Tag Archives: comics

Comic Girls, Episode 7

Time for more horror with Fuura-sensei, which I could generally do without, however it kind of works on a meta-level this week. See, this episode is about Kaos learning how to draw backgrounds, and that’s a terrifying subject for most newbie comic artists, so it’s only fitting that she has to do it in an attic, literally surrounded by skeletons, dripping candles and creepy dolls. It’s a clever bit of juxtaposition that might not be immediately obvious, but I’m pretty sure it’s intentional.

Kaos seems to pick up background-drawing rather quickly though, while I still struggle with it, which makes me wonder; would I allow Fuura-sensei to tutor me, even if it means I have to be subjected to her horror shtick for an hour or so? I don’t know if even I love comics enough to go through with that….

This is about my reaction when I realize that I have to draw backgrounds. I have this weird mental block with linear perspective, where I never seem to do it right no matter how many times I read about it or have it explained to me. It’s actually pretty sad.

The best part of this episode is when Fuura-sensei shows Ruki a panel that Kaos drew, and Ruki doesn’t believe it because everyone knows that Kaos can’t draw well, then realizes how cruel it is to say that out loud in front of Kaos. It’s funny to me that “Kaos can’t draw” is basically a house rule that everyone acknowledges in a dorm specifically intended for artists. I would say “Git Gud, Kaos,” except now that she can draw bg, she’s technically better than me, so I’ll shut up.

The other significant thing in this episode is the revelation that Koyume got a magazine serialization, so she’s jumped ahead of Kaos in terms of professional credits. She says it’s a short serialization, so she’s not quite on Ruki and Tsubasa’s level yet, but she’s getting there. I wonder: did she ever learn how to draw guys? I feel like she must have, and I feel kind of robbed that we never got to see that. No major improvements off-camera, Comic Girls!

The rest of this episode is about Kaos getting glasses, which is typical CGDCT fodder that I really have nothing to say about. I don’t have a problem with this show having the girls do cutesy humor (it’s kind of part of the mandate and all), but I would be really stretching to find anything to say about that whole sequence beyond “it’s cute, I guess.”

Hopefully the next episode will have a little more substance, because they were on a roll there for a little while.

Comic Girls, Episode 6

Sometimes my personal quirks put me in a weird position where I hate something, but I know that’s totally on me and does not reflect badly on the media in any way. I pretty much hate horror and have no tolerance for jump-scares and stuff like that, so the fact that this episode is half over-the-top horror was pretty unpleasant to me. That said, I can appreciate that it was well done; in fact, I think this show did a better job creating a horror atmosphere, even with tongue-planted firmly in cheek, than a lot of horror anime that try to do it seriously. Of course, I’ve just admitted that I don’t really watch horror anymore, so I guess I wouldn’t know? The point is, the animators captured the horror vibe really well.

Please stop with these shockingly effective mood shots, I want a tepid Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show and I won’t stand for any insubordination! Wow, I get bossy when I’m terrified.

Once again, I find myself strongly identifying with Kaos, who was screaming her head off during this whole segment; if only I, too, could harness the power of my love of boobs for strength the way she does. Unfortunately, I’m only just okay on boobs (don’t really have strong feelings for them one way or the other), and the more anime I watch, the more I’m beginning to feel that this is a disadvantage. Kaos may be a boiling cauldron of crippling insecurities, but she could probably summon the courage to slay a dragon if someone just told her that she could see some awesome boobs afterwards, and it’s kind of inspiring.

A pretty accurate depiction of my face during the first half of this episode, if only I could watch TV while I was in the bath…waitaminute. Why can’t I watch TV in the bath? A TV in the bathroom sounds unsafe, but it’s only a matter of time before they start making baths with included waterproof TVs, right?

To change the subject from my excessive wussiness, I do like the fact that the new girl embodies her genre of manga, and it would be cool to see more of this. Imagine if they introduce a magical girl manga artist, only she’s actually a magical girl? That would be surreal, but really cool if done right.

Fuura-sensei; I wish I was better able to appreciate her character, because I know a lot of fans of the show took to her immediately. I just can’t get past the fact that she shows suddenly behind people in mirrors, that’s way too creepy dammit.

The second half of the episode focuses on Tsubasa, who is my least favorite of the four main girls. I don’t dislike her exactly, but she’s just so darned successful at such a young age, it’s hard to relate to her. Ruki is successful as well, but in a different way than she expected or wanted, whereas Tsu has gotten successful drawing exactly what she wants all the time, which isn’t that interesting. We’re supposed to be sympathetic to her because she’s hiding her identity as a girl, thus she can’t go to signings and connect with her fans, but….eh, I just don’t find that very compelling. I’m pretty sure she could come out at as a girl tomorrow, and if anything it would just serve as a PR boost for her manga. It seems like a non-problem.

Homeroom teacher Nijino-sensei, as seen through patented Kaos-vision. I joke about Kaos having no talent, but to be fair, her art style is very cute and well-suited to 4Koma. Now she just needs everything else….

