Sunday, July 31, 2011

Positive Prose: Voices from the Storm

Because I am interested in far more than just reviewing and promoting comic books, I figured it's high time I paid tribute to a favorite prose book that proves to be more than just a good read. Voice of Witness is a non-profit organization that aspires to motivate people to correct social injustice around the world by educating them about it and by providing the people affected a forum to discuss their experiences. Their book Voices from the Storm provides firsthand accounts of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath from thirteen survivors.

Comic book writer Valerie Finnigan's review of this as well as AD: New Orleans After the Deluge (the subject of another upcoming Comics for Causes entry) proved to be much less a review than one of many personal, visceral reactions as she relived when a relative had gone missing in the wake of "The Storm." He mercifully survived and became one of the thirteen whose experiences are chronicled in Voices from the Storm.

I found the book not without its flaws. The book focuses more on the overall chronology of the hurricane, breaking the accounts up day by day rather than letting the stories of the people involved flow without interruption. The result is that we know a lot about what happened on August 30, 2005, the next day, the day after that, and so forth, but because of the way the stories are choppped up and broken up by day, I found myself having to flip back to the introductions just so I could remember who all these thirteen people were. This might have worked better in a more visual medium such as comic books, when all it takes is a caption to remind people of who is who and where they are, and you always can see the faces that go with the names.

Another is that the book was compiled with a pretty obvious agenda that does not entirely jibe with the message I got from reading the stories themselves. There is absolutely no denying that politicians from the local all the way up to the federal level let selfishness and incompetence get in the way of their jobs as civil servants. The opinions expressed by the survivors of their civil servants are not all very well informed, but they come honestly nonetheless from their perspectives and, as such, are all very deservedly harsh. But these survivors are not passive victims who sat around waiting helplessly for the government to rescue them. From the mother who shared her own bottled water with her fellow refugees, to the "neighborhood group" that tried to maintain peace and safety where the local police failed, to the men who set out in boats to rescue stranded families, to the parish priests, artists, and musicians who lost no time helping rebuild- they won't admit it, but they're heroes. To correct social injustice takes more than just pointing out where the government's going wrong in hopes that politicians will listen. It requires individuals to step up and do as much good as they can, on their own if need be. As one survivor said, "You don't need a leader to do the right thing."

Books like this are needed not to just lambaste governments when they fail (as they all do from time to time). They are needed to amplify the voices of people who might not otherwise be heard and to encourage everyday, unsung heroes to be ready to step up in a crisis. This is why, flaws and all, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Friday, July 29, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Dealing With the Oppressed Oppressor

One of the most dangerous characteristics of bullying is that it is infectious. That is most often apparent when a ringleader or "queen bee" secures a complicit or at least silent audience, getting them all involved in bullying or at least in silently condoning bullying. However, it is more tragic when the victim becomes so infected he or she- often unknowingly- also becomes a bully. Even worse is when the victim is aware of his or her behavior, but feels justified or uses his or her status as a victim as an excuse. Pop culture and even history itself are rife with examples. In the Harry Potter books, Severus Snape performs his job faithfully, but doesn't lose any opportunity to vent some anger in the direction of his bully's son. The downtrodden kids in  Saved use bullying tactics to bring down their "queen bee" oppressor.  Linsday Lohan's character in Mean Girls is an even better example, as her transformation into a "mean girl" is noted and she is held to account for her actions.  Comic books give us a good example in X-Men's Juggernaut, who was abused as a child and grew up feeling an almost constant need to take his anger out on others. The most extreme example pop culture has to offer (and I'm open to hearing different suggestions) may be Magneto, who, when written well, believes he's acting in the world's best interests when his attitudes and aspirations echo those of his old Nazi oppressors.

History offers much harsher examples of bullying victims gone bad- from individuals seeking revenge, to school shootings, to murderous dictatorships. The details are easy enough to read elsewhere, and I won't go into them here, mostly because I don't want to come across as making excuses for their actions. Being bullied, insulted, or otherwise wronged does not justify returning the favor. Period.


So how do you deal with someone who is bullying someone who allegedly wronged them? Suppose they really have been wronged? Suppose they're trying to get even with you?

