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.

Sounds of Life. Sounds of a Library.

*This is a response to an assignment for my MLIS program wherein I contemplate what I believe to be true about libraries.*

 

Listen.

Padded footsteps on a carpeted floor.

Clickity clack go the toy trains on their table tracks.

Whispers.

Teenage jabber.

Tap, tap, on the keyboards.

The clanging of the return slot- closing.

Toddlers bleating in a corner.

Swosh, doors open, swosh, doors close again.

Angry Birds, a theme song for iPad children.

The closing of a hardcover novel, fhwip.

A conclave of creativity.

Thank you, have a nice day.

 

These are the sounds of a library.

When I think of my experience with libraries, my own personal story collection, no tale is particularly quiet. From my days as a teenager sitting at the upstairs corner table, looking out over the harbor, the ships sailing in and out, the sun setting, I think of the stories I wove for my English class, the inspiration I got from the view of the city across the water, and the reading aloud of my work, editing with my peers.

I think of the first day I took my toddling son to explore the shelves and the worlds within. As he clambered to reach the texts that were too high and as they fell around him in a crash on the floor, I was met with smiles and squeals of delight from the staff who leapt into action to help me re-shelve the fallen tomes. With open arms and eyes brimming with delight, my son learned that a library was a welcoming haven. Somewhere he could be adventurous, mischievous, and greeted with smiles.

As he and I continued to visit the libraries in our community, I was struck with the plentiful program offerings for all ages, all manner of interests. My son learned to glue candles on a paper cake, shake an and get his sillies out, while I found free university lectures and met like minded mates at a graphic novel book club. Four years later their friendship, conversation, and shared interests contribute to the best nights of my months.

Every second month, as the new program guide is delivered, I wait patiently to pick up my copy. I circle dozens of programs. Some I will attend: book club, kids craft days, baby stories and songs. Others I will strive to make, astronomy 101, palm reading, laughter yoga- but in the end, I will concede to joining another time. There is not enough time to learn about all the themes the library provides through programs, but there is something for anyone who wants to learn. And this is the great purpose of our libraries today- to provide a place where people can learn, create and meet like-minded individuals. A library can be the setting for the forging of great friendships, as it can be a place to access and unlock information.

In that regard, librarians are no longer the gatekeepers of intelligence; they appropriate wisdom, share their knowledge and ensure their patrons are informed. Librarians guide their patrons to the information they seek, helping first to clarify and fully comprehend what is needed, then teaching how to access and unearth the information buried deep within electronic networks or between the dusty pages of a book. Librarians no longer shush us. They encourage us! They point us towards the answers we seek and sometimes, often times, they enjoy learning right along with us. They cheer on our desire to read and learn. They applaud our curiosity. They invite our questions.

The image of the library is changing, this I believe to be certain. Libraries are a powerhouse for innovation and creativity. They are no longer about amassing quantities of books (though the books are there for those who cherish them), neither are they there to provide a reserved, muted space for study (though these rooms do exist). When someone asks, Will there be need for librarians in the future? Shout a resounding, Yes! and explain their role in the creative community, their role as information harbingers and providers. Librarians are there to help you connect with information; the library is there to connect information with the community. Walk into a library with questions, with curiosity. Shuffle your feet through the aisles and drum your fingers along the stacks. Tap out your questions and print your findings. Raise your voice and ask a question.

Libraries are bustling. They bustle with knowledge. They bustle with information. They bustle with creativity. They bustle with life. Gone are the days when libraries were places of quiet, contemplative solitude. There is very little shushing in a library now, though a rowdy crowd might warrant one, from time to time. The library of today, on the precipice of the year 2015, is alive with ideas, people and noise! It is the epicenter of creativity; a place one can research business ventures of the past, flops and successes; a place to discuss and debate ideas; a safe haven of inclusion for those who need it most. Ideas are being exchanged and these ideas are making noise in the branches of their communities.

