Like many papers, Seattle’s weekly — I think I’m supposed to say “alternative weekly,” though there’s no established industry of stodgy weeklies for those alt-weeklies to be the alternative to — The Stranger has personal ads, in which its lovelorn or just horny readers try to find each other for mutually beneficial activities. Unlike other papers, though, The Stranger has Ellen Forney (cartoonist and teacher of cartooning, author of Monkey Food, which I just realized I read and reviewed a couple of years back) illustrating one of those ads — from the LustLab section, where strangers anatomize in explicit detail their sexual needs and wants to find just the perfect kinky partner — every week.
Lust collects a whole bunch of those ads, along with five interviews that Forney did with some ad-writers. And I will warn you: a number of the ads and folks in here are certainly kinkier than you are, no matter how kinky you are — kink isn’t a linear spectrum, and there are folks here off in various directions, seeking their very particular nirvana. Assuming you can handle the idea of other people having sex in ways you don’t think you would enjoy, Lust is cute and fun — each of Forney’s illustrations is like a little advertisement or calling card (like those cards that used to paper London) for that person’s desires, with a clean, illustrative style that varies a lot for the different pieces.
I have reported here and elsewhere about the goings-on at Archie Comics. While DC keeps on hitting the reset button like a monkey in a crack experiment, and Marvel keeps on doing endless – literally endless – mega-events, Archie has been slowly making history.
In the past several years they’ve added a major gay character and they’ve had Archie fall in love (on the cover, no less) with a black woman. They’ve taken ongoing looks into the potential futures of their characters, which plays against the assumptions held by our culture for more than 70 years. They’ve tried to make Riverdale look and feel more like the real world: even the hallowed Pop Tate’s has had to endure competition by national fast food chains. Archie Comics continues to be the major force in entertaining each next generation of comics readers; without their efforts and similar, but smaller, endeavors by Boom!, Bongo and others, we would have no future readers for the graphic novels published by Fantagraphics and Abrams.
And, I’m happy to report, now Archie Comics is just getting weird.
In Archie #636 (the alternate cover is shown here; the newsstand cover is done in sort of a traditional 1950s Archie style), the current issue, the Riverdale gang swap sexes. Yep, the boys become girls and the girls become boys. This doesn’t happen voluntarily; Sabrina the Teenage Witch has a snarky cat who casts a spell so that the kids can see things from the other side of the gender bend. Hilarity ensues, and the point is made. Two points, if one wants to infer a warning about the dangers of catnip.
Mind you, I like weird. Weird is the antidote to boring. It’s the elixir that promotes experimentation and new story concepts. But I doubt Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie will be getting permanent sex change operations any time soon.
Last week’s column engendered a conversation with Bill Hannigan. Now Bill and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye politically, and my belief that “Wonder Woman, considering her upbringing, would most likely look to her own sex for an adult relationship before venturing into anything heterosexual” seemed to create a Rubicon that neither of us would or could cross. Bill responded to my statement as follows:
“…while it’s not unreasonable that WW would explore a same sex relationship, I’d hope any writer would save that for another character – it plays straight (ha!) into the hands of those who would like to have us believe that being raised by gay parents (or even gay-tolerant parents) will make kids gay. If, as I think, it is far more nature than nurture, it should not matter if she were raised on Paradise Island, Fire Island, Monster Island or Long island.”
My first reaction: annoyance that Bill had missed the most important part of the paragraph, which ended “meaning she needs to discover just where her sexuality lies.”
… and I wanted to zoom off an angry missive in return.
But having spent mucho bucks for therapy over the years (which, for the most part, has helped me to successfully understand myself a little better – though some people I know may disagree with that, and you know who you are), I held off the angry missive and gave both of us a break on the tête-à-tête back-and-forth. In other words, cooler heads prevailed:
“Regarding Wonder Woman – I’m not saying that she must be gay. I’m saying that I believe her first inclination, given her upbringing, would be to seek love with her own sex. And, in fact, I think it would be interesting for Diana to discover that she is drawn to men – and then feel like there’s something wrong with her. This would parallel what so many young people who know they are gay go through in this society. although I do think its getting better out there.”
