Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Re: The Cimmerian Blog Archive and Website

Don't worry if you don't know what I'm talking about. Feel free to skip it. But if you do, and need to know anything, here's my official statement:

I have asked Leo Grin to remove my blog posts from The Cimmerian blog archive and he has complied. While I am grateful for the chance to be a part of the blog when it was an active player in Robert E. Howard fandom, in its dotage (and in the wake of Leo's exit from Howard fandom) I find my beliefs and personal ethics do not align with the owner of the blog and did not wish to give my consent, implicit or otherwise, to the archive's change in direction and the material that has been altered on the site itself.

That's all you need to know, at the moment.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

PuppyGate Opinions and Armchair Quarterbacking

It seems lately that I only update this blog when I'm kicking a hornet's nest, but that's life online, I guess. I was at Necronomicon in Providence, Rhode Island last weekend when WorldCon was happening. And while we had our own scandal to weather, all eyes were on the Hugos and what, if anything, would happen.

The incidents were minor and quickly addressed. But in the wake of five Hugo Awards being not awarded at all, and George R.R. Martin picking up the slack for that fact, the whole sad business came off as an embarrassing incident at the Family Reunion. Both sides claimed victory, and neither side really won anything.

I've kept out of this imbroglio from the beginning, because I have no horse in the race. And I suspect that most of the people in the SF/F community, like me, have felt the same way for the same reason. We're not involved, and so why stick your head in a noose?

But now that it's over, I want to address something that I don't think has been talked about very much. And I'm addressing the WorldCon attendees when I say this. Not just the regional pile-on attendees, but most emphatically the temporary permanent floating WorldCon SMOFs and the people for whom this annual convention is their chosen lifestyle. The folks who have been attending WorldCon for thirty years or more. You guys.

You want to defeat the puppies? Take back your award.

I don't know what changes the Con Committee will make, or if it'll make any difference, but the sanctity and the authenticity of the Hugo Award rests firmly in the hands of those who choose to nominate and vote every year. That's the point, that the nomination and the votes are made by the fans and peers of the authors, right? And haven't we held the Hugo award up as a mark of quality, the kind of thing we can say is indicative of the best of the field of SF/F? Right?

Okay, so, let's put a pin in that for a second and I'll tell you about when I was on the WorldCon committee for 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. I helped with a few tracks of programming, most notably the Robert E. Howard track (since the con was in Texas and REH looms large as a genre author in Texas). There were at least two panels revolving around the theme of What's New in the World of Robert E. Howard. One of them was pointedly named, "You Don't Know Jack About Howard" or something along those lines.

The panels were very well attended. Large rooms, very full, of almost exclusively older fans--older than me, I mean. Guys in their forties, fifties, and sixties. We (my fellow Howardists) talked to most of them in some capacity over the whole convention, before, during and after the panels. On the exhibition floor. At the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press table. And we found something interesting: over 90% of the people in attendance had absolutely no idea what's been going on in the past fifteen to twenty years.

Overlooking all of the deep fan discoveries and concentrated REH studies going on, there's a few things that should have made it to the knowledgeable fan's radar: Howard's Centennial in 2006 was celebrated by the World Fantasy Convention (also in Texas), and Dell Rey has been steadily publishing a whole trade paperback library of Robert E. Howard books with authoritative texts, illustrations, and scholarly essays and notes. Twelve titles in all, one a year. A format so successful that they did the same thing for Michael Moorcock's Elric books.

They had no clue. When asked if they were aware of the new editions with corrected texts, they said, "Oh, I read all of those books when they first came out." In the late 1960s. Most of them were proud of the fact that they'd read all of the REH published in the 1970s, and haven't cracked the books again since. Suffice to say, they were bowled over at the idea of another set of REH books available with new stuff in them.

