THIS IS A PEN
New comic posted: THIS IS A PENComments Disabled
Here's a drawing I did of Sushu as a sexy witch.
It was a comic drawing exercise at Slave Labor Graphics where we were supposed to combine a person in the room and an object in the room into some kind of imaginative scene. The object I picked was that skull chandelier (yes, that thing's real). Sushu was leaning over a table drawing so I just turned the table into a cauldron.
Saw "Kick Ass" last night. I wouldn't have gone to see it of my own volition but Sushu likes it when I go to movies with her. We went to a drive-in. Yes, they still have working drive-in theaters in a few places in California. We can make out in the car like 50s teenagers! Then we can go get a chocolate malt at the soda fountain and listen to Buddy Holly records. Woo!
So anyway the movie was OK and had some pretty funny parts, but it did two things that really annoy me. (Spoilers ahead)
One: Mixing realistic violence with "violence ballet".
Whenever Dave gets beaten up, it's shown in horrible realistic detail. It's as bloody, traumatic, and painful as that sort of thing would be in real life. It's totally de-glamorized. It's like "Here's why it's stupid to try to be a superhero: picking fights with thugs puts you in the hospital or gets you shot dead."
But whenever Hit Girl is killing mooks, it's all shot and choreographed to look awesome. She's leaping and twirling around elegantly dispatching mobster after mobster; we never see the mobsters suffering, they're just out of the game. It's even set to a groovy soundtrack. It's what I call "violence ballet" - divorced from the consequences of violence, it's like watching a dance. A dance that leaves bad guys dead. See also: kung fu movies, John Woo gunplay movies, that scene in Serenity with River, etc.
Putting these in the same movie is deeply weird. It's like first the movie says "I'm a Serious Realistic Movie here to make you feel guilty about enjoying glamorized superhero violence by deconstructing it"... "Oh, and by the way, here's some glamorized superhero violence for you to enjoy. Don't feel bad about these mooks dying, they're just mooks." It's like they're trying to have it both ways.
Two: You lied to me and you snuck into my room? I guess I'm in love with you now!
I hate it when movies do this, and they do it all the time: Creepy, stalkerish behavior by the male lead towards his female love interest gets rewarded with her undying love. It makes me wonder if any Hollywood writers are women. Or if they're all men, whether they've ever met any women.
The romantic subplot in this movie is really tacked-on, and so the girl doesn't get any character development of her own. She's barely a character, in fact; she's basically a prize for the guy to win. That's another thing movies do all the time, and it bugs me.
But what really takes the cake is when Kick-Ass sneaks in through her window at night, in costume, to confess his love for her. She reacts, as any sensible person would, by screaming and spraying mace in his eyes (or was it hairspray? whatever). But then he takes off his mask and reveals his secret identity and does an extremely awkward love confession, and also reveals that he's not really gay (there's this weird subplot where she thinks he's gay for some reason, and she has always wanted a gay BFF, and he plays along with it because she lets him be around her when she's naked and, like, rub tanning oil on her and stuff).
So let's see, he A. has been lying to you in order to see you naked, abusing your trust; B. he snuck into your house in the middle of the night, disrespecting your privacy and personal space; and C. he's just revealed that he leads a secret double life where he dresses up in a wetsuit and picks fights with thugs, which by this movie's own ethos is a sign of extremely dangerous, self-destructive mental illness.
He's basically just admitted he's a liar, a stalker, and a violent, suicidal crazy person.
If I was her, I would have been like "Get the hell out before I call the police, and I better never see you again, you sick fucker". But in the movie she's like "awesome, let's have sex".
I shouldn't have to explain how the prevalence of this trope in movies fills our culture with terrible role models for young women (see also: Edward and Bella), but at the risk of pointing out the obvious let me remind you that Sexism Hurts Men Too: Our pop culture is telling our teenage boys that if they're a Good Person Deep Down Inside and if they keep doggedly pursuing the same girl long enough, ignoring her disinterest, then the universe is guaranteed to reward them with sex!
Again, the movie seems to be trying to have it both ways: Deconstructing the trope (she reacts realistically, freaking out and spraying him) but then later playing the trope straight. Same as it does with deconstructing superhero violence ballet but they playing it straight.
Remember that Chinese martial arts novel game that I was all excited to work on with Sushu a couple months ago?
We've done a couple of playtests which were kinda meh. And we've talked around and around in circles about what the game needs. But we haven't made much progress at all, and it's because of me. I'm sure it's been frustrating for Sushu, because she'll want to work on the game and I'll be like "I have to ink my comic" or "I have to practice the accordion" or "Not tonight dear, I have a headache".
The real reason I'm not being more helpful is because, as I know realize, I don't understand what she wants Jiang Hu to be. It's really her baby, not mine, and I'm fine with that; I just want to support her. But she doesn't have enough role-playing game experience to understand what I mean when I talk about role-playing game stuff, and I don't have enough Wu Xia knowledge to understand what she means when she talks about Wu Xia stuff.
Sushu keeps giving me examples of awesome scenes she wants to have happen in the game, and I can respond only in abstract, theoretical, non-helpful ways because I don't recognize any of the tropes she's referencing, I don't understand the larger plot structure she's implying, and I don't understand what motivates the characters involved. She can explain it with a lot of words but I don't grok it on an emotional level. Sushu grew up reading these stories; I didn't.
