This summer I ♥ Comics returns to Blog@Newsarama. Each Wednesday comics bloggers and creators will discuss the things they love about the medium.
This week our guest contributor is Kelly Sue DeConnick, co-writer of 30 Days of Night: Eben & Stella with Steve Niles and a contributor to Image’s 24seven and Comic Book Tattoo anthologies. When she isn’t writing comics, she’s translating them from Japanese into English; you can find a list of the manga she’s worked on here. You can find her blog, girl farts, here.
by Kelly Sue DeConnick
…in which we talk about what we’re not going to talk about.
Funny — not funny ha ha, more funny oh no — I didn’t noticed how sour and vinegary my thinking on comics had been of late until I was invited to talk about loving comics. I sat down to compose my love letter and my initial topic impulses were each immediately followed by something along the lines of “Yeah, but…”.
Yeah, but that’s hardly a feminist notion.
Yeah, but I haven’t read those in years.
Yeah, but… decompression.
Yeah, but the myriad of issues with Diamond, yeah but the direct market, yeah but the impossibility of nailing down sales figures, yeah but seriously now: sweatpants? Creator rights, posting board continuity cops, pamphlets versus trades, Hollywood, oh-my-god-the-Eisners-are-too-long, price points, the need for a union and healthcare…
Yeah, but rape, rape, rape.
See what I did right there? What I guess I’ve been doing for a while now: I drifted away from what I loved and got all frothy about the industry and its trends. The comics industry is not comics. You’re smarter than I am (and, let’s face it, prettier too) so you know this already and you don’t need to be reminded, but for me this is kind of an AH HA moment, one for which I probably need to thank Michael May. This is a big idea for a mind like mine that can get fat and comfy jogging back and forth on the same old neuropathways, even when the very nature of back and forth means zero progress is being made.
The comics industry is not comics.
It’s been a couple of decades since I was in college (Eep), so this might not be the fashion anymore, but back in the dark ages studio courses in fine arts colleges often started out with a five to ten minute period of creative visualization. One of the most effective practices for me was to visualize a secret hiding place. For some of my earthier studio-mates a hole beneath a tree covered with a mossy boulder would do, but I’ve always been more security minded. For me it was an ancient two-ton safe, something tucked away in an old house on a tall hill, disguised in the classic mode by a painting. (I won’t tell you which one, lest you go stumbling around my imagination and uncover all four of my secrets.) Once we had established our secret hiding places, we would take all our concerns, gripes, deadlines, money issues, mother issues, whatever we had and manifest them physically somehow. For me, they were always fat manila envelopes. I’d bundle them and stretch to put them deep inside the cool and musty safe. My safe had a key rather than a combination–I didn’t want to risk forgetting–and I’d tuck that key in my pocket and walk away, secure in the knowledge that when I was ready to deal with them, all my worries and insecurities would be there for me untouched, and it was okay to get on with the work at hand.
So this right here? This is the envelope into which I’m tucking all my gripes, legitimate and petty, this is where I’m putting the comics industry and all my insecurities about what you’ll think of me as a person for expressing some opinions about which you may not agree. I’m tucking the comics business into my safe and getting on with the business of loving comics.
The next challenge was identify a cohesive theme. Jamie S. Rich examined pop music and musicians in his piece, citing everything from LOVE AND ROCKETS to SENSUAL PHRASE. Of course he did. Jamie is a man for whom music is a vitamin. That makes perfect sense. Me, on the other hand? I can literally go days without listening to any kind of music at all. And when I do listen, well… suffice it to say that when our car stereo was stolen, they popped my PETE’S DRAGON cd out and gave it back to me. No lie. I guess Helen Reddy isn’t big with the thugs these days.
So anyway, what is it that does push my buttons? Can I identify binding elements in the comics I love or the comics I write?
Apparently–ha ha!–I cannot. I can’t even say that I love are all good comics because, truth be told, there are some comics I adore that I know are just… baaad. And I love them not despite but for their badness. I don’t mean that ironically or in the Michael Jackson sense of bad; I have a true and breathless love for the trashy, salacious nature of the things.
You know what else I love? Lists. I’ve been a list maker since I was wee, so (“At last!” you cry, and who could blame you?) what follows is two of several topic headings I considered when pondering what I love about comics and a few modest examples under each. The examples appear in no particular order and this list is, by no means exhaustive.
…in which we actually get around to talking about comics. This part, I predict, will be shorter than the part that precedes it. I’m ten kinds of backwards like that.
Oh god, you knew this was coming, but I love comics that spotlight women. Here’s the thing, I’m not going to say powerful women, or smart women or whatever because… well, that’s not always the case. Politics is politics but the heart wants what it wants and, in my case anyway, has no use for reason. I’ve crushed on boyfriends I knew were bad for me and I’ve been known to have an affection for a Mary Sue here or there. This one is tough to say out loud because I do consider myself a proud feminist and women have not traditionally been given their due in a medium that, in this country at least, has its roots in adolescent male power fantasies. (Hey now, back in that safe with you!)