I like the character of the otaku teacher, and she serves an important practical purpose; now that the girls have an ally inside the school, maybe they can stop running themselves so ragged trying to keep up with academics and their manga. Look, I’m not suggesting that Nijino-sensei fabricate their grades or anything, but maybe she could cut them a little slack, y’know?

Plus, the fact that Tsubasa’s biggest fan is someone simultaneously really close to her, yet far from her in terms of social rank creates an interesting dynamic. I’m hoping they’re going to come up with some fun things for Nijino to do to try to “help” Tsubasa with her manga that add to the gleeful everyday insanity.

Finally, Kaos seems to be developing as an artist since she’s learning to create characters inspired by people she finds interesting in real life, which is a really useful tool for her to have in her arsenal. She still doesn’t know anything about writing a story, but baby steps kids; baby steps. Frankly, considering the amount of investment Kaos’ editor is putting into her development, Kaos darned well turn out to be the next Rumiko Takahashi at the end of all this, but who’s to say she won’t be? It’s a goofy, surreal, wish-fulfillment kind of anime; nothing is off the table, and that’s what I like about it.

Comic Girls, Episodes 4 & 5

I had to take care of some real-life stuff, so I’m a little behind on anime. To catch up, I’m going to be doubling up on some of these episode posts– or maybe tripling up, if I get even further behind. Who knows what kind of wacky anime coverage you might find at Otakusphere? It’s part of the charm! Err, hopefully.

Me, getting ready to do some blogging. I think I might steal “I Feel Digital Just Sitting On It” as the title for a memoir.

Episode 4: Sex is Not So Bad

I like the ongoing joke that Ruki is inadvertently sexy, even when she’s being a total dork. It’s the rarely seen parallel to the trying-too-hard-to-be sexy character.

Anyway, back to the Manga Artist Dorm of Awesomeness. Ruki is running herself ragged trying to keep up with her manga and school, to the point where she’s staying up multiple nights in a row, and seeing that kind of behavior always makes me wince a bit. Ruki, my girl, I give you permission to skip school if you need more than one all-nighter to finish your manga, okay? Maybe I’m a bad influence, but I think school attendance becomes less important if you already have a job in the adult world. Besides, sleep is very important, people; I thought I was functioning on minimal sleep in college, but when I look at some of the dumbass choices I made back then, I wonder.

This is the first episode that really had a strong theme, that of Ruki getting over her issues with drawing lewd manga. I really liked this angle, since Ruki being dreadfully uncomfortable with the manga she’s drawing has been arguably more disturbing than humorous since the beginning. I like that when she gets out and meets her readers, they’re all totally normal women and girls from different walks of life, and there’s nothing unsavory about the experience; basically, this episode is a little paintbox full of sex positivity. Everyone has sexual fantasies, this is normal, and Ruki shouldn’t feel bad for drawing manga with sexual elements.

“Hello, ladies! I’m 14 and I’ve never even kissed a boy, but please come up to me and ask for advice on your marriage– It’s not like I’m going to make it any worse, right?”

Of course, the idea that a sheltered, 14-year-old girl can pull off the role of an experienced older sister-type at a public event, to an audience of people twice her age, isn’t really plausible. However, criticizing this kind of show for the characters being precocious is a little like watching a giant robot show and then complaining that the animators didn’t account for how the robot would be effected by air resistance; there are certain genre conventions that are at odds with reality, but we all knowingly accept them for the sake of entertainment. This story with Ruki would make more sense if she were 24 instead of 14 (or 34, God forbid!), but that’s true of a lot of anime characters in various genres.

I guess you could criticize storylines like this as part of a larger point about how Japanese pop culture is youth-obsessed, but A)that’s not just Japanese pop culture, that applies to INTERNATIONAL pop culture and B)I’ve always thought the reasons why younger characters tend to dominate entertainment were pretty intuitive. I may lament the lack of characters my age in anime sometimes, but I understand the reasons why they’re rare.

In any event, this episode really felt like Comic Girls finding a purpose beyond tepid cuteness, and I for one felt validated that I had a reason to be watching it in the first place. My taste, validated! Surely this won’t last….

Episode 5: We Are Up To 50% Lesbian, And That’s Fine

…and it’s a beach episode, goddamit.

Actually, it’s really not bad. I appreciate the fact that this episode only devoted half it’s runtime to the beach, and then moved onto other things. The girls all look lovely in their swimsuits if you’re into that sort of thing, and the show managed to remember that this show is about artistic girls, not just generic cute girls. I like the fact that three out of the four girls had to basically be dragged kicking and screaming to go swim in the ocean, since they preferred to sit on the beach and draw. I haven’t been to the beach in a long time, but when I did go, I was the girl who was sitting on the blanket drawing, so I relate to Kaos and co., as usual.

One minor note that perturbed me though; Can you really rent bathing suits at the beach these days? That seems really unsanitary, and given how cheaply you can buy a bathing suit if you want to, really unnecessary. I mean, I’m sure the rental place washes the suits between customers and stuff, but who wants to wear a bathing suit that ten other people have worn? It’s not like going skiing, where most people rent equipment so you don’t have to drop $1000 on your own set. I mean, I realize this is tangential to the episode and I really shouldn’t care, but I’m curious now.

