Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wonder Woman Weekend

I haven't really gotten into many superhero comics yet (the exception to the rule being X-Men, which for some reason I've read a lot of), but I've always felt like I have missed out on a major cultural touchstone by not knowing anything about Wonder Woman. Okay I did have a Wonder Woman bathing suit that I LOVED when I was 5 (I'll have to ask my mom if I can dig up a photo of me in that suit sometime), but other than that... nothing.

Prompted by this weekend's screening of Wonder Women: the Untold Story of American Superheroines (which happens to feature my organization, Reel Grrls) at the Seattle International Film Festival (where it happens to be preceded by my latest short film), I decided it was time to educate myself about the preeminent American female superhero. So I got a collection of Wonder Women comics out of the library and have been having a great time getting educated this week.

preview for the Wonder Women documentary at SIFF this weekend

Origin story time (in case you were as clueless as I was about WW): There is an ancient race of Amazon warriors that now live on Paradise Island. Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, was granted the power by Aphrodite to create a living daughter of Earth, which she did. That daughter, Diana, grew up to be the princess of the Amazons, and eventually left Paradise Island to live among the world of men and be their champion as Wonder Woman.

As origin stories go I find it to be a pretty weird one, but I guess it's not any more strange than many of the others out there. Her Amazonian upbringing does allow her to have all sorts of random powers too: she's super fast and super strong, can fly (or sometimes just ride on the wind currents), has bracelets that deflect bullets and fingernails that can cut through steel, plus she has a silent transparent plane and a magic lasso that can do all sorts of near things. Did I mention she also has the (culturally-coded female) powers of compassion and truth, and is compelled by Amazonian code to never kill a human being if she can help it?

Especially when you consider the era in which she was created, Wonder Woman is a pretty amazing character. If you watched the preview of the documentary embedded above, you can see that her character changed a lot over the years, unfortunately becoming much less radical. But in the early comics featured in my collection, she is constantly saving her boyfriend, Steve Trevor. He keeps asking her to marry him but she keeps saying no because her career (as, y'know, a superhero) comes first. Rad.

I find all the references to Greek mythology in her comics to be pretty awesomely odd too: Wonder Woman is always saying stuff like "suffering Sappho" (as in the top panel below). I've gotta bring that one into my daily conversation. You'll also notice from this page the tendency in these early comics for Wonder Woman to fight villains who are also women, though she can totally beat up men when the occasion calls for it.

Basically, all this is making me want to read a lot more Wonder Women comic books, not to mention that I'm dying to see that documentary! Hope you can come and join me there this weekend:
Sunday May 27 at 4pm at the Egyptian
Monday May 28 at 6pm at the Harvard Exit

Monday, May 21, 2012

A starter list

In the future, I hope to write about new (to me) comics and graphic novels as I go. But since I'm just getting started with this blog, below is a partial list of some of the ones I've read and liked in my last year of exploration (that were not mentioned in my first blog post). Also, be sure to check out a list of 5 more international graphic novels that I got from the library, published over at The Seattle Globalist.

This series was recommended to me by a friend of a friend who I met at last year's GeekGirlCon. She described it as a bit like a soap opera, which it kind of is. The main story revolves around two young women who are best friends and one of them has the hots for the other one. A mysterious, crime-ridden backstory factors in as well. The series is collected into 6 "pocket books" (all available from the Seattle Public Library) and the story goes back and forth a lot. Some of the books are better than others but I found the whole series very satisfying and a ton of fun. I was pretty impressed with (male) author Terry Moore's ability to write interesting and compelling female characters, not to mention draw women with different body types than what we normally see in mainstream media.

I'd been seeing a lot of comics by Los Bros Hernandez around but hadn't read any before I saw this on sale one day at the comic shop. It's a scifi story about a world in which robots struggle for human rights and can be indistinguishable from human beings. It's nice to see latino characters at the helm of the story and have it be NBD. The book is a fun little read but felt kind of unfinished to me, like part of a larger whole that doesn't actually exist. I'm in the middle of another book by Los Bros Hernandez that I'm enjoying a lot and I'll post about in the coming weeks.

A fantasy adventure comic that is funny, gripping and surprisingly deep. There are dragons, princesses, mysteries and a complexly balanced dreamworld. Thanks for the recommendation, Mathew!

A (fictionalized) memoir about a white gay man growing up in the South in the 1960s. Though the book's main characters experience a lot of sadness and hardship, I was absolutely taken with the unique glimpse it offered into gay bars and mixed race parties of the era, and the hope, love and happiness experienced there as well. I was also impressed with the complexity of the characters, especially the mix of shame, confusion and understanding experienced by the narrator.

