BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

It’s been a long time since I did a Princess of The Week; a series where I look beyond Snow White and Beauty, to the Awesome heroines who are just as strong and adventurous as their male counterparts Last time, we looked at a dragonslayer and a woman who used her wits to become the Sultan.

This week- as part of the prompt of the day challenge (inspired by the theme of magic)- we’re going to look at The Crystal Ship, a story where a young girl travels to the ends of the kingdom to rescue her Prince.
Continue reading BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

GIRLS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS: 12 AWESOME TITLES THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ

Superhero movies are taking over our both the big screen and small and after seeing The Avengers, Jessica Jones, the new X-Men franchise and Deadpool to name a few, you kind of want to check out the comics and graphic novels they were based off of.

However, entering the world of comics for the first time can be a weird, convoluted and sexist and bizarre place. Even with the New 52 reboot, some stories still become a convoluted mess with endless tie ins, seeing your favourite heroines from the tv shows turned into badly written fap material (poor Starfire), and we have cases such as Frank Cho throwing a hissy fit because Greg Rucka (an amazing writer) told him to alter his cover design to make it less sexualised. However, the comic book industry has gotten a lot better, and there are a lot of really great comics and graphic novels out there which treat women with respect and are accessible to new readers.

12. OLYMPIANS- by George O’Connor

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If you’re interested in Greek Myth than this is a great start. It’s fun, clever and provides a very faithful and thoughtful look into the original mythology of the Olympians. This is the series that transforms both Hera and Aphrodite into interesting, nuanced characters instead of the two dimensional hateful bitches they’re normally portrayed as. My reviews of his take on Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades, Demeter and Persephone can be found by following the links.

11. Batwoman Elegy

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Isn’t it ironic that a character created to be Batman’s beard became one of comic’s most prominent lesbians? Yeah, Kathy Kane was a silver age creation when distaff counterparts were all the rage, and Kathy Kane along with Bat-girl – no, not that Batgirl, we’ll get to her later- her whole schtick was that she was obsessively in love with Batman. It is believed in order to disprove rumors that he’s gay with Robin. And FYI, her edition makes things so much gloriously worse- just look how miserable Batman is at the prospect of kissing an actual female!

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I love you Silver Age, you never fail to make me laugh

She eventually got retconned out of existence for being ‘too silly’ (presumably along with alien killer cactuses, Rainbow Batman and Batbaby- yes, Batman got turned into a four year old and attacked people on a rocking horse. That happened). However, she was brought back and reimagined as a proud lesbian for the New 52. In this version, she was kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and wandered around aimlessly, becoming a party girl to forget her problems. She eventually decided to sort her life out and serve her country by taking up the cowl. Colonel Kane her father supported her in her goal and got her years of specialised training with the best of the best, and turned her into a force to be reckoned with.

Greg Rucka is amazing at writing women, and J.H. William’s artwork is divine. Because the whole point of the New 52 was to reboot the comic cannon and make it accessible to new readers (whether it worked or fell flat on its stupid face is debatable), there’s no long backstory you need to know to understand it. Batwoman was my first ever comic book. The reason it’s not ranked higher is because- well, after the opening, the comic does go to really weird places, including having her fight this banshee creature and being assisted by a B-movie werewolf. It’s story telling often becomes shakey, but Batwoman herself is a great character.

10. Batgirl and Robin Year One

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Barbara Gordon is the iconic Batgirl and yet it’s quite difficult to find any comics centring around her pre- New 52 reboot. Here is a chance to read a modernization of the character’s routes before it all got messed up with The Killing Joke. In this, Barbara Gordon is a young woman living in a sexist time who wants to join the police force but is barred due to discrimination thanks to her gender and height. Defying everyone’s expectations of her, she takes up the cowl. Even Batman and Robin underestimate her at first, but she proves herself a valuable asset and her training begins.

Because the whole point of this is an origin story, there’s no need to have any prior knowledge of the Batman universe to understand that. Plus, it also stars a young Dick Grayson, and we all know that he’s always very popular with the ladies.

9. V for Vendetta

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No doubt you’ve seen the movie and know how strong Evey is. Well, the graphic novel is just as good as the film, if not better, and is thought provoking and worth checking out. Alan Moore has a very- spotty- record with female writing, what with humiliating and putting Babsy in a wheelchair and having his female characters constantly threatened with sexual assault (not to mention often pairing them with much older men), and both are true here, but here Evey goes through one of the most compelling character arcs in all of comic books, changing from a frightened victim to revolutionary who carries on what V began.

8. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

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This is definitely one for younger audiences, but it’s fun and there’s definately something for older audiences. Lunella is very rare in that she’s a POC heading her own comic book, and she’s a black girl genius. Moreover, she’s a great character and her struggle with being gifted and the iscolation it brings is really engaging. For more of a discussion of it, I’ve reviewed the first issue here.

7. Lumberjanes

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I heard a lot about Lumberjanes- that it has the great art from the artist who wrote for Adventure Time. Because of the title and the fact it was essentially about a group of girl scouts, I was skeptical. Whenever we read about stories trying to change the way women are portrayed, they inevitably seem to be slice of slice focusing on smaller issues about firendship, coming of age, when sod it- I just want heroines beating the crap out of people and saving the world!

But in spite of that, I was pleasantly surprised. This is that this is a good old school fantasy adventure. It’s fast paced, with a mystery to solve and a whole array of magical creatures they have to defeat. It’s a bit sweet and for a younger audience, sure, but it’s still incredibly fun.