After fun-in-the-sun hijinks, we get Koyume and Tsubasa going on a date with everyone else spying on them, as you do. What’s funny is that Koyume seems genuinely flummoxed that she knows that Tsu is a girl, but she’s attracted to her anyway. It’s called being a lesbian, Ko-chan; Kaos is also struggling with this crazy, obscure concept. Someone needs to sit these girls down and draw them a map, because this is getting embarrassing already.

Let’s be honest, I would go on a date with Tsubasa too. Mostly to grill her for manga-drawing tips, but the point still stands.

I guess the date may be exciting for people who like girl-on-girl romance, but I don’t really care much for that sort of thing one way or the other. The part of this episode that resonated with me was Tsu telling Koyume that the most important part of drawing manga was to enjoy it, and not to obsess over professional achievement. It may be simple and it may be trite, but honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to tell an artistic person that too often. I wish I had a Tsu in my life to tell me that back when I really needed to hear it; my life might be very different today, if I had.

So after a rocky start, Comic Girls seems to be hitting it’s stride, not so much as a show about manga (although the manga element is always there), but more as a show about (unusually sheltered) teen girls trying to wrap their heads around sex and growing up. Even though I would personally prefer a show that went super-in depth into the manga-drawing process, this is probably a smarter direction for the show to go in general.

I hope at least a few people who aren’t watching the show read this post, so they can feast their eyes on this screenshot with no context at all.

Comic Girls, Episode 3

I’m beginning to develop a sneaking suspicion that Kaos is actually a terrible manga artist. Her ideas are shallow, her art is rough, and she seems to like drawing the same strip over and over again, without even noticing she’s doing it. Yet Kaos’ editor seems to think that she has some sort of “unique talent” (her words), and I’m beginning to wonder where she’s getting that from.

I’m a little jealous, honestly: if Kaos’ level of talent is enough to get her into the special Comic Artists Dorm, why didn’t I get to live in an awesome comic artists dorm as a teen artist? I may have sucked, but I doubt I was any worse than Kaos is.

Is this really all it takes to get into Special Manga Dorm? I want to go to Special Manga Dorm, and I can draw better than this! I’m short, no one needs to know I’m in my 30s….

There’s plenty of blame to go around though, since the other characters’ attempts to help Kaos improve her work are all a little bit…off. Koyume notices that the fashions that Kaos draws her characters in are kind of lame, so the girls decide to dress Kaos up in a whole bunch of different outfits to improve her fashion sense. Err…that’s really what you think her manga needs? That’s the one element that was sticking out to you? Are there, mayhaps, other elements of her manga that might be more worthy of spending time on, like literally every other part of it?

Look, I know the whole thing was just an excuse to dress Kaos up in cute outfits, but they could’ve easily done that without such a dumb excuse.

I have nothing to say about the Kaos-Kitty wearing a beret, I just felt like it would have been criminally negligent not to take a screenshot of it at some point.

The second suggestion for improving Kaos’ work is for her to spend some time sketching, which is actually a damn good suggestion. And having the girls available to pose for each other for life drawing is one of the clear advantages of living together. However, for some reason, they call it a “sketching contest,” which is weird. Why would you make it competitive, when Kaos already knows her art is less developed than everyone else’s and she’s really self-conscious about it? Isn’t that just setting her up for failure? However, despite calling it a contest, there doesn’t seem to be any competitive element at all and the girls just draw together. So it wasn’t a contest? I’m so confused.

The stuff in this episode about how each of the girls has a different idea of what female beauty is supposed to be is pretty on-target. It seems like the thin, beautiful girl is always upset because she wishes she was curvy, and the curvy, beautiful girl is upset because she wishes she was thinner. The fact that their chosen manga genres seem to magnify their insecurities is interesting to me.

They are doing something interesting with Kaos though, since she’s a teenaged girl who has trouble thinking of herself as a teenaged girl. The best part of the episode is when the other girls notice that when Kaos talks about teen girls, she talks as though she’s not one herself. You could spitball a lot of reasons for this, like maybe Kaos is actually trans, but I think it most likely has to do with her complex about her size; she’s always thought of herself as a kid due to her tiny size, and she can’t get out of that mindset. Even though she’s technically a teenager now, she still feels like a little kid standing on a box, looking in on the glamorous (or so she thinks) world of teen girls from outside the window.

I can relate to that; I think there are so many romantic ideas about being a teen girl, that sometimes actual teen girls can feel like they’re not “really” teenagers because their lives aren’t cool enough yet. I definitely felt like that during my teen years, at times.

That’s the weird thing about this show though. I want to say it’s missing the mark, but then Kaos will do or say something that really takes me back to how I felt when I was that age. Also, her admission that she never knows when to get rid of clothes because she never  never grows out of them kind of hit me where I live. My favorite gray dress is from 1996, seriously not even kidding, I wore it last month.

