Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Why eight questions? Because I had more than five and less than ten! Actually, there are more than eight because of grouping the questions by subject but – and you probably don’t care about any explanation I provide.

Moving on!

Over the summer I started reading more prose fiction to shake things up between comic book trades and I was fortunate to come across a spectacular, mostly coming-of-age, story of magic, music, and the harsh reality of growing up: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico City and jumping between 1988 and 2009, Signal to Noise follows Mercedes “Meche” Vega who discovers her love of music, and the right vinyl, can cast magic spells. Roping in her friends Sebastian silviaand Daniela, the trio use magic to change their lives for the better, but the consequences of their actions result in a decades long estrangement.

The book comes highly recommended by io9’s Charlie Jane Anders and I couldn’t agree with her more. Signal to Noise is an intimate look at a young woman searching for a solid foundation, something she can believe in, trust in, but always comes up short. Meche’s exterior and interior turmoil makes for a complex and nuanced protagonist who is as frustrating as she is sympathetic.

In light of my new found book to gush over, I reached out to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and she was kind enough to answer several questions, via email, about Signal to Noise and her forth-coming anthology, She Walks in Shadows, which looks at the works of H.P. Lovecraft through his female characters – or lack thereof.

 

Maniacal Geek (MG): Though Signal to Noise is a coming-of-age story, the magical elements are secondary, acting more as a catalyst than being a consistently present force. Is this how you perceive the role of magic in urban fantasy or did it just serve this specific story?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (SMG): For many Anglo writers and readers magic must work as a system, a kind of D&D system. I wanted to play with this notion, with how much you can systematize magic, versus the magicwhich appears in Latin American fiction which works in a completely different matter. So that the result is this is not quite magic realism and not quite urban fantasy.

MG: Meches grandmother doesnt mind telling stories about magic but shes reluctant to use it and only does so to save Sebastian from Meches recklessness. In your opinion, is magic the folly of youth?

SMG: I leave it up to the reader to figure that out.

MG: Music is the connective tissue that keeps Meche tied to her father and becomes her means of casting spells. What is your relationship with music and how did it influence Signal to Noise?

SMG: My parents both worked in radio stations. Thats the kind of environment I grew up in. We had a lot of albums stacked around the house. I used my fathers professional tape recorder to make mixtapes. That kind of thing. My son now has a portable record player. My grandfather was also a radio announcer so the fear is its genetic.

MG: (Silly question alert!) Which album would be your object of power?JoshJoplinGroup-UsefulMusic

SMG: Josh Joplins Useful Music.

MG: Coming from a comic book background myself, theres been an ongoing discussion about the flawed female protagonist, which Meche definitely fits. Were you worried that people might not be able to relate to Meche? Do we have to relate to a character like Meche? How do you feel Meche has grown as a character by the end of the book?

SMG: Ugh. Relatable, likeable characters, eh? There are so many famous characters in books you cant relate to and the books do just fine. You have criminals like Tom Ripley and Dexter in multiple novels. And in the romance novel the brooding hero is a staple. I dont find Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester to be relatable since Im not a white billionaire living in the age of carriages. Theyre not super likeable either, mad wife in attic and all. But women. Ah, we are much harder on women. Women better be fucking perfect and relatable.

Look, Im Mexican, I grew up without a lot of the bells and whistles Americans take for granted. Theres not a lot of people I can relate to in books. Not Holden from Catcher in the Rye, not Bella in Twilight. So *I* can relate to Meche.

So no, I didnt worry that Meche was likeable or relatable, although Ive heard from many people that they can relate to her.  If people find her interesting enough to follow her through the book I think thats enough.

As to how shes grown, I went to visit my friend who is now living in NY this year and I hadnt been there in about 14 years. At one point he said something which sounds pretty accurate. He said: Silvia, we are older but not more mature.Ill leave it at that.

MG: Do you believe Mexico has a greater cultural connection to magic? To music?

