Tag Archive | things I like

Most writing advice is free, but the value varies

“Writing Advice 5¢ - the Expert is In”

We’re all experts…

I made my first professional sale to a science fiction ‘zine (Worlds of If) forty-four years ago. And I was ecstatic, because I had only been submitting to professional ‘zines for two years, and I had already made a sale! I was on my way, right?!? Except I didn’t make another sale until thirteen years later. So maybe I didn’t quite know what I was doing, just yet. And for the next ten-ish years, I only managed to sell stories to fanzines and semi-prozines. Which seemed like more proof that I wasn’t quite a pro.

Except…

My primary source of income since 1988 has been writing. Most of that has been technical writing (and related jobs) in the software industry, but I find it really hard to discount the fact that the word “writer” has been part of my official job description for a bit over 31 years. So my day job and my hobby job for more than three decades has been “writer” — so maybe I have some idea of how to put words together? Plus, for more than two decades I was the editor of a semi-prozine that produced at least three issues a year for those two decades. Which were offered for sale and purchased in sufficient quantities to cover the cost of printing.

So maybe, just maybe, I have some correct notions about what it takes for a story to appeal to an audience, right?

But here’s something I am absolutely certain of: I can’t teach you how to write. I can tell you how I do it (the parts I understand—there’s a whole lot going on in everyone’s subconscious that remains ineffable). I can tell you techniques that work for me. But only you can figure out how you can write.

And that’s true of everyone. No one, no matter how accomplished, can tell you how to write. I love reading or hearing about how other people go about writing. I like attending panels and seminars and the occasional online class from other writers. So I’m not saying don’t take anyone’s advice or class, just remember that in the end you are the person who is telling your stories. So only you can figure out which things people suggest work for you, and which don’t.

A lot of advice gets repeated regularly, and it seems sound. When you’re feeling anxious about writing, it can be comforting to have these rules to fall back on. But these pieces of advice can be stumbling blocks or worse. For example, one frequently repeated piece of advice is to cut out the adverbs. “Search for words ending in ‘ly’ and delete them!” So take out things like terribly and gently and carefully and slowly. Supposedly this makes your writing clearer. It also makes your writing duller. Some adverbs are superfluous. But like every other kind of word (nouns, verbs, adjectives), sometimes they are exactly right.

Then there is that tired old chestnut, “Show, don’t tell.” I’ve written before about how that advice is more wrong than it is right. In a nutshell: the extreme version of the advice leads you to remove all exposition from your story and exclude people who don’t share all your (unconscious) cultural assumptions. For a writer of science fiction or fantasy, that makes it impossible to put the reader into a world that is different than our own. Better advice is to paint pictures with your words. Anton Chekov said it thusly: “Don’t tell me the moon was shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” So use exposition when necessary, but make sure it isn’t flat and boring.

Said is a perfectly good verb. So is snarled, whispered, replied, asked, shouted, demanded, muttered and retorted. So that advice about never using any verb other than said as a dialog tag is another one that is well-meaning, but not completely right. Now, it is true that a writer can go overboard with the dialog tags. I was cringing mightily during a recent audio book where the author seemed to take the flip side of the advice and never used said at all. Among the horrible tags he did use were: extrapolated, polled, nodded, puffed, interrogated, and the absolute worst: all-caps-ed. This is another one where the truth is somewhere in between. Don’t go bananas with the synonyms for said and asked, but don’t stick to only those two, either.

Also, sometimes you don’t have to use dialog tags at all. You can describe what the character is doing: He pursed his lips. “Do you want my honest opinion?” Or if you are telling the story from a particular character’s point of you, you can describe their thoughts or feelings: Sarah wanted to hug him. “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today!” But again, you need to figure out what works for you. I have a bad habit in first drafts of putting a she/he/they nodded on about half the dialog entries. I think it’s because I nod when people talk to me (which is hilarious when I do it on conference calls!). But when I read the draft later—especially aloud to my writer’s group—it sounds like everyone in my story is constantly bobbing their heads wildly and can really distract from the scene!

Some people insist that you absolutely must write every day on your project or you aren’t a real writer. Bull. Yeah, some people write like that. And if that works for you, great. But some of us need to take days off. My day job involves writing and editing, so some days when I get home my brain is burned out, and I don’t get much if any writing done. And don’t tell me to get up super early and write before I go to work. I’m not a morning person, and frankly if I tried I have no doubt that some days I would be much less than good at my job. And I like my work. Work pays the bills! And I like eating. If writing every single day works for you, great, do it. But don’t feel like a failure if some days you just have to do something else to recharge the mental batteries.

There are two very common bits of writing advice that I do fully endorse:

  • A writer writes. You can skip days, but you can’t skip writing altogether. If you feel stuck, force yourself to write a single word. Just one. Then, look at it, and decide what the next one is. If that’s what it takes, just make yourself put one word after another until you have a sentence, and then another and another.
  • A writer reads. Read other people’s work regularly. Read things you love. Every now and then, read stuff from a genre you don’t like. Or a style of writing that you usually don’t take to. Not all the time, but make sure you are expanding your reading horizons, regularly.

Other than that, I just have to ask: why are you still reading this post! Go! Write something! The world needs your story. And no one can tell your story except you.

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Dragons to the rescue, or more of why I love sf/f

My copy of The Dragon and the George, which I never realized was a fist edition until I was researching for this blog post.

My copy of The Dragon and the George, which I never realized was a fist edition until I was researching for this blog post.

