TOWOIT #236

September 15, 2017… Day 239

I’ve been candid a few times since Monday’s Effective Candor workshop at the office. None of those times did I stop and consider a single thing from the workshop — but that’s how it’s been with me and lessons lately. Maybe it’s that I was standing up for myself, and I think it’s better to just do it than to laboriously figure out how best to do it.

In a team meeting yesterday we were asked for feedback about whether we felt aware of what our potential career paths were at the firm. I said that I felt like as “support staff” there was just a general assumption that I must not care much about my career path. I was reminded that I was lucky to be where I was and had it pretty good.

Then today I told a man I worked with that he was being sexist. He said to me — a calm, professional person listening to him with a neutral facial expression, a person prepared to collaborate — “I don’t want to stress you out.” He says this all the time, prefacing statements and requests with, “I don’t want to make you anxious” or “I don’t want you to get flustered.”

I said, “Please don’t get meta about my feelings in conversation with me. I was sitting here completely calm, but now you’ve made me angry. Angry. That’s different than stressed out. You’ve done this several times and I’ve never said anything. Now I’m telling you that it’s sexist and I don’t like it.”

He quickly said, “Ok, I didn’t realize that, and now I understand and I won’t do it anymore.” Forty-five minutes later, I happened to see his phone lying somewhere, and I took it into his office and handed it to him. He said to the other guy in the room, “See what good care she takes of me?” 

This man is younger than me and has been at the firm half as long.

As I was leaving for the day, my boss said to me, “You get an F in effective candor for this week.” 

When I got home a bit ago, I sat cross-legged in a sunny patch of dead grass outside my apartment complex, reading What Happened. I had tears streaming down my face from a particularly tender part where Hillary talks about her mother.

“Oh, I see you got Hillary’s book!” a man’s voice said. I looked up to see a 70-year old white man standing there looking down on me.

It felt like the whole thing could go any which way, but I decided to enter the conversation in good faith.

He said, “It looks like you’re about 40% of the way through–what do you think so far?”

The sun was blazing at me from over his shoulder and I had to crane my neck way up to see his face. There were still wet tears all over my face. It was awkward, but I was committed to giving my review of the book, and to just hope for the best. After all, we’d been chastised for hiding in secret Facebook groups.

I said, “On the one hand it’s like a big cutaway diagram of a presidential campaign, which is fascinating. On the other hand, it’s also a very human memoir — which I love.”

He said, “Yeah, I was a Hillary supporter in 2008 and 2016, but I just don’t know. I don’t know if we need to be re-hashing last year, and I’m not happy with how she ran the campaign.”

I said, “Well, I understand that. But the book is both broader than last year, and much more intimate than just the campaign. I think it’s ok if not everyone is ready for this book right now, but in five or ten years we’ll be glad it exists.”

He said, “I don’t know.”

I said, “Another thing is, I’m enjoying it because it has a lot of relatable insights for professional women.”

He said, “Maybe.”

I said, “No, not maybe. I’m telling you that the wisdom is in there and I am receiving it.”

So that’s the real-life exchange I had with a man who was a two-time Hillary supporter.

I still can’t believe he said “Maybe.” 

 

 

Questions for General H.R. McMaster, Nikki Haley and Sarah Huckabee Sanders today:

Continue reading TOWOIT #236

TOWOIT #233: What Happened Day

September 12, 2017… Day 236

Today, they arrived: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Unbelievable, by Katy Tur (who covered the Trump campaign for NBC).

In the under-the-radar, “actually-I’m-not-that-crazy-about-Bernie” corners of the leftwing Internet, there’s a buzz of energy surrounding the release of What Happened. What people don’t understand about the women and men who supported Hillary is that the book’s release has turbocharged their commitment to what they were already committed to and talking about. Most immediately, with everybody’s eyes on 2018, those topics are voting rights, voter enfranchisement, voter registration, and voter turnout. Because they are about that action.

I have a deliberate schedule to follow for the next year to maintain my work, classwork, writing, sanity and health. There’s sleep hygiene involved, there’s deliverable dates for finishing book chapters. There are final exams and there are important dates when the big boss is in town. There’s family stuff too. And a boyfriend. But now I know I need to work activism back in more than it has been, because when the election happened I considered every marginalized young person as my young person and I felt responsibility to do my best on their behalf. And I still have to do that.