First of all, if you're a bully getting some of that right back, stop bullying. If you've wronged the person who's targeting you, try to apologize and make it right. Recognize the difference between self-defense and retaliation. If you are in the process of doing wrong, and they stand up to you or do whatever they need to defend themselves, they are not retaliating and not bullying you. They are justified in their actions. But if they're trying to get even after the fact and outside appropriate channels, you're not at fault for their behavior. You just need to gain the moral high ground.

If you are a third party or a bystander to retaliatory bullying, try to discern if the person seeking vengeance has actually been wronged, is feeling genuinely hurt, or is just trying to keep an uppity victim under his or her thumb. The last scenario is all-too common. Too often, bullies respond to victims who stand up to them by escalating the bullying. Sometimes the bully will play the victim and misrepresent the real victim's attempt at self-defense as bullying and mischaracterize retaliation as self-defense. If you know the difference between retaliation and self-defense, that will help you see through their victim facade.

In any case, you should refuse to participate and state clearly and firmly why. But if someone is retaliating against someone who really hurt them, that calls for a little finesse and diplomacy. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and you do not want to give the impression in preventing one wrong that you're condoning or defending another. Ensure the legitimately hurt retaliator that you have their best interests in mind, and then offer or help find better means to address their grievances, because repaying bullying with bullying will only damage their credibility and cause nothing but more harm in the long run.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Web Comic Wednesday

Well, I ventured into my friendly neighborood comic book retailer today not expecting anything unusual, and sure enough, I got what I didn't expect. Granted, there was nothing new in my pull box, and the one title I wanted to check out that wasn't on my pull list sold out before I got to the store. I kind of expected that. I did have an entertaining conversation with the staff and a couple of the other patrons about Captain America, the DC relaunch, conventions, and RPG's. I definitely expected that. Quality time with fellow fans is most of the fun of visiting the LCS, after all. But I found some unexpected freebies on the counter, including a coupon for a Dark Horse retailer exclusive. I snapped that up, logged in and entered the code, and got a nice look at B.P.R.D. Casualties. I say "nice look," because while I found the art quite dynamic and enthralling, I could kind of get the gist of what took place, and I always love to see what more of what Mike Mignola and company can come up with, I had difficulty actually reading the comic. Apparently figuring out how to toggle and zoom on individual panels in just the right way is a somewhat complicated art. Who knows. Maybe it's just my computer, though.

Now urban fantasy is (my admiration for SpoCon guest Patricia Briggs notwithstanding) a genre that has yet to grow on this more old school horror fan, but Blake Chen's Twilight Lady (which I saw fit to mention here before), may just do it or me. Excellent, engaging characterizations all around, some comic relief always when appropriate, and yes, some very good, strong scares  maintained my interest throughout. Przemyslaw Dedelis and Sean Burres maintain a fairly consistently high quality of art and help maintain that creepy atmosphere I find so appealing and appropriate for the subject matter. The site is also very user-friendly and easy to read, with archived pages and short stories easily accessible to people who would want to read more than just the latest update. And you will very likely want to read more. I sure did.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kickstart this Comic!

Here we go with the first of many discussions on Kickstarter projects I believe deserve the extra attention. Explosive Comics is a new company trying to get its first anthology to print. As this anthology will showcase a variety of its comics, there should be something in it to suit all tastes. One thing is certain- this anthology's take on superheroes promises to be very unique.

Mr. Massive, by Michael Oeur and Jeff McLelland, chronicles the adventures and misadventures of a boy who uses his superpowers as any typical boy would- particularly if he never had an Uncle Ben Parker telling him, "With great power comes great responsibility." Given Jeff McLelland's previous work on a variety of comics including Teddy and the Yeti, the zaniness of his "stupid" Youtube show Franks and Beans, and the premise of Mr. Massive, I think it's safe to say we'll see hilarity ensue.

The premise of Hero by Force, by Michael Oeur and Valerie Finnigan seems simple, exploring what can happen when a team of diverse individuals is forced to work together as a superhero team against their will. The questions such a premise raises, however, will not be so simple. I expect that this will appeal to the thinkers in comic fandom.

Bloodspade by Michael Oeur promises quite simply to terrify on every level, raising these scariest of questions: who will protect those who protect us, and how?