I’ve mentioned before that I joined the Science Fiction Book Club when I was in middle school. Now, the problem was that I didn’t have a steady source of income, and I did my first order without consulting any adults in my life1, and so I had not realized that the cheap price on the advertisement did not include shipping, so this mysterious box arrived in the mail with postage due and my parents were not pleased. Anyway, for the next several years I had to remember to send the post cards back in saying “Do not send this month’s selection!” except on those occasions that I had some money or that my parents agreed I could have the particular book and they would pay for it. Anyway, from about October 1975 until July 1976 I got to order one book every month because my parents were going through a messy divorce and my paternal grandfather declared he would pay for the books4. And one of the books I got during that interval was The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson.

The premise of the book is a weird hybrid of sci fi and fantasy—both portal fantasy and epic fantasy by the time the book is through. Our protagonist, Jim Eckart, holds a PhD in Medieval History and is hoping to become a full-time instructor at the university. His fiancé, Angie, is working on her own doctorate degree in English literature5, and is also working as an assistant to a professor who, in Jim’s opinion, is always tricking Angie into working more than she ought to. One day, when she isn’t ready to be picked up by Jim, he rushes to the professor’s lab, arriving just in time to see Angie in a contraption that looks as if it is from a bad sci fi movie—and then she vanishes before Jim can say a word.

The professor’s machine is supposed to boost latent psychic abilities, and he was trying to get Angie to astral project into another dimension. He never expected her to physically teleport there. The professor has to explain that he can’t simply pull Angie back—it is her own psychic talent that did the trick, after all. But he is certain that if she could be hypnotized in the other realm to return home, she would pull it off. So he convinces Jim to get into the machine, and at a lower power setting, has high hopes6 that Jim will project into the body of a native of this other dimension near Angie and be able to convince her to return herself home.

That’s the set up.

Jim agrees, and he wakes up not inside the body of any person close to Angie. Instead, he wakes up inside the body of a dragon named Gorbash, and trouble ensues from there.

The body Jim is in isn’t anywhere close to Angie’s location. He spends a few chapters trying to sort out the world he is in, which seems to be very similar to 14th Century England… except that are multiple species of dragons, and there are wizards, and some wolfs can talk. Also, humans in this world are all called Georges (at least by dragons and the talking wolves) because of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. Hence the title.

Jim eventually figures out that Angie has been captured by two dragons. He meets with them, and attempts to hypnotize Angie so that she will return to earth, but she refused to leave without Jim. While they are trying to think of an alternative way for both to get back, one of the dragons whisks Angie away, and she is imprisoned by an evil knight and the dragon who was in an alliance with the forces of Darkness.

Jim meets a wizard named Carolinus who sets him the task to collect a series of companions (which includes a knight, a woman archer of extraordinary talent, a talking wolf who was a friend of the dragon Jim’s consciousness is trapped in, a very elderly and no longer robust dragon who is a relative of the body Jim is trapped in, and a small dragon from a subspecies that is ridiculed by normal dragons) before he can make an assault7 on the keep where Angie is being held prisoner.

The whole point of this book was to invert the idea of who we should be rooting for when knights battle dragons, so it should be no surprise that the part I found most interesting was the complex society of dragons that was partially explored in this book. Two of my three favorite characters in the book are dragons (the elderly dragon and the smaller one). I read this book about a year before my social group discovered original Dungeons & Dragons8, which was only shortly before the first printing the Advanced D&D’s Player’s Handbook, which we all bought, and tried to produce better adventures with as slowly, every so slowly, the Monster Manual and other books needed to make AD&D a real game were published.

And mention all of that because when I was designing campaigns, I tried to play the dragons more like the characters in this book. Which was easier to do before the official Monster Manual came out and was filled with, frankly, a poorly-designed set of monsters.

But to get back to The Dragon and the George, eventually the evil knight and dragon and their many monster companions are defeated, though at great cost, and Angie is rescued. Angie and Jim decide that they don’t want to go back to earth for various reasons, and Carolinus separates Jim for Gorbash, giving him a human body identical to his one from earth. Which set things up for the characters to return for a sequel, that that wouldn’t be published for 14 years. Dickson eventually completed a total of 9 books in the series before his death in 2001.

I only read three of the sequels. I didn’t find them as compelling as the original. Sometime in the mid-nineties, after being disappointed in one of said sequels, I decided to re-read the first book, and was quite happy to find it still enjoyable. Do I wish the damsel in distress had been a more fleshed out and active character in the story? Yes. But the story held up a lot better than some of my other old favorites from my teen years and before.

And besides, the dragons, at least, got to be something more than cliches.


Footnotes

1. As I recall the offer that I found inside a copy of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, which was itself the result of one of my grandmothers buying me a subscription for my birthday and renewing it each year after2, had said that you would receive 6 books for just one nickel3!

2. The other grandmother, by the way, upon hearing me explain to a friend that I’d actually wanted a subscription to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction purchased me a couple years of subscription to that ‘zine, as well my next birthday.

3. The order card had a place for you to tape a nickel to the card before placing it in an envelope. I complete missed the small print about the shipping.

4. I did not intentionally manipulate anyone’s sense of guilt. The month that all we found out about my dad having had a long-running affair with another woman and having fathered two children with her and so on and so forth was, well, it was hectic. And I didn’t mail the card in on time that month, and the book showed up a few weeks later, and things just happened5.

4. Not that I didn’t recognize it was a gift horse into whose mouth I was not looking, but…

5. I can’t decide whether I should be irritated at the cliché of the woman who is the romantic interest of the male protagonist being into English Literature. On the other hand, I suppose that we ought to be grateful that Jim isn’t a science major, right?

6. I distinctly remember being a bit put out at this point the first time I read it, because it seemed to me that the professor had no evidence to back up any of this theories.

7. I said it would move into Epic Fantasy territory!

8. The precursor the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons9 published first in 1974 and came as a set of small books and very cheaply-made dice in a white box.

9. Which began being published as hardbound rulebooks in 1977.

Divine prophecies and muscular men in very short skirts, or more of why I love sf/f

Jason fights the Children of the Hydra’s Teeth.

