Non-Fiction Book Review – Chicks Dig Comics

  • Title: Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comics by the Women Who Love Them
  • Author: Lynne M. Thomas,  (eds.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/11/2015

Chicks Dig Comics not only covers Marvel and DC Comics, but independent comics, magna, graphic novels, even French comics. The essays are thought-provoking and intelligent, well-written and fun. Many of the writers are feminists, but don’t let that put you off – these women have something to say, and it isn’t entirely telling DC and Marvel off.

One point brought up several times was something I realised myself when I read comics (DC) in the 90s – Comic books are soap operas for boys. And just like boys might be teased for liking traditional afternoon soaps, girls were often not simply teased, but bullied, harassed etc. The women in these essays tell stories of comics’ shops with actual or virtual “No Girls Allowed” signs, playboy magazines next to comics racks, or even in the industry being treated as everything from a sex object to “one of the guys”.

Yet at the same time, the women in these pages tell of their love for comics, including traditional superheroes comics.

The collection also includes interviews with comics professionals – male and female, about women audiences for comics.

This light and breezy quick read is highly recommended.

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Non-Fiction Book Review – The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Title: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls
  • Author: Sam Maggs
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/10/2015

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and some aspects of it are very well-researched. The resources pages at the back are definitely going to be worth checking out. Sam, by the way, is short for Samantha.

This book is half guidebook how-to manual and half feminist celebration of fangirls. In many ways, it could have been sub-titled, “The Fangirl’s Guide to Tumblr”, though it does venture beyond that, especially in the areas of Anime, Comics, and Gaming.

What I found, um, intriguing is that it seems to really reflect a completely different generation. The fangirls celebrated in this book have grown up with Tumblr, Twitter, youTube, and really big conventions like San Diego Comic Con and DragonCon – yet no mention is made of the the traditional media cons, especially ones that were originally run by women (some still are) and which catered to female fans. Yes, I’m talking about MediawestCon, Chicago TARDIS, and the traditional Star Trek and other conventions. It just seems that smaller, local, fan-run conventions aren’t even on the author’s radar. (Even Toronto Trek/Polaris/whatever-they’re-calling-it this year isn’t mentioned in the conventions section or the resources – and the author is from Toronto.) It just seemed strange. And if your advising 18-14 year old women to “yes, SDCC, just go” – it seemed to me that maybe she should have at least suggested checking out your local Comics/Gaming/SF/Media con. For one thing, it’s easier to get your feet wet at a convention with a few hundred people or even 1000, rather than one of the biggest conventions in the US.

But on the other hand, part of the message of the book is “Be Fearless”. OK, be safe but be fearless. And that is a really good message – and it’s a great message for young, enthusiastic girls. For once, at least this book isn’t full of scare-mongering about the Internet.

Her section on Cosplay is brilliant. Her discussion of “Cosplay is not consent” explains exactly what that means, what to do if you are harassed (talk to con security and/or volunteers). It’s not complicated. And her explanation of the whats, whys, hows, and even whos of Cosplay was also very instructive. I loved learning about how women and men who Costume make, fabricate, put together, and even buy or commission costumes. (It’s not as hard as I always assumed!)

She’s also without restraint teaching about respect for creativity, respect for the creators of art (be it written, drawn, crafted, sewn, or any other form of fan art). No whiny, “but that’s illegal” arguments here. And Sam never says some types of art, such as Cosplay, are more valid than others, such as fan fiction, or blogging about your OTP. She’s pretty even handed about every fangirl’s opinion is OK. She constantly reminds the reader to respect other girl’s opinions and likes – “even if their OTP is your NOTP”. If that confuses you, it’s updated IDIC, or a celebration of diversity – all diversity. OTP is One True Pairing or the romantic pair from a book, TV show, movie, video game, comic, or magna that you really love – write fan fiction about, blog about on Tumblr, and just see as your perfect romantic pairing that must get together. For fangirls, that pairing can be male/female, male/male, female/female, whatever. It can be a pair that actually is canon to TV show, film, comic, etc. – or not so much. A NOTP is Never or Not OTP, basically the couple you can never see together, the couple that does not rock your boat even if it’s canon. Stories that bring romance to a couple, whether canon to the show or not, “ship” characters, as in “relationship”. Canon, though sometimes complicated – ask someone to explain Star Wars canon sometime, is generally the actual work. Episodes of a TV series; the film as it was released; the actual book(s). Etc. IDIC is the Star Trek philosophy of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, or basically – respect for people in all their diverse wonderfulness. Sam Maggs makes it very clear, that being rude to people who you disagree with, especially over your favorite and not-favorite geek things, is not cool.

