Thursday, October 28, 2010

Glee Rocky Horror - Bigotry Refined

I'm not a fan of Glee. And I personally think it's reprehensible what they did with Rocky Horror.

I understand it was network demands. But they had a female character play Frank (thereby completely undermining the entire point of the character), censored the word 'transsexual' (which is a great big slap in the face to any actual transsexuals watching), and overall butchered the attempt.

This is 2010. It's time to wake up.

They should not have done the episode at all if they couldn't do it right. This just sends a message out that discrimination is okay and that heterosexism and heteronormative behaviour is the only acceptable behaviour. This is especially shameful considering how Glee has tried to appeal to a gay audience.

I urge you all to write the network and demand an apology for this. It's not just that they've butchered something that I like, Rocky Horror...but the way that it was done, it was clear that it was nothing more than phobic attitudes against the GLBT community.

Write, contact, and boycott. This will not be allowed to stand.

You can contact Fox at

Let them know that their censorship was unwelcome and bigoted, and that it is unacceptable in this day and age. Forcing the cast of Glee to place a female character in a male role because of clear homophobia is unacceptable, as is the censorship of the word 'transsexual', which sends a message of intolerance and hate to all transsexuals in the audience.

Tell them that you will be boycotting their network and all products and businesses advertised on their network until they issue an apology for their interference. It is not only their destruction of a beloved classic, Rocky Horror, but even more their open assault on the GLBT community, some of whom love Glee for its otherwise positive portrayal of gay characters.

Contact GLBT organisations and let them know you're not happy about this. And contact advertisers whose products appear on Fox and specifically on Glee. Let them know that this is not acceptable, and that when the GLBT community comes together, it is a thing to be reckoned with.

And if you would, sign my petition here and give Fox the message that what they did with Glee won't be tolerated by their GLBT audience. I may not like Glee, but to do that to all those who do is a slap in the face.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Call for Artists!

As all of you regular readers know, the sexy vampiress Lamia is going to launch her own series on Halloween! The site will officially go live, if it goes according to plan, on 29 October, so everyone reading this blog will be able to check out the early launch!

A Call for Creators


I would also like to extend an invitation to any and all artists willing to work with my output. Each issue of Lamia will receive a Standard Edition and a Director's Cut edition, and both will be available in print and digitally. I typically do the Standard Edition's cover myself, but for the Director's Cut, a special release, I get another artist to do it.

Contract Info and Details

Any artists who are interested in this would have essentially carte blanche for the cover's content. A small contract would be necessary, due to the series characters being my copyright, but that much is necessary with any such work. For payment, I can offer either a percentage of sales, or we can treat it as a commission and I can pay you up-front for the work. I additionally have no problem helping you to set up a Ka-Blam and Indy Planet account so that you can profit from releasing art prints of your work. I will also happily take art prints to conventions and shows and sell them for you.

Glorious Artistic You

I am also in the planning phase of a gay-friendly, gay-oriented comic anthology that will be called Glorious Artistic You. I have always been gay-friendly in my work, but especially lately I think that an anthology like this will be well-received and serve a good purpose. In recent years, discrimination and bigotry have hit all-time highs, and that is especially tragic after all of the work that we did to improve life, to promote equal rights, and to be seen as something other than second-class citizens. I've discussed this problem in other recent entries, so I won't get into it again now.

Series Details

Glorious Artistic You will be a series updated every week and will be treated like a monthly magazine. Each week, I intend to update twice, with two pages forming an installment of a comic. The next week will be a different comic. Every four weeks, we will come back to the same comic, in a new installment.

For example, week 1 we could have comic A. Week 2 would be comic B. By week 5, we would return to comic A for another two-page episode. Week 6 would be a return to comic B, and so on.

Success, popularity, and interest will dictate how many comics are done by me. I am using this, in some ways, as a test for some comic ideas that would not be able to continue on their own. Eventually I may do two series per month, with each title switching out every other week, or less, or more.

Guest creators can do any number of comics, which will optimally update on days not used for other updates, for maximum exposure and interest.

Contract Details

I am currently looking for artists and other creators willing to work on Glorious Artistic You. Contracts will be negotiated in 4-week (1 month) increments. I expect at least 1 update per each week of that period, and all updates are to be delivered to me digitally before the beginning of the contract month. You retain all rights for your creations and stories, however I require a link back if they are posted elsewhere in the duration of Glorious Artistic You. I also will want to negotiate the ability to include them in a printed edition, for which you will receive a part of the profits proportional to your contribution.

For example, if you contribute 8 pages out of 32 total in the book, you will receive 1/4 of the profits for the book.

You don't have to do four comics, of course. You can if you want. You can simply do four pages of one comic, or a series of pin-ups.


Pretty much any content is acceptable, because I don't want to restrain your creativity, but ideally I would like to see gay-friendly and uplifting work, rather than unpleasant or depressing work. The name is Glorious Artistic You, after all! Everything from comics to art to pin-ups is perfectly fine. Written works are welcome too. You can show full nudity or none at all, as far as content, and it can appeal to audiences everywhere from all-ages to adults only.

Advice to Interested Creators

Of course I am always happy to hear from fellow artists, and these are both opportunities for work, exposure, and getting a name out there. My studio may not be a huge, wealthy studio right now, but we always try to be fair and to do right by our creative members and friends. There are a few things we do and don't want to see, though, so I will tell you up front.

* If you're homophobic or not comfortable working on something that has gay content, don't write us. You should know better anyway, but if you're going to write regardless and ask for work but insist you won't work on something with gay won't get a response. I'm already busy enough addressing emails from people who are willing to comport themselves maturely.

