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It’s not hyperbolic to say that Ghostbusters is significant in the current landscape of Hollywood. It is both an example of the cinematic malady of reboots, remakes, and “reimaginings” of previously existing franchises as well as the agonizingly incremental shift towards female-led movies as viable properties regardless of genre. Unsurprisingly, then, that a lot of people would find “issues” with it, the reasons of which range anywhere from “Another reboot?” to “They’re ruining my childhood!” to, my personal favorite, “[insert expletives about women here.]” But whether you think Ghostbusters is the next step in the vast conspiracy of women taking over the film industry or it managed to “ruin your childhood” – somehow – I can’t stress just how important Ghostbusters is to the next generation of moviegoers. Yes, the 1984 film means a lot to the young men and women who grew up imagining themselves as Peter Venkman, Egon Spangler, Janine Melnitz, or maybe Slimer, but this new generation of girls and boys will be spoiled for choice as they get to pull from two casts of funny, smart, and competent Ghostbusters to emulate on the playground or dress up as for Halloween.
Having those options is a huge deal. Huge. As a tomboy who watched the gendered cartoons of the 80s and 90s, I often found myself gravitating towards the “boys’ cartoons,” which included Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and The Real Ghostbusters. On the playground, however, I was still “the girl,” so I could only be a girl character because playground logic sucks. But it’s that basic kind of logic kids latch on to and when girl characters are ditzy blondes, secretaries, or the sexy evil counterpart while the boys get to play quippy heroes and awesome villains, it sends a message. Thankfully, some of us grow out of the gender binary as law mentality, but giving kids that ability to see male and female characters in similar roles goes a long way to ensuring they see equality as the norm. And if Ghostbusters can contribute to those future generations’ acknowledgment of women as comedians, action heroes, scientists, and yes, Ghostbusters, then the film is a success in my book.
What I find most interesting, though, is the way Ghostbusters addresses the “controversy” surrounding its main characters without really addressing it outright. It starts with a short, to the point question Martin Heiss (Bill Murray) asks of the Ghostbusters in the wake of their first successful capture of a monstrous apparition:
Why are you pretending to capture ghosts?
It didn’t really hit me until that moment, about halfway through the movie, that Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold, is held up by a spine of subtext most women recognize immediately. The “controversy” surrounding the film being what it is, it’s impossible not to see the through-line that informs the Ghostbusters’ most prominent threat outside of actual ghosts: skepticism.
It makes sense, then, that Heiss, a skeptic, asks the question in such a condescending manner. He, along with the main antagonist Rowan North (Neil Casey), are part and parcel of the misogynist culture that continually thwarts women where matters of respect and legitimacy are concerned. While the movie itself never flat-out makes gender an issue within the plot or the story – save for an added scene blasting YouTube commenters and a quick, “You shoot like a girl!” towards the end – it’s constantly present in the external forces acting against the team. To wit, it isn’t a coincidence that these external forces are male. Heiss, Rowan, the ‘Buster’s secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), and the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia) all present minor and major hurdles for the team as they try to prove themselves in a city determined not to believe them.
The most fleshed out character arc in Ghostbusters concerns Dr. Erin Gilbert’s (Kristen Wiig) struggle to be taken seriously as a scientist. At the beginning of the movie, she’s obsessed with getting tenure at Columbia University because tenure equates to status within academia. When her book written about the paranormal with childhood pal, and fellow scientist, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) resurfaces, she seeks Abby out to keep anyone at the university from finding out about her dalliance in pseudo science; thus the plot begins. The importance of those early scenes, however, feed into the movie’s subtext. Erin wants to be acknowledged by her peers and her university; she wants the pride associated with legitimacy and the respectability that comes with it. Her concerns and actions are deeply rooted in how she wants to be viewed by the rest of the world, which keeps her from throwing herself into her true passion. This is reinforced throughout the film as the media questions the veracity of their first paranormal catch, the Mayor’s office’s actively calls them frauds despite knowing the city’s ghost problems are real, and Erin’s personal trauma of seeing a ghost as a child only to ridiculed by other children with the moniker “Ghost Girl.” With each new development, Erin’s frustration and her desire for legitimacy become more apparent.
