For a while, I was posting reviews of everything I’d read, one by one, but has become somewhat burdensome. Still, I figure a small summary might be justifiable, so, here’s a breakdown on some recent readings:
Note: This is a post from late December. I was too busy to finish writing it, so I’m posting it a bit late.
Those following my SF in South Korea series have no doubt been wondering why I haven’t posted anything new in a long time. The fact is, not much has happened as far as I’ve heard about. I do have some reviews of older SF movies that Miss Jiwaku and I have dug into–specifically, Half-Moon Mask (Mask Bandal) and Wooraemae–but I’d rather talk about those once I’ve seen the whole series, and in both cases, that’s a lot of DVDs to get through.
However, I can say that I did attend at least one event that was (loosely) related to Korean SF: Seoul Comic World. I attended on the second day (30 December 2012) It’s a bimonthly comics festival held in Seoul (I believe there’s a Busan festival as well) made up basically of two types of participants: vendors, and cosplayers. The event I attended was, apparently, Seoul’s 114th Comic World convention. (The main page for the site is here, though, in case any reader wants to attend the next one.)
I was able to meet up with Ryan Estrada, a Busanite who was up for the weekend–we met when he responded to our call over at Brutal Rice Productions for extras for our shoot of Daerijeon back in early December–as well as another cartoonist from Ulsan, who was selling his comics in the booth next to Ryan’s. I bought some comics from them, too, which I’ve since had to pass on to some expat friends, as I slimmed down my library to leave it in storage with friends.
Now, I didn’t get any pictures. I actually arrived late in the afternoon of the second day, and a few places had already shut down by that point: there was some cosplay event still running, and lots of cosplayers around, but nothing was so impressive or striking that I felt moved to snap a shot. The Featured Image from this post, in fact, is taken from one of the galleries at the convention’s website, though I’m pretty sure that woman in the picture was someone I saw walking around the space. Maybe all the super-serious cosplayers left early, but compared to what I’ve seen at WorldCon, and on a Sunday afternoon at Yogyogi Koen (I think it was called) in Tokyo, the cosplay I saw at Seoul Comic World seemed a little unimpressive. There were a few costumes that did catch my attention, but also a lot of very, um, “ghetto” outfits.
That’s not a rip on Korean cosplayers; it may be a sign that cosplay is just less developed here than in some other places and subcultures, or it may be that I had unrealistic expectations, or maybe it’s just that the crowd who’d stayed later on in the day were younger and doing this stuff on a teenager’s budget.
But it’s also probably a factor of how much competition there is (or isn’t): if one thinks of cosplay as a creative endeavour (which it realistically surely can be) then what potential cosplayers would need is a supportive ecology. For whatever reason, that seems to exist in some places much more than in Korea. (Theorists like Leo Sang-Min Whang tried to explain this phenomenon a decade ago in terms of social function, and postulated that Koreans cosplay less than Japanese do for several reasons, but perhaps especially because they MMORPG more. Whether that’s still true, or ever was, I don’t know, but it does at least support the fact of the marginality of cosplay in Korea, though it may be growing less marginal here now.)
Unsurprisingly, most of the cosplay I’ve seen in Korea prior to the Seoul Comics World was promotional stuff for games, that is, with people seemingly being paid to stand in malls and do it to promote new online games. (But Kotaku also reminds us that this isn’t all there is in Korea. Heck, here’s Korea’s most famous cosplay team, Spiralcats–nobody can say they look amateurish. But how many such teams are there in Korea?)
As for the comics, it was a bit like visiting an alien world. I saw some things for sale that I understood: graphic novels, small indie comics, buttons and stickers. If I was able to read Korean better and faster, I probably would have picked up more, but I stuck with what I could read, basically, as well as picking up a comic of Ryan’s. I’d say the quality of what I saw was pretty good, though I’m not well-versed enough to know how much of what I saw was original, or rather, how much was derivative (ie. remixes of commercial lines).