Bill’s answer was right on the mark, IMnot-so-HO:
“And I think you would be attacked without mercy if you tried to do a story like what you describe – the homophobes would, of course, lose their shit over you making WW gay in the first place and you would catch holy hot hell when you had her become attracted to a man. There is no doubt in my mind. You can hear the complaints now. “Newell chickened out!” “Oh right, that’s what every lesbian secretly wants, the right man to show here the true path!” “I finally found a character that I could identify with and now you’ve wee-ooh, wee-ooh!” It would be brutal.
“The worst part about creating groundbreaking characters, it seems to me, is that you lose control of them. Joss Whedon makes Willow gay and from that point on every time something bad happens to her (and [since] it’s a Joss Whedon show, bad stuff happens to you!) people start bitching and bitching; “Oh right, another gay relationship that ends badly.” As though anyone on Buffy was likely to have a happy ending, relationship-wise.”
Oh, yeah, Bill, I remember the uproar that the problems between Willow and Tara created in the homosexual community. And when Warren killed Tara, I was among the thousands screaming at the television set, “oh, no, you didn’t, Joss Whedon!” It didn’t matter that I’m straight. Their relationship was the most honest representation of a healthy, interactive, grown-up relationship between lovers, homosexual or heterosexual, I’d ever seen – and still not matched – on a television series, or for that matter, in a movie. Brokeback Mountain, despite all the hoo-hah about Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger getting it on, was not about a good relationship. Willow and Tara did not say, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Willow and Tara were just two people who loved each other. Period. No “a very special episode announcement” bullshit, no “look how daring we’re being!” crap, no big deal – well, except for Oz.
Although I seem to remember Whedon saying he was “surprised” at the amount of angry letters and hate mail he received, I also believe he didn’t give a shit. Because, as I replied to Bill:
“[as for] the bullshit Whedon got for killing Tara…was a necessary dramatic action forwhere Whedon was going [i.e., the “Dark Willow” storyline.]
“[and] like Whedon, I don’t give a shit. If it serves the character(s) and his/her/their story, I write it.”
So, yeah, I think that Diana of Themiscrya would be very confused about her sexuality. And I would write her that way. But, like I told Bill:
“Not that DC would ever let me do something like that.”
Continued Next Week!
TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten and Where Must Be Dragons?
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Hurls Hand-Grenades!
Last week in this space I discussed some political incidents, namely Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about women and rape, Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) who talked about how heterosexual sex doesn’t result in AIDS, and how Texas Judge Tom Head talked about how Obama’s re-election could result in Civil War. I said, “Individually, they are incidents; link them together and they’re a narrative.” Let us examine that further.
Our lives are filled with narrative. Elements are selected, others are omitted, some are highlighted and some are downplayed. That’s how a story is put together; what’s important to the narrative we’re telling? Does that make it untrue?
No. Not all elements, not all facts, are pertinent to a given narrative. An honest narrative attempts to get at a truth; a dishonest narrative tries to obscure it.
We all create narrative. I was listening to David Eagleman on NPR; he’s a neuroscientist with what sounds like a fascinating book – Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain that I’m getting. He said (and I’m paraphrasing but I think I got it right) that our mind takes in all the different stimuli that our senses give us and, in order to make sense of the world around us, creates a narrative – our version of reality. It’s why so many different people can experience the same thing and walk away with a different narrative about it – a different reality. It’s not a lie; it’s a different interpretation. It’s one of the reasons we create stories – in order to share our realities and see if they match up with anyone else’s reality.
CNN columnist L.Z. Granderson does a masterful job of creating a narrative as he links Akins comments to the GOP platform that rejects all abortions without exception. As the Brits would say, I think it’s “a fair cop.” Akin’s comments illuminate the thinking behind the GOP plank. The GOP VP candidate, Paul Ryan, co-sponsored bills Akin put up to ban all abortions. That’s relevant.
Akin went on in his comments. “But let’s assume that maybe that [the female body closing down] didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” In that statement, what element is missing? The woman who was raped. That’s the element left out of Akin’s narrative because it’s not part of his reality and it’s left out of the GOP plank because its not part of their narrative, their reality, as well. The woman who was raped is not an important part of their equation.
The narrative in this case becomes that all of these stories, taken together, is how the GOP right wing thinks. You can sell that story. I could sell that story to an editor. Can the Democrats sell it to the voters? We’ll see.
According to Entertainment Weekly, we are about to see a romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. According to the illustration on the site, it looks to be an “adult” relationship.