I also know though, that I have to write like hell. Even when I’m tired and I don’t feel like it. Because I said yes to writing in order to run headlong in the direction of my innate abilities and inclinations. Activism and organizing are not in the direction of my innate abilities and inclinations. They’re the opposite, and I’m going to do some of that stuff anyway. But saying yes to writing will curb my time and energy for activism. So all writing has to be Hell Yes writing. There can be no dilly-dallying in this matter. No dawdling. No equivocating.

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(this decaf Americano is having a dangerous placebo effect on me)

I have barely begun to look at either of these books, but I’m already energized.

Hillary Clinton’s and Katy Tur’s author’s notes start out similarly. In What Happened, Hillary writes, “This is my story of what happened.” In Unbelievable, Katy writes, “This is a true story. It is also my story, which makes it a work of memory.”

Flip to the beginning of the next section a few pages later, and Hillary writes, “Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs.” It is Trump’s inauguration day, January 20, 2017.

Flip a couple pages to the beginning of Katy’s next section, and she writes, “I’m about to throw up.” It’s late on election night — November 8, 2016 — and a fellow reporter has just told her that Trump is going to continue to do rallies. Victory rallies.

These women felt it in their bodies. That’s the way I felt it — a lot of us did. It was a body blow. We were holding our breaths, waiting for an abuser-figure to finally fade away after a long year of Trump on television, Trump on the radio, Trump invading our nightmares. And instead we knew he would be everywhere, in everything. For years. And not just on television. He would be fucking with our very worlds.

And that’s why I want to hear what Hillary Clinton and Katy Tur have to say about what happened last year.

TOWOIT #223: Love and Trouble

August 31, 2017… Day 224

I got carried away and wrote three blog posts for one day.

4:45 am: Morning Edition makes me cry in the shower again

The radio takes on a different quality, early in the morning, when you’re alone and brewing coffee and it’s dark outside.

On NPR this morning, they ran a story about a reporter in Houston driving a woman named Angie back to the home she was evacuated from when the flood waters got near it. They ran into some water in the road that the reporter’s car couldn’t handle, but a Latino man in a big jacked-up truck came along and drove them the rest of the way. The Latino man talked about how in Houston during the flood, it has been everyone helping everyone—it hasn’t been about white, black and brown.

For a reason that I missed, the reporter and the other man went in to look around inside the house while Angie waited outside for them. They came back out and told her everything was dry. She’d been especially worried about her clothes, but they were fine. The water had come up to her doorstep but no further. The men had snapped pictures of the rooms to show her they were dry. As they drove away, the woman looked through the photos. She had a low, raspy voice and you heard her say—sort of to herself—“I know my house is junky, but…” and then she just trailed off.

When that recorded story ended, the reporter and the host talked briefly about how Angie was one of the lucky ones.

Although I was emotionally affected by the story, I thought “This is fine. It was a happy ending. I didn’t just see a video of a wet dog afraid to be rescued, or a senior citizen stranded in waist-deep water, or a baby floating in a storage tub. I’m fine.”

Then those tricky bastards at NPR played the first several bars of “The Water is Wide.”

The version they played was instrumental but unfortunately I knew the words. So then I was crying into my coffee, followed by crying in the shower. All the way to the bus stop, I was still humming the tune, thinking about Houston folks and sniffling.

If you don’t know that song, the verse I know goes like this:

The water is wide… I cannot cross over

Neither have I wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, my love and I

 

6:25 am: Love and Trouble 

On the bus to work I read Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble. I was on the chapter that’s a letter to Roman Polanski, telling him what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl. At one point she asks Polanski if he only sees holes everywhere. We have to point out, because people don’t get it automatically, that a girl is not an object. It’s devastating.

Dederer takes into account the idea that Roman Polanski was a tortured genius, that the 1970s were a weird time. She’s as generous as she can be, but you couldn’t read her paragraphs out loud without tasting piss in your mouth. All the feelings she packs into that chapter—they are what saturate everything now. Rape culture and misogyny are lain bare, retroactive, stinking everything up. It’s in the Oval Office. Every day Gallup tells you what percentage of your compatriots are cool with it, although it’s really more. 53% of white women voted for it. It’s stinking up the Democratic party too.

The founders of the start-up Witchsy invented a male co-founder (hilariously named Keith Mann) to correspond with people who were brushing them off. My social media feeds are full of women I know talking about how real it is — the disrespect, the brush-off, the battle to be recognized as a viable professional. It discouraged me more than usual. I’m turning 40 next year, and I want to take risks and move toward freelancing and my own creative projects. I want to Be Excellent. How clever will I have to be, and how bright will I have to burn, to compensate for my gathering invisibility, for my high voice, for my eyes welling up sometimes when I’m frustrated, for having a woman’s name and being a woman? Because I honestly don’t know if I’m up to that level of witchcraft. (It is worse for women who aren’t white like I am.)