The books includes descriptions and advice for dealing with Internet Trolls as well (up to and including how to contact moderators, block another account, contact law enforcement, etc.) And she stresses safety for in-person meetings such as conventions.

The book also includes a enlightening, well-written, intelligent explanation of feminism. I found myself nodding and fist-pumping the air (figuratively) over that chapter, because yes. The Myths of Feminism was especially well written.

Highly recommended to any fan, older fans who might want to try learning about their younger cohort, younger fans who have mastered Tumblr and want to branch out into modern fandom, media studies students (try not to let the informal language put you off), and the reporter scratching their head and saying, huh? It’s a fun, short, highly recommended read.

Free Comic Book Day 2016

Last Saturday I went to Free Comic Book Day at my local comics shop, Vault of Midnight, and I really enjoyed it. I hadn’t been to a FCBD before so I was a bit nervous, but the store handled things really well – crowd control, vendors, and they even had some line entertainment to give everyone something to do and watch while waiting, in line, for awhile. The weather cooperated for a change, it was nice, sunny, warm but not hot. The store had tents outside along where the line formed, with various organizations such as Girls Rock, a local convention GrandCon, and the local 8-bit gaming society (who had tube TVs set up with old console games for kids to play). Most of the vendors were set-up for the kids in the crowd – but considering the wait, that was a good idea. In the line, however, it was mostly young adults and adults, patiently waiting and everyone being nice.

Once inside the store, crowd control was very good – I did not feel crowded or claustrophobic which was a good thing. I did still have to wait to get to the back of the store for my choice of three free books, but after I made my choices I still had time to shop – and I even bought some new graphic novels.  Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience, Vault of Midnight did a great job hosting, and it made me want to buy my graphic novels and comics at the store rather than other more convenient and/or cheaper venues much stronger (because yeah – I need to go back this Friday or Saturday and pick up one of the Doctor Who graphic novels (from Titan Comics) that I missed when I erroneously thought I already had it).

So what did I get for my “freebies”?

“DC Comics Previews – DC Universe Rebirth”

This is in a very real sense an advertising circular / catalog of DC Comics for the Summer, especially May and June. But the articles are exactly what I needed to know having been outside the loop for a bit, especially on the monthly titles from DC.  Here’s the thing – I was reading DC Comics in the late 80s/early 90s on a regular basis – even walking to my local comics shop every week to pick up that week’s releases that I wanted. Then I moved – to an area that didn’t have a convenient comics shop. For awhile I ordered via paper catalogs (remember those!) but eventually that got expensive and I lost interest and moved on to other things. I’d periodically buy graphic novels, and especially with the Nolan Batman Trilogy in theaters, and watching and absolutely loving Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano’s DCAU and follow-up Dc Animated films, I started buying graphic novels again – mostly on-line through retailers like Amazon, or occasionally in person at Barnes and Noble. Yep, I got dragged in again (not that that’s a bad thing).

Then DC did New 52 – which I tried out through several graphic novels (Batman, Batman the Dark Knight, Justice League, Nightwing) but I just did not like New 52 at all. My analysis of New 52 was – “Hey, DC – if we wanted to read Marvel, we’d read Marvel – DC fans read DC because we like DC!”. If that seems confusing, the DC I grew-up reading was very character-based. Justice League International, which later became Justice League America and Justice League Europe was a character-based book that was just fun to read. There were characters in the Justice League with virtually no powers at all (like Booster Gold and Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) who tended to sit in the Hall of Justice cafeteria commenting on what was going like a modern Greek Chorus. Other characters had single powers: Fire, Ice, Black Canary, etc. And when something major did go down – the League would work together as a group to beat the supervillain or bring aid after a natural or man-made disaster. Plus with all the character interaction – there was good-natured humor too. there was also a lot of diversity – ethnic, gender, aliens, etc. All the heroes in the DC Universe belonged to the Justice League – like a professional organization of heroes, both minor heroes and major ones, and the League worked together in what they did. And the League was a home to some minor heroes who couldn’t really have their own books.