Depicting a character who, in the story, is gay doesn't mean that is going to be apparent from a picture in the first place. But drawing even explicitly gay content doesn't make you a homosexual, any more than drawing heterosexual content makes you a heterosexual. Alex Ross, who is happily married, has drawn a most famous gay kiss and has many times stated his support of fans regardless of sexuality. He is regarded as one of the most respected comic artists working today. It's not going to limit your success except with the insecure. And if someone is that puerile in the first place, take it from me: you're not going to be able to rely on them anyway.

I am trying, more than ever, to promote support and tolerance for all sexual orientations. Love shouldn't be discriminated against. And I won't tolerate discrimination in my studio.

* Deadlines are important. If you can't work with deadlines, you need to get yourself to the point where you can before you write. I can be flexible on a case-by-case basis, but if I'm sitting waiting for a page on the day it needs to be uploaded, that adds stress to my life that I don't need. It's much better if you have an idea, draw the pages you'll need for a month or two, and then write me.

At the very least, I'd like you to have a concrete idea about what you'd like to do before contacting me about doing it. If you have an idea about a sexy circus acrobat going on an adventure with the Monkey King, you might decide to develop it and, in development, it might transform into a stripper who can change into a superhero. That's kind of an extreme example, but ideas do change during development. It is important for me to know the tone we're going to be establishing so that I can promote your work optimally.

I am eager to hear about your ideas for comics and your ideas for stories. I'll even help you brainstorm! But if you are writing me about participating in Glorious Artistic You, please have something either prepared or in the process of being prepared. It will be weeks or months before we launch it, but it's much easier and more helpful if you're at least mostly ready. It leads to less stress for both of us.

* You don't have to be gay to work with us. And nobody in their right minds will think you are if you do. The only thing I ask is that you be tolerant yourself. You're likely to get some gay or gay-friendly fans from your work, and I wouldn't want to introduce them to someone who, for whatever reason, is going to hate or abuse them. I want this studio and all of its output to be something I can feel comfortable endorsing.

* You won't have control over other creators' work unless you are working with them. You don't have to do adult-oriented stories, for example, but another creator may want to do them. Your works will be separate. Mutual respect and maturity must be understood before participation in Glorious Artistic You.

* You will have to do things to specifications. This is just because I want everything to be of a consistent size and quality, and for print things must be to certain specifications.

* I'll want to hear from you regularly. While you're working on something for the studio, I'll need regular status updates so that I can make my own plans accordingly. If you've hit a snag and will be delayed in something, if you tell me ahead of time, I can account for it and offer help. Even just a quick email to say everything is going according to schedule will help me to keep my own schedule.

I look forward to hearing from any of you who might be interested in contributing to Lamia or Glorious Artistic You! Please send any correspondence to my email address. Just remove the spaces. You know how it goes.

hushicho @ gmail . com

I look forward to your mail!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Horror Technique: Shown Versus Implied

Recently on The Groovy Age of Horror, one of my favourite blogs, there was a very in-depth article that discussed at length the dynamic and persistent debate of what is shown in horror and what it means, how it can be significant, and how the medium can make a difference. It's very well-written and beyond my depth to explore here in summary, especially since such depth was reached in the article itself.

However, it did get me thinking, and this is a debate that will go on forever: is it scarier to show something or to suggest it?

I will go with 'suggest', but conditionally. It's more or less universally parroted that it's always scarier to imply things, and that's why popular horror icon H.P. Lovecraft's works enjoy a sort of universal acclaim for being eerie without typically being explicitly filled with exhaustively-described monsters; in Lovecraft's world, the horror is often implied with suspense built up around it, and that is what makes it so unsettling and disturbing.

A quote, perhaps paraphrased, and attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, Val Lewton, and various others, is 'there is nothing more frightening than a closed door'. In the proper context, it's true: there is nothing that is more frightening than the possibility that anything, anything at all, could be behind that door. It's not true in every single situation, of course. A great deal of horror depends on suspense, so if you're not doing horror or suspense as the genre, a closed door won't necessarily be scary. But this is something of a no-brainer.

Sometimes it works, even then. Imagine the audience's surprise when their candy-coated feel-good adventure opens a door to unleash...a horrific villain! It even worked in Star Wars; things didn't feel quite right when they arrived at the cloud city, and the door opening to reveal Darth Vader was genuinely striking and scary. Sometimes seeming dissonance with the ambiance can work very well. A closed door is scary, even if it is also hopeful. But most viewers are going to assume that something complicating or conflicting will lie behind it, because much of drama lies in conflict.

Much of the sense of fear in anything lies in the way a work is realised; if a work is not well-made, it won't be suspenseful. But quality is subjective, and so one person's abject horror will be another person's joke. This is yet another reason why what is shown tends to be subject to how it is shown, and how often. A monster design that is frightening to one person may be ridiculous to another. However, if the monster itself is built up within the narrative of a work and only shown after it has been built up and the audience drawn deep into suspension of disbelief, it will be much more terrifying than something just shown every time it does anything.

It lies squarely in the fundamentals of suspense. If we look at classic horror films, we see suspense as the key, the linchpin to successful tension of the audience. The scariest film I have ever seen in my life is Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. I was so frightened that I got shivers and my skin went cold. But it is psychological horror through and through, and suspense from moment one. There is no monster, nothing is particularly explicit, no grotesque visceral violence...and yet, it is utterly terrifying. It is a descent into madness where the audience is taken along for the ride, where eventually they are made to question everything around them, most of all their own sanity.

Halloween spends the first few minutes showing the audience a painstakingly built-up murder, through the eyes of the murderer. It is not a particularly graphic event, but it is made all the more horrific by the utter revulsion the audience feels -- and revulsion lies at the fundamental basis of much horror -- and the suspense and disorientation that is built around it. The killer, called 'the Shape', is very much the Boogeyman: he can seem to appear and disappear. He cannot be stopped. He cannot be reasoned with. Any motivation that is attributed to his actions is only done by his enemies in an attempt to rationalise it, mostly to themselves. He is barely shown, his actions are not lingered upon...and he is all the more terrifying for it.