When I was an ecology student 20 years ago, our professor’s wife—also an ecologist—told a group of us women students that the field was changing, turning female. We beamed—sounds great! She scowled. “Oh no, don’t get excited,” she said. “All that means is that ecology will be devalued, trashed, dismissed… and the pay will go down.”

At work, I’m on the outer administrative edges of a prolonged bureaucratic snafu involving a woman my boss is trying to bring onto our team from another team. I don’t know the details myself, but there’s been some thorniness that’s above my paygrade.

Today I wrote up a statement announcing that she would be joining us, and then I took it to her. I asked her if she thought it represented her well, if she was happy with the tone and the details provided. My boss was a little surprised that I’d done that since he’d signed off on it already. I said, without thinking, “I want her to feel a sense of control over her situation, and I want her to know we respect her.”

This has something to do with us being women. And something to do with Trump.

Everything is related and it’s exhausting.  

 

12:00 pm: One of the lucky ones 

At the White House Press Briefing today, the reporters returned again and again to just two themes: Are undocumented immigrants in Houston really going to be ok? Can their safety from ICE at shelters really be ensured? And what about the 800,000 young people in this country who are protected by DACA to study, live, and work in this country despite their immigration status? What is happening with DACA?

Fox News reported earlier in the day that Trump had already decided to kill DACA—something he’s been teasing and flirting with all week. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s stonewalling took on a new cruelty as she refused to confirm or deny or give any real answers. The repetition of the reporters’ questions was like bells tolling, in my mind. These were the humane questions. These were the urgent questions. These were the questions of conscience. This wasn’t grandstanding for TV. Don’t jerk people around about this. There’s no such thing as other people’s kids.

Tom Bossert from Homeland Security was at the briefing too. Tom often seems like a decent person in these situations, but he works for Trump so he’s made his bed. He took two Skype questions from Houston. These Skype questions—new with the Trump administration—have been a handy way to run down the clock on the reporters in the room. The Skype calls often feature cheesy, over-eager personalities from right-leaning outlets who praise Trump and then ask a pompous-sounding question that comes across as either extremely ideological or extremely pork barrel-ish.

Today it was two white guys from Houston, at separate outlets. They were both unshaven, haggard. The first guy was from Fox and he kind of leaned in and barked a question at the camera about the reservoir infrastructure and the army corps of engineers. His craggy head took up most of the screen when he leaned in, and he didn’t care. The second journalist seemed a bit shell-shocked that he had put himself on national television in bad greasy hat hair and a short-sleeved Under Armour shirt. His question was also about the immediate safety and survival for the people of Houston. Both those guys looked like they were sleeping at the station.

After the older guy’s question, Tom Bossert signed off with him by saying, “—and I hope your house hasn’t been affected.” It sounded so inadequate. That was the end of that call, the guy was effectively hung up on right at that point, so who knows about his house. But the guy’s life is probably scrambled. And he’s one of the lucky ones.

Katherine Collins One Afternoon

About a year after U.S. politics ate my interest in comic books, I found myself sitting outside Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, studying a Ben Sears print. It had been the longest, shittiest winter in a hundred years and now I was in the sun, staring at a picture like a child.

I had decamped that morning from Seattle to Vancouver, which is both foreign to me and closer to my original home in Alaska. Trump had decamped to Saudi Arabia. Between the two, my constant IV drip of political news had dried up. My phone didn’t work that well in Canada, so I couldn’t even text anyone for a secondhand hit. The Asian stock markets wouldn’t re-open for another 24 hours. No information was coming in except the colorful details of the Ben Sears print in my hands.

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Just a small detail of the Ben Sears print I bought

Being in an unfamiliar place in new sandals gave me a feeling from childhood that I’d forgotten. There’s liking yourself, and there’s being all right with the world. As adults we try to do both those things and be reasonably happy. But sometimes when you’re a little kid you have this sensation of liking yourself in the world. Liking the places where you and the world touch.

So that’s where I was, with the sun warming my back and bright artwork in my eyes, when my boyfriend tapped my shoulder and said, “We have to go to this panel—not enough people are showing up!”

Continue reading Katherine Collins One Afternoon

TOWOIT #88

April 14, 2017… Day 85

Paul Manafort is registering as a foreign agent after the fact.