In some ways, this is genius. DC won’t have to field questions about the Larry Niven issue, since Wonder Woman is invulnerable. Although I’ve always thought Niven’s premise is flawed. There are no holes in the Kent’s farmhouse from Clark’s wet dreams or wank sessions. Or from him spitting.
And, in the current continuity, Superman and Wonder Woman are both the (mostly) sole survivors of lost civilizations. They share outsider status.
In some ways, it’s just another stunt. Look, two of our flagship characters are having sex with each other! No Lois Lane! No Steve Trevor! This is not your father’s DC Comics!
(How desperate is that, since that ad campaign was aimed at your father when he was your age?)
I’ll be interested to see how they do this. The new Superman hasn’t particularly defined himself to me, at least not out of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics stories, which are supposed to be five or so years in the past. I find Wonder Woman a better-drawn character. So much better, in fact, that I can’t imagine how they will write her in a sexual relationship. With Superman.
I’ll be interested, but I expect to be appalled. Sex in mainstream comics is, for the most part, handled very poorly. It’s all about tits and ass, which are among my favorite body parts, but not all there is to sex. However, fighting and rescuing people and standing around talking in mainstream comics are also all about tits and ass.
There is also a really smarmy air to most adult relationships in comics. It is as if sex is such a rare thing that only really cool people can have it. Maybe this was true in high school, but it’s not true for real grown-ups. Grown-ups have sex on a regular basis, most often with someone they like.
In comics, sex is unusual and awesome. One cannot have a conversation of any kind with a sex-partner without referring to sex, whether that conversation is in the office, at breakfast, or in a fight with aliens. I felt like that when I first had sex (in medieval times). It seemed like an amazing secret among me and the people I slept with, like we were in the world’s greatest VIP section. But then I got over myself, and realized that millions of people are having sex at any given moment. It’s one of the things that makes us humans, or at least mammals.
True, not all of them can fly. Maybe that will make the difference.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman Lightens Up On Wizard World
Starting in February 2013 I will have the honor of curating what I hope will be a wonderful exhibit of African American comic art and related pop culture. The show will run for a year at the Geppi Entertainment Museum and the Reginald Lewis African American Museum. I’m at a lost for words for just how proud and overwhelmed I am for being asked.
Helping me with the show will be many people and chief upon them will be Tatiana El-Khouri, John Jennings and the wonderful Missy Geppi. I wrote some thoughts down in advance of the show to try and give myself a reason and a scope from which to work from. What follows in my next series of ComicMix articles are those thoughts, reasons and insight as to why I think this is important, with the occasional rant so you don’t forget my boyish charm…
In 1956 the two-year old Comics Code Authority (CCA) tried its best to stop EC Comics from publishing a particularly offensive comic book. Founded in 1954, as part of the Comics Magazine Association Of America the CCA was created in answer to an uneasy American public fed up with gruesome, shocking images and stories in comics.
Simply know as “the code” within the field, the CCA took to the task of cleaning up the comic industry like the new sheriff in town taking to the task of ridding said town of whore houses so decent people could live in peace. The Comics Code just would not stand for America’s sons being subjected to the evils of comic books. EC Comics was among the top targets the moment the code was formed.
Pushing the limits of what at the time was considered obscene was nothing new to the publisher of explicit horror books. The mainstay content of EC was carnage, viciousness, crime and a productive heaping of gore thrown in for good measure.
To some, an above-reproach case could be made even today that EC was glorifying criminals and their actions as well as violence for the sake of such. This, years before we see the same argument being used against Rock and Roll and decades before we see it used against Rap and Hip Hop music. Crime and violence aside, the Comics Code also took great offense at sex. To be fair, what would the 1950s be without someone objecting to sex?
With the moral backdrop of the 50s and the onslaught on standards deemed obscene by mostly old white men regarding everything from juvenile delinquency to portraying married couples in the same bed on TV its no surprise there were senate hearings on comic books. Those hearings, spurred on in no small measure by Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book, Seduction of the Innocent, took place April 21, April 22 and again on June 4, 1954.
Wertham’s book said in effect that comics would lead America’s kids down a path ripe with crime, violence, homosexuality and a hated for all things patriotic. It was clear to Wertham and he made it clear to the rest of America, if your kids read comics they would most certainly end up anti-American queer murderous criminals.
Because of Wertham, his book and the Senate investigations less than three months after the hearings ended the comics industry decided to regulate itself in advance of Congress doing it.
So, enter the code.