It makes the scene with Heiss that much more significant within the narrative. Everything about how Murray plays him is a reminder that women are scrutinized far more than men when it comes to verifying their work, actions, and words. Protection of female sex workers, reporting domestic violence and sexual assault, and even the concept of “Fake Geek Girls” are only a few examples of how women rarely get the benefit of the doubt. We’re liars until proven innocent and even the truth doesn’t guarantee anything. To put it another way, when Venkman says, “Back off, man, I’m a scientist,” he says it cooly and with smarmy confidence. When Erin says, “We can figure this out. We’re scientists!” it’s said desperately, as if everything’s riding on proving themselves as such. And for Erin everything is riding on proving that, as scientists, the Ghostbusters can fix the problem. Her confidence and her self-worth are tied up in her credibility more so than Abby, Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), and Patty (Leslie Jones) so her departure from the team after being called a fraud, yet again, rings true.
It’s unfortunate, though, that the scene in which Erin leaves the team is missing from the theatrical cut of the film. One of the consistent pieces of criticism towards the movie is its pacing issues, which I agree is problematic. The story has been building to Erin’s crisis of confidence and departure from the very beginning, so to lose it and what I assume would be an emotional moment between her and Abby as long-lost friend reunited, then torn apart again, is an odd choice. It’s a pivotal moment and the loss of it adds to the messiness of the third act. Her return to the group feels less triumphant and less emotionally resonant when we’re not really sure she left the group at all.
Erin’s return to the group is similarly an important moment because of the message sent. Yes, it’s okay to doubt yourself. Yes, the world may constantly try to weigh you down and question everything. But it’s through the strength and resolve of friendship, of a community, that keeps us going. Erin is the most like herself with Abby, Holtzman, Patty, and even Kevin. She’s more confident, self-assured, and she pushes herself to do things she never would have done before – because her friends are there to help her succeed and lift her up if she fails. She, in turn, will do the same. If you take nothing else away from this movie, at least let that be the one thing that sticks.
If you’ve been on the fence about Ghostbusters, I’d encourage you to go see it because it is a fun time at the theater. There are plenty of homages to the original film, but this new batch is doing their own thing and carving out a new branch of the Ghostbusters franchise. Hopefully, a sequel will give Feig and Dippold more time to flesh out the characters and give us an even more entertaining story starring these hilarious women. More importantly, Ghostbusters is a step in the right direction for women in Hollywood. We can bust ghosts with the best of them and the more chances we get, the more this won’t seem like a “big deal.”
As someone who always identified with fire on a symbolic level, I’m proud to promote the latest anthology from Beyond editor Taneka Stotts, ELEMENTS: Fire. Not only is it an all-ages book featuring a plethora of artists and writers (the full list can be found here), but the choice to utilize the work of only creators of color inserts ELEMENTS: Fire into the greater conversation surrounding comic books and the lack of exposure given and value placed on creators of color and characters of color in a thriving and lucrative industry.
The thesis of the book is simple yet powerful:
Elements looks to add to the current conversation happening in the book industry: yes #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but #WeNeedDiverseCreators too. We are no longer just the sidekicks or token characters, we’re creators with our own stories to tell. In Elements we’re the main characters, dismantling tropes with our own stories that see people like us saving the day. Be it quelling a volcano, learning to fight with our brand of love, or breaking cyberspace, we want to let these stories and characters take center stage.
The purpose of the Kickstarter is primarily a means of paying the the contributors, another of many conversations happening around pay-for-work vs. exposure. As a writer, I can sympathize. Do you invest your time and energy in something that offers no money but promises “exposure,” which is already a vague concept to begin with, or do you put that focus on a project that will at least provide a monetary incentive however small the platform or the sum? Where do you draw the line and what do you sacrifice in the process? Obviously, Fire wants the artists and writers to receive compensation, not just for contributing but also as a visible means of creating value for their work. The comic book industry is still difficult to break into and it’s even harder for writers and artists of color, especially where mainstream comics are concerned, so every bit helps in terms of payment and exposure. Through the anthology and the Kickstarter, the visibility of the creators and the value of their work increases significantly.
One of the creators, it turns out, is past guest of That Girl with the Curls podcast Christina “Steenz” Stewart (Archival Quality) and I reached out to Steenz via email to ask her about her contribution to the book:
My story is called The Update. Its a sci-fi dystopia where the entire city is run by an operation system called PIOS: Pyre Intelligence Operation System. Transportation, where people eat, crime regulation… everything runs on PIOS. It’s just… better. But every once in a while the system shuts down and everything must be updated. And that includes the people.It’s written and illustrated all by me!
