Tag Archives: comics

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.

——————-

The interview where Moore expressed his disdain for superheroes:

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

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A bit of insight

“He represents the everyman, but more importantly, maybe he represents the underdog and those marginalized, those who come up against great prejudice, which I as a middle-class, straight white man don’t really understand so much.  When Stan Lee first wrote and created this character, the outcast was the computer nerd, the science nerd, the guy that couldn’t get the girl.  Those guys now run the world.  So how much of an outcast is that version of Peter Parker?  That’s my question.” — via Sheila Robert’s Comic-Con coverage at Collider, a quote from Andrew Garfield on the character he’ll be reprising in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Defaults

In “Are Dark-skinned Women Really Unattractive?,” Maurice of The Thinking Man’s Zone poses a question with an easy knee jerk reaction for some people (“Of course not!”).  But that answer is like putting paint over the way world often works, and, while I don’t agree with all of Maurice’s thoughts, I certainly agree with the gist.  Ideally, of course not, but we live on top of a lot of history in which one kind of beauty has been pushed for a long time.  This reminded me why I sometimes relate to characters like Hellboy more than anyone else who’s supposed to be noble in various forms of fiction.  In the most broadest sense, I suppose I’m someone formed in the western mold–just not someone whom entirely fits in with the physical western defaults for good and beauty.

A lot of my favorite characters do (fit that mold), and it’s always easy enough to chalk up my enjoyment of them to some default or universal experience.  Beyond that, movie- and film-wise, there are certainly a few actors and actresses outside of the classic hero or heroine archetype.  But they very rarely get to ruminate on the way their looks can put them at odds with the world, or if they do (and they’re not in a comedy), it’s the entirety of their existence.  They’re a bit like the moral in a story (and, on a practical level) just as dismissible.

A low-quality crop of character used to show character in critical commentary

Hellboy, via Wikipedia – © M. Mignolia

But when a character is only kind of human, like Dark Horse comics’ demon raised by a good-natured human, the “Who am I?” question gets a buffer zone from the reality of how the appearance of race can rank who we find particularly human or not.  Hellboy’s origin, in a strange way, parallels Superman (super-strong being found by surrogate parent), only Hellboy doesn’t look like the all-American hero.  He literally looks like the ultimate villain.  In the movie version of the character’s continuity, he’s fated to be.  But, ultimately, he’s a character who is defined by his being human–just a moody one for whom a sense of humor is pretty important.  He’d love nothing more than to not know anything about where he comes from (very non-ideal-molded human), but it’s also something he has to come to terms with.

I occasionally watch Parks and Rec, a great show on NBC that probably doesn’t need much of an introduction.  It centers on Leslie Knope, an upbeat small town politician, and the people who work or live around her in fictional Pawnee, Indiana.  I’ve often found it how ironic it is–that a character as meta politically correct as Leslie is unaware of the tropes given to Donna Meagle, the least fleshed out character on the show.  She likes to party;  and she’s a bit of a ‘diva,’ according to the character’s Wikipedia listing as of when this was posted.  And she’s played by someone who I know can be every bit as funny and human as the all the other characters on the show.  But she doesn’t look like Rashida Jones.

(Oh.  According to Wikipedia, Hellboy was in a featured ad of a Celebrate Diversity comic catalog.  Reading that made me shake my head and laugh a little.)

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:         

***

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/.

Afua Richardson on her influences, the subtlety of gals’ comic fandom, and the best flute-metaphor ever

Afua Richardson is a comic book illustrator whose most current work is on Top Cow’s “Genius.”  Her vibrant, emotive art has been utilized by Marvel, DC and Image comics, and has seen her nominated for multiple Glyph awards.  Also a classically-trained musician and a singer-songwriter, the work of Afua ‘Docta Foo’ Richardson has been a surprise I very much want to see more of. 

My interview with Afua below the “KoiMaid Queen”:

By, and courtesy of, Afua Richardson. Enlargeable.

