There’s a lot of change in the air, and in so many cases, it’s nice to see how the COVID crisis is bringing out our better angels – especially when it comes to publishers and retailers.
Inc. Magazine recently called Independent Bookstores “the baby seals of commerce–at once universally beloved and endangered.” The same could be said for comic shops, except for the universally loved part. Here’s an innovative ideas from forward-thinking entrepreneurs designed to create something positive for both these retailer channels.
Aftershock Comics has a program designed to help comic shops. It’s called S.O.S. which stands for “Support Our Shops”. This is a cool program that’s elegant in its simplicity. Aftershock created & printed a one-shot anthology comic, S.O.S., and is giving copies of it to comic shops that have been supporting their line, no strings attached! Comic shops can sell their copies at whatever price they set (it feels like at least a $5.99 comic to me), offer it as buy-one-get-one with other Aftershock comics, or just give it away to reward customers.
The comic itself is gorgeous! Painter David Mack delivers yet another hauntingly beautiful cover, full of hope and brightness, just like the comic itself. The issue is packed full of short stories from top creators wistfully celebrating fans’ interactions with and appreciation of comic shops.
Editor Joe Pruett has pulled together an impressive list of talents for this funny-book version of a charity concert. Contributors include Cullen Bunn, Steve Orlando, Leila Leiz, Stephanie Phillips, Marshall Dillon and more. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jerry Ordway’s story here, as I don’t associate him with Aftershock. But wow – he delivered in spades.
Look for S.O.S. at your local comic shop, ask them to get it for you if they don’t have it, and if they give it to you for free, give them a generous tip. It’s a fantastic book and worth every penny you can spare. And we want to encourage innovative thinking like this, as well as help comic shops and bookstores, don’t we?
If retailers don’t already have a relationship with Aftershock, they can go to the site where all the staff is listed. https://aftershockcomics.com
Creepy and Engaging. To me, that’s the way every scary summertime story should be. Well, summer’s over but the latest from Aftershock, Midnight Vista, gave me that same type of feeling. I think that as I read this series during the fall, I’ll be able to keep that summertime vibe in the months ahead.
No, this isn’t advertising copy for a comic convention coming to your town. These lines are from the trailer for that old monster movie, The Blob. But it could be used to describe any upcoming comic con.
Comic conventions are not only thriving but, like the Blob, they are now oozing out from the walls of their convention centers and invading local towns. Geek culture cannot be held within its original confines.
Who would have ever thought, way back when Geek Culture was nestled in little comic shops in the scorned section of town, that we’d get to this point? Unlike the foreboding tone of that Blob movie trailer, this expanding, oozing primordial mass inspires a sense of awe and wonderment.
The San Diego Comic-Con is probably the best example of this. The nation’s longest running convention is held annually at the San Diego Convention Center. (And it will be held there until 2021, but that’s a whole ‘nother column.)
The entire city seems to get behind this show. Most of the shops, bars, and restaurants in San Diego offer specials and decorations to welcome convention attendees. It seems like every waiter and waitress is wearing a comic book or Walking Dead themed shirt, in fact. And the show itself is so sprawling, it now schedules events in nearby hotels, local libraries, and even the town baseball’s stadium.
I have a great friend who lives in San Diego. Walshy, as we’ve called him since grade school, doesn’t know anything about comics or pop culture. Check that – he loved MAD magazine. That counts. But by and large, he just doesn’t have a passion for graphic novels, or science fiction, or horror movies, or Doctor Who, or any of the cool stuff at the San Diego Comic-Con.
But each year he attends Comic-Con and has a blast. There is one particularly wild story about how he partied with Michael Rooker (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”) and Miss Venezuela on a hotel rooftop… but we’ll save that one for another day as well.
Walshy throws himself into San Diego Comic-Con because, as a resident, he can’t escape it. It’s so big and so boisterous that it’s all encompassing, even for locals.
And the great news is that Geek Culture is very welcoming. It pitches a big tent and invites everyone to come on in and have some fun.
The same thing is happening at other conventions. New York Comic-Con now hosts “Super Week” before their show, for example. Not surprisingly, it’s also happening at the up-and-coming shows in smaller markets.