The original Alien, while often also classified as science-fiction, is at its root a horror work. Much of that horror lies in disorientation, an inability to understand what the nature of the horror itself is, and why this is happening. Body horror asserts itself strongly, and in many ways, in my opinion, the concept of the self as source of fear is the basis of most fear reactions in horror.

To me, the most horrific thing that an audience can be made to do is to confront themselves. Most people have aspects of themselves that they find distasteful. For many, it is the dark side, the side that could imagine all manner of horrors that they have tried to avoid. The things they would never do, the things they would never say, the situations they hope never to be in...and yet they exist in the mind, and the possibility exists that they might. It is frightening to make the connection in one's own mind, much more frightening. It is easy to laugh or to dismiss a costume that you find silly or uninteresting, but it is much less easy to dismiss what your mind has shown you. In many ways, it is almost an accusation, a call to the audience to confront themselves, throwing open the doors and defences that have been so carefully crafted, to protect them from the aspects of their mind that they fear. They would like to deny that these aspects are there. But, even for a little while, they must confront them and accept their existence. That, to me, is horror.

Even if they aren't aware of what is happening to that level, they're aware that something isn't right. They feel unsettled. They may never understand that a part of the horror they feel is the horror at their own minds and what they can imagine.

This is yet another reason why being too familiar with the monster, antagonist, or what have you is also something that tends to weaken horror. If you become sympathetic to the monster, it is really not as scary anymore. If the monster becomes pitiable, even if it continues doing horrific things, it is more a tragedy than a scary story. Familiarity means that impact of an appearance is lessened.

Every masked slasher film has suffered from this, with some of the worst examples being when the mad killer is turned into some sort of wisecracking antihero that clearly the audience are supposed to cheer for, as he slaughters through the nominal protagonists. They cease being scary, then, and they become a more heroic figure, even if what they do isn't what most people would consider 'heroic'; they are champions of a sort, for the audience.

Even extreme acts of violence can become pedestrian if there is nothing to build up to their horror. Having explicit acts of visceral violence through a film is often nothing but a masturbatory gesture, and it builds up audience insensitivity. Just as in works where the world presented is thoroughly unsympathetic along with all of the characters, that acts against the whole point of horror. If you don't care, you won't be scared. If you aren't appalled by what you're seeing, or what's being implied, then you won't experience horror.

Similarly, it is easy to point out the differences between Alien and Aliens. The first is a horror, the second is a science-fiction action film. While there are suspenseful parts in Aliens and horrifying parts -- the latter of which are mainly when the audience considers the ramifications of what has happened in the colony, rather than anything being shown -- largely it is an action film. The creatures are not as terrifying as the original in Alien, both because there are so many of them (thus robbing it of its uniqueness and making it more understandable due to social context), and because they are seen much, much more frequently and clearly, as well as destroyed with far less effort and trouble than in the original film.

The Blair Witch Project was one of the most successful examples of horror implied rather than seen, and it was also among the most least initially. However, largely due to social saturation and everyone knowing the film's secrets, people weren't as scared, the longer it was out. This isn't surprising; if you know you're not going to see a 'Blair Witch' going into it, you don't get the suspense up that it will happen. It's another case of the horror being unveiled and too familiar to the audience, rather than the suspense built up and the secrets kept, and it illustrates my point all too well: familiarity breeds comfort, which is the antithesis of suspense, tension, and horror.

It doesn't always work, I'll be the first to admit. Monster films tend to be the worst of them, because either they have a costume they know is goofy and just use the technique to hide, or they don't have a monster at all and try to build suspense in the hopes that no-one will want to actually ask the important question. Usually, there has to be some kind of horror present, even if only strongly implied. The most terrifying situations are ones that involve the audience, even vicariously.

The Cask of Amontillado is terrifying because of its situation, and the fact that the audience has come to identify with the victim. They have been brought into that world. The Whisperer in Darkness, similarly, builds up a suspenseful mystery that is made into horror in the last few sentences, when the reader realises that (through the protagonist's narration) they themselves were so close to that unspeakable horror and didn't even know it at the time. It's the same with stories like Pickman's Model.

When you get right down to it, it can just be said that suspense of the unseen is also easier to do relatively well, whereas suspense of the clearly seen is not. It takes great talent and great vision to have something seen enough to become familiar and still retain its feeling of terror. It does not take so much of that to make something barely-seen or unseen scary, because the audience has no way of concretely saying 'this isn't scary, and here's why'.

Being explicit can also disrupt the ambiance of a story. If a story is meant to be more lighthearted, action-oriented, or otherwise having a completely different mood built up from the beginning, throwing in something grotesque or explicitly horrific can completely disrupt the mood and create a dissonance that damages the work. It is one of the reasons why horror-comedy combinations tend to be either loved or hated passionately, and why the genre is so small; humour and horror are difficult to combine successfully because their moods are so discordant. Implications of horror work better in these cases since the full gravity of the situation may be delayed until a point in the story where it can be realised with more impact.

Ultimately, the debate will continue ever on. However, it is my opinion that implied, subtle horror tends to work better in most cases than more explicit, visually-shown horror. From practical considerations such as budgets and writer ability, to more profound considerations such as the confrontation of the self, I feel that the suggestion of horror is usually superior.

Your opinions may vary.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The sexiest vampiress in the known universe, Lamia, will be coming to you very soon courtesy of yours truly! Lamia is an homage to the fabulous vampiress vixens of the 1970s, and what's even sweeter, she comes complete with a cute gay best friend, Antonio.