I told you that to tell you this: those are the same guys who have no idea who the new artists are doing book covers. They stopped reading to discover new things years ago. Some of them are probably still angry that there's no more Xanth books coming out. I'm not making fun of them, not really. But over the years, it's become harder and harder to keep up with new authors, new trends in publishing, and new developments. I would not be surprised if a few of them said, "Cyberpunk? Whaaat? That's it, I'm done. I'm sticking to Niven and Barnes novels from now on."

Where am I going with this, you may ask. I took a look at the Hugo ballots from 1995 to the present day and I found something interesting: there are certain names that show up every year, for multiple years, without fail. This is not a dig on Robert Sawyer, but every year? Really? Each book better than the last? I've read Sawyer and I like him. He's a good idea man. But do I think every one of this books was Hugo worthy? No, I don't. And he's just one example. But there are other examples in every category, without fail.

I think, before Vox Day politicized the issue, that the Sad Puppies maybe had a point--and this does not excuse anything that went on afterward, but I think that they noticed the same names showing up over and over again, year after year, in every category. Rather than ascribe a vast conspiracy, I think that maybe the people who do the most nominating have gotten complacent, if not outright lazy, and found over the years that it was easier to write in nominations for people they liked, rather than new stuff they had read. I don't think there was a campaign to screw certain authors out of winning awards. I don't think there was any political agenda until Vox Day introduced one. I think it was a case of people simply being people. We never run when we can walk. Over the years, we experiment less with our tastes and preferences and stick to the old reliable, what we know. It's human nature and fans are not exempt from it.

So, back to my point. If you want to take the Hugos back, you have the power to do so. I think anyone planning to nominate Hugos and vote for Hugos has an obligation to read more, and read more widely. That includes things you might not otherwise had tried on your own. Now, I know that a lot of people who vote on the ballot make a point to read everything nominated. Laudable. But what good does it do anyone if the same kinds of things are nominated year after year?

I even think it's okay to be more egalitarian, if not outright stingy, with the awards. If author A wins the Hugo one year, she should be exempt from nomination the next year. Or, maybe that should be an understood thing, so that maybe, if she really cranks up the quality the following year, and the NEXT book blows the first one out of the water, and she ends up on the ballot, people will know the reason why.

So, that's my unsolicited advice for the WorldCon Lifers out there: take back your award. Make a personal commitment to read five new (or new to you) authors next year. Re-subscribe to Analog or F&SF. Put a little effort into it. You have become de facto world traveler's, for Pete's sake! You're the hardcore keepers of the flame. But I think there's more to it than just showing up and dashing off your drinking buddies whenever the ballots roll around every year. Take the award seriously and embrace the idea of what WorldCon is ostensibly supposed to represent.

That's how you fix it. That's how you thwart the puppies. The 75th WorldCon looms ever closer. It should be a celebration. A triumph. An all-inclusive event to exchange ideas and be ambassadors for fantasy and science fiction fandom. This divisiveness, this animosity? It's not even close to what Gene Roddenberry--let alone the original founders--had in mind for this.

"Do or do not. There is no try."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Joss Whedon, The Black Widow and Why You Shouldn't Care

SPOILERS AHOY! I will ruin the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet. You have been warned.

Sure, it's big and loud and crowded.
Did you see the other one? Why
even bring something like that up?
Just look at the poster.
I was too busy this weekend hosting the Avengers: Age of Ultron premiere at my movie theater to get online. It was more fun to hand out Thor’s hammer, Cap’s shield, and my vintage Hulk hands for people to pose and play with as we snapped pictures in supplicated offering to the Great God Social Media. Everyone at my theater had a grand old time, as the pictures attest to, and everyone loved seeing their children and friends on Facebook.
Now, I’ve got this sour ball of ire in the pit of my stomach. It started on Monday when I learned that Joss Whedon deactivated his Twitter account. Then I read the messages he was getting, and I understood why. If you don’t know what this is about, you’re very lucky, and I’m probably going to ruin your day. Here’s the list of some of the tweets Whedon got all weekend. Feel free to scroll quickly lest some of the bile spew onto you. 