Over the past year, I lent a hand to help grow Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a rousing success: it doubled in attendance and exhibitors reported very strong sales. It was officially held at the local convention center in the middle of Syracuse’s downtown area. But in reality, the event stretched to make the two days of the comic-con much longer.
The Mayor: Even Syracuse’s mayor got involved. Neal Adams was the guest of honor, and Mayor Stephanie Miner proclaimed the Saturday of the show to be “Neal Adams Day” in Syracuse.
Comics on Campus: It turns out Syracuse University has an incredible collection of original comic strip art. And for the past 80 years, only researchers have been able to view these treasures. We worked with SU’s Special Collections Director for an exhibition of original pages for fans. I never thought fans would be able to hold the very first Prince Valiant page, by Hal Foster, in their hands, but they did! One of our favorite artists, Joe Jusko, stopped by the exhibit and was in awe. His posts of viewing his favorite artists (Foster, Frank Robbins, Stan Drake etc.) went viral. And yes, we’re planning something bigger for next year.
Barley Quinn Craft Beer: The local brewpub, Empire, created a specialty beer called Barley Quinn and debuted it the week before the show. They gave away free Comic-con tickets and comics publisher Aftershock offered up a box full of Captain Kid graphic novels. Tom Peyer, the co-author of the series, is based in Syracuse and the publisher wanted to support him.
Cosplay: The convention partnered with the nearby Schweinfurth Art Center, a museum with a specialty in fabric arts, to host a cosplay “pre-game” event. I always feel bad when cosplayers put so much time and energy into their costumes, and can only wear them for a day, or two, at a convention. I suppose it’s the same way for brides. It was fun to be able to offer one additional “wearable opportunity” for cosplayers.
So even in a market like Syracuse, Geek Culture has creeped and crawled to ooze out beyond the confines of both the calendar and the convention center to become something bigger. Unlike the teenagers and townsfolk in The Blob, I’m not terrified. I’m elated! And you should be too.
In the past I’ve mentioned some of what AfterShock Comics has been up to in my column here, but I haven’t talked about them as much as I should. I really haven’t been talking about the good work they’ve been doing. Having recently read World Reader #1, I decided I need to change that.
AfterShock Comics gets it.
I’ll explain. I was having lunch with Noah Sharma who writes over at Weekly Comic Book Review and AfterShock dominated the conversation. We talked about the different titles we’ve been enjoying like InSEXts, Animosity, Captain Kid, and World Reader. Well, the conversation actually started when I brought up how much I loved World Reader so let me backpedal a bit and talk about World Reader.
World Reader #1 hit the shelves on April 19th. It’s written by Jeff Loveness, drawn by Juan Doe and lettered by Rachel Deering. Jeff Loveness is best known for being a writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! as well as writing Groot over at Marvel. This is his first creator owned comic. Juan Doe has worked on many comics over the years including American Monster and Animosity also at AfterShock. on Rachel Deering worked on the Womantholoy.
Basically, World Reader is about an astronaut, Sarah, who travels around the universe trying to help figure out what is seemingly killing it. She’s helped in this effort by her ability to commune with the dead, whether she wants to or not. We read on as Sarah is pushed to limits of her own mind in her quest to save us all.
For being the first creator-owned effort by Jeff Loveness, it’s fantastic. We really get sucked into this dangerous world and Jeff is humble enough to not overload the book with dialogue when it’s not necessary. He lets the art tell the story. And damn, it’s a good story.
This is a good story is because of Juan Doe’s artwork and colors. This book pops in a way that most books just don’t. I’d say that Jeff wrote a hell of a page turner, but the book is so gorgeous that turning the page might be the last thing you want to do.
What helps push you to turn the page is Rachel Deering’s excellent lettering. It’s not often that the lettering in a comic pops just like the art does, but Rachel makes it happen.
This team really feels like lightning in a bottle and I truly feel like they are onto something here. I haven’t felt this excited to pick up a second issue in a while. If I’m picking up a second issue of a comic then, yes, I’m at least somewhat excited, or curious, or trying to give it a chance to let the story unfold, but here I’m pretty damn excited.