SMG: I grew up with a lot of folklore in my life and folk magic, but I believe this is unusual and certainly much more unusual for people younger than me. But you do see magic more openly, there is a witchs market in Mexico City where you can buy ingredients, there was an esoteric plazain a shopping mall near my home, and theres the witches in Catemaco who are quite famous. Some people still might visit the curandero, the healer, or believe in the evil eye. Things like that. But the influence of Anglo culture is erasing a lot of that.

MG: Youve edited several anthologies with horror themes with many specifically focused on H.P. Lovecrafts mythos. What attracts you to Lovecraft and the horror genre? Do you have a favorite Lovecraft story?she walks in shadows

SMG: “The Colour out of Space.My thesis work focuses on Lovecraft, eugenics and women so Im interested in him on an academic level and at a visceral one. I like all kinds of genres and read indiscriminately, from cheap, old pulp crime novels to modern dramatic lit. As a writer, horror is just one tool I can employ. As a reader, Ive always had a basic interest in terrible things.

MG: The latest anthology, She Walks in Shadows, explores Lovecraft through the feminine perspective and the explicit or ambiguously defined female characters. In your opinion does Lovecraft have an inherent feminist slant or did you see his writings as a challenge, something to meet head on for the anthology?

SMG: He barely has any women in his stories, so its a challenge. The writers are all showing a variety of visions of Lovecraftian characters, Weird fiction, and women. Women for Lovecraft exist as an absence, an unnamed presence, they are the lurking fear of his stories and we are bringing them to the forefront.

 

If you’d like to get your grubby mits on all of Silvia’s work currently available for purchase:

Signal to Noise: http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/books/signal-to-noise/

Love and Other Poisons: http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/bibliography/love-other-poisons/

You can also pre-order She Walks in Shadows and follow Silvia on Twitter!

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Sam chats with artist Sara Talmadge and the two bond over their mutual love of Tangled and their mutual not-as-much-love for Frozen.

SaraTalmadge

 

Sara’s website: http://charapoo.storenvy.com/

Follow Sara @Charapoo

It’s about time the most badass group of lady adventurers returned to grace us with their foul mouths and sweet fighting skills. When last we left the Rat Queens, Palisade was under attack from reality-warping tentacle creatures, RatQueens_09the Abyssals, sent by Gerrig Lake as vengeance against Sawyer Silver. In the wake of their first unsuccessful charge, the Rat Queens and the remaining warriors of Palisade rally together to storm Gerrig’s stronghold, stop the attack, and save Sawyer. Unfortunately, their presence, especially Hannah’s, may have been part of his plan all along.

The influence of the past on the present appears to be the broader theme of Rat Queens‘ current arc. Gerrig is avenging the death of his wife, who he blames Sawyer for by using dimensional beings from Dee’s former religion – the community she left in order to find herself. Under the spell of the Abyssals, Violet’s break with her dwarven clan and the seeds for the group’s name were planted. We were even been treated to a look at Braga’s past and the dangers of a culture unwilling to change. Now, it’s Hannah’s turn and like Dee and Violet her mother is at the center of it all. If there’s a second recurring theme to Rat Queens, then it’s the power of a mother’s love. And not in that sappy “saved by the power of love” deus ex machina kind of way that’s been overused, but a deep understanding and empathy that many mothers have that gives them greater insight into the needs and wants of their children. On a personal level, I can attest to this. Sometimes it feels like my mom knows what my decision or actions will be even before I do and she trusts that I’ll find my way despite times when I couldn’t feel more lost. Granted, one could make a case for both parents having a positive influence, but so far in Rat Queens the only two fathers featured have been bullies or ignorant jerks. They mean well in their own way, but the mothers of our Queens gave their girls the most important tools to becoming the women they are – acceptance and compassion. As far as Hannah’s hallucination goes, there’s clearly some untruth DumbBradgoing on where her mother is concerned. No spoilers, but you loyal readers may recall Hannah taking a “rune call” from her mother in the first issue of Rat Queens, so either the Abyssals are just messing with Hannah’s head or the scene in question actually happened and Mama Vizari recovered. If it’s the latter, then that’s one hell of a recovery.