Whedon has since come back on to say that the rumors he was forced offline by the barrage of hatred and threats was, and I quote, “horseshit.” Okay, Joss, whatever you say. But he did get a few licks in on his detractors before he resumed media silence. You can read those shots here, and he’s one hundred percent correct:  The crack about the snake eating its own tail is very prescient.

With the Interwebs in flames, I had to know myself what was going on. So I checked it out, and not only ran afoul of this poisonous group of outraged people, I ran into a second group of poisonous people: the Geek Critics who are now throwing super hero movies under the bus.  The whole thing has turned into “The Black Widow Controversy” and it has mired me in dark thoughts and anti-internet screeds for two days. 

I’m going to try and parse this out as succinctly as I can. Bear with me. There’s three levels of problems that need to be addressed, here. There’s the real world level of problems—the world you and me are walking around in right now. Then there’s the fictional world level of problems. This is stuff in the movie that may or may not make your collective tumors throb. Finally, we have the meta-fictional level—the commentary about the thing that we’re talking about. I’ll start with that level, first, as it’s the easiest one to understand.

We’re eleven movies into the Marvel Franchise, and fifteen years down the road from the invention of the modern super hero film. What’s now a part of the “tentpole” strategy to prop up the summer, these movies cost ridiculous amounts to make and generate ridiculous amounts of revenue. It’s not a fad, anymore. It’s a thing. It’s a given. And being that it’s a given, super heroes (and even comic books) have lost a lot of their outsider status in the wake of millions of new fans who never had to justify their reading habits from inside a high school gym locker. For some, that’s unacceptable. For others, it’s perfect time to employ the Contrarian Flip, the signature finishing move of the modern Urban Hipster. Now that everyone else likes it, I have to pick it apart to keep my Indy cred. 

This article by Slate Magazine writer Andrew O’Hehir is the encapsulation of that attitude. And while this piece is steeped in a puddle of self-loathing and smug, squinty asides designed to show just how Above-It-All he really is, he’s not alone. Most of the actual film critics are calling the movie problematic but still entertaining. Meanwhile the rest of the critics who eschew violence in movies, who don’t like anything with a car chase or an explosion, are dog piling on the film’s perceived problems.  

What else is new? Go pick any big movie from the last ten years—no, last twenty years. Go look at Titanic, if you must. Read the reviews. There’s always that guy, writing for the East Haverbrook Free Weekly, who has to point out historical inaccuracies and claim that if Cameron can’t bother to do his homework, then the movie deserves to fail. Nowadays, there’s literally hundreds of the East Haverbrook Free Weekly Movie Snob. And they all have very specific axes to grind when it comes to action/adventure movies, horror films, science fiction movies, super hero films, martial arts movies, or any other sub-genre of the Blockbuster Movie category. 

Who listens to them, anyway? It’s all static. It’s white noise. It’s Star Trek Enterprise Conduits—GNDN. Goes nowhere, does nothing. But, you know, by pointing out the absurdities of modern cinema excess, they’ve done their part, fighting the machine, and blah blah blah blah blah… Yeah, whatever.

So, what’s the fix? If you’re a critic, do us all a favor and just stop reviewing the thing you hate, especially when what you hate is popular and you aren’t part of the crowd. 

If you’re a consumer, just stop reading and watching reviews for the big blockbusters. Cut them all out. You know your mind already. You’re smart. You’ve seen the trailers, maybe read some news online. You already know if you’re going to see any given blockbuster movie, and whether or not you’ll be inclined to like it. You probably know within thirty seconds of seeing the trailer for the first time. Why listen to intentionally negative criticism? The world moves too fast to collect boat anchors.