6. SAGA- Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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This is definately one of the most engaging series I’ve ever read and actually had me screaming ‘NOO!!’ Every time a chapter ended and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it hadn’t. This award winning series is a Romeo and Juliet in space about a couple from two sides of a conflict who have a baby and are on the run from both sides. It’s from the man who wrote Y: The Last Man, and has a plethora of well written females.  Not only that, but it’s bad shit insane and manages to switch between being dark and funny

Even though it’s about a horned man, a winged lady and involves humanoid robots with tv heads which breed like normal humans, it also has one of the most realistic romances I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t start with the meet cute, but after they’ve had a kid, and they bicker and compromise like real couples.

Again, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of race, with the female lead and Gwendolyn both being women of colour.

 

5.Batgirl- Silent Knight (Cass Cain run)

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The erasure of Cassy Cain’s run as Bat Girl is one of the casualties of the New 52 reboot, but her series is pretty cool. Not only is she a young Asian superheroine who’s non sexualised, but she’s a complete badass who’s proficient in martial arts and an unstoppable fighting machine.

She was raised to be a warrior, but never taught to be a woman. In place of language she got taught to read ‘body language’- people’s movements in combat, and as such can’t speak. Jurie’s out whether this is the coolest or the dumbest idea ever.

4. MONSTRESS- MARJORIE LIU

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3.Rat Queens

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This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve come across. I’ve reviewed it here, but essentially it involves a group of cool female friends who’s friendship feels authentic . I love the snarky humour and it’s utterly bombastic, plus the fight sequences are AMAZING.

Not only that, put it has a pretty diverse range of characters, with a lesbian in the main cast, multiple people of colour and one of the rare trans women action leads whom is looking likely to become more prominent. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to read out a badass transgender Orc woman who can annihilate everything in her path.

2. The Batgirl Of Burnside

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I could have put Gail Simone’s run here- and that is definately worth reading- but it was diminished by production issues, its continuous insistence of bringing the Joker in for angst but never allowing Barbara to defeat him, and tie ins to the Death In The Family event which made this series incoherent.

The Batgirl Of Burnside, however, is a great series that is everything New 52 should have been: it really gives her an identity that’s far more than ‘Batman/ Robin’s distaff knock off’, a distinctive world, a great cast of characters and its great solid fun.

The art is gorgeous, and Barbara’s a non sexualised, highly realistic young woman who lives a normal daily life which involves worrying about her Grad project, going on dates, using social media and hanging out with friends. Also, this series has the first trans same sex wedding in comics, which is a nice bonus.

With ‘Batgirl and The Birds Of Prey’ becoming a series, maybe Batgirl will become a spin off more akin to Angel, Xena and The Bionic Woman, a force in her own right and more than just Batman’s distaff. For a more detailed review, please click here.

1.Ms Marvel

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Carol Danvers (the original Ms Marvel, who’s now become Captain Marvel) is another great choice, but I had to go with the Kamala Khan version. I was torn between putting her and Batgirl at number one, but as much as I love Babsy, she is still a distaff counterpart, and I think Kamala might be a slightly better character- I like her doofiness, how much of a geek she is and how she struggles with her relationships with her parents.

Everything about this is great. I love how Kamala started off as a geek idolising the Avengers. The way her Muslim heritage is brought into it is done in a very nuanced, fun and interesting way- showing that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and it deals with Kamala’s frustrations with the restrictions placed on her compared with her peers.

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT/ HONORABLE MENTIONS

Spider Gwen is an alternate version of Spiderman where Gwen was bitten instead of Peter Parker- which involves our heroine . Greg Rucka is always great at writing women, and his run on Wonder Woman Rebirth should be promising. Nightwing is a male lead series which has a female audience in mind, as he is a strong, smart more vulnerable young man who is striking out on his own after being in Batman’s shadow, and is the hottest guy in comics; Deadpool isn’t great on women, but his series is every bit as hilarious as the movie and no Marvel knowledge is required. Plus, he became a pirate once for the hell of it- and yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. Persepolis and Bitch Planet are known to be great as well, and as they are their own self contained stories, no prior knowledge is needed (although in the case of Bitch Planet, I personally prefer my feminism more incidental to the story, and build into the world and character writing, rather than being the whole point of the story). Plus, Riri Williams, a genius black girl with become Ironheart in the new Iron man series.

SUCH A STEREOTYPE! HOW TO WRITE MINORITIES WELL AND CAN STEREOTYPICAL CHARACTERS EVER BE WRITTEN WELL

”Oh, so just because she’s a woman she must be into shoes!”Of course the Chinese guy knows martial arts- and for Gods sake Samurai swords are Japanese!’ You’ve all heard people rage against a character on the internet.

For the millionth time, we get another fashion obsessed GBF who talks about sex, never has any, and gets to be the butt of hilarious gay jokes; another lesbian who either dies because she’s expendable and can’t be used as a sassy accessory like the gay men; secretaries and women relegated to support roles and black women who are either entertaining and sassy or high court judges who never get any real characterization or role in the plot. Asian martial artists. Latina maids. The super crip. Russian spies.

But the question is, is writing a stereotypical character always a bad thing? Because, here’s the thing- most stereotypes aren’t randomly pulled from the ether. A hell of a lot of women AREN’T able to become high powered lawyers or mechanics (the same way most white men aren’t) , and they ARE nurses and secretaries. While we rail against the effeminate gay male stereotype (the Kurt Hummels, the Hollywood Montroses), they do exist- although they are definately a minority amongst gay men and with each passing year that breed of gay men are becoming rarer and rarer. A lot of black people DO like Hip Hop and R n Band listen to Bob Marley.