I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw Columbia Pictures’ Jason and the Argonauts. I used to believe that I saw it in a movie theatre on the big screen for the first time as part of one of the series of kid-friendly matinees that I got to attend from the age of about 6 through 10… but after doing some research I discovered that the film wasn’t made available in theatres at that time. Because the film’s box office take from the first theatrical run in 1963 (just a few months before my third birthday) was underwhelming, it wasn’t re-released into the theatres until much later, after spending years as a staple in syndicated television, which is where it became a hit, prompting the studio to re-release it to a much more successful run in 1978.

This post runs a bit longer than usual, because I wrote much of it while re-watching the film for the first time in many years. And I watched it because after reading this review of a Ray Bradbury story that was clearly inspired by Ray Harryhausen (the special effects genius) I just had to. If you don’t need the detailed commentary, you might want to scroll on down to my Conclusion.

Jason and the Argonauts is based on the Greek tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Jason was the son of the king of Thessaly. His parents and at least one of his sisters was killed by the usurper Pelias. Pelias misunderstands the prophecies of his soothsayer, and tries to eliminate all of the heirs of the king of Thessaly. Just before he murders the eldest daughter of the king in the temple of Hera, a shadowy figure who he believes is a priestess (though she is actually the goddess Hera herself) tries to warn him away from this path. When he kills the king’s eldest daughter anyway, Hera tells him that one day a man with only one sandal will usurp him. She also warns him that if he kills Jason, the son of the king himself, that he will also be destroyed. Then she vanishes, along with the the third child, another daughter of the king.

Before I summarize the rest of the plot, there are a whole lot of subplots that were left dangling in this movie implying that there would be a sequel, and I’m just a little bit annoyed that no one has done anything with that.

Anyway, the story that follows is frequently intercut with scenes of Zeus and Hera (and a couple of other Olympian gods) discussing the happenings on Earth. In some of those scenes human history is portrayed as a board game between the gods. It is an interesting conceit that is used in a lot of other mythological-based movies in later years. I think this one happens to play out better than many of the others.

Back to Jason’s story. Twenty years after the bloody coup, King Pelias is riding his horse near a river, is thrown from said horse, and a passing stranger jumps into the water to save him. The stranger loses his shoe in the process of saving the man, and quickly identifies himself as the long lost son of the previous king on his way to take back his throne. Perlias realizes who Jason is before he introduces himself, because he has spent twenty years waiting for the man with only one sandal. Jason, on the other hand, never asks the name of the man he rescues. And never becomes the slightest bit suspicious that the man he rescues has a camp staffed with a lot of guards in royal armor and a rather large number of scantily clad entertainers. Nor does Jason, who is sworn to kill the man who killed his father and has been king of Thessaly for 20 years, recognize the only son of said king when he is introduced to him by name.

Despite all of this obliviousness, we are still rooting for Jason who wants to pursue another prophecy that Pelias ignored: that at the end of the world there is a tree, and hanging from the branches of that tree are the skull and skin of a golden ram with magickal powers that will ensure a long and successful rule to the man who captures it. Jason holds a contest, and several characters from Greek myth win a spot on his crew. Because the shipwright Argos builds his ship, he names it the Argo, and with a figurehead that looks like the goddess Hera, they set out looking for the Golden Fleece.

Hera is only allowed to help Jason five times, and Jason manages to burn through those five helps in less than half the movie. This gets into one of those infuriating questions, because part of the set up of Jason’s life from back when he is a baby is Zeus decrees that Jason will kill Pelias and take back his father’s kingdom. So why the heck does Zeus tell Hera she can only help Jason the five times?

I need to be honest here: those questions didn’t occur to me during the dozens and more times I watched this show on various local TV stations from the mid-60s through the 70s. The incredible battles with the giant bronze statue of Talos, the harpies, the seven-headed hydra, and the skeletal warriors all loomed much larger than any plot inconsistencies. Special effects master Ray Harryhausen owned this movie, and many of his special effects still stand up 56 years later.

One of the men who competes in Jason’s ad hoc Olympics and gets a berth in the crew is Pelias’ son, Acastus. Once again, it’s unclear why, when all the greatest athletes and warriors of Greece come to compete in the games, no one recognizes Acastus as King Pelias’ son and happen to mention that fact? Anyway, Jason now has a large crew of bronze-skinned manly men. About half are dressed in tunics with extremely short skirts, like Jason. The other half in loincloths that look kind of like baggie briefs.

The Argo sets sail, without a clear idea of where they are going, and their provisions run low. Hera directs Jason to the Isle of Bronze and warns them to take only food and water. Hercules and Hylas (who had become friends during the games when Hylas defeated Hercules at a discus challenge using a bit of cleverness) find a valley filled with giant bronze statues, in the base of which are hidden giant pieces of jewelry. Hercules decides to take a giant brooch pin because he thinks it will make a fine javelin, and the statue Talos comes to life and starts chasing them. The giant looms and menaces the entire Argo crew. When they try to flee, he intercepts the boat at the harbor mouth, shaking all of the men out of the boat and braking the ships mast and the figurehead of Hera.

Hera tells Jason to look to Talos’s ankle for his weakness. In the next fight, while the other Argonauts yell and scream and run around distracting the giant, Jason sees a stopcock in the ankle of the giant, runs forward and unscrews it. Even when I was a kid, I never understood why Talos simply stands there, staring down at the Argonauts and sort of swiping at them with his sword. Why didn’t he just start stomping on them like ants? Anyway, magical fluid pours out of Talos’ ankle, the bronze statue goes stiff and falls over, apparently dead. Also, clearly crushing Hylas.