Now, about these…well, I’m going to call them feminists, I suppose, but I’m not entirely convinced they are who they say they are. I think they THINK they may be feminists, but I’m very leery of hashtag activism because it’s way too easy to just jump in without thinking and get caught up in the swirl of the digital mob. It’s the online equivalent of a feeding frenzy, and I never want to be in the middle of one of those, either. Anyway. Let’s see if I can correctly summarize their concerns about Age of Ultron and Joss Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in the writing and directing of this movie.

I admit it, I had my doubts about
Scarlet Johansson. But she won me
over and is now one of my favorite
characters in the franchise.
1. Black Widow should never be kidnapped, because that’s misogynist, lazy writing.
2. Black Widow referring to herself as a monster and implying that she can’t have kids undercuts the entire basis of the character. By implying she’s not human because she can’t reproduce, that’s misogynist, lazy writing.
3. Black Widow is now the mother of the group, tending to Hawkeye’s wounds, calming the Hulk down, and picking up Cap’s shield, with a comment to match. By forcing her into the traditional role of caregiver, that’s lazy misogynist writing.
4. Black Widow would never be attracted to Bruce. Not with Hawkeye and Cap around! Come on, that came from left field. It’s not lazy, misogynist writing, but it’s just dumb because I wanted her to be with (fill in the blank), not that she needs that to define herself as a woman, or anything. Um, yeah. So.
5. Tony Stark’s rape joke. Whedon put a rape joke in the movie. By writing a rape joke into a movie, that’s misogynist, lazy writing. And you’re an asshole, Joss Whedon.

Okay, that’s about the size of it, I think. There were also a few comments about him being a racist, too, but mostly, it's about Black Widow. Those are the big complaints. Starting with number five, and working backward, let me confess something: I’ve seen the movie twice, and I missed the line they are talkingabout completely. It zipped right by me. Then, when I saw the term, I had to go look it up. I know a lot of weird, useless information, but that archaic term was new to me. And I’m a smart, well-educated person.

Let me assure you, if I had to go look up the term, then no one in my audience got the term or even understood its meaning. And so I say it across this great big stupid country of ours. In the Buzzfeed article above, there’s a snippet of the scene with a different line, and does it work better? Yeah, sure, but let me make this clear, here: that’s all in-character banter that is completely in context with the scene and the characters. No one, not the imaginary characters, nor the real actors and director, are advocating for the return of the monarchy. To suggest otherwise is naive at the very least, and willfully cognitively dissonant at the most. 

You didn’t like the way Black Widow and the Hulk nearly got together? I don’t have an answer to that, except maybe that’s what fanfic is for these days; redressing those supreme wrongs and claiming some kind of ownership of the characters for yourself. I thought it made good sense, since she’s obviously the one who did the Manchurian Candidate-style programming to calm the Hulk down to the point that it triggers the change. Of COURSE she’d be the one to administer it, just as she’d be the one to program Banner. That’s what she does as the super spy and master manipulator. Whedon has her explain her attraction to him and it works just fine—maybe a little bit rushed, but we are three to six months past the first Avengers movie at the start of the film. And really—WHO CARES? It doesn’t come to pass, anyway. Talk about a non-issue.

Black Widow isn’t the mother of the group. I think she’s decidedly a Jill of all Trades. Performing field triage on her best friend isn’t mothering. It’s good soldiering. Recovering Cap’s shield to help him regain the tactical advantage is good teamwork. And let’s be clear, here: she wasn’t “kidnapped.” She was captured after making the sacrifice play that allowed the Avengers to pry the Vision away from Ultron. As soon as she got to where she was going, she sent a message to Hawkeye telling the Avengers where she was. You know, master spycraft stuff. 

That crack about being a monster? Please. Her jacket is red, she says in the first movie. She was a Russian assassin for years. The fact that she was sterilized meant she didn’t have any distractions, like kids. If anything, it was an attempt to rob her of her basic empathy, her humanity. Killing without any remorse is what makes her a monster. 

