Thursday, May 31, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of June 1st, 2007)

It’s been a Rather Exhausting Week, Gentle Reader, as summer has come to The South, and with it, Summer School. Not that I dislike teaching summer school; far from it. It’s just a daily occurrence, with Really Big Novels, in the Heat, and in a very short expanse of time.

Since with Great Novels comes Great (teaching) Responsibility, I’ve been rather neglectful of my pop culture. Television in the Reads Household this week has been of the Food Network persuasion, and honestly, it’s about all I can bring myself to focus on. This is so much the case that when Mr. Reads asked me if I had read the latest issue of Wonder Woman, I had to, quite honestly, tell him no.

But what this week *has* brought is Great Buying Responsibility, in that I placate Mr. Reads’ addiction to the Marvel Legends line, as he placates This Humble Author’s addiction to All Things Amazonian, All The Time. That is to say, while at Wal-Mart today, I found the She-Hulk, Xorn, and Yellowjacket Mr. Reads has been waiting for, and then, at another store just an hour ago, we found Quicksilver and the Marvel Select Cloak and Dagger.

Mr. Reads is a firm believer in the Posing Power of the action figure, while I, I am rather hesitant to say, am quite an In-The-Box kind of girl. There are few, if any, of my Fun Toys out of their original packaging, and those only happen on the rarest of occasions.

But seeing Mr. Reads’ pure delight over finding these hard-to-get items in our rather small college town made me think of the (hard-to-get) Items of My Own: my Hush Catwoman, my Wasp red variant, my Marvel Select Emma Frost. I remembered back to my months-long search for the Red Son Wonder Woman which I found (finally!) on clearance in a mall a state away. Thankfully I hadn’t traveled a state away just to find said action figure. Rather, the find was fortuitous, and gratefully acknowledged.

There are other things, too, lost in the void of distance, age, and time. My Wonder Woman underoos, of course, as well as my Wonder Woman costume, immortalized in scratchy photographs of a slightly chubby, nearsighted child with too much hair and a look of wonder and hope that has gone the way of said costume. My Wonder Woman lunchbox, my Star Wars lunchbox, my Princess Leia Halloween outfit, my Jem and the Holograms dolls, my She-Ra action figures. Once in my possession, now gone, some twenty years since, but still precious for the memories they left behind.

What is it about the physicality of fandom, Gentle Reader? Why does the Reads Household purchase, still, action figures and Barbies and statues (oh my!)? I don’t think it is a reckless clinging to youth, desperate in its grasp, clutching a bit too fervently. Rather, I think, in no small part, that it is insurance for the future, the decision that despite this or that problem, there is still something solid, something there, something small and plastic and fun that Makes Us Happy.

Or, as I asked Mr. Reads once, “what to do if the future children get hold of variant Sentry?”

To which Mr. Reads said, “!!!”

(Do not worry for future Baby Readses, Gentle Reader! Pup Reads has destroyed, so far, Venom, Namor, Maestro’s crown, and Juggernaut’s helmet, and she still receives love, food, and shelter on a daily basis.)

We collect, and collect, and protect against damage, but we cannot guarantee protection. We cannot guarantee anything. Why, then, collect these things? Why, then, display these objects of fandom, these Physical Representatives of our interests, for all the world—or just ourselves—to see? Because of the memory? Because even This Humble Author remembers with fondness, some 25 years after the fact, wearing a Wonder Woman costume under her school uniform, and feeling for all the world like Diana Prince?

So we buy these things to remind ourselves, or to remind others?

It’s rather late, Friends, and I’ve a long day stretched in front of me for tomorrow, so I leave you not with possible answers but instead with questions. What do we make of our fandom collecting? How do we, as fans, comprehend those objects that mark us as such?

And where can one Such As Myself find a decently priced Hush Catwoman action figure anyhow?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This Is What a Girl, a Super Girl, Should Be Like

Summer term has started, Gentle Reader, and already, I’m drowning in work, work, work. I’ve been up for less than an hour, with only one cup of coffee (so far!) to make me Somewhat Coherent. I wasn’t going to blog about this yet, rather wait until this afternoon, after dissertation work and office hours and class (oh my!), but Kalinara's early post this morning inspired me. I just will endeavor to bring you something Arrogant Self-Reliance rarely does: brevity.

