Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

Don’t Quit

Posted: July 1, 2016 in Stuff
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Hey… long time no post.

Been doing a lot of other things. I don’t want to forget about the blog, but it’s all about triaging that time right. This means working on fiction and I wrote a kick ass story I’m super stoked about. When I was done I tweeted this out…

Kameron RT’d it and I had a couple people ask me where I got that wallpaper. Well, I made it myself after Kameron posted this blog post about not quitting. And now it’s my motivational wallpaper when I open up my laptop. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever had anything other than NASA astronomy pics as a wallpaper. (Pluto is on my work computer.)

So anyways. I’m dropping the pic here for anyone that wants to yoink it for their own desktop. Enjoy. Click for the full version.

hurleyquote

 

So I’ve committed to my writing hommies, RSA Garcia and Drea James, to make a big push on In A Murphy Minute. That goal of getting a draft done by my birthday 35 days from now is still sorta reasonable. Tagging along with NaNoWriMo and making it NaFiTFuThiMo (National Finish The Fucking Thing Month) makes sense. Lots of the wordsmiths will be making a big push on their projects so why not us too?

Before I go dark on the blog for a while (cause I’ve been a regular posting fiend, eh? #sarcasm) I’m going to drop some book recommendations. I’ve hit a streak of very excellent books lately. Side note, as I sit here and tally them up, I realized it’s all SFF women authors since mid-summer(ish). So woo!

Anyways. Bite sized book recommendations incoming!

empireascendantEmpire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

I have to start with this one. If you follow me on twitter, you can’t have missed me raving about Hurley’s work. Hurley is writing hands down, some of the best stuff out there. Period. End of sentence. I will throw money at anything she writes. Check out the round of up the big blog push she made for Empire‘s release. Specifically, this book is the second in the series that puts epic in epic fantasy. This of a sprawling plot that would make GRRM nod sagely but without a lot of the dated baggage that plagues epic fantasy. Battles, scheming and one of the most unique magic systems I’ve ever read. Hurley also dodges a lot of the Book Two Problems. You know the ones, book one is standalone-ish but book just just cuts off and the end of the page count, really being more of a single book in conjunction with book three. Yes, Empire ends with a lot of questions, it is a trilogy after all, but it is because the stakes are being raised constantly in this book. Hurley cranks up the consequences rather than filling out a page count and whoops, time to read book three. Seriously. Go get this book. If you haven’t read book one, go read The Mirror Empire first and then read this one. Read everything Hurley.

 

darkascensionDark Ascension by ML Brennan

Seems everyone is ascending lately. This is the fourth and final book in the Generation V series. This whole series is fun as hell and takes a cool spin on the vampire mythos. Even though the main character is a vampire, the series features more than the usual suspects for UF, which I appreciate a lot. It also is local. The book takes place in Rhode Island and I’ve been to most every spot mentioned in the books. In this fourth book, Fortitude Scott really comes into his own as part of the ruling clan of things that go bump in the shadows. He’s a lot more active as a character, which suits his evolution across the whole books when he started as extremely reluctant to even be a vampire. He’s now in a proper relationship with Suze, his kitsune counterpart. They are awesome together. I’d hang out with them.

 

undergroundUnderground by Kat Richardson

This Greywalker #3 which just goes to show how behind I am on this one because the series finished out at number 9 last year. Harper is a tough cookie of a PI and she can see the dead ghosts of Seattle. In this book, her techie friend Quentin asks if she can look into something that’s killing off the local homeless. She literally runs around under the city streets chasing down the beasties plaguing the city. I enjoy Quentin’s story now that he gets a chance to team up with Harper on this. One of the big selling points of Richardson’s books for me, is that I can pick up the next book in the series without reading cliff notes of all the books before hand. It’s tough to remind people what happened in previous books without an infodump. I always, always appreciate someone who can pull that off.

 

artificalnightAn Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

Speaking of authors who are awesome at writing a series that you can pick up seamlessly between books, I read October Day #3. I discovered McGuire’s books when the InCryptid were just starting so I’m woefully behind on Toby. Ironic that I read this book so close to reading Underground because Toby and Harper are two sides of the same coin. Toby is an unofficial PI on the fairy side of the UF world rather than the human side. McGuire is one of the tops at being brutal to her characters and I feel bad for Toby because I know she gets put through the ringer six more times plus another three in the works. This book introduces May who is very rad and cranks things up with Tybalt who is bad ass.