But somehow the rest of the crew never saw that, so we are given to understand that during whatever length of time the subsequent shipbuilding montage takes place, Hercules wanders around yelling out Hylas’ name. Once the ship is repaired, Hercules refuses to leave without Hylas. The rest of the crew refuses to leave without Hercules, so Jason has to call on Hera again. She warns him that this is the last time she can help, but he insists, so she addresses the crew directly, explains that Hylas is dead and that Hercules now has another destiny to pursue, and that they must sail to another island and consult the blind prophet Phineus.

So off they go. We see Phineus (played by Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor) living a sad existence in a ruined temple. People from a nearby village bring him food every day, but harpies attack him each day, eating the food themselves and leaving him only scraps. This is how Jason and his crew find him. They are all, by the way, now dressed in matching white tunics (still with extremely short skirts) and matching armor. I have no idea where they were keeping this change of clothes, because the ship, as depicted, is barely big enough to hold the crew sitting at the oar seats. There aren’t any cabins below decks or anything. No wonder they ran out of supplies!

Anyway, Phineus explains that he misused his gift of prophecy and Zeus cursed him with the harpies. Phineus will only help Jason if he frees him of the harpies. So the crew arrange a trap, then build a cage for the harpies. Now that Phineus can eat in piece (and torment the harpies), he tells Jason that the fleece is on the Island of Colchis, which can only be reached by sailing between the clashing rocks (which destroy any ship that sails through). Phineus’ vision doesn’t tell them how they can survive, but he gives him an amulet that he says is the only other help he can provide.

They sail again, find the clashing rocks. They aren’t sure what to do, then see another boat sailing between the rocks, and then see boulders start falling down and destroy the ship. Jason insists the gods want them to sail through, so the Argonauts start rowing. The boulders start falling all around them. There are a lot of frightened reaction shots. Jason gets angry and throws Phineus’ amulet into the sea.

Up on Olympus, Zeus is smugly watching the ship in danger and says something to Hera about it being too bad that she can’t intervene any more. Hera moves a piece on their game board, a sort of merman figure that looks suspiciously like the amulet Jason just threw into the sea. Triton, son of Poseidon, rises up out of the sea and holds the rocks back. The Argo sails under one of Triton’s armpits, and all is well. I think we’re supposed to assume that Triton’s arrival doesn’t violate the rule that Hera could only intervene five times because Phineus’ amulet was involved. It’s not clear.

Anyway, they find the wreckage of the other boat, and clinging to the wreckage is a woman. And thus we meet the third female character out of the entire film who has lines of dialog! Medea tells Jason she was sailing from Colchis (though not why) and tells him that the King of Colchis is Aeëtes. When they make shore, Medea tells them which way to go to reach the city, then walks off in a different direction, telling them she must go a different way.

After Jason meets Aeëtes, the king invites him and the Argonauts to a feast, and we see Medea again and learn that she is the high priestess of Hecate. Midway through the feast, Aeëtes reveals that he knows Jason has come to steal the fleece, because Acastus has betrayed them. This is when Jason finally learns that Acastus is the son of Pelias. So the Argonauts are locked up and sentenced to die. Medea goes to the idol of Hecate, her goddess, and asks what to do. The statue doesn’t answer.

This is another place that as a kid I was trying to figure out why we don’t see Hecate. Why isn’t she up there with Zeus and Hera and Hermes and the other gods watching all of this?

Medea decides that she can’t betray her heart, so she drugs the guards, steals the keys to the jail cells, and lets Jason and his crew out. I have to pause here to say that as a kid I had no problem believing that Medea had fallen in love with Jason during the voyage. As an adult I have some questions, though. I mean, yes, Jason looks really hot in that mini skirt, but there was an entire crew of men, most of which are all equally hot and just as sexily going about their nautical duties in equally revealing tiny skirts.

Doesn’t matter. While Medea was arranging the jailbreak, Acastus has snuck out of the palace and gone to the sacred tree to steal the fleece himself. I guess he was planning to take the Argo and sail it all by his lonesome back home to dad? We never learn the details of his plan. Medea leads Jason and his crew to the tree, where they are confronted by the 7-headed hydra. And this is when we see that Acastus has already been killed by the hydra. Jason manages to stab the hyrda in the heart. They take the fleece and flee.

Aeëtes and a bunch of soldiers are closing in. One soldier shoots Medea with an arrow. Jason uses the fleece to heal her. And all of the enemy soldiers apparently just stand around waiting to see what the fleece does? It isn’t clear. Jason picks two of his crew to face Aeëtes and send Medea with the others to fetch the boat. I don’t know if Aeëtes never thought to seize the ship, or if we’re expected to assume that the Argonauts have to fight to get it back.

Anyway, Aeëtes had called on Hecate when he found the dead hydra and saw that the fleece was no longer there, and fire had come down from heaven and burned the hyrda. Aeëtes had his soldiers gather the teeth of the hydra. Now that he has confronted Jason, who is accompanied by only two of his crew, does Aeëtes have his larger group of soldiers attack? No, he monologues for a moment, then throws the teeth onto the ground. From the ground seven skeletal soldiers armed with swords and shields rise, and they attack.

This fight scene seems to be everyone’s favorite part of the movie. And it is fun. As far as it goes. Jason’s two companions get killed. So far as we know only one skeleton is taken out when its skull is chopped off. But the way Jason “defeats” the remaining six is to leap off a convenient cliff into the sea. He survives the dive, and the Argo is conveniently nearby. The skeletons jumped off the cliff chasing Jason, and apparently despite being magical skeletons, they don’t float.

Jason has reached the ship. He and Medea kiss, and we cut to Olympus where Zeus tells Hera to let them enjoy this victory while they can. There is a bit of philosophizing, then the end credits roll.