The both of them get into all kinds of adventures and mischief. Lamia will be posted online as a webcomic, and that will be collected into the standard edition of the comic, released regularly. There will also be a 'director's cut' version, which will feature extra pages of additional story and sexier content! Both editions will be available in hard print copy and in high-quality digital copy.

If you'd like a sneak preview, skulk on over to and download the free wallpaper pack!

It's my sincere hope to have Lamia start by my favourite holiday -- Halloween, or Samhain as it's better-known!

Keep checking back for more updates! I think you're going to like Lamia. I know she likes you!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Science Fiction, Double Feature: Why Rocky Horror is a Masterpiece

I was not one of the johnny-come-latelies to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I saw it at quite a young age, and long before it really hit the mainstream and suddenly everyone was doing callback parties for Halloween. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, not at all; everyone should know this film. Everyone should appreciate it, and everyone should be aware of its significance.

I'm also extremely fond of Shock Treatment, which was a film too far ahead of its time to be appreciated when it was released. It's a pity, since in many ways it's actually more polished and slicker than Rocky Horror, but it was often compared to its predecessor (to which it was not a sequel) unfavourably when in actuality they were two very different works that are incomparable. It's better to consider them siblings. Shock Treatment is especially important in this day and age of 'reality TV', king-for-a-day celebrity, and music video culture, which it more or less entirely predicted.

But today I'm going to talk about Rocky Horror, why it is special to me, and why I think it should be special to you, too. Especially at this time of year, my favourite holiday Halloween and my favourite season of autumn, it is important to remember the things like this.

From the very beginning, Rocky Horror seems like a story that is little more than a musical pastiche of 1950s Americana. However, as it continues, it quickly becomes clear that it is a deeply subversive work, one that calls more or less everything about that period's values into question. Brad is hopelessly lost in self-denial of his true desires, but until his and Janet's ordeal, he was never in any situation to discover them. You can notice it even as early as 'Dammit Janet'. Similarly, Janet easily begins to come into her own once her inhibitions have been chipped away, coming to the realisation that she isn't happy to be a demure, retreating, virginal trophy.

Frank and the strange cast of characters who greet us on our journey through the film's chronicle are eye-openers. It is especially noteworthy that Frank is bisexual and a crossdresser. Tim Curry's perfect portrayal makes Frank into an icon, a larger-than-life figure that is more godlike than anything human, so much so that it makes his show-stopper 'I'm Going Home' all the more poignant.

All the subtleties in the background, all the details, all the little could watch the film hundreds of times and never catch them all. It's amazing how painstakingly the film is constructed and, even with the help of the commentary from Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn on the DVD, there are so many things there that it is impossible to note them all in a single viewing, or even in several.

But the thing that always gets me, which I didn't understand for some time, is the special magic of Rocky Horror. Viewed as it is, it seems a bit downbeat and depressing. There has been this explosion of identity, this vital party wherein every single person involved has had to face his or her true self and realise what it is he or she really wants, and who he or she really is. And then, just as quickly as it had begun, it ends again. Fortunately, it avoids the hackneyed plot device of everything going 'back to normal'; it's clear from 'Super Heroes' that everything has changed, which is confirmed by the reprise of 'Science Fiction, Double Feature'.

But how can it be salvaged? Part of the reason why it's important it seem downbeat is because in the films of the 1950s, anything deviant from the norm -- especially aliens from outer space -- always had to be defeated and the status quo preserved. It's just another aspect of the film's subversive nature. It is important that as the audience, we sympathise not with the two supposed protagonists Brad and Janet, but with anyone else. Brad and Janet are as much the antagonists as anything, the oppressive force of 1950s American conformism. We cheer when they themselves are subverted and their strong aspirations of mediocrity dashed irreparably. Any who identified with them at the outset are forced to question themselves through Brad and Janet's own experiences.

But we are not Brad or Janet. We are the Transylvanians, the creatures of the night who make a party of things when 'sensible folk' don't dare step out. We are the ones who spend our nights in this strange and wonderful mansion, where anything and everything could and does happen. There is nothing beyond imagining in Frank's mansion.

And that is why it must go the way it goes. The night must end, and day comes again, so that light can be cast on the reality of Brad and Janet's situation. They must understand what they did, what they always were, and what they have awakened themselves to see. It was always there, it was always them, and now, can they ever conform again? Even if they try, they can never, ever forget what happened. Even if they pretend, they will know they are pretending. What is seen cannot be un-seen. What is experienced cannot be taken back.

But we creatures of the night, who have seemingly been defeated and our plans foiled...what of us? We know ourselves, although every journey through Frank's discovery and floor show changes us. We notice new things, about everything else and about ourselves.

The night goes and then comes again. Even if we have gone through it once, we will go through it again. It will come again. And that is the most comforting thing of all. It's a show, a show for us. It's a party for us. The players do their part, and then it all happens once again. When the sun sets and darkness falls again, Frank and the rest throw another party. It's not a linear experience. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cycle. Like so many of the best stories in the world, it can be seen as a metaphor for the endlessly-repeating cycles of nature. Of night itself, where anything is possible. And to some, that unlimited potential is so scary.

To me, it is comforting. It is always sad to me that night has to end. It is like being afloat in a magical world of unlimited potential, and then daylight comes and shows you exactly where your boundaries and limits are. But night...night is a different story entirely.

It's why I embrace Rocky Horror so wholeheartedly. I know that, after the last note fades and the lights are out in the Criminologist's study, it only needs the urging from me to start it up again. Frank and Columbia and the others pick right back up and start again. And even before we had VHS and DVD, that was still what it meant to me. All it needs is for night to come again, for everything to start again.

