A to Z Reflection (and an announcement!)

Pinned until after the reflections week! FYI, I was the “LGBT+ Comics Characters” theme.

A-to-Z+Reflection+[2015]+-+Lg

So, that was fun! I missed out on the A to Z Challenge last year because April means finals, but I knew I wanted to do it this year, and it was just as good as I thought it’d be. I didn’t get to visit as many other blogs as I wanted, but I’ll keep visiting in May for sure! Guest posts on Jadis for Part Time Monster and the Joker for Sourcerer were particular highlights as well.

My theme, LGBT+ Comics Characters, went over really well, I didn’t get a single mean comment, and I hope I helped y’all find some awesome comics to read! If you missed any, here’s a complete list of the characters/titles, with some bonus characters at the end. On the topic itself, I was pleased to note that even mainstream comics have a lot of LGBT+ characters to choose from, but on the other hand it’s still a tiny, infinitesimal number compared to all the comics characters there ARE. And isn’t it odd there were so many gay male characters and even a few bi men, but no trans men at all?

On a blogging front, this was exactly the shot in the arm I needed. I wasn’t discouraged over the past six months, I still loved blogging and wanted to be posting, commenting, reading, and everything else, it was just really hard to get started again after school and graduation sucked up all my energy last fall. Posting every day on a topic I’m passionate about, and visiting others’ blogs en masse, gave me a million blogging ideas. I very much enjoyed having a daily structure and theme, but I’m ready for some new experiments!

Hence… the Announcement!

Starting May 19, I’ll be running a weekly feature on LGBT+ issues and pop culture, henceforth to be called #queerpop on all social media! This column can (and will) include character features like those from A to Z, and plenty of comics posts from me, but will expand to all kinds of other media. Reviews, interviews, essays, spotlights, news… Movies, TV, books, comics, the web, actor and creator stuff… all fair game.

#queerpop will run on Tuesdays simply because I happen to like Tuesdays, so we’ll just see how that goes for a bit. We’re waiting to start just because I’ve got a lot of posts backed up from April and sundry blog events in which to participate over the next few weeks, so, take this time to spread the word! I’m already lining up some great guest posts, I think you’ll all be thrilled. If you wanna write for #queerpop, email your idea to hannahgivens@outlook.com!

Expect a further update on the blog schedule, with lots of links to cool people, in the Sunday Post. Even before that, though, don’t miss tomorrow’s book club discussion on this blog, Part Time Monster, and Eclectic Alli. We’ll be discussing the novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, and I’m pretty sure a good time will be had by all!

April Novel Update – Helpful Things

Yay! Progress! What Dreams is at 33,845 words for April, plus 2,197 more of development/outline-y stuff sitting in the document for me to write over. I usually count those words too, since it’s a jumble of notes and dialogue and transitions and whatnot. So that’s 36,042 total, and 4,968 written in the month. I finally got my folks off their transitional spaceship and onto the next planet! A whole new world of characters, settings, and events!

Also, I was playing around on Canva, which seems to be a cool design site, and I made an alignment grid for my characters. This was extremely challenging and I find it notable that all my central characters wound up in “True Neutral” for some reason…

The ones in purple don't show up until planned sequels.

The ones in purple don’t show up until planned sequels.

I’d really, really, really like to finish a draft this year. To do that, I estimate needing to write 10,000 words a month. Steep compared to all my previous months, but I believe it’s doable with the past year’s experience. You may recall that I hardly got anything done in March, and I only started getting anything done halfway through April, so 5k is on track.

Things that helped:

  • The A to Z Challenge. I get more writing done when I’m busy elsewhere, as long as there’s a certain structure to the busy-ness.
  • Twitter wordsprints, particularly with writing buddy Eclectic Alli (shoutout!). The idea is a bunch of writers have a start time and end time, usually 20-30 minutes, to write as many words as possible. This totally dispenses with “staring at the screen” time, because you all share your word count/Last Sentence Written, and of course you wanna be impressive. Tweet me @hannahegivens if you wanna play!
  • HabitRPG. Nerd in the Brain turned me on to this site in her H post for A to Z, and it’s awesome… You create your own list of habits, daily activities, and to-dos, and then as you check them off you gain XP and coins. If you don’t do all your dailies, you lose hit points. You can use the coins to buy armor, and you hatch pets and mounts, and it’s basically just an RPG of your life and it is SO MUCH FUN. I have writing goals on there, and it’s helped tremendously, especially to remind me what I’ve actually done from day to day. They blend together otherwise. Holler if you wanna join my party!

