Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Socks: 2001 - 2014

Today, this morning in fact, we had to put one of my dogs down.

I guess it's not fair to call him my dog. He was my entire family's dog. He started out as my brother's dog. My mom brought home a terrier/dachshund blend from a local woman, and after talking it over with us, she decided to go get another dog from the litter as well.

It was weird and fitting that we wound up with the runt of the litter and the biggest pup as well. We named them Socks and Smudge. Smudge, the runt, was scrappier and feistier. Socks was more mellow. He was a chubby little roley-poley, so relaxed that he'd often fall asleep in your hands while you were carrying him.

It wasn't long after getting them that we decided they needed to be outside dogs. Once they'd matured a bit, they became too wild, tearing the house up constantly. Socks and his brother used to tag-team things until they'd reached their desired level of destruction. We once found them trotting down the hall carrying a couple of boards from my wooden floor that they had managed to chew out. Another time, they burrowed through the front of our wicker clothes hamper, out the side of it, into the side of the other, and out the front of it--with branching tunnels into our wall. They were like tornadoes, impossible to stop, and always spreading destruction in areas you don't expect.

When both of them got sick, we weren't sure they'd make it. Socks was the bigger, stouter one. He lived. Smudge didn't. We found him trying to bury his brother. Smudge crawled into the hole they'd dug under their dog house, and Socks was kicking dirt onto him with all he was worth.

Socks eventually came back inside, after his wild puppy years had left him and he mellowed out.

Socks became my dog for a while. Throughout high school--I don't know how or why--he got really attached to me and followed me everywhere. When I went to college, he became my Mom's dog, latching onto her and shadowing her for the rest of his life.

Over the years, Socks was always the good boy. We got another dog, a part min-pin/part-chihuahua that is loud and cranky and doofy and stubborn. We got a dachshund that was stupid--just...adorably, tragically stupid, y'all. But Socks was always the good boy. He didn't dig in the trash. He didn't tear up things. He didn't go potty inside the house. He was awesome.

Socks was old. He lived a long, good life. And he was very, very loved. I think he knew that. I think he knew, even at the end, that we all thought he was a good boy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sports and Me

Attribution Some rights reserved by andertoons
Sports are a thing that I just don't get. I am not that into them. I mean...I've tried? It's not that the games can't be exciting? But as a whole, I just do not care about sports.

This is awkward, especially when you live in the northwest corner of Arkansas near Fayetteville. Everyone hear, they love them some Razorback football. I have met people who--no joke--have decorated their entire house in nothing but Razorback themed memorabilia. It's very damned intimidating.

I've always liked the idea of being into sports. I have seen Remember the Titans at least 6 times because I had to watch it twice a year in middle school. My gym coach was a huge fan. He also at some point showed us The Rookie. I used to own and have watched Angels in the Outfield several times. But ultimately, the actual act of following sports teams and watching sports games always left me cold. The movies always made every game seem like an action packed, drama-ridden event of the ages. But the actual games were a bit...slower...

When I was very young--probably around the first or second grade?--I tried playing baseball. The very first practice, I was playing catch with a couple of kids. I looked away for a second when I heard, "Heads up!" Then SMACK. I got hit in the eye with a softball. I passed out. That was pretty much the end of that.

When I was between 8 and 14, I wanted to be a basketball player. I collected basketball cards. I watched Space Jam. I practiced shooting hoops outside for hours and hours. The one thing I didn't do? Actually watch the games. Like...almost ever. I was mostly into it because my step-brother was into it, and I looked up to him. I also tragically lacked any sort of athletic talent at all.

My love of basketball died when I joined the junior high basketball team. I spent the entire first semester--football season--running laps, fighting with my asthma, trying to get in shape to get ready for basketball season. When the time came, I was ecstatic. I made it one practice, blacked out, had to take my inhaler three times. I finally just hid in the locker room until practice was over. I was so hyped up on meds, I felt like I was experiencing a one-person earthquake. My coach wound up making fun of me for hiding, and that was the end of that experience.

