Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Comic Books

I had a brief, intense love affair with DCs new 52 when they relaunched. By 'intense' I mean I spent a few hundred dollars on comics over the course of several months, and by 'brief' I mean I still haven't read all of them.

I've been reading webcomics since 2005 or so, and those are a different experience completely: they update usually at least once a week, instead of once a month, most are not quite so sweepingly epic as superhero comics, and most have a specific end-point that they will eventually reach. All of these things, and the fact that they are free, make the emotional investment in the story easier for me.

But movies aren't made about webcomics (usually, Piled Higher and Deeper being the only exception I know of), and most won't recognize a Halloween costume as Kano from Kagerou (though more people should: it is an excellent comic, and fully as epic as any superhero comic). It felt like an important cultural thing that I was missing out on, so when the new 52 made everything fresh and accessible to a new reader, I went straight for it.

The week they launched, I was in Florida on vacation, and I and the person I was with scooped up all of the ones that had come out and spent the afternoon reading. It was really cool, seeing the different ways paneling was done and the various distinct art styles. So when I came back, I went to a couple of the local comic shops until I found one that I really liked - Legends on Johnson St - and asked them about setting up a pull list (so that they would set aside issues of all of the comics I wanted to read as they came out). I also started reading Fables and Batwoman, starting with the compilation Batwoman: Elegy.

They were amazing. I have a weakness for fairy tales, and Fables is done amazingly well. Batwoman: Elegy had amazing art and a complete storyline in one book and an admirable hero with no superpowers. Then everything else started coming out. Aquaman was neat in the way he was so incredibly grumpy and no one took him seriously in-world. All Star Western had horror and gore and Western stuff and lots of whores in can-can dresses. Wonder Woman had takes on myths that were interesting in their own right, as well as the superhero aspect.

But then, across the board, the whores in can-can dresses proved to be some of the most conservatively dressed female characters. I have no problems with fanservice (otherwise I'd have objected to the gratuitously shirtless scene Chris Hemsworth had in Thor), but it seemed that most shots with female characters were about fanservice. Many more socially aware people than I have talked about the issues with that, like Escher Girls. I didn't have explicit problems with that at the start, just the kind of instinctive 'meh' that I also get around video games where the high-level armour for female characters would get someone arrested for public indecency. Batwoman and Wonder Woman were the exceptions to that, but Wonder Woman didn't grab me as much as Batwoman, in part I think because I'm not as familiar with Greek myth as I ought to be.

It was also that the stories didn't go anywhere. Sure, they killed or avoided killing bad guys and there were conspiracies and things blew up, but there was no real character growth or change in the world, and I'm aware enough of comics to know that before the reboot, they'd gone a good 50 years without sitting back and going 'okay, this is done now.' The prospect of nothing ending was one of the major factors in my disengaging, I think. I want my reading, whether it takes three hours or twenty, to eventually yield a conclusion and let me walk away. If it's well done it'll haunt me and I'll want to revisit it or hunt down other things the creator has made or wish desperately for just one more sequel, but it's done. Comics don't give you that very often.

I have that issue with book series, too, like Animorphs or the Aurora Teagarden books. If I can't see some manner of wrap-up looming on the horizon, I lose interest. Given the popularity of long-running series, I am not necessarily part of any kind of overwhelming majority there.

That's a rough summary of my love affair with comics. I'm glad I had it, as I have more context to be excited now when superhero movies come out, and I understand a bit of the culture around it. I also have most of the components of a fantastic Batwoman costume.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Yesterday I learned about story structure: specifically the idea of kishotenketsu. It is the convention of plot without conflict, and the post that introduced me to it can be read here.

Just go read the articles so I can blither about implications without explaining the basic concepts, okay?

I find it really fascinating how kishotenketsu contrasts with the convention of three acts. The role of plot without conflict in Western culture can be found somewhat in how we treat vignettes and one-act plays, but our approach to it is much different. When I think of vignettes, I think of Slums of Beverly Hills, where there's some conflict within the family and internal conflict over growing up, but no over-arching conflict. I still remember it years after seeing it, because it had a tone all its own and I think it was also the first time I'd seen breasts in a movie, but it didn't leave me inspired or emotionally satisfied the way The Hunger Games did.

Part of this is probably my predilection for adventure stories and grand fantasy and science fiction adventures where the world is changed forever. I like conflict. I like it when characters triumph. I like it when there's something to fight.

I am not overly fond of vignettes. But kishotenketsu is something distinct from that, despite a vignette being the closest Western approximation I can think of, and it seems to me contains different opportunities. Kishotenketsu is less about personal agency than adaptability, and so requires a different mindset, which is always interesting to explore.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing what you know

"Write what you know" is both absolutely worthless advice and touted as the height of wisdom, depending who you ask.

The principle behind it is to write those things you are familiar with.

This can be interpreted a number of different ways.

It can be interpreted as writing only those things you have direct experience of, as in travel and memoir pieces, or only writing about places you've actually been. This is probably the narrowest definition, and limits us most.

It can be interpreted as only writing about those experiences you can directly relate to, as in fiction set in the present day, about circumstances with which you are at least tangentially familiar. This is the mid-range definition, and one of the more commonly used ones. It is the basis upon which I'm going to take the pain radiating up from my jaw like being repeatedly sucker-punched by my own teeth and go write alien body-horror dentistry (I went to the dentist today. It is good for me, and my general health, and makes me feel like a Responsible Adult. I don't care: it hurts now that the anesthetic has worn off, and I'm unhappy about it).

It can also be taken as an exhortation to go forth and do the fucking research. This is probably the best way to interpret it, as we should all do more research.

I had more plans for this post, talking about research resources and reading memoirs and not just statistics when researching groups, but all of you know how to use Google, and my face hurts.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I've taken down my non-fiction book on epublishing from Smashwords.

It wasn't an easy decision: I'm proud of what went into it, and it was a decent introduction.

But the verb tense is important, there, as are the incredible shifts epublishing has undergone since February 2011, when I put it out. One of the websites I recommended, a fledgling then, has now become a haven for episodic teen fiction. It is the Pandemonium of werewolf love triangles and poorly-edited tragic orphans. It is not something I highly recommend anymore.

Blogging has changed somewhat, and Twitter is now a place where groups discuss writing and publishing.

Navigating the Ebook Jungle is still something I want to revisit and update. I want to have that basic primer and list of resources available for anyone just getting into self-publishing, because it's a big wide world full of conflicting opinions and at the very least summaries of approaches and links to more detailed sources are valuable for anyone just starting out.

It's not something I can do right now, though, and I feel better about pulling it than I do about leaving up information that I don't consider as up-to-date and thorough as it could, and should, be.

In the meantime, if you have a question, shoot me an email. I'll probably at least have a link to recommend.