And railing too hard against the stereotype can be a problem, because we can reach the other extreme; we can reach the idea that a female character can’t be strong unless she’s angry, unemotional and hates fashion and girly things (but she still has to be young and hot- a woman is still worth as much as her attractiveness to men); butch lesbians are terrible, a black woman can’t be a worthwhile character unless she’s a lawyer, an honour student, a doctor or a good role ( a standard which isn’t applied to white characters, who can be everymen)   . And I think we can all see why deeming these real life people as inferior is a problem.

1) DON’T! Do you REALLY need to write a stereotype?

In spite of the premise of this article, my first piece of advice would be not to write a character filling that stereotype. First off, that character type is pretty much catered for. We’ve seen enough gay hairdressers, Asian martial artists, promiscuous bisexuals, Latino/a sex machines, so you really don’t need to fill that void. However, the asian basketball fans (an old roommate of mine), black scientists, lesbian who actually survives and isn’t obsessed with babies categories are extremely underrepresented.

Second off, writing a minority group which you are not a part of (or the opposite gender) is extremely challenging at the best of times; but writing about one whose experience is completely alien to you, and of whom every single portrayal is steeped in stereotypes and misunderstanding that you don’t know which ones are true, and which ones are false caricatures? That’s a tricky, tricky task- and one that even writers with the best of intentions get wrong.

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Barrett bless him. You can’t help but love him, but by God whoever wrote him has never met a black person

Write a character you can relate to. For instance, a lot of people are terrified of not giving a woman enough feminine characteristics in fear of being criticized for writing a ‘man with boobs.’ Trust me, as a woman I’d rather watch a strong active heroine who is  ‘a man with boobs’ than a woman who’s defined by being someone’s love interest/ mother or given a forced girly hobby because ‘chicks dig that, amirite?’

As for the stereotypical ones? I’d say leave writing them to the butch lesbians, girly girls, flamboyant gay men to write (or at least, the people who know a lot about that community).They’re the ones who can write them with the nuance they deserve, because they understand that stereotype. For example Ryan Murphy from Glee managed to turn Kurt Hummel into a great and complex character… even though I think he dropped the ball a little in The New Normal. Ai Yazawa wrote NANA, who’s main character is an air headed, boy crazy girly girl who’s impulsive, makes terrible life choices…yet it was framed in such a way that she was used to show the challenges of a young woman in Japan.

2) CHALLENGE your internalised prejudices. And RESEARCH

Look, in spite of what people tell you, no, just because you have gay/ black/ trans friends does NOT mean you don’t have a touch of homophobia, racism, sexist etc. It’s a ludicrous argument and by that stroke, Bluebeard could argue ‘I’m not a mysogynist: all my wives are women… well, were- before I killed them! Now they’re dead- but they were alive!’

Just because you agree with interaccial marriage and don’t attend KKK rallies doesn’t mean you’re not prejudiced; you’ve just cleared the world’s lowest bar, and there’s plenty of prejudiced behavior in between being Jesus and committing a hate crime. And, when you start writing, often those prejudices that you don’t normally betray in every day life become magnified

You can counteract this by RESEARCH. Believe it or not POC, LGBT people are REALLY keen on telling you want, and writing about their experiences. Read stories from their POV, about what it was like being a say, latina maid, or an effeminate gay man who grew up having an interest in clothes and make up since he was a young boy.

2) Avoid language that’s locked, loaded and coded

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This is a big problem and primarily applies to effeminate gay men. I’ve read of gay men described constantly as ‘sashaying’, ‘mincing’ ; take for example, Lord Akeldama from The Parosel Protectorate, the Patron Saint of terrible cliched gay writing:

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.”

Oh God. How does one even mince into the room? Is he waving around his limp wrists and voguing to an invisible camera.

You see, when you start using these buzz words, you are not writing a fully fleshed person based on reality. You are drawing on cultural stereotypes as a short cut to portray a certain idea of  that type of person. It also singles out their ‘otherness’; why can’t an effeminate gay man just ‘walk’ or ‘stroll’ into a room like every other character? Why does he need a special gay walk because he’s different?  Please, don’t use coded language and let

3) Do NOT make their otherness their sole personality trait. And do NOT bring it up constantly

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Fangs for the fantasy wrote an excellent example on the Lesbian Shark. Sometimes writers are so enamored/ obsessed with the characters otherness that they think its interesting in and of its self that they have to bring it up constantly. If your whole character can be summed up as ‘gay’ or ‘female’ or ‘sassy black friend’ then you have a problem (and no, the fact they have a couple of token interests you cling to like Shakespearean plays does NOT stop them from falling into this trope).

The worst example is Sir Loras in the TVs version of GoT. Oh God.Every time he’s mentioned, it’s always to bring up a HILARIOUS gay joke, or about his gayness, or to show him persecuted because he’s gay and so he HAS to be persecuted or forced into an arranged marriage (not in the book) or some other stereotype relating that, or to show him banging a guy to please viewers. This isn’t inclusion, this is a hollow shell.

4) Do NOT make their otherness their sole ark

This is not inherently a bad thing, because marginalization really, really does have a massive impact on people’s daily lives. Especially in historical times, when women were property, black people were second class citizens or slaves, gay people could be murdered for who they love (which still hasn’t changed), being disabled made you less than, and being trans was an impossibility. These issues should be dealt with and it would

But it gets frustrating when everyone else gets to deal with a multitude of interesting ‘neutral’ issues, like saving the world, or dealing with PTSD, or their commitment issues, what it means to be strong, a hero etc while minorities get to deal with minority problems. The first woman pilot/ mechanic etc. Racism at work. The coming out story. We are more than just our race/ gender/ sexuality etc, and we deal with other problems too.