What’s completely overlooked in the sanctification of the 1954 Senate hearings on comic books is how they dealt with race. The thunderous judgment most people took away from the hearings was the focus on sex, crime and violence.
Almost hidden in the interim report on Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency was a passage on racial stereotypes.
The following passage from the Comics and Juvenile Delinquency interim report of the committee on the judiciary/ a part investigation of Juvenile Delinquency in the United States:
One example of racial antagonism resulting from the distribution of American-style comic books in Asia is cited by the former United States Ambassador to India, Chester Bowles, in his recent book, Ambassador’s Report. He reports on page 297 the horrified reaction of an Indian friend whose son had come into possession of an American comic book entitled the Mongol Blood-Suckers. Ambassador Bowles describes the comic book as depicting a-superman character struggling against half-human colored Mongolian tribesmen who has been recruited by the Communists to raid American hospitals in Korea and drink the plasma in the blood banks. In every picture they were portrayed with yellow skins, slanted eyes, hideous faces, and dripping jaws.
At the climax of the story, their leader summoned his followers to and attack on American troops. “Follow me, blood drinkers of Mongolia,” he cried. “Tonight we dine well of red nectar.” A few panels later he is shown leaping on an American soldier with the shout, “One rip at the throat, red blood spills over white skins. And we drink deep.”
Ambassador Bowles commented: The Communist propagandists themselves could not possibly devise a more persuasive way to convince color sensitive Indians that American believe in the superior civilization of people with white skins, and that we are indoctrinating our children with bitter racial prejudice from the time they learn to read.
13 Bowles, Chester, Ambassador’s Report, New York, 1954, p. 297.
It’s refreshing to see that some American lawmakers in the 50s were concerned about racial stereotypes, at least in principal if not in practice.
Ambassador Bowles statement really underscored that as Americans we would not tolerate any sort of racial bigotry. Yes, his remarks were hidden in the body of a report that focused on crime, sex and violence but they were there nevertheless.
Because of the public outcry caused by the hearings the CCA was enjoying major influence over the comics industry. When they began calling the moral shots in the comics business most publishers bent like a weed in the wind under the pressure. Some publishers simply adapted some cancelled books and a few went out of business altogether.
Above all else the CCA was intended to be a moral angel sent from above. The task made easier as this was that America after World War II, a country faced with many ethical dilemmas. The youth of America had returned from war but no longer were they young.
They were a hardened group of men and women who were determined to steer their children in the right direction in the choice between rather America would be a Heaven or a Hell for their children.
Heaven was the America they just fought for.
Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.
Hell was the impending darkness of the Communist menace.
By 1954 the Red Scare was firmly in the mind of the American psyche. The Red Scare with its focus (mostly imagined) on the United States of America being infiltrated and ultimately taken over by Communism. These were the issues that kept the good citizens of this great nation up at night. If they were not kept up all night dreading the coming apocalyptic death of the American Dream they would be as soon as they heard Senator Joe McCarthy.
McCarthy’s crusade against subversion and espionage within the United States government made him at one point arguably the most powerful man in America. Certainly the most feared.
At the height of the Red Scare, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple which at that moment in time were more hated than Adolf Hitler, were executed for selling the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians. If nothing else, the electrocution of two people who looked like your next-door neighbors certainly brought the message home. The event, based upon evidence many (but not all) find dubious, made the Communist menace a clear indication of impending disaster.
America had its hands full with impending doom, sex, crime and violence. They had to protect the kids by any means necessary.
Makes you glad that the 1954 is light years, and real decades from the what 2012 brings us. I mean who would cast that sort of McCarthy like crazy shit out there now a days eh?
Michele out of her fucking mind Bachman that’s who, but I digress.
See? There’s that occasional rant.
In 1954 this concentration on moral outrage did not leave a whole lot of time or interest to focus what many thought were second-class American citizens, African Americans. Funny, considering that treatment of African Americans was exceedingly immoral.
Yeah, I managed to use funny and immoral in the same sentence… and this is just part one.
Great film comedies have memorable characters and incidents, usually showing a knack for brilliant casting, and covering turf previously untouched. In 1999, American Pie did all of the above and was a wonderfully funny bit of fluff. It gave us some fine performances, including a resurgent Eugene Levy, the bit with the apple pie, made band camp sound cool, and of course Shannon Elizabeth’s swell nakedness.
