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Ren and Stimpy and Mustard

This weekend my family and I spent some quality time at a local comic convention. It was very small – only about four rows of vendors in what was basically an auditorium – even so, among the overpriced tchotchkes and long boxes of half price graphic novels and Silver Age comics, they were able to attract the likes of Steve Niles and Darrick Robertson, who are two of my favorite comic creators. They had plenty of adoring fans crowding around at various times to get their attention, myself included, and they were gracious with the fans, as were all the artists and writers in the hall from what I could see. It wasn’t crowded, but there was a steady stream of geeks filing through, which means that this will definitely be back next year.

During our wandering, though, I was reminded of a post involving the dearth of comic fandom at cons (whether you or I agree or disagree with that post is irrelevant to this one. It just crossed my mind, and you’ll see why in a second.). Now, I don’t think it’s as dire as all that – there’s still plenty of comics fans, and considering some of the current content, comics themselves are being seen less and less as a child’s medium and more of a multi-generational thing. It’s certainly less embarrassing these days to be seen reading or talking about comics than in the past. In America. that’s been a long time coming. But what made me think of that essay was not the size of the con or the fans swarming the artists.

Down at the end of the artist’s alley was none other than John Kricfalusi. His Ren and Stimpy cartoons were a watershed moment in animation for kids, with it’s graphic violence and surreal story-lines and just all around grotesque characters foreshadowing current bizarre offerings such as Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and The Amazing World of Gumball. I’m sure Family Guy and South Park could probably owe more than a passing nod as well. Yes, I’m aware of John K. being fired from his own show, and that may have something to do with why he’s not currently more well-known, even if he is steadily working. Even so, it was quite a coup for a tiny show charging a whole $7 a head (13 and under free). It’s not cheap to display at these shows – even if the show itself doesn’t cost much per table, there still the time you have to spend getting there, setting up, tearing down, transporting your goods … it’s a whole thing.

So, there I am with my family, trying to find some way of telling John K. that Ren And Stimpy was a great time of my life, while not insulting him that we weren’t buying a poster (because, frankly, it would’ve gotten ruined and we have no place to put it – and it was $20), he finishes up the small piece of art he’s been working on, and the fan comes back to pick it up. It was a sketch of Ren and Stimpy with a tan wiener dog. It was cute, sure, and I understand getting sketches from your favorite artists is one of the cool things about interacting with them at cons – I have my own book of favorite artist sketches that is quite awesome. That said, I felt it was rather beneath someone like john K. to do a sketch of someone’s dog, like he’s some kind of street caricaturist. The worst part was when he asked who she wanted him to sign it to, she gave him the dog’s name, Col Mustard!

At that point I just felt embarrassed for Mr. K and kind-of sad, and I had to walk away. I asked my wife what she thought and she agreed – this sort of thing seemed wrong, somehow. It’s like if someone asked Maya Angelou to write a poem to their cat, or David Mamet to write a short play about feeding your birds. Perhaps John felt different about it, and if he’s cool with drawing pictures of people’s dogs then great, but there was just something disrespectful about the whole thing.

And that’s what made me think of the post about how comics creators are having trouble meeting expenses at these shows. (No, I don’t think it’s because of cosplayers.) There’s a point where kids and young adults now haven’t had to wait for things, and so the value of those things is somewhat lessened, I think. Not that they don’t enjoy the things they enjoy, but they all start to seem more disposable and replaceable, so there’s little respect owed them. I know even I feel this on occasion, when I watch something on Netflix or read a book on my Nook – it just feels less “real”, and less important. Even when I watch shows OnDemand or get collections of comics, there’s a feeling of being slightly removed from the experience of other viewers/readers who were engaged at a completely different level by having to wait for the next installment. (Strangely, I’ve never felt this way about films I watch on DVD/Netflix. But that’s probably because I’ve been watching films at home forever. I wonder if that would have been different if I’d been older when the VCR first came out.)

To be clear, I’m no technophobe – I embrace technology. I would completely plug my mind into a computer and I’d love to live forever as data, as long as I could go to the movies every once in a while. I truly enjoy having access to the million hours of media I have at my fingertips when I go on Netflix or Hulu or  YouTube. But there’s a huge difference between having to wait for the next episode of your favorite show and just binge-watching it online. I don’t know if it’s better, per se, but at least back then I feel we were more engaged. And we’d never have asked our favorite cartoonists to do drawings of our dogs.