I went to visit my sister, to execute our long-held Hamilton plans and have Easter with her kids. I’m reading A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle on the trip. It’s about washed-up radical environmentalists of the 80s and 90s after all their worst ecological-destruction fears come true and everyone is just riding out the rest of their days in climate change chaos. It was published in 2000, and pivots between a point in 1989 and a point in 2025.

I was an intensely earnest child environmentalist in 1989, and in 2000 I was a 22-year old with a newly minted degree in ecology & evolutionary biology. Now it’s 2017 and I’m just a jaded corporatist worrier. And 2025 is not looking very far away at all. So for the year 2000 to be the unspoken frame of reference for this author to be writing from– and to have the story swing between reflection of 1989 and projection toward 2025– well, it’s creepily resonant.

It feels like everything that’s gone wrong in the novel is what was predicted and pre-catalogued by the declensionist main character of the podcast S Town. And I feel like I drove my own declensionism underground between about 2003 and 2016. The whole time between the Iraq war protests not working and last summer. I lost touch with my own ingrained sense of how everything is going to hell. I still felt that way a little more than the average person (I think), but it was muted. I was willing to not know the details. I was ready to be proven wrong. I was falling back on my liberal arts education, which taught me that I actually knew nothing about anything. I allowed myself to feel vaguely optimistic during the Obama years.

Also my declensionism was all tied up with anxiety and depression and being a sensitive, horrified, guilt-ridden child who would lie awake at night imagining terrible things and doing terrible mental math. So I shook it off in order just to live, partly. And then, benumbed, I let everything get so much worse.

And now it’s all coming home to roost.

That all sounds dramatic, but for a bit there over the weekend, we sort of thought we might get into a nuclear pissing match with North Korea. So nothing is really too dramatic anymore.

TOWOIT #27

February 12, 2017… Day 24. Everything is political now; everything is school.

I’ve been reading Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead instead of paying attention to the latest news. I know the novel was written to be painfully relevant to the modern America that existed before Trump was elected. But now there are even more exclamation points and flashing lights on everything.

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I’m sure this was all just about economic insecurity and national security

Not trying to censor C.W. above, just keeping the word out of my mouth.

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Good thing we’re putting identity politics behind us

Steven Miller did the Sunday talk shows for Trump. On Face the Nation, he said that “the world will see” that the powers of the president “will not be questioned.”

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The Washington Post points out that Miller refrained from expressing confidence in Mike Flynn.

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Meanwhile, Senator Chris Murphy says on Facebook, “Racism still exists.”

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Continue reading TOWOIT #27

Coelacanth

I lived in Seattle for a few years in my 20s, in a crappy studio across the parking lot from the coffee shop where I worked. Outside of work, I just wrote and hung out with friends and said yes whenever someone asked me out. Then I crushed so hard on a pedal steel guitar player that I moved to Brooklyn. After several years I wound up in Seattle again.

Not long after I moved back, a customer from that old coffee shop sat down next to me on the 44 bus. I hadn’t seen him in years, hadn’t kept in touch. He was an odd duck, lived alone with his cat, worked from home. There was always the sense that he gleaned a large chunk of his social nutrition each day from our smiles of greeting, the fact that we knew his name, the casual exchange of basic pleasantries. I respected that he was like a creature that lived near a deep sea vent—the solitude and simplicity of his life wouldn’t be for everyone, but he was well adapted to it. This was back when I viewed myself as young and full of possibility. Others as old, limited, gone round the bend. I was a smug, ponytailed angel of customer service.

When he sat next to me on the bus, he didn’t say hello or make eye contact. I was older and thicker and squarer. I figured he didn’t remember me. He was still staring straight ahead when he said, “Did you ever read that book about coelacanths that I told you about?”

I had no recollection of the fish, the book about the fish, or the conversation about the book. My mind was blank except for the way the syllables in the word itself knocked against each other. That I remembered like a song that gets stuck in your head for a whole summer. I laughed his question off and then it was my stop.

Only later did it come swimming back to me: I did read the book. I must have. Why else would I know so much about coelacanths and their rediscovery?

All the Scarlet Witches: The Writing

Dear James Robinson,

After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I can’t ignore your writing anymore. There’s no shame in needing to get better at writing. I need to get better at writing. My blog posts need editing, but I don’t get paid and I only have a few readers. You, on the other hand, have a lot of readers. As a writer for Marvel, you’ve achieved more writing success than I have. You’ve hustled to get where you are, you’ve put yourself out there, you’ve met your deadlines and you’ve completed your task. You’ve given it a shot. You’re a writer.

