Friday, June 7, 2013

A Broken Crutch

When I was in first grade, my parents divorced. It wasn't pretty. By the time they broke up, their fights had grown momentous, vicious, and insane. There was cocaine and booze involved. My mom stabbed my dad in the chest with a steak knife. He gave her a black eye. She broke her fist on the wall trying to punch him holding a roll of quarters. It was bloody and loud and my brother, sister, and I were only 6, 3, and 7 years-old, respectively. I was upset that they divorced, but not because I wanted them to be together. I knew they would only continue to fight. They were like demented magnets that flew at each other with such force that it was inevitable that they would destroy each other.

What made me upset was that my father simply left.

I love my dad. I still do. He's weird and completely bonkers and if I were a normal young woman, I'd be mortified to be seen with him in public because he looks like a southern redneck Jesus hobo from hell (I'm not even kidding). But of all my parents and stepparents, I have felt the most connected to and loved by my dad. When I was sick as a kid, he skipped work and monitored my temperature and put cold rags on my face. He took my seizures and migraines seriously and not just when I was having them. He was honest with me about shit he did as a kid, like stealing cars and running them off ravines, doing drugs, robbing a pharmacy, taking care of mentally handicapped adults in a home he worked at, and shooting surplus cats at a neighbor's farm and helping his best friend skin them. (By the way, my Uncle Dale is a freak--and he still has the cat furs! His pet cats just walk all over them! Sleep on them!) My father was more of a mother to me than my mother ever was--hilariously, he was the one to give me the "you're a woman now and this is what is happening to your body" speech when I had my first period--and he will always be my only father.

But when I was in first grade, just before my parents officially divorced, my dad fell off a ladder at work in Dallas painting a house and, crouched over his throbbing knee, he realized that he was done. He had just enough money in his pocket to take his white Toyota back to his mom's house in Oklahoma. No more dealing with his crazy, knife-wielding, red-headed wife and her incestuous coke-addled siblings (again, I'm totally not kidding). He could just go.

So he did.

As much as I'd like to give him some credit and say, "Well, he didn't run away for long. He tried to come back for us. Mom just wouldn't let him," which is partly true... the fact is Dad never showed up at the court hearing for the divorce. Didn't even try to defend himself or try to fight for us kids. Nothing. He came to get us once, got turned away by Mom and her custody papers, and simply stopped trying.

What got us back to him, three years later, was his own mother. My grandma drove down to Dallas herself, knowning my mother wouldn't be able to say no (there's a whole back story with my mom and my dad's mom that involves a graveyard and homelessness but that's a different story) and my grandmother saw how terrible it was for us living in Texas with my mom and her new, super-drunk, racist as hell, confederate-flag waving nutso abusive boyfriend and his own three daughters. We were living in filth, surrounded by violence, by drugs and alcohol, by cockroaches and forever-overbreeding, forever-dying cats, and we were starving to death. So it was my grandmother who ended up taking us back to our father. Not my dad.

Those years in Texas without my dad were a short part of my life, only three years, but for me those scars run the deepest. My brother and I still use "Texas" as a marker to judge events by. Nothing was ever as bad as "Texas."

The thing is, I was more than willing to forgive my father for not coming back for us, for leaving us in the first place. I always thought he was remorseful. He'd tell me over and over again, throughout the years, about how he tried to come back, how he had to leave because of my mother, and how everyone was against him. I wanted to side with him because I knew what my mother was like, I would have left her psycho ass too.

But then, just a few years ago, when my stepsister Meagan got knocked up and nearly thrown in jail for forged prescription forms along with her stupid gangster boyfriend, my dad called me and, with full seriousness, said, "I wish I could leave right now like I did in Texas."

When this call took place, my father was unemployed and living with my also unemployed stepmother and my six younger siblings, three of which have autism ranging from high functioning to severe non-verbal communication. My father was the only means of "support" since my stepmother could hardly function, she was so deadened by painkillers and anti-depressants. Everything depended on my dad.

Had the roles been switched and it was my mother on the phone saying this to me, that she wanted to take off and leave this life and her kids behind, I would have exploded with the flames of a million dying suns. She would still feel the burn of my hate and fury like the radioactive shadows of a nuclear bomb.

But this was my dad. He was supposed to be my only parental crutch. A woobly, wacko crutch, but a crutch nonetheless.

So instead of laying into him, I ground my teeth and laughed weakly and just let him continue complaining, knowing that if he did leave this time, then that was it. He would be gone from me. I would never be able to reconcile with him.

After I hung up the phone, I was afraid that it was already too late.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seeing My Mother in Strangers

It happens more often than I'd like. I'll be on a bus or a train or even watching a movie and suddenly my mother appears. My immediate reaction, always, is fury. Teeth-gnashing, fist-clenching rage. In a matter of seconds everything comes back to me and I have leave the room, the bus, the theater, because I'm afraid of what I might do.