The sequels that followed, both theatrical and direct-to-video tried to cash in on the craze but merely retread familiar turf and got less and less funny. Poor Levy would back the truck to the bank to unload all the cash he got to make appearances to at least somehow connect the series together.
However, here we are nine years after American Wedding with American Reunion and it suddenly feels familiar and fresh at the same time. This time around, writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, allow the original characters to age so we’re perfectly okay with revisiting them. It’s always good at a reunion to see who got fat, who lost hair, who has succeeded and who has never changed and we get that and more here.
While the storyline announces it’s been thirteen years since high school graduation, putting the characters at 31 or so, everyone looks way too old to be convincing, a danger of casting 20-somethings to play teens. So, what’s everyone been up to? Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) have the most interesting dilemma: married and deeply in love but burdened with jobs and an infant so their sex life is nonexistent, except in private, solo moments. Chris “Oz” Ostreicher (Chris Klein) is the most successful of the bunch, a sportscaster who gained national attention for appearing on a dance show. And then there’s Stifler (Seann William Scott), who has a lifetime subscription to the Peter Pan Syndrome and is drifting through life.
The gang, with new significant others, arrive for the reunion and everyone reverts to form, including Oz, who sees his ex, Heather (Mena Suvari), and is smitten all over again.
Time has passed, though as we see Levy now a widower still mourning his wife’s death while next door neighbor Kara (Ali Cobrin), who Jim used to babysit is now a gorgeous hot to trot 18 year old. It’s Kara who gets to have the memorable nude scene this time around and they cast well since she’s gorgeous and nicely handled the comedic aspects.
All the old gang including Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Finch’s Mother (Jennifer Coolidge), John (John Cho), Vicky (Tara Reid). And others reprise their roles. Newcomers include Dania Ramirez as the ugly duckling turned into hot swan. As a result, all the old feelings, jealousies and behaviors are brought to the fore in interesting ways. It’s far from brilliant and mostly predictable, robbing the fourth film, out Tuesday from Universal Home Entertainment, of being spectacular. The funniest fresh bit may well be Oz losing the dance competition, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris in a nice cameo, to Gilbert Gottfried.
Like walking into the kitchen and the aroma of Mom’s fresh apple pie and being catapulted back to happier, simpler times, this film is a welcome addition to the series and a good chance to see familiar faces who don’t visit often enough.
The transfer to Blu-ray is well handled so the visuals and sound are sharp, not that the film needs either to be entertaining. The Combo Pack comes with Blu-ray and DVD both sold separately, plus an ultraviolet code. The Blu-ray comes replete with 12 bonus features and a commentary. The DVD has some of the features plus the commentary. Although sold as a package with the theatrical and Unrated version, there’s a minute that separates them so blink and you miss it.
Among the extras is a 10:32 “Reunion Reunion” which is all surface and the gag reel is surprisingly tame. Funnier is the “Ouch! My Balls” featurette focusing on the amount of crotch punching the film relies on. Of the handful of deleted scenes only one with Stifler is missed since it sets up the conclusion of his arc. Dancing with Oz and Hangin’ with Jason B are so-so pieces. Clearly the effort was to be funny on the feature itself. The best of the lot is the interactive yearbook where you can select a character and trace their history across the franchise with clips, cast discussions , their most embarrassing moment and their favorite activities.
Yes, that credit does have the faint whiff of “by William Shakespeare, additional dialogue by Sam Taylor” to it, but it can’t be helped. Anything needs to be adapted if it’s going to work in another medium — which is a big “if” — and having it done by one person, who then lays out and draws the thing himself, is about as pure an auteur case as you can get.
And it’s not as if most people encounter The Canterbury Tales in their pure form, anyway — when I read them, way back in college years, my class was atypical in using an edition with Chaucer’s original spelling and grammar, but even we read an abridged version. The full-on Early Modern English Canterbury Tales has been primarily for scholars for generations now, so any time it comes close to a mass audience — which is not that often — you’re looking at an adaptation.
Chwast does Chaucer well with his adaptation of The Canterbury Tales — he does have them riding motorcycles, but otherwise doesn’t modernize the occupations or the world — these stories are still told by a Pardoner and a Franklin, a Clerk and a Reeve and a Manciple, and take place in their own times and places. Chwast does use modern spelling, and clearly uses only a fraction of Chaucer’s text, but he keeps enough to give the sense of Chaucer’s world, obsessed with religion almost as much as sex or honor. (Maybe it’s not all that different from our own, after all?)