 

breakoutBreakout by Ann Aguirre

Hey look! Another series book! Been reading a lot of these. This one is the third of the Dred Chronicles and I’m around 60% though this one. This book takes place in an unashamedly brutal world. All the characters are lifers of the worst sort on a space station where they are ignored and left to run amok and kill each other. These aren’t nice people but you’re rooting for them anyways. This is also one of a very few science fiction books where characters are allowed to romantic with each other. Aguirre has a wonderfully deft touch at plot twists that raise the stakes constantly. I highly recommend this whole series, starting with Perdition.

 

wakeofvulturesWake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I’m waiting for this one to show up in the mail. (Amazon *still* hasn’t shipped the book even though I preordered it back in August and the book dropped last Tuesday. Thanks Amazon #sarcasm) Lila Bowen is the alter ego of Delilah Dawson who is super rad. I’ve read piles of her books and loved every one. She also taught that character building class I took over the summer. She’s influenced my writing a lot, and did before the class too. Honestly, I don’t even need to know what the book is about to buy a Dawson book. This one is Dawson doing Weird West, a genre mashup that I don’t see enough of so I’m eager for this one to show up on my door.

Donations for a Kidney

Posted: August 30, 2015 in Stuff

I almost exclusively keep this blog to writing related things. Beyond the glimpse of my twitter feed on the left hand column, I keep this focused on writing. Twitter is for all the other stuff. I barely use Facecrack, but I guess that counts too.

I am going to break with tradition for something important.

My sister is looking to become a living organ donor. She has two healthy kidneys. My wife’s best friend has renal failure and zero functional kidneys.

Insurance will pay for all the compatibility testing and the surgery itself. It does not, however, pay for the logistics.

My sister lives in Oregon. My wife’s best friend lives in Rhode Island. Bit of a two thousand mile problem.

She has set up a GoFundMe page to raise the travel costs for multiple trips to Rhode Island. She has passed the initial surveys and has a compatible blood type. The remaining tests and screenings need to be done here in Rhode Island though. My sister is a doctor and knows what she’s getting into. If everything is kosher and the transplant can go through, my sister is healthy enough that it will not adversely affect her life while it will save a life.

Think about tossing a couple bucks into the hat if you can.

2 Plane Tickets: 1 Kidney

An Open Thank You

Posted: July 24, 2015 in Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

This is an open thank you letter to Delilah S. Dawson, author of kick ass books and teacher of kick ass classes.

Dear Delilah,

Thank you.

We just finished up the LitReactor class about turbocharging our characters and leveling up our writing through a novel’s inhabitants. I’ve kept a sly eye on LitReactor classes for a long time but yours really seemed like the sort of thing that would be a shot in the arm to my own writing. I’m writing a bit of a romance book disguised as SFF and your Blud books and Myke Cole’s Breach Zone are directly responsible for me adopting that attitude. Character is the foundation of any book, but it is twice as important with any writing where people are making lovey eyes at each other even if they’re doing it while busting heads and throwing down with magical gangsters.

But I was very nervous about pulling the trigger and signing up for the class. But you know this. Since we’ve chatted a few times before, I emailed you direct about my questions. Was I walking into something meant for true noobs? Was I going to be in over my head since my current novel isn’t finished yet? Should I be starting something fresh for this? These were all legitimate questions, but more than anything I was nervous about taking a class from a writer who’s work I enjoy greatly and I respect a lot as a person and a professional. I was worried about being that awkward as hell introvert that was awkward as hell without realizing it. It’s not a rational worry. Back in the Wild West days of the internet, my first interaction with a professional author was so horrible, I didn’t even think about writing anything for eight years. Being weird and fifteen probably did not help matters, but suffice to say, it’s been sixteen years and I still cringe whenever I see anyone mention the Author That Shall Not Be Named. I still feel wonky whenever I shoot the breeze with Myke Cole at Boskone. I felt like an immense dork when I met Seanan McGuire. I worried I was going to put my foot in my mouth when Scott Lynch remembered I was the submarine guy at his book release party. I almost threw up when Kameron Hurley was all “Oh! You’re Mike from twitter.” I did these things anyways because I can throw down a good game face when I need to, but there have been plenty of other times I passed something up or stood there when I wanted to speak up and say something so simple as “Hi, you’re book is great *fist bump*”

Taking a class from someone writing in the field, from someone who is where I want my own career to head towards, was a huge deal for me.

