I’m Not Locked In Here With You: Todd Phillips’ Joker

So I wrote an article for Joker on Sequart a little while ago now, but while they eventually will post it, I have some other more personal thoughts on some of the themes in the film: mainly why I like it, and why I relate to it.

I tend to call this Joker, or this earlier phase of him, the Arthur Fleck Joker. He isn’t the same as the Mark Hamill, the Heath Ledger, the Jack Nicholson, or the foolish Cesar Romero depictions. He isn’t even the comics Joker, any of them. This is the phase, the dress rehearsal, before the agent of chaos that we are going to get. I’ve always been fascinated, you see, with watching something in the process of being created, or creating itself. I find the best kinds of art, or artists, are those that you can see are constantly working on themselves. Mark Twain has a quote about knowing the details behind the creation of a miracle, and how it can take away from the simple joys of just experiencing it, yet I am someone who likes to — to borrow a phrase from Neil Gaiman — see the work backstage, and how it adds to the performance that we are given.

This Joker is a moment of realization in progress, of living two different lies at least, and then finding out who he actually is. That is what I took away from this film. Let me be clear about a few things though: I do not romanticize the Joker that kills people for amusement, or is an abuser. The one in this film is very different from those other depictions, though there are some similarities with regards to his more destructive actions.

But I really, like I said, love the process. We see Arthur wearing the clown makeup when he is at his gig helping a shop sell its wares, but a man wearing a clown costume does not a Joker make. Even the nervous, involuntary laughter doesn’t make the Joker. Not even the killing of those abusive rich men out of self-preservation, or the one out of a sense of street justice makes for the Clown Prince of Crime. The flirtation with this image, the sensuality of it in the restroom with blood-splattered on his face, his wig and clown nose gone, and his ragged elemental features at that point are a start. But he’s still Arthur. He still wants to be loved. He still wants to be a comedian, and to stop hurting.

Even the white makeup he has on when he kills the person who betrayed him isn’t quite there yet, and this after he discovers what he is — where he came from, how he was betrayed far worse before — and preparing for what he is going to do. He wants revenge, but he also wants the pain to stop: for the joke that is his life to finally end. That is the tipping point.

I would even say by the time he makes it to Murray’s show — to the man he used to look up as a father-figure before he publicly humiliated his non-neurotypical behaviour on television for laughs, and didn’t think anything of it — and when he decides to kill him instead of himself on national television, he’s still not Joker. But what started as practice in that restroom, and then choreograph when he danced down those flights of stairs, and then self-awareness by putting on a clown mask to hide in the discontent of Gotham’s lower class that made his actions against the rich into a memetic force, followed by one great bellow of selfish vengeance on a man and system that failed him … ends when he gets out of that car crash, and he uses the blood coming out of him to make a bloody smile on the costume whose lipstick had already faded. It was cheap and artificial. Now, the blood makes that twisted smile real.

Watchmen is bandied about a lot in terms of comics references. Hell, it even made it into the title of this Blog post. I don’t need it to sell Joker that’s already sold its own soul to the Devil of our collective imagination. But there is this idea in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work with the vigilante Rorschach. He starts out with a troubled past of childhood abuse as well, but that doesn’t make him Rorschach. It doesn’t make him Rorschach when Kitty Genovese is brutally raped and murdered publicly and her neighbours do nothing, and he vows to become a masked hero to stop other such incidents. He’s still just Walter Kovacs, an abused child taken to foster care, wearing the mask of Rorschach. Rorschach is still his alter-ego.

It isn’t until he hunts for a kidnapped baby, and finds out that the kidnapper fed the child to his dogs, and he burns the man alive that he isn’t Walter Kovacs anymore. He realizes he is Rorschach. And when he is hiding in plain sight as that Prophet of Doom in the background, Rorschach wears Walter Kovacs as his mask, just as the Joker wears Arthur Fleck’s face as a mask at the end of Todd Phillips’ film.

We can go into how in Star Wars Darth Sidious was the real self of the man who wore the mask of the politician Palpatine, or how Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne — though that last is highly debatable, though appropriate given that this article deals a great deal with his arch-nemesis. What I’m trying to illustrate is that none of these alter-egos becoming true identities happened overnight, or had always been their true selves. Parts of these personalities, these culmination of experiences, were there but there were other circumstances, and reactions to those events that precipitated the processes that made these happen.

That is how I understand a lot of what I’ve been going through this particular year. I don’t romanticize these characters. I think there are aspects of them, as archetypes, that are really fascinating and relatable, but they are not heroes. The Joker is not a good person, even if there are parts of him — of this one, and even his “burn everything bad to the ground” or “watch this flawed, disgusting world burn” attitude that my Id can sympathize with.

I guess the best way to describe it is that 2019 has been a different year for me. I’ve new people. I’ve had some new experiences, or explored them in a whole other way. I’ve been angry, and scared, and frustrated. I’ve delved into that fear. I’ve confronted it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone. I’ve worn my makeup and my masks. But I’ve realized that identities, especially those that we associate with things and events, are fluid. They change. And trauma in particular is a massive force behind some of those changes. There are ways to explore that power — trauma — in controlled environments with calculation and experimentation. Writing is one of those outlets, and the confines of the imagination. But sometimes it’s also trading stories and interactions with like-minded people. Sometimes it’s putting old selves behind you. Sometimes it’s realizing you are angry, and accepting it, and knowing that you are changing.

I think the most painful thing is trying to hold onto the person that you were, with all those experiences — good or bad — to stay in the past, because you will never be that person again. You will keep changing. That’s part of your nature. Some core tenets will remain the same, of course. But you will not have the same experiences again. We hold on out of fear, or resentment, or a genuine sense of overwhelming purposelessness. Where do we go from here? What do we do? And why is it I have this inclination to know where I can go, or what I can do, but not quite get there before … something? Right?

This year, I felt myself let go of a lot of attachments and realize some things are gone. And that they, most likely, needed to be gone. I still have to deal with more of these due to logistics, but I now understand that I don’t feel the same about them as I did. I don’t feel the way I used to, because very naturally I’m no longer that person. And that’s not a bad thing. I can still feel sad about it, even angry, but it doesn’t change anything beyond whatever it is I do next.

I’ve been busy, confronting those parts, dealing with the anxiety. I have fascinating friends and explorations. And I’m lucky. I felt my old self beginning to wane, to fade, but to also be subsumed by my new choices, and activities. It’s sad and you mourn it, but there is no other way to go on: even if you do need to remember to pace yourself. Imagine being Arthur Fleck, though, and realizing that your old self never really existed to begin with. Maybe it’s not that different, as nothing is permanent. It’s not a science, but I will argue with you that it can be art.

And that’s what I’m making. Even if I don’t write as much as I used to, or stay indoors as much in front of my computer, I am still expressing myself, and thus making art. I might have been wearing masks, but they are closer to being who I am now than where I was. And even despite that, masks aren’t false things. They are organic and we are all different people in different situations.

The New Year is coming up. I actually had myself made up as the Joker a while ago, and this great, rumbling laugh came from my chest. I’ve dressed as the Crow, but as people like to quote from that movie and perhaps even the comic from which it came “it can’t rain all the time.” The Crow isn’t supposed to smile, apparently. But I laugh. I love to laugh. But I also like to be between states, and know how the meat is made, or destroyed. I like to hide in plain sight, and plan things out. But sometimes, when I can get past the fear I just go with it accordingly.

I’ve actually liked 2019. It’s so far been a good, but challenging year. I will keep shedding more of the old as I go on, and it won’t be easy. But we all know that “laughter” has an extra letter in front of it sometimes. And it isn’t so much that I’m trapped here with my challenges.

