past. Their struggle with their own inner demons plays out against the backdrop of people with disabilities fighting prejudice and ignorance in a world that still excludes them.

http://www.loverslame.com

A Gotham Books Q&A with Ellen Forney

Been checking out Marbles,  cartoonist Ellen Forney’s latest book.  It’s a mature account of the period in which Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  The definition of that disorder is one thing to grasp; Forney’s work in Marbles gives any second-hand notion of it depth.  Untreated, it seems like being both in and part of a whirlwind.  Forney’s wrestling with such feels grounded by her sense of humor and obvious humanness.  Seeing her personally get those qualities in focus is poignant.

The first interview on here not by me–a Gotham Books Q@A with Ellen Forney:

What compelled you to write a book about such a difficult time in your life?

I feel like I had to. When I was first diagnosed, two memoirs about mood disorders were hugely important to me; they gave me company and the hope that things would eventually be okay. Through the hardest parts of producing MARBLES it was my resolve that the book could help others that kept me pressing on.

Plus, it’s my best story. MARBLES is the most wrenching, exhilarating and cathartic piece of work I’ve ever done.

Were you open about your bipolar disorder before you started your book?

No, it’s always been a personal, private thing. Putting my story out in the world now is totally new, and totally intense. And nerve-racking, exhilarating, empowering, and a zillion other things.

Since your diagnosis do you think differently about what “normal” and “crazy” mean? How?

“Normal” and “crazy” are fuzzy terms on a fuzzy spectrum. And getting fuzzier: a recent Wall Street Journal article said that one in five American adults takes psychiatric medications, which feels backwards, like “crazy” is being co-opted by people who are “normal.” Shortly after I was diagnosed, I felt personally wounded by the word, but it doesn’t have a specific meaning. Now, when I say I’m crazy, I’m saying I have a mental disorder, but I’m invisibly doing jazz hands at the same time.

There’s a lot of dark humor in MARBLES – did you feel that at the time, or is that just how you’re telling the story now?

My dark sense of humor is with me always, except when I was most depressed. Looking back at that time with a sense of humor has been incredibly therapeutic. Laughing at myself and the absurd things in life has long been an invaluable coping mechanism. Like, dealing with taking meds by pretending to be a pill-popping rock star worked pretty well for me.

You note that for research for this book you went back to friends and family to discuss your disorder. What was the scariest experience (or the one you thought would be scariest but wasn’t)? The most rewarding? The one you put off until last? Why?

I talked for hours with my family members and with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and with good friends after never having discussed their views on my behavior at that time. I remember resting my head on my desk for a long time after getting off the phone with my dad, after the longest and most intimate conversation we’d ever had. They were exhausting but those conversations felt very cleansing, like setting the record straight.

Why did you become a cartoonist?

I think I’ve always been a cartoonist. Even when I was small, I’d draw while telling myself stories. I love it, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Which is more important in MARBLES, the words or the pictures?

Both! They work together. The language of words gives the specifics of the story, and the language of pictures is more emotional. I need both for this story full of details and mood shifts. For example, I use sharp narration boxes on a stark solid black page for a scene describing my fall into depression, and lots of words and loopy, energetic brushstrokes on a two-page spread for a manic party-planning scene.

Is there a way that the comic form specifically is useful for telling your story?

Comics work well for memoir because they express facts and emotions so well. My thoughts come out in words and pictures; I can’t imagine any other way I could tell my story. I’m hoping this story in comics form will resonate for other people in a way that a memoir in prose might not.

What do you hope readers take away from MARBLES?

My hope is that MARBLES will appeal to many kinds of people. For people who are bipolar or have other mental disorders, I hope they will find comfort, company, inspiration, hope, self-acceptance; for people who aren’t bipolar, educational information, compassion; for everyone, a specific understanding of bipolar disorder, the value of art as therapy, yoga as therapy, doing comics as therapy. And if nothing else, a good read!

http://marblesbyellenforney.com/

By Ellen Forney

Paul Tobin on writing, diversity in comics, and making your own path

Paul Tobin’s novel from Night Shade Books.

Paul Tobin is a writer whose work has included comics for Dark Horse, DC and Marvel, in addition to a recent novel from Night Shade Books.  If there’s a common thread I’ve seen in his work, it’s an energy that innately comes from the characters as much as the plot.  My interview with Paul below:         

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What drew you to comics as a medium for storytelling?

I’ve always been a big fan of the medium. I suppose it’s the wealth of tales that can be told, and the energy of the art. I grew up reading comics that my grandmother would bring home from garage sales (she bought everything at whim, and her house was that of a hoarder), so I was comfortable with how to tell stories using the combination of art and words.

It’s a dangerous art form, in a way, because when it works, it really works, but when it doesn’t, it falls apart completely. It’s like an art form and a puzzle at the same time. That’s often really enjoyable, although some time I also like to step back and take more control, which is why I recently released Prepare To Die!… my debut novel.

You’ve gotten to write some characters with amazing histories.  What particular highlights have there been for you in adding to them?