A few minutes ago, Mr. Reads called me over to his computer to show me something that, as he claimed, was going to “make me giddy.” As so often happens, Mr. Reads was not wrong. He showed me this interview with Mr. Bedard and these concept sketches by Mr. Guedes, and I became, to put it Mildly, Giddy Indeed.

Kalinara has reviewed Mr. Bedard’s plans for his upcoming stint on Supergirl, and I agree with her completely. Here is an idea for a Supergirl that truly is, as Kalinara terms it, a “teen of steel.” Indeed! In a complementary fashion, I’d like to draw Your Attention, Friends, to the concept art accompanying the interview.

*This* is what a Super Girl should look like, because this is what a Strong Girl looks like. As Mr. Reads said this morning, she has a *girl’s* body, not a woman’s body, and that makes all the difference. A little awkward, a little over-confident, and completely comfortable in her own skin. Look at her stance, how she hams it up for the viewer, her strength, her proportions. This is a Young Woman in Comics that I believe will attract younger, female readers. This is a Supergirl that I would have loved to have as a Young Girl Myself.

In particular, Gentle Reader, look at this image of Supergirl sitting down, with her cape tucked over her leg. I have taught, on Many Occasions, young women in this age range. Once, I was even Such A Girl Myself. And for those of you with any doubt, let me tell you that *girls sit this way, all the time*. In all honesty, I, as a 30-year-old woman, *still* sit this way, on occasion.

This is a realistic portrayal of a woman for a comic book. This is just plain Super.

Bravo, Mr. Bedard and Mr. Guedes. You have brought the Super Girl back to Supergirl.

Monday, May 28, 2007

On the Docket: Recent Pop Culture in the Reads Household

Happy Memorial Day, Gentle Reader, and I hope your picnics and barbeques are sunny and bright! Mr. Reads and I have been preparing ourselves for that most auspicious, albeit hectic, of summer activities, The Start Of Summer Term. Entire semesters crammed into one month of Every Day Class and Sunlight and Heat (oh my!) certainly keep us On Our Toes, and to ready ourselves, Mentally, we have, I must confess, indulged in various forms of our Popular Cultures the past few days.

This, of course, means watching A Lot Of Television, and let me express to you, Friends, my utter delight and admiration for the following recent season finales: Heroes, Lost, and The Office. But with Season Finales and the Impending Summer Term come that most dreaded of times, Summer Television Slump. No Lost, no Heroes, no Office or Family Guy or Battlestar and no Gilmore Girls, forever.

Of course, Mr. Reads and I must Combat This Boredom Somehow, and Summer becomes our time to Explore New Shows. Over the past several summers, we have used our extra Must See Time to try out, finish, or return to shows such as Carnivale, X-Files, Band of Brothers, the Sopranos, and West Wing. This summer is No Different, and we find ourselves exploring the following:

Life on Mars is now available on BBCAmerica, but not every episode, I’m sorry to say. But what we’ve seen, we’ve loved, and we are ready for more.

Hex, another show from the BBC (Mr. Reads and I are Anglophiles of The Highest Order!) which is a bit of Buffy, a bit of Charmed, and where we are now in the order, could go either way, quality-wise. We’re keeping an eye on this one, and are a bit mixed in our feelings.

Freaks and Geeks is a show I haven’t seen since it aired, and we’ve made Excellent Use of our Netflix Account for this one. Although I must admit, Gentle Reader, that Mr. Reads and I both are Rather Uncomfortable, at times, with the Sheer Uncomfortable Reminders of teenaged life. Adulthood, for This Humble Author, at least, is much preferable.

Harsh Realm we just finished, and I was Rather Impressed with this short-lived show. Of course, I have had a soft spot for Mr. Sweeney since his Cutting Edge “toe pick” days, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Also up on the docket are: Veronica Mars (thanks, in large part, to the insistence of Matthew of Legion Abstract fame and other such Smart People who keep recommending it to the Reads Family), Waking the Dead (another BBC show Mr. Reads and I fell in love with while across the Pond), Big Love, Deadwood, and some other assorted sundries Here and There.

Novel-wise, I am exploring the fascinating worlds of Madeleine E. Robins’ Sarah Tolerance series, and Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series. The former details a Fallen Woman turned Thief Catcher in Regency England, and the latter follows the adventures of the Irish Immigrant and first woman P.I. in turn-of-the-century New York. Mr. Reads, meanwhile, recently has enjoyed the world of John Scalzi. Both of us wait in Eager Anticipation for the new Connie Willis, Greg Rucka, Neil Gaiman, and J.K. Rowling to fill up space in the meantime.