From the ages of 14-16, I was not into sports. I turned my attention first to anime, then fantasy novels, then superhero cartoons like Justice League, and Teen Titans. It wasn't until I was in my Junior year that I remember getting kind of into sports again. My best friend stated getting super into football because of his family. I'm not sure why they arbitrarily decided to start following football. Up until that point, every person in his family was a giant nerd, but one day they were like FOOTBALL! DO YOU WATCH THE FOOTBALL? MAD LOVE FOR THE FOOTBALL, Y'ALL!

Since I didn't want to be left behind as my friend's tastes evolved, I arbitrarily picked team names from a list of NFL names. I wound up weirdly sticking to bird names. My friend liked the Eagles, so I liked them, too. I also chose the Ravens, the Falcons, and the Seahawks. I was really into birds. It was weird, guys.

This feigned interest didn't last long. I'd say...a couple months? At most? Because sports is boring guys. There's no narrative to follow, at least, not really on a game-by-game basis. You'd have to catch the whole season to understand the stakes. And there are long stretches where there isn't really any action, just people milling around.

It's a little embarrassing being so completely not into sports. I can argue all day long that following comics is no more or less nerdy than being able to recite your favorite team and player's stat history, but when it comes down to it, there are way more dudes into football than there are into comics.

I'm hoping the rise of superhero movies will mean that eventually there will be a flip of some sort, and the majority of the public will get really into superheroes and comics. Maybe people will wear their favorite superhero's (or hero team's) logo on a shirt. They'll discuss their latest fan theories over beers at parties, have their favorite writers and artists' stats memorized. They'll debate which eras of their favorite comics were the best.

Maybe they'll even start, like, a Little League Fantasy Superhero Team League, like a superhero LARPing game. I'll go to my son or daughter's first event and cheer them on as they battle some rival team in a pre-determined scenario. I'll boo refs over bad calls and get increasingly drunk, eventually being expelled from the game for getting belligerent with the team leader for not playing my son more.

"She's a natural!" I'll bellow as they usher me out. "You're squandering her talents benching her!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comics Diversity: This Topic Makes Me Thor

Diversity has become a dirty word in certain parts of the internet. Those places are often populated with assholes, but they're loud, and they're vocal, and they make sure we hear them.

I wanted to talk about comic book diversity because I find diversity very interesting and something that we should all be striving towards as best we can in this broken, twisted up system we have to work with.

There's a certain samey-sameyness to video games that has been well documented at this point. Recently Ubisoft got into a shitload of trouble when they had the audacity to say that females were too hard to render. Now, I read one tweet from an animator that said that it does take extra work to create a separate model for females as they are built different, would move somewhat differently, and you know? Fine. Okay. But if developers can spend millions of dollars making sure the environments, water, fires, winds, and stubble on some dude's asshole looks realistic...why can't they toss that little bit of extra work toward females as well?

I don't want to talk about video games, though. I want to focus in on comics, which have had their own series of struggles besides the lack of diveristy (see: escher girls and the hawkeye initiative).

When you think of superheroes, the first several that come to mind are dudes. White dudes usually. Almost certainly straight. And sure, you can come up with a few women off of the top of your head, but one could easily follow those female names with, "Okay, and how many have their own consistent solo title?" The answer would be: not many.

Which is why Marvel is particularly interesting. They've been killing it lately with the diversity. They announced that the Thor that we all know has lost the ability to wield his hammer, and a new Thor--a woman--will take over. There are of course interesting things to consider: "Thor" is the name of the character...so...it is considered a title now? Like "Darth" in Star Wars? Because we've been told that make no mistake she is Thor.

And we also have a new Captain America: Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon.