One more thing: I’m not sure what to make of how this show handles Kaos’ obvious attraction to women. When ever Kaos says or does anything that makes it clear she’s into girls, the other girls just dismiss it as her “acting weird,” missing the point entirely. I could see getting pissed off by this since the show seems to be equating homosexuality with weirdness, but I don’t think that’s the intention; I think the girls are all supposed to be pretty innocent about sex, and having them be able to nail down what’s going on with Kaos requires more sophistication than they’re supposed to have. They just don’t have the experience to be able to say “Clearly, Kaos is a lesbian, or possibly bi-sexual,” they just know her reactions are different from what they would expect, so they just call her weird and stop thinking about it.

I find myself wondering if real teen girls would be this ignorant about sexual attraction, even younger teens, but then that’s falling into the trap of worrying about whether an obvious fantasy is “realistic”; of course it’s not. The issue isn’t whether or not it’s realistic, but whether or not it’s believable given everything else we know about the setting. This is a world where a manga editor tells a 14-year-old girl, “you draw hot women, you should draw sexy comics!”, despite the fact that said 14 year-old-girl doesn’t know anything about sex, so I guess it kind of fits. Comic Girls seems to be based around the girls being surrounded with sex, for reasons both voluntary and not, and having no idea what they’re actually looking at. If they had a clue what was going on, it would be a very different show.

So I found more to say about this episode than I usually do, which is good I guess? I don’t know. I don’t regret my decision to blog this show exactly, but it’s not turning out like I thought it would either. I do find it interesting that this show is sort of the one last bastion of hope for moe fans this season; where are all the other shows about four cute girls doing a thing? Is this really the only one? What happened? I’m still not quite done wrapping my brain around the fact that this seems to be the season where moe seemingly died AND Full Metal Panic came back; I mean, what kind of timeline is this anymore? I feel like someone made a wish on a monkey’s paw and we’re all going to be hit with the dark side any second now.

Comic Girls, Episode 2

I really want to like this show, but the writers are making it hard for me. The first part of the episode, where the girls go shopping at a huge art supply store, is great (and exactly what I want from a show like this), but then there’s the second part…where the girls go to school. I really don’t need Comic Girls! to show the girls going to high school, I can see girls attending high school in virtually every other anime that has ever been made. I want to see these girls draw comics, and do other comics-related things: Don’t waste everyone’s time by showing them sitting in math class.

I don’t know if they changed her design, or I just noticed it this episode, but Kaos has noticeable fangs. I think I’m just going to start assuming all of these tiny fang-girls are actually vampires until proven otherwise; you can never be too careful. Maybe she can’t draw characters in proportion because she can’t see herself in the mirror?

They do tie in the school segment to the overall premise by showing how the comic girls try to keep their manga careers secret from their classmates, but it’s all just a little flat. I feel like this show has the potential to be really fun, but it’s afraid to stray too far from “cute girls doing cute things” genre conventions, so it wastes time on irrelevant stuff.

You might think I’d be complaining about the girls going to eat sweets, since that’s a pretty generic anime-girl activity too, but hey, I’m not made of stone; ladies gotta eat.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t even mind the “cute girls doing cute things (CGDCT)” tropes, but they work better in some cases than in others. For instance, in last season’s Slow Start, there was no pretense that the show was about anything other than CGDCT, so seeing the girls just hanging out in school was par for the course. Comic Girls! is supposed to be about something more specific than that; I’ve seen people compare it to Slow Start, but is that really a compliment?

[For the record, I found Slow Start oddly compelling and watched all of it, so it’s not as though I hate the show. It wore it’s complete lack of interest in plot as a badge of honor, and I respect that kind of chutzpah. Still, it’s a good example of a genre show that stays firmly in it’s niche and has no further aspirations.]

Can I take a moment here to talk about how completely outdated screentone seems to me? I certainly get the appeal of doing your artwork in pen and ink instead of digitally, but screentone just seems so…anachronistic? It’s like, you notice your toast is dry, and instead of going to the refrigerator, you walk outside to the barn and spend an hour churning your own butter.

I like the way the show often breaks into moving, manga-styled panels to convey jokes; it’s appropriate, and keeps things lively. But I’m annoyed that this show seems to leave me with so little to say about it yet again; it’s just missing something that shows like Hidamari Sketch have in spades, and I’m not sure what it is. You could say that the characters are bland, but I don’t know if that’s really fair; I relate to Kaos and her boiling cauldron of insecurities, and the others are coming along. Still, something just isn’t quite gelling here.

Hopefully next episode we’ll see the continuation of the girls’ combo manga, I Can’t Believe My Neighborhood Axe Murderer is This Adorable; Protect Me Shirtless-kun!

Comic Girls, Episode One

Despite how excited I was for this show in the lead-up to this season, I find myself with surprisingly little to say about it now that it’s started. It’s doing the right thing in that it’s actually about what it says it’s about, girls drawing comics– it’s not just a generic “cute girls in high school” show with a thin layer of manga-styled window dressing, which was my fear for it. The fact that the girls spend about half the of the first episode actively working on manga together makes that perfectly clear.