It’s that they are trapped here with me. And, when I can, I intend to have my fun.Laughing Me

Chasing Amy And Reviewing The Laurel Leaves

I wasn’t originally going to watch this film. In fact, my plan was to avoid it into the unforeseeable future. In the beginning, back in 1997 when Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy was first released, I just wasn’t interested. At the time my interest in comics and superheroes was waning and I was in the phase in my life before I went into any conventions, panels, geek communities, or had any relationships. Later, after I got back into comics and saw them for all the adult potential they could contain, I still didn’t watch this film because I’d heard about the messiness of the relationships between them and, at the time, I didn’t understand and I wasn’t interested in subtexts of other sexualities, geek subcultures, the minutiae of romantic comedy and failed relationships beyond the theoretical, and I felt safer in my own head.

Much later, after opening myself up to more life experiences, the reason I avoided Chasing Amy was out of fear. In retrospect, it was always out of fear. It’s only know that I’ve realized that by avoiding Chasing Amy that I’ve actually been running towards it. And tonight, for the first time, I decided to actively run towards what I can see of its heart.

If you don’t want Spoilers to a 1997 movie, please don’t read any further.

I think there are two reasons I kept away from this film. The first was that I knew how it was going to end. Knowing how a work is going to end before you experience it definitely affects how you might react to it.

And the second reason is that I knew its setting — at a convention amongst comics geeks and creators — would hit close to home. Holden and Banky’s introduction in signing their ridiculous superhero parody comic Bluntman and Chronic (modelled after the in-movie and in-Smith universe Jay and Silent Bob characters), with Holden’s high-brow intelligence and Banky’s sarcastic and hair-trigger irate temper — along with how they dealt with and understood their fandom — already threatened to draw me in. Even Hooper X and his ludicrously over-the-top Black Power White Man hating persona — to the point of claiming Darth Vader to be an icon for Black slavery and repression — got me to smile when I realized it was all a clever subversive act to keep up his image.

Then there is Alyssa Jones. She is the creator of what seems to be an even more subversive take on the Archie comics genre through the creation of Idiosyncratic Routine: a comic with what seems to be lesbian or queer oriented relationships story. I really appreciated some of the subtext here: that throughout the interactions in the beginning of the film towards the end we are seeing the difference between generic superhero comics and the personal stories of which they are capable of telling.

Idiosyncratic Routine

To be honest, I didn’t want to like anyone in this film. To be fair, it would have been worse when I was younger: back when I hated crudity and was taught to think it was wrong. Even now, the fact that all four characters had — at times — had superficial relationships with people. However, I also know there is a difference between casual talk at a bar and a character’s actions: as well as context.

The thing is, I can understand why each character does what they do and Kevin Smith takes pains to show us little details along the way. You can see Banky’s over-insistence that he isn’t gay, his homophobic comments, and his need to carry around an excessive amount of porn magazines as a major source of emotional compensation. He likes, at least his long-time homosocial friendship and creative partnership, with Holden and doesn’t want it disrupted in any way.

You can even understand Holden: at least in the beginning. Imagine being in a small bubble of society and only hearing about other things beyond it through spectacle and fiction. Then imagine you meet someone and you totally hit it off with them, or so you think — even getting invited to event by this person — only for them to begin making out with their partner right in front of you for an extended period of time. When I saw Holden sitting at that bar table with Banky, and watching — or trying not to watch Alyssa and her girlfriend of that time — I could see that for every time he told Banky to shut up, he was really venting his disappointment and discomfort: all the way to the point where he just wanted to straight out leave the bar.

Of course, there is Alyssa herself. As you get to know her, you realize she is a woman of some extremes. Sometimes, she genuinely seems to act like a very perceptive brat: knowing that she’s doing some shit-disturbing but entertaining herself in the process. And I say this with some fondness. She is witty, clever, and awkward in a way in which she can laugh at herself. At the same time, when she gets angry: she gets … angry. I’ll admit, Joey Lauren Adams’ voice has an extremely high-pitch and it can be off-putting: especially when drawing on the self-righteous fury of her character. But often, when she gets angry, it’s because Holden manages to trigger a place of hurt inside of her and she reacts accordingly.

But one thing I like about Alyssa is that even when she is an angry manic pixie girl, she still possesses enough self-consciousness to admit her faults and, honestly, has some painful moments of eloquence.

This is a woman who has spent a good portion of her life discovering who she is: experimenting with what she likes, who she relates to, and going to places that sometimes cause her pain. Unlike Holden and Banky, she’s a lot more aware of who she is and what she wants due to the struggles in getting there.

You have to figure Alyssa has gone through a lot. She experimented with her sexuality when she was younger and less mature. Boys took advantage of her and spread rumours and video tapes depicting her acts with them. By the time where Chasing Amy starts she has already dealt with having to come out of the closet and deal with her sexuality in college, fully identifying herself as a lesbian.

And then she and Holden meet each other.

Alyssa’s sexual orientation is not primarily where the tragedy begins in this dynamic. Imagine coming out of the closet: to yourself, to your family, and friends. You have a group of friends that orient their group and political identity around a particular sexual orientation. Then imagine meeting someone, a person, who challenges all of those preconceived notions. Holden, who seems to be a straight man, can’t begin to understand just what the implications of their attraction actually might mean for her. Alyssa could, and seemingly does, get exiled from her group of lesbian friends. And while I’m sure this doesn’t always happen, this phenomenon is definitely known to occur. In fact, what Alyssa seems to go through, at least in that one brief scene around the table with her friends, is reminiscent of works such as Gaming Pixie’s What’s In A Name? in which some gay-identified people consider bisexuality to be a fake designation: a cover for someone pretending to be gay but who is secretly straight.

It’s tempting to say that just as Banky’s internalized homophobia might be the result of repressed homosexual feelings towards Holden, Alyssa runs — and arguably succumbs — to the danger of dealing with some internalized and externalized biphobia. However, as I said Alyssa has done the work before and gradually accepts Holden as the person that she loves beyond sexual orientation, social structuring and despite — even because — of his messiness as a human being.

Holden, unfortunately, can’t seem to afford her the same courtesy. He has never had to deal with figuring out who he is to this regard. Moreover, he is still hung-up on power dynamics and hierarchy: on needing to feel equal to Alyssa in terms of experience. He ignores the fact that she loves him as an individual and not for the “prestige” of being “the first man” she’s slept with.

Chasing Amy Breakup Scene

One sad element about Holden is that there are points in the film where you can see him beginning to change. You see him calling out Banky on his homophobia and questioning just what kind of creative work and legacy he wants to undertake instead of the shallow superhero story of Bluntman and Chronic.

You see just all the time Holden and Alyssa spend together: even before they know they are developing romantic feelings for one another. Hell, there are points when Alyssa and Banky seem to get along. You’d think that she would get incredibly offended by Banky’s homophobic statements, but the way I see it to her they are a lot like Archie Bunker’s comments and she can at least respect the honesty of them if nothing else.

Alyssa and Banky

Certainly, Banky’s prejudices are a whole lot more open than Holden’s internalized ones: ones that he thinks he can overcome by virtue of being with Alyssa. Also, the characters themselves are crude and open about matters generally: though Holden himself due to his more reserved and conservative nature does this a lot less.

For me, Chasing Amy is less a romantic comedy and more of a tragedy: especially as you get this horrible mounting dread as the film moves towards its end. Holden just can’t shake off the taboos and power-structures in his head in time to save his relationships. In a horrible mangle, he tries to create a threesome between him, Banky, and Alyssa: after vehemently rejecting Alyssa for her sexual past with other men. This is a breakdown of communication and the terminal phase of a relationship gone dysfunctional. From my perspective, Alyssa should have told him about this past but, really, Holden should have been the one to ask her in a direct and respectful manner, outside of a hockey game, and with time put aside. Of course, Holden also should have borne in mind that many of the qualities he admires in Alyssa comes from all the experiences, mistakes, and work that she had undertaken.