As for The Hair, I'm not the kind of person who thinks a favorite writer can do no wrong or that a comic book can be judged by good art alone, but the creepy, evocative art and the involvement of the versatile and seemingly omnipresent Michael Oeur and Twilight Lady's Blake Chen would by themselves make me consider pledging my support.

And these are just the highlights so far!

When the Cause is Comics

Too many times, people envision work within the comic book industry to be endless fun, convention appearances, fame, and riches. Having gotten to know a number of comic book professionals at various stages of their careers and learned a bit of the industry's history, I can safely say that's too often far from the case. Oh, sure, writing or drawing comics is fun and rewarding emotionally if not always financially. That's what keeps a lot of creators going. But there isn't much job security, the pay can range from pretty good as long as the work keeps coming to nonexistent, and we can just forget about retirement and benefits. That's why a lot of comic book creators maintain businesses on the side, do commissioned artwork, or else depend on other more reliable jobs for their living. Theirs is often a precarious existence- like that of too many others living from paycheck to uncertain paycheck- that can be too easily derailed by a medical emergency, disaster, family crisis, or job loss. The Hero Initiative serves to make the lives of our heroes in the comic book industry much less precarious.

For those getting started in the comic book industry, getting a job can be hard enough, often requiring no less than a number of lucky breaks. It may be easier to find work with small press companies or to self-publish, but getting the scripts or the pages done isn't even the half of it, and it won't amount to much if you or the company lacks the funding to print, distribute, and market the book. This is where Kickstarter can help out. Not only devoted to comic books, Kickstarter provides opportunities to support new projects in film, music, fashion, conceptual art, game development, anything creative, really. If you deem a project worthy of your support, you can pledge as little as a dollar or as much as you'd like. You can help get the word out and get your friends on board. And that's exactly what I'll be doing in future entries- giving my two cents figuratively as well as maybe a bit more literally to the Kickstarter projects that catch my interest, doing my part to help newer creators get a good start.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan


Philip Craig Russell went so far above and beyond for this book and the upcoming second volume that, when asked to do one page of artwork, he did six.

Jerry Bingham described working on the book as an honor and a labor of love.

Valerie Finnigan described working with members of the armed forces as a privilege and the responsibility of faithfully adapting their stories as a "sacred trust."

Michael Sutherland, an airman who started drawing cartoons while serving in Iraq, described working on the book as a way to help fulfill his dream and the promise he made to those with whom he served to get his cartoons published for all to enjoy. He contributed one of the book's biggest laugh-out-loud moments with a cartoon involving low-flying aircraft.

MSgt. C.J.Grisham, a soldier who'd served two tours in Iraq and may be by the time I post this on his way to Afghanistan, described this book as "the single greatest tribute idea" he'd heard of. He went on to contribute a couple of stories, one of which became one of my favorites in this first volume.

Gold Star families have described this book as "amazing" and "touching." Veterans have described the book with terms like "rocked" and "the best graphic novel I have read," and have offered support, stories for future volumes, and  help with spreading the word.

Reviewers from librarians to comic book retailers to culture critics have weighed in with positive feedback and recommendations. And is it purely coincidence that this story on comic book therapy for veterans broke shortly after Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan was released?

All this naturally begs the following question: can so many people be wrong about a book and/or the idea behind it? Of course they can, but this time it's clearly not the case.

As stated before, all proceeds from the sales of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan go to the USO, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House, and Soldiers' Angels. Then the fact that around sixty creators volunteered, gave their best efforts, and worked together without clashes of politics or egos demonstrated the generosity, patience, and teamwork that distinguishes comic book professionals from people who happen to draw or write comics. Tom Orzechowski, it should be noted, lettered no less than thirty-six pages for these causes. That's already inspiring, and I haven't even mentioned the stories themselves yet.

"Ambush in Korengal Valley" features a reunion of Jerry Bingham and Tom Orzechowski. They had worked together well on Black Panther and I think did just as well here adapting Spc. Robert Soto's heartbreaking tribute to Spc. Rick DeWater, who had fallen in Afghanistan.