Here is Kaos, our protagonist. It’s like someone took Nadeshiko from Laid Back Camp and made her even cuter, which should not even be possible. I just want to hug her, feed her delicious cookies, and tell her that drawing comics is a beautiful dream that only ends in terrible emotional pain.

Plus, the challenges the girls encounter in their manga efforts (like drawing in proportion, learning to draw both sexes equally well, etc.) are things that anyone who’s ever tried to draw comics can probably relate to, but haven’t come up much in anime. Bakuman was a great show about creating manga, but in that story, Mashiro started out as such a competent artist, we never really saw him struggle with beginner problems like “Is this character’s head waaaaay too small for her body?” It’s nice to see comic artists who kind of suck at drawing, I can relate to that.

Yup, I relate to this. I don’t know why it’s so darned hard to draw people in proportion, you’ll go back the next day and the mistake will be glaringly obvious, but it never looks that way while you’re at the drawing board. WHY?

The more successful artists, Ruki and Tsubasa, have accomplished the dream of having serialized manga series in high school, which is pretty much the dream of every kid who doodles comics in their notebook. Appropriately though, the two serialized artists are too stressed out by deadlines to fully appreciate what they have, and it’s only through Kaos and Koyume’s eyes that we can really see how awesome it is to have gotten so far in the field at such a young age.

No, no no get this OFF my screen! I sat through like five seasons of Hidamari Sketch, I do not need to see even one more scene of an artistically inclined girl taking a bath. MAKE IT STOP– oh wait it was only a short scene, I guess that’s alright then.

Surprisingly, we even get some character development this early on; the episode starts with Kaos hearing bad feedback on her manga and nearly disintegrating in despair; after getting acclimated to living in the comics dorm, she’s able to accept similar bad news without getting discouraged. The fact that she’s already showing growth makes me optimistic that she (and Koyume) are really going to improve their manga over the course of the show, which will be much more interesting than if everyone just stays at the same level. I’d especially like it if Ruri and Tsubasa start hitting some walls in their careers, but that may be due to my being stupidly jealous of their success, rather than hoping for interesting plot developments. Yes, I just admitted to being jealous of fictional characters, today is really not a great day for me.

“Someday, young Comic Girl, you too will master the art of drawing characters in proportion; seriously, their arms will be the same length and everything. It’ll be totally awesome. If  you’re lucky, that might even happen before you get a repetitive stress injury in your drawing hand!”

So uh, yeah, Comic Girls: it has a nice premise, it’s funny, the characters are likable, and all that good jazz. I recommend it, I’m just hoping I start to feel a bit more passionate about it as it goes on. Because right now this show is in this weird category of “I think this is pretty good, so why don’t I care?”

My First Comic Book Store Experience

There’s been some talk lately about how comic stores have been “historically” unwelcoming of women. Normally I would post the tweet of a person who said this, but whenever I do that sort of thing, I get a few of their friends yelling at me that I’m “being mean” for continuing a dialogue that was started in a public forum, and I don’t want people yelling at me today, so whatever. In any case, the idea that “women are made uncomfortable in comic stores” is something of an old chestnut in the realm of geek-shaming, so it really doesn’t matter who happened to say it today.

This idea is completely at odds with my own experience, which doesn’t mean anything in and of itself; Just because I had, and continue to have, mostly good experiences in comic stores does not mean that all women necessarily do, and vice versa. In fact, my one, anecdotal story really doesn’t have any value, other than the fact that it’s my personal story, and I don’t feel like I’ve seen a lot of that. How many times have you seen a woman say “This is what happened the first time I went into a comic store?”, and talk about what actually happened? It could just be me, but I never see those stories; it’s always seems to be taken as an article of faith that “comic stores are creepy, amirite?”

So here’s one story of what happened when one woman, or young girl in this case, went into a comic book store for the first time, just for posterity.

*************************************************************************

I was 11 years old, and I was obsessed with X-Men. The Saturday Morning cartoon wasn’t enough to sate my mutant cravings, so I decided it was time to seek out these strange things I’d heard of called “comic books.” I think I had been dimly aware that comics existed for a while, but it wasn’t until X-Men that I suddenly felt a need to know more.

My mom went with me to a comic book/toy store in a local shopping center. Standing behind the counter was a petite, 30-something brunette lady with a friendly smile; thinking back, she probably looked close to the way I do now, only I doubt my smile is as warm. A little nervous, I asked if they had any X-Men comics, and she cheerfully recommended several titles to me, and answered some of my questions, which I don’t remember, but I know I had some.

My mom, never one to miss an opportunity to make things awkward, asked “Is it unusual for a girl to like comics?” The lady laughed and said that some of the store’s regular customers were women who worked at Grumman nearby (this was before they merged with Northrup and became Northrup Grumman– hahahah DATING MYSELF HERE), and women reading comics was not uncommon anymore, if it ever was. My Mom was mollified, I walked out with some issues of X-Men Adventures, and everyone was happy.