Imagine if you were trying to describe your Tolkien-esque fantasy game idea to someone who had never read any fantasy novels of any kind, and whose sum total lifetime exposure to the genre of fantasy was that they had seen the movie Shrek and two episodes of He-Man. That's pretty much the boat I'm in with the Wu Xia genre.
I know a little bit about real-life martial arts, but it turns out that's actually anti-helpful. All it helps me do is to to complain about how unrealistic Wu Xia fight scenes are. Which is beside the point; they're not supposed to be realistic.
Last night Sushu helpfully tried to get me to understand Wu Xia better by showing me an episode of some Chinese TV drama where the emperor was posing as a member of a "salt gang". And I was like "WTF is a salt gang?" And she paused it to explain...
And, like, half an hour later we had gone into detail about the social, legal, and economic systems of Qing-dynasty China, relations between labor and merchant groups, etc. A "salt gang" is apparently a highly structured black-market labor union that provides workers for the salt trade between coastal regions and cities upriver, using violence and intimidation to eliminate non-salt-gang competition for jobs, thereby supporting a certain wage level, and which is tolerated enough to act openly and have a public headquarters despite being illegal.
Is this the sort of thing I have to know to understand Wu Xia novels? Is it the sort of thing I would have to know to play Jiang Hu the role-playing game?
So in short, I'm totally the wrong person to be helping Sushu with this game. It's not just that I haven't read any Wu Xia novels, it's that I don't have the right cultural background to understand them even if I did read them. It could take me years to aquire the right level of cultural competency.
I'm sorry, Sushu. :-(
Sushu taught a class on making comics to her students as an extracurricular activity over the past week. (Sushu is cool.)
Some of the resulting students' comics are now online. The common theme was "Knights" -- they were supposed to do a story about "somebody saving somebody" whether that meant literal knights or not. The results are... well, let's just say they're high school students and for some of them this is their first time drawing or writing a comic. But some of them are really cute.
John (Sushu's brother) got accepted to U of C during early admissions, but he held out to see if he would get into MIT or Stanford. Well, they didn't accept him (boo!) so that means he's going to U of C (yay!).
University of Chicago as you safety school. How about that, huh? He's one smart kid.
He's already planning Scav Hunt strategies.
This picture's been going around the web lately - don't know where it came from or who drew it but it's way too cool not to share:
I've been watching a lot of Dr. Who (tenth doctor) lately, and I've been loving it. It was Sushu who introduced me. Actually, first I introduced her to Star Trek (she had only seen the new "Bishonen Star Trek" movie).
I clearly got the better end of that exchange!
I remember Next Generation being the high point of Star Trek. But go and watch it now: even the "really good" episodes (e.g. Best of Both Worlds) are really boring. Unless you love wooden delivery of humorless expository dialogue, awkward dead air, and redundant shots of people walking down hallways into hoverlifts. Most episodes you could cut out ten minutes without losing anything.
On the other hand, Next Generation and the original series deserve props, because at the time there was nothing else on TV remotely like them. The past decade has had a lot of surprisingly high-quality TV science fiction -- Farscape, Firefly, the aforementioned Dr. Who reboot, Battlest... um, the first season of the new Battlestar Galactica, etc. ( I'm sure I'm forgetting some; please remind me in the comments.) I don't think any of these shows could have happened without Star Trek and Next Generation to pave the way. The people writing the current shows probably grew up on Star Trek and got inspired to do something better; audiences had to get used to the most straightforward expressions of the genre before they were ready for more interesting twists on the same ideas; skittish TV executives had to be convinced that SF was viable; etc.
It's kind of an interesting example of how genres evolve over time, eh?
Anyway, Dr. Who. I feel like I'm finally catching up on several decades worth of common cultural references that I was missing. It's especially amusing to discover just how huge Dr. Who is in British pop culture; Wikipedia has a list of British politicians who have been compared to Daleks by their opponents.
I totally want to make a Dalek costume for Halloween sometime, so I can scoot around brandishing a plunger and screaming EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE! I love how Daaleks sound so pissed off and snotty all the time, like they got up on the wrong side of bed every day for a million years. I love their maniacal metallic screaming, and the fact that they're not robots but war machines piloted by tiny tentacly things.
I love how when you start watching a new miniseries you don't know what genre you're going to get - could be futuristic, historical, fantasy, horror, time-travel paradoxes, who knows! It's a giant grab bag.
I haven't seen the older Doctors yet, only the 9th and 10th doctors from the reboot. I really don't like the 9th doctor, who doesn't have much personality besides randomly being a dick to people while grinning. But David Tennant is great as the 10th doctor; he's got this madcap energy and he pulls of the goofy, slightly-mad genius thing perfectly. You have to watch him in action. Him and Rose Tyler are a great combination; I love the interactions between them and Micky, and Rose's mom. Donna Noble on the other hand is kind of an annoying wet blanket. Martha Jones seems pretty cool but I haven't seen much of her yet.
What makes Dr. Who storylines work? You always know that The Doctor will save the day at the end using his superpower of Knowing The Exact Weakness Of Every Monster Ever, so it seems like there shouldn't be any tension at all, and yet there is.
I think it's because what's really at stake is not the earth being saved, but the relationships between the main cast. Often the earth-saving business comes at the price of the relationship between the Doctor and his companion, or between the Doctor and humanity. This works because it grounds all the crazy sci-fi stuff in a relatable emotional reality, and makes it feel like victory came at a real cost.