I admit that I’m a science fiction fan so maybe the kind of story they’re setting up here appeals to me more than it might to someone else, but anyone that likes sci-fi comics needs to pick up World Reader. Don’t think about it, don’t add it to your list, don’t put it in your big stack of comics that’s months old now that you just don’t know when you’ll get to it, read it! If you’re afraid if you get home with it it’ll end up in a pile then read it outside the comic shop when you get a chance, or in your car before you drive away, or put aside the eight minutes when you buy it on ComiXology when you buy it to read it right then and there. If you don’t normally like sci-fi, but you like pretty books with fantastic colors, you should give this a shot too.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah! Lunch with Noah. So I talk about how I picked up World Reader #1 from Carmine Street Comics in Manhattan and after talking about how much I enjoyed it, we got talking about AfterShock in general. We talked about InSEXts and Marguerite Bennett and how that’s been absolutely fantastic, original, and one of the best books she’s writing. For me, it’s a flagship title for AfterShock, and a book they should be immensely proud of publishing. Animosity I haven’t gotten a chance to read, but it’s on my list. Yes, I’m being that person that I said you shouldn’t be about World Reader. I’m working on it, really!
One of the other books I really enjoyed that AfterShock puts out is Captain Kid. ComicMix’s own Ed Catto wrote about this book the end of last year, and I encourage you all to read it if you haven’t yet. Though it’s concluded as of April, it was a fantastic character driven story by creators Mark Waid and Tom Peyer, who oddly enough were both DC editors some years ago. The team includes artists Wilfredo Torres and Brent Peeples, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, with A Larger World lettering. The book is about a character that’s a bit of a reverse Shazam (I wish I could call him Captain Marvel) and uses that as a device to create a very personal feeling character piece about aging and coming to terms with your life. It looks and feels like a comic from a time where the stories were a bit simpler, in a good way. If you love the Silver or Bronze Age of comics, or the kind of person who loves groups like DC In The 80s you should read Captain Kid. If you didn’t get a chance while it was coming out, the collected edition comes out in June.
Sorry. I keep getting off track. Lunch… that’s right. So Noah and I ended up talking about these different titles and we come to the conclusion that AfterShock really gets it. Though they’re working with quite a few established writers, they are trying to take some chances. They throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Sure, not every title is going to be the next The Walking Dead, and some titles are going to be duds; it happens, but it’s the drive and creativity they have that gives AfterShock Comics the feel that they could be revival Image Comics one day.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you haven’t checked out AfterShock yet, there’s no time like the present.
If racism is America’s original sin, it’s not surprising that racial issues hold such a central place in our popular entertainments. It also affects our response to these entertainments.
Especially mine, and especially this weekend.
It started with a semi-binge of the Iron Fist, the new Marvel Television series on Netflix. All sorts of people were angry that the actor cast as the lead, Danny Rand, is white. While this is faithful to the source material, it would not have been blasphemous to cast an Asian-American actor. The character, as written in the television series, is not particularly white.
He is, however, really boring. I don’t know if this is the fault of the actor or the script. There are so many things that are not discussed that might fill in the characters’ inner lives. What does Rand Industries do? Do they make things? Do they just do real estate deals? Why does Danny run around like a crazy person instead of asking questions? How do they get from Gramercy Park to Chinatown so quickly? Did they chase each other through subway tunnels?
Maybe these details are filled out in later episodes. I expect to finish the series, although probably not until after I watch Dave Chappelle.
In other words, while I understand that race might be an issue for some viewers, it was not the most notable part of my experience.
I also finally saw Get Out, an amazingly brilliant movie. Race relations are absolutely the point of this movie. It offers a view of the world as experienced by African-Americans that I don’t get to see very often. It also offers a view of white people that I, a white person, rarely get to see. It’s funny and frightening and very important while never making me think I’m doing something that’s good for you. Broccoli should have such a good script.
Should we only have people of color as leads when the story is about their particular subgroup? I don’t think so. There are all sorts of stories that can be filled with people of any race, gender or ethnicity. For example, I love Jesse Martin on The Flash, and I am sure he was cast because he is Jesse Martin, not because they needed an African-American in the part. That said, the fact that he is black adds a definite je ne sais quoi to the series. So does his height. So does his goatee.