It happened today on my way home from work. I got off the bus with an older lady carrying a dog in a dog-carrier/duffel-bag. The dog was tiny, quiet, and crammed in the doggie bag with a few paperback novels and magazines. The lady was very obviously drunk, though she didn't smell like alcohol, and she alternated between talking incoherently and nonchalantly at the dog and at her cell phone. Everything from this woman's upper lip, her posture, her sloshed-enunciation, to the way she pretended to give half a shit about the obviously uncomfortable but uncomplaining little dog... it just... it was all my mother. The more I stared at this woman, the more I saw my mother's insolent smirk, her lowered eyelids, her fuck-all attitude. It didn't matter that this woman was black and my mother was a red-headed white woman. To me, they were identical.

Another time it happened, I was on the train and two stinking-drunk ladies came on, one of them dragging behind her a tear-streak and terrified little girl who looked no more than seven years old. It was seven in the morning and these ladies were beyond plastered. One of them held a see-through 7-11 Big Gulp blatantly filled with beer and she had a death-grip on the wide-eyed little girl. The way this girl stared at the woman, who I assumed was her mother, was with pure horror. Anyone looking at them would have thought that the girl had been kidnapped and was just too scared to say anything about it. But, again, all I saw was my mother.

I moved far away from my family on purpose. When I told my grandmother, before I went to Japan for a year, that even a thousand miles away from my parents is not far enough--I was not joking. To this day, I am determined to never live close enough to either of my parents that they can casually "drop by" for a visit. I can't "bump into" my mother or stepmother at the grocery store. I won't be asked, as I am too-often asked each time I visit, for money I don't have to pay their bills. But, most of all, I won't have to see my mother. I don't have to see who she is now, dying, slowly withering away with her failing liver and lungs, and not who she once was; the strong, frightening drunk who broke her own mother's jaw in a fist fight.

That was the plan, anyway. I didn't expect to find her in strangers. Didn't think she'd just show up on street corners in broad daylight.

But at least these strangers, unlike her, can't hurt me. They are ghosts of her.

For now, still, I am free.

It seems like cowardice in a way, moving out here. My mom can barely move across her apartment in Arizona, scooting her oxygen tank, may as well slug me in the face. My stepmother weighs less than I do; there's no chance of her dragging me across the floor by my hair like she once did. My parents can't punish me like they used to.

But wasn't fear that motivated me. I moved as far away as I could because I knew that, if I stayed, I would still have to talk to them and, just to get by, to be able to even function, I would have to pretend that nothing bad ever happened.

It's fine for me to come out here to Chicago, hundreds of miles away, and forget. To live my own life and do what I want and not be weighed down by memories. But to allow my parents the luxury of believing that I forgive them, that it's all okay now and we just laugh about it... No.

I know, it's a kind of revenge that's petty, stupid and selfish, but I get sick to my stomach every time I hear my parents tell us or our friends or family about how good they were at raising us. "Just look at how great Aimee and Bryan turned out! Obviously, we did something right!"

No. You didn't. And I'm still fucked up because of you.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Draw like ME

First off, you have to stop drawing for, like, ten years. Don't do anything more than doodle occasionally on your note margins. Draw only eyeballs or noses if you can help it.

Shit like this:

Important: Make no drastic improvements!

Focus on something else instead, like being a writer. You'll TOTALLY make more money that way.

Now that it's been ten years, let's decide to be a comic book artist! Great idea!

But you'll need these skills:

Make sure you have Egyptian mural-like understanding of perspective. Depth? What depth? Also, screw shadows. That shit takes forever.


There, now we're talking. One day you'll be as awesome as ME

Also, draw cats because bitches love cats:

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Unnervingly Absurd

Guillermo del Toro once said, "Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment."

Like many of my peers, I went through the "goth" phase in middle and high school. I didn't dress the part, but oh boy did I get into the culture. I made up a little shrine in our bedroom I shared with my brother and sister, decorated it with black candles, fake skulls, old crucifixes, found bones, and rabbit fur. I collected daggers and crystals and tarot cards. I read a stupid amount of literature about demons (it's some great stuff, really!), satanism, witchcraft, and vampires, werewolves, and whatever else I could think of. As a raised-atheist, I was more fascinated with the aesthetic of the "goth" than I was serious about joining any community, or paganism, or dressing up.

I did, however, grow obsessed with horror films and literature. The grittier, bloodier, scarier the better. In many ways, it was my gateway drug for my love of the absurd. There's something deliciously and wondrously scary and fascinating about horror that makes no sense. My favorites always leaned towards the bizarre, the flamboyant, the subversive, and the no-excuses stupid--Clive Barker, Guillermo del Toro, and old-time Peter Jackson were gods among men. I devoured Coscarelli's Phantasm movies with fangirl voraciousness (ignoring the existence of the second film completely), screamed with glee through Jackson's Brain Dead and Bad Taste, Gordon's The Re-Animator and Steve Miner's The House, and I still think that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a work of art.