You’ll need to work harder if you’re going to keep up at Marvel, though. Matt Fraction, Willow Wilson and Tom King have been roaring down the tracks. They’re making it look easy. They’re telling stories so tight and seaworthy that Marvel can say “suck it, Image Comics intelligentsia.” Your writing on Scarlet Witch is like Marvel saying “Comic book readers are kind of idiots anyway.” Or maybe just “No one gives a shit about Scarlet Witch. Let’s really phone this one in.”

After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I put together a list of things to work on:

Words: how many and which ones.

Scarlet Witch #4 is loaded with words, but the ratio of words that mean something to total words is low. This clogs up the works and makes you look like an amateur. Here are some filler words and phrases that you lean on heavily: Although, though, certainly, if I’m truthful, oh, it does seem as if, most notably, it seems, it would seem, I confess, here is where, honestly, that is, I suppose, more accurately, I imagine, as I recall, actually, I’m sure, whereas, apparently. This kind of speech is common in the office world, especially when someone is a) insecure about their intelligence or b) trying to obfuscate their true meaning and avoid being held accountable. So you’ve got a case of business-ese. I think you thought it would add a nice razzle-dazzle of formality or authenticity but you are wrong. It reads as if you originally thought you would make Wanda’s speech biblical or Shakespearean, and then someone was like “Wait. Hold on. Wanda is Roma, and she’s a witch, and this is a comic book. So let’s make her sound like middle-manager in Toledo who is trying to sound more educated than he is while breaking the bad news to the team about health insurance benefit changes.”

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Try limiting the amount of word balloon space you’ll allow yourself per page. Usually when a writer is forced to make something shorter, it winds up being better. Then we could see more of the art and the art could do more of the talking.

Working dialogue to death.

The wordiness I mentioned above seems to be your way of trying to make people talking sound like people talking. But it’s backfiring. Agatha trails along endlessly dumping exposition into her dialogue. It’s exhausting. Wanda over-reports Every Single Feeling she has. She and Agatha have known each other for a long time. Agatha can probably read non-verbal social cues. And so can the readers. Let the art do some of the storytelling. Let Wanda and Agatha’s relationship breathe. And if you’re using dialogue as glue to make your plot followable, maybe your plot isn’t very sturdy.

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Interesting art from Chris Visions

P.S. When your villain says “I love power” that is what they call “too on the nose.”

Overdoing an accent.

Just because someone is Irish doesn’t mean we want to be beaten about the head and neck with a brogue.

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SW 2

The second example also shows an annoying sexist trope without proper sense of irony. So powerful and yet so flawed and broken, yadda yadda yadda.

Tone-deaf tone shifts.

Wanda has JUST had a jarring, life-changing encounter with the ghost of her mother. She’s beside herself. Two seconds later she’s saying “You mean bitch” saucily to Agatha. Makes no sense. Maybe, after getting silly on sidecars, Hellcat says “You mean bitch” in a teasy way to She-Hulk. MAYBE. And even then, I could see it landing with a thud. This just shows that you’re not feeling your own story beats (and maybe that you don’t know how women talk to each other, girlfriend).

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Notice how Agatha shifts right into dialogue as exposition again.

Neglect and mis-use of available themes.

This run of Scarlet Witch could mean a lot to a lot of people. Aging. Personal demons. Mother-daughter relations. Friendship. Sacrifice. The passage of time. Mortality. It’s so rich with potential themes that all you have to do is get out of the way.

And that’s the hardest thing—learning how to get out of the way. It takes imagination, restraint and skill. If you can learn to get out of the way of your artist, of your characters, of your themes, of your own writing, then you’ll finally be making it look easy. If you can’t learn to get out of the way of all that stuff, then you’ll have to get out of the way of someone who writes sharper and snappier than you do.

 

Little Nemo #7 & 8

For awhile this giant book became just another surface, a substrate, and the life of my kitchen table was carried out on top of it. But then I had to enlist the book in my battle against light pollution. I barricade myself in each night. Between the book and the cardboard it came in, I can block a lot a light out.

But I have to keep going through this book. Ronald Wimberly, Matt Huynh, and Yuko Shimizu await me, deeper in. And though I am often too sleepy at night in my little apartment, I like communing with all these dream snippets.

David Petersen’s Little Nemo page has an old-fashioned, vintagey feeling. I think these might be my favorite, because to me they are new and nostalgic at the same time. Unfortunately, it also seems to mean a racist imagining of Imp (again).

But we meet the Princess in a yellow dress.