The one thing that’s even worse is when their minority

A great example is Tyrion. Tyrion is a dwarf and constantly has to deal with a barrage of prejudice from his father and everyone around him. But that’s only part of his story: first and foremost he’s a pragmatic, cunning, witty noble with a penchant for wine and women, who is scheming enough to be a politician in Westeros, but lacks the cruelty of other characters. We see him leading battles, dealing with his tyrannous nephew, get arrested for murder and end up on the run. This is how you write a minority character and treat their prejudice.

A bad ex

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5) Do not reduce them to a side kick, supporting role

The sassy black best friend, the GBF, the magical cripple. Too often, if a writer wants to include a minority, they make them a sidekick or a best friend. The main problem is their whole purpose to the plot and their character is defined by their relationship to the protagonist. Inevitably, they will end up becoming a useful servant to the protagonist.

Give them an actual role- give them their own plotline, or even – gasp- make them the protagonist!

5) Please do not make the sole/ most prominent female the love interest

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More Elsa please

This one is the mother of all terrible female tropes. Too often women’s existence is defined by her attractiveness to men and as being a wife or mother, so we see this constantly reflected in the media. It doesn’t matter what she’s achieved, her kind personality, whether she’s funny, made mistakes or throws one hell of a party- all that matters about her is who she’s married to. It’s frustrating because even if she is a great character, she will always be seen as ‘X’s’ girlfriend and will be in his shadow as the less prominent/ successful half of the couple.

Even when love interests start out interesting, because the story isn’t about them but their boyfriend, too often she will end up getting sidelined and get stuck in the kitchen. Look at Mira from Spartacus, who for all her talk of independence got bumped off as soon as she was no longer Spartacus’ love interest and therefore there was no point to her; or Fiona from Shrek, who was left behind in the castle in 2 and 3, and only got to do stuff in 4 because the alternate timeline meant she was no longer with Shrek and therefore they could reset their meetcute.

There are exceptions like Katara, who’s very much not primarily viewed as Aang’s love interest and has achieved a lot in her own right, but she is very much the exception to the rule and even she still got imperiled multiple times to motivate Aang (though she was kickass the majority of the time).

Hell, the reason Elsa was so revolutionary was because, for once, we had a female not defined by her romatic relationships.

I honestly would say that if she’s the girlfriend of a more prominent male character, she hardly counts as inclusion. Please, include females who aren’t love/ sex interests.

 

 

What advice do you have for writing minorities? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

YOHANCE-THE EKANGENI CRYSTAL- by Paul Louise Julie

I’m always on the look out for something new and creative, so when I heard that there was going to be a space opera inspired by African art, I thought ‘count me in.’ I waited for months in anticipation.  So now that it’s finally out, what was it like? Well, so far it’s only really the opening action sequence- but is it one hell of an action sequence with amazing use of art.

As you can probably see from the cover the graphic novel, the art work is extremely distinctive and looks great. I’ve never seen another graphic novel with art quite like that. The aesthetic combines African tribal artwork and designs with your typical star wars space opera design to create a slight variation on your typical space opera aesthetic. Not only that, but he also has an interesting use of colours: using bright reds or blues to give the planets a really unnatural, otherworldly atmosphere.

Stylistically, there’s a lot of improvement from his work on The Packabout how he uses the layout. Part of the strength also lies in how it’s formatted. It will often give you a massive picture of the environment and have a few smaller panels scattered around honing in on certain details or cutting away to a character in the ship. This gives it a really cinematic feel, and you genuinely feel like you’e watching a switching from shot to shot. It’ll often go from a bigger picture of the background . I mean, look at this.

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As your eyes dark from image to image it’s like different camera angles.The dialogue is also short, sparse and doesn’t clutter the page. This leads to a very streamlike reading experience and allows you to focus on the artwork and what’s going on in the page. This whole first issue plays out like a storyboard that’s better than the actual movie could ever be. There’s so much improvement from his first issue of The Pack in how he uses the page’s layout to his advantage, and it’s great to see him coming into his own.

However, there is one aspect of the art that changes this comic from flawless to  hit and miss, and it’s a big problem: the character designs. Mr Louise Julie has made this baffling choice of photo shopping a human’s face onto his character model, and it makes them look like some horrendous uncanny valley monstrosity. Like with a lot of his work with The Pack, he manages to cover this up by avoiding having people’s faces close up by focusing on the scenery, obscuring them by shadows or light, or by having the perspective so far away from the characters that you can’t see them properly. He gets away with it for the most part  (and Yohance is in his suit most of the time), but then we’ll get a close up of his badly photo shopped face and oh man….

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Look at the gorgeous design of the robot monkey when contrasted against that face. You know what this expression reminds me of?

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I don’t want to be reading this  action sequence and suddenly see angry baby! I mean, my God- the way it’s photo shopped is so awful. It doesn’t help that when we do get a close up he’s always pulling the most derpiest expression and he reminds me of one of those actors on those BBC shows for toddlers. It just pulls me out of the action and I have to try and ignore it before continuing- and that’s something you really don’t want for your main protagonist. It’ll be hard to get emotionally invested in later issues when the main characters are an eyesore to look at.

I’ve pondered why such an obviously astoundingly talented artist could put something so god awful in something so beautiful, and the only solution I can come up is that he’s great with backgrounds and lighting, but either he isn’t an expert at rendering faces or  his art style doesn’t lend to rendering expressive faces and he’s trying to compensate for it. Either way, this is not the way forward.