I don’t know how well this week will go writing-wise, as I’m re-taking the GRE on Friday and that’s not the sort of busy-ness that lends itself to other work. However, I should be able to catch up on the weekend. Update in the Sunday Post.

Supplemental Reading: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers (2013) by Brian Michael Bendis.
Guardians of the Galaxy comics are still some of the best space opera I’ve ever read. Love.

Sunday Post — Partyin’ Partyin’ Yeah!

Phew! Lots going on this weekend!

  • Participate in the April A to Z Challenge? Hit the afterparty at Victim to Charm!
  • See Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend? I did, and it was awesome. There’s an open thread for Avengers discussion (comics or movie) at Comparative Geeks.
  • Ever read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore? Want to read it? Want to be in a currently-Christopher-Moore-centric book club? Check out the #LazyLambs Book Club discussion on Things Matter here, at Part Time Monster, and at Eclectic Alli.
  • Like sci-fi? Want to diversify your reading? I’ve got another book club to recommend, Non-Binary Book Club at The Lobster Dance. Currently reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie!
  • Speaking of queer books, don’t miss the #queerpop announcement, my exciting new Tuesday column on all things queer and pop culture!

And can we talk about all the awesome column announcements coming out of A to Z? There’s #queerpop, Part Time Monster’s Monster Mondays is another one, and I know more are coming. Leave yours in the comments, A-to-Z-related or otherwise!

In other news, eagle-eyed followers will note I don’t have a blogroll in the sidebar anymore, the idea being that it’s a pain to keep up-to-date. I’ll make more of an effort to do roundups and links in Sunday Posts, instead.

And lastly, I’ll be pinning the A to Z reflection to the top of my feed this week in case people come looking for it. Just scroll down for new posts this week, including a triumphant novel update with some links and such!

Kermit-flailing

Lazy Lambs Book Club: Lamb by Christopher Moore

Welcome to the first official meeting of the Lazy Lambs Book Club! It’s a slightly convoluted story how we came to be, but my friends Diana and Allison and I have been reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore together, and decided to make an informal book club out of it. We’ve each posed a question about the book, and we’ll each be answering all three questions at our own blogs today. (Wanna join book club? Scroll all the way down!)

Lamb coverBook Description:

The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years — except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work “reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior’s pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there’s no one who loves Josh more — except maybe “Maggie,” Mary of Magdala — and Biff isn’t about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.

On to the discussion!

Me: What are your thoughts on the subject, retelling the life of Jesus? Does it function as myth/fairy tale retelling, satire, both/neither?

Okay, I confess… I asked this question because I was curious, and then realized I had no idea how to answer it myself. I think I’m coming down on the side of “it’s a retelling.”

There are some satirical elements, but I was surprised at how well they were handled. I don’t feel like the book is really very confrontational toward practicing Christians. I am not a practicing Christian, so the fact that I wasn’t offended may not mean much, but I really don’t like to read attacks on anyone and I don’t like my fiction to be a barely-disguised political message. I didn’t pick up on anything like that here. I’m sure Moore chose his topic with full knowledge that it would be controversial, and the book is anything but apologetic about that, but I think he had a funny idea and wanted to run with it, rather than basing the whole thing on some message he wanted to convey.

Myth and fairy-tale retellings have been trendy for quite a while now, and I think Lamb (first published in 2002) is part of that family. The idea is to take a well-known story and explore it from a different angle, or take a neglected point and expand it. Lamb does both those things, taking a down-to-Earth and irreverent look at the Jesus story, and focusing on his formative years. It tells a complete, modern story inspired by an old one, rather than trying to tell the “right” story.

Allison: What are your thoughts on how the author explored the different cultures in the world at the time? What do you think about the cross-culture play and sending Jesus to all ends of the earth?

Partly, I think this is just for fun. Moore spent time researching the period and wanted to include more than one country. Plus, he wanted to make things interesting… If he kept it limited to one little town in Israel, we’d pretty much end up with Jesus’s Instagram feed. What he had for lunch every day, y’know? ;) Moore chose to get crazy and send him on an international adventure!

On the other hand, Moore also used the device of international travel to make some (in my opinion) gentle statements about how early Christianity related to other cultures of the world. How Jesus’s teachings resembled or compared to those in the Middle East and India. It doesn’t go in-depth into this or treat it seriously, which is totally fine since this isn’t a scholarly work by any means, but I think it shows an interest in how the ancient world really was as a whole.