My ComicMix colleague Joe Corallo and I have spent hours arguing over these and related issues, usually consuming a good deal of tequila in the process. We have very different responses to the Aftershock series Alters. I really like it, and Joe likes it less than I do (although I think he’s coming around). I’m interested in the story the creative team is trying to tell, and Joe has less patience with the story than he does with the creative team. This is not an argument either one of us can win, because we like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like. Still, these are interesting reactions to have when a series is launched about a character who isn’t a straight cis white guy.
There are times when a character cannot be a straight cis white guy. There are times when a character must be a straight cis white guy. Most of the time, the only reason it matters to certain audiences are our cultural assumptions about which people are worthy of stories.
Way back when, as I was growing up in the Finger Lakes region of Central New York State, I enjoyed The Syracuse New Times. This funky weekly newspaper ran a cartoon by Tom Peyer that often skewered the politicians of the day with its clever, biting wit. It was creative, irreverent, smart and subversively fun.
And then, one day, Peyer worked in an “Earth One/Earth Two” reference. That was kind of like a geek dog whistle – perceptible only to comic fans. I knew I’d be a fan forever.
Tom Peyer went on to a robust career writing and editing comics, with impressive runs on the DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and L.E.G.I.O.N. His fantastic Hourman series brought characters like Snapper Carr and Bethany Lee to life in such a credible way that, like long lost friends, I still miss them.
Like me, Tom has recently returned to the Central New York region, so it made sense to catch up with him. I knew it would be a lot of fun, but I also wanted to learn about his fascinating new series from Aftershock Comics, Captain Kid.
Captain Kid is the story of a middle-aged guy suffering all the discomforts and indignities of middle age. But he has a secret. And that secret is that he’s really the new teen superhero who’d just burst onto the scene.
Tom teamed-up with his longtime pal Mark Waid on the writing chores. Wilfredo Torres is providing strong covers and solid interior artwork.
Aftershock is a new publisher with a myriad of titles from talented creators.
Mark Waid urged Peyer to tell this story for years, and when the Aftershock opportunity came about, they jumped on it.
Peyer explained to me that the genesis of this comic series came from his observation that comics aren’t about wish fulfillment anymore. In the old days, characters like Jimmy Olsen, Captain Marvel or Robin were all about young boys wanting to hang out with, or become, their heroes. But today, many comics buyers read stories that are about heroes and protagonists who are younger than themselves. Thus, Captain Kid flips old time conventions upside down.
Peyer also took a fresh approach to the well-worn concept of time travel. It occurred to him that in a culture where time travel is commonplace, certain generally accepted norms would naturally arise. Maybe the norms wouldn’t always be right, but they would soon become baked into people’s behavior.
In the universe of Captain Kid, “obey your elders” is a mantra that the characters embrace. The thinking is that you will most likely, at one point or another, run into a future version of yourself. And it is assumed that they are wiser and should be respected.
As with so many of Peyer’s and Waid’s stories, the secondary characters are as rich and interesting as the lead. Helea, a female black superhero who mysteriously appears, is one such engaging character. Or maybe I should say “characters,” as Captain Kid features both a younger and an older version of this woman.
She serves the role of a mentor figure, Peyer explains, like Merlin or Obi-Won Kenobi. The story gets really interesting as the whole series is predicated on a mistake she made. Helea’s trying to make it right, but because time travel is imprecise, she’s fixing all the problems thirty years too late!
Wilfredo Torres’ art is crisp, clear and imbued with just a drop of nostalgia for sharp-eyed comic fans. Torres deftly conveys big ideas with a character’s expressive body language or simple brush strokes that denote the crinkle of an expression.
Peyer told me a little story about how Torres gave a supporting character an apple to hold. The character was supposed to be just sitting down in a certain part of the story and the apple was a surprise to the writers. Wilfredo explained to Peyer that even when people are sitting down they are never just sitting down.
Peyer just loves this straightforward art. “I used to call over-rendered, over- detailed, hyper-detailed comic art ‘incontinent,’” said Peyer. “But Torres art is just the opposite. I’d call it continent.”
Peyer told me about an insightful interview he had with Chris Simms. After the concept was explained, Simms summarized that Captain Kid was all about hope and fear. Or, more precisely, how we hope for a better future but fear that we can’t protect ourselves from the present.