At least, that’s how I see it. Then again, I have a blog, where I can type a complete thought using more than 140 characters. One of the huge problems I have with hashtag activism is that a great many of these subjects require a more complete thought in order to be discussed in a meaningful fashion. 

But some of these reductive, black and white statements about the movie ignore the other ten Marvel films that came before this one, and also especially the other movies in which Black Widow is featured. There’s no audience goodwill, no context regarding the character’s arc. No mention of the new Avengers at the end of the film, where Cap is suddenly the minority player on a team that includes two women and two black men. None of that is even alluded to. There’s only this weird, vicious pile-on because you didn’t like something—wait, scratch that—because you CHOSE to interpret something in the most narrowly-defined, reductive, and insulting way and that offense has spilled out across the Internet in the form of hate-speech and threats. Talk about seriously undercutting your own intentions. 

He's probably thinking about how he can most effectively
piss off a huge swath of his own fans in one fell swoop.
Oh, and I’ve said this before, though I never thought in a million, billion, trillion years I’d need to say it about the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: putting a sexist remark in your work does not make you a sexist. Writing misogynistic dialogue in a scene doesn’t make you a misogynist. And showing violence done to women onscreen is not an endorsement for rape. In what high school or university are young people being taught that plot, characterization and dialogue all speak to authorial intent? It’s so weird how people miss the subtext inherent to a scene and simply invent their own, based on a literal reading of the dialogue. Who does that? Please, tell me how that is now a thing. Regardless, if you go through life expecting only to consume fiction and popular culture in all of its various forms that only conforms to your internal barometer for what you consider to be good and right and fair and just, let me tell you, you're in for decades of rage and disappointment. Sooner or later, you're going to have to learn how to deal with something you don't agree with.

We used to play this game in the 1980s—during the time when the ultra-right-wing of the church was actively campaigning against heavy metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, and Warner Brothers Cartoons. There was this dictum that Pat Robertson used to employ that boiled down to, “if it’s not For God, then it’s against God.” We got pretty good at taking anything commonplace and by the transitive or associative properties of language and numbers, proving that it was, in fact, satanic. Jello? The most popular color is red. Red is the color of the devil. It jiggles when you shake it. Much like how the body shakes while committing sin. But the real proof? How many letters are in Jello? Five. How many letters are in Satan? Five. That can’t possibly be a coincidence. Thus, if you like Jello, that’s Satanic. 

It’s a fun game. You should try it. Maybe some of you already have. Instead of Satan, look for misogyny. Or racism. Trust me, if you want to find it, you can. 

 Avengers: Age of Ultron does have its share of problems. Of everything on the list above, I think the Stark line of dialogue about being a firm but fair ruler is better than his line about Prima-Whatever and will likely be changed for the DVD. It’s problematic. And yeah, I agree, there should be room for a Black Widow movie of her own. It’s conspicuous by its absence. The romance certainly felt a little rushed. And yes, Jeremy Renner’s apology for calling Black Widow a slut was douchey and not at all helpful and it was obvious he wasn't sincere. All valid points of criticism and certainly worthy of rational discussion.

So what’s the fix? I think it’s imperative to redirect the conversation onto firmer ground. I also think it’s probably a good idea to assume people aren’t trying to put you in manacles with their movie project. I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and a step back. We’ve lost some things in this politicized, polemic world. We’ve lost context, and weirdly, also nuance. I don’t know if this comes from living and consuming pop culture both ironically and also sarcastically, but it’s an epidemic. 

Reducing everything to 140 characters isn’t better speech. It overlooks gobs of information. This need to slap a label, to pigeonhole, and worse, to damage with terms like racist and misogynist, is a trend borne from anonymous cowards and we need to seriously consider why we’re online—to what purpose—and if Twitter is taking up that much time in your life, I’d look at that as something to work on.