Diana: In addition to new characters, like Biff and Raziel, Lamb also offers re-writings of many historical and religious figures, not just Jesus himself. Among those characters are the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene (Maggie), whose stories—especially Maggie’s—take up more space in Moore’s novel than in biblical writings. Discuss the depictions of the two Marys. What is their place in the story?

I loved the Marys! I think their importance shows Moore’s modern perspective, in a good way. When he looked at the ancient world, he saw a whole world, not just one country. When he looked at the characters, he thought as much about the women as he did about the men. Mary and Mary Magdalene are obviously significant in Christian tradition, but when reading the Bible as we have it, women are usually in the background. They’re taken for granted, at best. Present, but not really important. Moore didn’t do that. (Plus, from a writer’s perspective, he’s focusing on neglected bits in the original story, so…)

I also liked that women were present throughout the book, and even though it’s a comedy, he didn’t choose to make them totally independent modern women. He (and they) are aware of how their culture is limiting them. That particularly came through in Maggie’s arranged marriage and how much she wanted to escape.

Finally, the way Mary’s face would randomly appear on stuff was one of my favorite parts! That kind of relates to one of the things I found most interesting about the book, and that’s how Moore chose not to debunk things. He chose to keep the divinity, the angels, the miracles, etc… They may be played for laughs, like everything else, but I think he did a pretty on-point job of keeping the “magic” consistent. Or consistently inconsistent…

Have you read Lamb? What did you think? Don’t forget to check out Diana at Part Time Monster and Allison at Eclectic Alli for more thoughts!

Our next book will be A Dirty Job, also by Christopher Moore. It’s about Death and the Grim Reaper and such, and should be a hoot. We’ll be reading from now until June 27, and if you wanna read with us, check out #lazylambs on Twitter!

Complete “A to Z of LGBT+ Comics Characters” List (with bonuses!)

A list of all this month’s A to Z of LGBT+ Comics Characters posts! I’ve got some bonus characters at the bottom who I couldn’t wedge into my 26 posts, too… I’ve included labels for your convenience, but I’ll reiterate that the whole point of this series is these characters are awesome and LGBT+ and here is where to find them. It is never my intention to reduce these people to labels or to say you should read them solely because of those labels!

A – Apollo & Midnighter — gay couple
B – Batwoman — lesbian
C – Coagula — trans woman
D – Dolltopia (plus Fox Bunny Funny) — trans issues
E – Elfquest — pansexual/polyamorous culture
F – Fake — yaoi/gay romance
G – Green Lantern (Alan Scott) — gay
H – Hulkling & Wiccan — gay couple
I – Turpent-I-ne — queer webcomic
J – John Constantine — bisexual man
K – Kevin Keller — gay
L – Loki — genderfluid
M – Moondragon — bisexual woman
N – Northstar — gay
O – Obsidian — gay
P – Pied Piper — gay
Q – The Question — lesbian
R – Rawra Chin — trans woman
S – Sunstone — lesbian BDSM romace
T – Thomas Blake (Catman) — bisexual man
I – Tim G-U-nn — gay/asexual
V – Victoria Hand — lesbian
W – Wanda (from Sandman) — trans woman
X – X-Men — metaphorical representation/gay characters
Y – Alysia Yeoh — trans/bisexual woman
Z – Sam Zhao — gay

I link to Comixology a lot in the posts. Those are direct links, not affiliate links, but if you use my referral link here you’ll get $5 off!

Bonus Characters (links to wikis)

And again, stay tuned tomorrow for the official A to Z reflection and super-special super-exciting super-awesome announcement!

A to Z: Sam Zhao

For our very last A to Z post, we’re going back a little in the alphabet, because Sam Zhao was Green Lantern‘s boyfriend. And I want to talk a little bit about that sentence.

Alan Scott Sam Zhao

In comics, there are a lot of characters in supporting roles, defined only as such-and-such’s girlfriend. Especially in the early days of comics, you’d have a hard time getting away from the Hero, Girlfriend, and Sidekick structure. Think Lois Lane, Carol Ferris, or Jane Foster. Some girlfriends and sidekicks have developed their own lives and stories since then, but even I, who hate this structure, am in the embarrassing position of having to Google the term “Thor’s girlfriend” to remember Jane Foster’s name. These characters are totally dependent on the superhero for their identity. The end point is women in refrigerators, when female (or gay) supporting characters are injured and killed in service of the male superhero’s story. Really, LGBT+ characters die WAY more often than they should be expected to anyway.

