Monday, January 19, 2015

For your edification ...

Coursera is showcasing an interesting selection of lecture series this winter, with subjects ranging from game theory to online surveilance law. I think I might watch some of the lectures on fantasy and science fiction if time allows, perhaps while I perform my morning exercises. Last semester I watched part of a series on comic books and graphic novels; I could not complete it due to conflicting commitments, but it was extremely refreshing to get a different perspective on the subject.

I recently watched and re-watched Don Hertzfeldt's It's Such a Beautiful Day, which was recently made available on Canadian Netflix. It is truly a masterful piece of storytelling, articulating a deeply troubling impressionistic portrayal of mental illness through series of clever philosophical vignettes. I was particularly impressed by the way in which Hertzfeldt utilizes space, cutting it up like an astute comic-book artist while making this division of the visual field stand for simultaneity instead of sequence.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

On "Shipping"

I have limited experience with the "shipping" community. I have to think that interest in non-heteronormative relationships will eventually result in better representation.

Unfortunately, there does seem to be a degree of exoticization of the non-heteronormative other on the part of certain audiences. It is perhaps not quite objectification -- it is understandable that such audiences would value those things on the level of mere aesthetics. Problems arise when the authorial process bends under audience expectations in order to perpetuate heteronormative essentializations of non-heteronormative character and behaviour.

This is why I appreciate fictions that undermine audience expectations with regards to relationships. I was perversely thrilled at how many people could not see Korasami as "a thing" because both characters had previously dated men. It was a teachable moment: a time to open their eyes to bisexuality and/or the fluidity of orientation. Sadly, I feel as though it will be some time before male homosexuality receives the same treatment, largely because the hetero-males who run culture feel much more threatened by gay men than by bi-women or lesbian characters whom they somehow still manage to objectify.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Resolutions and Recommendations

January in Québec is cold and dreary; one of the only potentially good things about it is New Year's resolutions. Amongst other things, I have resolved to organize my online presence, and so I moved all of my creative writing from 2006 to the present onto another blog in order for this space to be fully dedicated to my half-baked ideas short critical essays. I am superlatively grateful to Zoe from Chic & Sassy Designs for the new-and-improved template. 

Also a resolution: to prepare more of my food

Another good thing about January is the abundance of recommendations appearing in the form of yearly reviews. After consulting Paste, CBR, Comics Alliance, and Mental Floss, I have settled on the following shortlist of tomes I definitely want to add to my collection:

- She-Hulk by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Ron Wemberly
Moon Knight by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey
Lumberjanes written and illustrated by the inimitable Noelle Stevenson (whose excellent Nimona can be read online).
The latest Saga hardcover by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Through the Woods, written and illustrated by Emily Carroll

I will also be adding these titles to my wishlist (in case anyone feels generous):

- Here, a formalist experiment by Richard McGuire
- The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy
- Jolies ténèbres by Marie Pommepuy et Sébastien Cosset (collectively known as Kerascoët)
- East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
- Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
- Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

If I have not included certain of the more popular titles on this list (particularly, G. W. Wilson's Ms. Marvel or Grant Morrison's Multiversity), it is in some cases because I already own them. Indeed, I have recently reviewed Ms. Marvel and I very much look forward to its second volume. My pull-list currently consists of Multiversity, Justice League Dark, Constantine, The Sandman: Overture --and I systematically pre-order every hardcover/TPB of Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing.

I am also extremely excited about A. David Lewis' American Comics, Literary Theory and Religion, (of which I have received a review copy; a first in my academic career). I do worry it may make my own work redundant.

What are you looking forward to reading in 2015?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

"Men kill for the truth because they do not know how to live for it." -- G.W. Wilson's "Air"

The title for this review is stolen from the second volume
of G. Willow Wilson’s Air.

From 2008 to 2010, G. Willow Wilson chronicled the trials and tribulations of Blythe Cameron, hyperpract extraordinaire. Hyperpracts are (mostly) women and (much more rarely) men, ordinary in every respect except for their singular intuition and fierce imagination. Given the right circumstances, hyperpracts are capable of tapping into the essence of things, manipulating the symbols which ontologically pre-figure reality in order to produce a variety of thaumaturgic effects (though mainly: efficient, expedient air travel).