Catwoman and the minion approve of Natasha's Heel Toe Technique.
Finally, we get to the real world problem. This is a picture of my Black Widow action figure. I have it displayed in the big case in my theater. It’s a cool figure. Here, you can see she’s stomping the hell out of some Hydra goon. And it looks like Scarlett Johansson, too. This was a figure that came out last year, with very little fanfare, as part of another toy line. Thankfully, I got it from a retail store, instead of on the collector’s market, where female action figures fetch a higher price because there is always only one per case. That makes the figures harder to acquire, naturally.

The stores are full of Avengers toys, again, and some of them are pretty cool. In addition to the action figures and Legos, there’s the clutch of “role playing toys.” Cap’s shield, Hulk fists, Iron Man gloves and helmets, even Hawkeye’s bow and arrows. These kids today are pretty lucky. If there had been an Iron Man helmet I could wear as a kid, I would never have taken it off.  But you know what they don’t have on toy store shelves? 
You guessed it: No Black Widow wrist rockets, no Black Widow light-up Electro-Sticks, no Black Widow on motorcycle toys, no Black Widow anything. It sucks. It’s stupid and short-sighted. And do you know why (oh, you’re going to love this one). It’s all because of Disney.

Yep. They really don’t think that girls want to play with boy’s toys. I’ll let that statement sink in so those of you who are angry can shift focus. Disney did this with Gamora during the Guardians of the Galaxy merch-blitz last year. Now they are doing it with Age of Ultron. There’s a token figure of the Scarlet Witch, but of course, all of the collectors are pouncing on them and so you won’t find them if you have kids who are fans. Not without paying that collector’s premium. 

The reason why is the part that makes me legitimately angry, and if there was ever a need to rally the troops for a concerted campaign, it’s this: Disney bought Marvel because they wanted to sell product to boys. They consider Marvel a “boy’s line” and the “girl’s line” of characters is, of course, the Disney Princesses. That’s the danger. That’s the great Satan at work, right there. 

This article is a great call to action that succinctly explains what’s going on in retail right now.  I think it’s incredibly important that these characters, these stories, this fandom—which is an American art form and should be treated as such—deserve to be all access. We need to be okay if boys like Wonder Woman. We need to be okay with girls liking The Hulk. They are characters. Stories. Fantasy. American Myth. And now those myths, those ‘intellectual properties,’ are in the hands of lawyers who consider them to be dollar-generating concepts that they control. Where’s your Internet outrage now, Twitter? There’s the fight. There’s the opponent. Let’s go get them! Let’s start talking action and activism! Let’s change the landscape! 

Of course, in order to do that, you’d have to stop texting “Fuck You, Joss Whedon” and complaining about the Hulk/Black Widow relationship. That may be asking too much of some people. I heard the term Manufactured Outrage and while I don’t think it’s always the case, BOY do I think that about this particular instance. Someone put a little blood in the water, and everyone’s nictitating membranes slid right down over the eyes so that they could feed without getting blood in their eyes.  

Maybe Whedon made some choices you don’t agree with. Okay, fine. But remember this: that film was made by committee, and you have no idea what forces were in play during all of it. The fact that Whedon is taking a break because he’s physically exhausted should say something about the process of dealing with Disney. Anyone who chooses to take a line of dialogue so seriously that they flip out like a ninja on social media needs better priorities in their life. 

But the threats? The Name-Calling? That's not acceptable. It wasn't acceptable during GamerGate, and it's sure not acceptable now.  You're doing it wrong.

There, now that everything is all sorted, here’s another article on another website about movie criticism. It’s a cogent, well-articulated call to action. For those of you wanting things to change on the meta level, this is a very good place to start.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Backlist Project is Nigh Complete

Possibly the most anticipated book
I've put out so far. The other half of
the Sam Bowen story. Ta Dah!

I love that word, "nigh." It's so delightfully Biblical to me. But that's not what we're here to talk about. Bowen's Bluff, the second Sam Bowen volume, dropped this weekend in paperback form. I'll have the ebook figured out soon. That leaves only one book: The Third and final Con-Dorks volume, One in a Million.

