Planetary Romance

I love planetary romance.

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No, not like that.

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Yeah. That’s more like it.

So why then?

Planetary romance is about daring high adventure set amongst exotism both interstellar and alien. What it is not, however, is anything remotely scientific. It gives it a noble dreaminess that hard-nosed sci-fi tends to not. There’s crossover with pulp action and Heroic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery. But the little dash of foreign planets and mythical technology and genre blending gives it a unique kind of appeal. For straight fantasy fans, you have Tolkien-eque-High-Fantasy-D&D-Warcraft-Elves-and-Dwarves influences. But that seems so well traveled. But for the pulpier stuff, I always liked John Carter more than Conan. Some impossible Mars built from dreamy wonderment was just too charming to pass up.

So what to do with it. “Swords and Planets” has been described as a static genre with consciously borrows from itself. This seems to be true with so many sorts of fiction. How do you give the audience what they want in a way they don’t expect? Noir suffers from this as well, unfortunately. What it gets by on is just how dang cool it is.

Everybody always looks so awesome in it:

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But then how do you keep it fresh? “Chinatown” is just better written than anything like it. “Dark City” plunges straight into convention with a bit of genre-blending. “Insomnia,” I would argue, does the best at playing with expectations of the genre as a whole– by setting a neonoir north of the Arctic Circle, it goes against the tradition of noir always being set at night (again, see: “Dark City”) to match the bleak moral tone of the genre, but the disorientation and fatigue it provides the protagonist is both moral and physical.

Can I do something something similar with Planetary Romance?

Or pulp for that matter? Or do I just embrace the genre for what it is and assume that if it’s written by me, it’ll naturally start to mutate according to my own personal tastes.

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Playing Pretend

I’ve been telling stories a long time.

When I was little, I imagined worlds to exist in. “Pretend.” Didn’t everyone?

I was captured by adventure. By heroics. By victory. By power and death and evil and life. I’d flip over my bed and land crouched on the floor, poised for action. I was a creature of battle and bliss, merely existing as a spirit of freedom.

Messy room

My room was constantly a mess. Not because I was particularly grungy, but because it was my canvass for storytelling. They were wastelands, junkyards, metropolises, battlegrounds, asteroid fields, even baseball diamonds.

My superhero toys liked to play baseball. The Thing batted cleanup.

Quite simply, I just loved playing with sticks. Mostly they were swords. Very occasionally guns. But swords were always more satisfying. More romantic.

Where’d I get these ideas from? Robin Hood? Peter Pan? Lego? I struggle to remember where I first got the idea to grab a fallen branch straight enough to capture my imagination and transform me utterly.

That is the nature of “Pretend.” Transformation. It wasn’t a stick. I wasn’t Graham, a human boy. I had utterly become something else.

As a tiny child– or as I like to say, “In The Time Before I Could Read,” I’d watch movies endlessly. I’d memorize all the lines, I’d rewind parts over and over. I’d delve into these worlds, breath in the characters and colors of it all.

But what I wanted was adventure. My own adventure.

I have to assume it was a movie the first time I saw a sword fight. The Disney “Robin Hood” seems the most conspicuous culprit. I don’t think I ever saw the famous 1938 Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone duel from “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” But it was paid homage to in “The Rocketeer,” which I watched endlessly.

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It was “Hook.” Oh, it had to have been. That Hero Shot of Robin Williams appearing to Hook fully for the first time. And the swordfight that followed. Robin flying around almost haphazardly fencing incidental pirates while occasionally actually getting face-to-face with Hook.

And his sword.

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Holy god, I loved Peter Pan’s sword in this movie. Was this the first time I ever truly fetishized a sword? How cool they looked. How cool it was to strike a blade against another. The crashing, clanking back-and-forth of two swords clashing.

What could be better?

I remember for my 4th Christmas, after my 4th birthday party which had been Peter Pan themed, my family traveled from Corvallis, Oregon to my grandmother’s house in faraway Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the one-and-only time I’d spend on an airplane until I was 20, when I decided to fly off to have an adventure of my own.

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It was easily one of my most memorable Christmases. Christmas was one of my favorite holidays, and not just because you got free stuff. It was just fun. I liked the spirit of it. Music and lights and laughter and fires while it was dark and cold. My family had books we would read every year, breaking them out of boxes packed away til December. Books like “Polar Express.” I loved what it was about: imagination, wonderment, magic.

