Ghosts Don’t Touch the Ground

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Gratitude

Things I am grateful for:

1. Freedom of speech. It would be difficult to make awesome things without it. The rest of the Bill of Rights goes here too.

2. Dumbo octopuses

3. Mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. Some fairy tales are more than six thousand years old, and still told today!

4. Brains. It would be hard to live without them.

5. Water. I grew up in a desert. Rivers still blow my mind.

6. That while I may occasionally find lizards on my bed, I will never find a satanic leaf-tailed gecko there unexpectedly. Meeting one while knowing I was going to meet one might be fun, though.

7. Duct tape. I once won brownies in a duct-tape craft contest. Later I made my prom dress from duct tape. Duct tape is good.

8. Vision. My eyes mostly see fuzzy shapes and colors without glasses or contacts, so I am very grateful to live in a time when those are available.

9. Shoes. Especially high tops. And low tops. And combat boots.

10. This photo Juno took of Jupiter’s south pole.

11. Star Wars.

12. Cool apps like Amaziograph, which I used to draw today’s picture.

Things I am not grateful for:

1. Violence.

2. Wasps.

3. People who think yelling at you will make you agree with them.

4. Yelling in general.

5. The fact that Captain America got turned into a Nazi in the comics. Seriously?!

6. Those little prickly seed pods that stick to EVERYTHING.

7. My attention span going AWOL when I’m trying to learn something cool.

8. Lots of other things. I’m trying to shorten this list and lengthen the previous one, though.

Strength and weakness

During Stan Lee’s time writing the Avengers comics, Thor shared a body with a Doctor Donald Blake. Nothing out of the ordinary, in a universe that featured super soldiers, radioactive superpowers, a creepy-eyed guy who showed up to watch big events, and of course magical space Vikings, but looking back over those comics that detail catches my eye. See, without Mjolnir, Thor would revert back to Donald Blake, and so whenever something separated him from his hammer during a fight he panicked. He didn’t want his teammates to find out that, when he wasn’t being Thor, he was a small man who used a cane and looked utterly un-godlike.

Angst like that was common in the Avengers at the time–Iron Man didn’t want the team to find out about his heart condition, for instance. But the characters evolved, and Thor and Donald Blake parted ways, so it wouldn’t be relevant if the hammer and title of Thor were not currently being carried by Jane Foster–as of the last time I caught up with the series, anyway. It’s been a few months.

When Jane holds Mjolnir, as far as anyone cares, she’s Thor. Maybe not the same Thor as the other superheroes have worked with in years past, and definitely not the Thor that Odin wants, but she has the same powers and does the same work to protect people, so there isn’t much to be concerned with. The biggest difference seems to be that Iron Man tried to flirt with her. She’s physically imposing, wears almost practical armor, and looks really really cool, like every good superhero-deity should.

Separate her from the hammer, though, and not only is dear Jane a small, frail, human, she is also dying of cancer. And the transformation between Thor and her own body is just making her more sick.

I have mixed feelings about the incorporation of cancer into Jane’s story. On the one hand, cancer is real and it’s not going away soon, and reflecting that in the stories we tell is only reasonable. Stories may contain fantastic, unbelievable elements, especially superhero stories, but they also have aspects of the things their storytellers see in real life.

On the other hand, cancer is real and it keeps interfering in far too many of the lives of people I care about, and I’d like it to stay out of my fiction if possible. Along with tarantula hawks, most forms of paperwork, and broken guitar strings. But if this were a dissertation on the representation of cancer in fiction, I wouldn’t be starting with the Thor comics.

Despite my misgivings, showing the dual nature of Jane’s strengths and weaknesses in such an overt way in these comics is effective in raising the questions it’s meant to, I think. What are your strengths? It asks readers. How do your strengths make the impact of your weaknesses more dangerous, in a twist of cruel irony? In the case of Jane Foster, the questions refer to literal strength, but it can also be applied to other types of strength–strength of courage or or endurance or integrity or character as a whole, and weakness of the same.

Tony Stark’s strength and weakness stem from the same place: he is highly intelligent, and unfortunately, he knows it. Percy Jackson’s strength is his loyalty to his loved ones, but it also puts him in danger all the time. Luke Skywalker’s strength is in his love, but his love for and faith in his father nearly gets him killed. Actually, I think he inherited that strength-weakness from Anakin to begin with.

But the weaknesses can come from a place completely different from the strengths. Kaladin Stormblessed’s strength is in his magic and his protective nature, but the betrayals and failures of his past threaten to take away both. Frodo’s strength is his endurance, which is tested and broken by the One Ring.

Of course, most characters and all people have more than one strength or weakness. Reading stories like these Thor comics encourage me to try to identify all, which is looking to be a lifetime’s work. Hopefully, it will be worthwhile.

More Dreamwatchers

A couple weeks ago I announced my upcoming webcomic. It’s still happening.

Today I’d like to tell you about another of the characters. Those who spend time with her call her Jazzy.

Jazzy is one of the youngest of the dreams, only a few days old when we meet her. A little girl wanted to be a ballerina for about a week, and she was the result.

Jazzy is particularly  interesting to write because she is nonverbal. Classic ballerinas don’t talk on stage, after all, and she came from a dream about being on stage. Instead, Jazzy creates images in an effort to express what she is trying to say. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it does not.

