Writing about Comics, with Slightly Regimented Glee

2014 flowed, and 2015 ebbed. Good riddance, 2015. I want 2016 to count, and so I’m gearing up and probably over-doing my plans. But I don’t care.

“I’m starting my coffee, if anybody cares…”

2014 was the year I got back into comics and started blogging about them for fun. I pretty quickly stumbled into a weekly writing gig with the Best Shots team at Newsarama. I got to work with David Pepose, who is a great editor. I got in the groove of deadlines. I learned a lot about reviewing. I learned a lot about comics. I got over my fear of stating a strong opinion, or looking stupid. It was sometimes stressful, but it was increasingly just fun and manageable. It had a rhythm that fit into the other rhythms of my life.

THEN WHAT HAPPENED IS, near the end of 2014, I attracted a little more notice. I got invited to write meatier, more featurey stuff at Paste’s new comics section, and I was also encouraged the be the main comics-opining lady for a new Seattle feminist magazine, STACKEDD.

Around March, of 2015, I officially flamed out of all my writing gigs. The increased pressure and the writing deadlines that were a month out for more complex pieces (as opposed to the tighter weekly schedule for simple reviews) did not mix well with what was a very busy, often-stressful year at my day job (which is sometimes more like a day career). I WASHED UP. I was so stressed. I knew it was mostly in my head and that I did not need to actually have that level of deadline anxiety and shyness about editors and writing dread. But I just did. So I stopped writing altogether and felt dumb and embarassed.

A few months ago, I came moseying back in the form of “I’ll just say whatever I feel like on my own blog that has 21 followers” and that has felt good. I remembered why I started writing about comics in the first place: Because they are fun, they are bite-sized, I love visual art, and every issue is a perfect little “story school” lesson unit.

My weakest point in my general writing life — be it technical writing or long-form non-fiction or short stories — has always been structure and the rise and fall of energy. I’ve been better at the fabric of the thing and not so good at making a dress out of it. In a way that says, “Hey don’t take yourself so seriously!” and also, “Have some eye candy!”, comics gave me a way to digest some basic concepts about story-telling. I’m at the point of my long, stumbly, half-assed writing life, where I do not mind being remedial AT ALL. Just give me the make-up work and put me in summer school.

So in 2016, I am not aspiring to go back to a wider readership or get back in with publications. But I do want to write about comics a lot. On my official list of three writing goals for 2016, I wrote “Write about comics with gleeful abandon.” But because I need structure too, I am giving myself a schedule to write about some of the books I’ve been buying but not reading– the ones that look really cool and I haven’t gotten around to. And I’ll write about them in pieces at a regular pace. Copra, by Michel Fiffe, starting back at #1. Brandon Graham’s Island, which I clued into late, and which I hope will persist (you had me at Farel Dalrymple). Matt Huynh’s webcomic The Boat. Locust Moon’s Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, which is broken up into nice little units to chomp through systematically.

I’ll try to keep an eye on stuff as it comes out too, to the extent that I am having fun and not getting over-whelmed. To the extent that I can keep everything at the nice clip of essay-writing drills. I want to get better at writing something decent pretty quickly. Then hold that pace steady and try to ratchet up the quality through repeated practice.

My other two writing goals have to do with 1) a big ambitious book project that I shelved a few years ago and have always itched to return to, and 2) nerding out further and better on technical/business writing and editing (relates to day job as well as schemes for transitioning to the self-employed writing life).

That is all. Happy New Year.




Reading Magpie, Magpie

magpie-panel-preview (1)

It’s August and I own a physical copy of Matt Huynh’s Magpie, Magpie now. I sent for it in the mail, and I have it right here. It’s summer, and sunlight is filtering in and reflecting off the black, white, and grey of the pages. The book is paperback. It has only a small amount of heft but it has weight. It’s here in the room with me. I feel its texture under my fingers and I feel the breeze from the electric fan across my bare feet and shoulders.

I was sitting in this same purple chair on New Year’s Eve when I read Magpie, Magpie for the first time. I didn’t have the physical book yet. I only had a link to the webcomic. I had resisted clicking over to it because I love and need physical books. Screens and computers are a barrier to me. I just want to hold something in my hands. I want to read it on the bus. I want to be able to cry on it.

I was alone on New Year’s Eve and enjoying my solitude. The person I thought of as my new boyfriend was on a road trip with his friend, and I thought we would have some kind of text exchange that would stand in for a midnight kiss. I thought 2015 was going to be better than the years before. I thought I would be falling in love, and building something up. I did not think I was really alone that night.

In my expansive mood, I clicked on the link to Magpie, Magpie. It’s not that I was transported into the story, it was more that somewhere someone turned the crank that opened all the apertures, and the rain and the crows blew in.

The background and gutters are black. The panels are white and black, brushy illustrations.

First the panels overlap, rising and falling like music beds under the voice of a radio story.

Then the page scrolls down smoothly, unreeling panels one after another in a neat row.

Then the panels wink on and off like lighted windows in the darkness. Opening and closing.

Windows, mirrors, magpies. Blackness.

Then panels fade in and out from the blackness. They don’t overlap now; they are discrete. It is like driving from one town to the next at night, when it isn’t a smear of towns and you feel the darkness and quietness of woods. And then, after a while, the lights of the next town.

There has been a dust storm. There is confusion and movement.

There is a long wait in the darkness at one point as my heart beats and I keep pressing the down arrow. These waits are proscribed.

Sometimes I roll down into the next panel and it rises up in a fluid motion. But sometimes the panel edges into view. Click the arrow down and a bit of it comes up. Click it again and a bit more comes up. It’s like pulling a rope hand over hand, pulling the weight of something heavy up off the ocean floor—an anchor or a crab pot. Finally that thing emerges from the black water.

Then to go back, to review, you click up and the thing inches down again like a coffin being lowered down into the dark ground.

There is white, very bright white. It’s a dark story but saturated with brightness.

The panels can overlap gently or smash into each other.

The panels accelerate and swirl in a feeling of panic, circling, confusion, speed, breathlessness when the panels overlap each other so swiftly that you can barely make them out.

And then the panels speed into frames and there is just a white bird, flying against the black background, a couple of bold feathery brush strokes, only the suggestion of a bird, but very clearly it is a bird. It is not feathery in a delicate sense. It takes up most of the frame, dominating, alone, flying there. Beat after beat, it flaps and flies.

Over and over, again and again, I scroll through Magpie, Magpie, past midnight and into the New Year. It’s later where my sweetheart is, and I know he has stopped somewhere and isn’t driving through the night. He just never sent word back, and I crossed over into the New Year alone.