Banky could have looked at himself and realized his feelings for Holden: or at least communicated just why Alyssa bothered him so much. I really noticed that the three of them could have easily been friends if nothing else.

Holden, Alyssa, and Banky

And then there is the fascinating element of Alyssa herself. When I was watching this spectacle unravel and she was explaining to Holden just why it wouldn’t work, I realized that Alyssa wasn’t just talking about the threesomes and play that she had done in the past. Even in her lesbian relationships, I strongly suspect she and previous partners attempted polyamory: or at least some kind of non-monogamy. As she states, there are many permutations of how it might not work out, and Alyssa herself saw those earlier relationships as experiments that she went through before finding what and who she wanted.

Alyssa, at least at this point, is monogamous and wants to be so with Holden. But Holden’s arrogance and insecurity poisons and destroys what they had: or could have had. Certainly, Holden’s fever-logic idea of creating a threesome to eliminate insecurities would, by Alyssa’s own words, have only made things worse. Perhaps with time, effort, patience, and actual talking — maybe even experimentation on Holden’s part and Alyssa’s understanding — all of this could have been salvaged. Instead, Holden loses Alyssa and Banky. Due to his own actions, he is essentially left with nothing.

The end of the film reminds me of the ancient Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo. The god Apollo seeks the naiad Daphne and she is not interested in his romantic overtures. He ends up pursuing her: chasing her to the point where she asks her river god father to change her into a tree to escape the god. Daphne became the first laurel tree. Apollo, in his grief, takes on her laurel leaves as his new crown. Laurel leaf crowns were awarded to ancient Greek athletes and victorious Roman warriors: perhaps reminding them of that kernel of defeat and loss at the centre of triumph.

Apollo and Daphne

Silent Bob tells Holden the story about a girl he knew named Amy who, because of her previous experience with multiple men, he couldn’t accept: leaving her and realizing, only too late, that she loved him just for who he was. Hence we have the title of the film: Chasing Amy.

A person is not an ideal even if they can, by their presence and loss, inspire creation. Holden ends up creating a new, personal comic sharing the title of the film. He gives a copy to Alyssa a year after their relationship ended. It is a comic book whose pages are laurel leaves and whose panels are lost moments of time. It is made up of the beauty, maturity, and understanding that he gained after losing the woman he loved by chasing an impossible ideal and, in doing so, chased away the flawed, vulnerable, and ultimately human person that she is.

And Alyssa? She ends up dating women again and doesn’t even acknowledge what Holden was to her newest partner. Even though he still clearly means much to her, he is part of her past now: the same past that she hid from him and so many others in order to psychologically protect herself. I’m even tempted to say, in a very less than qualified way, that she buries down what might have been a delving into bisexuality to embrace the relatively easier notion of homosexuality once more, leaving us with perhaps an example of bisexual self-erasure. Or, again sexuality doesn’t come into it. This was just about people relating to one another: and failing.

I am not in the LGBTQ spectrum and I know this film has been written about many times and probably in better ways, so hopefully you’ll understand when I say that I hope you take everything I’ve written with a grain of salt. After seeing the movie, I kind of wish that we could see another one: not from Holden’s perspective in gaining his laurel leaves, but Alyssa’s, or Amy’s — or even Daphne’s — defiance of that trope.

Chasing Amy Comic Cover

As such I hope it goes without saying that women, obviously, do not exist so that they can “be lost” by men in order to gain them a certain level of maturity and humility. But there is a trope here — a Western and Classic idea in which love is a “forbidden knowledge” that you must fall into, and that only through loss can you begin to understand who you are — and it is tragic in that it exists at all. The truth is, I didn’t want to like Chasing Amy: a personal enlightenment tragedy wearing the layers of romance, comedy, geekdom, comics arts and meta-fiction that it is. And I realize the reason I was so afraid of it was because there were many times in my life that I almost became Holden. Sometimes I’m afraid it still might happen.

Fear of loss is reason is why I didn’t want to get attached to the characters: to become affected by their loss and their pain of loss. But by not becoming attached to something, you attempt to hold off relating to it — and by not relating to it you can let an opportunity pass you by, develop a dysfunctional relationship with it, or let a part of yourself become mangled and ruined before it can grow. And I can’t do that any more.

I’d like to think that, in watching Chasing Amy I took a chance and looked at the forces that shaped it. As I have attempted to do in my own relationships, I accepted the experiences it had — and has with others — and realized that they only made it all the richer for me to learn from and relate to in my own right.

On The Art Of Sweet Action: An Interview With A. Shay Hahn

The Canadian painter and illustrator A. Shay Hahn, is now a comics creator with the imminent release of three new and original self-published comics works. And before his Sweet Action exhibit, commission, and presentation event at The Society of the Seven Crowns Tattoo we at GEEKPR0N have been given the opportunity to talk with him about his art, his process, and his upcoming works.

GEEKPR0N: In a piece by TJ Dawe on the Blog Beams and Struts, you outline your artistic method and philosophy at length with regards to painting. You discuss how you create your illustrations as a diarist, with emphasis on abstraction, storytelling, and an attempt to avoid identity in your figures. Does this creative process — your own unique visual and artistic language — translate in any way into your comics art and, if so, how might it do so

A. SHAY HAHN: My process for painting and my process for comics don’t intersect. In comics you need to define the characters in appearance and attitude with a forward moving story, whereas painting allows a lot more freedom. In painting the viewer is allowed to a degree to define what the painting is about: they add some of their own biography to the piece. In my comics, or in most comics, the viewer is guided by the images through the story. It’s narrative driven as opposed to interpreted. I want to hook the reader for a wild ride in my comics.

"Girl with an Axe" by A Shay Hahn. It is a painting that feels like it could be the beginning of a story in itself.
“Girl with an Axe” by A Shay Hahn. It is a painting that feels like it could be the beginning of a story in itself.

GP: In your interview on the Fragmentalist with regards to your work in the Cameron, you talk about how artists should make themselves — and their works — a part of the venue in which they are presenting their part. How do you see yourself applying this philosophy to your Sweet Action presentation at Seven Crowns Tattoos? How do you think your comics art aesthetic will complement the establishment in comparison and contrast to your work in the Cameron?

ASH: Good question, I think artists should be available while their work is being displayed so I will be at Seven Crowns Tattoo, hopefully once a week to sit in the gallery and I’ll be drawing comics while I’m there. If people have questions about who did the work there will be one day a week where I can answer their questions in person. I love the idea of showing the comic based work at Seven Crowns. Tattoos, like comics can be bold and colourful – like the work of Jack Kirby or darker and more moody. I want the show to really have a feel of fun and energy and see how that affects the space. It should put people in a good mood.

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GP: You are going to be presenting your three self-published new comics works at Sweet Action. However, this is not the first time you have been involved with the comics medium. According to your profile on Monkey Brain Comics, you were the artist for Issue #7 of Amazing Forest written by Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas. Can you tell us more about your time there and while you were inspired to create art by your childhood with comic books, was this particular collaboration the transition point to you creating your own comics work?

ASH: I was actually asked to do the story “Nonbelievers” for Amazing Forest just as I was finishing the final art on my third comic. They needed an eight page story done and asked me to do it. I’d been recommended by another comic artist on twitter and I read the pages and knew that I’d be able to fit it into my schedule. It was my first professional comics gig and I’m grateful that I was asked to do it. I was sent a script and just went hardcore over five days, drew the whole thing inked it, lettered it and sent it back finished. It was a whirlwind and they were really happy with the results. I’ve wanted to do my own comics for years, I just had to be able to book off the time to do it. I only did a few other commissioned paintings during the time so I wasn’t making any real money while I drew the comics. It was a huge learning curve and I came out the other side with a product that I think people are going to really enjoy.