This issue also marks the introduction of Stjepan Šejić (Sunstone) as the book’s new artist and by N’Rygoth is he fantastic! Already known for being a speed demon of an artist, Šejić maintains the full-figure look of the Rat Queens but gives them an extra bit of muscle and umph that aesthetically puts them on par with his DC Comics doodles of Wonder Woman or Big Barda. These are strong women and Šejić puts as much of that mentality into how the Rat Queens come across visually. There’s also a wide range of expressions that Šejić captures perfectly, from Mama Vizari’s annoyance to the condescending grimace of a castle guard. And as detailed as the faces look, there’s a gorgeous quasi-defined painted quality to his backgrounds and colors. I admit I do miss Roc Upchurch’s illustrations, but Šejić has definitely found a new way of looking at the world of the Rat Queens.

Pick up Rat Queens #9 on March 4th and remember how fucking dumb Brad is!

 

Sam talks with Aaron Diaz, creator/writer/artist of Dresden Codak. The two talk art, Lord of the Rings, webcomics, and dinosaurs! So a little something for everyone!

aaron-diaz-dinosaur

As a global consumer culture one of the first things we’re introduced to is media. Television, books, movies, and music all contribute to how we perceive and relate to the world around us. The Modern Age of comics has seen the saga-bannerdeconstruction of superheroes, the rise, fall, and rise again of comic book movies and television, and the elevation of geek culture. This has all been in conjunction with the proliferation of the internet where vocality is king and the biggest hot button topics sure to come up when any new movie, television show, or comic book comes out are representation and visibility.

We want to see aspects of ourselves in the media we consume but it’s painfully clear that Hollywood and media in general skew towards the straight, white male demographic. Denying anyone who isn’t part of the preconceived audience doesn’t just eliminate them on a visual level, it eliminates their voices and stories that could be told from the perspective of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. This paints an inaccurate picture of our society, which many demand changed. Hollywood has taken some sluggish steps forward, but a Renaissance of representation has occurred in comic books, at least in the smaller publishers. Marvel and DC Comics have made some strides forward, but it’s really in publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and Boom! Studios that stories not predicated on decades worth of continuity are allowed to flourish under the writings and artistry of creators actively concerned with making their comics relevant to modern readers. One of those books is Saga.

SkishIn Saga, Alana and Marko, lovers from warring worlds, flee the war, marry, and have a child, Hazel, whose future self narrates the story of her family as they’re pursued by her parents’ peoples as well as robotic royalty, bounty hunters, ex-fiancés, and journalists across the galaxy. That’s as simplistic as the explanation gets without going into the complexities of the story, but suffice it to say that writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad) and artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, DV8: Gods and Monsters, Archie) purposely set out to make Saga a book without limitations and, by their own admission, difficult to adapt.

First released in March of 2012 by Image Comics, Saga has since received as much critical acclaim as it has controversy. It should surprise no one that the bulk of the controversy concerns the art, which is understandable since comic books are, first and foremost, a visual medium. For all of the critical analysis of Saga’s narrative through Vaughan’s writing, it’s Staples’ art that grabs our attention. The fully realized sci-fi/fantasy landscape of war, sex, magic, technology, and family is as much a product of Staples’ imagination as it is Vaughan’s scripting.

Vaughan’s writing on Saga has received high praise, especially from this author, for his criticisms of art, war, and media, much of which stems from what John Parker of ComicsAlliance refers to as Vaughan’s examination of the anxieties of post-9/11 America where the genre serves as “the delivery system to explore significant real-world issues.” Interestingly enough, Saga is one of the most diverse books regarding gender, race, and sexual oriFiona and Brianentation but never brings attention to it because, in the world of Saga, these aren’t issues.