Issue #3 just went on sale. I’m going to be sure to get a copy from local comic shop. You might want to snag one too!
JC: Alters is a passion project of yours that you’ve wanted to pursue for over a decade. Could you talk about the genesis of the project and how it’s changed since its original conception?
PJ: Alters was conceived as a way to tell stories about “superheroes with disadvantages” when I was writing more often for DC and Marvel. I thought that would be a tremendous concept because we’d have people dealing with certain problems – at the time I was slightly more focused on things like physical disabilities – and they’d also have a sort of “super-advantage.” I thought that would be very fertile ground for interesting stories that were in my personal wheelhouse as a writer – very much about characterization and less about powers. Both DC and Marvel always expressed an interest but it’s tough to get new characters off the ground so it never got picked up.
Over time I realized just how many stories there were to be told if I expanded a little more and dealt with different kinds of disadvantage. For example, I fractured my neck playing soccer years ago and have written many times about how hard that period of time was for me. I was indestructible right up until I got hurt, and then I dealt with post-concussion syndrome and very debilitating vertigo. So I am going to do a story about one of our Alters who will be stricken with vertigo every time their power manifests because that is interesting to me. I have stories about a homeless character, a person dealing with PTSD, a person who is bipolar, a person who is dealing with a form of superhero Alzheimer’s. The list goes on.
Despite the opening arc revolving around Chalice, our book is not intended to be the LGBT comic. It’s a comic that has a prominent trans character who will always be a focal point. Why? Because she kicks ass, and her story is interesting. I happen to think she’s going to be a very popular character because she seemed to have a good voice from the first time I wrote her into a script. We shall see how people react to her.
JC: You’ve stated before how diversity is important to you in terms of comic creators as well as their creations. As far as the creative team behind Alters goes, how involved were you in putting the team together or having input on how the team would be shaped?
PJ: I had a lot of input. This decision was guided in part by the initial loading screen in the video game Assassin’s Creed. They state that the game is developed by a team of many differing faiths and beliefs, and I loved that sentiment. I wanted our book to be created by a group of differing ages, genders and gender identities, ethnic backgrounds, you-name-it. With AfterShock, it was not something I had to fight for – they believed in that vision for the project immediately. But remember: this is a book that deals with many types of people so the diversity in our creative team is never going to cover the diversity of the characters.
JC: Though Chalice is a central character, we do know of at least a couple of other Atlers in the series have been mentioned. Could you describe to us the format of these stories? Will this be more of a team book or a shifting narrative?
PJ: I suppose “team book” is a good enough description. I’d probably compare it to the style of the Inhumans, which I wrote for Marvel in the late 90’s. Inhumans was a 12-issue maxi-series in which I’d highlight each character as the story unfolded. In Alters, we will sometimes tell single issue stories about one character or another. We may focus for another character for five issues or so. I happen to think Chalice will always be prominent but then again, so will a few other early characters. One is called Octavian – he’s able to access every portion of his brain, so he’s super-hyper-intelligent. He’ll be around for the duration, too.
We’ll meet new characters as new Alters come into being. There’s a lot of ground to cover, not to mention a number of villains.
JC: Was the idea always to have Chalice as the first character to be highlighted in the series once it got picked up by Aftershock? What ultimately guided that decision?
PJ: Well, I think so, yes. I think Chalice is very intriguing as a character because she has a compelling back story. We have a specific situation in mind for her that creates a sort of “ticking clock” tension from the first moment – she is transitioning but dealing with a tough family situation and is really struggling with how to tell her family. The family are beginning to see changes in her but as they see it, she is the middle brother of three. It’s going to be difficult. And just as she struggles with that transition, she discovers she is a powerful Alter and that changes everything.
JC: Alters, and specifically Chalice, have gotten attention in media outlets including The New York Times and CBS News. What has the reception been towards Alters so far? How does this kind of media attention around a character like Chalice make you feel about the future of comics and expanding diversity in the medium?