"The Spider," by Louis J. and Rick Parker provided the first chuckle in the book. Well, the first after the drawing by Victor Castro and Mark McKenna portraying Heroes Fallen founder Clayton Murwin as some hard-driving sergeant.

"Debriefing," by Sfc. Robert Masterman and Adam Masterman was a little difficult for me to read. On the surface, the story of an IED attack that goes very badly seems so coolly narrated, but the first two panels upon rereading say it all for me. He's in a setting where he has to keep his cool, and judging by the subtle facial expression as well as the general context, it's not exactly easy.

"How to Lose Your Soul" is one of the aforementioned accounts from C.J. Grisham, adapted by Tomm Gabbard, Joshua LaBello, and Johnny Lowe. I found the unflinching examination of conscience such as any good man must make when he fears he's done wrong crushing yet inspiring in its brutal honesty.

"Airburst," by Elliott Blake, Richard O'Hara, Tomm Gabbard, and Kell Nuttall, is a short but jam-packed  account by Air Force Sgt. Brian Duclos that illustrates how quickly and rudely the banality of everyday life can be interrupted, how quickly one has to shift gears in order to cope, and how, though they joke and laugh afterward, it's not quite as easy as they make it look.

"When Words Fail," based on accounts by aforementioned airman Michael Sutherland and scripted by Valerie Finnigan with art by Paul Shirey, inks by Jason Sylvester, and a little bit of lettering by Kell Nuttal, was, despite the absence of narration or dialogue, the most difficult read in the book. My first reaction to it was the impression that I was seeing a whole lot of stuff and unable to make sense of it. Even though it was simple inferring the mission, the plot and conflict, from the second of only two captions (both of which were on the first panel), the rest was very confusing, perhaps intentionally so. It certainly felt scarier seeing but not fully understanding what was going on.

On the other hand, "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot," also scripted by Valerie Finnigan with pencils by Brian Shearer, inks by Peter Palmiotti, and Tom Orzechowski providing even more lettering, is a clear account of an Army convoy facing threats such as a road trip through wartime Balad Province, Iraq would offer. It also comes with some civilian-friendly explanations of army jargon, pointed observations, and a healthy dose of sardonic wit courtesy of SSgt. Kyle Hausmann-Stokes.

Last, but certainly not least of the short stories is another one of my favorites. "A Shared Sky" by Mike and Will Perkins sums up to me precisely why defending, cherishing, and sharing freedom is so important, not just for the US but for every country. With all that comes the freedom to aspire, excel, to dream big, fulfill noble hopes.

And at the very end was another reminder of the sacrifices some have made, a tribute to the late Spc. Cody Grater.

Overall, all that left me trying to swallow the lump in my throat while anticipating the upcoming second volume. It will likely leave you feeling the same.


Update! Volume two of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan is shaping up to be even more ambitious than the first volume. At 150 pages in color, getting this volume to print will be more difficult, but Heroes Fallen Studios has offered an opportunity for more than just veterans and comic book creators to get involved.

We can all help out and... Kickstart this comic!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Walking Dead 87: Review and Spoilers

Another Wednesday brought me to the comic book shop in search of treasure- or at least something worth reading. My pick for this week is again The Walking Dead. Issue 87 has kept up the trend of offering up a lot of good reading for the money, this issue's extra being a preview of The Rise of the Governor, coming out this fall. I found the characters engaging and relatable. I really want to know what happened at Wiltshire Estates. The intent of including this was to make me want to buy the book. Mission accomplished. My only quibble is with "her ashen face is almost angelic," being said about a young lady who is neither dead nor, to the best of this reader's knowledge, dying. Healthy kids don't have ashen faces, so is there something going on medically, or was it just a severe case of one word not chosen well? And will I let this dig into my brain?

Naw. There's the main part of the comic book yet to review.

And here unfortunately was one misstep I hoped Kirkman and company would avoid. Carl "woke up" too soon and with apparently nothing more than an eye put out and some soap-opera style amnesia. Granted, readers may be bored by stuff that seems overly medical, but some real life details of severe head trauma and recovering from it might have served well- like the way people look when their eyes are open and they may begin responding, but they're still not back up to a fifteen on the Glasgow coma scale. That hard stare that may be unfocused or too focused, that can express very strongly any emotion or nothing at all but can't actually tell you anything, from someone you're not sure is even aware of you- that to me is creepier and might have had the potential to drive Rick even further up the wall with his regrets.