What made these films for me was not just how outrageous they were, but how confusing they were. Nothing was explained, or if it was, it wasn't remotely satisfactory and only left more questions. In the Japanese film Versus, the random zombies are just that... random. Why are there zombies? What do they have to do with anything? Why the hell is any of this happening? I loved it. Some films fall far off the edge into the absurd enough that they are simply hilarious, but many keep their footing on the line between unnervingly frightening and hysterically bizarre.

David Lynch is a master of this. Sure, Twin Peaks was insanely mild compared to Eraserhead or Blue Velvet, but they all teetered well on that line of the unnervingly absurd. I had never been literally shaken by a movie until I saw Eraserhead. I had seen at least a thousand horror films up to that point. Even the man himself gives me the willies with his strange hair, high-pitched child-like voice, and fondness for meditation and coffee.

For me, the second you name a monster or give it a substantial reason... the horror is dead. Along with it: my interest. I am not scared of ghosts or vampires or werewolves or mummies or zombies. They are no more scary than tigers or lions or bears. Chances are, I won't be running into one in downtown Chicago. To me, The Walking Dead is just an amalgam of everything I've already seen before and more. Movies where the ghost is haunting a house because she died some dreadful death and wants everyone else to pay is YAWN-worthy. Oh who cares? Get over it, ghost. Slender man? Puh. We've seen it all a million times before. There's already hundreds of webpages dedicated to all the horror cliches and, boy, there are a lot of directors who seem to think these lists are just a wealth of knowledge to copy/paste from. I don't even like the films where there IS some big new reveal, like: hey, that creepy young girl is actually a 40 year old woman! Oh shit!

Woo. She's now no longer remotely frightening. She's just an evil little shit. I have sisters scarier than her.

I don't want a big reveal. I don't want an explanation at all. This was the beauty of Let the Right One In, the original. Was there any exposition on vampires? No. It moved forward on the basis that you already knew the rules and regulation of vampires, and it just told its own story. What made it creepy? All the things that were left unexplained. It was nice finding out a lot more about the vampire and the old pedophile in the book, but I prefer how the film treated it... leaving it open.

To move further into the absurd, this is also why Deadly Premonitions is the first video game I think of when people ask "can video games be art?" Oh, man, is this game terrible. The mechanics are horrendous. I can't get through a single "zombie" fight without pathetically crying for my brother to play it for me because I can't aim and shoot the stupid handgun gun for shit. (It's simply embarrassing!) Lolipops cost a whole 35 bucks in the vending machines and you spend half the game making sure your clothes are washed and driving through town for no reason... but honestly? It's perfect. All of it. It's perfect in how terrible it is. It's perfect in how weird it is. You play the main character's imaginary/alternate personality and you read the future in coffee cream. You find jars of pickles and turkey-cereal sandwiches on corpses and the "zombies" only want you to kill them and to shove their hands down your throat. It's an absurdist's dream come true. I only wish that it never ended. Just an unending loop of weird.

My brother likes to argue that Minecraft, in all it's Lego-like glory, is actually a survival horror game and the scariest game he's ever played. Sure, I think it's jumpy as all hell. It's not often in a game where I nearly throw my keyboard across the room because an exploding monster landed next to me in a mineshaft. But would I call it a horror game? No. My brother argues that the developers need to add more story, more plot, more reason to Minecraft. Why are we in the randomly generated world? What is our purpose other than to survive? What is the genre of this game? Is it medieval or present day? Is there an end goal? Is there something we should uncover? We've even gotten into stupidly-heated arguments about this, because I argue, quite adamantly, that NO, there should NOT be a storyline to this game. That is the true beauty of Minecraft. That is the art of this game. There is no reason for whatever you do. You can build anything. A castle, a skyscraper, a 1 to 1 ratio replica of the starship Enterprise, a red-stone powered computer, LCD screen, a 3D printer... anything. You can build nothing and simply enjoy the randomness of the generated world and all the creatures in it. And like an MMO, Minecraft is ever-evolving. Growing. I played Minecraft from early Beta to today. I love that the additions make little sense. Hey, we're adding horses and hoppers and solar panels! You want to build past the cloud barrier and into space? We've added that too. We went from having only plains and stone to mountains, tundra, jungles, deserts, mushroom islands, and swamp. There are so many more mobs and creatures. The game has even developed its only physics and logic that only apply to Minecraft. Ocelots turn into pet cats when carefully given fish. Everything but sand and gravel can float in the air. It's only getting more complex... and more absurd. It's beautiful.

(Note: Some would argue that there's an "Ender Dragon" that is the "end" of the game, but all it does is make you face a completely optional dragon that you can kill which will then prompt a poem in Swedish which makes little sense and you go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before. It's no more of an "end" than a crazy side quest in any other game.)

Many have argued that there is no such thing as originality, and sure, there is some merit to that. Others argue that everything is original because nothing is ever the same (in that sense, there is no originality, only the unique). If you haven't already gathered: I don't like cliches. I don't like seeing the same thing the same way twice. I don't even like eating the same thing the same way twice. Now, I'm more forgiving in some film and literary genres, but overall, my favorite things are the strange. The weird.

