Get Some Momentum

I haven’t posted anything here in over a year. Not because I haven’t been working hard but because I have been writing my comprehensive exams. For those of you who don’t know, these exams (referred to usually as “comps”) are a PhD milestone in which you spend a year reading on a certain topic and stop in November to write one exam, and then in May you write another. Now these exams vary greatly from school to school. Some schools your supervisor drafts a list of things relevant to your dissertation, others you draft a list of things relevant to your dissertation, and at some schools you pick two reading lists from a variety of specialized areas. At Waterloo you pick two reading lists from a selection of 13 and from there you decide which will be your secondary list and which your primary. Your primary exam involves both a written 4 hour exam and an oral defense of that exam, your secondary is just the written test.

Now I won’t say there was no value in this experience because I got a lot out of the reading. I read a LOT of interesting things in the past year. Like with course work, my horizons have been expanded and I got thinking about tons of stuff I had never previously considered. My secondary exam was in Canadian literature and I read a bunch of amazing books and learned a lot about our country’s (more interesting then you would think) history. For the Canadian exam I even got to make a B-list entirely focusing on Canadian comics! I really enjoyed thinking about how Canadian comics fit into the sphere of “Canadian literature” and would love more than anything to write an article examining Canadian comics using Canadian literary theory! But instead I read all these things, studied like crazy, wrote a 4 hour exam, and then just walked away from it.

For my primary exam I was looking at New Media Studies, which was in some ways closer to my dissertation, in some ways further away. In the New Media exam you can pick two (out of a possible eight) areas of expertise to narrow down the larger list which is very important. My exam was made up of a list of core classic texts (Benjamin, Barthes, Haraway, Hayles, Donald Norman, McLuhan etc.) and then two specialized lists, one looking at important writing on social media, the other one looking at important writing on game studies. I wasn’t looking at anything to do with comics, but the exam gave me a lot of fantastic background on the digital humanities as well as providing me with the language to think about how my project is a DH project.

I read countless fascinating things that restructured the ways I think about some of my favourite topics; bodies, publics, feminism, gender, race, sexuality, fandom, narrative, social media, pornography and of course: video games. I spent a lot of it reading and thinking about video games. In fact for my exam I actually had to play two video games of my chair’s choice. For each of your specialized list you have an additional  list of texts that is specialized to THAT list as well as to a few object texts. This is where things get realllllyyyy fun (but also complicated to explain). My specialized games list (on top of the core games list) looked entirely at intersectional identity and gaming (Gender! Race! Class! Mobility! Sexuality! Etc. all the most interesting things) and my social media list looked specifically at sexuality and social media (how is our sexuality mediated, oppressed or liberated through our technology?). I fucking loved this part of the exam. It was my opportunity to not only look at topics that I thought were important but also a challenge to use my favourite classic DH texts to discuss these topics. I.e. What would Barthes think about Snap Chat? How could we rewrite Benjamin’s texts to fit our current “age”? How are women becoming Haraway-esque feminist cyborgs through the distribution of their bodies online?  For my games list looking at identity I got assigned Beyond Two Souls and Gone Home as my object texts. When it came to writing the exam I was literally talking about Tinder, Snap Chat, Gone Home and Beyond Two Souls in relation to the theory the entire time. It was fantastic. I was like a pig in shit.

So the point of that long introduction is that comps are not ALL bad. There are parts of them that are incredibly enjoyable. But for someone like me they were also something else. For myself it feels like some sort of stopgap in your education. I had built up so much motivation and more importantly momentum over the years to study, and to write, to collaborate and produce and suddenly it was like I had run head on into a brick wall at full force. The past year has been like groping along that brick wall trying to find my way back to myself. When I first finished course work and started my comps I was LOST. All I could think about were all the projects I wanted to be working on, all the articles I wanted to write, I was making documentary plans with my film maker cousin, writing scripts for comics, thinking about my next poetry project, writing dissertation outlines, I had just finished making a feminist machinima fan vid about Lord of the Rings and was co-founding an organization for lady gamers in the KW area. I was applying for conferences all over the place, I was finishing book chapters, I was writing book proposals, and I felt like I was on fireeeeee. Then the wall. It was LITERALLY a wall of Canadian novels but metaphorically it was the milestone. I would meet with my supervisor with an outpouring of ideas, and she would attempt to rein me in as best as she could while still remaining encouraging in all my projects. I knew I couldn’t read the whole list and also do the things I wanted to do. I felt like opportunities were passing me by. It forced me to really consider for the first time, just how badly I wanted to do the PhD. Was I okay putting everything on hold for a year in order to properly prepare for my exams?

At first dealing with the brick wall was a bit like I was navigating through a labyrinth trying to get to the center. It was like David Bowie has stolen my dissertation and if I could just persevere I would get to the Goblin City and nab that baby back. I would grope along the brick wall until I found a new path, something that made a connection with me, and I would follow it to a dead end. Sometimes I would fall into a dark bottomless pit of settler narratives for days only to find a way out by grabbing onto the nearest collection of long poems and pulling myself out. One day I would be sobbing into a Margret Lawrence novel and the next I would be reading frantically online about the Canadian Pacific Railway in order to understand the Red River Rebellion better. The next I would be redevouring and drawing hearts all over the Seed Catalogue only to find myself unsure of how I would ever make it work for me on the actual exam.