"Nonbelievers" from Amazing Forest. Written by Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas and illustrated by A Shay Hahn.
“Nonbelievers” from Amazing Forest. Written by Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas and illustrated by A Shay Hahn. Published by Monkey Brain Comics.

GP: What are your favourite drawings or sketches for your Sweet Action show at Seven Crowns Tattoo so far?

ASH: That’s a tough one, each piece has a little something about it that I like, whether it’s a facial expression or a pose, maybe I did some nice colouring with the Copic markers on a certain piece. I like things that are funny, hard core comic guy poses are cool but if I can do something like MODOK wearing a beer can hat or getting to draw a character like Wez from The Road Warrior those one’s stand out for me.

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GP: Can you tell us more about your three comics works: The Homeless G-Men, Crypto Zombic, and Battle Rally?

ASH: As a whole I wanted them to be fun. I wanted people who don’t consider themselves hard core comic fans to enjoy them: that there isn’t an intimidation factor, that they were more like great B-movie VHS films than serious investigations into what it means to be a hero or plots that were too esoteric to follow. Here’s a breakdown of what each comic is about: 

Homeless G-Men

THE HOMELESS G-MEN is about a team of cops hunted by the very city they swore to protect race to clear their name: a “good time noir” for fans of Eric Powell’s The Goon and Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Crypto-Zombic

CRYPTO-ZOMBIC is about the only surviving scientist of an experiment gone horribly wrong as he returns to the Island of Isla Sopresa: populated with zombies, monsters that were thought to be the stuff of legend and a whole bunch of psychopaths. It’s a tale of mad science and ghastly creatures. If you loved the game Altered Beast or any 80’s action film, CZ is the book for you.

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Finally get ready for BATTLE RALLY! In the near future teams of racers risk life and limb for glory and product endorsements, will the members of “Team Juicy Blast” win the gold or tear themselves apart before they even place? Battle Rally combines vehicle combat and giant robot battles in explosive action for fans of Voltron, The Shogun Warriors and Death Race.

You can find samples of A. Shay Hahn’s artwork on his Blog Smudges and Lines, or check out his work February 7 at The Society of the Seven Crowns Tattoo any time after 8 pm.

From The Book Circus: Amanda Palmer’s Art Of Asking Book Tour

A few days ago, a friend of mine let me know that Amanda Palmer was coming to Toronto on the last leg of her Book Tour. Unfortunately, by the time I got the message she followed up on it: informing me that the Lee’s Palace venue tickets were sold out. I’m not exactly sure why I did it. I had a suspicion and I applied for a ticket on Ticketfly: just to see if I could. It was this same hunch that had me standing in a line outside of Lee’s Palace for over an hour with the rest of Amanda Palmer’s fans: again, just to see if they would accept this ticket and let me in.

We all stood out there for a while: waiting for the doors to open past their 8 pm deadline. A fellow fan was nice enough to pass around free doughnuts: which was pretty good indicator of just what kind of crowd was gathered there. In all honesty, when the line started moving I was a little bit stunned that the establishment let me straight through.

Once we came in, we took the seats that we could while Amanda Palmer’s assistant Whitney Moses, dressed in her Erika Moen’s Anal Safety Snails shirt, came on stage to do some maintenance while leaving a glass of wine for Amanda. The event had a great turn out: made all the more evident by the teasing that began.

At one point Amanda herself appeared in the window above the stage and everyone cheered. During more preparations, as more people kept coming in, the music playing at Lee’s Palace would pause just long enough to get everyone to think that their night had begun: to revving them up further.

But it wasn’t long until Amanda herself finally came on stage, tossing flowers to the audience, strumming her ukulele and as she talked it got more difficult to describe the night in linear detail as I got caught up in the palpable joy of the crowd. She came onto the stage with another Amanda: a sign-language interpreter whose translations of Amanda’s words and songs were just as beautiful and interesting to watch as Amanda herself. In fact, sometimes it was good sort of challenge for me to split my attention in focusing on either one or the other.

After a request from a fan, we got to learn that out of the one hundred and ninety songs Amanda has created, she has apparently only memorized ten of them. She read from parts of her book The Art of Asking, while letting a fan perform an act of bibliomancy and selecting a passage for Amanda to read: even as another came on stage and choose a few sentences that Amanda decided to put into vocal music. In her book, she referred to a bit of history from Richard Zack’s An Underground Education with regards to Henry David Thoreau and how, while he made his hermitage at Walden Pond, he visited his rich friend that owned the property and accepted baked goods from his family.

The moral of the story is the core of The Art Asking: namely, don’t feel bad about taking the doughnuts. This is the second time I’ve mentioned doughnuts at the Book Tour. Very soon, I will talk about it for the last time.

There were a few particular parts of the Toronto Tour that particularly stuck out for me. Amanda began the event by playing her version of “Fuck The Police” — a day after the Ferguson verdict — and informed us that she was Toronto’s peace protest before this part of her tour that day. I have to admit, it did make me pause and it brought up some very uncomfortable issues for me: of the violence, of expression, and of cultural appropriation.

She also played a vocal duet of Dresden Doll’s “Delilah” with Whitney — who is a talented musician in her own right — while on her keyboard. This led to another difficult subject. It was after this song about an abusive relationship that she invited Sasha Manes of the Toronto YWCA branch on stage to talk about the importance of women’s and children’s shelters as well as her own organization’s charity initiative. Amanda’s Book Tour shared the same day as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

And both on her own initiative and when asked by her guest Eric Alper the Director of Media Relations for eOne Music Canada, Amanda also didn’t shy away from talking about Jian Ghomeshi. She talked about how many of her fans didn’t want him to be there and how, in the end, she didn’t want her Book Tour in Toronto to be overshadowed by, or all about  him. At least, that was my understanding of the matter.

Eric Alper himself covered a fair bit of ground in more ways than one. Remember how I mentioned doughnuts twice? Well, Alper decided to distribute seven hundred Timbits to the entire audience while he and Amanda kept talking. They talked about a range of topics: from the dangers of all music being placed under digital rights management again and no longer available to share freely online, to Amanda’s hopes on what crowdfunding might do to free more artists and their audiences from the influence of an unchanging music industry.

I was particularly intrigued when Alper asked Amanda just what she cut out from the final draft of her book. She mentioned two anecdotes: one about the fact that her programmer mother’s team worked with and accepted the identity of a transgender member as a given in the 1960s, and another about a woman thanking her for her work as a living statue in representing “white power.” Certainly, these are stories in and of themselves.

At one point, Amanda’s friend Anthony was brought up. Anthony Martignetti is a psychotherapist, but to Amanda he is her life mentor and friend. He has been suffering from cancer and, as of this post, has gotten a bone marrow match. He has written two memoirs about his family life and his own: and as someone who has reviewed both of his books, I can’t help but think to myself that when Amanda at one point began to sing Dresden Dolls’ “It’s All In The Family” that she was referring to Anthony as much as to herself. Indeed, at one point when she was reading an excerpt from her Art of Asking, I realized that it was actually the preface that she wrote to Anthony’s Lunatic Heroes.

After Amanda took some questions from the audience, she proceeded to wrap up the night with two songs. The first was “Bigger On The Inside,” which aside from the coincidental geek reference is also a song she played for the first time at Anthony’s Beloved Demons book launch. It is a raw, poignant and very real song written from a dark place in an attempt to grasp at meaning.

Of course this prepared the way for “The Ukulele Anthem” finale: a triumphant and passionate song about expression and hope.

Finally came the book signing part of the night. The line became something of a spiral and given the fact that I’d rented Uzumaki a few hours before, I almost wondered if everyone was going to become enmeshed into a great pattern and be stuck with each other, in a more positive way, forever.