Your artwork bristles with energy.  Is that a quality that you’re conscious of trying to illustrate?

Thank you much!! Energy? Absolutely. As an artist, I feel it’s our job to communicate. One thing I love about the genre of anime is that the apex of motion is always overstated and extreme. I want people to feel something when they look at my work.

Who or what would you say influenced your style?  I see a little bit of everything in there, from what would be considered traditional comic artists to manga and the pre-supposed finer arts.

My influences are drawn (literally and figuratively) from Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal) , Frank Frazetta and everything Heavy Metal spilled out in the ’70s and early ’80s that my adolescent hands could snag. I adore Chris Bachalo’s work, and I’m in awe of Travis Charest’s attention to detail. A few anime that changed my brain were Evangelion and Kite. I can’t forget Czech artist Alphonse Mucha and the various European artists known for playbills and posters in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

As a woman – a demographic that statistically isn’t supposed to care much for mainstream comics – what work in that vein have you found particularly engaging?  Did you ever feel like there was a lack of work that, beyond universal themes, spoke to you on a simple, self-reflective level? 

I’d like to first address the earlier part of your question. I think that, like, most things– women keep a lot of things to themselves (unless it’s in relation to drama). Say for instance when a guy checks out a girl: they turn their whole head around. Perhaps if they are feeling bold, they’ll whistle or say good morning. When a gal checks out a guy–you’d be surprised if they even move their heads, but their eyes move. I am generalizing horribly, but, long story short: men stare, women glare. This may be a weakly prefaced metaphor, but my point is, women have ALWAYS been into comics.

By a gamma-driven Afua Richardson.

Look at the duo who created Wonder Woman. Gals–they just don’t often show it as much as guys might. Now that it is socially acceptable to be a geek, they are pouring out from the cracks, totting graphic t-shirts, non-prescription glasses and taking their knob kneed stand. I’ll also say that many gals will keep their secret geek obsessions to themselves so as not to be the raw meat in the wolves den. Some gents just don’t know what to say to a lady. They might as well be a different species of animal. So to avoid an onslaught of horribly formed jokes and gawking, they kinda avoid social gatherings unless in a group or have the cookies to handle their own.

The medium of comics is a diverse one. Just like any other form of literature, there are things written for entertainment . There are also things that are under the guise of entertainment that are thought-evoking. Planetary changed me after I read it. Also, Transmetropolitan. Don’t need stories about girly plights to ring true to me. I don’t need stories about make-up and lipstick and dating. I like stories about life. Personal revelations and overcoming unspeakable odds, even if the greatest advisory is the protagonist itself.

I like stories about life. Personal revelations and overcoming unspeakable odds, even if the greatest advisory is the protagonist itself.

You grew up in NYC.  What positives and negatives do you think that’s given you as an artist?  Or just as a person.   I sometimes wonder if, with a few gilded exceptions, the city is a little more inclined to people who don’t grow up there.

New York is a living freight train–breathing at a rabbit’s pace, moving like a swarm of flies. You don’t know any other way to be when you live there. There is survival or death.  This death can be a job with no way out. Survival can be a gig that makes it that much easier to get by. In a place where you can run into anyone and anything at anytime, it makes you raise the bar on your abilities. There’s a hunger in that city. You’ve got to be five times as amazing in order to be considered half as good.

But at the same time, you’ll possibly bypass the amazing bits of your work in the sea of apathetic audiences who are too cool to clap and too saturated by awesome to give you a second glance. Iron sharpens iron, I always say, and this city is made of adamantium. But most of the people who give the city a bad name are the ones who trickle in who are not used to so many people invading their personal space. They become irritable and are usually the ones who shoulder check you when you’re getting on the subway or drive past you in their cabs because they’ve heard terrible things about brown-skinned people via outdated media.