It was the 1970s when I started reading comics and my mother, an awkward foot soldier in a new feminist movement, had the vaguest notion that WONDER WOMAN was a feminist icon. In an effort to provide me with an appropriate champion, she picked up issues at the Stars & Stripes bookstore next to the PX and doled them out as rewards when I finished my chores. I devoured them.
Later, in my teens, George Perez relaunched WONDER WOMAN and I ate those up and begged for more. Do you remember Perez’ WONDER WOMAN? Feminist icon, my ass. Naked, save for a sheet of some sort and her mane of impossibly buoyant blue-black hair, the amazon who would be WONDER WOMAN knelt, hands bound, at the feet of Ares (I think?) in a pose that went pretty far in suggesting Diana was about to perform an act that could earn her in jail time in certain southern states. I’d like to tell you I was horrified, but I loved it. And any nascent guilt I may have been nurturing with regard to my sexual appetites was expunged by the fact that our heroine was, without a doubt, going to come back and unleash hell on her captor.
As an adult, I have the very same affection for Kazuo Koike and Kazou Kamimura’s LADY SNOWBLOOD (which, I must confess, I experienced first as a film and then as manga but I recommend both). Our lady metes out vengeance without mercy and, sometimes, without clothes. God bless her. I have seriously considered getting a Lady Snowblood tattoo and I still might one day. She nails something for me that I can’t quite put into words. Something about the internal conflict of the modern woman, or, at least, this modern woman. I want you to want me… in a gentle, mannered kind of way. I want you to think I’m pretty and stylish and desirable and perhaps, occasionally, to remark that I smell nice. But if you make a big deal of it, make untoward moves or comments, or manipulate my professional life because you can’t get past my sexuality I want to draw my heavy sword and cleave your skull in two.
Something like that anyway.
I was promised a trip to Greece if I got straight As in the fourth grade. (We didn’t live far from there, so it’s not quite the boon you’re thinking, but still.) I got my straight As but no vacation. Mom and Dad split up and Mom and I headed back to the States, sans happy fun visit-the-Parthenon good times. I’m still bitter about that–not the divorce, oh lord, I’m well over that. I want my trip to Athens. I earned it! I read LYSISTRATA on my own–for fun! I somehow “got it,” at that age and it remains one of my favorite plays to this day. Where did I discover this love of classical Greece? Not from Edith Hamilton. From WONDER WOMAN. Here I’m going back further than George Perez, though. Here I’m thinking of the TALES OF THE AMAZONS IN ANCIENT TIMES that ran at the back of WW comics starting with issue 247, wherein they kicked things off by battling a kracken!
“Fight on, my sisters, fight on!” screams the queen. Fight on they do indeed. And it’s awesome. Plus, you know what’s hotter than slave girl Lea? A metal bikini with a sword belt. Kudos my sisters. If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
(Have the Amazons ever had their own series? If not, that’s a goddamn shame.)
As dumb and corny as these things can be, there’s something about the invocation of the gods and goddesses–in this case, Aphrodite–that just works for me on some lizard brain level. I fret, I cheer… dumb as it is, I’m invested and I’m hooked.
Walt Simonson gets the power of myth (har har) and that, I think, is what makes his Thor run required reading. My google-fu is weak, apparently, as I’m not able to turn up the issue number that he wrote in verse, but I have a signed copy of it somewhere. I need to find it because I really do think that if our house were on fire and Henry and Matt and the animals were safe, allowing me a few minute to gather some things I’d leave with our wedding album, my grandmother’s ring, my Mason-Pearson hairbrush and that comic.
There are probably a hundred other titles that would qualify as mythology of some sort or other (I’d love to make an argument for PLANETARY, but I’m running out of time), but I can not move on without making mention of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN. My affection has not waned in the years since I first read of mopey Morpheus and his siblings. I’m no elves and fairies kind of gal, mind you–Tolkien is, for some arbitrary reason, my nerd line in the sand but I am unapologetic and unrepentant in my love for this series. The same way I can’t tell you what makes a song work, I can’t say what Gaiman does here that makes us feel like he didn’t so much invent the Endless as discover them. Maybe the gods helped, who knows? Whoever is responsible, I am grateful. And if you need me to marry myself to one volume, I choose Brief Lives (Volume 7).
There’s something primal about trying to plot the universe in terms we understand, assigning human qualities to forces of nature. It’s comforting in that it provides the illusion of order and elevates the human being above what is likely his/her natural station. I’ll leave any further discussion of the hows and wherefores to Joseph Campbell and CG Jung but I will venture far enough into the discourse to wonder if the comic book is not the perfect delivery device for these tales. Words and pictures. It’s as ancient as Lascaux. My lizard brain remembers.