But what of Comic Books, you may ask, Gentle Reader? Alas, my Comic Book reading is rather behind at the moment, due to many factors, mostly Dissertation and Work Related, but thanks to the Wonderful Ms. Karen Healey, I have recently—just, Gentle Reader!—had the Honour and Pleasure of Guest-Blogging on Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed). Much Gratitude is extended to Ms. Healey for this opportunity.

Any pop culture to recommend to me, Friends? If so, please, I implore you, help us fill Our Empty Summer Entertainment!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of May 25th, 2007)

I’m not much of a gamer, Gentle Reader, but when I do sit down to game, I do so with every intention of playing a Powerhouse of a Character.

That is, I’m not very *good* at gaming. I’m a masher of The Highest Order. As my hand/eye coordination is rather limited, I can’t remember to press buttons in the correct order to get the best possible moves. I understand it as a failing, of course, but it doesn’t bother me all that much. Rather, I have skills in other arenas, and I’m quite happy with The Ones I Have. So when I choose a video game character, I often look towards those who can Smash ‘Em Up, Bash ‘Em Up with the best of them. They are, ultimately, the characters that serve mashers such as Myself, the best.

Mr. Reads is The Proud Owner of a Nintendo Wii, and the older Nintendo system, the GameCube, both of which, I suppose, by law, I am The Proud Owner of, as well. But I think of them as His Systems because he is, ultimately, the Gamer in the Reads Family. When we were waiting, and waiting, for the Wii to become available, I asked him if he wouldn’t rather have a Playstation or Xbox, or any of the other numerous systems out there. He responded in the negative because, as he suggested, Nintendo is in the business of Making Games and Gaming Systems. The quality, therefore, is much higher.

I admit, Gentle Reader, that my questioning was somewhat selfish because I knew that The One Game I wanted to play Above All Others was not available for the Wii. Rather, Justice League Heroes is Playstation ready, and Xbox ready, but not so much for the Wii. That is not to say that I regret the purchase of Our Darling Wii. Quite the contrary. For a novice gamer such as myself, I find the Wii to be quite User-Friendly, and Rather Fun.

But still, the lack of Wonder Woman goodness plagued me.

That is until Our Dear Friends went out of town and loaned us use of their Playstation while away.

Mr. Reads and I immediately ran out and rented Justice League Heroes, and while I admit that I was Quite Terrible At It from the Beginning (Batman’s skills were a bit beyond a mere masher such as This Humble Author), Mr. Reads was, on the contrary, Quite Skilled, and he played, and played, until he unlocked all costumes, all characters, all suits. And in the end, because Mr. Reads saved her just for Me, I got to play as Armored Wonder Woman.

Gentle Reader, dare I even express my Joy and Amazement over playing as The Amazon Princess, and in her Royal Armor, no less? Her powers, her flight, her agility, her healing, all of it allowed me, yes, even This Humble Author, to stay alive a lot longer than I was ever able to stay alive in a game before.

And in the end, when Mr. Reads and I lined up our teams, I had Quite The Powerhouses on my side: Wonder Woman, armored, Hawkgirl, Zatanna, and Huntress. Mr. Reads lined up Flash, Batman, Green Arrow, and Superman. And we went into the final level, to defeat Darkside.

What’s so interesting about this final level is that you line up four team members for each player, because defeating Darkside is Very Difficult Indeed. And you line them up, in the order you wish to play them. When one character runs out of power, your next character comes out to play. This is The Justice League, after all. This is a Team of Superheroes, always ready to Get One’s Back, if needed.

When we defeated the game, Mr. Reads was playing as Green Arrow, and I was still playing as Wonder Woman.

Friends, let me remind you that *I am not very good* and Mr. Reads is *very good indeed*. Mr. Reads not only has Excellent Hand/Eye Coordination, but also, he has what some might call “mad skills” with Strategy. For This Humble Author, not so much. So let that speak to the ability of the Wonder Woman character in Justice League Heroes. Let that serve as proof that this character, this Amazon, is A Powerhouse Indeed.