Conclusion

The film follows the myths rather more faithfully than one would expect from Hollywood. The section with Pheneus and the harpies comes straight from the original Greek saga. Traditionally the Golden Fleece was guarded by a dragon whose teeth would transform into skeletal warriors. Talos (who in the original isn’t encountered until after Jason has obtained the fleece and is sailing home) is killed by the removal of a plug in his ankle. The Greek Tragedy trope that the more you try to fight destiny or prophecy, the worse things go for you is illustrated in some of the character arcs. It could be argued that Medea’s inexplicable quick fall for Jason comes from the myths, too, since in the saga, Hera persuades Aphrodite to send Eros to make Medea fall for Jason, and much later when Medea finds Jason plotting to marry another woman, Jason reveals that he knew Medea was acting under the spell from Eros the whole time.

Even without knowing the myth, viewers saw many, many hints for a sequel in the script. I mean, it ends with Zeus literally saying that the rest of the adventure is yet to come.

It’s clear the studio was hoping this would be a hit and they could have some sequels. And clearly they would have had to bend the myths further to do so. In actual Greek myth Jason never becomes king. He and Medea try, but things don’t work out. Medea tricks Pelias’ daughters into killing their father, but Acastus becomes the King of Thessaly (because he doesn’t die on his voyage with Jason in the myths). Jason and Medea have a falling out that gets even bloodier than the murder of Pelias. Eventually Jason and his new allies do kill Acastus, but Jason’s son is the one who ends up king. And it’s all very messy.

Alas, the show, while not being a flop, exactly, didn’t do that well in theaters, as I mentioned above. But the film influenced other mythic films to follow. The much later film, Clash of the Titans depicted the gods of Olympus moving mortals, monsters, and other gods around a map of the world as chess pieces on a board precisely the same way this film did.

The film’s big cultural impact derives from being played so frequently on television during the 60s and 70s. Back in the day when most people had access to only three or four channels, it was possible for a movie like this to be put in heavy rotation and get seen by a large segment of the population. So there are a lot of people, maybe 40 years old and up, who have very fond nostalgic feelings for this film. While watching it this week I found it still a fun popcorn movie, though it requires a pretty big dose of credulity to overlook some plot details. To be fair, those inconsistencies aren’t worse than many other movies—particularly those made in that era. the fight scenes with the stop motion monsters are a bit cheesy—in many of the shots the harpies and the hydra look like they are made out of brightly colored modeling clay. The bronze giant and the skeletal warriors stand up a lot better.

Manly men.

I made more than a few comments above about the skimpy costumes the men wear throughout the film. And I have to confess that that part contributed to the film’s appeal to me, even if I didn’t realize why when I was very young. I do quite clearly remember thinking it interesting how many of the men were shown with hairy chests. In other movies and TV shows at the time, if men were shown shirtless, their chests were almost always completely hairless. It is worth pointing out that while Medea is often dressed in a flimsy diaphanous gown that doesn’t conceal much, most of the men in the movie are showing a whole lot more leg than any of the women ever do.

The film had a big impact on my conception of mythic stories and epic fantasy. Until I re-watched it this week, I didn’t realize how much of what Zeus and Hera had to say about the nature of the relationship between the gods and humans had soaked into my own feelings on those topics. Just as the way prophecy is treated in the story has continued to inform my own fantasy writing on the topic. And the fact that most guys my age at the time loved the film, it was one of the few bits of fantasy I could talk about at school without invoking the teasing and bullying. Thank goodness I never mentioned those hairy chests, though!

The film was released in a time before Best Dramatic Presentation had become a regular category of the Hugos. Also during an era when any work published in the 12-ish months prior to the actual WorldCon was eligible. And because of its release dates, it would have technically been eligible in either 1963 or 1964. It didn’t make the short list in ’63 (and the category was No Awarded that year). And the category wasn’t offered the next year. Given that the film didn’t become popular until later, that isn’t a surprise. Which is too bad, really. I think many would agree with me that the skeleton fight alone would have deserved all the awards.

Sunday Funnies, part 38: Goodbye to Halos

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read.

Good Bye to Halos by Valeria Halla. hThis is one of those comics that I feel any attempt to describe is inadequate. The main character appears to be human, but probably isn’t. Fenric is trans and gay. The comic begins when Fenric is a teenager. Fenric’s father says that it is no longer safe for him there, and then pushes him through a portal (not sure whether it is magic or scientific) and Fenric finds herself in a place call Market Square and unable to get back. She is found by a young anthropomorphic lion, and slowly learns that Market Square is a place where queer kids from many worlds/dimensions find themselves when they are abandoned or lost. Fenric appears to be human, but has some psychic/magical powers. Almost every character she meets is a furry-type character. Most are queer of one sort or another. The early parts of the comic concern themselves with Fenric’s attempts to build a new life with her found family. Later, as she gets older and started to assume that her father is never coming to rescuee her, the adventures become increasingly fantastical.

I don’t know how to classify the story, but I’ve been reading it for a while, and must admit that it is more than a bit addictive.


Comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

title
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

Sunday Funnies, part 37: What QQ

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read.


What QQ by Carlisle Robinson. This is one of several comics created by Carlisle Robinson, a deaf trans masculine queer artist. What QQ consists of various autobiographic observations on being a profoundly deaf person who also happens to be trans. I find the strips both funny and educational. How I started reading this comic involves a story: someone reblogged one of Carlisle’s cartoons, and it included the title, and because of my background with the TTY terminals, I wondered if the two Q’s in the name meant Question Mark. Back in my college days I found myself involved, because of my frequenting of old BBS systems, in helping fundraise for the purchase of dumb TTY (teletype) terminals that were used by deaf people to communicate with each other over the phone. That was how I found out about text relay services that allowed hearing people to call a phone number and communicate with a deaf friend by telling the person working at the service what you wanted to say, they call the deaf person’s number and would type whatever you said into a TTY terminal, and then read back the reply. The teletypes all used only capital letters, and some units didn’t have punctuation keys, so there were all the two- and three-letter codes for punctuation and various common phrases. Anyway, yes, that’s what the QQ means, and the banner picture from the comic above shots a teen-age version of the artist have a conversation with a friend using a TTY unit. Most of the comic has nothing to do with that old technology, but is just focused on things going on in Carlisle’s life.