Announcing Dreamwatchers

I’ve mentioned projects I’ve been working on the past few months, and today I’d like to announce  one of them coming soon to an Internet near you: a new webcomic called Dreamwatchers.

It’s taking longer to put together than I’d planned, because life does that, but it’s finally at a place where I feel like I can tell you all about it, though it won’t be ready to hit the web till late October or thereabouts.

In Dreamwatchers, dreams are places that minds build and spirits visit, but they are also places where people live. Using a somewhat loose definition of ‘people’ and ‘live,’ that is. They’re the superheroes and imaginary friends born from childrens’ dreamscapes, monsters from nightmares, and mythical figures who all, for one reason or another, lasted longer than one night’s dreaming before fading away.

The character in the above picture is one of the oldest of those people, head of the Council of Deaths. Currently, she goes by the name Morgue. She used to be the Morrigu. She and her council play an important role in keeping the darker side of the balance of dreams. They butt heads with the Dreamwatchers, who keep the lighter side of the balance, quite frequently.

Morgue is technically an antagonist, but she’s one of my favorite characters anyway, and not just because I want her t-shirt. She knows exactly how scary and unpopular she is, and  doesn’t let it get to her or stop her from doing her job. Someone has to do it, after all. When she’s off the clock, she’s actually pretty nice. Not that she’ll admit it.

Dreamwatchers is something I’ve been thinking about and developing for a long time. I’m excited to share it with you all.

Quit Poppin’ Mah Balloons!

I’ve never understood the need to tell people that a thing which is giving them joy isn’t as awesome as they think it is.  We’ve seen it most recently with Pokemon Go, but it happens all the time, with phone brands, foods, movies, everything.  The only time it doesn’t seem to end in words like “childish” and other argument starters is when it’s a type of food.  It’s a good thing when other people like different candies than you.  Then they won’t try to steal yours.

Now that’s a bit childish.

That behavior of judging people for liking something different actually impeded my relationship to comic books for years.

As a middle schooler, I could read at a college level, so I was always getting encouraged to read more and more advanced things.  I got a lecture from my teacher for rereading the last Harry Potter book one too many times (which confused me.  My mom read it seven times before I was allowed to touch it.).  The teacher ended up chasing me into the library, where I found the Lord of the Rings and all sorts of other wonderful stories, but neither she nor anyone else nudged me towards comics.  At some point I picked up on the stereotype that smart kids didn’t read comics.  Which didn’t match my love of superhero movies at all, but I didn’t notice the dissonance.

The first graphic novel I’d ever read, aged ten, was called Abadazad.  I didn’t even realize it was a comic until I started flipping through it again as an adult.  In my memory, my imagination and the pictures on the page blended together seamlessly.

The first graphic novel I read when I actually knew what it was was the second volume of The Ultimates.  I snuck into the high school library’s graphic novel section and grabbed the first thing with Captain America on the cover before any of my schoolmates could notice.  I half expected the librarian to question my reading choices when I checked it out.  She didn’t.

Now there’s a small but proud pile of comic books on the table in my family’s living room.  I keep meaning to pack them up for going back to uni but I also keep wanting to reread them.  The other day I really confused the other adults at the library when I laughed out loud at a manga I was reading.

And I understand it when people dislike comics even less than I did when I could barely ken what a comic was, because they’ve been good for me.  Given me a common interest with people so I could socialize better.  Helped me smile more when mental illness kept stepping on my tail.

Stories in general are powerful things.  They teach the values of a society.  They help people see life from another’s eyes.  They give hope.  They help outcasts realize they aren’t alone.  But there’s something about stories told through comics that I find extra special.  Part of that is simply because I’m a visual thinker, but not all.

Comics put writing and art together to tell a single story.  You wouldn’t think that would work so well, since the part of your brain that makes you understand what you’re reading and the part of your brain that figures out what pictures are saying don’t always work together very well.  Somehow, though, comics make it work.  Pictures are worth at least a thousand words, after all, and they’re saying things that people want and need to hear.

Take Bucky Barnes of Marvel.  I’ve always empathized with him because of the way circumstances in his life turned him into something he never wanted to be, but he kept going.  I could write entire essays about him–his regrets, the way he doesn’t think of himself as a good man even though he’s always trying to do good, the way he’s made the title of the Winter Soldier his own despite his never choosing it–but it would be simpler for you to read the last page of the recent Thunderbolts, issue 3.  That captures the best things about this character pretty quickly.

Or there’s the comic they finished last year, Loki: Agent of Asgard, which I keep rereading.  Concept:  Most of the universe, including his future self, is shoving Loki into a big black box marked “villain.”  Loki doesn’t want to go into the box.

That’s a story about redemption, and choices, and finding a path other than the one fate writes for you, and it’s incredibly relevant to anyone who is trying to “grow up” without knowing exactly how to do so.  There’s a conversation between Odin and Loki, in the space that is not a space, that gives me chills.

“Did I not say?  I know you.  I know everything you are.  And I love you still.”

It’s things like that that keep sending me back to the comic book store, and keep me working on making comics of my own.  So, please, world, and my subconcious, quit popping my balloons, and let me enjoy my superhero comics in peace.  Better yet, join me in speculating on whether Ms. Marvel and Spider-Gwen will ever get to team up.