Though this Christmas, I received this:

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Kinda looks like shit now, doesn’t it? I remember most being excited about his sword. The sword! He had his sword! I have no memory of playing with the toy other than that Christmas, bouncing him up and down the big stairwell in my grandmother’s house. Did he get left behind? Did I lose him back home? He certainly didn’t survive move after move my family took over the years of my childhood.

We’d move state to state from Oregon to Kansas to upstate New York all within three years. We also took trips, camping and hiking and exploring the country. We never had a lot of money. But we spent a lot of time time together riding in the car.

On long trips my mother apparently would tell my older brother and I stories about two mice, named Fred and Oscar, who would go on adventures together. Although I have no memory of these stories. What I do remember, however, is my grandfather purchasing my family’s first ever computer from the Best Buy in Topeka, Kansas, some 50-odd miles away from where we lived. My mother took two weeks of classes from the local community center and was suddenly armed mightily with knowledge of the Windows 3.1 operating system.

It seemed to be called “Windows” for a good reason. There were always so many of them open at once, like piles of fallen gunmetal leaves. My brother and I would play DOS games through some overly complicated framing program called KidDesk:

I remember it being ugly and bold, with plenty of primary colors and fat icons. Mostly I think we played “The Castle of–“, or alternatively “The Island of”, “–Dr. Brain.”

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That’s the stuff.

But what most shocked and overjoyed me about the presence of the new computer and my mother’s expertise was her promise that she could print and make my own books.

So I suppose I went with a subject I was familiar with:

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I was 5. I’d pace back and forth and dictate aloud to my mother, then would produce for each page in MS Paint choppy illustrations composed of black straight lines, ovals, and rectangles sometimes filled in with color in places.

Telling the story seemed easy. I was just playing Pretend.

Make it Happen: Part II

  • Characters

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  • Black Lash

The Black Lash. I came up with him back when I discovered the “Urban ranger” was a thing. Everyone likes Aragorn, son of Arathorn, right? All sexy and strong and cool and bowy and swordy. Rangers are supposed to be sneaky and foresty, too, so the idea of an “urban ranger” totally gave me that all-powerful creative spark. Isn’t that what we all pine for?

The core of the idea is the dual identity. He’s pulpy as hell, so much of that should be familiar territory. He has a whip and domino mask, cloak and cowl and lashing along rooftops, swashbuckling enemies. Definitely someone I could develop into a serial hero.

But I think it might be cool if he wasn’t the protagonist. Or maybe I could focus on him in a single one shot. Kinda like that Abnett & Lanning issue of Guardians where they just focus on Drax. Get inside his head.

But Batman comics are about Batman, right? Everyone likes Batman. And he’s the coolest thing in Gotham.

But is he though? I’ve always said that a good superhero has the best villains. Batman easily has one of the greatest rogue galleries in comics history. That’s one of the exciting parts of mysterious rogue galleries. The reader guessing “Whodunit this time?” Sort of the  Carmen Sandiago style of storytelling.

Like the opposite, for example, in Iron Man. Until RDJ made him funny, Tony Stark was boring as hell. And Iron Man villains? Even worse. “The Unicorn.” “The Melter”, who’s got a gun. That melts. Mostly he just fought communists. Even his so-called arch-nemesis is basically the Fu Manchu. I shouldn’t be so hard on Iron Man.

Everyone gets a second chance. I mean Daredevil was basically a low rent Spider-man. And DD fought Stilt-Man for God’s sake. But then Frank Miller got a hold of him, and basically turned him into a red ninja Batman.

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Losing my train of thought here.

The idea is what other characters could I have. Especially female ones that A. aren’t sexualized B. don’t necessarily use violence as their main method of problem solving.

First to (A). Particularly in fantasy fiction, there really seem to be two kinds of female characters: those that are hyper-sexed and those that have zero sex about them. The zero characters are either mommy Madonnas, ingenue innocents or sexless crones. The hyper-sexed are anything from seductive demons, enchantresses, or the painful Strong Female Character, whose thirst for masculine violence is usually only matched by their the size of their wobbling tits and g-stringed buttchecks.

The Strong Female Character is basically just a Male Power Fantasy combined with a sexual image intended for the male gaze. Violence is typically the main problem solving method of men, so the goal would been then to create a female character with power and agency that exists independently of the patriarchy.