Sadly, we had to return both the game and the borrowed gaming system, but we both wait, with Anticipation, for the availability of said game for the Wii. Because I for one—yes, even This Humble Author, Gentle Reader!—would like to give this game another run.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Art Saves (Because It Must): A Brief Review of The Plain Janes

You may remember, Gentle Reader, that Mr. Reads and I Hopped Across The Pond this past January for my Research Trip Of Grand Proportions. When I (finally!) stole a spare moment or two from research to look at Art, Mr. Reads dragged me, kicking and screaming the whole way, to the Tate Modern. Not that I pooh-poohed the idea of Art, in General. I adore Art, particularly as I Cannot Produce It. I don’t have that talent for visualizing something out of nothing. If I stare at A Blank Page, I can only see, as Mr. Hamlet would say, Words, Words, Words. I am a Writer, by nature, by profession, by trade, by choice, and most importantly for this discussion, by Training. My plans for a comic book—yes, even I, Gentle Reader, have plans for A Comic Book Of My Own—have been aborted, time and again, by my sincere lack of artistic talent. One cannot break through in a medium that proclaims the marriage between Art and Text if one cannot produce half of the equation, no?

Rather, I kicked and screamed my way to the Tate Modern because not only was I leaving the Tate Britain, and thus Waterhouses and Rossettis and Siddals (oh my!), but also because Modern Art baffles me. It is true, Friends. I have no appreciation for the Modern or Postmodern Artistic, and sometimes even Literary, Sentiment. I am a Victorianist, by nature, by profession, by trade, by choice, and most importantly for this discussion, by Training. I *understand* Victorian art. I *adore* Victorian art. And while I dally in the 20th Century for the occasional Magritte or Picasso or Dali, my heart and my understanding are rooted firmly in the 19th.

I offer you this rather lengthy and personal introduction so that you understand the oddity of my absolute joy over discovering a room, yes, an *entire room*, devoted to those most militant of artistic activists, the Guerrilla Girls. I do not like Modern Art, Gentle Reader, nor do I like Postmodern Art. That of course includes the Dadaists, the Performance Artists, and should therefore include the Guerrilla Girls. But even Mr. Reads, who has known me for almost ten years, was surprised to hear me squeal with delight inside That Most Auspicious Of Monuments To The Modern And Postmodern Art Movements, the Tate Modern.

And Squeal I Did, Friends, loudly, publicly, to looks of surprise and consternation from My Fellow Museum-Goers. The Guerrilla Girls are activists who draw attention to the lack of women and minorities in the arts. Their militant tactics included such things as plastering posters such as This One (gratitude, Tate Modern) to raise awareness of women and minorities working within the arts. This is a cause I appreciate and believe in. This is an artistic movement that I have admired for as long as I have been aware of it.

So when This Humble Author realized that Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s The Plain Janes offers a microcosmic look at the effects of guerrilla art in one small town and one small high school, you can only imagine the squeal of delight over said discovery. Even further, when This Humble Author realized that The Plain Janes details the use of such guerrilla art by a Young Woman as a means of recovering from the Shock and Horror of a terrorist attack, you can only imagine how much I fell in love with this book.

“Art Saves” are the words written on a notebook Main Jane recovers from the bombing site. “Art Saves” are the words she takes to heart when she rescues a John Doe from the bomb site. “Art Saves” are the words Main Jane repeats, like the Prayer They Are, to make sense of a senseless tragedy. She is a Survivor, she is a Hero, she saves One Man from the rubble, and still, her whole world falls apart.

Gentle Reader, you may be aware of the fact that This Humble Author is from New Orleans, and that I was home, visiting family, when we had to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina. The Reads Clan and the Reads-in-Laws were the lucky ones. We all had somewhere to go: most came here, to Mr. Reads’ and my house, and others scattered across the South, to various friends and family. But with Math there is always Aftermath. So many of our Friends and Family Lost Everything. And while we are Grateful for the Lives Saved, we still Struggle Through Recovery.

That is to say, The Plain Janes is a title that I would give to any young man or woman trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy. What Castellucci and Rugg do, and do Very Well, is avoid the idea of The Perfect Happy Ending. This book understands that Not All Endings Are Perfectly Happy, and that is Perfectly Okay.

Even further, what Castellucci and Rugg do Even Better is offer an alternative definition of Hero. A Hero is not only someone who saves, but someone who survives, as well. Because it’s just as hard to pick up the pieces and carry on as it is to pick up the person lying next to you and drag him or her to safety. Because Being A Hero means being strong, even in the face of danger, and being strong, even in the face of ceaseless fear.