PJ: The reaction has, for the most part, been very positive. I think the media are going to probably concentrate on the trans character because transgender has become a popular topic of late. But at the risk of repeating myself, Alters is a comic about many different people who are dealing with disadvantage, whether it be disability or marginalization. I’ve stated this clearly in every interview I have conducted. Chalice happens to be a central character and is featured in the first arc. She’s not the only character in the book. Now with that being said, I’m hopeful that the recent highlighting of transgender in the media will prove to be a positive thing, even if some aspects of the portrayals are negative. Every time we have a dialogue in our society, it helps to effect change. So if Alters simply adds to the dialogue, then that is a small positive.
JC: When creating and ultimately writing Chalice, how did you go about preparing for that? What kind of research did you do?
PJ: I make sure each script is read by at least three trans people who are helping me as consultants. I’m learning that there’s such complexity here that it’s going to take me a long time to really cover things in depth. And of course, people have very different experiences. There is no one way to write a character like Chalice – I can only try to be diligent in my research, and try not to write the obvious. I try not to take too much creative license, and to pay attention when people tell me that my character is doing something unrealistic. Remember, too, that our colorist Tamra Bonvillain is trans. She’s been really helpful, and I’m grateful that she understands I may or may not want the character to do certain things that drive the story. For example, it seems less likely in the scheme of things that a trans person might begin hormone therapy without first alerting their family. But I felt this conceit would help propel the story forward, and while it is unlikely it is at least conceivable (more on this below). I think it is really important that I concentrate on “story first.”
That is the common denominator of every single successful project I’ve ever been involved in. Someone recently told me that I must be a crusader in this endeavor, that by choosing to write about a trans character I have no choice. Well, I happen to disagree. My job is to tell a compelling story and by doing so, the crusade happens organically. If our book becomes preachy or out of touch, we’ll have failed. In order for our characters to feel rounded, they must not know everything, and they must sometimes make mistakes.
JC: In a book like Alters that will have characters of different backgrounds throughout, is a character like Chalice meant more to introduce the idea of a trans character to a cis comic audience that isn’t familiar with someone who is trans or to serve as a character that a queer and specifically trans audience can relate to?
The annoying answer here is “neither, and a bit of both.” As I stated above, my job is to try and write interesting stories about interesting characters. There is no perfect approach. If I write a treatise on my research about trans people then I might as well create a documentary. If Chalice is a kick ass character – and believe me, she is quite strong and powerful in our series so far – then we have a good book on our hands. Having written her, I like her. She’s trying to manage three lives. She has challenges. She’s not perfect but she’s pretty damned cool, and she has a strong will to succeed. She has compassion, especially for her less-than-perfect family. And she sees herself as a defender of persecuted Alters. So she’s more like Spider-Man or Wolverine, and less about some statement I have to make on transgender.
JC: The hook of “a young woman who can only really be herself…whenever she is not herself,” can lend itself to the tragic queer trope, where a character’s tragedy is directly caused by or linked to their queerness, and specifically their transness in this case. Do you feel that is part of Chalice’s story? As her creator, what does define her as a character?
PJ: Okay, so… here I feel I have to take issue with your previous article a little bit. Your description of me as a “well-meaning cis ally” is intended to demonstrate that I don’t understand what I’m writing about, or that we are clearly going to bumble our way through this series with little to no idea of what we are doing. I did not write this book in an ill-considered way. I felt in your article you made this assumption, and glossed over the details because they did not fit your premise. I’m a writer trying to write good stories – that is the be all and end all of it.
Here are a few things that we are not: we are not trying to be crusaders for the trans community. We are, however, featuring a trans character as the focus of our series. We are not inattentive to the difficulties faced by the trans community. But neither are we going to create a tool to educate people about transgender. Instead, by creating a cool, interesting premise (people dealing with disadvantage and hyper-advantage), we create a product that anyone can gravitate to. And if someone learns about or finds a new perspective on the subject of transgender, then that will be awesome. Some trans people have written to me to express their excitement about Chalice. Some have written to me to express their concerns, and I have tried my best to address those concerns and allay their fears. No story in history has ever been perfect, and we don’t expect to be. I readily acknowledge that Alters will never be able to mirror any individual’s personal experience. I hope the readers acknowledge that also.