Her father, the king, sends mice to pick up Little Nemo and the Princess who are out on a children’s adventure. There is nothing too scary, and Nemo knows he is dreaming. He wants a lullaby to keep him asleep on his journey. He and the Princess are sweet little friends.

Then, on the facing page, Jonathan Tune and Eleanor Doughty (on colors) tell a very different story of a different kind of dream. It’s the same Princess in her yellow dress, but she and Nemo are grown up now and their friendship has fallen on hard times.They are on opposite sides of a war. And through a moment’s haste, a misunderstanding, she is shot.

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Little Nemo doesn’t know he’s dreaming, and all the fantastic air ships his mind created turn to dust when he wakes up grieving over the Princess.

In David Petersen’s page, the dream whimsy is contained and defined in clean inking and neat colors.The fantasy is safe for children.  The orderly, carefully described fur of the mice contrasts with the looser inks and water colors of Tune and Doughty’s page. In the war story, the underlying paper is nubbled, the pigment is washed and pooled. The shadows feel contaminating, hard to separate from the bright yellow of the Princess’s dress.

These pages make me want to write a series of novels about these two growing up together, growing hardened, growing apart. Like the Harry Potter novels, the tone would deepen and become more emotionally complex from book to book.

 

 

 

All the Scarlet Witches: Steve Dillon

Scarlet Witches #3 was written by James Robinson (who has been ok at best on this series) with art by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin (Scarlet Witch has a different art team every issue).

Things I like about Scarlet Witches #3:

1.) I kind of like how Steve Dillon (with Frank Martin on colors) plays it as it lays. After more heavily stylized Wandas in #1 and #2, now we have a standard comicbook Wanda. Cleavage, check. Hair that’s sultry but without a lot of personality, check. Pouty comic book lady face, check. I kind of like this cranky, low-affect Wanda, and I like that she is darker-skinned and darker-eyed in this issue. She was looking downright WASPy in #2.

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2.) My favorite thing Dillon and Martin do is a few landscape panels that go farther than anything else in the issue (definitely including the writing) to transmit a spooky mood and a sense of place.

Scarlet Witch #3 landscape #1

3.) The teaser for Scarlet Witch #4 at the end, with Chris Visions’s pages, is a sight for sore eyes. It looks really rich and individual, full of red hues and expressive lines. It looks like we might be getting back to the early promise of Scarlet Witch #1, by  Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire.

4.) James Robinson leaning into Irish brogue is the best opportunity he’s given us so far to work on enjoying a badly written story. Sometimes I’m jealous of the women in my book club who seem to experience novels not as artifacts crafted by a mind but as gossip and folklore that has been downloaded directly into their brains.I enjoy the feeling that we are sitting around a fire talking about people we know. It curbs some of my natural over-thinking. If they were like me, we would kill the novel and take it apart. Most of these women just want to talk about how a character reminds them of their ex-husband, and then there are more details about the ex-husband and everybody forgets about the book for awhile. There is a strong argument to be made that their way of consuming stories is more valid than mine.

At the end of the day: Yes, let’s talk about the end of the day. Lately they’ve been a certain kind. The last three weeks have been long work days full of problem-solving and fire-dousing in the middle of a lot of emotions, politics, and uncertainty. I leave the house at 5:15 in the morning, get home about 12 hours later, skip dinner, and crawl in bed with comic books. I can’t keep up this pathetic routine too much longer without permanent damage to my self-esteem, but for now my total lack of ambition outside of work has been getting me through. So you know, what does a comic book like Scarlet Witch #3 do for me in a situation like that? In my bed with a fried brain? All in all, Scarlet Witch #3 is like a candy bar you used to like as a kid, but now they make it with slightly different ingredients and it’s not as good, but you go through the motions. Hoping that flipping those flimsy pages will make you feel better, that you can recapture some of that magic just from the gestalt of what a comic book is instead of the comic book itself.

Mirror #1 by Emma Rios and Hwei Lim on the other hand? This book met me halfway; this book met me more than halfway. This book came gliding over to me, fresh and intelligent and full of authentic emotion. It was a balm I didn’t have to work for, a revelation. We could have a debate about whether Scarlet Witch #3 justifies its own existence. But when our brains are too tired for debate, its a book like Rios and Lim made that has the power to restore.

Little Nemo #6: Andrea Tsurumi

January 22, 2016

As soon as I got home from work, I took this daylight photograph of my houseguest Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream laid out on my kitchen table by the window. The way my journal goes with this page has given me outsized pleasure.