Vaughan is certainly no stranger to casts of characters with a high female count. Saga continues this predilection, sporting an ensemble cast of at least seven female characters in play, as of the current run, compared to the roughly four or five male characters that appear. It’s the diversity of race and sexual orientation, however, where Saga earns major points with readers. While both Vaughan and Staples have pointed out that race and skin color have no correlation in Saga, Staples was instrumental in the multicultural design of the characters, creating a book where only one of the main characters, out of roughly twelve, who could even be considered white (hint: it’s The Will). According to Vaughan at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con:

“When I was pitching to Fiona, I said, ‘I don’t care how Alana looks, but no redheads. There’s a glut of redheads in comics.’ And Fiona was like, ‘Well, she doesn’t have to be white either.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, right.’” [Source: Hero Complex]

GwenThis revelation from Vaughan shows the importance of diversity amongst creative teams alongside their books. Would the story have changed if Alana was white? Probably not, but by not defaulting to white, Staples gave Saga its own default and a galaxy enriched by diversity. Said Staples:

“Representation and diversity in comics is something that’s important to me, and I also think it just makes a more realistic universe when you’re constructing a brand-new world and you want it to feel authentic. Most of the people on Earth are not white. Why would this galaxy be?” [Source: Hero Complex]

The same is true for the visibility of LGBTQ characters. Though Alana and Marko are the straight couple at the center of the story, the Saga universe is far more fluid when it comes to sexuality. Gwendolyn, Marko’s ex, is most likely bi-sexual since she lost her virginity to a woman named Velour. Upsher and Doff are journalists and a committed gay couple trying to put the truth out about Alana’s defection. And Hazel’s babysitter Izabel recently talked about her girlfriend Windy with whom she loved and lost after stepping on a landmine. Sexual orientation is incidental to upsher and doffthe characters of Saga. The more pressing concern is the struggle for love amidst the tragedy of war.

When asked why he wrote so many strong female characters, Joss Whedon infamously answered, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” The same is true for Saga. We still have to keep pointing out just how diverse it is because there’s a dearth of comic books like Saga for readers interested in anything other than what mainstream publishers think is “diverse”. Thankfully, more comic books are beginning to emerge in the same vein as Saga, giving readers a playground of characters where they can see themselves without having to rely on surrogates due to lack of options. I’d like to be able to say things will change as time goes by, and I’m confident it will, but for now we’ll have to rely on Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples to continue delivering in their gorgeous, poignant, and heart-wrenching space opera.

saga-volume-3-geek-out

This article was originally written for Comics and Human Rights week on Talking Comics and the London School of Economics.

 

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. MartinA Dance With Dragons US.jpg

An exciting read of people plotting, planning, talking, traveling … It’s basically the same as the last book except with better characters. It’s even set during the same time as the last book, so little progress is made in the storyline!

Spoiler Alert: You’ll read 900 pages of filler to get to 100 pages of awesomeness.

I give this 2.5 out of 5 Killed Off Characters.

Next week’s review, a breezy read about terrible poverty.

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

After the epic A Storm of Swords, comes a book filled with secondary characters you barely care about, completely leaving out anyone interesting. You will bite your nails as vaguely remembered characters talk, travel, talk, wander around, and talk.

Spoiler Alert: If you enjoy almost a thousand pages of filler, you’re in for a treat.
I give this 2 out of 5 Killed Off Characters

Next week’s review, an episode of “I Love the ’80s.”

Two years and four seasons, with plenty of bumps along the way, and here we are at the end of Korra’s legend. At least the part that’s animated. We’ve seen Korra grow in so many ways – as a person, a woman, and as the Avatar. From adorable prodigy to well-intentioned, though naive and hot-headed, teenager to mature adult, Korra’s journeybook four has been fraught with multiple crises. But in her persistence and resolve to prove herself Korra, and by extension her creators, have given us a story of triumph over insurmountable odds; one that embraces mature themes of class equality, spirituality, revolution, and the price paid for being guardian to an advanced world. While The Legend of Korra owes its very existence to the popularity and fantastic storytelling of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the sequel series has, in my opinion, exceeded the legacy of its predecessor, carving out its own space as an iconic piece of Western animation.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko in 2012, Korra was originally a one season exploration of the world created in Avatar: The Last Airbender through the eyes of the next Avatar in the cycle, a girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra (Janet Varney). Had the show only run for the one season, I’m sure we would have looked at it as a fun trip back into the realm of fantasy where people bend the elements and the Avatar thwarts yet another nefarious plot in order to restore balance. The subsequent seasons, however, became the show’s proving ground. After some backtracking in season two, Korra forged ahead with an agenda that challenged the status quo of storytelling in animation and what is ostensibly viewed as “children’s programming” while still being an entertaining and engaging action-adventure fantasy series.