So to answer your question directly: that particular hook occurs because of a story point, not some ill-advised tagline. Her “transness” does not make her tragic. Her family situation creates an issue which drives the story. Charlie, Chalice’s alter ego, is struggling with self-imposed pressure to keep her family unit intact. Her older brother, Teddy, is stricken with cerebral palsy and she worries that her transition will create added pressure on her parents. But she also knows that this is her time – that she must become outwardly who she really is. So she has begun her hormone therapy in secret, all the while knowing that puts her on the clock, so to speak. This may not be the perfect decision. It’s the one she has made, and she’s going to deal with the ramifications. And right in the middle of this, she suddenly becomes an Alter and must deal with a second type of transition. One may argue that this is outlandish, or unrealistic, or whatever. Newsflash: every superhero ever created is outlandish and unrealistic. So we’re in good company there. :)
JC: Chalice’s story appears to be linked to her transitioning and while this is happening, coincidence or not, she is gaining great power. Other stories in different media as well as in the news have used transitioning as shock value and to exploit the trans community for the purpose of entertainment and to feed an inappropriate curiosity. What makes Chalice’s story different?
PJ: I think part of the answer to this is covered above. I certainly understand your point, and have found some of the coverage appalling. Of course, the coverage of the U.S. election/Brexit/terrorism and just about everything else these days is equally appalling. I’m not going to agree that we are somehow taking advantage of trans people simply by writing a character who is trans, especially because we have other characters dealing with different issues and I haven’t heard you complain about us addressing bipolar disorder or the issues facing someone who is quadriplegic. Every single character in our book is presented for the purpose of entertainment, Chalice included. I am in the business of entertainment. But I happen to be a research fiend, and I’m always going to be worried that a trans reader will find my character unrealistic. I feel the same way when I am writing detective fiction – I hope that actual detectives would find my stories plausible, and I try to research them that way. I will take the same approach with our bipolar character, our homeless character, our PTSD characters and so on…
I hope what makes us different from those who would try to exploit the trans community is that we’re focused on story first, and have only a minor secondary agenda in terms of shining a light on various people who are dealing with disadvantage in our society. I think the diversity of our creative team helps. And I’d like to make it quite clear before anyone tries to find fault here that we are absolutely not equating transgender with, say, disability. Our series addresses people who are dealing with disadvantage. Being marginalized by society, misunderstood, bullied, harassed and exploited by the media certainly qualifies for being at a disadvantage. Other characters will have obvious physical disadvantages. Others may have less obvious disadvantages (such as the character with vertigo).
And this leads me to the other issue I had with your previous article – the complaint that this is yet another view of transgender through a cis lens, as if I am disqualified from writing a trans character. You casually mentioned that we do have a core team member who is trans but “that’s not a position with creative control in a narrative sense.” That is an assumption on your part. You don’t know Tamra’s input, so you can’t make that assumption. Now, we each have our jobs on the creative team and it’s not as though I have Leila or Tamra’s artistic expertise. And while you happen to be partly correct – as the writer I am the initial creator of the story – I happen to be a very collaborative writer, and always have been. It has stood me in good stead over the years I have been working in this industry. I invite input, and truly believe that comics are a collaborative medium.
To address the point: where would we be if we were forced to write only what we are? We’d be without Othello, for one thing because Shakespeare was hardly a black, Muslim dude from Venice. I would be forbidden to write people from different ethnic backgrounds than my own, and I would never be able to write a female character. The argument that this series must have a requisite trans writer is specious and absurd: I hope that trans writers create tons of material that will hit the mainstream. I hope a trans creator makes the next popular superhero character, and that no one gives a royal shit that they are trans or otherwise, as it should be. My audience is anyone who wants to read the book. If they happen to be trans I hope they like Alters, and feel we have done a halfway decent job with the trans character, especially.
I’m not one to pay lip service to things – I do understand your concerns and any concerns of the LGBT community who are worried that Chalice is being created in part by some middle-aged straight white guy. I hope (and believe) that we are doing our best to address those concerns. The work should be judged for what it is, not pre-judged for who is creating it.
JC: I want to thank you again for talking with me about your new comic, Alters, being published by Aftershock Comics starting September 7th. What’s the best way for people to follow the release of Alters, spread the word, and discuss the comic?
PJ: My pleasure, Joe. Thanks for giving me a chance to respond. Support your local comic store, and follow AfterShock and our creative team on Twitter and Facebook. Wish our book luck, and please buy lots of copies!