New 52 in contrast gave us flat, carbon-copy “heroes” who didn’t like or trust each other. It gave us “heroes” who didn’t want to be heroes – all of them, even traditionally very happy characters like The Flash were re-written to be grim and in a sense boring. Plus New 52 really dumped the diversity. Oracle, Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, but before New 52 the leader of the Birds of Prey and Info-Central for all the DC Heroes, especially the Bat family – was killed off, and then Batgirl was re-introduced as “Batgirl”. Oracle has been one of my favorite characters – this is a woman who was, famously, paralyzed after being shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. But rather than disappearing, or becoming a villain herself, or even just becoming bitter and mean – Barbara Gordon showed real strength – she returned to collage and got her MLS – Master’s of Library Science, which is not small or easy feat in and of itself. She then got a job at the Gotham City Library (again, not easy, considering the prejudice against disabled people in America), and finally she became Oracle – running the Birds of Prey with just her voice, and providing Batman and other DC heroes with the information they needed to do their jobs. Oracle, in short was awesome, and an example of how having diversity in one’s line-up means, introducing interesting and real characters – not some sort of imagined “government forced PC” as the Conservatives accuse Diversity of being (especially over at Marvel, and ESPECIALLY at Marvel when they started as a walkout of ex-DC employees who didn’t like having female, African American, and diverse heroes in the DC books in the 1960s and 1970s). Oracle was a great character who happened to be in a wheelchair, female, smart, educated, computer-literate, and used her wits and intelligence to be a hero not her brawn. And Oracle was by far not the only one – throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s DC continuously introduced a large and diverse cast of modern characters who were still heroes. What did New 52 do? Got rid of Oracle and brought back Batgirl – another character who was simply a young, female version of a major character with not a whole lot special about her. In short, Batgirl became bland – whereas Oracle was strong, intelligent, and independent.

New 52 was a failure for DC. In less than 6 months – half of the books were cancelled due to poor sales, including books that had been long-running in the past. Reprints of older collections of 1990s-era DC Comics sold well (well enough that additional volumes came out). DC admitted their error with Convergence – a universe-spanning multi-issue maxi series to fix the issues. I admit, I haven’t read Convergence yet. Hopefully, the graphic novels will come out sooner or later and I can catch-up. But now, according to DC Previews, this Summer DC is doing “Rebirth” and they are bringing back the traditional DC – with more characters, diverse characters, excellent writing and art, the more traditional approach to story-telling (e.g. fun and character-based) and combining both the traditional heroes of DC (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Justice League, Aquaman, etc) and new characters (Teen Titans including Cyborg, Doctor Fate, etc.) And I’m honestly excited to at least try single-issue releases of Rebirth, even though I prefer graphic novels and graphic novel collections.

Also in my free comic book stack was:

Doctor Who – Four Doctors (Four Stories) Titan Comics FCBD 2016 special

First, this isn’t to be confused with Paul Cornell’s excellent Four Doctors series then graphic novel. It’s a separate series of four short stories: 12, 11, 10, and 9 presented in reverse-chronological order (that is 12 first, then 11, and so on). The short stories are meant to give a feel for the various Doctor Who series (which are collected into graphic novels periodically). The stories are short and stand-alone, but they do give a feel for what Titan has to offer. I also liked that the Doctor Who free book gave the readers stories, not simply advertising. There were also single pages with lists of all the graphic novels (as well on-going series) currently available or planned – this gives you a reading list, something very helpful when just starting or even for keeping up. (The DC Previews free book also had a catalog in the back, with release months, to help in planning and organizing purchases.) I enjoyed reading the Titan Comics book.

Finally, I picked up the FCBD issue of Suicide Squad, expecting something to tie-in to the upcoming movie. This book had a lot of advertising – some totally off-base (Why would someone reading Suicide Squad want to even know about Scooby Doo or Johnny Quest? And if the reader was that young as to be interested in kiddie books – Why would they be reading something as adult as Suicide Squad?) In between the ads, there was a story, mostly for Deadshot, with a few interludes with other characters that in the very last few pages proves to be a prequel to the new film coming out this Summer. So, overall, it was a good choice.

Again, I had an excellent time at Free Comic Book Day at Vault of Midnight. The weather was perfect. I enjoyed the three books I choose. And I picked-up several additional graphic novels which should keep me busy for a little while. I review completed graphic novels on GoodReads, so look for reviews there in the coming weeks.

Tumblr Fans React to JJ Abrams Remark about Women and Star Wars

First, read this from Tumblr:  Brilliant Commentary responding to Abrams comments that women didn’t like the original Star Wars but they will like the new one.

Here’s my original comment:

Yes – exactly. This is the second time I’ve seen a male director pull this type of frankly sexist bs *while trying to sound politically correct and ‘accomodating’ in the same breath* – and while my natural optimism wants to put it down to ignorance not arrogance – I’m beginning to see sexim in Hollywood is far from dead and often worse than in the 1970s. In *Star Wars* for example, though it’s Luke who introduces himself with “I’m Luke Skywalker I’m here to rescue you.” It’s Leia who does the rescuing once they get the door open. This is WHY Luke’s line always gets a laugh.

