My ongoing relationship with comics and graphic novels

One of my ambitions is to write the script for a comic book or graphic novel. I do not see the comic book genre as second rate when compared to prose books or poetry. Indeed, I would argue that some graphic novels are at the same level as many literary classics; works like Maus, or V is for Vendetta. Of couse, I didn’t start out reading such wonders of fiction.

My first comic book experience was with the Harvey Comics of the 1960s: Casper the Friendly Ghost and his friend, Wendy, with an entire cast of spooky friends and family; Richie Rich; Little Dot and her best friend, Little Lotta; and that ilk. They don’t make comics for such a young audience these days. I doubt anyone would print a comic like Little Lotta these days because of her size and eating habits, which is a shame.

Lotta broke most of the stereotypes of the ‘fat girl; Lotta’s storylines fulfilled two childhood fantasies: the satisfaction of unrestricted eating without embarrassment or shame, and enormous physical power. When you realise that Lotta was empowered girl, in an era where most media followed strictly patriarchal discourse, I often wonder why she isn’t a feminist icon. You have to admire Harvey Comics for publishing just as many female character comics as male ones.

As an aside, was Little Dot the original fangirl, with her obession for all things spotted, doted, and maculated?

Image result for donald duck 1960s comics

As I grew older, I started reading the Disney comic books. Seriously, the were the best! My favourite characters were Scrooge McDuck – odd when you consider I hadn’t been a big fan of Richie Rich – and the inventor Gyro Gearloose (and his little Helper). I often found Daisy and Grandma too conventional, but the wicked Magica De Spell was everything I wanted from a female character, Goth clothing like Mortica Addams, powerful magic, she was her own person and in charge; and she was Italian (and when I was nine, I thought everything Italian was the very best).

Image result for archie comics 1970

I flipped straight into Archie comics well before I understood the love triangle. Betty was my favourite character (and still is), because her storylines often included writing, reading, and journals. As I’ve grown older and I am the mother of two women, I often wish I could give Betty a good shake. Archie just isn’t worth all her heartbreak! And it annoys me that a clever girl would waste her time with such an oridinary boy. But here is the rub – the Archie universie is contantly being reinvented. Here we are in the Teens of a new millenneum, and even though the television show, Riverdale, only bears a loose resemblance to the comic, it is successful and popular with fans of all ages. (I was horrified when I realised who the actor was playing Jughead. Lordie, I’m getting old.)

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Even though the Archie comics gave lip service to Second Wave Feminism, even now it is quite mysogynistic. The competitive relationship between Ronnie and Betty is the worst offender, followed closely by the Archie-is-always-right-in-the-end discourse. However, they did have little gems like The Double Standard pop up once in a while. It might be due to the fact the comic was originally meant to be a platform for the Betty character, but at least two of the three main characters of the Archies are girls.

The Double Standard

At the same time I ‘grew’ into Archie comics, I discovered superhero and horror comics. I didn’t see the sexualization of the female forms in just the same way I didn’t understand the Archie-Veronica-Betty relationship. I did wonder why there were so many more male superheroes than female. I did wonder why Lois Lane preferred Superman to Clark – Clark could write! I also wondered if Cadbury (Richie Rich’s butler) and Batman’s Albert ever got together to bitch about their wealthy playboy charges – now there is a movie I’d pay to see!
Tales from the Crypt.

I inherited most of my horror comics from my male cousins, who collected them secondhand shops. These comics were often decades old. I was already a nervous child with an over-active imagination, and these elderly, dusty comics were the nitro added to my glycerine. I quickly became addicted to the thrills provided by horror comics, while at the same time loathing the nightmares they seemed to inspire. The stories in the horror comics were often better written than anything in the superhero comics, and even as a preteen I preferred a good story over anything else. I was reading books at this point, books like I Robot and A Wrinkle in Time, but comics still interested me.

I discovered Tintin and Asterix in Grade Seven, and read every single copy in our school library in a month.

At university, I was still reading comics. Archie digests, Batman, Superman, they were a great way to wind down after some intensive study. Yet … I didn’t consume them as much as I had as a highschooler. It didn’t help when I went to a so-called comic convention and was pretty much rejected by my comic-reading peers for being a girl. So, I read the odd Mad magazine and collected random Archie digests at secondhand bookstores. I was no longer a major comic consumer.

Then, in my late thirties … I discovered graphic novels.