In all the periods of my life, Rocky Horror has been there for me. Ever since I saw it for the first time, it has given me the assurance that I am not alone, and that even if we are all aliens and outsiders, we at least have each other, and we throw great parties. In the darkest time of my life, I watched Rocky Horror almost daily, just for that reassurance. It seems like, no matter how bad it gets, Frank and the rest are always there for me. And they never fail to cheer me up and to strengthen me.

From the first notes of 'Science Fiction, Double Feature', the tone is set by some of the most iconic science-fiction actors and films referenced in the lyrics. But Rocky Horror itself is one of the most iconic science-fiction films ever made. And it isn't just sci-fi. It's so much more than that, it's difficult to pin down into any singular genre.

If you haven't seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show, you need to see it. And you need to see it, not at a mass showing with all the callbacks and props, but at home, perhaps with friends, and plenty of snacks and fun. I'm not much of a fan of the showings, but they can be fun. However, I think the first experience needs to be a personal one. See it. Embrace it. And as Frank so famously says:

Don't dream it, be it.

Words to live by.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hi, I'm Gay: A Writing Guide

Since Hollywood, comic books, and various other media seem unable to get it down, after a conversation with a friend, I thought I would offer a few tips on how to write characters who are gay. Things I say to do or not to do are just opinions and just rules of thumb, not written in stone and not unchangeable -- most important of all is doing what feels right and what reads right, and what seems to be most effective for the story and genre.

I may not be considered an authority on anything, I honestly don't know. But speaking as someone for whom 'gay' is a social label (one of several), I know what I like.

- If the be-all and end-all of the character is 'a gay guy', toss the concept out. Start over again and develop the character from the beginning. Sexual orientation is an important part of a person, but it isn't the sum total of any person's being. If you're just tossing in this character simply to be a gay presence, you should examine why you feel you want to do that and then ask yourself, who is this character? No-one is just a set of genitalia, to be defined solely by sexual preference. It is just one part of a whole.

- Gay characters do not have to be either irrepressibly cheerful or utterly miserable. In any world, but especially fantasy worlds and settings, consider the logic behind any circumstances where the character is discriminated against or treated poorly. Just because there is high discrimination against non-heterosexuals in this world doesn't mean it's going to be that way by default in any other. The best-known example of this clumsy treatment is Mercedes Lackey's writings, where the main character is a dismal gay guy. Don't feel you have to prove that 'gay' is a misnomer when it comes to homosexuals. It generally makes your work tolerable only by teenagers desperate for any identification, or by people who have absolutely nothing to do with the subject.

On the other hand, irrepressibly cheerful gay guys often come off as trying way too hard. We have problems like anyone else does. Even in a world where gay guys aren't discriminated heavily against, problems must exist. Bad days happen; we aren't always going to be rays of sunshine, as much as we might like to be.

A character can be convincingly mostly cheery or depressive, though. It's just that if a character's raison d'etre is ebullience or misery, they're going to come off as questionable. And if the readers come up with questions about the motivation behind the character's mood and those questions aren't well-addressed in your narrative, it's going to become weaker in their eyes.

- Don't throw in stereotypical health problems because you think it will be engaging to a gay audience. Chances are it won't. If you're not aiming for a gay audience and you throw it in anyway, chances are high that someone in the audience will, regardless, find it cliched and probably very, very presumptuous, or even offensive.

- Gay men are not all feminine, or in touch with their feminine sides. Some are more macho than heterosexual men. There is no such thing as a 'typical' gay guy.

This doesn't mean there aren't mincing camp queens around. There are a lot of them. But it also bears thinking about why these men act so iconoclastic to traditionally expected 'masculine' behaviour. Some act that way as a reaction to what they have been pressured into their whole lives, others because it is truly more comfortable for them. Why would your character act this way? If you don't know, you should think about it.

There's nothing wrong with queeny guys. It's just that they've been far overdone, sometimes in offensive ways, up to now. Some gay audiences will find them irritating and will question the motives of the writer. It is, in some ways, comparable to the presentation of characters of colour in roughly the first half of the 20th century; some of the situations and characters were true to life, but a good many of them were also written by an author simply mashing together stereotypes with little understanding of the reasons behind it, usually only including the characters due to it being a popular trend. Because of that, many of these portrayals are viewed as uncomfortable or even offensive today.

- Similarly iffy are the promiscuous party boy, the body maniac or narcissist, the diva...these have all been overdone. Proceed with care if you intend to try and present them again.

- Be very careful about using epithets. These are words that are offensive by nature. They are generally only permissible when trying to convey some message with the situation, or to teach a lesson. Most gay people will not be comfortable with the 'f' word -- the one that is generally only acceptable when referring to a cigarette. Similarly, don't use the word 'gay' to mean 'stupid' or 'unacceptable' -- many gay people take exception to this, and justifiably. If you don't understand why, simply insert one of your own social labels in there. 'That's so Jewish.' 'That is just the most Chinese-American thing I have ever heard in my life.' 'How black.' It's a really ugly misappropriation of a word by the ignorant.

- Gay people do not exist solely to dole out meaningful advice and life lessons to their heterosexual friends. It happens sometimes, but it's getting a little old for that to be the new standard role for any gay characters. The trope is called the 'magical negro' (and I'm sorry if it sounds insensitive, that's just its name) because of the prevalence of black characters being cast in this role for some time after trend shifts meant they could no longer be caricature comic relief. The same shift of trends seems to have landed gay characters squarely in the position of existing solely to give profound, life-changing advice to their straight buddies.

While it's true that many gay people do actually have a lot to say on the subject, most of the time the characters are not allowed any real lives of their own. Most gay characters still are never allowed to have actual relationships and are basically just accessories to the more 'acceptable' straight characters' lives.