A couple of orthogonal thoughts about Robin Williams’ suicide

I read a post a couple of days ago saying that such is fame that terrible deaths are happening all over the globe, and yet the Internet mourns Robin Williams. I think that’s largely to do with the fact that those deaths, as terrible as they are, really aren’t people we know or even think we know. They are more of an abstraction: it’s hard to grasp 5000 dead or 15,000 stranded on a mountain, etc. Those numbers get very impersonal, and even though we are empathetic, there’s a limit to how much emotion – other than outrage – we can really show. It doesn’t mean those deaths are not as important as a famous persons’, it just means it’s harder for us to grasp and properly mourn or react to. They are complicated deaths with complicated circumstances that leave us with complicated feelings.

Conversely, when a single person we grew up with, who touched our lives in some way if for no other reason than they made us smile when we didn’t feel like it, or told us something important about ourselves that we hadn’t thought of before – this death isn’t some complicated abstract idea that happens on the other side of the world to people we’ll never really know much more about than their nationality or religious affiliation. This death is specific, easily understandable, and feels like the loss of a member of our extended family – that cousin they always tell stories about at Thanksgiving, for instance.

So, while the post above wasn’t judging the fact that we seem to care more about one death than the other, I really think that isn’t the case. I think it’s that, any reaction other than hoping for the widespread death of thousands to stop seems a bit insincere, since we don’t know any of the people who died and they didn’t really touch us with their lives. But we know how to react to the other death, because that one feels personal and seems preventable.

The second thought is about other people we know with this sort of disease. I know many of us have been struck with some level of depression, whether it’s brought on by some other problem, like ADD or pregnancy hormones, or many times the depression itself is the problem. And any of us who are here right now have pulled through that depression and made it out the other side, or are still going through it but have not yet reached that final pit where the walls seem made of slick black obsidian and the light is so very very far away – and seeing someone as famous as Mr. Williams succumb to this dark, empty place may give you the impression that, if he can’t make it out with all of his money and therapy and helpers and fans and whatever else he had as a support group, then how the fuck are YOU supposed to? Well, keep in mind that when anyone, famous or not, is at that point, it doesn’t matter how famous they are, or any of that other stuff. What matters is that they didn’t reach out to the people who loved them and who they loved, and they didn’t get the helping hand they needed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. Their inability to either speak up or avail themselves of the help they had available is irrelevant to your ability to do the same thing. Which means, those of us who are NOT going through something like this have the responsibility to pay attention to those of us who are. Know your friends and loved ones, listen, and pay attention, and be there when they need you – hell, be there when they don’t even KNOW they need you. That’s how we keep the next depressive episode from turning out like this.

Which brings me to my last thought – has anyone checked on Patton Oswalt?

_____

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Privilege, privilege, who’s got the privilege? (spoiler – we do)

So, I’ve been on a bit of a tear lately about exposing privilege, for really no other reason than it’s rampant in the communities I enjoy and I’d like it to, well, become less rampant. Case in point – the video game Dragon’s Crown. Essentially, it’s a game where you either play an overly-muscled man who saves provocatively-posed, large-breasted and barely-dressed village girls, or you play what’s essentially a giant pair of boobs who saves provocatively-posed, large-breasted and barely-dressed village girls.

Now, I’m not against provocatively-posed, large-breasted and barely-dressed village girls as a general rule. They have their place on occasion, as do heavily muscled man-ape-hero-things and giant pairs of boobs. The problem here is that, 1) they are all in the same game at the same time, 2) they have no other actual qualities than being provocative, man-ape-hero, or boobs, and 3) way too many people not only have no problem with that, but they attack anyone who does.

Look – the fact is that, when you have nothing but fuck-me posed mostly-naked women in your game, you’re contributing to a less-than-healthy mind-set for impressionable young men who are the market for your product. Yes, it’s a game, but it’s not “only” a game – you’re going to be playing it for a couple of hours. A couple of hours of being force-fed hyper-sexualized images of helpless, young, nearly-naked women. According to the reviewer, after about an hour(!) he barely noticed them. Well, there you go – it’s not a problem, because it only took an hour before he was desensitized to the constant images of these helpless women – does that sound right to you? Does that sound healthy?

Another complain that is dismissed by the privileged many is the giant barely-covered breasts of the female PC. The men are exaggerated, so it’s the same thing, right? Wrong. The men are exaggerated by making them MORE muscular and strong in an attempt to make them look more heroic – hardly the same thing as exaggerating the sexual characteristics of a woman which doesn’t make them anything more than wank material. An apt comparison would be if they made the men smaller, but enlarged the bulge in their pants so much that they entered every room dick-first and knocked over furniture every time they turned around. Their balls could bounce around and get in the way, like they had elephantiasis. And the women would be lining up in droves, DROVES, to play it, right? No? Hmm – then perhaps it’s NOT an appropriate way to sell your game.