But at the same time, you’ll possibly bypass the amazing bits of your work in the sea of apathetic audiences who are too cool to clap and too saturated by awesome to give you a second glance. Iron sharpens iron, I always say, and this city is made of adamantium. But most of the people who give the city a bad name are the ones who trickle in who are not used to so many people invading their personal space. They become irritable and are usually the ones who shoulder check you when you’re getting on the subway or drive past you in their cabs because they’ve heard terrible things about brown-skinned people via outdated media.

As an artist, I was able to find amazingly skilled professionals in a local Starbucks to hang out with and tell me what I was doing wrong. Damien Scott (Batgirl 1999) was the 1st gent who offered me a professional gig doing finishing pencils for his comic. But I was too afraid I’d mash it up. That would NEVER happen where I am now. I mean, not never, but it’s not as likely.

More Afua goodness.

As a classically trained flautist, please give a musical virtue of the flute.

A musical virtue?  Hmm. The flute is like a feather sword gently cutting the air. For a time it was my 2nd voice. For an even shorter time it was my only voice.

The flute is like a feather sword gently cutting the air. For a time it was my 2nd voice. For an even shorter time it was my only voice.

Like a lot of industries, the music one isn’t what it once was.  At the same time, I feel like there’s a certain variety in the thirty percent of what isn’t quite the juggernaut stuff—one that still requires networking and luck, though.  Thoughts?  Is there anything about music’s ever-changing mediums that has helped kept you at it?

I was discouraged for a while. I had great opportunities, but none were ever quite right. Either I wasn’t ready maturity-wise or the company wanted me to sound like something else because they said it wouldn’t work. Even producers I knew who I’d share my ideas with would say I had to go along the straight and narrow if I wanted to sell. Then a year or two later, a sound-alike would win a Grammy… Now, I think there is a shift in the tide. People access their music via the Internet. Even though you can buy hits and Google can lower view counts at will, people are not limited to the small rotation of radio anymore. Things have returned to a word of mouth basis–something I don’t think the industry had anticipated in time to catch the wave. I think now I’m more confident in my vision; I just lack the production to get it completed. But I’m working on that. One step at a time.

As I know from a friend of mine, time is not on the side of a comic artist.  What projects give you pause?

Well, with the project I’m working on with Warren Ellis, I started out sketching enthusiastically and rather quickly, and then I realized I wasn’t the artist I wanted to be to create the project. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity (which I still fear I have, taking entirely too long to get started) , but I didn’t want to crap it out either. There are others but, I think I’ll hold my tongue on it. ;]

How did your first paid comic gig come about? 

My 1st paid comic gig came about some time in 2003 or so. My boyfriend and I just broke up; I needed to move out of his place. I just left my job because my boss’s husband body slammed her across the bar like a WWE match, and I wasn’t about to step foot in that place. My friend Brandon Graham was on his way to Seattle, and he had a small comic gig for Sizzle magazine and a small apartment in Astoria that he mentioned I should take. I was scared to do comics regularly but I had plenty of time to draw 10 pages for a quarterly comics in black and white for NBM Publishing. The writing was terrible and my work was just as bad, but it’s fine. We all start somewhere.

True.  And finally, since then, what as a singer-songwriter yourself did it mean to you to receive the 2011 Nina Simone award for Artistic achievement?

Nina Simone was one of those people–you know, those iconic “no one can tell me who I am and I’m not going to break out of a box I’m going to karate chop my way  through the roof to be who I am regardless of what anyone has to say” kinda people … It’s an honor to even tote something with her name on it.  Ironically the award sits broken on my dresser. The crack in it reminds me that it’s just a pair of shoes I’ve got to fill. That my work is just starting and the best I’ve got to give is yet to come.

… You know, those iconic “no one can tell me who I am and I’m not going to break out of a box I’m going to karate chop my way  through the roof to be who I am regardless of what anyone has to say” kinda people …

I always wish I knew more. To see more of Afua’s work, listen to her music, or commission art, check out http://www.afuarichardson.info or @AfuaRichardson.  Thanks upon thanks to Afua for her time.