- Gay people aren't all about sex any more than straight people are. Although it is a sexual orientation, that doesn't necessarily refer to sexual intercourse, but instead to sex as in gender. With any character, sexuality or lack thereof is an important part of the character, his or her motivations, and aspects of life. Many gay guys are more comfortable in a mature way with sex, as in sexual intercourse, than their straight friends, simply because it is one of the things that most gay men have to come to terms with during their own self-realisation. One of the only universal unifiers between gay men is a love for other men. Historically, one of the points of unity was the admiration of the male form and the male sexuality.

Many gay men have a more informed approach to sex, but that doesn't mean they're all sex maniacs, or even that all of them have sex at all. Similarly, however, it doesn't mean they don't. If you want to throw a gay character into your story but can't bear to think about him having sex, maybe you should consider whether or not you really can handle having him there.

- Gay men and straight women often get along well. However, that doesn't mean that they're interchangeable or that they experience the same things emotionally, sexually, or otherwise. They have many commonalities, but don't make the mistake many writers do and think that they are basically just the same thing in a different shape. They're not. Men who would rather be women (and vice-versa) are transgender, not gay. It is a very important distinction. Most gay men are happy to be men who like men and don't want to be women, and don't identify as female. Drag queens -- men who dress and often perform on-stage as female characters -- are not necessarily transgender either. In fact, they don't even have to be gay. There are plenty of straight guys who love to wear women's clothing and have absolutely zero desire to actually be female.

If you find yourself writing a gay male character as basically a woman with a penis, there's something wrong. If you find yourself writing a gay male character as endlessly admiring women and desiring to be a woman, ask yourself whether or not you might just want to write a transgender character instead, and do your research. It is a whole different, and of course beautiful, world. Just don't mix them all together and expect no-one to call you on it.

- Most important of all, develop your character organically. Develop his hopes and fears, his triumphs and his tragedies. Don't just fill him full of character flaws, because that tends to be nothing more than a handy way to attempt to cover up weak writing. If he's just a placeholder, ask yourself if making him gay serves any real purpose.

Saying that an otherwise unexceptional character is gay, for no reason other than to make him stand out, usually comes off as desperate and ultimately uninteresting. If the character isn't making an impression, saying that he is gay may win him some fans, but they will quickly give him up if he doesn't grow a personality as well. While it is potentially interesting for a character to have an unexpected sexual preference, ask yourself: what does this contribute to the story and to the character? Does it really have any role? Is there any real reason for it to come up? As someone who has been through many, many dates, I can say that just being gay does not make someone interesting, kind, engaging, deep, or appealing.

These are just my thoughts, and I hope they might at least give you a few thoughts of your own about writing characters who are gay and actual people too. The depth that should be developed with any character must of course be developed regardless of sexuality. That is just one aspect of many that can enrich characters.

And as always, I'd love to hear from any of you with thoughts or ideas about this topic. Let me know your approaches to characters and their sexualities as an aspect of their identities!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Plight of Gay Youth

Today I wanted to take the time to address a very real problem that is finally receiving some notice, and it's long past time. Intolerance is at the highest point it's been in ages, and of course that has an effect on youth. They see intolerance from older people and in the world, and they think it's okay. The misuse of the term 'gay' to mean 'stupid' or 'bad' is as hurtful as any other epithet, but since it's gays, it's largely dismissed.

Because, you see, it's not trendy anymore like it was for a few minutes in the 90s. The American view of reality is distorted; you get 'reality' television that all of its viewers know isn't real, for example. That's not the be-all and end-all of things, but a vast amount of the American population, especially the younger part of that, is heavily influenced by what is trendy or popular.

There have been a huge amount of suicides amongst gay youth who were bullied. This is intolerable. But what's being done about it? The only thing I can find is a video movement called 'It Gets Better', to encourage gay youth and let them know that things improve, down the line.

But is this really true? I don't think so. I want to encourage them like anyone else, but if someone is depressed and upset enough to seriously consider ending his own life, it's not going to help him to basically be encouraged to put it off. If they're that unhappy, it's just delaying the inevitable because it really doesn't necessarily get better. Maybe if you're rich, or pretty, or you fall in with the right crowd; maybe if you're incredibly lucky, or you happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Basically you just get older and the struggles usually get less immediate and more frustrating. You grow into a world where you are a second-class citizen and actually having rights like everyone else is an everyday battle. You're accused of being everything from unnatural to evil. And gay culture isn't that much better -- in a lot of the popular gay culture, your existence might as well end at 30, or if -- god forbid -- you're black.

In the media, gay characters have slowly become included, although it's important to note, it isn't like the 90s, where apparent novelty meant that gay characters could feature on-screen and actually be fully-realised people. Now gay characters tend to be reduced to the status that most characters of colour did in the earlier half of the 20th century: the 'magical negro', a trope wherein the character is basically created to support a more 'acceptable' mainstream character by dispensing advice. And because of the American tendency to see things as media portray them, that's unimpressively where we are.

Lady Gaga and Katy Perry can cry about it all they want, but what have they done besides bemoan it? Them, Ellen, the least one MMA fighter presented his email address and offered to fly to the school of any bullied gay kid that wrote him, and talk to the bullies about why what they're doing is wrong and what they should do instead. We need more things like that.

If I had the money -- and believe me, I wish I had money -- I would establish a fund encouraging gay youth to hold their school system accountable, to tell them what they need to do and how to do it. One of the most important things here is for them to feel empowered, and they are going to have to start lodging formal complaints about their clearly lacking school systems and start initiating lawsuits against them. The educational system in the United States, as in pretty much the entire rest of the world, is a horrible mess.