Between this game, that nauseating video “Asian Girls“, and the constant defense of dehumanizing women in these various media, we as men; white, straight, or otherwise; have a lot of work to do in educating our peers that treating women as human beings and not as flesh-colored penis trophies is the only way to keep evolving as humans. Guys – we can do better. If I can learn, so can you.

Freedoms to remember

On the eve of a rather delightful 4th of July, in which I spent a full day with my family bowing to the altars of consumerism and sanitized history in the form of a day-trip to LEGOland California, I wish to extend a thought for the freedoms we have currently won in this state and this country – same sex marriage is now legal in the state of California, hopefully for good barring any underhanded tricks, and it is now worthy of recognition by the Federal Government as taxable in the way that opposite sex marriage is. A step in the right direction, to be sure, and congratulations to all of my friends who can now experience the same social norms as well as the same yearly headaches and anxieties as my family.

On the other hand, I would be remiss to not point out the freedoms we’ve lost in the states of Ohio, and North Carolina in the form of a woman’s rights over her own body. Legislation was passed that, while specifically discussing budgets and Sharia law, defunds Planned Parenthood and effectively makes it impossible for various other abortion clinics to operate because of arcane and labyrinthine rules. Not to mention the invasive procedures and outright lies doctors are now forced to ply the unfortunate women in these states with as a part of pregnancy visits, which are difficult enough as it is. Fie on you, state Republicans – you are a pox on our government. The sooner you are voted out, but the exercise of our freedom to vote, the better.

Speaking of voting, the Voting Rights Act was recently severely damaged by the Supreme Court in a furious twist of irony by pointing out that we don’t need it any longer because minority voters were not being disenfranchised – ignoring the fact minority voters were not being disenfranchised because we had it. (Also ignoring the fact that they DID have to use it 73 times in the past few years.) Within two hours, one state that was denied the right to disenfranchise minority voters due to the Voting Rights act, quickly acted to, yes, disenfranchise minority voters. Along with Citizens United, this stands as the worst decision this Court has made in decades, and it’s just a shame that Ginsburg, Sotomeyer, Breyer, and Kagan will have to be associated with this farce of a Supreme Court at all.

And finally, a big shout out to Wendy Davis, the Texas congressperson who effectively killed yet another restrictive and damaging bill by physically standing in her pink sneakers and successfully filibustered a Rick Perry-led anti-abortion bill that would have closed down all but around 5 clinics in the entire state of Texas. Of course, since she used her freedom to filibuster, and she’s a woman, she was called all sorts of names and I’ve heard it expressed that she never should have been allowed to filibuster at all – even though she did everything to the letter of the Senate Rules.

So, remember and reflect this weekend on the the flag you flew and the fireworks you watched – those  actually mean something. They aren’t just excuses to sit at the beach or drink beer or eat bar-b-q. They’re symbols of the fight over 200 years ago that allowed us to create these freedoms that we are allowing various people to take from us through terrible laws, horrible decisions, and the guise of religion. America is better than that. Let’s start acting like it.

Happy Holidays!

Clarion

I have aspirations to become a writer.

Well, to be fair, I am a writer – now I want to be a published author.

I had a couple of stories I was working on to send to the Clarion writing program. I was going to try to attend this year, considering it’s right down the road.

After some thought, I don’t think I’m going to try to attend this year. There are many reasons for this. Well, a few, anyway.

Reason, the First: We just had a new baby, and my wife has gone back to work. While I am certain we could get a babysitter for the six weeks of the program, I would feel awful, and it would be difficult to concentrate on the program.

Reason, the Second: Clarion costs about $1200 to attend, not to mention the $40 to apply and the selection process. We would not have the money this year for something that could be considered a luxury. I am a part of a couple of writing groups, so I can and will avail myself of that resource. That costs nothing but my time.

Reason, the Third: One of the things the workshop is interested in is your writing habits, and well, mine suck. I need to buckle down and start some. One hour a day, regardless, for now. One new story a month.

Reason, the Fourth: The stories just are not ready. I’ve learned so much writing them, and revising them, but they are just not good enough. Well, maybe they are – this is, after all, an unpublished author short-story intensive program – but I really feel like I can do so much better.

I guess that’s enough reasons for now. I’m not against going this year, I just don’t think I’m ready. I will be next year, though, and I will make sure of it. In the mean time, I have started work on a graphic novel, and I am going  to focus on that as my main project. Of course, I will work on the stories as well, and maybe if I can get published this year, I won’t HAVE to go to Clarion and spend all that money – I can just be successful all on my own – with the loving help of my wife, friends, and family, without whom I could do less than nothing.

August 2017
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