Tag Archives: literature

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

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

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/.

Something new?

Duotrope is a great site that lists various fiction and poetry markets for writers (and, when I think about it, it’s actually fairly workable for readers, too,).  It also has this interview template that editors of these markets can take advantage of.  One that I recently read is for the antinews publication Toylit.  Toylit is a pretty unique enterprise, to say the least, and while Khakjaan Wessington had more than a few interesting things to say (check out the interview at Duotrope here), this struck a chord:

“. . . the literary community in America is so insular, they fear alienating potential allies . . .”

It reminded me of what may be a recent example of that insularity—the call of submissions for the newest theme issue of Tin House Magazine:

“For the Fall, 2012 issue, we will be dedicating the entire issue to Portland and Brooklyn writers, artists, and musicians. We’re looking for work that goes beyond the clichéd images of single-speeds and sideburns. We’re looking for poetry, fiction, essays, art, and interviews that showcase the unique character of each place, and how these hothouses produce such unique characters and art. First and foremost, please surprise us.” – From their Submission Guidelines (circa 2/27/12)

If you’re reading this on this particular blog, there’s a decent chance that you might not know just how well represented Brooklyn and Portland are in the landscape of contemporary American literature (very well).  When it comes to Brooklyn, whose latest prominence in the nation’s consciousness is mostly due to its gentrifying population, I’ve been surprised by the presence of someone there like Linda, whose blog is in my links section and whom has a sensitivity for the tensions between the sort of mobile and the not-so-much—as well as the some of the contradictions of what those positions are supposed too entail.  But the unfortunate thing about both Brooklyn and Portland is that their most self-celebratory residents have defined them.  An element that has made these places such  “hothouses” for artists are the concentrations of people who have a silent agreement to not hold up a mirror to each other.  Though, to be fair, I’m not sure that that isn’t an element in any community.  It just doesn’t stick as well anywhere where there aren’t as much resources.  (Difficult people on the other side of the tracks have been mocked in comedy sketches way sooner and far more than the ones in “Portlandia,” for instance.)

If the Tin House editors want to rectify some of that, that would be a surprise.

I don’t mean for this to be some personal slight to the magazine’s editors.  Among their FAQ’s section is a question about why their rejection letters are so impersonal.  The answer:

“It’s mostly a matter of volume; with over 1,000 submissions received each month during our reading period, we must unfortunately be very ruthless in our selection process. It keeps some of us up at night.”

That last line speaks to something that I wouldn’t want to slight.

Maybe it seems easy enough to say the bulk of this, seeming as from the outside of Tin House as I might.  But I think you really have to be ingrained in that insular literary world to just chalk this up to nonsense from someone on the outside.  Because it’s pretty reasonable to look out at the literary landscape and see plenty that’s put Brooklyn and Portland in a special light already.