korra-all-the-avatarsThe Legend of Korra is a multifaceted show that defies simple categorization. Over the course of four seasons we’ve seen this work to the show’s advantage as it essentially grew up under the scrutiny of a generation steeped in internet culture. Avatar: The Last Airbender began and ended before Twitter, Tumblr, and a number of websites were in heavy rotation, but Korra was born within the epicenter of social media and the blogosphere, a place where representation and visibility were, and still are, of the utmost importance. But even with a woman of color as the lead, Korra wasn’t a guaranteed success especially in an environment where anything with a female lead was considered “tricky” or some kind of magical unicorn never to be seen twice. Two years later and the attitude of viewing audiences have towards properties like Korra has changed for the better and yet remained frustratingly the same. DiMartino and Konietzko, or Bryke as they’re affectionately called, aren’t responsible for all matters concerning representation, but they still took it upon themselves to make certain that Korra resonated with her audience despite consistent network interference. By ending the series with Korra and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel) holding hands and staring lovingly at each other as they enter the Spirit World for a much-needed vacation, The Legend of Korra solidified itself as a program indicative of its time and place. Having a queer woman of color in the lead role of a Korrasamifantasy action series put Korra in the unique position of taking a small, but still huge, step forward in the nuanced portrayal of women of color and the LGBTQ community in Western animation and children’s programming. Yes, I’m well aware that anime has been doing this for quite some time.

The uniqueness of the show also stems from a combination of storytelling and character development that, again, isn’t seen a lot in Western animation. For instance, the show follows patterns reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”, but goes to even greater lengths to examine those tropes through the lens of Eastern storytelling. From the beginning, Korra has been a character who embraced the call to action. In fact, it was the central conceit of the pilot and the starting point for the series as a whole. Korra is a more proactive character in her approach to being the Avatar; where Aang tried to find the peaceful route first, Korra was always ready for a fight and the storytelling reflected those traits. Avatar: The Last Airbender was all about the overarching plot of Aang and friends going up against the Fire Lord while The Legend of Korra had contained arcs for each season, which allowed Korra to go up against multiple villains. The advantage for Korra lies in the character growth achieved through her battles with Amon, Unalaq and Vaatu, the Red Lotus, and Kuvira. It’s also another means of showing that the hero’s journey is hardly a linear model with a definitive beginning and end. If legend-of-korra-series-finale-korraanything, the hero’s journey is an ongoing process with multiple starts and stops along the way. The destination is still important, but the journey matters more in the long run and Korra’s journey has been all about growth and change in a world going through the same process.

As a character, Korra has an inherent connection to the struggles of the world she protects. Throughout the series her internal doubts and conflicts are reflected externally. Season one was about elitism and equality in a technologically advanced world, season two the lack of spiritual connection as a result of these advancements, season three the chaos of adjusting to rapid change, and season four the need to control in order to combat the turmoil of chaos. All of these hardships belong to Korra but they are just as present in Republic City, the four elemental nations, and in her enemies. This grounds Korra and gives her personal stakes in the fate of the world regardless of her position as the Avatar. Even if she turned away from the problems facing the world they still live within her. That’s incentive enough to act, but Korra’s peace of mind only appears to be fulfilled when she and the world are in balance.

Season four was a dense playground of themes and ideas, the most poignant being the Buddhist philosophy of suffering. At the end of season three, Korra is poisoned and nearly killed by Zaheer (Henry Rollins). She survives but is broken by the latest in a long line of battles. For three years she attempts to regain her strength and force herself into readiness, but only by accepting the trauma, and learning from her enemies, does she truly begin to heal. Suffering leads to perspective and wisdom, which ultimately allows her to triumph over Kuvira (Zelda Williams); not through the awesome power of being the Avatar but through sympathy and empathy. It was the worst kept Legend-of-Korra-The-Last-Stand-10secret that Korra and Kuvira were reflections of each other. Hell, Bolin (P.J. Byrne) practically spells it out for the audience and I’m fairly certain that the name Kuvira was chosen to be just similar enough to Korra so we wouldn’t miss it. The point being that the similarities between the two in attitude and demeanor forced Korra to go beyond her training as a fighter and find another angle of approach. While the two have some intense and amazingly animated battles thanks to Studio Mir, their conflict ends only when Korra offers a sympathetic ear, something that season one Korra wouldn’t have considered because she didn’t have the experience needed in order to understand Kuvira’s position or her plight. By resolving the situation as peaceably as possible, Korra comes into her own as the Avatar, and the person, she wants to be.