It is a wonderful feeling, knowing that I don’t have to hover over my children when we step into the library. They scuttle towards the children’s section, bumbling and fumbling as they make their way, and as they become chefs, conductors, puzzle masters, and elocutionists of fairy tales, I know they will not be silenced. They will be encouraged to play and create. They will be prodded into conversation by staff, and once and a while they will be listened to as they read their favorite books out loud. And as they grow they will learn to use the library and its staff as a soundboard for ideas, sounding their barbaric yawps, waiting to create and discover. Making beautiful noise as they go.

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My Son Likes Frozen, and I Will Not Let it Go!

My son, Thatcher, is six. He likes to get dirty, play superheroes, make fart jokes, and karate chop anyone willing to stand in as his own personal punching bag. He is a renaissance man; all at once an artist, an athlete, and burgeoning intellect. But my son lives by a code that makes me shudder: girls and princesses are gross!

When he was younger and started the ugh, girls! phase we would sit down and watch Barbie movies, read My Little Pony comics and discuss the ways in which boys and girls really weren’t that different from each other, and he liked these “girl” things just fine. In fact, as he became aware of individual interests and passion he saw very little distinction between the sexes. His mother is a superhero fanatic, sporting X-men t-shirts and debating the prowess of Wolverine vs. Sabertooth over the dinner table. His aunt is an avid hockey player who taught him skating basics when he began his foray into sports. His grandfather is the cook in the family. The roles that should be perceived as gender specific were always muddy. Not anymore.Now that he is in grade one, I have very little influence over how he perceives the gender divide in our society. Instead, his six year old comrades know best, and they don’t give girls enough credit.

SVEN2So for my birthday, I asked my sister to buy me Frozen, and as a birthday request I asked my son to watch it with me. He loved it. Sure, Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer certainly helped, but more than the comic relief he took away a lesson that flies in the face of princess movies of the past: the princesses kicked butt and did not need princes to be strong.

This film has the potential to shed light on the power of femininity and the value of womanhood for boys who see girls as weaker and less interesting people. Elsa’s magic is as equally captivating as Dr. Strange’s magic, Anna’s ability to defend herself and save the day is as heroic as Spiderman. Most importantly, family loyalty and love supersedes romance and this is what he takes away from this film. When Anna pleads with Elsa to build a snowman, Thatcher looks up at his father and says, “I would be so sad if Cameron (his older step-brother) didn’t play with me anymore and wouldn’t tell me why”. This moment is the catalyst whereby he is no longer watching a “princess” movie, rather he is watching a captivating story unfold, and hey, there just happens to be princesses in it.

Stories teach us empathy. Whether we read them or watch them unfold on a screen, stories move us, and if they are good they encourage us to examine our lives and create parallels between reality and fantasy. That Thatcher could transport himself into a world where he might feel as equally heartbroken as Anna says he is engaging and contemplating her heartache. We live in a wolafhappyorld that so often encourages our boys not to feel. Rather, we command them to act, to take, to be strong and loud. In our home we strive for reflection, introspection, and encourage emotion. We try very hard to eliminate any speech that would diminish the value of girls and women, “that’s so girly”, “you’re acting like a little girl,” and we embrace being ourselves. We embrace and consider sadness as much as we celebrate delight.

Thatcher has a little sister. I hope that she will love superheroes like her mom, but whatever her choices, she will be supported. That is why it is so vital that her brother learn to respect the value of femininity. He will not see her as weak, he already celebrates her small daily accomplishments, but he will learn that she is just as capable as anyone else to succeed. He knows that she is worthy of time and energy. That her voice is meant to be heard, and that she can be as strong as he can. He will take this inherent respect for his sister and hopefully someday translate it to the girls who will flow in and out of his life. Each with a story to tell and a lesson in life to share.

In the meantime, I will endeavour to encourage a respect of girls and women in our home with the television we watch, the stories we read, and the way we interact with one another. We will continue to watch My Little Pony before school, and contemplate the changing tides of the Marvel Universe. We will sing the theme song from Pokemon as loudly as we sing Let it Go. He will dance and draw as proudly as he skates or punts a ball. He will learn that being a boy doesn’t confine him and limit him. Just as being a girl will not limit or confine his sister. As he grows in sensitivity and learns not to shy from emotion the doors to communication will open ever wider and consideration and understanding will shine through.