The brunette woman who had been there that day co-owned the shop with her husband, and on return visits, it was usually the husband that was there. The sight of him didn’t fill me with the same warm-and-friendly feeling that his wife did, but he was still perfectly nice and was happy to answer any of my questions about comics. So began a period where, on Saturdays, my Mom would drop a friend and I off at the shopping center, with $10 to pay for lunch. If I had any money left after lunch, I went and bought comics. Amusingly, I thought I was supposed to give the change from lunch back to my Mom, so I used to hide my comics in my room like they were stolen booty. I only found out later that my Mom didn’t actually care that I was spending maybe $4 a week on comics, which was an amazing relief at the time.

This store was my first exposure to back issue bins, which were kind of overwhelming and a little bit scary at the time; the whole comics world seemed so huge, and I had maybe $3.50 from my Mom on alternate weekends, and it just seemed like I would never know all of this extensive comic lore that cool people knew. Nevertheless, I found it interesting flipping through those stacks and stacks of comics, imagining the day when I could get a job and buy them all. One day, I happened to find this issue:

SHE’S BACK, BITCHES!!!!

I was entranced. My favorite character, Rogue, fighting some kind of terrifying zombie creature? OMG so cool! I kept looking for stories about Rogue, and I always seemed to end up with issues about Jubilee finding herself, or some crap.  I wanted to find out how Rogue was going to get out of this jam so badly, and the fact that the cover art was kind of scary and grizzly only made it more appealing; it felt like reading this comic would be an initiation into a fascinating, dangerous adult world.

Sadly, the back issue was marked up to $8, which put it out of my price range. I remember begging my Mom to let me buy it, who said something like “Wait until you’re making $20 bucks a weekend babysitting, then you can buy expensive comics.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait that long– I don’t remember exactly, but I think I scrounged up some birthday money or something to buy Uncanny X-Men #269. I think the issue had been marked up too high (even during the speculator boom), but I will say that I got my money’s worth out of it; I copied practically every Jim Lee illustration in the entire comic. When I expressed interest in drawing comics, the guy at the store special-ordered How to Draw Comics The Marvel Way for me, which I devoured. I never really did learn to draw comics The Marvel Way, but I did learn how much I loved drawing.

Unfortunately, this was during the ’90s speculator boom, and barely a year after I’d first started buying comics, the crash came. A huge number of comic stores closed, including my store. I went on to frequent other stores over the years, all staffed by guys who were always encouraging my interest in comics without crossing the line into being patronizing…which, looking back on it now, is a pretty difficult balance to hold. I’m amazed I happened to luck into several people who could do that.

I’ve really only had one “bad” experience in a comic book store, and it was kind of questionable whether it had anything to do with me. At one store in Buffalo, the guy at the register seemed kind of dismissive of me when I was buying my comics, but he didn’t say or do anything specific, so for all I know, he could have just been in a bad mood that day (and to be fair, virtually no one in Buffalo is in a good mood, with good reason. Try living in Buffalo, you’ll see what I mean.)

I’ve drifted in and out of buying American comics since then, largely because I lost interest in X-Men and other titles I used to love (which is a topic for another day.) Lately though, I’ve started reading some comics again, and my local store is pretty cool. They have a big kids section, and I’ve gotten some children’s books for my daughter there, as well as gifts for other people’s kids. Plus, the owner is a family man, so he’s understanding on those occasions when I’ve had to come into the store toting a stroller with a cranky toddler. Sometimes his kids hang out in the store, reading My Little Pony and generally being adorable.

So…yeah. If comic stores have “historically” been hostile to women, this was a period in history I never experienced. I’m not saying it never happened, and there aren’t women who had legitimately bad experiences. The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy may be a stereotype, but it was inspired by something; some people like that surely exist. I’m not trying to invalidate anyone else’s experience.

What I am saying, is this: please don’t erase me from comics history. Please don’t pretend like all girls and women faced animosity when entering so-called “geek spaces”, when it’s simply not true. It’s unfair to the genuinely nice men and women who ran most of the stores I frequented, and it’s unfair to me as an individual. If I say “I’ve always had a good time in comic stores,” because it happens to be true, I shouldn’t be accused of lying, or other nefarious intent.

Is my comic store story any more important than anyone else’s? No. But it isn’t any less important, either.

X-Men and The Fake Comics Diversity War

Some people think a female Wolverine is a cheap gimmick; this would be a more important concern if original-recipe Wolverine didn’t start out as a cheap gimmick too.

If you’re not a regular reader of American comics, you may not know that die-hards on all sides have been waging a ferocious culture war over them for the past several years. One side says that old, crusty comic book fans just can’t handle women and minorities taking over the roles of beloved superheroes, and these regressive, bigoted people need to either (preferably) die out, or get with the times; the other side says that a lot of the so-called “diversity” in modern comics is a cynical sales ploy used to deflect criticism from lazy, uninspired writing. They’re both right to a certain extent (in the same way that a stopped clock is still going to be right some of the time), but more importantly, they’re both kind of delusional.