It is entirely possible to form a shape from very familiar things and create something that makes no sense at all. And that thing... it's beautiful. That is what I want to see more of. These beautiful, hilarious, and unnervingly absurd monsters.

And I don't want any explanation.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Respect and Narcissism

Sorry for the incoming and possible incoherent rant, but this kind of thing bugs me.

There are a lot of kids out there who live in "bad" homes. Some of them have good parents who are just down and out. Good parents who just aren't that good with money. Loving parents who make ends meet, but never finished high school, who don't know how to help their kids go to college or how to dress up for a fancy interview or apply for financial aid. These aren't bad parents.

But some kids do have bad parents. Some are terrible. You read about these parents in the news. Parents who kill their kids, drown them, rape them, strangle them, beat them, burn them, leave them inside cages or out in the street. For every bad parent you see on the news, there are many times more parents you aren't hearing about, doing just as unspeakable things.

I was lucky, I guess. My parents weren't terrible. Not great, by any means, but they could have been worse. My mom was a drunk and a chainsmoker (she's now dying from emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver). She loves me, yes, but as a parent she often was too drunk to remember where I was and left me in strangers' homes when I was a young child. She made terrible choices in men. We lived in filth in Texas and I can't remember a time then when I wasn't starving. She punched a cop at a gas station after a stranger gave my baby sister a muffin. She knocked out her sister's front teeth and broke her mother's jaw during a family visit while I was in college. She was more often unemployed than employed and owed the state of Texas over $15,000 in DUI and speeding fines.

My dad robbed a pharmacy in high school, did about every drug imaginable, and ran from one heavy metal concert to the next stealing money from his parents. He borrowed from his father-in-law in order to take computer courses only to find true love in being an orderly at a mental institution (a job he sadly couldn't keep because it didn't pay enough to support his eight children). He loves us kids; I have no doubt. Growing up, I was fond of his crazy conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. When he went from an avid atheist (which he inadvertently taught me to be) to a born-again, bizarrely fundamentalist, anti-establishment Christian, I was confused but not threatened. He was dreadful about keeping track of money, mooched off his parents (though he'll argue otherwise), and married my mother (bad choice #1) and then got remarried to an Ex-Middle School English Teacher with an addiction to Valium (bad choice #2). He now stays home all the time with my stepmother taking care of my three autistic brothers, two of which still do not talk.

They weren't all that great parents, but they didn't try to kill us. My mother infuriates me and I fear my father has long since gone off the deep end, but I don't outright hate them. I, do, however have a hard time showing them any respect. And that's just me. I can only imagine how hard it would be if my parents had been worse.

When a kid has it bad, they know that there's something wrong with their parents. They see how their friends' and classmates' parents act. They're not stupid.

Fun fact: You can't tell anyone, especially strangers, that you are in fact smarter than your parents. That, really, you've been smarter than them since you were fifteen. You can't say: "My mother was not a good mother" or "My parents were not good parents." Inevitably, the stranger/friend will tell you, "You don't mean that" or "When you get older/have kids/hit menopause/bang your head, you'll understand" and when you argue, you usually get called all sorts of fun names like: "narcissist" "ungrateful" and "brat."

It all stems back to the whole "honor thy mother and father." Respect your parents... no matter what. Children are told to make mother's and father's day gifts in their elementary classes, write essays about why their parents are so great, so nice, so giving.

It all comes in good faith, yes. There are, truly, a great deal many "spoiled brats" out there who take advantage of their parents, who get in trouble, who bitch and moan, who say they're "smarter" when they really aren't, who deserve to be sat down and told straight: "you aren't special."

But those kids with bad parents? Imagine you're a boy who's Mommy is in prison for burning your back with an iron as punishment for not changing your baby sister's diaper while Mommy slept in a drug-stupor. You're ten years old. Imagine you're told to write a letter of love and thanks to your Mommy for Mother's Day. You don't have the nerve to tell the teacher that you'd rather not do this assignment, so you make up a happy mom you wish you had and write a thanks to her. You don't understand the families in the TV shows. You're jealous of your friends' parents. Years later, you're at your high school graduation and a man tells you, in a speech, that you are nothing special. That you're a part of a narcissistic generation. That you better get your act together. Your parents can't help you with everything. You go to college and you hear your roommate, a white boy from a middle class family who gets everything handed to him, everything paid for, complain about his girlfriends, his drinking buddies. He brags about how he passes half his classes just through charisma alone. Meanwhile, you struggle to keep your grades up, wrack up an enormous amount of loans, work three jobs, and hope your major still has hiring potential when you graduate. When you graduate, you see all your friends move back in with their parents. You have only yourself.

It's a dilemma I don't think people want to see. Telling a teenage girl whose dad raped her, whose mother is in jail for doing heroine and prostituting her older sister, that she should still love her mother, that she should respect her parents... it's... I can't even begin to say how terrible that is. Yet people do it! I see it all the time! How can anyone, as a stranger, tell a kid or teen that they should be thankful and forgiving of their parents when they have no idea.