And you’re right – it was ***women*** who wrote the fanfic, and the novels, organized the clubs and the conventions – and now, yet again women’s role in cultural history is being ignored and swept under the rug and the director claims it didn’t happen? No. Just no! I saw Star Wars in 1977 – I was 8. Perfect age for a fantasy SF film like that. And I DO have a problem with an ignorant sexist diector claiming I couldn’t possibly have been there because “girls don’t like Star Wars” and it’s arrogant of him to say “we must change Star Wars so girls like it” – but not adding like realistic characters or say having a woman direct it.

Now if you’re a long time reader of this blog – you’ve probably noticed I’m a bit of a Tomboy (as my mother, bless her heart, used to say). I like geeky things – geeky boy things: Star Trek and Star Wars, Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings, SF, Fantasy, Computers, Comics (especially Batman), and Technology. Moreover, a lot of traditional “girl” things bore me: makeup and perfume, high heel shoes, fashion, and Disney. Well, except Once Upon a Time – because OUAT is awesome. But still. I feel completely comfortable with “boyish” interests, even as an adult woman. The only time I get annoyed – well it’s there’s two times, actually.

One is when someone – male or female (but, let’s be honest – they are usually male, because right now there is a growing cadre of “girl geeks” out there, especially on-line. Have you met Tumblr?) tells me I can’t be interested in something because it’s “for boys” or “it’s too complicated for mere girls” that, frankly, gets me as mad as Bruce Banner on a bad day. I get angry. I see red. And I often make an utter fool of myself until I can calm down and point out that yes, it’s perfectly OK for me, a mere woman, to like Batman (or in this case Star Wars) especially as, at this point, I’ve seen various versions of, definitely in the case of Batman, Batman from three or four decades now.

And second, is when someone challenges me on a subject I know exceedingly well simply because I’m female and “therefore I can’t possibly know anything”. This can be overt or implied – it still, well, gets me very angry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a guy insult my knowledge of computers, or Social Media, or personal technology, because as a “girl” I couldn’t possibly know anything about it. Same goes for my knowledge of film and the film industry. Or comics – the ones I know anyway (comics are a huge field of popular culture knowledge.)

This vid is just so perfect!

In terms of Star Wars itself – not only growing up with the movies, seeing them in the theater, waiting just waiting for the occasional theater revival and re-showing (I’m old enough to remember life before VCRs, much less before DVDs and DVRs). I was eight when I saw Star Wars or SW A New Hope as we now call it (I saw it under it’s original two-word title). I had to wait for SW: The Empire Strikes Back and SW: Return of the Jedi. After Jedi, I read dozens of the tie-in novels. I remember the hype around the new trilogy (Episodes 1 – 3) and being so disappointed. I haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, but I am looking forward too it (finally got tickets – I’m seeing it on Boxing Day). But Abrams is the second director I’ve seen who justifies adding women to his movie, not by saying, “Well, the universe includes women, and obviously the Star Wars universe includes women, so of course, this movie includes women,” but by patronizingly saying that “well mothers and daughters won’t see it without a girl”. Um, first, so women can only be “mothers and daughters”? I guess women can’t be scientists, CEOs, writers, or anything else? Really?

Honestly – not a big fan of The Hunger Games, but I saw Mockingjay: Part II with my mother, and my Twitter comment was “Good film for mothers and daughters to see together”. Because it was – very much a bonding film. I won’t get into the issues with the plot, and the apparently non-canon ending here, but yeah – Go see it with your Mom.

Now, getting back to Abrams. First, one thing about Star Wars – the original trilogy (Episodes 4-6) was that Leia was a very strong character. Han was a great protagonist, much like Rick in Casablanca (a film I saw years later). The rest of the cast was terrific. I loved Mark Hamill in Star Wars New Hope as a kid – as an adult I prefer him in SW: Return of the Jedi, but I’ve seen him in other roles too, and he’s a terrific actor. And his Joker is fantastic. I think as a young girl, Leia was the character I identified with, Luke was the guy I wanted to be, and Han was the guy I wanted to date.

But the other important aspect of Abrams comment is that he completely ignores the women who created Star Wars fandom, just as they had created Star Trek fandom and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom. Oh, and by the 1980s, at least in the US, there were plenty of women in Doctor Who fandom too. Abrams is sweeping a whole group of intelligent, talented women under the rug as if they never existed. Just like history often ignores the contributions of women. That just can’t stand, and Abrams needs to be taken to task for it.

Will I ignore the film because of one interview? Of course not. Will I follow the story? Maybe.

But I’m still looking forward to seeing Star Wars The Force Awakens.