Now, onto the characters themselves. So far, we don’t know really know that much about them apart from the sci fi archetypes they embody. Yohance so far is the double crossing Rogue with the animal robot sidekick… Yes, he’s your Han Solo, your Captain Mal, your Spike Spiegel and every other galaxy hopping space scoundrel you’ve read about. Our heroine, Cana, isn’t a Black Leia Organa or Padme Amidala (like I was secretly hoping based on the cover art), but  she’s a rogue as well, and she and Yohance have a Captain Mal/ Saffron dynamic going on.

There’s nothing to distinguish them just yet, and their characters are very derivative, but it’s only the first issue and judging from what I’ve seen, the creator clearly has enough writing skill to make them interesting later on. I’m glad he didn’t try to do too much in one issue, and I’m glad he took his time to create a really memorable opening sequence.

Now there’s one other major landmine of a flaw with this book: the  price. I was so excited about this book that I purchased it right away and unusually (suspisciously) it didn’t tell me the page count, but judging by the price I expected it to be around about 130 pages. Yeah, I paid £7.70 ($9.43 for any Americans reading) for 39 pages. 39 pages. I have purchased a lot of graphic novels, comics and manga on and I’ve never had to pay anything like this for a kindle edition.

I mean come on, I know this is an independent project and the guy’s gotta eat, but not only is this insane for a digital copy (the price is what I’d expect for a hard back edition), but this is financially unviable. I don’t know how long the series is going to be (but considering all we’ve had is the opening action sequence and we’ve only barely set up the plot, it’s going to be a good few issues), but who can pay £7.70 for what is essentially an opening sequence? And pay that for each installment? Not many people are going to be able to afford that, and since he’s an Indie publisher without the fan base of companies like DC and Marvel, he can’t really afford to charge a ridiculous amount- especially since he’s not big name yet. I personally don’t regret it- the artwork is gorgeous and it’s something I’ll gladly flip through again- but I can’t pay that price for each future issue.

VERDICT: This is an immensely strong start . However, because of how ridiculously expensive this is, I can’t recommend that anyone by this and I’d suggest either waiting for this to go down in price or for it to be collected in a larger volume. However, if you’ve got the cash to burn and you’re really desperate for an African themed sci fi, than I can assure you the quality is top notch. Also, for more of his amazing art work and a series centred around African aesthetic that’s more sensibly priced, I’d recommend giving his work on The Pack a look.

REVIEW: THE RAT QUEENS VOL.1 : SASS AND SORCERY- by Kurtis Wiebe, illustrated by Roc Upchurch

Do you like irreverent humour? Creative action sequences? Great characters? Heroines who care more about marauding and fighting goblins than falling in love? A fun adventure? Do you like actual fun?

Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then Rat Queens is a graphic novel you need to check out.

The story is basically about a party of four friends who go on quests in an MMO inspired world. We have Betty, a tiny perverted Smidgen (a sort of tiny troll or hobbit) who’s funny, loves her drink and her ‘special’ mushrooms; Hannah, a gobby magic user with an attitude problem and an arsenal full of lethal spells and even more lethal comebacks; Violet, a rebellious Dwarf who’s trying to forge her own identity; Dee, a social awkward healer who comes from a culture who worships Cthulu-or as she puts it…

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As you can see, the art is amazing– I’ve read a lot of comics, graphic novels and manga recently, and honestly I can say that this has some of the best artwork I’ve seen- seconded only to the work J.H. Williams did on Batwoman and the work Paul Louise-Julie did on both Yohance and The Pack.

Everything’s bright and colorful in this graphic novel and the character designs are very distinct. This is especially unusual in a series with female leads.Usually, the artist can’t bear to make them look like anything other than his ideal of the perfect woman, and what you’ll get is five models with different hairstyles and hair colour. Here, however, we have this:

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Look at how different the heroines are from each other, with completely different different builds, face shapes, skin tones and expressions that tell you a lot about their character. And not only that, but all the expressions on the characters are really nuanced. Check out the look of love and vulnerability on Betty’s face:

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And this picture of Dee and Betty:

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You don’t need to read the dialogue-or know anything about the characters-to see that they are good friends;  you can just tell from that picture the level of playful ease Betty has with Dee, and the amount of affection Dee has towards Betty.

The story itself is very simple and easy to follow, which is exactly what you want from an introductory arc. With less panels devoted to explaining the convoluted mess  intricacies of the plot, more time can be devoted to what this series excels at: the humour, the characters, the friendships and the action sequences.

And are the action sequences excellent. The fight sequences are really, really creative and kinetic. I mean, just have a look at this page:

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It’ll use lines and colours as backgrounds to create the appearance of movement and then cut to a white or black background for the killing blow. This works incredibly well, and when the fights come the shapes of the sides of the panels themselves will become more diagonal and may overlap, giving the feeling of a world thrown into chaos.

There’s also a lot of creativity involved. As well as the fights, the humor is on target and it affectionately satirises MMO games- like how the poor citizens of Palisade and straight laced cop Sawyer (who is the traditional Lawful Good protagonist who has a sort of ‘dating Catwoman’ dynamic with Hannah), just want the town not to be destroyed by maauding questers. Even if you don’t play MMO games, even if you’ve at least heard of World Of Warcraft than you know enough to get the humor.

On top of that, we get to the real crown jewel of this series- the characters and their relationships. Even though it’s only the first volume, we have a reasonable idea of our central characters and some of their relationships. What matters is their friendship, which always feels realistic thanks to the art and good dialogue. They fight and bicker like sisters who know each other too well, but they also clearly love each other and enjoy each other’s company and always have each other’s backs. It’s so rare to see strong female relationships which aren’t familial, and a comic full of great female relationships is something special.