And, hey, get this: Narcissism is one of the best ways to get OUT of that situation. If you think-- No, if you know that you deserve better, chances are you'll go out and get what you want. It's only when kids like these realize how terrible their parents are that they decide, hey, it might be in my interest to do something better. To be something better. Because I am better and I am special and I can prove them wrong.

When my mom, drunk as all hell and bawling, "helped" move me into my dorm my first year of college, she told me: "You won't last long," and "You're only going here to get away from me." She sulked in the van while my stepdad moved my furniture, and she made a scene in my dorm room, shrieking that I was only trying to hurt her--right in front of my unfortunate new roommate. I seethed through the whole thing, teeth clenched, and said not a thing to her until three weeks later when she called from home. Four years later, she called to tell me how proud she was and she didn't think I'd actually go through with it. I threw the phone across the room. I was thrilled when she doesn't come to my graduation.

So anyway, I would like remind people that you can't make assumptions about family and love and "blood" and unconditional parental love or narcissistic, spoiled children. There are so many, so very many kids out there who are being abused, and many who never speak out, and too often I see them, like my friends from bad homes, grow into a kind of entrapment Stockholm syndrome because of all this shit you hear about family love and bonding and closeness and respecting your parents. They end up staying with their abusive family members, do drugs, have kids, and become their parents.

It irks me when I see these articles and made-for-tv movies and blog posts and memes all going on about how kids these days need to be more respectful of their parents, how they all think they're so special, how they all take life for granted.

I get it. I get who you're talking to. But some kids, unfortunate kids, they don't know that they should be tuning you out.

Should we stop making kids make Mother's Day cards? Probably not. Like I said before, there are good parents out there and many parents who are, actually, taken for granted. There are some genuinely spoiled brats in the world. But how is a teacher from a nice middle class happy family supposed to know that this quiet little boy in her class is being abused if she takes for granted that everyone loves their parents like she does and they all want to thank them for all the gifts and fun trips to Disneyland? How is she supposed to know that this little boy can't tell her about his mom, because at worst, he'll get beaten again, and at best, he'll be put in a foster home? Foster families aren't all that great. Trust me, if my coke-snorting aunt who lived most of her life in and out of rehab could be a foster mother of 8 kids, anyone can. As a kid, it's definitely better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

How's a kid supposed to pull himself up from his "own bootstraps" if you keep telling him he's a brat for wanting something better? How do you know his parents aren't holding him down?

P.S. I'm sure I'm looking at this all through an orange-colored narcissist lens and being unreasonable, but boo! I do what I want!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Superheroes and Their Fans

Just to say upfront, my intention is not to bash any of the feminist game/comic/movie critics. I agree with them most of the time. Women in superhero comics, in video games, action films, horror films--hell, most everything in general--are generally portrayed poorly. Just as everyone has bitched before: They’re too flat, too one-dimensional, too sexy, too booby, too unrealistic, too much fanservice, too little girth, too stupid, too slutty/perfect, so on and so forth. This is the same with minorities, homosexuality, transgender, those with physical or mental disorders, etc.

My problem is that there seems to be two camps here. Those of us who are “inside” and those who are “outside” the fandom/community being criticised. You see this rampart with the gaming community calling out many “gamer grrls” for being casuals--basically claiming that these grrls are pretending to be gamer girls; they don’t know a FPS from an RTS. These "hardcore gamers" take glee in citing examples of these girls making ignorant comments on facebook. There’s also the pretty cosplay women who get heckled and jeered at conventions for being attention whores dressing as characters they only know about through a google search. And there’s tons of great articles and arguments about these issues all over the internet, but that’s not where I want to focus.

I’m concerned with superheroes and the superhero universes in comics. What I particularly love about superhero comics is that they’re complex, they're ongoing, and they have an amazing amount of history--though the history is extremely contradictory, often rewrites itself, and nothing is ever sacred--but the beauty is just that: it’s ever changing, ever growing, and no one is ever really dead, and if they fuck up your favorite character... well, you can always hope that someday a better writer will come along and fix it. Meanwhile, you can keep in your head and heart the image and personality of your favorites intact. (This is where you hear all the “Not MY *Name of Superhero*!” when a new writer changes something drastic in a character. Case in point: Daniel Way’s Deadpool.) 
You can pick and choose what you like from the “canon” and build your perfect Spider-man, Batman, Catwoman, or Captain Marvel. This also why, when you talk to a hardcore fan about a superhero, you’ll hear them say things like: “O’Neil’s run on The Question was a work of art” or “I like the original Jack Kirby Hulk over anything written after Peter David left and World War Hulk is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.” These people all have their own conceptions of the characters. And that’s what’s wonderful about the genre. I can love Batman for very different reasons than another fan, because my image of Batman is based on an amalgam of certain favorite writers (and dismissing the ones I hate) and the other person’s Batman may be based on what I dismissed (or, hell, comics I haven’t read yet).