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Like the best dreams, Andrea Tsurumi makes the mundane surreal and the surreal mundane in her contribution to Locust Moon’s Winsor McCay tribute anthology. She takes a simple play on words and flips it into the most charming, distinctive, and weirdly classic page in the book so far. Two mammaried oddballs guide — or maybe shanghai — Nemo on this adventure in Slumbraland.

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We look down on the scene of the department store floor as these three figures wander through and cross paths with an array of breasted feminoids. Bras and department stores do stretch back just about to Winsor McCay’s time a century ago, making this scene both modern and vintage. Tsurumi also strikes a perfect vintage note with her matte pastels (pitched down a step) and her clean noodly lines. Her art reminds me of boomerang formica tabletops:

Tsurumi makes all the bras taupe and telegraphs “fun” by using squiggly lines instead of bright colors. This is how she keeps her whole page locked into a handful of carefully selected hues. The color scheme is distinctive, disciplined, and pleasing–the playful black lines neatly corral each flat shape. The page is full of uncluttered movement as a cheerful, anxiety-inducing tangle swallows up Nemo.

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Surrounding this little boy with breasts and bra jokes might seem daffily subversive but it’s also just what happens to little kids obliged to tag along after mothers and older sisters. It’s along the lines of the neighbor woman nursing her baby on the porch on a hot day — no big deal. This is classic childhood stuff, just the usual nibbling at the edges of the adult world that sometimes turns into a Fourth of July dunking booth. It’s a page that’s funny because it’s true, and funnier because a woman made it as a humorous shrug and a roll of the eyes. That authenticity also makes it laugh-out-loud funny when Nemo takes a peek under his nightshirt in the lower right, “waking-up” corner of Tsurumi’s page.

 

 

 

Little Nemo #5: Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey

(Reading Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream; Part Something of Many)

It’s important to have fun with objects, and I am having the most fun I’ve had since I bought a manual typewriter in 2012.

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Still Life with Giant Book
Today’s page is a crowd-pleaser, and I never miss a chance to be among a pleased crowd. The bull’s eye look of Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey’s page was already familiar to me because it shows up in a lot of marketing materials for the book. The dream story they tell is serviceable, but the real deal with this page is that it looks good at a glance. It goes down in a big glug. It’s eminently quaffable. Clean black lines. Thick white gutters. Creative paneling decisions that don’t get tangled. Dark teal dominates the page, with pops of muted red. Not too much is said (what a relief some days, huh?) and what is said is in big clear block letters.

I took a photo from above the page–and even on my phone, with crap lighting, the picture turned out crisp, clear, and legible. So much so that it didn’t seem sporting to include that picture! So here is this one instead.

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For scale: Evidence of my ongoing fascination with colorist Jordie Bellaire
In our next installment, we get excited about that business on the right by Andrea Tsurumi.

 

(Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream is a Winsor McCay tribute anthology by Locust Moon Press, which I am not affiliated with.)

 

Little Nemo #4: Jeremy A. Bastian

(In which I “review” a book with giant pages, page by page.)

Jeremy Bastian’s contribution to this Little Nemo project is in black and white and full of pleasing details in the wall paper and around the edges of the panels. It’s a few small things done lovingly. Bastian fleshes out the kernel of a dream–“there was a ship that was also a giant shoe… and I think the crew was insect pirates!”

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His lettering and word balloons are unassuming, and they go well with Nemo’s boyishness. Nemo isn’t so much boyish as he is kiddish. His curiousity, his exclamations, the way he tips over the lip of the bath tub and into this dream–everything right up to and including his rumpled “Yikes!” when he wakes up in the last panel–everything is endearing. Everything makes us feel a little tender toward him.

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If you think about it, you really only have the patience to hear the dreams of people you feel especially tender toward, like little children. “Any dreams last night?” my mom will ask my nieces at the breakfast table. Her eyebrows will be lofted in receptive encouragement and if one of them nods yes, she will start to beam. Not so for me; I have grown too far past that cherubic phase. If I started to tell my mom how I had to haul a casio keyboard up a slippery ladder to find a skein of yarn, her eyes would glaze over faster than you could say “rapid-eye movement.”

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I can think of one exception to the general rule that dream-reporting is a children’s game. My friend Gina’s entire family has a way with dreams and the telling of them. She recently texted me in the middle of the workday: “Uncle Ferd had a dream that he tried to google ‘mayonnaise juice’ on the piano.”

