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.)