Comic Book Girl

Great post! As a teacher, and voracious reader of comics, I agree with you completely! Students of all ages need to read what they enjoy, and in turn that will make the assigned readings more bearable. I did a radio spot this year to encourage superheroes in the classroom, and graphic novels treating a myriad of topics. Such an important genre!

Donalyn Miller

While I was out of town last month, our 16-year old daughter, Sarah, had a reading emergency. She told me the story over dinner when I came home, “Mom, my English teacher assigned us an independent reading project.”

I leaned in, whole body listening, “Hmm. What are the guidelines for the project?”

Once a teacher, always a teacher. I can’t help it. I wanted to know how “independent” this independent reading project was.

Sarah ticked off the requirements, “It has to be a book we haven’t read…”

We’re good so far. That’s a reasonable expectation.

She continues, “The book has to be 200 pages long.”

Whew, The Catcher in the Rye just makes the cut at 224 pages. Sorry, Of Mice and Men, you’re too short. Arbitrary rules like this one communicate to kids that teachers think students are lazy and hate to read, and they go for the…

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Parenting: I’m doing it wrong- The Homework Edition

Sometimes I think I would rather face a horde of Skrulls in a battle for world domination than face off against my seven year old when he determinedly does not want to do his homework.

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My weeknight rules are pretty simple: play, read your book, practice your spellings, eat, play some more, go to bed.

Clear, concise, simple, routine. But every once in a while, BAM! WHACK! POW! he transforms from a loveable mild-mannered child into Whino, the Homework Slayer.

OK, that’s a bit exaggerated. In retrospect, it’s not so bad. True, he does whine. True, he argues with me until he is blue in the face, but he is still amazing, beneath the tears.

Here is the thing: when my kid loses his mind, I lose mine. It’s a reflex reaction I can’t control. When he whines about homework, I feel like Wolverine whenever he is faced with Daken, SNIKT! out pop my defensive claws. Unlike Wolverine, I at least resort to clam and collected discussion, but what good does that do against the perils of a seven year old who just wants more time to play with his toys?!

There is no right approach to parenting. Most days I feel I do a pretty good job, but when your child fights you tooth and nail on an issue you feel strongly about (and a beneficial one to them, at that!) it is hard to hold your own. My instincts are at odds. All at once I want to hug him and kiss him and tell him I love him, but I also want to stand my ground- homework must be done, go expand your mind!

In these moments I waiver. I don’t know if I am doing it right, this whole parenting thing. If I am too calm, it doesn’t work; if I get agitated, it doesn’t work; If I get angry, well, that never works out for anybody. Tonight, after a lot of calm reminders and encouragement, I was agitated. So I left him alone with his toys while he pondered his choices and mine.

After some reflection he came to me and apologized, on his own, for his behaviour. After all, my son is really more of a superhero than a villain, whiney or not.

Then he explained something to me:

A friend at school has been bullying him- stealing his toys, yelling at him, calling him names. He had been mentioning bits and pieces of this lately, but it seems tonight it started to wear on him and affect him at home, not just at school. We talked about what he thinks a bully is, and how he hopes to never be one. In that moment I felt all I could offer was to remind him that he is abundantly considerate of others, compassionate, and generous (don’t let my little homework rant fool you!). He said to me last week, KTjg58bTq“Mommy, I want to be like Captain America. He believes in his friends, and I want to be the same way”. And despite the fact he gets angry with me, he never lashes out at his buddies, instead he calms them when they lash out around him. He calms his mommy, too, when he recognizes that he has overreacted and has apologized, or when he feels confident enough to tell me I need to relax and be a better listener.

He didn’t read his book tonight. He already knows his spelling words. But we had a little lesson all the same. In the end, I am pretty sure I was the student.

I don’t always know if I am doing this whole parenting thing right. I have no superpowers. Finding the right balance to parenting is the greatest mystery I have faced yet. It is the longest road I walk. I am so lucky to walk it with my son.

 

Fears for a Female Film Hero

Before Captain Marvel was slated to join her fellow avengers in the MCU I had secret hopes that she would stay on the pages of her comics and not make the jump to the big screen. Why? Because Carol Danvers is my favourite female superhero, obviously.

That seems like an odd thing to say. Before his solo film debut, I was eager to see Wolverine get his own arc. I couldn’t wait for Cap to lead his Howling Commandos on the silver screen, and well, there was just not enough patience in the world while I waited for Thor to wield his mighty hammer. But Ms. Marvel, I had my reservations. And here is why, I was worried Carol would be less super and more sexy.

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It’s not easy being a female comic fan. On the one hand, I feel like I have to qualify my interests for others in the geek community. I have heard some iteration of “Whoa, are you sure you’re a girl?” more than I can count, and all because I can carry a conversation about superheroes with a predominantly male group of friends. Even at my favourite comic book store, (which I love and consider to be one of my favourite places in the world) I did not feel as welcomed, as I know my seven year old son felt, until I was able to assert my geekery to one of the male staff by throwing around artists and writers names, plot details, and, ironically, little known facts about Jem and the Holograms. On the other hand, I feel like I have to qualify my feminist ideals to myself every time I read a comic.