That’s what affects Main Jane the most, Gentle Reader: ceaseless fear. Her parents move her to the suburbs for her safety, and she hates it: the lack of culture, the high school cliques, leaving her friends behind, and most importantly, leaving behind John Doe, the man she saved, the man whose notebook she holds on to, like the talismanic item it is, the man to whom she writes, detailing her pains, her fears, her frustrations. Because Main Jane’s parents aren’t the only ones suffering under ceaseless fear. Her mother’s incessant phone calls affect Main Jane’s tranquility, certainly, but so, too, does her desire to reinvent herself. To throw off the cloak of normalcy and popularity, and to become The Person She Wants To Become.

And so she begins that quest. She refuses the popular girls’ offer to sit in their lunch group and finds the right table for her. “And then,” Main Jane says, “When you least expect it: Paradise!” She means Jane (the actress), Jayne (the brain), and Polly Jane (the athlete). Even when the Janes, her “tribe,” are “completely unimpressed” with her, she says, “I just know that these girls, these Janes, are my friends.”

Taking cues from the words “Art Saves,” Jane comes to the Startling Realization that so few ever come to: in order to save others, you first Must Save Yourself. So she uses art to cement a relationship with these Janes. They form P.L.A.I.N., “People Loving Art In Neighborhoods,” a secret group that performs (Guerrilla) Acts of Random Art. They form friendships. They bring a community of teenagers together.

As with almost all stories involving teenagers, lines are divided quickly between The Teens and The Adults. And The Teens seem to understand that Art *can* Save, because It Must. That is to say, what some see as vandalism is a way to bring beauty back into a world so devoid of it. The acts of the P.L.A.I.N. Janes are acts of creation, not of destruction. They become ways of making sense in a world that lacks sense, lacks understanding. Through these Random Acts Of Artness, Main Jane not only gains friends she wanted (the P.L.A.I.N. Janes) and friends she didn’t (Cindy, the Queen Bee), but she also gains a sense of self.

Art Saves Main Jane, as she predicted it would.

The link between Art and Tragedy is solid, Gentle Reader. Tug on it, and you find no give. Art reflects larger senseless tragedies, as the poetry of WWI soldiers such as Mr. Sassoon or Mr. Owen reflects, and art reflects personal tragedies, as well, smaller in scale, perhaps, but just as tragic, just as senseless. Ask Ms. Bishop, and she will tell you that “The art of losing’s not too hard to master/though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster” (“One Art”). Ms. Plath will tell you, too, that “Dying,/is an art, like everything else” (“Lady Lazarus”). And while These Great Poems use the word “art” to denote skill, they intend for us to understand skill as talent, as grace. Something one has an affinity for, to do very well (to do it so it feels like hell, so sayeth Ms. Plath). Art becomes a way of understanding tragedy, certainly, with the act of the poem, the painting, the photograph, the book. But art, by its very nature, is a skill set, a way of *dealing* with tragedy, not only with the act of the poem, the painting, the photograph, the book, but also with the community of the poem, the painting, the photograph, the book.

Art is public. By its very nature, it is meant to be shared. By its very nature, it is meant to speak, and speak loudly, to those who wish to hear. And by its very nature, Art is meant to be interpreted. While some see Salvation, others see Despair. What The Plain Janes makes perfectly clear is that while some see Destruction, others see Creation.

A common consequence of Destruction is Creation, Gentle Reader, and while said Creation is open for interpretation, The Plain Janes interprets it as self-creation. As self-understanding. For one teenaged girl, one Main Jane, yes, but through her, for dozens, perhaps hundreds of others.

Art Saves, because it must.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of May 18th, 2007)

You may have guessed this by now, Gentle Reader, but I don’t believe in essentialism. That is to say, I don’t believe that because I was born with a Uterus and 2 X Chromosomes that I am predisposed to liking Pink, and Dolls, and Romantic Comedies. Further, while I believe in it more than I do essentialism, I don’t particularly like the idea that social constructivism has determined my self. I don’t like the fact that despite my triumph over essentialism, that hive mind we call Society came along and determined that because I am a Girl—wrapped in a pink blanket upon birth and granted dominion over all things cute, ruffled, and/or fluffy—I have been socially geared towards things such as Pink, and Dolls, and Romantic Comedies. Also Motherhood, heterosexuality, passivity, intuition, and that annoying partridge in that bloody pear tree.