I've needed to rescue and resuscitate my backlist for years now. I was all set to do it a couple of years ago, but I went and wrote a bunch of comics that, as it turns out, will never see the light of day. Ah, well. Sometimes you back the wrong horse, you know?

 Once One in a Million drops, next month, that'll be it. I had seven books that needed to be reprinted and updated for ebook consumption. There's eight because Fight Card collection, The Adventures of Sailor Tom Sharkey, slipped in there when no one was looking.  Not that I'm complaining. I love the book and I'm happy those stories have found a collected home.

Coming soon: the final chapter
in the Con-Dorks Saga and it's
a doozy, I tell you what.
I never started this project to make money. Well, let's back up: I didn't publish all of these books to get rich. I fully expected to make a little dough off of the endeavor. And so far, that's exactly what's happened; a little dough. Twenties of forties of dollars. A couple hundred and change, truth be told. I did it so they would serve as a backdrop for other, more recent work coming out this year (and hopefully next). I've got NEW books, see, and they will need some love. But in the meantime, let's see what we can do about this stuff, shall we?

Let's do a contest: I've done some review trawling from you before, but now I'm upping the ante with genuine loot from the past. Collectible, interesting stuff, at that. 

I'm a once and forever member of Clockwork Storybook, a writer's collective that was founded by four people: myself, Matt Sturges, Chris Roberson, and Bill Willingham. We started out as a writer's group to work on our prose, and quickly decided we'd get a lot better, a lot quicker, if we learned how to write fiction in front of a live audience. So, we created a fictional city, San Cibola, and made a shared world out of it. The "online magazine" was updated monthly, and sometimes more frequently, as we were prone to pulling a lot of stunts like 30-day Novel challenges and the like. Our goal was to eventually transition into a print medium, and in this regard, we were only about 10 years ahead of the trend.

Yes, that's Bill's art on the cover. He also illustrated his
story, too. It's very cool.
One of our first projects was a series of chapbooks, designed to get our beaks wet for page layout, printing, and all of that complicated stuff. Our first one was called Offline Volume 1: Mythology, and it featured an original prose story from each of us, not available on the website, with illustrations by our friends. This was our calling card as we started making the rounds at Texas conventions. We sold hundreds of these things. Not thousands, but definitely hundreds.

Now they are all but gone. I've got five spare copies of Offline Volume 1: Mythology to give away and I will do just that. All you gotta do is pick one of my books that you have read over this past year and post a review somewhere that you can point me to it. Amazon, Good Reads, wherever there's decent traffic. That's it! I'll pick my five favorites and send you a rare piece of Clockwork Storybook history. I will even sign it, if that's your bag, baby. Once you have the review up, shoot me a Tweet or an IM or however you get ahold of me, and point me to where it is. I will in turn contact you for mailing instructions.  How does that sound?

Just to sink the hook a little deeper, here's the Table of Contents:

Mythology by Bill Willingham
illustrated by the author

Persuasion by Matt Sturges
illustrated by Harold Covey

A Port in a Storm by Chris Roberson 
illustrated by Doug Potter

An Encounter at Leed's Point
by Mark Finn
illustrated by Mack White

Okay, that's all you need from me! Review! Review for your lives!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Comic Book Misogyny: an Origin Story

I figured out where all of the misogyny and bald hatred in the comic book industry is coming from. I'm ashamed to say, it's coming from my generation, Generation X, the fans in their forties and thirties. Oh, it's possible, just possible, that there are a few twentysomethings piling on--Gen Y entitlement can be palpable and for some doughy white guys in the suburbs who might still be living at home with indulgent parents waiting on them hand and foot, these "attacks on freedom of speech" might actually seem like that and not what they really are: a widening of the communal pool. But I digress.