This situation can only be improved by hitting them where it hurts, and that is by lodging formal complaints with the schools, the school boards, and going to media like newspapers and making a big stink about it. If necessary, the schools should be taken to court as well. While it is the responsibility of parents to raise their kids right (and chance would be a fine thing), the responsibility of stopping bullying amongst schoolchildren lies squarely with the schools and their personnel. If that isn't being done, they aren't doing their jobs. And when it gets to where children are taking their own lives rather than face another day of bullying, those personnel are being negligent in their duties.

I don't know if it would be helpful to take the bullies to court. It likely would just lead to lives of resentment because they probably are too stupid to understand that what they're doing is horrible and hurtful, or maybe they're just looking for any attention, which they never got from their parents. The parents aren't always responsible for their children turning out as bullies, though, I will admit. Is it a solution to bring the parents to court as well? I can't say. But it is unquestionably a failing on the part of the school systems and their personnel.

There are so many things that need to be improved in this country, and in this world. We need to empower our youth. And when we're talking about bullied gay youth, it's intolerable if they're not supported. They need to feel like they have options, and that they are being supported by something that can accomplish things. A fund to support and to inform gay youth about complaining and getting action from their school system needs to exist, especially now. One of the leading causes of despair is a feeling of futility and helplessness; this is especially strong when trapped in the grasp of the educational sytem. It's unfortunate, but we will need some serious funds for this sort of thing and someone who knows what he's doing to set it up.

I would like to hear others' thoughts about this as well. These are just my personal thoughts on the matter. I would like to encourage everyone, of course, to encourage and to support gay youth, to be there for them, and to encourage them to take action if they are being bullied or being discriminated against. It is never too early to teach social activism, and when you belong to a highly-discriminated-against minority, it is more of an essential life skill. Gay youth need to learn not to accept discrimination or poor treatment, and what they need to do to stop it. They need to learn that the kind of behaviour being allowed by their school system is not acceptable under any circumstances.

Intolerance has cost us so many lives that might have been brilliant leaders and breathtaking artists, people who could have shaped this world into something better. Matthew Shepard is one of countless youths whose lives have been cut short because of irresponsible parenting, ignorance, intolerance, and the predominant American mindset of 'if it isn't trendy, it isn't worth anything'.

Let's try to get out of that mindset. And let's try to be a little more there, and a little more accessible, for gay youth who need that encouragement.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Indie vs Marvel and DC

I don't usually take time on this particular blog to speak about things like this, but I feel it is important to cover this topic, especially right now.

Marvel and DC, if you weren't aware, are the two largest comic book companies in the United States. They publish primarily superhero-based comics, and it is their output that has a significant effect even on independent comics and creators. Along with Diamond Distribution, they form a triumvirate stranglehold on the market, and it is because of that I come to you now with my appeal.

This is aimed at all of you who enjoy comics as a medium, but especially those of you who come here and are gay, or read my work because it features non-heterosexual characters portrayed in a positive light.

I know some of you still buy Marvel and DC comics. You still want to support your local comic shops, or you've had a subscription forever and have become used to it, or you like the character and are hoping that the title will improve, month after month. I'm not going to tell you to stop buying and expect you to actually do it. That's unrealistic for me to expect.

However, I would like to ask you to consider your purchases more carefully. And there are many reasons why I would like to do that.

The first is that the big two companies influence other comic creators. It can be viewed as simply as 'if you buy their comics, you won't have enough to support the independent, accessible creators that really care about you as an individual'. It's all too common that creators of online and independent comics get the shaft because people spend wads of cash on things they often enjoy less, and when it comes time to donate to their favourite comic or to buy a printed book from them, they don't have enough. Though I might also mention that even $5 is enough for most independent creators. If multiple people are generous, $5 from many adds up and helps them to afford the supplies they need to continue making comics. The big two, on the other hand, don't have these kinds of budget woes. If you don't buy the comics right when they come out, they'll still be there in a month and their staff will still have enough to buy their supplies.

The other and less obvious influence is that good or poor choices by Marvel and DC have a marked influence on the market for comics altogether. Their questionable moves have made many creators suffer, both independent and otherwise, and they keep doing these things because people keep irrationally throwing money at them.

I will be very frank here: things are not going to change. Things are not going to improve. The title you have been following for years in the hopes that it will improve, someday, is not going to get better. In fact, none of it is going to go anywhere until and unless people speak with their wallets and say 'I don't like this' and stop buying it. If you're complaining about it and still paying for it, you're not doing any good. You're still a part of the problem.

They have spent decades alienating all of the fans who were fans during the Silver and Bronze Ages, in the misguided mindset that readers want to see incessant mega-crossovers and visceral violence, where heroes stopped being heroic and every month holds a new, horrible, casual death, thinking that this will sell, sell, sell! And now they're finding that people don't actually like it -- after years of complaining and driving away everyone who had a grievance -- and attempting to get those fans back.

The good series and the consistent series always get put on hiatus or cancelled, and it's not due to lack of support by the readers and consumers, it's due to personal bias by the management. There have been numerous titles put out by both Marvel and DC that have done exceptionally well, especially in the economic climate, and gathered vast, strong followings that were cancelled or put on indefinite hiatus because someone higher-up just didn't want it to overshadow yet another 'dark' or 'ironic' book.

And if you think they care about you, they don't. While independent creators and labels generally do care deeply about every reader -- we know where our livelihood comes from and do this out of love and desire to create and entertain -- Marvel and DC don't. They don't at all. If you think they do, you're deluding yourself. And if you think they're going to bow to any pressure other than monetary, you're kidding yourself even more.

I'd just like to take the time to cover a couple of examples that illustrate this very well indeed.

The most compelling reason never to buy Marvel comics again is summed up in two words: Freedom Ring. An exciting character who happened to be gay and was given a novel power, he was met with enthusiastic approval and support...