Chwast came to graphic novels late — this is his second, after an adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy — after a long career as a noted graphic designer and illustrator. And his Canterbury Tales is well-designed, but not as overly designed as I was worried it would be. Chwast’s line is stiff and illustrative, giving all of his pages the look of bas-reliefs; his panels aren’t windows into a world of story but clearly pictures, drawn and placed just so.
This is admittedly an odd book — an adaptation of a classic most readers never think about, into a format most serious readers still scorn. It’s certainly quixotic, but admirably so — Chwast clearly enjoys Chaucer, and wants to share his love with the rest of us.
I came at fandom costuming (or cosplay, or whatever term you want to go by) from a pretty sideways angle. The entire purpose of the first set of convention costumes I ever wore was to advertise, for three days straight, the first North American Discworld Convention, of which I was a co-founder, and which took place back in 2009.
(Side note: registration for NADWCon2013 is now open. Discworld fans: come to Baltimore next year and join the fun!)
All three of us co-founders were attending the 2008 UK Discworld Con, both to get an idea of how they ran their con (for the two of us who hadn’t been to a Discworld Con before) and to spread the word about our new con. The one co-founder who had been to the UK Con before happened to be a talented costumer – I mean the kind who can actually sew together outfits from scratch – and she convinced me that I should costume too, to call attention to our con and encourage UK attendees.
In the Discworld there’s a character named Moist von Lipwig (pronounced LipVIG, of course, for any ignorant heathens out there), and he wears a brilliant cloth-of-gold suit, both to look flash and get attention, and to represent, in the minds of the people of Ankh-Morpork (main city of Discworld) the avatar of the failing post office as he tries to pull it from the ruins of neglect and make it successful again. Therefore, my co-founder had decided that for maximum attention she should do a female version of this – an amazing cloth-of-gold-looking Victorian walking suit, patterned with the turtles I had designed for our convention symbol. She looked freakin’ amazing. As for me, I was, well, shall we say, a bit more lazy.
Nevertheless, at her prompting I decided to do something in gold to match her and garner us more attention as we walked around together, but to stay a little more within my costuming skill set (which was almost zero at that point). Think of something I could cobble together by just buying a bunch of stuff that somehow coordinated into a “costume.” Between the two of us we came up with the idea of me going around as a flashy “Band With Rocks In” groupie (a band featured in Soul Music, the first Discworld book I ever read); with a t-shirt of the Band that advertised their “North American Discworld Convention” world tour. This is how I ended up wearing gold go-go boots, gold fishnets, and a ridiculously short and tight gold miniskirt all over a convention for three days. Also gold leather jewelry. And a gold bag shaped like a guitar. Rock!
So, you know: the first time I ever costumed at a con I was flashy and I wore a tiny miniskirt and that was solely to get attention. For a convention, not for myself, but still. Why am I talking about this now? Because there have been, and continue to be, a lot of interesting discussions about women and costuming at comic cons and related geeky cons, and why we wear what we wear, and whether it’s for the love of the fandom, or the love of putting together awesome outfits, or to get attention for our skills, or to get attention as sex objects (the most prominent theory and/or wish fulfillment thought in circulation). And after reading this blog post and a number of related ones that discuss primarily the “sex object” angle, I feel this merits further discussion.
That so many people seem to think women have only one motivation for wearing convention costumes that happen to be “skimpy” or “sexy” or whatever bothers me and implies some pretty negative things about the way women are viewed in comics and geek fandom. Women are more complex than that, y’all. Really we are. We have many motivations for what we do, and they don’t all boil down to “trying to get some dude’s attention.” Assuming that the purpose of a woman wearing an attractive costume is solely to garner attention as a sex object also removes those women, in the minds of those making the assumption, from the general group of fans who are at the convention to geek out with other fans and have fun, and places them in another, dehumanizing category – things there just to be looked at. And sometimes, as geek gals just wanting to have awesome geek conversations with other fans, that really spoils our fun.
While I certainly don’t take issue with women who do wear skimpy outfits for male attention, or deny that as one motivation for such convention wear, I have great concern about the attitude, particularly in the already heavily male-centric comics fandom, that the purpose and/or function of women in costume is just to look hot for all the random dudes in the crowd.
