Tag Archives: comic books

A Thor’s Day Miscellany

On this most Thursdayish of Thursdays, I greet you. The sun is shining, the sky is blue from ear to ear, and I can’t wait to get outside and let some of it fall on my pelt.

But not before, of course, sharing with you the contents of my mind’s miscellaneous drawer (which, actually, isn’t all that miscellaneous, really. It’s not like I’m going to start expounding on quantum physics and/or modern engineering principles, or whatnot. It’s going to be books and nerdy things and writing, and stuff).

I wish my mind was this organised... Photo Credit: Pensive glance via Compfight cc

I wish my mind was this organised…
Photo Credit: Pensive glance via Compfight cc

All right. First things first: I find myself in possession of an Unpopular Opinion relating to geekery and geek culture, and Thor’s Day is the most appropriate day to share it with you all. You have, I’m sure, heard that Marvel are planning to change their character Thor into a woman in an upcoming storyline: it has been hailed as a high water-mark of modern storytelling by most people, a Generally Good Thing in relation to making the Marvel pantheon more accessible to girls and women and a hammer blow (sorry, couldn’t resist it) to sexist depictions of characters in comic books.

Well.

I dissent!

Let me explain. It’s not that I’m not in favour of more female characters in Marvel’s world – in fact, that would be amazing. It would also be amazing if some of them were women of colour or short or differently abled or in possession of imperfect figures and breasts that didn’t, as the song goes, defy gravity, and – most importantly, for me – didn’t have to dress in skin-tight and/or revealing costumes. Marvel, to be fair, are reasonably good at inclusion – but most of their popular characters, the ones familiar to those people whose knowledge of the universe is restricted to the films and TV adaptations as opposed to the comic books – fall into the norms of comic book culture. In other words, they are women made to appeal to the (male, heterosexual) eye. That, in itself, annoys me. Also, Marvel’s press release states that ‘Thor’ is a title, and not a name, which I don’t agree with. It’s not an honorific that can be passed from person to person (even though I’m aware that the character of Thor has morphed into different forms during his existence so far, including a frog – but those episodes were temporary, and it was pretty clear that Thor himself was going to re-emerge sooner or later); Thor Odinson is a name. If this new female Thor picks up the hammer, is found worthy of it and therefore imbibes the power of Thor, I can’t see how she is Thor – is the name going to change to Thor Odinsdottir? Anyway.

I’m also, as an ‘ex-medievalist-but-really-always-a-medievalist’ upset with what Marvel are doing to a staple of Norse mythology and culture. Thor is a male god; he has always been thus. He does, to be fair, dress up as a woman at one point in order to claim his hammer Mjollnir back from the Frost Giants, but that’s not the same as actually becoming a woman. I know that Marvel have never stayed true to the mythology (because they couldn’t, really), but still. I reserve the right to be irritated.

I just can’t help wishing Marvel had created a new female character, one of equal power and status to Thor if they liked, which women and girls could rally round. Why not elevate Sif, a goddess of Asgard, to a greater role? Or even make Loki female, because Loki, as a character, is defined by his ability to shapeshift and change gender? I think it seems like a cynical marketing ploy to take one of the longest running and dearly loved characters and change him utterly, just to try to hook more women readers. I also find it annoying that the writers felt a female character, created from scratch, couldn’t possibly be as cool as an established male one which they’ve decided to make into a female one.

Even if, to be entirely fair, the art does look amazing. Thor, as a female, is badass.

Anyway. There are my two cents on the matter. I’m not even a big comics reader, so I probably shouldn’t be allowing myself to get so annoyed about this.

In other news, work on my WiP is going well, again. I have broken through a patch of extraordinarily hard writing (what I wouldn’t have given for Mjollnir over the past few weeks, eh? It would’ve made short work of my Gordian knot of plotting), and now, I hope, the rest of the first draft will flow, reasonably easily, into a conclusion I can be happy with. Then, of course, it’ll be time to leave it aside and focus on something else while it settles, and go back to it with a machete – but that’s a problem for a couple of months away. I think I let myself get freaked out by the idea that this is my fourth book – fourth! – and it was so much harder to write than the others, with the exception of ‘Tider’, which was hellish. I feel, at times, like it’s two steps forward and one step back with me. Progress is being made, but every scrap of it is a struggle.

Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

No excuse to get complacent, though. I’m going to lay down another 2,000 words today, come hell, high water or bright sunshine, and that’s that.

Thirdly, and lastly: I’ve had the pleasure of reading two very excellent books this week, both of them by Irish women; this simultaneously makes me proud, and scared. One of them you’ll be hearing more about on Saturday, and perhaps I’ll review the other one in a few weeks, if I feel like being good to you. This little country of mine is full of talented people.

So. On that note – go forth, good people, and have a Marvel-lous Thursday. Share your talents with the world (unless it’s for plaiting your nostril hair into unusual shapes or something like that, in which case you’ll have to choose your audience very, very carefully), and always remember to pursue happiness. I remain, your obedient servant, &c.

 

Rebelling and Rulebreaking (Part 2)

So. Back to my recollections of the Rebels and Rulebreakers Conference, held this past weekend in Dublin.