Putting my work out there was scary. I had more nerves about taking this class than I did sending out my first query letter for the trunked novel. Seriously.

I’ve put my work out there before, of course. I write some short stories and the rejections sprinkle my gmail inbox still. I’ve got thirty rejection letters from agents. I participate in the Online Writer’s Workshop and get solid critiques from that crew. I have a few people I can always get honest and useful feedback from (Denise! Drea!) But for a long time I’ve felt like I was screaming into the wind.

I understand why agents and editors use form letter rejections. When I was doing the agent queries, I even had one that started with “Dear [Insert Author]…” But that doesn’t mean I like them. Everyone says “Write more and you will get better.” Well, yeah, but my first thought is always “But what if I’m making the same mistakes every time and no one will tell me?”

This is why I want to thank you for teaching the class.

For the first time in far too long, I feel like I have a clear idea of what I am doing right, and what I need to work on. A good critique is like gold, and you just handed me a treasure chest. Dialogue, good. Blocking out movement and action, not so much. I think my film degree has a hand in both of those.

From the first lecture and exercise on our protagonists, I was pulling ideas for how I was going to make my novel better. My secondary characters are stepping into focus and doing more than just being there. I know what I need to do now to get that second voice down right. I know where I can high five myself and where I need to hunker down and get to work.

So, thank you, Delilah.

Thank you for being the type of person who takes the time to guide those of us who want to join you on that side of the fence. You’ve always taken the time to answer my questions. Your blog is one of my go-to sources for smart shop talk. And now you’ve taught this awesomesauce class.

My writing may not have leveled up yet, but I have a map and a key to the boss fight now.

I’m going to get this book published and someday, some rad convention is going to sit everyone in alphabetical order and we’ll be all “Remember the thing!” and do a cool 80’s freeze frame high five while all the other letters who aren’t D will be jealous of our high fives.

It will be great.

Thanks again.

-Mike

Writing Triage

Posted: May 31, 2015 in Stuff

Dear Blog,

Hi. How ya doing? Feeling kinda ignored, eh?

Well I swear you’re not dead. Not a bit. But…….

You’re on life support a bit though. I need to triage my free time. The kiddo is three. Holy crap he’s three! But that means ye olde free time isn’t exactly plentiful. So, sorry Blog, you’re like that guy who shows up to the ER with kidney stones at the same time as the ambulance rolls in. You’re not doing well, but you’re not first in line.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

Nothing to be done about it though. You want attention at the same time as the novel and well, novel comes first. Gonna have to deal with that. It’s too bad, cause I have a bunch of nifty ideas I want to blog about. I finished reading Kelly McCullough’s Fallen Blade series. It’s fantastic and I want to use it as an example of a great way to handle a series. How to make sure each book has its own identity but still have a solid overall arc. How to remind people what happened with the old books without a heavy info dump.

So anyways. I’ve spent too many minutes with you already, Blog, and since the laptop is kind of a jerk in need of replacement, I’m stuck using an “unsupported browser” and wordpress won’t even let me add a link. I don’t even think spellcheck is working right now.

So I’m done with you, Blog. For a little while. At least until I catch up with the novel.

We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.

Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.

Headshots of Myke ColeCole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.

Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).

So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).

geminicellOne of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?

Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).

But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.

Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.

At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.

My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.

Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?

All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.

All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.

I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.

When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.

One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?

I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.

I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.

This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?

This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.

One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.

Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)

Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.

PlayersHandbookYou’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?

I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.

This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?

operationarcanaFunny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.

While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.

We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.

As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and NobleAmazon IndieBoundPowell’sBooks-a-millionPandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge MassBooks on the Square, Providence RI

Discovering Comics as an Adult

Posted: December 27, 2014 in Comics, Genre, Stuff
Tags: , ,

I consider myself a jack of all trades kind of nerd. I know a little bit about a lot of nerdy things, but I wouldn’t really call myself an expert on much. Comics are one of those topics that I know enough to get in trouble with, but that’s about it.