As for Frozen, we will laugh at Olaf and Sven, but we will mourn Anna and Elsa’s lost childhood together, too. And if a princess movie helps my son to laugh and love, then that is something to hold on to. I will not let it go.

 

Wonder Woman’s Short Shorts are Not a Problem, But Focusing on Them Is.

Wherein I respond to a troubling segment of Fox and Friends.

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I don’t care that Wonder Woman wears short shorts and a strapless top. I don’t care that Emma Frost always looks cold because she lives in nothing more than lingerie. I don’t care that Ms. Marvel is often in danger of getting a wedgie from her body suit when she blasts off into space. I don’t care about these things because I don’t think about them. When I read a comic I actually read it for the content. Not the outfits. After a disturbing segment of Fox and Friends, I urge others to consider doing the same.

The blatant mockery of the unfinished editing of Sony Animation’s film, Popeye (for creating a title character without his trademark pipe and tattoos) is unfounded as the comments were made about test footage. We have no way of knowing yet if either of these things will make the final cut, but if they don’t, what is the hurt of having a protagonist who doesn’t smoke? What will it matter to kids of a new generation if Popeye’s arms are simply muscular? If an American icon is neither tattooed nor a smoker he should not be branded a “wuss,” and he should certainly not be emasculated. I grew up with Popeye, too, and his tattoos made very little impression on me. I remember the importance of eating spinach. 🙂

As for Thor, and the issue of Odinson now being unworthy so a woman has taken up his mantle, I say it is time to embrace change.  Thor is no longer worthy of Mjolnir, and this is not the first time, either. Remember when he used to carry around Jarnbjorn? (If not, Jarnbjorn is a really big axe.) True comic book fans should be able to at least make peace with the situation and greet the new Thor as a potential hero in her own right, not a new “bustier” Thor with “two additions”. Even in comic books women can be more than big breasts. At no point was her physical strength mentioned, which is hard to miss given that she is not much smaller than Thor Odinson. Also, women can be superheroes without having overtly female names like Thorina. In an age where we are striving for gender equality, it is important that female heroes have their own names. As all women should.

Many fans are upset because Marvel is making so many changes of major characters, many have been outspoken against a new Thor (even I wish Odinson could be Thor and Marvel would highlight a female character in her own right), but to regale her to the size of her breast plate is inappropriate. If we are going to cast her aside, let’s at least have substantial reasoning for it.

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Now, for the points about Wonder Woman. The truth seeking Amazon princess, Diana, who battles for justice alongside some of the greatest heroes ever written has been reduced to her short shorts and halter top. First, let me just say a halter top has a strap that goes around one’s neck. Wonder Woman’s top is strapless, just a fashion FYI.  I love Gadot’s costume in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I know strikes a nerve  for not being patriotic enough, but as a reader of comics let me point out that she is coming into a film that has been said to be heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Saga, so dark tones will prevail. Also, she looks tough. Much tougher than the bright red and blues. Perhaps an icon like Wonder Woman deserves a costume better than that of a “roller skating” outfit. I wonder if anyone is offended by the changes to Superman’s costume, or can male superheroes undergo costume alterations and still be taken seriously?

We live in an age where women and men should be treated equally. The comics industry is making strides to accommodate this, so I would hope daytime television personalities would strive to do so as well. A true fan, I would hope, appreciates heroes for their abilities, cunning, wit and skill. They also love comics for the content, and yes, they probably enjoy the costumes, but the costumes can change without changing the integrity of the person who wears them. And as for Thor, let’s at least give her a chance. If she is good enough for Jason Aaron, she should at least be worthy of us.

Instead of focusing on the superficiality of character clothing, I encourage everyone to pick up a comic and read it for its originality and content. But if you cannot, try not to insult those of us who do.