I figured it out. I figured out where it started. Because it had to start somewhere, right? I mean, there was a time when we were all new to this, and the world was a much larger, more inclusive place. We used to be innocent, if not ignorant, and all of these conventions were full of fellow fans. We could make new friends from other cities and states who liked the same things that we liked. If only there were girls here, too, that would make it all better. That was myth number one, right there.

There I am, on the right. We were so young. So hairy. Reading comics, drawing comics, talking about comics. It was our life. 

This is my friend, Melisa. She was one of us. An artist, really talented, and into movies, comics, art, and all of the other things we liked, too. She was one of us in the "Let's Make a Loving Cup!" kind of way. We adopted her and she starting drawing with us on Sundays and hanging out and painting and going to movies and conventions and it was just not a big deal. This is her with Forrest J. Ackerman. Her hair is over one eye because she was too freaked out to say anything to him. She was a huge fan. This was taken in the early 1990s, by the way. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.

I mentions Melisa only to show that there were, even back then, Pre-Internet, women in the hobby, if not the industry. And you could be friends with them and nothing bad would happen to you.

Sometime around 1992 or 1993, the lawyers started patrolling San Diego ComicCon with suitcases full of money. Comics became Big Business. About the same time came the professional convention booth staff. Booth Weasels. Sometimes known as "Booth Babes" or "Booth Bunnies." These are the people who smile, greet you, and then give you the knickknack or the spiel that they were told to hand out to everyone who walked into the booth. It's a professional gig, like waiting tables or hospitality and hosting. They get paid to do it.

There's just one problem. These people--these women--were at a comic book convention. And so, to make sure that these media companies and Dot-Com companies and fly-by-night comic book companies and movie studios had the full attention of the doughy white guys in attendance, they staffed their booths with attractive women and put them in go-go boots and mini-skirts. Skimpy outfits that let the cleavage hang out. Because men are pigs and easily distracted, see.

Now, I'm sure not everyone who noticed this phenomenon thought for one second that these people were anything other than Booth Weasels. Some of us, in point of fact, were a little bit insulted. I mean, how immature do you think we are? Well, they knew something that we didn't, because a lot of man-children still have swag in their collections from companies that never made a single TV show, or comic book, or, hell, anything, before they went under as the Dot-Com bubble burst.

But the Booth Weasels remained. And I'm willing to bet you a million dollars here and now that every single one of these freaked-out, doughy, entitled, white guys who are braying like sea lions about Social Justice Warriors and women in costumes, and political correctness and all of that other meaningless bullshit--every one of them--made a pass at one of these booth weasels and got shot down, told that they weren't into comics, or just simply politely refused in some way. Much like what happens when one goes to, say, a Hooter's and tries to pick up the waitress, and gets told no, as well.

I promise you these whining slugs are still nursing the sting of rejection from some perceived slight that goes back to a convention experience circa 1994-1998. They were so busy being angry that the cheerleaders turned them down that they didn't notice the room filling up with band geeks behind them. Now, whenever they see a costume with cleavage, or see a woman saying they love comics, they react like Frank Burns on M.A.S.H. "Oh, ha ha, very funny!" when in fact, no one made a joke. No one was teasing them. But they don't see anything outside of their personal hurt and shame.

That's what all of this sounds like to me. Nattering nonsense from jilted man-children who tried out their A-list Monty Python impressions on the out-of-work-actress hired to be Catwoman at the San Diego ComicCon DC Comics booth in 1995 and she don't know who Monty Python is, and so now ANYONE dressed like Catwoman must be just like the one woman who said no to them once. They're like Dwayne Wayne from Die Hard. They're like Dickless from Ghostbusters. They can't change their narrative because they can't see the world any other way.

By the way, the electronics conferences are now banning "Booth Babes" and guess who's all up in arms about it? Yep. The same doughy white guys.

I'm ready to begin my campaign of publicly shaming any man who is still stuck in the 90s comics scene. It may not change them, but it'll at least give them something new to hate on, so that maybe we can get back to all moving forward into the 21st century.