In yesterday’s blog, I told you about Hervé Tullet’s masterful performance of his book ‘I Am Blop’ last Saturday, the first day of the conference. M. Tullet also gave us a peep at his forthcoming book – the most charming picture book I think I’ve ever seen – and reminded us of the importance of having a ‘hole’, or a gap, in a book which the reader needs to fill. One of the things I learned from his presentation was how important it is to bring the reader into the book, and give them the space to interact with it and bring it to life – not just the story, but sometimes also the book itself. He showed us a book that could be taken apart to make a sculpture, and a book which could be used (with the aid of a torch) to make shadow-patterns on the wall. Watching this made me wish I was a child again. Or, better, it made me feel like a child again. It takes a particular kind of magic to do that.

In short, I was charmed. It was a marvellous, vivid and engaging presentation, and even though picture books for very young readers aren’t my particular area of interest, for the duration of M. Tullet’s talk, they were the most important thing in the world. I’m looking forward to the next time I need to buy a gift for one of the many children in my life – I know exactly what to purchase!

Image: leblog.editions-bayard.com

Image: leblog.editions-bayard.com

The next session of the day came after we returned from lunch, when we had the great privilege to witness John Boyne (he of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’) be interviewed by Robert Dunbar, a luminary in the world of children’s books in Ireland. The speakers were wonderful, the questions apt and interesting, and Mr. Boyne was an engaged and warm interviewee. A discussion ensued regarding the differences, if any, between writing for adults and writing for children, and the question of ‘is writing for children the same as writing for adults, except the central character is a child?’ was raised. Certainly, books for children have just as wide an emotional sweep and just as much significance as books for adults, and the consensus seemed to be that there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two. Mr. Dunbar noted that a lot of Mr. Boyne’s child protagonists are boys of between 8 and 9 years old – of course, this was significant, as that was an important age for the author, the age at which he first began to write and think about stories himself. Mr. Boyne spoke frankly about his ambitions as a young writer, his time as a student on the legendary Creative Writing course run by the University of East Anglia, how he copes with critics, and his need to finish one piece of work before moving on to the next. As well as taking us through his writing life – including his many novels written for adults – we were treated to a reading from Chapter One of his forthcoming novel ‘Stay Where You Are, and Then Leave’, set for publication in September or October of this year.

I was delighted to be able to purchase a copy of ‘The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket’, Mr. Boyne’s most recent children’s novel, after this talk – and even more delighted that he agreed to sign it for me.

Image: oliverjeffers.com

Image: oliverjeffers.com

The next session was a three-person panel focusing on comic books and graphic novels, an area in which I have very little knowledge. My expertise in graphic novels is pretty much limited to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series, so I was looking forward very much to getting An Education in this particular field. The panel – Sarah McIntyre, Alan Nolan and Rory McConville – didn’t fail to deliver. I busily scribbled down recommendations for books, graphic artists, writers, and in particular graphic novels aimed at children, all the while enjoying the panellists’ colourful personalities and the displays of their work. Several of the speakers during the course of Saturday, including these three contributors, spoke of how they began their careers as artists and/or writers by copying the work of those they admired; just as these artists copied their favourite comics, panel by panel, so writers take characters from books they love and create new stories for them. I did this as a child (funnily enough, a child of 8 or 9!), and it seems I’m in good company.

The final panel of the day was given by Alex T. Smith, an illustrator and writer whose wonderful series of ‘Claude’ books have become hugely popular and dearly loved.

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

Mr. Smith took us through his creative life, sharing a moving story about his late grandfather who encouraged the young Alex to draw and write from a very early age, and who showed him the power of stories through his own example. He shared with us how his grandfather would write him stories, which would be waiting for him when he came home from school each day, and how inspirational this small act of love was on his whole life and career. With regard to ‘Claude’, we learned that one evening, Mr. Smith sat down with no particular inspiration in mind and drew a picture of a small dog with a beret and a jumper, sitting at a café table ‘as though he was just waiting for me’; that little dog, and his faithful friend, the enigmatic and debonair Sir Bobblysock, have now become the stars of six books. Mr. Smith emphasised the importance of adding humour to everything you write for children, particularly children between 5 and 8 years of age, reminding us that jokes not only help the child to enjoy the book but they also make it easier for parents, who often have to read the same story over and over. A few jokes – perhaps jokes that only a parent will understand – make the experience more fun for everyone.

Mr. Smith also reminded us that if you’re interested in producing creative work, it’s vitally important to infuse it with your own personality and influences. He said ‘If it’s weird, it’ll probably work, and chances are it’ll be new.’ Be yourself, he pointed out, and your work won’t re-tread old ground. I think that was probably the single most useful and interesting thing I heard during that brilliant day on which I learned so much, and it was the best point at which to finish my journey through the CBI Conference 2013. Stay true to yourself, stay the course, go with your gut, give it everything you’ve got and believe in your work – I took all these nuggets of wisdom away from the day, and I’m very grateful to all at CBI and all the speakers and presenters for such a fantastic conference.

As well as that, it was beyond words to spend the day with people – so many people! – all of whom share my passions and dreams, are interested in the same things I am, and who love children’s books as much as I do. Next year, though, not only will I attend both days of the conference instead of just the first, I’ll also be brave enough to say ‘hello’ to more people; hopefully, I’ll feel like less of a pretender, and more of a professional! Despite my own shyness, however, I couldn’t have wished for a more inspiring experience, and I can’t wait for the 2014 CBI Conference.

Image: dublin.cervantes.es

Image: dublin.cervantes.es