If you like Carlisle’s work, consider supporting the Patreon


Comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

title
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

Sunday Funnies, part 36: Kyle’s B&B

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read.


Kyle’s B&B by Greg Fox is hard to describe. The main character, Kyle, is a gay Canadian who owns a bed and breakfast that seems to be constantly occupied by hot queer guests. Many, many hot queer guests! There is some romance, and a lot of jokes about things ranging for sub-cultures in the queer community, to gardening and pop culture and… well, a lot of stuff.

If you like Greg Fox’s work, you can purchase his books here


Comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely. Note: I only last week figured out what I had been doing wrong in trying to make the thumbnail images in each mini review below take you to the actual web comic. The bolded and underlined name of the comic and artist always worked as a link, but the images weren’t. I have finally fixed it (though I have only propagated the fix to the last three Sunday Funnies posts. It will take a while to get all the others fixed.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

title
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

Sunday Funnies, part 35: Casey at the Bat

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read.

Casey at the Bat by Bob Glasscock. 20-something Casey was dumped by the man he thought was the love of his life, then a friend convinced him to try out for a local gay softball league as a way to meet new people. And thus begins the comic. Casey At the Bat describes itself as a lighthearted slice-of-live romantic comedy, that just happens to start a young gay man. The strip is entertaining and does mostly stick to the less serious topics. Bob Glasscock, the creator of the comic, also often blogs on the site. If you enjoy this comic (which is more about romance and friendships than it is about sports—though there is some of that, too) you can purchase collection of the comics here.


Comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

title
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

It’s okay to like things that make you happy: my review of Good Omens

Bubbles for the Powerpuff Girls exclaims, “I'm not dumb! I just like nice things that make me happy! At last I don't to to fight and be mean all the time like some people!”

(Click to embiggen)

First, I have a few confessions to make. Even though I have been a squeeing fanboy of Terry Pratchett’s books for decades, and a similarly enthusiastic fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing for a similar period of time, I hadn’t read the novel they collaborated on, Good Omens, before this year. This fact caused considerable consternation to my husband shortly after we moved in together nearly 21 years ago as we were combining our book collections. It wasn’t just because I was already such a big fan of both Pratchett and Gaiman, but also because the subject matter: the end of the world as described in the book of Revelation in the New Testament (with a lot of related and semi-related items of mythology)—topics that I had a great deal of interest in.

Why I hadn’t at that point takes a bit of explanation. The year the book was published was a tumultuous time in my personal life.1 Some of my friends who were reading the book recommended it, but all of my attention was focused on other priorities. Then there were other issues for the next few years.3

The upshot of all that is: when Michael expressed shock that I hadn’t read the book, I had to confess that I barely even knew it existed. For the next several years it sat in my queue of books I was going to read someday. But there are always a lot of books in that queue, and I was busy reading new books from my favorite authors and only slowly making a dent in that other pile.

Then Terry Pratchett announced that he had Alzheimer’s disease. And some time after learning about that, I made a decision to set four of the Discworld books that I hadn’t gotten to, yet, and Good Omens in a different category: books I will read if I find myself feeling particularly sad that no new books would be coming from Terry.4

Once Neil announced that Terry had asked him, as his dying request, to make an adaptation for Good Omens to be made into a movie or television show, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave the book in that special queue. So earlier this year, as the date for the release of the series approached—not to mention the teasers and trailers and interviews for the series that kept crossing my social media feeds—I finally read the book.

Twice.

Then I downloaded the BBC radio play adaptation that was made before Terry died and listened to that. So, yes, Michael and all the rest of my friends who were flabbergasted that I hadn’t read it were right: it’s a book that I immediately loved.

This last weekend I binge-watched the series, and I can honestly say I love it, too. With Neil writing the script and acting as show-runner5, the series is faithful to the book. A demon and an angel who, rather than being immortal enemies, have forged a friendship during their millenia on Earth, and have grown quite fond of the world and the clever things people keep inventing, set out to stop the apocalypse. Complicated by the fact that they have mislaid the anti-christ. Plus, they don’t have access to the one and only existing copy of the book, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.

Most of the cast of thousands of characters from the book made it to the screen (many quite brilliantly cast). And the things that Neil added to keep the emotional arcs running through each episode6 fit nicely and do their jobs.

It’s a fun show. And it still gives you the same kind very wry and wise observations about human nature that Neil and Terry employ subtly in their other works.

I admit, I wish that at least one old trope that underlay the relationships of two pairs of the supporting characters had not remained faithful to the book. I speak of that tired old canard: the competent, accomplished woman who falls for the forlorn, bumbling man who has little, if anything, to recommend him. When I read the book earlier this year, this bothered me most with Madame Tracy—I mean, really, what does she see in Shadwell?

For the other relationship, the version of Witch-hunter Private Pulsifer in the book is given a little more time to demonstrate that he isn’t completely useless. So it didn’t annoy me quite as much as the other relationship–in the book. Alas, much of that is omitted from the series.8

But the central relationships: demon and angel out to save the world (and each other), and the 11-year-old anti-christ who just wants to have fun with his friends (and not understanding his new powers) work splendidly. And don’t let the summary that it’s a comedic look at the apocalypse fool you–the story explores some heavy questions.

The series tell a hilariously engaging story about some serious subjects (what really is the difference between good and evil, do the ends ever justify the means, how many forms that platonic love can take, and so on) without ever tripping over itself. Most of the jokes land as well or better than they did in the book.