So, I’m currently thinking about a conning, vaguely-feral little thief girl.

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  • Conning, Vaguely-Feral Little Thief Girl

Not “cunning” might you. Though that too. But I really mean like “taking part in con artistry.” I want a smart, morally-grey young girl who doesn’t specifically use violence to solve her problems. Not specifically because she’s a pacifist. But I’m looking for someone who’s more creative in deliberating obstacles.

You have no idea how long it took to try and find a picture that didn’t just made me sad. TnA is as big a part of pulp as Swords meeting Sandals. It’s been its legacy since the very beginning:

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Ah, yes. The Leg Cling. Don’t take my word for it. (WARNING: CONTAINS TVTROPES LINK. IT COULD POSSIBLY TAKE HOURS FROM YOU IN FASCINATING READING.) It worries me that some of my favorite styles of media (noir, superhero, pulp etc) employ some of the regressive social depictions around, particularly those of women. But like poor DD being reinvented, I just need to remind myself that these forms of media aren’t inherently misogynist, even in vastly more dangerous implicit ways. I’ll be aware and just do it the right way.

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  • Scary Invincible Knight Hunter Guy

Another archetype I’ve always enjoyed is the righteous villain. He sure as shit does what he believes to be right. And that’s scary. You can make them heroes, even as their actions become more and more evil. Where can you draw a moral line? What can and cannot be justified? An effective villain simply opposes the goals of the protagonist. But the story could just as easily be theirs.

I’ve already discussed a big spooky theocracy that runs Baslika. I came up with some cool names for things too, I thought. “The Glorious Hierarchy of Martyrs” sounds lofty and titanic enough. I’m looking for naming conventions that invoke the age, authority, and stuffiness of a cathedral. Theocracies also fascinate me since it is seemingly so easy for nationalism to resemble religion. Citizens and propaganda so often cement the righteousness of their existence through mythologizing its founding and the historical figures that did so. Legitimizing the authority of the state is done through a hierarchy of divine logic: laws of humanity are, in fact, the laws of God. Theocracies just cut right to the chase and say they’re doing the Word of the divine.

Then you gotta have a BIg Bad Boss, or at least the figure of one, so I have “the enigmatic Hierarch”, and then just as much as I like bad guys, I like elite groups of bad guys. “The Godhead” seems like an excellent name for some creepy league of powerful cardinals. I want to be flexible for what these guys will want/mean.

  • The Black Sect

Who doesn’t like leagues of assassins! Seriously though. What is sexier than that. Not sure what part they’d have. Largely, you’d think they’d be mercenary in nature. Hired to do the bidding of dark plots. But what I don’t want is for them to be too visible, too expendable, or too cool and sympathetic.

Make it Happen

Well here I am again.

Am I scared? I think I’m scared of failure. Self-sabotaging any way I can. Ignoring how fucking good I am at this.

Comics. Writing comics. What should I/could I do?

Could I? Anything. That’s the bottom line. I’ve tried to do genre breakdowns again and again. Countless times over the years. Hoping to get inspired.

Seem impossible to “get inspired” just by staring at a computer screen. Sitting with a notebook and pen in hand.

What ideas do I have so far.

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  • Basilika

Dark, gothic city. Kinda medieval. I could be happy there, telling stories. Lots of alchemy, cause that opens up the world building. Kinda steampunk, not really, but gears are cool. Cooler than Victorian fashion, anyway. Just the inhumanity or soulessness of machinery. Potentially lovely metaphor.

I got a secret society of thieves and assassins. “The Black Sect”. Seems like generic, but that’s the sort of thing that’s fun. Sneaking, killing, stealing. Being smart and being quiet. All very enticing.

Then the official government has some manner of religious organization to it. I’m thinking the church just runs things, plain and simple. Monolithic theocracy and fascist bureaucracy certainly seem like peas and carrots to me.

It is too much like The City? Hammerites and all. It’ll probably be fine.

“Focus on making the media you wish existed, but doesn’t.” I can do that.

ABQ to Austin: 3/6/2015 [Day 1]

We were somewhere around Moriarty on the edge of eastern New Mexico when the hell cloud began to take hold.