I hung back for the crowd to die down a little more but I still managed to make some friends at the end of the night. I’m told that this is not an uncommon occurrence during one because there is just something about a fanbase or community of geeks and survivors that Amanda Palmer’s music and sheer presence brings together. Even looking back at the people who hummed and song along to her songs, it made me realize that many of them had memorized them by heart. For a while in time, it almost felt like the Fraggle Rock world promised to me as a child that never panned out into adulthood.

By the time I came to Amanda Palmer with my copy of The Art of Asking, my legs hurt from a combination of the hard raised benches of Lee’s Palace and standing when the discomfort grew too much: a minor version of the story Amanda recited from Anthony about a dog that won’t move off of a nail because it doesn’t hurt enough yet. Amanda herself looked utterly exhausted. From the blurry pictures taken faithfully by her awesome assistant Cat, you can glean that she was barely awake and I was not particularly that coherent.

All I said to her was that my friends said hello and that, if she remembers, to tell Anthony I said hello as well. And that was pretty much it. I wrote this whole account by hand initially: one on the back of my Porter Square Books receipt from Amanda’s local book store Porter Square Books, when I couldn’t get it from Amazon due to its issues with the book’s publisher Hatchette, and the ticket that I wasn’t sure would even let me into the building.

I wrote this from my new friends’ house where I stayed for the night after we all left together, frazzled from meeting a celebrity, for drinks. They are in the process of moving out of the country. It’s funny how things can work out that way. Just as this was Amanda Palmer’s first Book Tour, this was my first ever somewhat musical concert or event I actually enjoyed. It was my first Amanda Palmer event. Actually, Amanda had another term for her Tour. She actually called it a Book Circus.

So this was my first Book Circus. And a good circus delivers excellent food and entertainment, but this one also makes you see the uncomfortable things, the difficult questions, and the fragile strength of tired, blurry figures in the night.

This is the clearest picture I have. And yes, my hair is down too.
This is the clearest picture I have. And yes, my hair is down too.

Either way, it is already an unforgettable experience.

 

Something Under The Bed Is Drooling As Bill Watterson Draws For Pearls Before Swine

Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is often compared to Bigfoot: in that he is both legendary and reclusive.

But that being said, there has definitely been a “Bigfoot sighting” as of late and he has definitely left some of his prints in Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine: a syndicated comic strip running in 750 newspapers all around the world. According to Bill Watterson himself in Michael Cavna’s EXCLUSIVE: ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ creator Bill Watterson returns to the comics page — to offer a few ‘Pearls’ gems  in the Washington Post, he wanted to do a “goofy collaboration” with Pastis that could be used to help fun raise the charity Team Cul de Sac: an organization founded by Chris Sparks and the comics illustrator Richard Thompson to combat Parkinson’s disease.

The original strips with Watterson’s collaboration will be on display at HeroesCon before they get auctioned off for the Cul de Sac charity. It is fascinating to read Watterson’s perspective on the collaboration, just as it is perhaps even more intriguing to look at Pastis’ own account of how it all happened in his Blog article aptly named Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did. There is so much he says about their collaborative and creative process and yet so tantalizingly little: given Watterson’s well-known love for intense privacy.

It didn’t even seem that long ago, back in December of 2013, that Mental Floss managed to facilitate an interview with the cartoonist. In one of my earliest GEEKPR0N articles, I look at the gap of time in-between different Bill Watterson interviews. Then you also have to consider the occasional other moments Watterson briefly became public again with a painting of Cul De Sac character Petey Otterloop in 2011 and a cartoon for the documentary Stripped on February 26, 2014.

And looking at all of this, right now, and realizing that Watterson had been involved in drawing three new comic strips recently without anyone being the wiser reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about him in which we concluded that there might have been some kind of confluence, a series of events and inner workings that made Watterson realize that he might have something more to say.

But while our conversation was with regards to him actually briefly revisiting Calvin and Hobbes, it can also be applied to the rest of what he has been doing lately. If you follow Pastis you will see that a few events and needs came together to make this collaboration — and indeed this communication — happen. And indeed, it’s no secret that Bill Watterson never stopped making art, or watching the comic strip medium continue after his departure.

As for Bill Watterson’s privacy, it’s a lot like the myth of Bigfoot. He never really left.

And sometimes the best place to hide is right in plain sight.

Please tell us where you think you can find his tracks.

Amanda Palmer: The Keening Moment

I’m not the most musically literate person there is out there. I always heard some of my friends constantly talking about musicians that they love and bandying their name all around. And I never understood it really until relatively recent times. I’m also sure that there plenty of musicians that can sing with the intensity that Amanda Palmer has displayed. But the fact of the matter is that none of the others that I’ve either heard or haven’t bring up the effect in me that she can.

Not to this extent.

I don’t even know where to start: though I do know it is going to be short. There is a moment in a few Amanda Palmer songs, particular songs, where she enters what could be called a climactic phase but what I call a keening moment. For Amanda, and from my limited experience as I am not a fully comprehensive Amanda Palmer listener, it is that point where she builds and builds her tone and pitch to the greatest of passion and it … rips through you.

For instance, take her rendition of the song “Hallelujah.”

While she didn’t create this song, and the piece in itself already has a powerful emotional resonance, Amanda increases this frequency to its nth degree. She sings it for Anthony, who at the time was fighting a particularly brutal form of cancer. Her voice is broken. Apparently, when she was singing this and as she is wont to do as she is always on the move, she was physically ill. But, as if that weren’t enough, she was also in an intense place of grief.

But when she reaches that moment of “Hallelujah” … I don’t even know what to say. It is a scream. It’s a scream that, for me, pierced me right to the quick. In that moment, it was real. It was very real because, quite simply enough, it was. It is the terror and anger of life fighting for life. It is primal and messy and only the surface of what is underneath it. It’s like that moment when you try to detach yourself from what’s going on and you don’t understand, or want to understand what your friend is going through and you hide behind something petty only for that friend to scream that this supersedes all of that bullshit and you will damn well fucking acknowledge it: because life takes precedence over the proprietary.

I’ll be honest with you. It’s makes me uncomfortable: to have that surface of pretend that makes most human interaction ripped away to expose the raw. It is a brilliant, uncomfortable feeling made even more poignant that it is from another person being shared with everyone else.

Yet as potent as this is, Amanda’s “Bed Song” is …. something else entirely.

If her voice in “Hallelujah” makes me uncomfortable in that it reminds me of mortality and my very real lack of power, “The Bed Song,” quite frankly, terrifies me.

I’m not kidding. It scares me. It scares me to the point where after having heard it a few times, I just can’t listen to it or watch the music video. It, too, is far too real. But it’s more than that. It’s worse. It is a beautiful song and an excellent series of visuals and storytelling that captures the essence of a relationship dying.

I mean: think about this. You have two people together who love each other and you watch as time and circumstance erode that connection and friendship between them into distance. Into death. I’m not even talking about the physical death that happens at the end and the retrospection, but the emotional death: the slow rot of the soul between the two people living together, but not being together in any meaningful way.

Neil Gaiman, Amanda’s husband, has created many terrifying creatures and stories in his time. He has made “Cereal Conventions” and Other Mothers and all kinds of terrors with and without flesh. But, if I were to choose, I would say that Amanda Palmer in the context of “The Bed Song” scares me more than Neil ever could. She manages to build up to and capture the essence of a living death and the helplessness of watching it happen and feeling powerless to stop it only, at the end, to confront it … after it’s far too late.

That realization, in and of itself, is enough to drive anyone insane or want the embrace of physical death, but “The Bed Song,” the idea of two people lying next to each, facing away from each other, inches away and dying alone, is all the more horrifying because it is a wrongness that becomes accepted much in the way that someone slowly succumbs to an icy death.