...and killed off in one of the most horrible ways any character has ever met his end, not more than 5 issues later. Many readers were outraged, some put off Marvel permanently. The company was met with several threats of boycott. And why not? The incident was the comic book equivalent of a hate crime. There was no reason to do what they did.

So naturally Marvel immediately tried to backpedal and claimed that they had intended to kill him off from the very beginning, but they only made him gay at the last minute.


Does that excuse that sort of treatment? It doesn't, and it doesn't change what they've done.

They've never backpedalled enough to actually bring him back and give him decent treatment. Oh, and in case you didn't glance over at the ComicVine page I linked, they also had him paralysed almost immediately, for no good reason either. It's not really unreasonable for readers to get the impression that this virtual violence against a gay character was a thin veil for a much uglier reality: the well-known homophobia that has existed in Marvel practically since the beginning.

But wait, you say, they have a policy now that any character can be made gay! They made Rictor and Shatterstar gay lovers!


The policy is nothing more than damage control spin doctor magic in a desperate attempt to reclaim the massive alienated audience. Jim Shooter's policy in the 80s was that of strict homophobia, and the 70s were no different, with several stories openly demonising gay characters. The 90s had a desperate attempt to garner a gay audience with a disastrously tacky coming out story with Northstar, a character whom we all knew was gay and who made it abundantly clear long before then. And the only reason they haven't utterly done away with him -- and they've tried -- is because he's become Captain Gay, poster boy for gay characters and representative of all of them.

They don't care about you. And they especially don't care about you if you're gay. The Freedom Ring story would have been blatantly offensive no matter who they put in it and no matter what their sexual orientation. However, making him gay -- and then handicapped -- and treating him so badly is inexcusable.

Pair that with the overly litigious nature of Marvel, and you have a company that not only doesn't care about their readers, but is openly hostile to them. They are well-known for getting fansites shut down and loosing their overactive lawyers with threats aplenty to readers and fans. Regular readers of the popular Scans Daily community are all too familiar with their stunts.

DC's recent Blackest Night was unspeakably offensive in more or less every was possible, but one of the most offensive actions took place in a tie-in called, ironically, 'Cry for Justice'. One of DC's very few non-heterosexual (and non-promiscuous) characters, Tasmanian Devil, was brutally murdered and made into a rug.

A rug.

That's about as much as they care about you.

Before anyone asks why I should complain about that when characters everywhere are getting killed off, let me say that I disagree with almost every one of the disgustingly casual write-outs comics have been doing in the past 20 years especially. It doesn't matter who it is. But the fact is that they've chosen to do this especially to some of their already minuscule number of characters representing the gay readership, most of whom barely see any appearances at all.

Another classic antic from DC was allowing Chuck Dixon, who is well-known as a homophobe and a bigot in general, to write Connor Hawke, a character created to be different, built up to be the next best thing of DC: a new Green Arrow who was neither a womaniser nor promiscuous. He was presented as a naif essentially, fresh from a monastery and not the type of man to chase skirts, as his father had done.

Praise came in from everywhere, especially the gay community, who were enthusiastic that a hero could be shown that didn't have to be the kind of tiresome collector of sexual conquests as most superheroes had become. Naturally, some wondered if he might be non-heterosexual, especially since DC had not really kept up with the times very well and had a decisive lack of non-stereotypical gay characters. Pretty much the only one even discussed at that point was the Pied Piper, a Flash villain.

Dixon, who had inexplicably been given the reins to the Green Arrow title, did a predictably poor job. As if his bad writing wasn't enough, his bad personality added to that: he lashed out at gay fans and became well-known for his homophobia and opinions that non-heterosexual characters didn't belong in comic books. Drugs, teenage pregnancies, and everything else he wrote, apparently, was a-okay, but in his words, homosexual characters were unacceptable for comic books, especially when they're read by young people.

Kyle Rayner, another character built up to be the next big thing as the new Green Lantern, was a hard luck guy who honestly didn't have much personality. He was an artist, and a comic artist, which enabled most of the writers to write from (idealised) life. As their forebears had done, Connor and Kyle became close friends.

What many people don't know is that DC intended to make an event to remember out of their unique relationship. Connor's pure outlook and Kyle's social awkwardness would come together in a kiss. It may or may not have led to a relationship between them.

However, chiefly due to Dixon's constant remarks and threats, they did not do it. Rather than discipline one of the worst writers in the company's history, they instead allowed the two characters never to have their moment. It is perhaps unsurprising that both of them have been replaced and have faded into obscurity. And it is a very sad thing.

It just tells you where you stand in their esteem. Rather than oppose one obnoxious man, they chose to offend hundreds, if not thousands, of fans, readers, and most importantly, buyers.

I would just like to say that most independent comic creators aren't like that.

Unless you're dealing with someone who is a real homophobe nutjob -- and they're probably going to be that pretty obviously in their work -- most of the time, what you see with us is what you get.

We know where our bread and butter comes from. It comes from the readers who are supportive of our work. It comes from the people who support us not only professionally, but personally, and socially.

It comes from all of you.

So, while I can't tell you to stop buying Marvel and DC and start letting them know why, I can at least encourage you to buy less of their output. But do let them know why. That's important. It doesn't really matter how many do; they don't care about that, clearly, if their actions up to now are any indication. We don't have to be in the hundreds to make a difference. Being hundreds or thousands doesn't necessarily get their attention. If just a few will firmly let them know, maybe they will take notice. Maybe they won't, but the attempt should be made.

But we will take notice. We independents, we creators who care about our readers and their support. We do care, and we do take notice. And while it is important that we stretch creatively and do what we have to do, it is so very, very important that we do right by you.

I just want you to think about this, and I hope very much that you will.