And wouldn’t you know it, editor of ELEMENTS: Fire Taneka Stotts is also a past guest of That Girl with the Curls! Her episode includes some talk about Fire, but I reached out to Taneka via email with a few questions:
What’s been the most exciting aspect of putting the anthology together? What’s been the most terrifying?
The most exciting aspect is finding all the new voices, mixing them with voices that are already around, and maybe reacquainting myself with voices I haven’t heard from in some time. It is a variety that I seek when putting together any project and one that I find I benefit from greatly. I would say the most terrifying moment is usually sending out any sort of invitation to someone you respect and super admire and hoping you’re not interrupting their day while you wait for them to get back to you. Also, realizing if they accept your invite, then you have to be the one to edit their work.
What made you choose Fire as the inaugural element? What does Fire mean to you?
I wanted to show that I was serious and I wanted to make an impact. Fire represents serious business to me and I just wanted to spread it around. For some it’s a symbol of life, death, and rebirth, so why not make it the theme of my first project? For me, fire takes on many forms, from passion to inspiration.
What do you feel is the ultimate goal of this anthology? What would you like people to walk away with should they support the campaign?
The ultimate goal is to have the printed book in all the contributors hands, to have it in the hands of the backers, to have it on library shelves and in shelters. It’s to be tucked under pillows, used to stop doors, and ultimately an emergency paper weight for those who have already enjoyed it a few times over. I guess what I’m trying to say is just for it to exist and for those who were part of it to be recognized even more as a result. I hope that anyone who backs this book realizes they are making something great happen and they are putting themselves into a position of power that tells other markets that watch us that they are tired of disingenuous representation.
Do you think crowd-source funding is a better means of exposure for upcoming comic book creators?
Yes and no. People die of exposure… from the sun. So you know, exposure is great but in moderation. I hope it’s something these creators can use to show why they deserve a place in the mainstream and why they should no longer be ignored but instead are a force to be reckoned with.
Why are you so awesome?!
WHY ARE YOU SO AWESOME?? That is the true question! I just wanna make books, write books, work on books and have fun. It’s important for me to at least have fun.
Friends and readers, it is with great excitement and pride that I share with you my latest publishing feat! Some time ago I wrote a little short story entitled “Her Majesty’s Untapped Fury” and submitted it to the Seattle-based Mad Scientist Journal for their Summer, 2016 anthology. And now, here it is, Summer and the anthology has been published both in print and digital!
I suppose you’ll want to know what it’s about before you buy, correct? So be it!
“Her Majesty’s Untapped Fury” is about the discovery of the world’s first weather machine and the hotly debated “mad” scientist who created it. To reveal anything more would give too much away, but suffice it to say that the Archive and primary sources are heavily featured!
What’s that? You’d like an excerpt as an additional form of incentive? Oh, well, all right! Twist my arm!
While conducting research on the correlation between science and megalomania, I found
myself arriving at, of all places, the Royal Society. London has a long and storied history of men
in suits with egos the size of planets, so logic dictated that my time would be well spent rifling
through papers craftily collected as glorified tributes to the scientifically-minded God Complex.
My hope was that the rarest of rare instances might occur: stumbling upon the papers of a
genius lost to the ages. The odds were against me. Most of the interesting subjects had already
been discovered. But I felt confident that my wayward mastermind had to exist amid the myriad
stacks and collections tucked safely within the pristine walls of the Archives.
It goes without saying that my days were spent combing through the long-winded essays
and profoundly worded declarations preserved for the sake of posterity and little else. The
tedium, however, finally bore fruit when I began to notice a common phrase appearing in the
minutes, correspondence, and journals of prominent Society members during the late
nineteenth century. Plainly written, or as plain as elaborate script can be, it said “the Mad
Rodney wm.” There was very little context to the statement, and the more it appeared, the more
it began to take on an air of warning. Between the years 1859-1867, “Mad Rodney” was a
popular topic of conversation within the Society, despite their attempts to keep appearances to
the contrary. So who was he, and why did he inspire such hushed tones in an otherwise
garrulous group of intellectual gossips?
As always, the first one’s free. To find out more, you’ll have to make a slight contribution. Luckily, I have websites for you to visit where said contributions will not only finish my tale, but provide you with many more amazing tales of mad science to keep you good and entertained!
You can either go directly to Mad Scientist Journal to find all of the links!
And don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads!