It is a brilliant story. It is a poignant song. It takes the spirit of that lack of communication to the point of “too late” and makes it into art.

And it utterly terrifies me: because it makes me feel something I don’t want to feel. Or it brings out something that I already have. Because that keening moment isn’t just the climax of the song or the pitch of Amanda’s voice, but rather it’s that painful and almost transcendent moment of recognizing these qualities growing inside of your own very self.

I could just leave it all at that. I could leave you here with the feeling of raw grief and a lack of catharsis. I really could be that mean and say that this is what life really is. But I would be doing Amanda a tremendous disservice. The keening moment I identify is not merely in the domain of grief but its very opposite.

“The Ukulele Anthem.”

Sometimes nonsensical, sometimes weird, but oftentimes fun and always, for me, transformative. It just expands to the horizon and becomes liminal. There is darkness but it is the song commands, “Ukulele banish evil.” I can just see a glowing, eternal figure facing the growing darkness and playing her simple ukulele: making the shadows scream and, for a time, retreat from her sheer presence, only for her to hand it to someone else cowering in the darkness, smiling and skipping away to make another one.

So while I like the ferocity and anger of the keening moment in The Killing Type and dealing with the loss of a romance as life goes on in the summery fey cabaret of Massachusetts Avenue, “The Ukulele Anthem” is, for me, a reaffirmation that eventually the darkness will be put in its place as people realize they are not alone and they can make the light grow together even sharing something as simple as how to play ukulele.

Maybe one day, when I am less self-conscious, someone will show me how to play one. In the meantime, I am just grateful that through those keening moments I have another way to relate to music. Perhaps, as Neil’s Erasmus Fry once said, all writers are liars, but I believe that at least some musicians tell the truth.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ross

What If Comics Had Been a Place Without Codes? Would We Live as Air?

I’ve been having some technical issues these past few days and time hasn’t really been my friend but what I’m going to write here past most reasonable people’s sense of sleep is another down and dirty, and therefore ad hoc, article on comics.  So if anyone out there is an expert or has done their homework, by all means, please correct me if need be.

As some of you already know Sequart created and is now in the process of editing, a Kickstarter called She Makes Comics: a documentary on women in the comics industry and the culture surrounding it. One element in particular that it has focused on is the fact that long ago there were more female readers of comics than they were male. Now, I wrote a short article on what will soon be called GeekPron in which I found some of my own assumptions to the question, well, questioned.

I believed that it was the Comics Code Authority, inspired by the fear of McCarthyism “witch-hunting,” blacklisting, the detrimental testimonials by psychological experts such as Frederic Wertham, and a loss of business that had comics publishers eliminate most of their different genres of comics and focus mainly on watered-down stories about superheroes. All the horror, revenge, gore, westerns, romances, and sexuality all went the way of the dodo at the time because of fear. Anything that challenged the rules of the Comics Code, of authority always being right and just for starters, could not exist in mainstream corporations that published for money.

But the comic book editor Janelle Asselin also mentioned that this female readership of 55% over 45% of male readers changed as the superhero genre became more mainstream. Think about that: the idea that after a time the superhero not only reduced a female readership, but also eliminated or greatly marginalized a whole body of stories and genres that made the medium different. I realize now, looking back on what I wrote earlier, that these two statements are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I mean, if you are afraid of losing your business and your liberty in telling stories for which you want a certain pay cheque and livelihood then eliminating anything that could be construed as an overt challenge to your culture’s status quo or even subversive to it, it unfortunately makes a horrible kind of sense.

The godfather of manga Tezuka Osamu once said that “Now we are living in the age of comics as air.” And while he was most likely referring to the influence of manga in Japan as becoming more widespread, its connotations can be applied to the comics medium in general. According to Paul Gravett, in Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Tezuka believed that comics without passion or originality can become damaging and even create pollution. It took me a long time to figure out what this meant. When I first encountered the quote and the explanation, I thought that it referred to the potential damage to the morality of the reader but now I realize that the quote can definitely apply to comics as a medium and what occurred during the heyday of the Comics Code Authority.

The age-old notion of the superhero ghetto that we are so used to hearing about with regards to the comics medium: the notion of an immature all-boys club with shallow depictions of sexuality and simplistic violence with no consequences is damaging not only society’s concept of the medium but also that of its readers and future creators.

I’m not, by any means, saying that the comics that existed before the Code and its predecessors were the fonts of enlightenment for gender or, really, humankind. But there was a lot more experimentation before the Code and it just makes you wonder: what would have happened if these vigilantes and superhuman beings in tights had just remained one of many genres and there had been no Code?

I mean, there is always the scenario that Alan Moore presented in Watchmen: that if masked heroes and one a superhero had been in existence then no one would have paid attention to Wertham and the horror comics of Bill Gaines and friends would have dominated the medium from the fifties all the way into the eighties: becoming darker and more grotesque with time while also innovating itself much like our comics have done.

But that is just one creative interpretation. Who knows? Maybe a flat period of unoriginal and recycled stories would have followed regardless. Perhaps female readership demographics would have changed or something else would have challenged the “morals of comics:” for or against the status quo. Or we could have had another Golden Age: where comics became, earlier on, a widely accepted form of beautiful art and every great artist might have tried their hand at one. Maybe comics could have become widely accepted and mainstream coffee table or instructional as manga has in Japanese society to an almost ubiquitous degree. Instructional comics even had their place in North American society and to some extent they still do.

Of course, those latter thoughts are just me playing at utopia and I’ve never been really good at that. Maybe if there had been no Code comics would have, earlier, been just another form that challenged conventional morality much like any work of great art or literature should. Of course, again, this also happened in the Western world through the advent of what we understand as Underground Comix defying the establishment during about the late 60s: about that same time frame that Asselin gave when she talked about the female comics readership majority existed from the 1950s to the 1960s. Or perhaps the comics medium would have burned itself out as a fad and amateurs such as myself would be wondering, even then, what if: what if it had been different.

As for me, if you really want my honest opinion I will say this. I think that if there had been no Comics Code or anything like it children would have still been influenced by Tales from the Crypt, and Archie, and The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and all of those others. And some girls and women would have had Wonder Woman and Black Fury. Many things would have continued on, but sometimes I think about that idea of all people–young, old, straight, LGBTQ, male, and female, different ethnicities, different classes–making their own comics and showing them to their friends and the world. They would realize how different they and everyone else are but also how many things they have in common.

And when you wipe away my pseudo-utopia of a whole loss of potential for a readership of intensely intelligent men, women, and sentient beings, when it comes down to it I do like the idea that without the Code and the forces behind its development, the medium of comics would have been considered more than just silly laughter and transparently hidden BDSM parodies. Those things would have been a part of the kaleidoscope. I think that many more people might have seen comics as a medium that tells all kinds of stories: a space inside and outside of us that is pictures and words. I think many more people may have been more accepting that the medium of comics as that place of sheer variety, like film, between both art and literature.

There is another way to look at Tezuka’s quote about “comics as air.” If you take the pollution of censorship and unoriginality away, what you might ideally have is a fluid art-form that anyone can learn and use. And if you consider that we all live in the continuing Age of Information and in societies that utilize wireless Internet and you include webcomics into the medium … perhaps we can all fly where only superheroes used to tread: up, up, out of the ghetto and away.

Miracleman Balloons

I Write on The Black Tunnel Wall

There is a story I read in Rosemary Sullivan’s Shadow Maker. It is a biography of the Canadian, and particularly Torontonian, poet Gwendolyn MacEwen. Towards the end of Gwendolyn’s life she approached a bank for a loan which, unfortunately, she was refused. In a fit of rage she apparently stormed back to her apartment, picked up all the books she had ever written, or ever written in–including those given awards by the Canadian government and literary societies–threw them down on the teller counter, and proclaimed that she made all of these books and that she just wanted her money.