Even further, I don’t believe that because Mr. Reads was born with male anatomy and XY Chromosomes that he is predisposed to like football, beer, and, say, superhero comics. In fact, I would Greatly Argue that Mr. Reads likes, say, Superhero Comics because he was, as a child, inclined *not* to like football or trucks but rather liked books, and science, and fantasy. And I would say that This Humble Author likes, say, Superhero Comics not because I was inclined towards All Thing Male, All The Time, but rather because I saw a woman in satin tights fight for *my* rights and the good ole red, white, and blue.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about What Attracts Us, yes, We Few, We Happy Few, We Fans of Comics, to the Comic Book Medium, at large, and the Superhero Comic Universe, specifically. Because while the argument can be made that Many People read Comics—Graphic Novels, Manga, William Blake, virtually anything defined as a Marriage between Image and Text, those Stories Told Visually, even Ekphrasis might work here, by definition—not all of those Readers are Superhero Fans. The Superhero Comic is a unique genre in and of itself, and it relies, by definition, on the existence of The Superhero, The Villain, and the Battle Between Good and Evil.

Of course, Gentle Reader, you may argue that All Literature is represented as The Battle Between Good and Evil, and you may just be right. But Said Battle isn’t always defined in clear-cut terms, complete with Flights, and Tights. And those who are attracted to Said Battles, again, We Happy Few, are attracted to them, specifically, for a reason.

I don’t know if I can express My Reason in so many words, because That Reason is Rather Personal. But then, all literary choices are personal; we are attracted to the things we are attracted to because we are Who We Are. While I no longer read Romance Novels (although I did for many, many years) because I find them somewhat unrealistic, I now read more Superhero Titles than I did ever before. And what is more unrealistic than the idea of an alien come to save America and the World? Or an Amazon leaving an Island of Women to save Man’s World? Or a son, marked by the tragic deaths of his parents, becoming the Savior of His City? Or that Said Amazon can fight for my rights in those assuredly confining and rather counterproductive satin tights, anyhow?

There is something to be said, then, for the Power of Fantasy. For the Suspension of Realism, even if just for the 30+ pages of a Comic Book, or the 300+ pages of a Romance Novel, or for the 2 hours of a movie. We read because we desire some suspension of realism, no? We escape to fictional realms every time we open a novel, or step into a movie theater, or play a video game. We, as a Fanbase, desire some sort of escape from The Real World.

But, as many have argued before me, nothing mirrors The Real World’s problems better than Fiction, and Science Fiction specifically. 1984 discussed the growing anxiety over governmental spying, surveillance, and control. Brave New World warned us of the dangers of “playing god.” Lord of the Rings showed the disastrous results of environmental disregard.

But I say that the reverse is true, as well. Nothing mirrors The Real World’s capacity for Greatness better than Fiction, and Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comic Books, specifically. Just as Mysteries are about making the disorderly orderly, so too are Comic Books about making the Alien Familiar, the Other a person not to fear but to aspire to. Superman shows us that even the one who should be The Ultimate Outsider can be the one to Save Us All. Wonder Woman demonstrates that what seems to be radical inclusive feminism is in fact an attempt to save all of us, men and women alike. Batman shows us that with Great Anguish comes Great Resolve, and that Good can be born out of Evil. As does Spider-Man. As does Catwoman. As does Big Barda.

The more we depend on essentialist arguments, Gentle Reader—those arguments that claim this or that is for boys or girls, but never the twain shall meet—the more we isolate ourselves. The more we separate, and separate, ad nauseam. But let us not be so eager to embrace social constructivism, either. Let us instead think not in terms of Either/Or, but rather in shades of gray. Further, let us determine why some insist, yes, insist on claiming separatism For Us All.

When This Humble Author was growing up, Barbie said, quite loudly and publicly, “Math is Hard!” And so began the debate over whether this item of Pop Culture, this Doll, this Inanimate, Programmed Thing could have any bearing on Young Girls’ Lives. So began the discovery that elementary schools actually reinforced this idea that “Math is Hard!” if you were a girl. Unbeknownst to educators, almost an entire educational system was geared towards Feminine=Humanities, Masculine=Math and Science. And now, some twenty years later, we are still struggling to make sure our girls are encouraged in both literature *and* math, and our boys are encouraged in both math *and* literature. Colleges and Universities, even, work hard to encourage more women to go into engineering, hard sciences, and advanced math and computer fields. Because there just aren’t that many women there, even now, twenty years later.