But that’s not special; nonsensical arguments over pop culture that take place primarily on the internet are a dime a dozen. No, what makes this particular kerfuffle interesting to me is that it seems to take place in some kind of alternate universe where X-Men comics never existed. Now, considering the fact that Marvel has done basically everything to kill that franchise outside of taking it back behind the barn and shooting it, you may not believe this, but at one time, the X-Men were the most popular superheroes in the entire world; yet if you acknowledge that, the argument for not one but BOTH SIDES of this argument falls apart in pretty spectacular fashion. As tiresome as I find the “You’re a bigot!” “No, you’re the REAL bigot!” arguments, I have to admit to some fascination with this opportunistic, selective memory regarding comic book history…or, more bluntly, how can you ignore the evidence that’s right in your face?

Let’s examine the “Diversity is used as a cynical marketing ploy, and that just sucks,” side first.

Diversity for Diversity’s Sake…is Good?

The pushback against more diverse character types in comics is not about hatred of women and minorities…in most cases. (I mean sure, you can find a small group of legitimate bigots for whom that is the issue, but that’s a subject for another day.) No, the pushback is how diversity is shamelessly used as both carrot and stick for readers. Example: GenericHero, who has been portrayed as male for 40 years, suddenly passes the torch to a female successor. Marketing goes crazy: “It’s GenericHero, like you’ve never seen HER before! Forget everything you ever knew about GenericHero, it’s a new era of Ass-Kicking!” Every ad for this “event” features heroic pin-ups of GenericHero looking hella awesome, complete with her sexy (but not TOO sexy) redesigned-yet-classic costume, and from all the hype, you’d think this was the biggest thing to ever happen to comic books since Batman decided to put on a cape.

Then the new comic with GenericHero debuts, and the character does exactly the same boring shit he/she has been doing for the last 30 years; the only difference is that she often makes snide comments about how the bad guys underestimate her now because she’s a woman (or if the writers want to be REALLY edgy, they might insert a comment that vaguely alludes to the fact that she has a menstrual cycle.) When readers complain, “This is not the revolution of GenericHero that we were promised,” the answer from the creative team is invariably “Shut up, you just can’t handle the fact that there are women in comics now, you pathetic, basement-dwelling misogynists!” Then comic fans go “Umm, excuse me?”, and sales plummet. Then industry pundits say “Sales of GenericHero plummet since the mantle was taken up by a woman; indisputable proof that comic book readers CANNOT HANDLE CHANGE!” Rinse and repeat with the next costumed hero.

God, it’s tiresome.

Anyway, so we can all agree that Diversity for the sake of Diversity, or Diversity used as a mercenary selling point, doesn’t work, right? It’s always forced, and boring, and never as good as if the writers had just focused on the traditional char…..

…Oh, right. Uncanny X-Men happened. Diversity For the Sake of Diversity can actually be awesome when done right.

Make no mistake, the 1975 relaunch of the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men started out as tokenism at its finest. “Look, there’s a Native American! And a Black Woman! And a Russian, and a German, and a Japanese Guy! There’s even a Canadian named ‘Wolverine,’ because wolverines are from Canada!” Seriously, the entire concept behind Wolverine’s initial character was “let’s have a Canadian superhero, because we don’t have one yet;” then when the character failed to become popular immediately, the only thing that kept him from being written out of the book was the fact that the one Canadian who worked for Marvel lobbied for him. The only thing missing from Giant-Sized X-Men #1 was a giant sticker that said “Look How Progressive This Comic Book Is! Do We Get A Gold Star????”

If things had continued in this vein, it would probably have been a pretty cringeworthy comic, and sometimes it was (See: Banshee the Irishman and his literal castle full of leprechauns.) But writer Chris Claremont took these created-via-checklist characters and did something interesting with just about all of them. Instead of being a stereotypical Earth Mother type, it turned out that Storm’s “all-loving African Goddess” shtick was a lie she told herself to escape from the horrors of her past, and when she let go of that role, she wasn’t sure she liked the person she was underneath. Nightcrawler explored religious guilt while still being charming and swashbuckling, and never committing the cardinal sin of becoming humorless. Soviet-born Colossus struggled with life in America for reasons having little to do with his superhero identity, especially when he started to have feelings for a young Jewish girl with a vastly different upbringing. And of course, Wolverine’s character went on to explore all these huge themes that have made the character one of the pillars of the genre: the nature of violence, which victimizes even its perpetrators; the role that memory, which is fallible, plays in identity; the concept of Logan as a sort of quintessential war veteran, suffering a kind of ongoing PTSD that never gets better, because there’s always another war.