 

 

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The Book Club by Alan Baxter – a book review

The Book Club by Alan Baxter

As soon as I read the first paragraph, I knew that Mr Baxter wasn’t going to pull any punches in his novella The Book Club. Without giving too much away, this is the story of man whose wife disappears on the way home from her weekly book club meeting, written from his perspective. It could be classed as a horror, or a paranormal thriller, but the main character isn’t hard-bitten or cynical or a terrified teenager as you might expect, instead he is a husband and father caught up in the nightmare of not knowing what has happened – or might be happening – to be wife.

I liked Jason, the protagonist, immediately. He wasn’t too perfect, but his love of his family shone through everything he said or did. He did a few dumb things, but why he did them was believable. Unlike other books I’ve read in this genre, at no point did I feel like yelling at Jason for doing something obviously insane or against his motivations. Nothing annoys me more than a character who is doing things because the author wants the plot to move along.

The secondary characters also had more depth than the average thriller. Alan Baxter made sure than all his ‘cast’ were ambiguous in some way. The police helping him hunt for his wife weren’t angels in blue and weren’t heartless drones. The crew of antagonists weren’t even mildly evil, though they did do some morally and ethically bad acts to protect their reputations. The one person who was poison mean and deliberately cruel was also given believable motivations, even if they were twisted and strange.

The only unexplained phenomena are the supernatural elements. In the context of the story, this makes sense and is even utilised as a major plot point. The supernatural elements don’t dominate the plot; the story is about Jason’s journey and we only see those elements that relate directly to him and his missing wife. My one real problem with The Book Club is that this supernatural element isn’t explored more. I came away with a feeling that the events pertaining to the supernatural elements hadn’t been ‘tidied away’. This might have been a deliberate move by Alan Baxter to heighten the horror, but I still would have liked to have seen more repercussions from Jason’s encounters with the weird and dangerous.

Alan Baxter tends to write dark urban fantasy. In his books I have read, his protagonists have been tough and confident men and women who know how to handle themselves in a rough situation. The Book Club surprised me with both his flawed human protagonist and with the unusual plot twists that the novella took. I would recommend it to the same people who read and enjoy Charles De Lint and Angela Slatter.

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Adverb Liberation Front

I don’t know why, but the ‘don’t use adverbs’ rule irritates me. Abverbs are just another thingamajig in a writer’s toolkit. Yes – they can be overused. Yes -they should be replaced by strong verbs when the strong verb is more appropiate. But adverbs can be just as useful as any other word family of our modern syntax.

adverbs

I suspect the real reason why adverbs are viewed with suspicion is that they are usually crutch words. Everyone knows to avoid ‘very’ and ‘really’. ‘Actually’ is one of my crutch words, and is an offender for a lot of other people. I now run ‘actually’ through my word search function when I complete a story; even though I am aware of the problem, it still turns up.

crutch word cloud

Crutch words – the usual suspects

Some people work on the rule ‘one adverb a page’ Some writers refuse to use adverbs at all. It is time to change this outdated way of thinking! So I have formed the ADVERB LIBERATION FRONT. Writers should be able to use any word they want! With confidence! Lovingly.

The only time a writer should avoid adverbs is when a writer is feeling lazy and using them to do all the heavy lifting in their prose. Think of adverbs as a condiment; a few adds to the flavour, but too many ruins the dish.

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Steampunk Sunday has hit a milestone.

2000 Likers

I run a site on Facebook called Steampunk Sunday, Queensland Australia. Today, it reached 2000 likers. It was my birthday on Monday, so I am calling this my present from the Steampunk community. I love you all!

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Dialogue Insights

 

Good dialogue comes down to six factors:

1. First and foremost, it advances the plot. Indeed … I know this goes without saying, but if I didn’t mention it I would be letting the team down.

2. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. However, when it comes to characterization, dialogue is one of the best methods for adding depth to a character. How they say what they mean is just as important as what they are saying.

3. It should seem natural, without actually being natural. Real conversation is full of ums, ers, and broken sentences. Unless you are writing ‘slice of life’, written dialoque should skip ninety percent of this ‘filler’ waffle.

4. Make it snappy and witty. Memorable. Channel Oscar Wilde or Terry Pratchett. Don’t bore your readers.

5. Dialogue should do more than just be about talking heads. It should also be adding to the underlying theme of your narrative. What are the underlying implications of your dialogue?

6. Alice might think a book without conversations is dull, but remember that your narrative should be more than just dialogue. If you want to have a masterclass, read Isaac Asimov to see how a dialogue can move a story along, and still be full of action.

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July 9, 2017 · 2:36 pm

Leviathan by: Scott Westerfeld — darnellouis

Summary: Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant […]

via Leviathan by: Scott Westerfeld — darnellouis

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