I’m not pulling this attitude out of thin air. I’ve encountered it personally, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. For example, after telling a very nice guy friend (i.e. not a sexist jerk or something) that I was working on some costumes for the next con I attend, I was reminded that “sexy is popular.” When I joked that just for that comment, I was going to go dressed as a down comforter, he responded that this would be a waste for “all those guys looking at” me. But…see, awesome as my friend is, he was missing the point. I am not primarily costuming for “all those guys looking at me” (at least, not in that sense. I always like people appreciating the effort I put into a costume, of course). Nor is that something I should be required to do for my costume to be admired at a comic/fandom con. I mean, sure, I like my costumes to look attractive – I always like to look nice. And I’m not going to faint in shock if I’m walking around in a miniskirt and guys happen to approve. It’s a miniskirt. They’re guys. There’s a Pavlovian response at work there, and I’m not naïve about it.
Obviously I don’t want people to think I’m unattractive – who would? But my point is that when I sit down to create a costume, I’m not thinking, “…and then I’ll wear the short skirt, because guys think that’s hot.” No, if I wear the short skirt, it’s because, say, the skirt is authentic to the costume. Or it calls to mind the stereotype of a band groupie at a rock concert. Or it’s floofy, and I just love wearing floofy things. And that’s as it should be.
I can’t speak for the motivations of every female costumer out there, but just for kicks and education, let’s look briefly at the motivations behind a few of the costumes I’ve worn or will be wearing to cons that someone out there might assume I’m just wearing to get a guy’s attention. In numbered list format, because Deadpool approves of numbered lists.
1) Black Canary: I’ve worn a Black Canary costume for Halloween and Dragon*Con. If you’re somehow not familiar with Black Canary, her costume could certainly be stereotyped as something worn to get attention. I mean, for one thing, she doesn’t wear pants. Add to that a leotard, high-heeled black boots, and fishnets, and, yeah, I’d guess this counts as a “sexy” outfit. Why did I wear it? Simply put, I had two weeks to come up with something to wear for Halloween and I like Black Canary and suddenly realized I already owned 90% of what I’d need to be her. I’m lazy and cheap but I still like to costume Geek, even for Halloween. So I rounded up the stuff I already owned, bought a cheap cropped leather jacket and, voila! Instant costume.
2) The Absinthe Fairy: This isn’t a comics costume, but I’ve worn it for Discworld and Dragon*Con, and I love it to death. It features a lacy corset, a short floofy skirt, and bright green five inch platform heels. It’s inspired in vague part by the absinthe fairy in Moulin Rouge. Why did I wear it? Because I love that color of bright green, which prompted me to buy the bright green corset (curse my magpie reaction to pretty things!), which inspired me to come up with a costume for it, which had to be of the right period to fit with Discworld (think burlesque, not proper parlors). And I like fairy wings, because who doesn’t like fairy wings? Even the five inch heels were motivated by something other than wanting attention – they match the corset perfectly, and nothing else looked even remotely right.
3) Deadpool Cheerleader: This is one I’m putting together for an upcoming con. It will feature a very short cheerleading dress, because that is what cheerleaders wear. Not to wear something like that would negate the point of the costume. Why am I wearing it? A large number of people have suggested to me at various times that I costume as Deadpool, but I have zero desire to actually dress as the character. I’ve never wanted to be Deadpool – I just like to write him. However, after the umpteenth time someone suggested this to me, I thought about how I spend a lot of my comics-discussion-time as Deadpool’s unofficial cheerleader, and, well – sometimes I have a pretty simple sense of humor. So. Yeah.
4) Arkham City Harley Quinn: I’ve seen a lot of women complain that this version of Harley was designed solely to pander to the fanboys. She’s wearing leather pants, you can see her bra, she wears a belly-baring corset, etc., etc. I’m currently working on putting this costume together for a con. Why am I wearing it? Because Arkham City Harley Quinn looks like a badass punk who just doesn’t give a damn, yo. She looks pissed at the world and ready to do something about it. And if I could dress however I wanted to with no consequences (like totally getting fired), not gonna lie, sometimes I’d want to get up in the morning, put on studded wrist-cuffs and leather pants, and go out into the world angry and ready to kick some ass. Wouldn’t you?