This was stuff that really hadn’t been explored in comics, and rocketed the comic to a completely unexpected level of popularity; instead of being an oddity, UXM became the standard against which other comics were judged, rightly or wrongly. And it all happened because Claremont made good use of the “Diversity First” concept he was given; taking the opportunity to tell stories that hadn’t been told, couldn’t be told, with someone like Spider-Man. The promise of all-new, all-different stories wasn’t a marketing ploy, because the stories actually were new…and that’s something that’s much easier to do when you’re starting from a different place than you were before. Diversity, whether you want to tag it with the label “forced” or otherwise, can be a great jumping off point for creativity.

So the argument “Forced Diversity Never Works,” is somewhat undermined by the fact that, historically, it can work. And as to whether or not it’s cynical…how do you even judge that? “Let’s call the Canadian character Wolverine because wolverines are from Canada and it’s a new gimmick,” sounds pretty cynical, not to mention simplistic, but look at what writers have done with that character; look what James Mangold did with the film Logan, earlier this year. Just because someone has the gall to be cynical enough to hope that something catches eyes and makes money, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be thematically cynical. It doesn’t mean anything, really. If a great story comes from a cynical place, it’s still a great story; if a bad story comes from an idealistic place, the best you can say is “Well, at least your heart was in the right place, dear.”

Old Comic Fans Can’t Handle Diversity, Except When They Do

Okay, so we’re all on board that diversity in comics is awesome, right? No, we still have to worry about those old, regressive comics fans, who think a character named “Iron Man” should probably be a man and not a fifteen-year-old girl. These old fossils just can’t handle women, particularly minority women, in positions of power, and all of their arguments about so-called “forced writing” and “cynical marketing” are just a smoke screen for their hate! They just want to go back to the bad old times when superhero comics were predominantly WHITE and MALE and–

In this issue: Strong black woman beats up white men because they are dumb and totally deserve it.

In this issue: Strong black woman demands the return of her superpowers from brilliant Native American engineer/shaman, because that’s just how the ’80s rolled in superhero comics.

…Oh, right, the time when Uncanny X-Men was the best-selling comic in the world was during the time when it was led by Storm, who happened to have no superpowers at the time; having lost her powers, she was leading the team with a combination of street smarts and pure chutzpah. I’m confused: are these crusty old comics fans who can’t handle minority women in the spotlight, the same comics fans who were buying Uncanny X-Men in droves during the ’80s? Or were these different fans? Considering the fact that UXM was the best-selling comic, if readers had a huge aversion to minority women in positions of power, they had a really funny way of showing it.

it’s almost like readers accept diversity without comment when diversity leads to characters they love and stories they feel invested in, and only have a problem with it when the diversity itself is used as a stand-in for telling a decent story. So the argument was never really about diversity in the first place, but about the fact that many, if not most, American Superhero comics have been fundamentally directionless for decades and need a new raison d’être if they’re ever going to be worthwhile again. What we hear over and over again, bleated as though from a group of sheep, is “Diversity this, Diversity that, grrrr!”, when what we could be talking about is “What role does the superhero comic serve now in the age of immersive videogames, where you can really feel like you have superpowers? What can a superhero comic do to remain vibrant beyond serving as mere fodder for the summer movie franchises that have all but replaced it in popular culture?” These, to me, at least, are interesting questions. “How many of the people who loved Storm in the ’80s have become misogynist bigots since then?” is not an interesting question.

An admission: yes, I’m basing a lot of this on the one-time popularity of UXM, which was only one comic among many. That said, it was not only the best-selling comic, it was essentially the flagship title of the entire industry for many years; it was the comic people gave to their friends to get them into comics. While UXM may have only been one title, I don’t think you can brush it aside as an exception when it was seen as not just a good comic, but the standard to be emulated. How can we act like “Old” comic fans are the problem, when the most popular comic from decades ago was filled with all of the things they supposedly aren’t progressive enough to handle today? How can we act like all sales-driven diversity initiatives are bad when they gave us Wolverine, which led to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? It boggles the mind.

TLDR: This whole fight over diversity in comics is a total sham. Yes, some bigots exist among comics fandom, and yes, some writers use gender and racial diversity as a shield to deflect criticism of otherwise poor writing; both of these facts are largely irrelevant to what the medium is and where it’s going.

Strip Search #13: Marshmallow Surprise

StripSearch141

Stuck judging an episode of your favorite web-reality series and start feeling just a mite peckish? Roast marshmallows over a space heater, like the pros at Penny Arcade!

This episode, the fourth elimination, had a surprise, cliffhanger-ish ending that divided the fandom. More important for our purposes here, I tried to draw my own comic strip based on the elimination challenge and thoroughly embarrassed myself, but hopefully in a funny way? Continue reading Strip Search #13: Marshmallow Surprise

So, Whatever Happened to Those Comics?

If Google is to be believed, some people periodically search the internet for the comic I used to post years ago, Sterling. I have some Sterling art archived here (check the Sterling tag), but I removed all the comic pages from the internet within the last year or two for several reasons. However, despite the fact that my comic was never that well known, considering the fact that some people have apparently been looking for it (and finding Otakusphere in the process), I thought it might not be a bad idea to explain what the status of that project is. Continue reading So, Whatever Happened to Those Comics?