Lastly, thank you to Mad Scientist Journal for the opportunity to submit as well as publishing this story that was tremendously fun to write. Thank you to my beta readers who offered their support. And thank you to those who will eventually read my story and all of the stories therein.
Dear Reader, if it hasn’t become apparent at this point that I’m a fan of sci-fi B-movies, then I apologize for neglecting to reveal such an essential aspect of my personality. Thankfully, there’s a new Kickstarter campaign ready and willing to meet all of my B-movie needs while feeding my religion + intelligence + humor = Happy Sam formula. See my reviews of James Asmus, Jim Festante, and Rem Broo’s The End Times of Bram and Ben as well as Justin Aclin and Nicolas Daniel Selma’s S.H.O.O.T. First for further proof. So, with that frame of reference in mind, I’m very pleased to present Sharkasaurus!
Written by Spencer Estabrooks with art by Tyler Jenkins and based on Estabrooks’s short film of the same name, Sharkasaurus is, in the words of its creators:
…a horror comedy that pits creationists and paleontologists against the prehistoric Sharkasaurus. The story follows a pair of star-crossed lovers; the rebellious emo son of Paleontologist falls for the promiscuous daughter of a widowed creationist. After they accidentally awaken a prehistoric tunneling dino-shark, they must evolve their ideological difference or succumb to the inevitable jaws of Sharkasaurus. Set on the Heavenly Holes creationist themed golf course, the story is full of satire, incredible death scenes and epic one-liners. The characters, although stereotypes, are flawed but cheer-able heroes marching forward towards enlightenment and death.
First and foremost, the book is about evolution and promises readers the satisfaction or disgust of watching characters grow and change in the face of death. It’s always in those moments of heightened emotions that we face our true nature, so I’m looking forward to watching the cookie-cutter, trope-laden characters break out of their molds once the Sharkasaurus arrives. Yes, that is a sentence I just wrote.
I must confess I’ve never seen any of Estabrooks’s work, but from the way he describes it there’s plenty to sink your teeth into – so to speak. I am, however, very familiar with artist Tyler Jenkin’s work, namely Peter Panzerfaust, Neverboy, and Snowblind. Jenkins is top notch and the preview art already has me excited for what’s in store.
If you need further convincing, check out the Kickstarter page, and the many rewards available, as well as the official website where you can watch the short film that was a darling of the indie film scene last year.
If you happened to have your finger on the pulse of the comic book community, then you might be aware that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction found some time between writing some of the best comics of the last five years (seriously: Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Sex Criminals, ODY-C, and Satellite Sam to name a few) to create their own production company, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds (MCM). With comic book adaptations on the rise and showing no signs of stopping where Hollywood is concerned, DeConnick and Fraction first made headlines last year when it was reported that their newly conceived of company would be used to adapt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals for television after signing a deal with Universal Studios. Going forward, MCM would serve as a platform for adapting other comic book properties, specifically creator-owned books.
A year later and Milkfed Criminals has moved on from a tumblr page to a full blown website with the recent official launch at HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. Complete with a Milkfed panel, signings, fun and games, the team of DeConnick, Fraction, and the many collaborators and staff of Milkfed Criminal Masterminds began what looks to be like an exciting development in the world of comic book adaptations.
When I reached out to Kelly Sue DeConnick to gauge her level of excitement moving forward, she could only articulate it thusly:
Crazy excited. And scared. That’s a kind of excited, yeah?
And though Sex Criminals was the big property she and Matt Fraction signed on for last year, it seems that, though it’s still in the works, other properties might take precedence. Kelly didn’t offer up any other names but I’ve got my fingers crossed for Bitch Planet or Pretty Deadly finding their ways to television or a digital platform. I’m biased, so sue me.
I also asked if she and Matt would gift me a country of my choice when they took over the world, but Kelly is nothing if not an honest woman about her management style:
Oh, I’m not built for world domination. I’ve got my hands full running our household, shit.
If you’re a loyal reader of Maniacal Geek or a frequent listener of That Girl with the Curls podcast, you’re probably aware of my love for the DeConnick/Fraction household and burgeoning comic book empire. So, yes, I’m excited about the possibilities going forward for some of my favorite books being handled by some of my favorite people. Congrats to Kelly Sue and Matt and all those involved with Milkfed Criminal Masterminds for not throwing away their shot! Long may they reign!
And you should all go pick up the latest issues of Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet that came out last week! Also, you can listen to Kelly Sue’s episode of the podcast here!