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Jacob and I weren’t really sure what it was. The ocean? It couldn’t be. Just understanding what was bend across the distance challenged creative logic. It was white and titanic and rose over the coming horizon. The shape’s flatness disputed reality and disrupted the imagination.

 

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We were quickly and utterly engulfed. It froze the air and perverted the quality of light. I stared in the rear view mirror to see green grass and blue sky clearly reflected vanish and be replaced with grey death and pale ghosts.
 

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It was clearly the land of the dead. Earth had vanished. Souls had replaced the sky. Jacob suggested we were witnessing the ground event of nuclear winter. I thought of Odysseus speaking to shades. Maybe this was Hell.

A good start to a trip.

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I Would Like To Think Comic Books Are More Than Softcore Porn For Adolescent Boys

I went to the Albuquerque Comic Expo recently. And I was utterly dismayed by what I saw.

I was introduced to the worlds of “The Fantastic Four” and “the Avengers” when I was only a tiny child, moving with my family from state to state every few years. As a young boy in the 60’s, my father read the genesis of Spider-man, Thor, and Daredevil. So when he had boys of his own, he would take my older brother and I to comic book shops no matter where we lived to buy what few comics we could scrounge from bargain bins selling them three or four for a dollar.

West Coast, East Coast, small town or big city — no matter where we lived, we could find comic book shops.

Sanctioned by my father’s childhood memories and interests, we delved head-first into the hobby, reading grand stories of heroes and villains, of success and defeat, always with a dream of that essence of humanity that makes people truly extraordinary.

As I grew older, I began to notice subtexts that bothered me: women were often, if not always, utterly sexualized, looking to tease or tantalize rather than act like people.

Male-to-female ratios for superhero teams would often be 5-to-1, but the token of women always looked the same: wobbling triple-G breasts that formed buoyantly under skimpy costumes that looked nothing like what was worn by the male heroes.

Even as I passed through puberty, I felt mostly confused by this massive dichotomy. Was it supposed to entice me? Mostly I found it distracting and annoying. I read comics for the tales of battles with evil and the courage and power to overcome personal doubt and fear. I wasn’t there to be addled by jiggling cartoon titties.

Now, I’m an adult. I still love comic books. I’m finally working hard every single day writing and producing my own. And, mostly thanks to financial international success of movie adaptations, comic books have slowly entered into the main stream. Baffling things have happened, like Iron Man actually becoming not incredibly boring — a complete surprise to me.

And so I pulled the trigger on something I’d been meaning to do for a long time: go to a comic book convention. Mostly it was great, astounding. Mostly.

The images of women in comic books had bothered me my entire life, but I was able to look at them in small chunks: one female hero or villain would offer their bodies up to the reader, no one else; I could wrinkle my nose in annoyance and move on.

At the Albuquerque Comic Expo, this was impossible. I was bombarded on all sides by images of the same woman.

Sometimes she was dressed in different colors or had different hair, but it was the all the same: a woman — less a person and more an object — existing solely for the sexual gratification of men.

All her sexual features were violently exaggerated, each of her poses with coy winks or seductive leans, all to better expose herself as a invitation to bestial voyeurism.

No wonder nerd hobbies are male-dominated. It’s an echo chamber of soft core porn targeted at preteen boys. I want all people to love the geeky things I do: comic books, pen and paper roleplaying, overly complex board games,

Here are my two hopes:

To all nerd-curious women of the world: First, please ignore the “Sex Sells” images that paint literally everything in our culture. I really do apologize. You are, in fact, completely welcome — even if it may not seem that way.

Creators and companies try to appeal to an already mostly male base, and refuse to grow or change. Feminism is a vital rhetoric that needs to be heard, especially in nerdy subcultures.

The internet is a vile place for wonderful, nerdy feminists like Anita Sarkeesian to articulate patterns of women getting the constant short end of the stick, only to have the shouting anonymity respond with threats of raping her to death.

Stay classy, cretins.

Second, to the nerd world at large: It’s not a woman’s fault if they don’t like you. All the “men’s rights” gibberish is as asinine as it is repugnant. Patriarchy is as real as anything, built to maintain that fragile, defensive sense of masculinity.

I can’t believe I even have to say this, but guys, can you please just, you know, treat women like they’re people and not sex objects that lack all human qualities and exist only for your sexual gratification?

That’d be great.

Millershameless

 

(That’s Frank Miller being a piece of shit, by the way: his natural state.)