The story of a cynical, hipsterish Asian-American guy living with his girlfriend in Berkeley. Though the protagonist is vocal in his attempts to be nonpolitical, the story speaks about race and society in some pretty interesting ways.

Taking place in Seattle in the 1970s, this dark story tells the tale of a sexually-transmitted disease that infects teenagers with varied physical mutations. The book does a great job of creating the particular mood and feel of the era, and the isolation and confusion of adolescence.

I haven't yet gotten into the world of Manga comics (though I'm open to suggestions on where to start... hint hint), but I had to check this one out after it was mentioned in a youth-made film (by Reel Grrls students) about queer and transgender identities. The book's main character, Ranma, has an unusual issue: when he is splashed with cold water he turns into a girl, and when splashed again with hot water he turns back into a boy. I've only read the first book in what is a long series, but it's an interesting enough premise that I'm looking forward to continuing.

You've probably heard of this series because of the recent film based on it and starring Michael Cera. The books feature a cast of young Canadian hipster musicians and draws heavily on video games and nostalgia from the 1980s. It's a very light read and I enjoyed it immensely.

A beautiful, simple story of childhood, religion and first love. There was quite a waiting list at the library for this one but it was worth it! Looking forward to author Craig Thompson's latest, Habibi.

That's it for now. More to come!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I loved comics as a kid, but within a very limited scope. My sister and I both collected Archie comics (I still have a couple shelves full in my living room), and I had a subscription to Mad Magazine for many years (before William Gaines died and it started to go downhill). Then of course there were the comic strips I'd eagerly read in the paper each day and later collect in book form, especially Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side.

My love for Archie and Mad came from the large classic collections of both found at my grandparent's place in Quebec, home to our annual family reunion. It was home also to many other beloved comics of my childhood: Tintin and Asterix were the favorites among our entire extended family, regardless of age. The bookshelves also contained other random ancient treasures, mostly collected by my older cousins, like Little Lulu, Sgt. Rock, Tales from the Crypt and a smattering of superhero comics. I ate them all up, and continued to read them each summer at the reunion into my adulthood, but for some reason I never went beyond that narrow sphere... until quite recently.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to have a roommate who worked at a bookstore and had a small library in her bedroom (thanks Polly!). She got me into Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, and also introduced me to Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For. I loved them, but again I didn't push myself to make further inroads into the world of comics. I guess what finally nudged me over the edge was when Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV series I loved and had been sad to see end after 7 seasons, put out season 8 in comic book form. I had to get in on this! After devouring this series, I began to think maybe it was time to reread some other old comic favorites. So last year for my birthday I asked my mom to get me a gift certificate to a comics shop. My plan was merely to start my own complete collection of the Sandman, since I remembered loving it enough that I wanted to own it.

Even though I'm a longtime techy and music geek, as a woman I'd always felt a bit intimidated by comic book shops and the whole comics world culture. In fact, when I went to my local comic store to buy the first few Sandman books it was the first time I'd ever spent any real time in a comic shop. I wandered around, soaking it all in, and picked out a few other things that looked interesting to me. It helped that there was a woman working behind the counter and she offered some advice. I came back a few times, slowly building the whole Sandman collection series, but also slowly expanding my repertoire. I started to grill all my comics-loving friends, and even acquaintances and friends-of-friends, for advice.

Eventually my girlfriend helpfully suggested that I could read a lot more comics if I wasn't trying to buy all of them as I went, so I turned to my local library. I was pleased to learn that the Seattle Public Library has a pretty substantial collection of comic books and graphic novels. I could read as many as I wanted for free, as long as I was willing to hunt them down and wait for holds. This also meant I could become a more conscious comics collector: now I don't own a comic until I decide I really liked it enough to want it in my permanent collection.

Ever since then there has been no turning back. I've got a perpetual waiting list at the library and a permanent stack of comics standing by on my living room shelves. Coming home from a long day at work and sitting on my back porch with a comic book, or relaxing on a weekend morning with a graphic novel in bed, have become some of my very favorite things to do.

I'm still very new to this genre but I'm exploring it voraciously, and I have so many thoughts about all the new comic worlds I'm wandering through that I decided I really needed a place to share them. I hope you'll come back to read about my explorations, leave me lots of comments with new ideas for where to go next, and join me in this grand(ish) experiment.