I really liked it.

And at the end, just as the first time I reached the end of the book, I felt that if a demon, an angel, and a determined eleven-year-old can save that world, maybe there is some hope for ours.


Footnotes:

1. I had reached a point where I was no longer fooling myself that I was bisexual–but I was also married to a woman2 and there were many reasons that confronting that conflict was being avoided by both of us. I was also experiencing some really weird and frankly frightening health issues.

2. Who remains one of my best friends all these years later.

3. The subsequent separation and divorce, plus the social and financial fallout from that continued for a few years. Then my partner (we called each other husbands, but Ray never lived long enough for us to be legally more than registered domestic partners) was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Again, all my attention was elsewhere.

4. I hadn’t dipped into that pile before this year, though I have re-read a lot of my favorites more frequently than I used to.

5. A job that he said, since he’s never really done it before, he approached thusly: any time there was a decision to be made, he asked himself which choice would have delighted Terry, if he were here to see the final product. And that’s the one he chose every time.

6. Often either things that they decided just to allude to in the original novel, or in some cases sub-plots and characters from the sequel that they planned and plotted but never wrote.7

7. Planned title: 668: The Neighbor of the Beast.

8. The parts I’m thinking of mostly involved him reading more of the archaically worded prophecies from Agnes Nutter’s books and helping Anathema figure out what they mean. Since that kind of scene is difficult to make interesting on screen, I understand why they were minimized.

Sunday Funnies, part 34: Murphy’s Manor & the 30-year Wedding

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read. Except this entry isn’t really about a web comic.

Murphy’s Manor: The 30-year Wedding by Kurt Erichsen. I first encountered Murphy’s Manor in an anthology of queer-themed comic strips that I picked up at one of two gay bookstores in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, when I was only just starting to come out of the closet. As I got slightly more comfortable with people knowing that I wasn’t straight, I started hanging out (and learning to dance at) a (no longer existent) gay country bar called Timberline. And then led to me occasionally being at other gay bars semi-regularly. And one of the things most of those bars had in common was that there were piles of free papers somewhere in the bar. Seattle had one officially gay weekly newspaper at the time, and at least three or four other alternate weekly papers that were all at least somewhat gay friendly (a second explicitly queer weekly newspaper joined the line up a couple years later). One of those papers carried the Murphy’s Manor strips and so I started reading it more regularly.

Murphy’s Manor was a slice-of-life gay comic about Murphy (Murf) who owns a large house in the Black Swamp, Ohio, and the various people who rent rooms in his house, and their friends, significant others, et cetera. Erichsen drew the first six strips in early 1981 after a friend showed him an advertisement in a gay magazine called International Justice Monthly. Someone was trying to form a gay/lesbian comics syndicate. Kurt had one of his stories (published under a pseudonym) accepted for publication in a zine called Gay Comix, so he was interested. He sent in the six strips, but the syndicate idea fell apart. It occurred to him that he could try to syndicate his strip himself. As he explains:

“Nearly every city in North America had gay bars, each with a cigarette machine. On top of the cigarettes: local gay newspapers. It was the beginning of community infrastructure. There were two kinds of newspapers: ‘bar guides’ that advertised gay bars, published photos, listed social and political activities, and which bars had 2-4-` well drinks. They had minimal news. Larger cities had gay newspapers that were more journalistically ambitious. Remember, no internet at that time. Both types of paper were usually free, selling advertising space for bars, baths, and classifieds.”

Erichsen sent his sample strips to every one of these papers with the offer: they could run the samples he sent for free, and if they wanted to continue after that, he would sell the weekly strips. About 70 of the papers subscribed to his service, and his strip was suddenly appearing in a bunch of papers.

Over the next few decades Erichsen drew more than 1100 weekly strips. Murf, the title character, started dating Mark fairly early in the strip’s history.

In 2003, the fight for marriage equality his an interesting stage: various government officials starting decided that the ban on same sex marriage didn’t make sense. Various city, county, and state governments or officials would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other officials would intervene and stop the licenses after a while. Or, if it was an entire state, other states and the feds (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act which had been passed years before) would simply refuse to honor the licenses. Every time one of those jurisdictions started handing out licenses, Erichsen drew a series of strips where Mark and Murf would run off to whereever it was and get married, having various funny misadventures along the way. This plot line continued off and on for the next few years.

In 2008, many of the papers where Erichsen had been selling his comic had either gone out of business, or moved most of their publication to the web, and it no longer made sense for them to pay for a comic strip that readers might be able to read elsewhere. So Erichsen discontinued the strip. Since then, marriage equality has become legal (at least until the Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices take it away, and that is definitely their plan). Erichsen decided he needed to finish Mark and Murf’s story. So he drew 22 new strips, set in the present, in which they decide that the 17 marriage licenses that were subsequently nullified that they collected between 2004 and 2008 needed to be replaced with a real one.

Which brings us to the book I am reviewing (the picture above is my copy). Erichsen went through those 1100+ weekly strips and pulled out a bunch to show the story of Mark and Murf’s relationship, with the final chapter being the 22 new strips about them finally getting hitched for real.

Throughout the book he adds some commentary to explain things in the strips that younger readers may not know where going on in the real world at the time, or just to explain why he went with that particular topic. He also comments on the fact that for the origin 27 year run (1981-2008) of the comic, while he did update the hair and clothes styles of the characters, he never actually drew them as aging. But he decided for the final 22 strips, that the sheer length of time that Mark and Murf had to wait for the marriage to be recognized under the law required him to show that aging. So the characters (with one exception) are all drawn to show the passage of time in the last chapter.