People often get their undies in a chaffing, sweaty bunch whenever their superheroes start getting fiddled with. They see a black Captain America and start stammering and screaming "PC Police" at the top of their lungs until they pass out. But for little black boys and girls, seeing a black Captain America is going to mean the world to them. Since most of the heroes that are "cool" and get the most attention are white...this is huge.

Sam isn't the first black person to take over Caps role, and history hints that he won't be permanently Cap, but it is still significant.

Honestly...I wish he would be. I wish that this new Thor were permanent, and they were to actually significantly shake up their roster. Not for token diversity. Not to make some point. But because there are two problems with this approach. Those same people flipping their shit because Sam is now Captain America often suggest that people just make more black super heroes. Which...fair enough. But you know what? Those heroes don't have the built in audience. Those heroes don't have a legacy. People don't buy those heroes like they do Captain America.

As Chuck Wendig says:
"But you also have to realize that new characters regardless of gender / sexual preference / skin color / nationality / etc. have a hard time reaching new readers right out of the gate. They run the risk of being marginalized heroes. One of the great things about taking iconic pre-existing characters and flipping them around is that it says, hey, these top-shelf characters aren’t just restricted to one segment of the population (i.e. the Straight White Dude contingent)."
Storm is only just now getting a solo series (as far as I know). And she's been around for nearly 40 years. But she's always been a part of a team. The X-Men title has only recently rolled its roster around to feature an all female team. You don't see books lead by women or minorities stick around for nearly as long as you see Spider-Man--who had several other series featuring him besides Amazing Spider-Man, which made it to issue 700(!!!) before rolling back over to a number one issue.

But, Chuck also cautions: [Only adding diversity by creating new heroes] runs the risk of sounding like, “Yeah, sure, you can have your super-ladies and whatever, just keep them over there. Go play in your own sandbox. This one is ours.”

Making one of the main, powerhouse heroes at Marvel or DC black or a woman or gay or Islamic or transgender is a friggin' game changer, y'all.

But there's another problem to Marvel's diversity initiative: eventually the status quo will be restored.

Superman has died a few times. The first time it was a big deal, but no one really cares anymore. With alternate realities and deus ex machinas out the wazoo, it's only a matter of time before the characters come back. Johnny Storm has done it once, Jean Gray has basically become Kenny from South Park, and Captain America has died once before, too. But they always come back.

Occasionally, super heroes find themselves unable to fight, and they get someone close to them to carry on their name. The thing is: these heroes eventually come back: see Captain America's 800 different versions of this story as an example. Almost never are permanent changes made to a super hero. Little costume changes, maybe, but almost never is the original super hero killed off.

Sometimes the replacement spins off into their own persona--like War Machine--but the original hero almost always come back.

Captain Marvel was able to make the switch from the male alien Mar-Vell to the semi-human female Carol Danvers because Captain Marvel wasn't a huge name. He didn't have the legacy that Thor or Batman or Superman does. The Shield (the proto-Captain America) is able to have a gender-flipped reboot because its a small-time super hero comic.

(c) Archie Comics Publications, Inc.
And that's a problem. Because as admirable as making Captain America black is, it doesn't matter quite as much when we reestablish that straight, white dude is the default setting by hitting the reset button after a year or two.

So...I honestly hope these changes are permanent, even if they won't be. Because if Cap is permanently black, if Thor is permanently a woman, then boys and girls of all races and creeds are going to see that and be reminded that they DO matter, that comics ARE for them as well. And I think that will lead to more PoC and female writers, which both Marvel and DC desperately need.

A photo of Vishavjit Singh (Credit: Fiona Aboud)
This is a complicated issue, with lots of implications, but its worth the struggle. Because its the right thing to do.


For a more critical look at Marvel's decisions, I urge you to check out this excellent post on Nerds of Color (link from N.K. Jemisin's Twitter).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dear White People: Are Y'all As Excited About This As I Am?

I've been excited about this movie since the concept trailer. The fact that its getting a theatrical release now? Hell to the yes, y'all. Seriously. I will watch the shit out of this movie.