That Rick has to deal with his regrets and that he's not having an easy time with it, that neither Holly nor Rosita are letting Abraham get away with his bad romantic choices, and that the community's dealing with a looming food shortage, impending winter, and what could (and should be) a pretty long, tough rehabilitation period for a good but critically injured character makes me wonder how they'll cope, and it makes me want to stick around to find out how well they'll manage. If they manage...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Law and Disorder

In an increasing number of cases, survivors of bullying have the law on their side, specifically perhaps an anti-bullying law such as what's on the books in forty seven US states. Canada is also picking up steam with proposed legislation against bullying, as is Australia. The problem I see is that they can be inconsistent, incomplete, and particularly when bullying crosses state or national borders, difficult to enforce.

In too many cases, bullying is treated by law as an issue to be handled by school districts. As a result, such bullying laws only address school bullying and may only touch upon cyber-bullying insofar as it affects students. Some don't even protect children in private schools. Laws against workplace bullying have been much slower to catch on, but those few that exist provide some protection to adults who are bullied- on the condition that they are bullied by an employer or coworker. Freelancers, independent contractors, and the like may also enjoy some protection under those laws. But if a bully is not an employer or coworker, generally the bullied adult has no recourse unless he or she has another criminal or civil complaint, such as a charge of hate crime, harrassment, libel or slander.

Still, some law is better than no law. Bully Police grades the policies various US states and territories have against school bullying. The Workplace Bullying Institute promotes legislation in the US and Canada to address and combat workplace bullying. Both organizations offer valuable services and resources, but I think they (and all bullied people) can benefit by working together and broadening their scope a little. We don't want to just stop school bullying or workplace bullying, but all bullying, right?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Smart Alex on the Road: For Your Con-sideration

One does not need to be a comic book enthusiast or sci-fi fan to be familiar with the phenomenon that is the convention. Everyone who knows anything about pop culture knows about San Diego Comic Con- and how far it’s branched out, for better and for worse, from being just a comic book convention.  Many people only a little more in the know may be aware of Dragon Con (Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, GA),  Charlotte, North Carolina’s Heroes Con (always the first weekend in June), and the various larger conventions in New York City and Chicago. Those require little to no mention here. This traveler has nothing against the bigger, better-known conventions. I sometimes like getting lost in a crowd that’s more or less as geeky as I am. It’s also nice to get off the beaten path and find what unique delights the warm but sometimes hardscrabble little communities on the back roads have to offer, which is why I’ll be devoting my attention primarily to deserving but lesser-known events.
Since 2005, Nampa, Idaho has had the honor of hosting Fandemonium, the state’s biggest and best event for gaming, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, and all other things geeky. It always being the first full weekend of August, it’s coming right up, and this year’s convention promises to provide a weekend full of fun and whackiness. Guests of honor include comic book artist Jacob Bear, RPG creator AJ O’Connell, costumer and fantasy author Tanglewyst de Holloway, filkers Tiger and Rose, horror troupe The Brothers Thir13en, Custodians of Otakudom, comedian AlejAndro Anastasio, and for everyone who fancied himself a Renaissance man or just wanted to get medieval, the Barony of Arn Hold.