This collection tells a coherent story tackling some important issues, but because it was a weekly comedic strip, it is also funny. I think Erichsen did a great job of pulling together a novel-style tale out of the strips. And you may need a kleenix near the end–or maybe that’s just me.

Erichsen does publish some of his old strips online, now, and the book is available for purchase.


Comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

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And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

Dark barons and ultra-competent (conniving) wizards, or, more of why I love sf/f

My copy of the paperback of <em>The River of the Danciing Gods</em> by Jack L. Chalker.

My copy of the paperback of The River of the Danciing Gods by Jack L. Chalker.

Jack L. Chalker is probably most famous for the Well World Series, which consisted of ten novels written over the course of 17 years. And while it was through the first several novels of that series that I first began reading Jack L. Chalker, I didn’t become a squeeing fanboy of his work until I read a different series, beginning with The River of the Dancing Gods, either late in 1985 or early 1986. The book was published in ‘84, but I didn’t read it until a friend was going on and on about it, being surprised that I hadn’t read it, as it was the sort of thing he would expect me to love.

So I borrowed his copy of it and blew off homework one night to stay up all night reading the novel.

I really liked it.

The premise of all of the Dancing Gods books is that when god created the world as we know it, there was an unintentional echo. A parallel Earth, if you will, though it was a bit messed up. For whatever reason, the Creator let his messengers, the Angels, take control of this unintended echo universe, and they began trying to clean up its broken laws of physics and so forth. The Angels did this by writing down rules of how reality should work each time they encountered an anomaly. These rules eventually became a giant encyclopedia of rules, and mortals living in this parallel world who studied the rules could become wizards and perform magic. Unfortunately, at the same time, Demons were trying to subvert the Angels’ efforts, so the war between Heaven and Hell spread to a new battleground.

All this this is something that the reader learns during the middle of the book. This back story isn’t how things start. No, things start with a woman named Marge in our world, who has leapt from the car being driven by her abusive boyfriend, and finds herself walking along a long stretch of Texas highway. Then a truck driver named Joe stops to offer her a ride, but then there are both who confronted on an unfamiliar stretch of highway by a man who looks like Santa Claus dressed in a very elaborate Victorian suit. The man introduces himself as Throckmorton P. Ruddygore, wizard, and explains that in about 18 minutes Marge and Joe are going to die in a horrible accident. Unless they allow Ruddygore to transport them to his world, where they will become epic heroes and have the opportunity to thwart an Apocalypse.

Marge and Joe agree, and they are transported across the Sea of Dreams to the other world, were each of them begins a process of being transformed into a heroic archetype that can take on the evil which threatens the world.

The River of the Dancing Gods is a book that defies categories. Looked at from one angle, it is a portal fantasy (characters from our world go through a magical portal to a fantastical world), but from just a very slightly different angle it is a standard epic fantasy (story set in a world unlike our own where epic events that change that world forever occur). Except from a very slightly different perspective it is a parody of an epic fantasy. Or, if you tilt your head a little in a different direction, it looks like a deconstruction of each of those things.

Joe and Marge undergo a physical transformation when they cross into Ruddygore’s world. Then they spend some time being trained for their roles as Barbarian Warrior and Mysterious Sorceress respectively. And during the training is where we start to learn about all those rules written by the Angels. Most of the ones we learn are based on trope of epic fantasy and sword & sorcery stories (particularly of the pulp era), such as “All fair maidens must dress as scantily as the weather allows,” or “Magic swords for quests must be named” or “Barbarians must be tall, dark, and handsome, exotic in race but of no known nationality.”

The book is written comedically, but only occasionally crosses the line into parody. It is clear that Chalker loved high fantasy and sword & sorcery tales, but he also loved a good laugh. Most of the jokes in the story are aimed at the ridiculousness of those tropes, or finding ways to make the incongruities that come to mind when you examine those tropes carefully into twists in the story.

The quest of the story seems straightforward enough: a mysterious evil sorcerer called the Dark Baron has gathered an army of goblins and other monsters and so forth and is almost certainly aligned with the forces of Hell and is out to conquer the world. While the rules limit the number of full-fledged mages in the world to 12, and it seems certain that the Dark Baron is one of the other eleven mages, Ruddygore hasn’t been able to determine which one the Dark Baron is, which complicates things a bit.

I had enjoyed the book so much, I was frankly a little worried to re-read it years later. I didn’t want to find chockful of problematic material that was so cringe worthy I couldn’t enjoy it. Fortunately, it wasn’t bad on more recent re-read. Marge has a bit more autonomy than the usual Fair Maiden in sword & sorcery tales, and at some crucial points Joe manages to rise above the usual limits of a dude with a sword. But there are other ways in which the story fails to transcend the typical problems of the sub-genre or its period. It also shares one issue that most of Chalker’s books have: he has a strange fascination with physical transformation, sometimes slipping into body horror in what would otherwise be funny books, and other times completely glossing over the traumatic effects of such transformations. It isn’t exactly problematic here, but as I recall it gets weird in one of the later books.

Really, the biggest disappointment was realizing that the scene that made me laugh out loud so long and hard that my side literally ached and I had tears running down my face isn’t in this book at all. A little research in the sequels turned up the scene I recall, so it is there, just not in this book. Which I think is actually a good thing. Too many sequels don’t live up to the first part of a series. If the funniest bit is yet to come, that’s a good thing.

To sum up, the story of The River of the Dancing Gods was very funny, and engaging enough that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Chalker was clearly having a very good time writing the book, and I think the reader enjoys the ride exactly as much as the author did. Which is a trick some writers don’t pull off very well. Re-reading it, I see the book has influenced my writing in ways that I hadn’t quite realized. Of course, during my 20s I read a whole lot of Chalker’s work, so it shouldn’t surprise me that some of his themes and quirks have slipped into my own writing.

I am looking forward to re-reading more books in this series.

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