But in a way it was like visiting an alien (pop) culture: I also saw a lot of things which I cannot explain, and did not understand at all. Things like laminated images of characters, hole-punched; things like what looked like playing cards, except the cards displayed the likeness of famous Japanese manga characters. (None of the expats I asked about it there seemed to have a better sense of what those were for, though one friend I talked to later suggested they probably got laminated and used as little attachments for cell phones and the like.)
Ryan confirmed that a lot of the vendors were selling fan-art, but that he’d seen more original artwork than usual. Fan-art seemed to dominate, though, from the booths I managed to glimpse before everything was torn down. In any case, if you’re in Seoul during one of these regular comic expos, it’s worth a look just for the novelty factor alone… but make sure you show up early if you go on the last day, because shutdown begins sooner than you might think!
Yes, the comics artist (and occasional commenter here) William George briefly interviewed me for his blog, on writing, SF, and ideas. Check out the interview over at Dimes for Nickels! (And while you’re there, check out Yes You Can! (which starts here), his bizarre, fun fantasy webcomic featuring a mage-girl named Black Berry (duh!) Cherry Berry.
(Though I love the name Black Berry…)
Jewish Geeks, Italian Gangsters, Porn, Businessmen, Comics, Superheroes, Artists, Ghost-Artists, Wives and Girlfriends… and Superman. That, in a nutshell, is what this book deals with.
But then, in a nutshell, humans are water, some meat, a little electricity, and dreams. That isn’t the story, and what the story of this book is, is the story of geek culture — its genesis, its struggle to survive, and its eventual triumph.
Even if, like me, you’re more familiar with comic book characters through their cinematic adaptations, this book is worth a look. While I’m not a Superman fan, I was not bothered that the main thread of the narrative of this (nonfiction) book follows the lives of the creators of that character, as well as Superman himself; along the way, there are many amazing sights.
I particularly recommend this book to any SF fans who want a better sense of the publishing environment in which the pulps existed: the magazines, the coy (and then not-so-coy) porn, the brutality and viciousness of some of the pre-code comics, and the social environment. Jones spends a few pages on the roots of SF fandom, and on fanzines, situated in the particular culture of America, of New York, of Jewish immigrant teenagers.
As Hank Luttrell points out in his review of the book, Jones does minimize the humor comics, the funny animal comics, and everything else except the superhero comics… but then, he also notes that Jones has good reason for doing so. Superheroes aren’t just the main survivors from the comics era: they’re also in current vogue, and are a fascinating type of fantastical construction, one I think is particularly American in nature. And then there’s the fact that superheroes and the comics fandom subculture have, well… arrived is an understatement.
So is the observation that the same criticisms people were offering about comics way back, people are still saying about comics-inspired films today. Kick-Ass, anyone? My series of responses to the criticisms could easily be leveled at the similar criticisms that led to the establishment of the comics code, I’d say. I think Luttrell’s comments are a little more pertinent, for example the focus on men, but then, it seems to me that the comic book world, in its early years, was dominated by men. I’m curious about the role of women creators and artists, but I get the sense — not just from Jones — that it was a small, marginal group. That’s what makes it interesting, but I can’t blame Jones for focusing on the high-profile men who dominated the industry at the start of things, just as I can’t fault him for focusing on superheroes, given the above.
In any case, the book now has me once again eager to dive back into Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, though I have a few (er, bunch?) other books I’m supposed to read first.
But I have a book review to write, first, for a newspaper…
This is a follow-up to a series I started last week, which begins here but is not for the faint of heart. This post as well is not for the faint of heart. The series, if you’re interested, began here.
Okay, I know it’s an old headline, but how does it happen that a Catholic Cardinal and the Mormon church agree on something… especially on this?
Okay, so, as a non-American… how does gay marriage threaten religious freedom in America?
Seriously. Set the histrionics aside, the screaming and shouting and wild eyes, and explain it. Because, frankly, unless “religious freedom” means “forcing everyone to follow [your] religion,” it doesn’t.
Is religious freedom equivalent to having everyone’s religious beliefs legislated? No, obviously not, because religious values conflict even within, say, the Church of Mormon. (One example of many.)