There’s an additional, related problem when we’re talking specifically about gay characters, in comics or any other media. The first half of the problem is that an LGB character often has to have a romantic relationship to “prove” to the reader/viewer that the character is in fact lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The character’s word isn’t enough. On the other hand, sometimes creators will let a character be openly gay, but never write them in a relationship or avoid the topic whenever possible. I’m sure it sounds like I’m impossible to please on this, but the key is in the creator’s attitude — I don’t want to be othered, but I also don’t want to be ignored.

For a while, it looked like the Sam Zhao subplot had all these problems. DC announced the new Green Lantern (Alan Scott) would be gay, so of course they had to give him a boyfriend… But then they immediately killed off the boyfriend and made Alan’s search for justice his main subplot, staying away from any other “gay stuff” that didn’t fit the familiar narrative. As I said in that post on Green Lantern, I still think Alan was open and confident and great, and I love that series, but I still had concerns about Zhao’s representation.

Sam_Zhao_(Earth_2)_002The main point of this post was to mention those widespread problems, but there’s hope for Sam Zhao in particular… He came back! He’s appearing in the series again, post-death! This is a huge deal, because some characters are perennial in comics with permanent “get out of death free” cards, but love interests and LGBT+ people don’t usually get that opportunity. They’re not seen as important.

It’s too new to be in collected editions yet, so I haven’t been able to read the new stuff, but I know Zhao is different… he’s become an avatar of the white (i.e. air powers). I don’t know if he’ll identify as the same man or if he and Alan will be together again… But that’s exactly what I want. Romantic interests with independent identities! I loved Sam in his brief appearance at the beginning of Earth 2, he’s sweet and relaxed but no shrinking violet by any means. I’ll also point out that Earth 2 has some of the best racial diversity in the new DC titles, and Sam is Chinese or of Chinese descent. I barely got to meet him before he died, but I’m thrilled he’s coming back!

Recommended Reading:

Earth 2 Vol. 1: The Gathering by James Robinson and Nicola Scott (ISBN 978-14012428). And so on through the series.

Check back tomorrow for the A to Z reflection and an announcement!!

A to Z: Alysia Yeoh

Our final transgender character of the month, Alysia Yeoh is a supporting character in the New 52 Batgirl series. Created by the wonderful Gail Simone as Barbara Gordon’s roommate, Alysia is an aspiring chef of Singaporean descent and a local activist, enlisting Barbara in efforts to create a free-to-all community garden and things of that nature. She’s fun, she’s loyal, she’s tough. A perfect best friend for Barbara, and a well-written character in her own right.

alysiayeohAlysia is important. There have been other trans characters in comics, including Coagula and Wanda, but those women appeared in lesser-known mature titles. There are rather a lot of shapeshifters who can change their genders, and even a handful of superheroes who are one gender in daily life and another in their superhero identities, but while those things may make important statements about gender, it’s not the same thing as being a human person who is trans. Alysia is one of (if not THE) first mainstream characters, and also one of the few (or only) ones who’s a normal human woman dealing with immediately-relatable issues. Her intersectional identity is similarly treated: She’s a woman, a trans woman, a woman of color, and bisexual. She’s matter-of-fact about all those things, and the comic doesn’t obsess about any of them.

Gail Simone isn’t writing Batgirl at the moment, it’s been rebooted again or something. Alysia has been very much in the background since then, but she appeared prominently for the first 30 or so issues, and she’s still around for stories any time the Batgirl writer knows what to do with her, so here’s hoping!

Recommended Reading:

Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone (pub. 2013, ISBN 978-1401238148) and so on through the Simone series. The coming-out issue is #19, and it’s available on Comixology, but be advised it’s part of an arc, not a standalone!

A to Z: X-Men

The X-Men have long stood as a metaphor for the oppressed and outcast, from racial minorities to people with disabilities to, well, comic-book nerds. They work rather well as a representation of LGBT+ people, too, because of their “hidden in plain sight” quality. Some people have immediately visible mutations, like Nightcrawler with his blue skin and tail, but most don’t. Humans hate and fear them, particularly because anyone they know could be a mutant who hasn’t come out. It’s a metaphor, but it’s a purposeful and effective one, dating at least since 1982 with the story God Loves, Man Kills. It’s even in the movies, with the scene where Bobby Drake comes out to his parents as a mutant.

all-new x-men #40

An adorable conversation, of which this page is only a part.