All because of an essentialist argument that no one was even aware was being made.

All because a doll once said, “Math is Hard!"

Friday, May 11, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of May 11th, 2007)

What a week it’s been, Gentle Reader! Or should I say, two weeks, since I was unable to read the week fully Friday Last? A trip home, a visit with Parents Reads and the Reads-in-Laws, and now, Mr. Reads and I have A Houseful of the Canine Persuasion, as we are Dog-Sitting for Some Dear Friends while they are out of town. Four dogs, finals, and summer school prep (oh my!) and is there any wonder that I’ve been rather neglectful of you, Friends? For that, I Do Apologize, and humbly Ask Your Forgiveness.

During this madness, however, was the Marvelous Thing known as Free Comic Book Day. I adore Free Comic Book Day, Gentle Reader, and not only because This Humble Author receives Free Comic Books. Also, it is the Idea that Literature Should Be Free, given away to people who may not otherwise give Certain Literature Its Due. A Justice League book here, an Umbrella Academy book there, and, for This Humble Author, an Interesting Introduction to the Wide World of Manga.

Yes, Friends, you heard right. Manga.

I am Not A Manga Fan by trade, by profession, or by blogging, but that is not to say that I pooh-pooh the Idea of Manga. Rather, much of the Manga I had seen was of the open-mouthed wide-eyed screaming variety, and while I enjoy big eyes and screaming as much as the next person—having some rather large eyes and a rather big mouth myself—all of the Manga I had encountered was a bit manic for my tastes. A little too flashy, a little too loud, and frankly, I’m rather anti-black-and-white pen medium. I like my books colorful. I like my comics a bit brooding.

Also, I like superhero books, and I’m Rather Fond of the Flights and Tights crowd. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Black Canary (known to scream herself On Occasion!), these are my heroes, and while Sandmans and Deaths and Homicidal Maniac Johnnies and Vampire Slayers and Hellboys grace my shelves, all are rather lacking in the Flights and Tights department. Manga just wasn’t superheroic enough for This Humble Author, it seemed.

That is to say, until Free Comic Book Day, 2006.

Tokyopop released a book full of previews, and among these gems was a chapter from Kat & Mouse by Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi, and an advertisement for Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova. And thus began my introduction to the Wide World of Manga, which was, I am rather happy to say, Much Wider than I had given it credit for, originally.

Suddenly, I saw something in Manga that I hadn’t seen before: its graphic novel potential. Here were entire stories in one solid medium, in novel form, not serialized, not colored, just *told*. And moreover, the stories were *fun*. Reading Kat & Mouse made me pick up Queenie Chan’s The Dreaming which made me recently pick up Chmakova’s Dramacon which made me pick up Kaoru Mori’s Emma. And the loudness that I always had associated with Manga was suddenly quieted, and I could read, and read, and just enjoy.

Of all of these, Dramacon is my favorite, and here’s why: it works so very well as a metafictional tale. In short, Chmakova’s books function as manuals for the act of writing itself, as guidebooks for the budding author, for the fan existing *and* producing in fandom, and most importantly, for the young woman trying to navigate the Tricky Waters of Life. For, as I am certain we all know, there is Nothing Trickier than Life, no? And for This Humble Author, at least, Life was never As Tricky as it was when I was a teenager.

Yes, it’s true, Gentle Reader, this post is Much Ado About Manga. But as a Fan existing within Comic Fandom, as a Writer with the Burning Desire to Write A Comic Book Of My (Very) Own, and as a Reader of All Things, Comic Book, Victorian, Mystery, or Otherwise, I want to express my Gratitude, and Appreciation, for the Wonderful Day known simply as Free Comic Book Day. Well done, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Tokyopop, and the Other Publishers who gave away books this past May 5th. I’m a reader, certainly, but now, you’ve made me more of a buyer.

Better yet, you’ve made me more of a Fan.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Amy Will Not Read the Week (of May 4th, 2007)

Greetings, Gentle Reader, from the Home of the Parents Reads!

I am currently in my hometown, visiting with family, and as a consequence, will not get to the same Bat Channel at the same Bat Time this week. Tune in next week, Friends, as I have Much To Say about Manga!

Yes, you've read it right. I have much to say, about Manga.

In the meantime, Happy Free Comic Book Day and Cinco de Mayo, and I will resume regularly scheduled broadcasting next week!