My Batman's sweeter than yours

So here is where we come back to the “insider” and “outsider” of the superhero community. I read an Obama-as-Superhero article a few year ago that made a comment about African Americans in superhero comics, essentially stating that: “There are no black superheroes.” I, like many of the other superhero fans who read the article, went up in arms. What the hell was this person talking about?! Luke Cage, Storm, Black Panther, Jon Stewart, Spawn, Blade, Falcon, War Machine, Steel, and many others would love to have a talk with you, buddy! There are TONS of black superheroes! Tons of great and well-loved black superheroes! But then I had to stop, calm down, and reason that what this writer meant to say is that there weren’t many black superheroes well known to the “outsider” general public. Because, sadly, this is true. Many people have no clue who any of those superheroes I named are. Having been so embroiled in the superhero community and culture, I had grown oblivious to the people outside of it.

The same goes with female superheroes and gay superheroes. When DC made a huge deal last year about the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, coming out of the closet, it seemed like the only people who freaked out were those who had no idea who he was or who never even read a superhero comic before. (Granted, I knew some who were upset because it was pretty much canon in the continuity that Alan Scott was happily married with children.) But gays have been a prominent part of superhero comics, arguably, since their inception, but definitely for the past few decades. There were blatant pro-gay comics as far back as the 80s. In 1982, during J. M. DeMatteis' run, Captain America stood up for his gay longtime best friend Arnie when he was being tortured and mocked by Neo-Nazis. Cap even did was Cap does best, he told Arnie that he was a good man and nothing can corrupt his love for Michael (Arnie’s lover).
Captain America Vol. 1 #296

Captain America Vol. 1 #296
Captain America Vol. 1 #296

This was in the 80s! 

In 2000, Kyle Rayner, another Green Lantern, beat up a group of hater punks who put his gay friend Terry in the hospital for kissing another boy in public. Marvel’s Hulkling and Wiccan were openly gay long before Alan Scott came out of the closet. So were lesbians Phyla-Vell and Moondragon (Marvel) and DC’s Batwoman (Katherine Kane), among many others.

Why do you tease me like this, Marvel?

Pro-homosexuality in comics is nothing new--though still rocky, sure, and still in need of work. But it’s there. So why did people act like it was a big deal to see Alan Scott come out? (article about the Moms against Green Lantern). The thing is, we didn’t. We being the superhero community. We’ve seen all this and more. We’ve seen strong women in comics. We love them. And despite what some articles say we, men and women alike, get upset when we see our strong, powerful, and tough ladies transformed into something weak or traditionally sexy (for instance Amanda “The Wall” Waller).

Original Amanda Waller

New Amanda Waller

Thing is, these changes aren’t done for the fans or the “insiders,” these changes are made for those people on the outside. It’s the “new readers” that the publishers are trying to draw in. I hear a lot of these blogs and articles going on about how cape comics are so men-exclusive, men-pandering, and conservative... but it’s not that simple. Historically, yes, cape comics have not been great about portraying women or pandering to women readers. (Though, arguably, with all the gorgeous actors, Marvel's movies have been doing a great job reversing that). But the strong women are there. They’ve been there for a while now. They’re not perfect, but they’re there. Same goes with minorities, gays, the handicapped, and so on.

I’ll confess: I like She-Hulk. I like Power Girl. They’re both slutty and party animals with big boobs and muscles and crazy tall, but I like them. They’re fun. I like how strong they are and how they smile a lot.

Greg Horn's She-Hulk
Amanda Conner's Power Girl (That's right, drawn by a woman!)

These days, not a lot of superheroes smile any more. Everything’s serious and dark. Women and men are getting raped left and right. Kids are dying. There are massacres and gore and post traumatic stress disorders. And while, yes, I’m a child of the X-Treme 90s and a forever Venom, Punisher, and Spawn fan... I do appreciate the happier superheroes. I love Superman and Captain Marvel (Billy Batson). And that’s why I like She-Hulk and Power Girl. They kick ass and they don’t need steady boyfriends. Power Girl is the CEO of a technology corporation and has a stinky, ill-tempered pet cat. She-Hulk is a lawyer and she’s got her pick of any man in the Marvel Universe. She-Hulk has been called out for being too promiscuous, being too much like a man, which is supposed to be a turn-off--such unlady-like behavior!--and yet she has tons of fans, me included. I like how she kicked a pouting Hercules to the curb after a one-night stand and how she made the Juggernaut doofy after bed-breaking sex.

She’s a big green female Tony Stark. And sure, you can point out the flaws in her character, but all those flaws are already talked about in the comics themselves; they’re issues that are very relevant to her character and her personality and her relationships. I want to see more of her.

And when they recently changed Power Girl from the funny, wonderful, sassy single blonde of Palmiotti and Gray’s run to Mr. Terrific’s “causal” girlfriend in the New52, many people were outraged. Men and women fans. Suddenly PG went from being a great, newly-fleshed out character (see what I did there?) to a pretty and dull play thing. No one was happy.