Last minute update- If you can't make it up north for Fandemonium, you can find something especially unique August 6 in Texas at STRIP: The Dallas Webcomics Expo. In addition to hosting a variety of guests from web comic creators to filmmakers, the Expo promises a variety of activities for all ages, such as an opportunity for kids to create their own comic strip, a live art show, cosplay and costume contests, and a book drive to benefit the Half Price Books Literacy Program .
The very next weekend, the travelling fan may find it convenient to head to Spokane, Washington and see what all SpoCon has to offer.Guests include actor, stuntman, and prop maker Dragon Dronet, JourneyQuest producers The Dead Gentlemen, artist Dan Dos Santos, and Mercy Thompson author Patricia Briggs. The dealers’ room offers the usual selection of gaming supplies, jewelry, art, and a wide variety of books. I should make special note of Cari Corene, who will promote her web comic Toilet Genie, and the Seattle Browncoats, who will provide an assortment of Firefly-related items, entertain with a good impression of Captain Malcolm, and do it all for good causes such as Equality Now and Northwest Harvest. Fan tables will be hosted by The Camarilla, Palouse Board Gamers, Realms of Avalon, the Star Trek INSFA, and everyone’s favorite “bad guys doing good,” the 501st.
After all the fun of two conventions in as many weekends, you may want to take a break for a while, maybe stretch out the summer a bit, and then get away to the Springmaid Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Perhaps you’d like to give yourself a Halloween treat at X Con. Featured guest Dr. Bob Boan will give a straight presentation on defending the earth from alien invasion.  Martin Croker of Adult Swim will also be among the “usual suspects” slated to appear.
Last for now but not least, if you’re looking to get away for Veterans’ Day weekend, a trip to the Adirondacks may be just the thing- specifically for Adirondack ComicFest in Old Forge, New York. The convention starts November 11 with free admission for that day for all veterans with proof of service. The morning promises to kick off with a veterans’ breakfast and opening ceremonies particularly appropriate for the occasion. Among those slated to appear are actors Tyler Mane and Nick Jones, and artists Matt Reynolds, Ben Dunn, Dave Hoover, and Arvell Jones. As is also particularly appropriate for the holiday weekend, some of the writers and artists behind the groundbreaking benefit anthology Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan are set to appear. (And that is the subject of a whole upcoming entry in the “Comics for Causes” vein. Proceeds from this book's sales go to the USO, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House, and Soldiers' Angels.)
 
I also know for a fact that there are a plethora of conventions that I have not yet mentioned. If you’d like to share something about an upcoming event, by all means, help your friendly neighborhood unsung, off-the-beaten-path convention out and share. I’ll be happy to spread the word.

Friday, July 15, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Words on Words

Some people say that ugly rumors spread like wildfire. I find the comparison scarily appropriate, yet even more frighteningly incomplete. Just like fire requires heat, fuel, and oxygen, all gossip needs is someone sharing a negative story about someone else and the willingness of an audience to hear, spread, and elaborate upon the story for it to start, spread, and do much damage.
Regarding the story, many people might make excuses, saying it’s not bullying or gossip if the story is true. I don’t buy it for a minute. If the point of telling or retelling a story that embarrasses another is mean-spirited fun, it’s sadistic. And if the point is to harm someone personally or professionally, it’s deliberately malicious. 
Regarding the willingness of the audience to hear and spread rumors, very few people are the worst of the worst, willing and deliberate accomplices in personal or professional destruction. Some may have no part in instigating a rumor, but may take delight in being some bearer of late-breaking gossip, no matter what or about whom it actually is. “You’ll never guess what I heard!” Or they feel in some twisted way honored that someone from high up in the social hierarchy imparted this story to them, with or without the added responsibility to pass it on, as if that gives them some greater prestige. “Whozits told me that we all should stay away from Whatshisface because he did such-and-such.” Others, though, are quite simply innocent dupes who believe a rumor and/or that they’re doing people good by passing on “warnings” about the rumor’s subject. They may be genuinely well-meaning people who simply trust the source too much. “Based on what’s being said about this person, it might be in your best interest to keep your distance.”
And here’s where the wildfire analogy breaks down.  Wildfires are dangerous and difficult to contain and suppress. But no fire lines, back burns, or flame retardant can contain an ugly rumor once it’s sparked. No turnouts and emergency shelters can protect someone overrun by gossip. Wildfires even when left alone tend to burn out. Gossip continues when ignored, can dog a person for years, and there are no safe zones. And dealing with gossip can be infinitely more complicated.  While wildfires can be caused by human carelessness, gossip is, contrary to popular misconception, always deliberate.
Asking someone to stop spreading rumors, slander, or libel may sound simple enough, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Some bullies may hide behind a pretext of good intentions, and a great many bullies of the gossip variety also have popularity and the appearance of a sterling reputation behind which they also hide. But behind the fa├žade of trustworthiness and good intentions often lurk evil things from vendettas and rivalries to a simple but no less destructive desire to maintain social status.  
Some may put up a big show of being offended, no matter how polite and diplomatic you may be in addressing the matter.  If there is a vendetta or rivalry at work, they may employ “if you’re not with me, you’re against me. (And if you’re against me, you’re against all the people who matter.)” This can galvanize their sycophants and make a target out of you if you aren’t the target already.
But the old advice to ignore it also doesn’t work, because silence means the gossip goes unquestioned, and unlike wildfires, it can continue for years without burning out.
What’s a kid to do? Heck, what’s an adult to do, particularly when the gossip gets bad enough to threaten not just reputations and friendships, but careers, marriages, what have you? Are there any good solutions that don’t require an attorney?
Yes, there are, but because there's no one-size-fits-all solution and some sites post conflicting advice, I will post in greater detail later about bullying and the different problems victims may encounter along the way. As for gossip, some good general suggestions include the following:
1. Keep the moral high ground and try to keep cool. While some people don't want to be bothered with the facts, reasonable people will see by your actions that the rumors aren't true.
2. Find the source of the rumor and inquire. Sometimes a rumor is triggered by an honest misunderstanding, not that it excuses spreading around the resulting misconceptions. Still, you don't want to proceed to option three with someone who did not start the rumor or insult you deliberately or with malice. You may want to deal with this and option three if it comes to it in private, but if you have any reason to fear for your safety, you may want a witness or two along.
3. If you've found a real, unapologetic rumor-monger, don't just tell them to stop. Tell them specifically what to stop. Document what's said. If the gossip is taking place on line, save the offending posts or messages to...
4. Take the matter to an authority figure. This may be different from one case to another: a teacher, a supervisor, law enforecment if there are anti-bullying laws on the books, or a lawyer.
If you are the recipient of malicious gossip, don't believe it, don't pass it on, and refuse to be roped into it. And if there is any truth to the rumor (because a rumor doesn't have to be false for it to be malicious gossip), that still does not excuse spreading gossip. You may point that out if need be, but be careful. Bullies will go after anyone they consider a threat, after all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comics for Causes: 9-11 Emergency Relief