There is, of course, a lot more behind this story such as Gwendolyn’s ultimately fatal alcoholism, the fact that she only had her sporadic university teaching salary and reading profits to live off, the job opportunities she was denied because she never matriculated out of high school, and always having to deal with the stigma of being a female writer and creator and fighting for recognition from the fifties to the late eighties, or even the argument that Canada didn’t value the arts and its poets nearly as much as it should. There is an entire book or two speculating and detailing all of these things.

I am also, obviously, not Gwendolyn MacEwen. I am not an alcoholic, I graduated from a Master’s Program, and I do not claim to have created any works coming anywhere near close to Gwendolyn’s but I have been unemployed for quite some time and, as such, I am on Ontario Works: a Provincial job search form of welfare. I’ve also mentioned that I suffer from situational depression. In retrospect I’ve probably had this for quite some time but it’s only in unemployment and the struggle to keep writing that I came to really call it what it is.

Systems are not perfect: especially bureaucracies. Bureaucracies and many of them do have some really good workers that attempt to help people to the best of their ability, are systems that function in quantitative ways. They want numbers written, blocks marked out, NIL scratched down in key squares: with “concrete evidence” or “statistical proof” of some sort before they will begin to help you. Coming from an academic background myself, I’m unfortunately no stranger to the bureaucracies of academia or even OSAP loans, but it becomes very clear when you leave those places and go into “the working world” that you are in a different place where quantifiable data is given more precedence over quality.

When I first came into Ontario Works, I was presented with a work sheet–a long letter-sized piece of paper–that I had to fill out once a month: to show how many jobs for which I actively searched. They have an initial section where they ask whether you’ve attended classes at school, or gone to a job search seminar, or gotten a job, and if so what are they and such. And then on the other side is the very long lined list of jobs you looked and applied for and, below that, is an additional comments section.

And for all that space and everything I had to fill in, that was it: just one small space for additional comments.

That is the mode of reality that I had to deal with for a very long time. And I won’t lie: it was depressing. It was made all the more frustrating by the fact that I knew this sheet didn’t even exist in the Toronto welfare system: that it had been considered an anachronism and was actually made obsolete. In the program that I had been under, had I not been so depressed and had to move back to Thornhill, I would have actually gotten paid for volunteer work while looking for a job. To go from that model to the one I found myself in was galling and it just rubbed the salt into my wounds even further.

For the work that I do, and make no mistake I do work, the jobs I can apply for with the skills and interests that I have are limited. As someone who is an extreme introvert and has social anxiety issues, along with tension headaches, stomach issues, and learning disabilities with regards to mathematics, retail jobs are not an option for me. I also know that if I work some job I don’t like, I will simply not do well in it because, frankly, I just don’t care.

And then there is the stigma of that to consider. People on welfare often feel like, if they aren’t flat-out told, that they are lazy and that they should accept any old job because, frankly, they are lazy. Thankfully, my counsellors at Ontario Works are not the people who communicate this sentiment and have, with what resources they have, actually tried to talk me through and help me with this.

But then there is that other critic.

I’m not talking about my friends who I, up until now, haven’t even told I’m on welfare, or my family that sometimes wonder what I’m actually doing about this, or all the people–anonymous or otherwise–that have their own opinions on the matter on the Internet. No. I’m talking about me.  I have to catch myself and be careful to remember not to impose what I think the system’s view of me is over who I really am. Because I am often tempted to think that the system, society or what not, views me as that stereotype: a lazy, free-loading unemployed shut-in bum that has done nothing worthwhile with his life while quite a few of his friends have jobs and families and should just “suck it up” (a phrase I find utterly infuriating) and do something that I hate for the greater good.

And then to remember that I was once a student that had very high marks in my classes, the respect of many of my teachers, who was always told that I wrote well and who believed that academia would take care of someone like me from cradle to grave only to have to compare it to my current reality of living at home again, in debt, and in this living situation…

It’s that nice litmus test between anger at the world and anger at myself.

Me and my Head

But one day, something happened. It was around the same time I was doing my best to fill out those worksheets. I realized that I could talk about the things that I was, in fact, doing that didn’t seem to apply to the criteria on the sheet. Of course, there was very little space and my handwriting got cramped and bad as per usual. So I began typing out my additional comments. In fact I made a whole section called Additional Comments.

Over time, and through a succession of workers, my Additional Comments varied but mostly got longer in description. For the past year or so, I have been telling Ontario Works about the conventions I’ve attended, the networking I’ve been doing, the writing I’ve undertaken, and the recommendations and praise that I have received. I have even told them about this very Blog: this Mythic Bios of mine.

Because, unlike the stereotype of the unemployed lazy bum, I have been writing. I have been writing almost every day. I write until it is late at night to the point of there actually being sunlight. I write until I rhyme. Sometimes I can get myself to go out and network with important people: to have them remember my name and know me. I made a whole lot of business cards for that very purpose. I made a Patreon account. I have looked over and edited other people’s works. I have made friendships and relationships during this period.

And even though I have not been paid yet, I must reiterate that I work. Some people clock out for the day. I clock out when my head feels like wool and I can’t concentrate any more. I read, research, write, edit, and attempt to maintain my own schedule. I am not useless. I have made more things than most people can dream of and one day, I hope to profit from all of these endeavours.

And perhaps it’s not that important. Even though my current worker has started calling my Additional Comments my Reports and knows that I am genuinely attempting to earn money from the places where I’m at now and I no longer have to use those worksheets–all now regulated to NIL–due to my disabilities and my therapist’s evaluation of me, perhaps the system doesn’t give a damn about my efforts beyond statistics. Maybe no one cares about anything I do if there are no crisp dollar bills next to my words.

But you see that’s the thing: I care.

Every time my worker sees my Reports, every time my parents glance at them, every time I have the excuse and the medium to write about all the achievements and contacts I’ve garnered it is a victory for me. It is me, to myself, proving that I’m earning my money, that I’m actually doing something and there is meaning in all of it.

It may mean nothing to anyone else. It may not even help me. But it means something to me. When I write these, it is just another way of saying “Look at me world. This is what I’m doing. This is what I’ve done. This is what I’ll be.”

Originally, I wasn’t even going to write about this. I had a review I promised Anthony Martignetti and I had a good Monday when Elfquest retweeted and Shared my article When I Recognized Elfquest. I wanted to talk about welfare and money after it was all over: after my loans were paid off, after no longer needing Ontario Works and beginning to function as an independent force again in my own right. But I am just tired of feeling shame and fear. I just wanted to tell all of you, more or less, what is going on and what all of this means to me. Realistically speaking, I will need help for quite some time and I know there are others out there like me, who fear waking up, who feel that sick pit of dread in their stomach whenever they have to pick up that phone, who despises dealing with bureaucracy and puts it off as long as they can, who have to fight against that feeling of futility, who wishes they had help and who–ultimately–need to read this.

One day, you will not be in this situation any more. You only needed help to get to your next destination and there is no shame in that. All of this will just become another story to tell your friends, your loved ones, and yourself: to remind you of where you were, and how far you have come.

Looking Outward

On August 27, 1987 the mythopoeic creator Gwendolyn MacEwen, who should have been the Poet Laureate of Toronto, if not all of Canada itself, slammed her books down on a counter and said, “I did this. Now give me my money.” I’d like to think that, when she did that, she was really throwing her works against her Black Tunnel Wall: on that last work she never finished and what metaphors it might have represented.

And every month, because I can never forget, I write on my own Black Tunnel Wall, covering it with words, one Report at a time.

amaze.me

Also, this is my Patreon Page. If you have the funds, or the interest, and you want to see what I can really do as a writer, please support me. You can also access it on my About Page. Thank you.