 

(For this series, I’m reading the anthology Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream by Locust Moon Press. It’s a tribute to the newspaper comic strip by Winsor McCay, which came out over one hundred years ago and is still blowing people’s minds)

Little Nemo #3: Jasen Lex

January 8, 2016

I took Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream to bed with me. I was tired, and I know you’re not supposed to take work into bed with you–but I also know you’re supposed to work through the tiredness and try to meet your goals if you really want to be a writer. So I wanted to write about one more Nemo page before I gave up on my to-do list for the day.

Imagine a woman propped up in her four-poster bed, in the sweatshirt she plans to sleep in, wearing coke bottle eyeglasses, legs under a heap of quilts, with only little white Christmas lights for illumination. A giant book lies open on her legs, and requires the full seriousness and length of her thighs to lean against. Her heels are a little bit braced against the mattress, doing their part in supporting the book.

Jason Lex’s page is dark and less paneled than the other two I’ve already written about. It has a lot of greens, browns, and purples. It has textured large three-dimensional surfaces and then cut-aways jammed with flat, cartoony figures. Every word balloon is an exclamation written in hard-to-read gothic lettering. The cutaways are surrounded by a thick white dashed border like ugly white contrast stitching on brown leather shoes from the 1990s. Down at the bottom right, I can see that this page is showing how Nemo has incorporated the storm outside his window into his dream, and he’s imagining that these little creatures are running around possibly inside a dragon, but maybe also in a hill next to a dragon. Nemo doesn’t have any of the bedheady, tumbled-out-of-bed, half-tangled-in-bedclothes-still charm that I’m starting to recognize as a Nemo staple. This Nemo might not even be Nemo. This could be some kid named Kyle.

I’m logey and cross. I want to go to sleep and I’ve committed myself to looking at this joyless page. The best I can do is to identify features and think, “OK, I see what you’re doing with that. OK this is a piece of that cleverness.” There’s no white space. There’s nowhere for my eye to rest. There’s not room for an impression to bloom in my mind.

All the while, there’s this big expanse of the facing page, and I’m forcing myself not to look at it. But it’s there, hogging my field of vision, calling to me. There’s tons of whitespace on that other page and my eye wants to go over there so badly. It’s like I’m a little kid in bed with the mumps and I can stare at dark, unappealing wallpaper, or I can look out at a field covered in fresh snow on a bright, winter day. Maybe there are a few fences and clumps of trees, but mostly it just looks really clean and white and snowy.

And then my mood tips and teeters on this edge between dilligence and subversiveness. Suddenly I’m a little kid, up too late, but fascinated with something. Suddenly, I’m wooed by the danger of over-stimulating myself, never falling asleep, having mom barge in and yell at me when she sees my light on under the door and it’s so far past my bedtime.

That other page is by Jeremy Bastian and I will stare at it head on and write about it another night.

Sweet dreams.

 

Little Nemo #2: Farel Dalrymple

In which I sit in my tiny apartment, reading a giant book that is a tribute to a very important cartoonist that I was heretofore not familiar with.

Hello again, we are back with Farel Dalrymple’s two page Slumberland spread. The giant book is propped open on my sturdy laundry hamper, and from above it looks like it is floating in the air. I sit down in the easy chair next to the book and briefly put my feet up on it, just to try that out.

I know from reading Farel’s stories that he knows his way around magical children in situations that are troubling yet imbued with human kindness. With his Winsor McCay entry, he seems to have decided, “It’s ok if this doesn’t make sense” and then loaded a dreamscape with feelings and easter eggs.

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Because Imp is now (for better or worse) the Waldo of this book, I looked right away to see if he was there, where he was, and how he was drawn. Ahh, I see, said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw. He’s riding a bird, and when Nemo asks him why he can speak English now, Imp responds, “Maybe you just used to be more racist in your dreams.”

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“Maybe you just used to be more racist in your dreams”

Now this makes sense. It makes dream sense. It’s like how last night, I dreamt that I slept with an acquaintance and in the dream he had washboard abs. I woke up laughing because my dream self seemed to celebrate washboard abs a lot more than my waking self. So maybe tonight I will dream about him again, and I’ll say, “Wait, why do you have a normal, middling physique now?” and he will say, “Maybe you just used to be more shallow about male beauty standards in your dreams.”

If there’s anyone who can get to the heart of that real weird dream logic, its Farel Dalrymple. Nemo goes through wardrobe changes in every panel, flies, and doesn’t know who he can trust as dream-reality shifts all around him.

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Underneath the pastel candy colors the pages are anxious, and maybe weary. Like underneath all the razmatazz, dream Nemo really just has a plane to catch and a calculus examthat he had forgotten about, for a course he didn’t know he was enrolled in.