See, it’s not about the status-quo. Cape comics have historically been up for introducing new and controversial and, actually, very politically progressive things such as Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Civil Rights, Anti-nukes, Anti-Registration, and even Socialism (I mean, come on, has no one read the original Superman comics?). Captain America is shockingly non-conservative. Like I showed before, he stood up for gays in the 80s, before they even said the word "gay" in comics. He even disowned America and became Nomad for a time because he hated the way politics were being handled in the U.S. He’s been that way since Kirby revived him in the 60s. Like I’ve said before, strong women, gays, minorities have already snuck their way into the genre. Their place is strenuous, yes, and they've been fighting hard to keep their place, but they're there. Liberal politics have had a pretty firm hold in comics since the civil rights movement and Vietnam (the bronze age), and I believe superhero comics would be even more progressive today had it not been for the constraints caused by the Comic Codes Act in the 50s--the same constraints that still linger today.

What’s wrong with today’s superhero comics is that it has become all about money. It’s about the publishers and their efforts to draw in new crowds. Sex sells, boobs sell, or so the publishers think. The movies are making insane amounts of money, but Marvel and DC still want those fans to come to the comics. So they have to play nice for the newbies. If we get too controversial... oh man, we better back-peddle. Don’t want to lose those sales. So they dumb it all down. They change the continuity to make it easier for new people to catch up. Meanwhile, these drastic changes have been infuriating for the long-time “insiders.”

I don’t mind change. Don’t get me wrong. But I do mind editors and publishers altering everything that is great about a character just so it can be more “sellable.” Making Billy Batson (previously Captain Marvel and now Shazam) go from a very good-hearted boy to an angsty vicious teen was unacceptable, just as much as DC making Power Girl a trophy play girl.

But it’s easy to point out all the things that are wrong with superhero comics today. Everyone’s doing it. Sadly, though, the more you focus on the bad, the less anyone is going to see the good stuff buried under it.

There is good stuff out there. Wonderful stuff. Stuff I haven’t even read yet. There’s some classic stuff too. Hilariously (or maybe not-so-hilariously) some of the most progressive pro-female stuff I've read in comics was in Judge Dredd (though not a superhero comic, I'll admit). There's more stuff than I can even list here. And it’s not about making yourself like women characters that you would otherwise hate (I’ve been reading blogs recently actually arguing just that), it’s about finding the kind of women characters you do like and praising them. Trust me, there are a LOT of female superheroes out there and, despite what you hear, they aren’t all the same.

So, instead of focusing so much on bashing comics for all these terrible character changes and poor treatment of women and minorities, our effort should be on praising those who do it right. I’m preaching to the choir here and stating the obvious, but publishers could care less about how terrible or oppressive all them boobies are on the covers. They only care about sales. If we support the comics that are good, if we buy them and encourage new readers to buy them over the bad ones, then we’ll actually make a difference. Sure, Debbie Downer says that we’ll still never overcome the onrush of terrible and stupid readers who only want boobies and blood, and we can't dissuade the “tried and true” methods of DC and Marvel... but I’d like to think that if fan-feminists use the same publicity they get to bash the writers and editors of comics to also praise the good comics, then we might get a lot of those readers who would otherwise never think twice about reading a cape comic. As a superhero lover, I’d rather us not waste all our energy banding together in protest only--we should also band together as fans.

That's MY Supes

If you want to read more about Cap's gay BFF:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Daily Dream Comics Continues!

Mostly, I'll post these daily on and then just lump them together in posts here. Got a weird dream? Let me know. (You can even tell me on my twitter)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dream Comics for Poetry Month

Poetry is not something I do. I like language and letters and words, but nope, not much of a poet. BUT! Once upon a time, I wrote a poem that I thought was the best poem in the whole universe and it was based on a dream I had about a vampire and a construction worker. So, for Poetry month, instead of writing more absurd dream poems (none of which could live up to the beauty of that original), I decided I would draw a dream comic every day, starting with a translation of the best poem I ever wrote.

And here it is:

I also put these on my tumblr/website.

Send me your dreams, people, so that they too will become glorious.

So You Want One of My Books?

After a few weeks of head-scratching, nail-biting, financial questions, sleeping, and bizarre and vain struggles with graphic design, I finally decided to just go ahead and set up this Etsy page already:

I'll try and get a little banner going on my blog here. These are all hand-stitched and many of them have hardback covers made from my own banana paper! So, support whatever it is I do and buy one! As I make more books and such, I'll add them. If you have a custom book idea, let me know and maybe we can work something out. I can even draw things on the inside covers.

I'm also interested in trying out screen printing and regular art prints once I figure out what to draw.

you want this

these are books you like books

So keep checking up on it. Meanwhile, I'm off to make more things! (And maybe possibly finish this stupid novel.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Neverending Anxiety

First off, I'm not very good with this whole blogging thing. I got an old-fashioned series of journals on this rickety cheap-ass bookshelf next to me where I can rant incoherently about things that are bugging me AND NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW.