In a Time editorial from December, 2010, James Poniewozic protested how the tickers cable news programs started running on September 11, 2001 continued ever since. While I agreed with the general sentiment, one quote stuck in my craw. "To remove the ticker, after all, would be to say life had gone back to normal," he wrote, "to reject the national shibboleth that everything had changed."

For a nation that hadn't seen an attack on its soil since the Pearl Harbor bombing, for a generation that witnessed with joy and optimism the end of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, and especially for the thousands of families directly affected, "everything had changed" isn't just some shibboleth, some slogan, some litmus test of political loyalty. For them, there's no normal to go back to. There's only a new normal to which they have to adjust. That everything had changed is a harsh, grim reality.

A day after the death of Osama bin Laden was reported, a reporter asked a New York firefighter if the news brought him closure. He struggled as he said- with a greater show of composure than I felt- that "closure" was a horrible word. I wondered, loudly yelling at the TV, at the sheer insensitivity of asking a man who lost 343 brothers in one day about "closure." This and the relatively quiet, subdued, solemn reaction from other firefighters I've known clued me in to another fact that I've seen the media gloss over. Even as we've adjusted to our new normal, whatever it may be, the memories and feelings of 9-11 are still very raw.

And the response to 9-11 goes on- not just the war in Afghanistan, but the desire to do something positive to help a nation not so much get back to normal as to just simply heal. The 9-11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is one ongoing example. One of the first efforts from the comic book/cartooning industry came from Alternative Comics in early 2002 with over eighty creators on board to benefit the American Red Cross.

9-11 Emergency Relief includes work ranging from some really big, famous shameless-name-drop longtime industry pros (among them Will Eisner and the late, great Harvey Pekar) to no less impressive but lesser known talents of the small press and underground scenes. Their contributions range from reminisces along the line of "I remember exactly where I was when such-and-such happened" and an account of their reactions, to accounts from people who actually were there, to pure visceral outpourings of emotion.