When it came down to it there was just a point in the fall of my second year where I stopped writing. I was writing notes, sure. I was writing practice exams and pretend essays but I wasn’t REALLY writing. It’s like I was performing the act without any of the heart behind it. Not because I don’t love Canadian Literature but because comps just sucked the life out of me until I no longer felt like Jennifer Connolly solving the mysteries of the labyrinth and more like Hoggle blasting fairies dead (there is something really satisfying about crossing a book of that list) and pissing into the fountain unsure what the hell to do with myself other than obey orders.

The exam format produces so much anxiety you can never feel prepared no matter how much you have read. I would try to do simple things like go out for dinner with friends only to walk home panicking and wishing I had never left the house because of the overwhelming fear that loomed along with the exams date. I always knew exactly how many days were left until the exam. I was already panicking when there were 100 days left.

Now I know how this seems in theory, “OH you had to just teach and READ for an entire year? Your whole job other than teaching was just to sit on your ass and READ and you are complaining?” or “It’s probably just you tons of people have done it before you”. I probably sound like an ungrateful privileged jerk and I know that I’m only here because I chose to be here and I feel very very very privileged to have made my way to this position where I am paid to do what I love, but bear with me while I indulge myself. The thing is that it’s not so much the reading as it is that you are reading in isolation and without purpose. Sure I kept some notes and ideas for when I finally ripped my dissertation back out of Bowie’s sexy sexy hands but that REALLY isn’t the same as writing. I’m in grad school because I love to write, reading is part of the writing process. Reading can also be for pleasure, but in this case a pleasure reading won’t prepare you for an exam.  It was hard for me to know how to prepare when I felt that an exam – A TEST – is no way to measure if I have grasped the ungraspable tenants of Canadian postmodern thought, or if I can teach a course about the digital humanities. I would have been delighted to have written an article or a literature review relaying what I had learned from consuming the respective cannons, but reading hundreds of books in preparation to hash it all out in 4 hours meant that I stopped writing, and in a way I stopped caring in that useful motivating way I had before. I had lost all my momentum. I stopped groping along the brick wall for an escape route and instead just bricked myself in and everything else out. I’m an incredible social person, and I still saw people and did things, but I felt isolated in some other more insidious way that I couldn’t quite articulate. Maybe a type of intellectual isolation? If you are at all already susceptible to depressive states as many grad students tend to be, comps seems a bit more like a nail in a coffin than a hurdle for you to jump over. It’s hard not to get depressed when you are looking at a list of books that is unreadable everyday. You will feel like you can’t finish, or if you do like you didn’t learn enough. You can go to those around you for help all you want but when it comes down to it you have two options, drop out of your PhD or just keep reading and hope to god you pass. I walked into both exams with the full expectation that I would fail them.

I was insanely prepared, preparing was my life for 4 months, but it never felt like enough. Luckily I passed that first exam and happily collapsed for the holidays. Although I will admit it, as happy as I was that it was over, passing didn’t feel like enough. After years of striving for those A+s on course work papers I felt like a failure even though I passed.

“She chose down!”

Over the Christmas holidays I gained some momentum back. I picked up projects, I read some books. I wrote conference papers and worked on book chapters and I was starting to feel human again. The second exam wasn’t as isolating because my best friend was also writing the same exam and therefore we could get together once or twice a week and talk about what we had read and how it related to our respective dissertations. Also, in January I started a process recommended by my supervisor where for 20 minutes everyday I wrote. Often about how much the last semester had drained me and how I was going to get my life (which at the time felt like a disaster) back on track. I made some huge changes in my life both personal and professional. I started changing everything I could and instead of scaling off projects to focus on comps I took on as many as I could. I made plans to travel for work and for pleasure, New York, Chicago, Sweden, Denmark, Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, Toronto x infinity. I basically decided I was okay with failing my exam as long as I felt like I was still learning and I was happy while I did it. I didn’t fail of course. I did substantially better than I did on my first exam even though I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I should have been focused on comps not traveling to Sweden to talk about Fifty Shades of Grey and help edit a book about sexual fantasies, or visiting my best friend I hadn’t seen in 2 years in Denmark, or going to New York to a comic convention to see talks by Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruise, and Art Spiegelman, or going on that long planned road trip to the east coast with my other best friend, or spending weekends going to shows and parties or binging Parks and Rec in Toronto with my partner. The list of things I knew I should never ever do if I wanted to be the ideal grad student goes on and on. I know I wasn’t being the best grad student last semester because I wasn’t reading every single word in every single book on the exam list in an effort to get the best mark on the exam possible. I was just trying to be happy, be a good TA, get all my marking done on time, and scrape by on the exam. Maybe if there had of been a goal in mind that wasn’t the exam I wouldn’t have felt so hopeless, maybe if the exam was set up more like a class I would have learned more through discussion. Maybe if the goal was a take home exam or a piece of more developed writing I would have been happily writing my first dissertation chapter, or an article to publish, or maybe even a series of blog posts. I have no clue because that wasn’t what happened. I passed all three exams and I guess I’m happy enough with how it went, but more than anything I’m just happy it’s over.