But that's kind of the problem. I have grown so used to bottling up and not acting upset, because being upset when I grew up meant punishment. If I cried, I got yelled at, grounded, slapped, hair-pulled, sent to my room, called names, and told to stop it, you're only making it worse. If sniffled on my bed in time-out, I had to stay there longer. If I complained, I got sour looks and more grounding. I spent more time in my room, on my bed, alone, furious, than anywhere else. As the oldest, it my responsibility to take care of the babies, to devote all my time at home to watching them, changing their diapers, entertaining them, feeding them, putting them to bed, and picking them up when they cried. There was no rest. No break. Any mistake, and I was slapped or kicked or grounded again. As a young teen dealing with this stress on top of hormones, it was practically impossible to stop myself from crying or to keep my mouth shut, but I did my best.

And I eventually succeeded. I mean, I got to move away from this life. I moved in with my mother in Kansas City for most of high school. (Which, if you read my previously posted comics, it was much like a "out of the frying pan and into the fire" kind of deal, haha.) But by then I had already made myself a wall of concrete, steady and thick. I was cold, now. No one could hurt me.

And sure, it's been helpful, this wall. I don't take criticism badly. I've never cried or thrown things after a bad critique of my work, art or writing or otherwise. Why the hell would I? I grew up redneck trailer-park white trash in Oklahoma with drug-addled heavy metal parents. "I just don't understand these characters motives" is hilarious to me, not offensive. I'm able to brush off or even laugh at most double-edged remarks or back-handed compliments made by instructors, bosses, or friends. When I get turned down for something, I don't let it get to me.

But the problem is, I got so good at separating my inner self from my outer self, so good at building this thick ass layer of metaphorical suntan lotion on my skin, that I forgot that sometimes I have to let other people see the super, super pale and kinda creepy creature underneath. After years of pretending everything was okay, I realized that not only is it not okay, but I can tell people about it! And some of them would like to hear it! A harsh part of me snidely hisses in my ear, "You're being selfish, saying that. It's all about YOU isn't it? Stop talking about yourself. Do you think they care? They only care because its a weird story and your life is like a made-for-TV drama. They don't actually care. You're only making it worse." And sometimes, that voice might be right. If I keep listening to it, though, I'll never talk at all and I'll always feel like people are only looking at the shell of me. That they'll just judge me without knowing the whole picture.

So, this is why I have a terrible time writing nonfiction.

And... my fiction as well. See, I spent almost all of my academic years writing fiction I didn't want to write. I wasn't a fancy shmancy high brow literary writer. I wanted, honestly, to write genre-fiction. Good, weird, well-written, character-driven and experimental genre-fiction. The kind of stuff that "literary" teachers can't be bothered to peruse. "Oh, it's got the word detective in the first sentence. Cut it out." So, I took all the stories I really, really wanted to write and I put them on a back burner. These were my treasures, my babies, my loves. I went to them when I was down, or up, or just because. I daydreamed about them during work. Drew pictures, wrote notes about characters and plot during lectures. I felt so free with these stories because I didn't have to show them to a professor or my peers for critique. I could do whatever I wanted.

Now that I'm done and I'm out of the academic spotlight, I can work on these projects.

And it terrifies me. Because now it's real. All my pale, strange, off-putting, and sometimes ugly little parts of me are going to be seen.

But, if I'm going to actually get any writing done, I need to remember that this is what I've always wanted, even if I'm not quite there yet and there's work to be done.

I've won. It's okay now. I've won.

P.S. here's some stupid MSPaint drawings of my cats sleeping.
monty is a fatass

Is this normal?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Promotions and Sharks

this is my life right now
New page is up on Headless! Check it out. The Witch commands you. In other news, life might be looking up. I've created an etsy page and I'm one-banner-creation away from starting up my own little store for all my hand-crafted books. And eventually: artist prints! I just have to, uh, get a printer. Or something.

Also, there's these sharks! What do with all these sharks?

darn cute sharks
Should I put them in tiny frames and sell them? Originally, I wanted to put them into a little handmade book, but they're just so darn cute. Thoughts?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

You broke for a while, but I didn't forget you

Alright, so I had partially abandoned my blog here because the site kept breaking, but now I've come back to fix it. I've added links to my and my bizarre and silly webcomic Headless! CHECK THEM OUT. I demand it.

I'm still trying to decide if I want to keep my domain name on my new and in-need-of-a-layout tumblr site, or to switch it to this one. I'll figure it out eventually. Either way, I'm going to try and make a conscious effort to continue blogging/writing/posting my work, and hope good things will happen.

In other news, I'm planning on starting an etsy site with all my homemade books. I still need to gather some photos taken by friends, but once it's up... well, I'm sure I won't shut up about it.

So! Tell all your friends and family about how terrific I am and, uh, how they should give me all their money and stuff like that.

This is literally me when I advertise myself

Also, I'm sorry in advance if this blog degrades into me bemoaning my poorness and self-consciousness and why I think I'm terrible at everything ever.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Maybe I'll be famous soon!

One of my comics was published on FNews Magazine's website!