Oddly, I actively tried to AVOID highlights. Going in to writing all these iconic characters, I noticed how other writers felt they had to put a big fat stamp on Spider-Man, or Batman, or whoever… saying, “REMEMBER ME! I’M THE ONE WHO KILLED SPIDER-MAN’S BEST FRIEND / LOVER / AUNT / PET DOG! MY STORY WAS IMPORTANT.” I really wanted to avoid that. I just wanted to do good, solid stories. I think I achieved that. I’m particularly happy with my run on Spider-Man in Marvel Adventures.

Regarding Prepare to Die!, in retrospect what were the challenges and benefits you found in novelizing a story that might traditionally be told in comics?

The challenges were that I needed to be richer in my writing … needed to delve farther into the life and character, because no artist would be fleshing out the details. But that’s actually what drew me to writing it as a novel … the fact that I COULD go more in depth, that characterization didn’t need to be a couple hurried pages between fight scenes, that readers could grow to understand and care for a character as more than just the iconic white hat in a fight scene. I wanted to write a story about a character’s life, rather than just an ongoing fight scene, which is what far too many comics have become.

I wanted to write a story about a character’s life, rather than just an ongoing fight scene, which is what far too many comics have become.   

On your blog you recently had an interesting list of favorite female characters in literature.  It’s a list that has characters that most people who regularly pick up a book or comic book would be fond of, but, that said, there’s not much ethnic variety (which is certainly not atypical and not intentional, I’m sure).

The problem is certainly there, but I think it’s loosening. Looking back through literature / media, the cast of characters is largely male, and almost entirely white, which means when compiling a list of favorite characters, it’s naturally going to skew in that direction, which is too bad. It’s one of the reasons I chose to do a “favorite females” list, incidentally… because these characters don’t normally get same billing as male characters. But … I do think that ethnic characters are becoming more common. My own writing on Spider-Girl was a step forward, and I always tried to work in various ethnicities in everything I’ve ever written. My scripts are FULL of saying, for instance, “We’re in NEW YORK! Don’t make everybody white.” Spider-Girl’s roommate was black, Annah’s girlfriend (in my Gingerbread Girl graphic novel) was black, and I’ve an upcoming graphic novel (unannounced at this time) where the main character, Allison, is a black woman. So, strides are being taken … it’s just that, looking into characters of the past in order to compile a “favorites” list … there’s sadly not much diversity.

Understood. So, while people of all walks of life are heavily invested in comic heroes, from historically to now there hasn’t been a diverse pool of creators behind those universes, either.  This is common in most forms of media: that it’s exceedingly more likely to have a minority character written by someone who is not.  I genuinely think that stepping out of one’s self is one of the challenges, privileges of writing, but is such an imbalance of people who can write heroes/characters whom happen to be minorities an issue?

I think it can be an issue, yes. And it’s MUCH more an issue in mainstream superhero books. Lots of great indy / alt. creators aren’t the typical white male comic creator… ESPECIALLY in the field of online comics, and I think the diversity of entertainment that can be had in that area is much wider than the narrow mainstream. So, yeah … it’s pretty inevitable that diversity leads to diversity. I do think it’s widening in all areas, though. Just that fact that digital comics are reaching areas where traditional comic sales never reached is important, because comics are reaching whole new demographics that weren’t reached in the past. And that in turn is inspiring those demographics to create comics in turn, comics that might be more focused on those demographics. It’s a win / win. I’m old enough to remember when it was extremely rare for a comic creator to be anything other than a white male. Now, it’s merely uncommon. So… while “uncommon” doesn’t sound that great… the direction we’re moving is toward progress.

Of course, a creator doesn’t have to be the gender / nationality of the character he or she is writing (I’m proud of my work on Spider-Girl, for instance, but haven’t ever been a sixteen-year-old Hispanic girl) but it’s nice to open the possibility of those voices.

I’m old enough to remember when it was extremely rare for a comic creator to be anything other than a white male. Now, it’s merely uncommon. So… while “uncommon” doesn’t sound that great… the direction we’re moving is toward progress

Your comic with illustrator Colleen Coover, Bandette, seems like it has elements of both alternative comics and ‘mainstream’ comics — two worlds that I’ve rarely seen cross over into each other.  Was being able to craft it for a newer venue part of the reason that it came together the way it did?  Also, tell me that something with artwork that great is also available in print.

Colleen and I always like to experiment, so it was more that than the way we’re releasing it digitally. And the fact that the work is inspired by many French and Italian creations just meant that it made sense to shake it up artistically as well, with a soft emulation of some of those art styles. And … we’re in talks for releasing it in print form. We wouldn’t want to do it as a monthly comic: I just don’t think it lends itself to that, and also we wouldn’t want to have that strict a monetary template, or monthly deadline … but releasing it in collected volumes makes a lot of sense.

Finally, what do you feel like helped most firmly plant your foot in the door of the comic world? 

Not stopping. That’s it. That’s all there really is to it. Keep producing work, and eventually you’ll begin to get paid for it. And it’s important to remember that work ANYWHERE should be done in a professional manner, and the internet not only counts, but it’s beginning to count MORE than print comics. Choose what you want to create… find or create an avenue for it, and then don’t stop.

Much thanks to Paul for his time.  Check out more about him and his work at the informative and aptly named http://www.paultobin.net/.