I will get the one minor nitpick out of the way now. I noted that the term "cartoonist" was used to describe comic book artists, without noting the distinction. While some can do both cartooning and comic book art, the two are not interchangeable. Not all cartoonists can cut it as comic book artists, and not all comic book artists can do cartoons. But since I noted the inclusion of both cartoonists and comic book artists in this anthology, I could give the wildly varying styles and quality of art a pass. It's what I would expect when cartoonists and comic book pros get together. Besides, the whole point are the stories. A good enough story is a good story, and good art is icing on the cake. And the stories are so numerous and all so gripping that I really can only cover the highlight.

The one story that consistently stands out every time I read the book is "Treasure" by Gregory Benton, who shares the account of one family trying to help out a neighboring family by babysitting their youngest child. The little boy doesn't yet understand the gravity of the situation or quite why everyone's being so nice to him. He even receives a gift of a decorated cardboard treasure box, which he says proudly he'll show his mother, and brother, and, to quote, "When my Dad gets home, I'm going to show him, too."

His father was a New York firefighter.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I bawl like a baby every time I read that.

Those of you who have read this book, please share what story stood out most to you. Those of you who haven't read it, I highly recommend you do so. You can order it here by clicking the Amazon button, or you can request it through your local comic book retailer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Walking Dead 86: Review and Spoilers

Welcome, friends, for all are friends here until I see any evidence to the contrary. I hope it will be auspicious, if rather cliche, to make the inaugural post of this blog a review of one of my favorite comic books.

What I've liked about The Walking Dead is that there is no pretext of moral superiority in the main characters. Nobody's pushed as a great leader or a terrific role model. The characters make their choices, good or bad, face the fallout, and evolve. Some whom I didn't like at first grew on me. Some that I loved at first have lost standing. (What was Abraham thinking, cheating on Rosita?) And so far, the cliche, gimmicky, shock-value, temporary comic book death hasn't happened in this universe and likely never will. Dead means dead. Permanently. Even if characters come back, it's only as reanimated corpses, most of whom don't last long before taking a bullet through the head.


The cliche comic book coma also has not occurred. In too many cases, writers unsure what to do with a character will injur the character badly enough to keep him or her sidelined until their run is over or they suddenly have a story that requires the character. Then, after months of being nearly completely ignored, they open their eyes to much fanfare, and just like that, they're all better! Yippee! No, TWD is showing much more promise in that area, depicting Carl's condition a bit more realistically. He'll have a tough road ahead assuming he lives, and I'm pretty confident that this will continue to be addressed.

I like the talk Rick had with Andrea, because here it feels like in spite of all Rick has been through, he's finally stepping up to the responsibilities he always had and giving them due priority. Of course it's his job to protect the community. He took an oath to protect and serve. The collapse of civilization as we know it only temporarily diverted him from that mission, and it will be interesting to see how his renewed resolve affects the community- assuming he lives.

Overall, while this may have seemed like a "slow" issue, I found it great reading rich with character development and more logical followup to the events of "No Way Out." I look forward to seeing where TWD will go next.

The fan reaction to Carl getting shot once again made the letters page an irresistible read. The inclusion of so many critical letters and the reason for including them kicked my respect for Robert Kirkman up several notches. Writers benefit from hearing or reading what doesn't work for the readers as well as what specifically does. Sucking up to writers is just as useless as bashing them. On the other hand, and this note is directed particularly to Mr. Kirkman though it applies to other writers, while it's great to keep engaging the readers on the letters page, you don't need to defend your work.

And on that note, I was delighted to flip over and read Man and Elephant Man 1, even if it was for no other reason than that between that and TWD 86, it made for an awful lot of comic book for just $2.99. I liked the premise. I liked the gritty voice of Hip Flask, Information Agent and narrator extraordinaire. I absolutely loved the consistent pulp sci-fi feel. Here's the butt... er... but. I felt the nudity and the generally unrealistic way the female characters behaved detracted from the story. Where I come from, women who stand around in bad weather with bare midriffs get cold, and female office workers generally don't greet men at work by throwing their arms around them no matter how much they like their coworkers. But since the ending revealed a possible explanation for the women's rather ridiculous behavior, I'll consider withholding judgment on the upcoming books- particularly if they give the women sufficient clothing. I've got a daughter, and I can't always stop her from reading over my shoulder.