What is specific to Korra, but still a point of connection between her and the audience, is the idea of relevancy. The entire series hinges on a single question: Does the world still need the Avatar? By series end, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” All the mecha suits, spirit kaiju, and political haranguing aside, Korra is still relevant, still necessary to the world around her. But just as importantly, Korra and other shows in the same vein are needed and necessary to the viewing audience. Korra offers something we don’t see as often as we want in the television landscape: a place where women are valued.

beifong womenI’ve written before about the amazing cast of female characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, but the final season of Korra presented a plethora of women offering sage advice or kicking ass – both in Toph’s case. While Korra had plenty of male teachers and enemies, seasons three and four tipped the scale in favor of the show’s female characters. It doesn’t make Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), Mako (David Faustino), Bolin, Bumi, or Kai irrelevant, but it shows that the creators wanted to celebrate women as heroes, villains, mothers, sisters, friends, lovers, leaders, scientists, spiritual guides, and everything else under the sun. The fact that Bolin’s hero is Toph still makes me happy because it isn’t often that we see male characters on television, animated or otherwise, showing unabashed hero-worship for a female character. Bolin, more than any male character in the series, has been the ultimate cheerleader for women. He’s the first to believe in Korra, laying out all of the qualities that make her amazing, he worships Toph, and he defends Kuvira’s cause because he wants to see the good in it before the reality of his situation sets in. Through Bolin, Bryke found their own surrogate to tell the male audience that the Avatar universe is a world of celebration for women and men. Yes, it’s a realm of fantasy, but fantasy has a way of influencing reality.Bolin and Mako

Is it a feminist agenda? Of course, but the seeds have been there since Avatar. Making the next Avatar a woman as well as the reveal that the Avatar is a literal avatar for Raava, the female spirit of light and peace, are choices on the part of the creators to enrich their world as they see fit. By emphasizing the importance of the feminine spirit alongside the extensive female cast, DiMartino and Konietzko have crafted a realm where girls and women are equal in every way. The Legend of Korra accomplishes this without ever having to explicitly state the obvious in-universe compared to the first season of Avatar that went a long way to get the point across that women could fight just as well as men. The women of Korra are, without question, active agents in their world. Youngsters like Ikki and Jinora make just as much impact as the older Lin (Mindy Sterling) and Suyin (Anne Heche) Beifong. Age doesn’t denote skill or importance, giving girls of all ages in the viewing audience a contrasting image of how to define their own value and self-worth as they grow up.

So what’s next for Korra? Not sure. Hopefully a comic book is in the works a la the continuing adventures of Avatar: The Last Airbender that bridged the two series. After the series finale and the ending that will definitely be talked about for some time, it’s clear that there’s plenty of unexplored territory to cover. As Korra says to Tenzin, she’s not done learning. But if this is the last we see of Korra and company, then it’s definitely a legend worth telling.

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A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin AStormOfSwords.jpg

The action packed sequel to A Clash of Kings, which features even less battles than the last book and a ton of weddings, mazel tov! I can’t wait for the next book to completely fulfill my high expectations after this one.

Spoiler Alert: Winter is still coming, but no one gives a damn at this point.
I give it 4.5 out of 5 Killed Off Characters

Next week’s review, pretty much more of the same.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

In the thrilling sequel to A Game of Thrones, everyone becomes a king and all the characters talk about battles that were not included in the book. And there’s still a wall that no one gives a damn about.

Spoiler Alert: Winter is still coming, but I think it was delayed by snow.
I give it 4 out of 5 Killed off Characters

Next week’s review, the sequel to the sequel to A Game of Thrones. Oh man, I can’t wait for everyone in the book to live.