Another kuddos has to go the diversity. It is AMAZING.  It’s not often you’ll get important black or queer characters in a series (although both DC and marvel are both making genuine efforts to change that, what with Batwoman and the new Ms.Marvel), but here we have a black woman and a bi/ lesbian woman as two of our main four characters.

For POC, not only do we have Dee, but we also have the most prominent male love interest (who’s described as the most attractive by the other girls), a couple of supporting characters sprinkled about, but also Betty’s love interest Faeyri who appears to be Malaysian or from another dark skinned East Asian ethnicity. Speaking of which, Betty’s relationship is treated equally to the rest of the casts; the focus of the novel is friendship and adventuring, so we have a few warm, genuine scenes between them but nothing that encroaches on Romantic Subplot Tumour . And also, I like Faeyri’s design:

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I particularly enjoy how Betty’s interested in does have the short hair style and alternative dress sense that you see a lot of queer woman donning. Don’t get me wrong- there are a lot of bi/ lesbian women who conventionally feminine, and they’re great and it’s always good to see them in media, but it’s very unusual for a butcher woman to be the love interest, and object of desire. It’s great to see a tomboyish lesbian of color can be desirable too.

Honestly, with so much good, this I’ve already read this volume twice, and I’m delaying reading the third because I don’t want it to be over.

RATING: 5/5 stars

THE PACK- by Paul Louise Julie

I’ve read  a lot of vampire and werewolf fiction in my time, and the tropes and conventions sometimes get a little bit monotonous after a while. So when I heard of this- a werewolf story set in Ancient Africa, centring around the attempt of two brothers to escape Alavert and to get to Nubia, I was sold. How cool is that? Especially since in any book set in the ancient world, Nubias often little more than a kingdom that’s invaded by Egypt.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to mention the art work, and it is truly worth the price of admission. It has this really gorgeous way of rendering spaces, and its art style gives a feel for the time. I mean take a look at this:

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The watercolour, the bright colours, the reflections on the marble and the detail on the plant life really bring to life the opulence of the Egyptian palace. It’s not just this page- the entire book Is this well drawn and it’s an astounding experience. Clearly a lot of hard work and research has gone into creating an authentic looking ancient North Africa. As for the werewolves, they look a great. Take a look at the one below.

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The harsh black lines against the lush green forest really do lend it a primal, ancient nightmarish feel. The author said that because werewolves aren’t really part of ancient African mythology, he combined the wolf with some other creatures to make it more fitting, and it looks intimidating. Its build is strong like a lion, and its little mane and tail remind me a bit of a hyena- but either way, it’s all predator and  truly is the monster that frightened us as children.

So many different styles and colors have been experimented with in this issue, and it’s an artistic marvel. Because of this, I would strongly recommend it to absolutely anything, as this artwork you won’t see anywhere else.

As for the story telling, it’s okay, and Paul Louise Julie has the talent but is still coming into his own. The story of this issue is pretty simple- two brothers are part of a group of Nubian assassins who are slaves (albeit highly exulted ones who get to live in a beautiful palace and are given a lot of wine, women and privilege), and they want to escape. It’s a pretty decent start, and introduces us to the world and gives us a basic outline of the two brothers- ones more serious and wants to escape, the other’s more on the fence but gets thrown into things- but its downfall is it’s told in a needlessly convoluted way.

For some weird reason, we start off not at the beginning, but at events which take place near the end of the first issue, which is still close to the beginning of the saga. Worse still, we constantly cut between the two events. All it means is that what’s a pretty simple story becomes harder to follow and we’re constantly pulled out of the action of both events- the brother’s escape or Khenti’s capture- when things start to heat up, and it’s harder to get caught up in either of them.

There is no good reason for this. I mean, the whole point of this technique is usually as a way of giving it a feel of inevitability and tragic foreshadowing- like with Blood Brothers, where we’re shown that the story’s going to end in tragedy so that even during the happier scenes, an air of ominousness hangs around and we’re watching carefully to see how they build up to the tragedy. The same is true with Madoka Magica, and even Moulin Rouge, which used whiny one’s (I forget his name even though I’ve been forced to watch it so many times) retrospective narration to tell us that this is going to be a tragic love story.

Here, there’s absolutely no point of this- what is it meant to foreshadow? That there’s going to be conflict and werewolves in it? Well, it’s called The Pack and it tells us it’s about werewolves in the description on the site, so there’s no need to tell us that. Is it because the writer feels they need a way to hook us? It begins (chronologically) with an assassination attempt- that’s action enough.

Also, there’s the bizarre plot hole that although the older brother keeps on saying that he wants his younger brother, when they escape the palace he splits up with him for no reason and says ‘see you in three weeks’. Why do they split up to go to the port to take them to Nubia? I know, story wise, why it was necessary to have them separated (so the younger brother-Khenti- can meet the wolf) but there’s no good reason for them to. They were both together and were both going to the same place, and splitting up would just increase the risk of losing one another. It was contrived.

What really needed to happen, storywise ,  was for the older brother- Nekhet-to give his younger brother instructions on what to do if they got separated, and for them to be put under pressure by pursuing Egyptians and for them to lose each other in the chaos. This is an important plot beat that was skipped, and as a result that moment just left me scratching my head.

The other problem is the character designs; they work fine and the simplicity makes them more reminiscent of ancient art, but most of the time the characters are heavily obscured by dazzling light or dark shadows.

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Can you really tell any of them apart? I can’t. It could get really difficult  figuring out who was speaking, and I had to reread and reread certain parts to figure out who’s saying what. Also, I thought the person narrating at the beginning was the older brother when in fact it was the younger brother.