See, I’ve always found them fascinating and I knew enough of the cool trivia but the rabbit hole goes real far when it comes to comic books. When I use the term “comics” I am quite specifically referring to the classic Marvel or DC superheroes. I have always thought that Doctor Who and comic books are the toughest fandoms to get into from the outside because the rabbit hole runs deep. That rabbit hole I mentioned is such an extensive history, you have to just jump into the deep end and hope you can figure it out. And that doesn’t even factor in the vigor and exuberance (when it’s positive) or anger and elitism (when it’s negative) that some people take these fandoms to heart. That makes it very intimidating to get into. Doubly so for any non-males who want to get into comics since it is traditionally a boys club.

Fox X-Men Animated Series

The 90s were the best.

But like any good kid from the 90s, I know most of my comic book lore from cartoons. I was eight years old when Fox Kids dropped the X-Men cartoon and I’ll still watch it online occasionally. I was a cartoon nerd before any other kind of nerd. It was the first job I ever dreamed of until I realized I sucked at drawing. Between X-Men, Superman, (the ultimately fantastic) Batman and later on X-Men Evolution, Batman Beyond and Static Shock, there were a lot of comics animated on tv. Teen Titans came along when I was in college. I watched them all except for Spiderman. Peter Parker is a weenie. I still don’t really like him that much. So anyone in the general vicinity of 30 who watched Saturday Morning Cartoons as a kid, has a basic knowledge of comic books.

NewX-Men44coverIt was not easy to jump from one medium to the other. Comic books are expensive. From time to time over the years, I’d get a bit of disposable income and try to keep up with a title or two. The last time I did, was around 05 and 06 and I grabbed up the New X-Men title because it was early on in its run. I thought it would be easier to dive into at issue #12 as opposed to #600something that Uncanny X-Men was on at the time. I think I kept up with it for six months until I got laid off from my job. The world spanning events Marvel likes to drop would have killed my budget anyways because you need a dozen different titles each month to figure out what the hell was going on with the characters you actually like.

So I lost track of comic books for most of my 20s aside from a couple Mass Effect trades I got for my Nook when it was brand new. I nabbed a couple Runaways trades too. I enjoyed the story but the cost to content ratio sucked. Fifteen bucks for an ebook comic I would read in one or two sittings. I could buy three or four novels on my Nook for that.

Kamala_KhanBut for all that, I wanted to read them again. The comic landscape was changing for the better. Kamala Khan, the new Thor. Comics seem like they’re growing up a bit and becoming more inclusive. That makes for better storytelling. That makes me want to read them. Novel writers like Peter V Brett have written comics. Chuck Wendig is working on one. Sam Sykes teamed up with one of his favorite artists to write a prequel comic for his latest book. Recommendations from people I already know I like to read are how I find new stories now.

So I found Marvel Ultimate. Netflix for comics? Friggin’ brilliant. Comic books look great on my Nook and the bite sized stories are perfect when there is a two-year-old running around the house.

I’ve been rocking Marvel Ultimate for a month or so. The first think I read was the start of Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel but that started to overlap with the Civil War event in the Marvel Universe. The side of “law and order” was the side of sanctimonious tools and I wasn’t really feeling a giant world spanning event right at the moment. I searched by character and read the very short run starring Jubilee as I think I may have been the only person ever to think the 90s cartoon Jubilee was cool. Two days into comics and I was already bummed that a title I wanted to read was cancelled after six issues (even if it was from years ago). I read solo titles from Mystique, who is my new favorite villain, and Gambit, who was bad ass in the old cartoon and still exudes cool. I read the whole Dark Avengers run and am working on Guardians of the Galaxy (no, I haven’t seen the movie to compare the two). I am toying with reading the entire X-Men run going back to the sixties, but that’s a huge thing to dive into.