Is religious freedom equivalent to having the majority’s religious beliefs legislated? No, obviously not, or Mormons wouldn’t be fighting for it — they’re not the majority.
So what is religious freedom equivalent to? As far as I can tell, it’s equivalent to a secular unfreedom. It’s a misnomer, but not an accidental one. Religious conservatives have cynically taken the word “freedom” and glued it onto something else — onto the claim they feel that they have on how others live.
Which raises another question: is there an American comic book about a gay superhero, who goes about fighting for his people’s rights? You know: hunting down and defenestrating politicians (real or imaginary) and religious figures (imaginary or, preferably, real) who spread hate about homosexuals, catching groups of gay-bashers and stringing them up by their necks, that kind of thing?
If there isn’t, why isn’t there?
I was thinking about this when I got told a story recently. I could tell the whole thing, but basically, it was that a woman was attached by some and guys fended them off, but also held onto one of them when the others fled. She held on long enough for neighbors to identify him, and it turned out he was the local Chinese food delivery kid. (Big surprise. Not.) Apparently, the woman’s brother and father (with whom she lived) went out one night and paid the little shit back for the trauma he caused. I can only hope he is unable to walk again. I can only hope that he walks in fear every night, just like this young woman almost certainly does when she is alone.
I have to ask: where is the female superhero who acts as an the avenger for women like this, who goes around catching those pricks and stringing them up, when the law won’t do it? Where’s the comic about the team of women who castrate violent men who are “drunk” and can’t stop themselves from assaulting children? Where’s the analogue to Wonder Woman who goes about stopping those boy/girl fights we’ve all seen on the sidewalk (I see them with depressing frequency in Korea, anyway) and punches the boyfriend into oblivion, and then takes the girl to a psychiatrist for evaluation when she defends him against the superhero? Not, I should clarify, not necessarily because anyone sane on the left thinks that women ought to be forced to get psychiatric care when they stay with abusive men, or that rapists ought to be castrated or any of that, but because it introduces into the mainstream discourse a critique of The Way Things Are.
Certainly, Superman started out as something vaguely like this: he was a guy who went out and fought to defend orphans, tenement dwellers, and exploited workers, in the beginning. He didn’t become a nationalist figure, or rather, a metaphor for American military power and the defense of Pax Americana until later: at first, he was about the closest thing one could have to moderate American socialism not just embodied but also given big fists and big muscles and the power to crunch the rich and powerful if need be…
In short, Superman grabbed The Way Things Are by the lapels and held it out a window saying, “Really? Really, are you sure you wanna Be That Way?” He did it on a regular basis and he did it in front of teenagers, and some of those teenagers followed his example. Some of those teenagers marched in protests, rode in freedom rides. Some of those teenagers worked for social justice. And few could really continue to ignore the problems that Superman confronted — though, yes, he failed to confront them all. Superman didn’t beat up Jim Crow Law-enforcing sherriffs. (As far as I know.) He didn’t catch up a pack of KKK members and drop them in the ocean. But I think to some degree the kids reading about his adventures got the point.
There was a social ethics to early Superman which I’m not sure we see in the contemporary translation of comic book characters to film. Mainstream fictional superheroes are no longer kicking in doors, punching out slumlords, cracking down on crooked businessmen, or holding corrupt politicians out windows by their toes, not anymore. The superheroes I’ve seen lately have seemed more caught up in self-reflexive doubt about the vigilante enterprise which the superhero trope has become, or in defending the status quo, as cruddy as might be.
Even Kick-Ass, which I really enjoyed, had the heroes stopping petty criminals (okay), drug dealers (sigh), and crimelords (whom everyone hates except those who aspire to crimelordery, I suppose, or who kiss the asses of crimelords).
Of course, if we look to Hollywood, we’ll probably never see this kind of superhero. But I am wondering how many alternative comics tell this kind of story: a story that is explicitly political, that breathes life into the politics of the left. It seems it would be a useful response to the kind of apathy that the mainstream seems to have been jaundiced by, to the point where apathy is presented as some sort of political position. There might be tons, there might be none. I don’t know anything about it.