Honestly, the story’s there, the writing has promise, and the art and concept are both absolutely perfect, but it’s not quite there yet thanks to some shakey execution. However, one of the big problems- the needless and convoluted framing device- is going to be out of the window in the next issue, and from what I’ve seen with his later work on Yohance, his skill at the craft does improve, so I have hope for future issues and am definitely down for the ride.

VERDICT: This graphic novel is absolutely worth checking out. The concept of a werewolf story in Ancient North Africa is utterly original, the art work is one of a kind and worth the price of admission alone. The execution of the story so far is a little shakey, but it’s the first issue of the author’s debut series, so there’s plenty of potential for it to get better as the author settles into the writing.

For a look at The Pack Part 1, click here.

COMIC REVIEW: PRINCESS PRINCESS EVER AFTER- by Katie O’Neill

So, it’s fair to say that I am a little bit old to be the target audience of Princess Princess Ever After, but after spotting it in an article on The Mary Sue  I thought I’d give it a look. I love anything to do with fairytale worlds with strong women women in it, and sometimes you just feel like reading something  colorful and feel good. Honestly, it’s just a cute, fun story that I’d recommend to any kid- and not just because its progressive, but because its got a good sense of humor and adventure, with characters that are surprisingly nuanced for such a short book.

The most obvious thing about Princess Princess Ever After is that yes, it is a  fairy tale with a same sex couple aimed at children. And that’s a big thing. Although things have generally gotten better with LGBT people in media aimed at adults and even a YA audience, even liberals are often uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex couple in a kid’s book or tv series (see Korrasami). This is because while they see opposite sex romance as fully encompassing romance, companionship, and innocent first love, they see same sex as equaling gay sex.

This book shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. The tone is perfect for children: sweet, innocent and with a good sense of fun. The story is far more about two very different young women bonding and going on adventure together (with a prince in tow) than it is about romance- although their relationship is adorable.

The characters are all likable and surprisingly fleshed out for such a short story. Its two main heroines are Princess Amira, the tomboyish knight, and Princess Sadie, the cute girly girl.

Princess Amira is a great character. Strong and brave, who ran away from home to avoid conventional gender roles. In a genre which overwhelmingly glorifies delicate white (usually blond) women, it’s great to see a black Princess who’s not the usual ‘white woman painted brown’, but has a hair that looks like a style that a black woman is more likely to have and comes from an African culture (my guess would be North Africa, judging by the desert). Though an aside… does something about Sadie and Amira remind you of anyone?

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Princess Sadie is the more conventionally feminine one,and my God, is she adorable. She’s sweet and cries a lot, but possesses a kind heart that makes her a good leader. They do have a traditional butch/ femme dynamic, though this is clearly done to show that there’s more than one way to be a girl rather than out of a belief there has to be a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in every relationship. This book does try and mix it up a bit and show that feminine does not equal inferior and Princess Sadie is just as useful as Amira. It’s a lot like Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe or Haruka and Michuru from Sailor Moon, or Utena and Anthy from RGU. As a woman who’s been in the army and seen that the tomboys really don’t perform better than the femmes, I’d totally love to see a story where the girly girl is a kick ass fighter and rescues her butch girlfriend, but hey, Sadie does get some rescuing in too..

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The villain is one that shows that sometimes it’s the ones closest to you that can hurt you the most. The only downside is that the main villain was defeated in a very quick and convenient way once the emotional confrontation was over. This seems to happen a lot (especially in stories aimed at girls), but the book was never about the final showdown and packs so much in that it doesn’t really matter.

The drawings are also really cute and make it a joy to flick through. They’re full of bright, round designs with lots of cute fairytale creatures like dragons and unicorns.

Verdict: This is a brilliant comic and one I’d recommend to any kid- especially little girls, who can probably find a bit of themselves in both our heroines.

Rating: 5 tomboy and girly girl animated couples out of 5

BOOK OF THE MONTH: MARCH

Another month has rolled around and I’ve looked at more books this month than I have in any previous months.

 

Book of the Month: The Color Purple– by Alice Walker

imageI originally thought I was going to make it To Break The Demon Gate, but as soon as I read the Color Purple I realized it couldn’t be anything else. A heart wrenching story of oppression, love, the importance of education and friendship seeing you through adversity. I said everything I needed to say about this book in my review here, and it’s a book that I would recommend to everyone and that’s why I’ve put it my Top 20 Books Everyone Should Read.

 

Short Story of the Month: Mummy– by Banana Yoshimoto

imageThis was definitely the most difficult category to choose because I’ve read so many superb 5 star short stories this month. However, the stand out had to be Mummy by Banana Yoshimoto which was found in a compilation of short stories by Japanese authors called The Book Of Tokyo. Banana Yoshimoto is currently one of the most acclaimed authors of Japanese fiction, and from reading this short story it’s easy to see why.

Mummy is a very strange and utterly intriguing short story about a young women who enters a warehouse alone with a guy she barely knows, but instead of finding herself a murder victim, she enters a three day sexual adventure that’s  strange, dangerous, fucked up and exhilerating. Banana perfectly captures what it’s like to be a young woman embarking on an early sexual adventure- the hunger for the forbidden, the new, dangerous and the thrill of adventure.

Runners up: The Forest of Memory, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, Moonlight on Shoji Bridge

World Building of the Month:The Teracotta Bride– by Zen Cho

This was another category that was difficult to choose. Right up until the end I was torn imagebetween the supernatural politics of the Mercy Thompson series and the science fiction reimagining of the Himba people in Binti; I thought I had finally decided on Binti, but then I read the Terracotta Bride. The Teracotta Bride gives us an in depth look at the Chinese/ Malaysian afterlife,a world with ten levels of hell where wealth is gained by corrupt methods and from paper burnt by the deceased’s ancestors. As well as giving us a fully realized interpretation of that world, it also points out its flaws (that even though the rest of the world’s evolved, the afterlife still possesses a medieval view of the role of women); it also asks some interesting new questions about this world like ‘are those paper servants created to serve their master sentient?’ or ‘what happens to the Teracotta Soldiers after their master’s reincarnated?’ On top of that, it even brings in a little speculative fiction element with the same principle used to created the Terracotta Soldiers is used to create a robot servant? What happens to a robot in the afterlife? Does it have a soul?