My Second Twine Game: Haunted

Me and my Head

I am apparently now in the habit of posting late. So a week or so after the WordPlay Twine Workshop with Christine Love, and exploring Faerie Dark’s world of interconnected Twine games and stories–essentially the progression of a universe-seed in progress–I felt compelled to make another Twine.

My first Twine game was mostly an experiment to see what I could apply in a very basic way to the software medium. I wanted to see if I could tell a story and use the medium to mimic page-turnings, or panels, or–if you prefer–punctuation. With this game, I wanted to do two things.

First off, I wanted to make sure what I did before wasn’t a one-off and I wanted to keep up the practice for when I create some of my more involved works. Luckily I have the template of “Level-Up” to work off of as well as some Twine tutorials and the instructions of Anna Anthropy and Porpentine as well as Gaming Pixie’s advice to go off of too.

But the second reason I made “Haunted” is because I wanted to make both a longer story and something personal. And this story is personal. I don’t just mean that it is based off of some of my life experience, which it is, but it really taps into feelings. I wanted to make sure that I could do this. It feeds into part of a feeble excuse in which I didn’t edit the text or anything, just because it was something I wanted to say and express while it felt real and fresh and, more importantly, tangible and cohesive in my mind. So, in part, I am basically taking Twine and telling a story as flat-out as I can and I admit that process is rather cathartic, if nothing else.

This also gave me an opportunity to explore the boundaries of my own ignorance. Right now, I am at the stage where I am basically taking basic Twine hyperlinking and knowing how to make titles and attribute my name and nothing more. I don’t know how to grey-out or eliminate links once they are chosen. I don’t know how to affect the game when certain items are chosen or not, or when certain places are clicked on or not selected. I have to be mindful about what words I will be using to click from one plot box to the next.

Sometimes I have made mistakes. In my old Twine story, I didn’t even unload it to Philome.la, a free Twine Twitter-based hosting site, properly. It took a few tries and I succeeded thanks to the very prompt and patient guidance of one Colin Marc. This story, such as it is now, is structurally limited but it is more of a game than the first one is. There is more exploration and you will have some–albeit simple–options. I am still focusing on story and expression, this time more personal expression, but I hope to eventually make a stronger game mechanic to make that exploration more potent … with editing, I assure you.

That said, I can see some “dictatorship of the narrative” going on here and I don’t know how well a more generalized audience will be able to relate to this game, but as I have said many times this is a story and I am working on one thing at least that might be a bit more inclusive. At very least and if nothing else, I made an experience and a story.

So here is my answer to the question of whether or not you can haunt the places of your own life. I hope you will appreciate it, and take it for what it is. Until next time, my friends.

For now, become Haunted.

ETA: Based on scraps of what I can remember from Christine Love’s Workshop, I believe I recall what the vertical bars, the |s do. They actually create Headings so that you can Rewind your game to that point and start off from there again instead of doing it all over. I will keep that in mind next time once I figure out how to utilize it properly.

Who Knew that Games Would be a Part of our Future

This is definitely going to be a retrospective article. And yes: it is definitely going to be about video games.

A while ago now, in fact almost at the beginning of the online version of Mythic Bios, I wrote an article simply named How to Turn a Medium into a Genre: 8 to 16-Bit Video Games followed much later by an overview of games I found fascinating in Dreams of Lost Pixels, Hand Eye, and More Video Game Ramblings. You can read these if you haven’t, or again if you’d like to refresh yourself but they aren’t necessary to understand this current post of mine.

I’m an intermittent gamer, I admit it. As I’ve said before, I only play certain games that interest me. I’m not into first-person shooters or sports related games. I don’t even like Grand Theft Auto, though I will admit when I was younger I just loved running people over: take from that what you will. But like many children that grew up in the 1980s, video games were really important to me: as other interactive worlds to delve into instead of doing school work. And it’s really funny how even though I was one of those that always hated it when my parents and other adults called games “a waste of time,” I was that same person that would believe a game could become obsolete when something newer and with “better graphics” came along.

At the same time, I have kept all of my old Nintendo systems and most of my games. It’s that strange paradox: of not taking games seriously, but also recognizing their value at the same time and keeping them as mine. I was even ashamed to admit that there were video games that inspired my earliest stories.

For me, it was after the Super Nintendo era–which as far as I am concerned was Nintendo’s Golden Age–and the early Nintendo 64 when I began to lose interest in video games. There just … seemed to be something missing from those games. At first the novelty of the “new” polygon graphics of the Nintendo 64 and the strange challenge of 3D gameplay made up for a lot. And some games like Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time really caught my eye: even if the controls and the perspectives made me want to scream. I mean, seriously, how many times did any of you make Link try to push a block under a time limit only for him to decide to jump on the block each and every fucking moment!? It’s actually kind of a small miracle I didn’t break my controls out of sheer fury: though I did make Link bash his head into the wall … a lot.

Don’t feel bad. We have all been there.

I felt lost then. I had played the Sid Meier’s Civilization games a while ago and sometimes I went back to them: because, for those who know me, I can’t really resist playing god. But I never found a game, really, that interested me: and it just depressed me to play old games because it reminded me of times that were no longer the present. It wasn’t until my brother and some of his friends started playing old Super Nintendo games–a lot of which I had only seen mentioned in Nintendo Power‘s Epic Center section and never played–that I got back into it. And then I realized we weren’t alone: that we and a few others were not isolated, drunken cases of nostalgia.

It still amazes me–even to this day and knowing a lot better now–that what many adults believed would be frivolous and arbitrary electronic fun that we children would promptly forget about when the next best thing came around, became some of the formative years of our childhood and the cultural references and experiences of our own adulthood. Somehow, as a few of us aged, video games became relevant beyond skipping homework and we became discerning. We pay attention to gameplay mechanics and story lines and ideas in the code of the game. Moreover, there are people who look at the history of video game development and the cultural contexts around them. And these games mean so many different things to different people.

We began to ask questions: questions such as why we had to kill the enemies in a game and what an enemy actually was? Questions of gender assumptions come up and eventually, with people like Anna Anthropy, game designers–having taken what was originally an 8 or 16-bit medium and now a genre due to the advancement and availability of technology–make their own stories (some of them very autobiographical) and use video games to create a narrative around them. And now we are at that place where we even question what a video game actually is and how “cheap games” such as those made with Twine as choose your own adventure text-based games qualify and are more accessible mediums to make games from: to allow someone to put on the skin you make for them.

What is happening with the Indie scene now is almost reminiscent of what occurred with Underground Comix in the 60s and 70s while the Comics Code Authority ruled over the mainstream comics industry. Yes, sometimes the mainstream industry makes some compelling games but a lot of really fascinating artifacts are coming from independent designers and smaller groups.

But more than any of this: I think what really strikes me is that there have been some people who thought of us 80s children as a Lost Generation: of those that had promise, but due to the economy and the changing times never reached it. We were supposedly forgotten and the media and genres we grew up with rendered irrelevant. Our time was supposed to have been a Dark Age and we are all strange, weird artifacts that neither the previous generation nor the ones after us can relate to. I go a lot into this in Paradigms Lost, Paradigms Regained, but the long and short of it is that we didn’t vanish and neither did the things that we like. They became relevant because they were always relevant to us.

And now: everyone knows Super Mario. In-jokes and references to Mortal Kombat and other games are abound. There are whole Let’s Play videos on Youtube that look at old games. And, as I said, new creators are taking those old principles and subverting them with adult understandings. Even I have been caught up in the Twine craze and I like to write about games and make game references in some of my own creative works.

Despite a lot of other things that have happened in my life, when I look at where we are going with all of this–even with some of the delays and the setbacks–it is a good time to be alive and I look forward to seeing where this goes. If anything I only hope that I can play some good vintage games with friends again: one day.