In the comfort of my own reading nook, I don’t care what Emma Frost wears, how Spider-Woman poses, or how ridiculously high Ms. Marvel’s boots are. I see past it, just as I look past Namor and the suspenders he wears over his bare chest, or T’Challa and the way his panther suit is practically painted over his body. Neither male nor female character are safe from sexual innuendos, and most all are presented with a degree of sex appeal. Maybe Emma Frost and Spider-Woman don’t ring true to me the way Danvers does, and in that sense I am not bothered by their attire. But I do identify with Danvers, and knowing that she was to be taken from the pages of a book and portrayed by an actual living person made me uncomfortable. Let’s face it, when a male actor buffs up and starts saving the world, he is usually well covered from head to toe, and I have yet to see one wear ridiculous footwear. How can a woman prove Carol Danvers has the same world saving tenacity in four inch heels and a body suit permanently on the verge of giving her a wedgie? How does a studio give her character credibility without overtly sexualizing her?

The answer: release a Captain Marvel movie instead. 145a5714d278c1e0b35275e6a0092b2e

Captain Marvel is the hero Ms. Marvel subconsciously longs to be (as seen in House of M), and subsequently, the mantel she inherits. With the new title remains her strength, tenacity, leadership qualities, and a kick-ass jumpsuit. Small thing to get so excited about, but now Carol Danvers looks like the soldier we know and admire. Seeing Carol Danvers grace the pages of her own series looking like the woman my younger self would have liked to be affirms that my feminist ideals are, in fact, intact. I want to see a strong woman save the earth, but more importantly I want to see a strong woman who looks (more or less) like a real woman save the earth. I want her intellect and capacity for emotion not to be clouded by skimpy suites, unattainable flowing hair, and boots that would make it awfully hard to round-house kick.

Marvel’s choice to release Captain Marvel has eased my mind and demonstrated a respect for their female fans. So far the MCU has done well promoting both strength and femininity in their female characters: Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow is significantly less sexualized than her comic counterpart; Gwenyth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts radiates strength beyond measure, both physical and emotional; and Agent Carter and Lady Siff have proven that women have a place in the chaos and forefront of the battleground, and that even women can devastate in times of war.

In the books, Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is exactly the kind of superhero I want my daughter to know, to imagine and pretend to be. Same goes for Gwen Stacy in her run in the new Spider-Verse (the thought that a girl could be bitten by a radio active spider is not just a figment of little girl’s imagination anymore!). Browsing the covers of comics women are everywhere, from the characters on the title page to the artists and writers bringing them to life.

The spotlight on women in comics is starting to brighten. They have been standing on the stage for sometime, but waiting for their moment to shine. Now it’s happening. It’s time to lift the curtain and watch women stand tall as comic giants, not just on the shoulders of others.

It’s time for Carol Danvers to shine on the big screen, too.

I am ready.

 

Comics: A Gateway to What I Should be Reading

James Joyce’s seminal post-modernist masterpiece, Ulysses, has been collecting dust on my bedside table for five years. Occasionally it changes location from under the lamp to the top of the pile, but there it remains, spine un-cracked, pages pristine, metaphors and ambiguities unearthed- unread.

I can hear the guffaws of my peers in the literary community as I type this. That strange comic book reader calls herself an English graduate?! Blasphemy!

I am a fraud.

My entire degree in English literature is a lie because, not only have I not read Ulysses, I don’t really want to.

At least I didn’t, until a comic book changed my mind.

I was late getting around to Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical, Fun Home. In fact, I was late getting around to autobiographical comics, in general. When I did, Fun Home didn’t pull at my inner historian’s curiosity like Maus, nor did it make me want to self-evaluate my own anxieties like Marbles. Like Ulysses, Fun Home was a book I knew I should read, a contemporary classic (a game-changer in the world of comics), but I was in no hurry to pick it up, and it took me years, collecting dust on the shelf below Joyce.

Now, I guffaw at myself.

image Fun Home just may be the most important comic I have ever read, but not for the connections I made with the characters. I have very little in common with Alison, the young protagonist who comes of age in a home devoid of outwardly affection, who watches her parent’s marriage deteriorate behind a velvet facade, brought up in a house that is both staged for beauty and death. Sure, I cheered for her as she reached her milestones and personal enlightenment, I joined her on her quest for identity, but the connection to the character was not what kept me up reading all night. I was connected, instead, to what sustained her.

Bechdel’s intimate relationship with English literature is enviable and, I would argue,  the crux of her book. This is where she got me. Hook, line and sinker; the way to a literature junkie’s heart (even one that hasn’t read Ulysses) is through reference and allusion. I could not relate to Alison’s plights and conflicts, but I could relate to the way she engaged with books to get her through each major event in her life. Like her, I lost myself to works such as The Importance of Being Earnest, The Taming of the Shrew, An Ideal Husband, The Wind in the Willows, The Great Gatsby, and poetry by Wallace Stevens. Here was a protagonist, an author, pulled between her love of great literature and her desire to live in a world of comics- such is my plight!!!

I could’t put Fun Home down. In the panels of a graphic memoir I saw my own reflection- someone filled to the brim with literary passion, but someone who did not quite belong. A poet and a comic. An essayist and artist. I may not have seen myself in her story, but there I was front and centre in the medium.

Fun Home has broken barriers across genres, has incited discussion for gender identification and sexual orientation. It has shed light on the secrets between family and the darkness of both life and death. But for me, much more simply, it has validated my love of reading, most especially my love of reading comics.

As my foray with Fun Home came to an end I realized Bechdel likened herself and her father to the two main characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses. For the first time, ever, I had the urge to read Ulysses, not because it belongs in the pantheon of books I am supposed to read, but because the characters suddenly became real to me. Joyce didn’t do this. Alison Bechdel did. Not a seminal novel, a graphic one. But hey, no matter the medium that is what a good book does; it encourages a reader to read on, read more, and read unabashedly. It is time to dust off Ulysses. Fun Home, on the other hand, will never collect dust again.