Of course, while metaphorical representation can be valuable, it isn’t everything. Literal representation is important too, and X-Men titles have provided quite a number of openly LGBT+ characters. Northstar from letter N is an X-Man, and so are Rictor are Shatterstar, a longstanding couple who gave Marvel their first same-sex kiss. And now Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, is coming out as not just a mutant, but a gay one. He totally could’ve been my “I” if he’d come out a month sooner! This literally just happened last week, in All-New X-Men #40. He probably knew I was writing this post and didn’t want to be left out.

The X-Men movies were among the first superhero stories I really, really loved. I’ve seen X-Men more than forty times. The comics can be confusing, boring, needlessly complex, but at their best, X-Men stories are about hope. They’re about how our differences make us special, and how people from all kinds of backgrounds can work together for a better future where our differences are celebrated instead of feared. And I think that’s lovely.

Recommended Reading:

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson (reprinted 2011, ISBN 9780785157267). This is also a great choice if you’re new to the X-Men or have only seen the movies, because it’s a standalone story and was one of the sources/inspirations for the movies, so you get a lot of the same characters you already know. CN: Violent racism/homophobia, child deaths.

A to Z: Wanda from Sandman

A Game of You coverSandman. Neil Gaiman’s long comic series, one of the best ever written. Intense, literary, fantasy-horror from the early 90s… When I was born. Notable for so many reasons and so many characters. Today, though, we’re just talking about Wanda, a trans character from volume five, A Game of You.

Opinions about Wanda are sharply divided and strongly held. Many people hate her story, and that’s understandable. She’s not drawn like the other women, and her whole story is wrapped up in her status as a trans woman — it’s constantly challenged. Her anatomy is constantly pointed out and questioned, even by some of her friends. Other characters dismiss her as “a man,” and even the gods refuse to allow her to take part in a “women’s” ritual. Her family refuses to use her name or call her anything but their son Alvin. She dies at the end, after a story full of oppression and attempts to erase her identity.

But.

That was 1991, and even now, in 2015, trans characters in mainstream stories are still almost nonexistent. Gaiman wrote this character on purpose. He knew trans activists, he knew there weren’t many trans characters, he knew how transphobic certain feminist and Wiccan sects could be. That’s what he was writing about. People make a big deal out of the gods misgendering her, but I don’t think they’re seeing the story Gaiman actually wrote twenty-five years ago.

WandaYes, people try to erase Wanda’s identity in the comic. That’s true. That’s real lifeThe point is that she never ever lets them. She knows her own identity. Others may reject it, but that doesn’t make it any less true. She’s strong, brave, and beautiful. It doesn’t matter what anyone else believes — family, friend, god or monster. She is who she is, she defines herself, and that’s why I love her.

Recommended Reading:

The whole series, but Wanda’s story takes place in volume five, A Game of You. It references previous volumes, but I think you could read it as a standalone without much trouble.

A to Z: Victoria Hand

Spoilers for the character and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Saffron_Burrows_as_Victoria_HandVictoria Hand is a lesbian S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who appeared in the Dark Avengers and New Avengers titles from 2010 to 2012. I’ve only read a few issues, but near as I can tell, she was kind of an idiot. Or maybe just a jerk. She also spent a lot of time doing “is she a hero or not” double-agent spy stuff. She had a girlfriend in Dark Avengers, but they broke up in #11 because Victoria did something really stupid and self-absorbed (in my opinion). Victoria died at the end of 2012.

The character is really pretty minor, but she gained a bit more recognition due to her appearance in four Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes. Romantic entanglements are never a plot point for her in those four, but she was played by bisexual actress Saffron Burrows. She died in season one before she got much of an arc at all, although she did get some awesome moments in her final episode! I don’t think her death was discrimination of any kind, it made sense for the story, but it is a shame we didn’t get to know that character better.

So… yeah. I don’t particularly like her, she got on my nerves on the show too before she started getting cool in that last appearance. But hey, straight people can be jerks, so can LGBT+ people. So can women, for that matter, but it’s more rare to see them do it in stories, so that much I appreciate! I recommend watching the show instead of trying to read the comics. The first half of season one is like pulling teeth sometimes, but just wait until you get to the good part, and then it’s REALLY GOOD.