Every about this story was so unique and fascinating that there could only be one choice for Best World Building.

Runners up: Moon Called, Binti

Male Character of the Month: Lord Yamada and Kenji

to break the demon gateTo Break The Demon Gate is one of my all time favourite fantasy series. It takes place is Japan during the Heian era and is full . Lord Yamada is a great protagonist- a disgraced minor Lord who’s suffering from the loss of a loved one and is taken to the edge of grief. I think we all know what it

However, a story with only Lord Yamada wouldn’t be the same, as part of what makes the novels so great is his banter and odd couple friendship with Kenji, the ‘reprobate monk’. Kenji is the yin to Yamada’s yan, a carefree, light hearted lecherous monk who’s always getting lost along the tenfold way in the bottom of a cask of sake or some other worldly pleasure. Even though he’s always on the recieving end of the more humourless Yamada’s scoulding, the two have a strong friendship that sees them through their numerous adventures against the various schemes of the supernatural.

Female Character of the Month: Jade Yeo

imageIt was either Jade, Sofia or Cyan from Hedon this month and since I’m trying to avoid giving The Color Purple everything, it just had to Jade. I mean, come on, what’s not to love about her? She read’s like an unholy hybrid of The Importance of Being Earnest’s Cecily and Jane Austen’s Emma, completely rebels against all of societies norms and calls her unborn child ‘the worm’. She is one of the greatest females in literature and I really enjoyed the relationship between her and her best female friend.

Runners up: Sofia, Nettie, Cyan

 

POC Character of the Month: Sofia- the Color Purple

imageI really, really try not to nominate the same book for every category, but I couldn’t read The Color Purple and say it’s not the best thing I’ve read all month and that it doesn’t include the best POC portrayal in literature; because it is one of the most revolutionary portrayals of African American women ever written, so much so that it garnered praise from Oprah Winfrey (who ended up playing Sofia) and Lenny Henry.

I chose Sofia in particular because I fell in love with this character. Strong and independent, she had to stand up for herself her own life and she vowed never to let any man treat her like a punchbag. True to her word, when Harpo tried to beat her into submission she didn’t back down but fought him with every ounce of strength she had. Her finest moments included taking down Miss Eleanor Jane and her misguided and privileged view of her importance to her unwilling ‘mammy’ figure- something that is sadly still relevant today when films like The Help continue to get made and receive more critical acclaim than films like Selma.

LGBT Character of the Month: Celie- The Color Purple

shug and celie.jpgBefore Pam Grier’s portrayal of Kit Porter in The L word and Orange Is The New Black came on the scene, The Color Purple’s Celie and Shug Avery were two of the very few portrayals of black lesbians and bisexuals in the media.

Celie is a great character: she is a very human character who suffers a lot. She starts off as an extremely passive person who suffers silently and endures through life, even proving to be a little manipulative when she advises Harpo to beat his wife because she envies her freedom. However, she soon develops into a strong and capable person with a sense of self worth, and a big part of what takes her on that journey is her love for Shug. In spite of being constantly forced to sleep with men since she was 14, the first time she ever feels desire of her own was when she thought of Shug, who she felt a mix of adolescent infatuation and sexual desire for since she first found a picture of her. That sexual awakening burgeons into a deep friendship and later a physical relationship. Two often gay relationships are reduced to either ‘just sex’ or an asexual companionship, but The Color Purple avoids that by both 

Because of the pernicious stereotype of gay people being turned gay because of abuse and that lesbians are attracted to women because they hate men, it can be difficult to portray an LGBT character who was abused. However, although she 

What

 

REVIEW: THE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO- by Zen Cho

For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr. She’s perfectly happy making a living by churning out articles on what the well-dressed woman is wearing. But when she pillories one of London’s leading literary luminaries in a scathing review, she may have made the mistake of her career.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is a brilliant novella, that tells a complete and entertaining Austen-esque story in a relatively short space of time. Jade Yeo (or Geok Huay- the real name she anglicised in order to avoid the bane of the people around her failing to pronounce it) and her lively narrative is what makes this story such a joy to read.Her personality is a combination of Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Cecilly from The Importance of Being Earnest mixed into one. Only, Jade Yeo messes up more and goes further down the path of a fallen women than censors would allow. This combination of Jade Austen style genteel wit and language and detailed descriptions of sex (which she records in her diary in case she will ‘never engage in the activity again’ and has to ‘go off this recollection of it for the rest of [her] life.’) are hilarious: Continue reading REVIEW: THE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO- by Zen Cho

REVIEW: THE COLOR PURPLE- by Alice Walker

Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

Some novels you admire; some novels you love; and some novels are so powerful, so thought provoking that they make you grow as a person and give you characters that will live in your heart for the rest of your life. The Color Purple is definitely the latter and is without a doubt one of the greatest novels I have ever read. I’m not the alone in this estimation. When this novel came out, it became a living obsession of Oprah Winfrey, adored by thousands of black women and won a Pulitzer prize in spite of the tendency of POC and women (especially one who is both) to be overlooked. What makes the story so compelling? Continue reading REVIEW: THE COLOR PURPLE- by Alice Walker