If my pseudo-metaphysical verbiage does not truly give it justice, it is because Wilson’s Air is utterly unpigeon-holeable. Air is a treatise on the power of words, a meditation on the origins of ideas, a thesis on liminality; it is a narratologist’s fantasy. Air is a pamphlet against both fundamentalism and the extremes of relativism, arguing that symbols are too wild and too precious to bow to any agenda. While certainly a highly satisfying alternate-history/sci-fi yarn, Air is above all a love story -- though not by any means a straightforward one.

Wilson is particularly adept at presenting us multilayered characters, progressively revealing their motivations by unraveling the intricate web of their allegiances. We make acquaintance with certain very colourful organizations in the process: some which we might wish were real -- sky-faring gypsies and punk-rock mujahideens -- others which we cannot help but hate for embodying our own paranoid, parochialist tendencies.

Blythe Cameron is a complicated personna in that she alternates between tumbleweed passivity and extremes of resourcefulness; one might charitably suppose this to be the path a traveller must walk to find herself in a world of unknowables. Thinking back on the story as a whole, I am grateful to observe a tendency towards increasing agency is indeed part of Blythe's evolution.

M.K. Perker’s art is a model of restraint; action scenes (and even hallucinations) are depicted with rare tact and sobriety, leaving more than enough breathing room for the reader’s imagination -- and not a little ambiguity.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Getting Better in a Difficult World

Hello close and/or distant friends,

I am writing this note from grey Burlington, on the wind-swept shores of lake Ontario.

2014 came and went. A difficult year for a lot of us, yes? And by “a lot of us,” I am expanding the circle to include “residents of planet Earth.” I daresay 2014 was at least a little awful for the major part of the human species, what with the Crimean crisis, ISIS, Ebola, a slew of new homophobic laws, and the rhetoric of austerity rising to a shrill, fever pitch.

Within the narrower circle of my friends and acquaintances, I am aware of lost jobs/prospects, mental/physical illnesses, and mourning. There were also pleasant disturbances which, for all their pleasantness, are disturbances nonetheless: births and relocations. For the most part, my friends have again proven themselves to be extremely resilient, resourceful and compassionate. And so, congratulations: you played a very bad hand very well.

2014 is the year in which I recovered from mononucleosis. This might not sound like A Big Deal but Actually, It Kindof Is. To give you an idea: there were some days around February that if I dropped something on the floor, it did not get picked up for a few... weeks. Mononucleosis makes the Picking Up of Things highly improbable, and the Pulling Up by One’s Bootstraps effectively impossible. It affords unparalleled insight into human limitation, like a preview of life at 80. Do not catch it.

In 2014 I did not graduate from anything, but I did meet many new and important people, first and foremost the man from whose house I am currently writing this note. Stuff I tweeted (about Gamergate, of all stupid things) received the attention of comic-book legend Andy Khouri. A comment I left on YouTube (about Wittgenstein) was picked up by Idea Channel. I was invited onto a board of comic-book academics (I need to get a business card that says: “Etienne Domingue: Comic-Book Scholar and Master of the Dark Arts”).

I read -- not prodigiously, but attentively, laboriously -- the kind of reading which makes every subsequent attempt at writing superlatively daunting. Between panic attacks I was able to chart a course for future study, a detour which will take as long as it will take and which I will probably still be on well after my doctorate (that is, if I ever finish my doctorate, which is doubtful). 

In 2015, I have discovered misanthropy is not at all endearing to me, and neither is the belief in “success” as a rigid designator. Quoth Granny Hempstock: “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”

In 2015 I will probably fail to save the Faculté de théologie et d’études religieuses from becoming one of the first victims of nefarious occult influences. Hopefully I won’t let it get me down too much. I plan to make more loud music, and to keep drawing badly. In an ideal world, I would also like to get back into writing badly; academic writing doesn’t count, not because I do it well (I don’t) but because it doesn’t really matter as much as stories matter (to me). 

Also: Exercise? Maybe? Not making any promises there, to be honest.

I hope we make 2015 healthy, happy and fun -- and that if you’re struggling, you don’t struggle alone. The world needs more deep thoughts, good feelings, bad art, and silly noise; fewer entitled, curmudgeonly naysayers.