My first thought is that the more complex character, the better. That transcends medium and is true across comics, books, film, tv and so on. I find it is way more magnified though when dressed up with the tropes of superheroes. Everyone is larger than life. The bad guys are really bad and the good guys are really good. The extreme ends of that spectrum are boring though. The demonic/evil/psychopathic villain is just set dressing. The paladin type hero who embodies all that is good and noble is boring as shit. Scott Summers, Captain America, (the aforementioned weenie) Peter Parker… they don’t interest me one single bit. I don’t want a lawful good character.

Mystique3The universal storytelling wisdom of “Every villain is the hero of their own story” is another one of those things magnified in comics. Magneto was always compelling because he thought he was doing the right thing. Mystique is the same way but with a lot more kick ass attitude. Reading about the bad guys in Dark Avengers was fun for the different PoV, but non-super Victoria Hand was the most interesting character in that run because she truly bought into what Osborne was doing and thought she was part of the good guys while enabling the real villains.

So I’ve been finding some good storytelling. Fantastic. Comics aren’t just about the story telling thought.

And the art can be…. problematic.

I’m a guy, who likes girls and even still, unnecessary cheesecake shots are unnecessary. Holy crap unnecessary.

In Dark Avengers when Victoria Hand marches up to Molecule Man, who just housed everyone else, he dissolved her uniform and gear leaving her in a tank top and underwear. Buh? That doesn’t add anything to the story. If you’re going for the “take away all her gear and make her vulnerable,” she would still have pants on. If you’re looking for a “vulnerable” metaphor, it’s heavy handed and lazy. She was talking tough while the artist drew her half-heartedly trying to cover up like Marilyn Monroe without a skirt or air vent. Words and actions don’t even match.

I get that everyone is going to read or interpret a story differently. Not everyone is going to read it the same way I will, but I cannot think of any way that adds to the story. At best, you’re going to get an eyeroll out of that. It’s fan service for that bad stereotype of lonely, horny, maladjusted male nerd.

During the Mystique comics, there was a stretch for a few issues with naked jokes ever few pages. As s shapeshifter, she makes her own clothes. It’s part of the mythos and her power. Lame ass “she’s really naked” and “I don’t actually wear clothes” jokes are friggin’ stupid. Gong Show, vote you off the island kind of stupid. And then they take the time to set up that she makes he own clothes, then has an extensive Just-Out-of-the-Shower scene wrapped in a towel so the artist has an excuse to draw her dripping wet. You aren’t even consistant at that point. Mystique can make her own fucking clothes. Why the hell would she even bother with a god damn towel?

Now look at me. Irritated and swearing over comics. Does that make me a “real” fan now? Probably not because I don’t like the dumbass sexism that took away from a great character.

Honestly, I think that a couple of these artists have never even seen a woman before. They are boobs, not armored cantaloupes and there is no type of martial arts where women are trained to attack boob first. Carol Danvers on the cover of Ms. Marvel #1 looks like she has footballs stuffed under her shirt. That’s not even remotely anatomically correct. Austin Powers’ machine gun boobed Fembots were less ridiculous. “But they’re superheroes!” Yeah well, there’s still no need to put the “gross” in “grossly disproportionate.” And really, no one gets to pull that argument until a woman is drawing Wolverine with epic crotch bulge for those who like to ogle the menfolk.

I absolutely and completely see why non-males are easily turned off from comic books and these are titles from the last decade, not even going back to when the same issues would be even more problematic and prevalent.

2006 - She will put your eye out.

2006 – She will put your eye out.

2012 - She looks like a human being!

2012 – She looks like a human being!

For all that complaining, I can see how it is better than it used to be. Emma Frost looks like she can’t breathe every time she shows up in that white bondage get up, but Jubilee, X-23, Pixie and some of the others showed up looking like human beings without being dressed like they lost a fight with a spandex factory and a fetish store. And just look at the progress six years has made with Carol Danvers.

One of the most important parts of being a fan of anything, is recognizing the flaws in something. There is room to adore these geeky things that we love while still being critical of the flaws. That’s how we get better, that’s progress, that’s opening up what we love to new people. For some reason there are angry nerds who don’t want to share. Screw that.

So there’s great storytelling. There’s great art. The genre’s problems seem to be getting better. I am glad that I have finally found a cost effective way to be a comic fan. For all its flaws, Marvel has sucked me in and I want to see the how the whole shindig is going to improve, because I think that it will.