Like I said, I don’t know what every costuming woman’s motivations might be. But take a look at the above, and I think you get my point. Behind every woman in costume, there could be any number of motivations for what she’s wearing, and they’re probably much more interesting than “looking hot.” So let’s discard the assumption that women in costume are just there to be ogled or looking for male attention and move on to the part where we’re all well-rounded personalities with many facets who like to have geek fun together, shall we? I think that’s an excellent plan.
Censorship can, sometimes, be a spur to the creative mind. It’s more often a pain in the ass but there are times when a creative mind finds ingenious ways of getting around the bans, whatever they may be.
For example, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, them crazy guys who created South Park (and, even more oddly, the Tony Award winning musical The Book of Mormon) originally wanted to call the South Park movie South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose. That got rejected by the MPAA for having the word “Hell” in the title. Parker and Stone re-named the film “Bigger, Longer, Uncut,” which is more salacious. Evidently, the MPAA were the only ones who didn’t get the penis reference. Creativity trumps censorship.
George Carlin in 1972 famously listed seven words you could never say on television. Not only can I say them here, but I think editor Mike Gold would insist. They are: “shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker,” and “tits.’’ These days I think you can get away with “shit,” “piss,” and “tits” on television sometimes) but the other ones are still right out. You definitely can’t say any of them in mainstream comics.
For example, Marvel’s Luke Cage is a streetwise badass motherfucker who swears like your granny. “Sweet Christmas!” is his most common swear word. When I wrote him in Heroes For Hire, I had a villain taunt him about it. Cage, as he beat the shit/poo (take your pick) out of the guy explained it was because his grandma didn’t approve of swearing and “she was tougher than you.”
On Battlestar Galactica, instead of saying “fuck,” the characters said “frak” but we all knew what they meant. The word has gone on to enter the vocabulary of the fans and some other sci/fi works. One of the things I enjoy about it is that the process of raping the earth and poisoning it to get at natural gas is called “frakking.’’ For me, it means they’re fucking us all to get at the natural gas and its profits.
George Carlin also famously noted that when we say “Fuck you” we’re actually wishing something nice on a person. Working from that, in some sci-fi stuff I tried replacing “fuck” with “nuke,” as in “Nuke you and the nuking horse you came in on.” Or calling someone a “mothernuker.’’ “Nuke” has the harsh “uk” sound as “fuck” and hoping that someone gets nuked is not wishing them a good time. However, the substitution seemed a little forced and drew too much attention to itself. It read like the author was trying to be clever, which I guess he was, so I dropped it. Sometimes you just can’t beat the fucking classics.
Worse than that is anything sexual. You can rip a guy’s arm off and beat another guy to death with it, all the while spurting gouts of blood but you show too much skin or a couple getting it on or (Christian Right Forbid!) any sort of same sex naughtiness going on and there will be a hue and cry far greater than any uproar over profanity. See the current Right Wing brouhaha over Alan Scott’s Green Lantern being gay or Northstar over at Marvel marrying his boyfriend.
For a long time, if a movie had a couple in bed together, at least one of them had to have one foot on the floor. On TV, I remember that on The Dick Van Dyke Show, whenever they went to the bedroom of Rob and Laura Petrie, they had separate beds. Who were they fooling? I was young at that time and even I, sheltered Roman Catholic boyo that I was, knew my folks slept in the same bed. I didn’t want to think whatever else they might be doing in that bed (still don’t – shudder!) but I knew sure as hell they didn’t have separate beds.
Still, there is a certain sexuality, a certain sensuality in suggestion rather than in statement. I remember when First Comics was doing Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! everyone talked about the sex and the nudity and all except … there wasn’t. It was implied. Sexy, yes – and sensual. It was a great, classic series whose rep is dirtier than the book ever was.
Over at DC, on Wasteland, we did all sorts of crap. We tossed a baby out of a window in a story called R.Ab (which stood for retroactive abortion) and we managed to honk off both pro-lifers and pro-choicers (and, if memory serves, our publisher) at the same time. We eviscerated a biology teacher for laughs and tried to get the reader into the mind of a serial killer among other things. Without bad language and without sex. We got accused of bad taste, which we reveled in, but rarely bad language or blatant sex.
I’m not saying that the envelope shouldn’t be pushed or that censorship is a good thing. However, if you try to establish boundaries and tell creative folks not to go there, odds are the creative folks figure out a way around it, if they can. That’s why they’re called creative. They’re never more creative when trying to do something naughty. Or juvenile. Or naughty juvenile.
Whoaaaa! Sounds dirty, that! Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more!