So now I’m starting year 3 of the PhD and again I’m finding myself lost, I’ve made it through the comps year and I can start writing my dissertation! Woohooo right!? I’ve been happily reading and jotting things down for about a month now for my proposal but overall I find myself feeling as if I’ve forgotten how to write. I’ve spent a year studying and not writing. Instead of writing myself into my dissertation, I feel as though I’ve studied my way out of it. I find myself thinking things like: “what was my writing process like?” and “how did I write this old dissertation outline so effortlessly 2 years ago?”. Thank god past Emma spent so much time writing because I’m now relying on the thousands of words she jotted down on my dissertation topic during her MA, her year off from the MA, or the first year of her PhD. Because she had momentum, it pushed her through fourth year of her undergrad and towards grad school, through the coursework of the MA and the PhD — all to get to the point that I’m at right now. I may have not been as theoretically equipped to write my dissertation the summer after course work but I was absolutely in a better mind set for it. I had just finished writing all those course work papers and was chomping at the bit to start writing my dissertation! In fact I DID start writing chapter one way back then and then promptly stopped when I felt like I absolutely had to start studying for comps or I would run out of time. I constantly felt like I was already out of time.

I know that comps isn’t like this for everyone, I know there are some people who would be happy to get a break from writing, who enjoy the challenge of being tested, and who can read at the speed of light, but I also know countless other grad students for whom it was the year that soured them on the entire experience. It makes you question, repeatedly, if you are really “PhD material”. You start wondering if the challenge is to memorize the information or is it just to survive? Writing exams has never been my strength as an atypical student but furthermore it has never been how I learn. I am well aware that most of what I read in the last year will slip through the cracks for me because I didn’t get a chance to write about it and now I have other things I need to focus on. I know I wrote the four hour exam but that isn’t the same as REALLY writing about something. The joys of tossing down thoughts like a watercolour wash and then peppering in the details and prettying it up as you go. When writing an exam you are writing under a time constraint in an effort to prove how much you know about something and not attempting to reel in and enlighten your audience on a certain topic. It’s just not the same. It felt more like running for my life then constructing a sound argument.

I also know that being this vocal about my experience as a grad student doesn’t paint me in the best light. We are supposed to pretend that it was all a cake walk so that we fit the image of the true academic who beholds a type of divine right that is backed up by the authority of the institution. But I hope that being this vocal about it will maybe be beneficial to other grad students that I know (or don’t know!) in some way. Or at the very least, I hope that writing about the process of the PhD is beneficial to myself in an effort to start writing again. Really writing like I used to, not my current process where I write for 20 minutes everyday walk away and no one ever sees it.

I think a lot of us are scared to share our writing because of the image of the “ideal” grad student that is imposed on us. Scared to publish, to hand in a draft of a dissertation chapter, to make mistakes. Some grad students I know are afraid to put down a sentence on paper until it’s in perfect “academese”. Too afraid to articulate the content of an idea without first perfecting the form. A year ago I was the kind of person who tossed out my ideas clumsily into the public sphere and maybe regretted it later when I had changed my mind on this or that or was facing a glut of negative internet commenters, but I did it anyway. This last year I have instead been regretting things before I even share them out of some sort of academic anxiety where I constantly fear the single undeveloped idea, name mixup, or blog post typo that brings down my entire career one opportunity at a time. The fear being that I will accidentally convince people that I am not actually an academic because I’m not perfect. But as my supervisor pointed out to a group of us in her mandatory professionalization course (one of the best experiences I’ve had here at Waterloo), I’ll never be my vision of the ideal academic: the quiet, solitary, nervous, quick reading, full book devouring, editorless, literary encyclopaedia, grammar-nerd type of man whose last draft is really their first draft. I’ll never be that ideal because it is crafted by my own personal imagining of everything I am not. What I can be is that smart, thoughtful, constantly questioning, feminist who isn’t afraid of her own subjectivity and loves to write all day every day. I’m convinced I can be that person again. I just need to get my momentum back. Which is what this is all about. My approach for the last year was “don’t blog anything unless you think it’s perfect” (i.e. blog nothing), which I am now officially exchanging for “blog everything and fuck arbitrary standards of quality”. So I am planning on starting to blog more, a lot more, but instead of being fully formed arguments about things I am about to publish on it will be more about fleeting thoughts about whatever it is I’m reading/writing about. Right now I just finished reading a book about how two cognitive scientists see the ways we consume pornography, (spoilers – I hated it) so expect a lot of ranting about that.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment with your own experiences or ideas about how the exam experience (or overall grad school experience) could be enhanced! Now that I’m finished writing this post I’m feeling as ready as I think I will be to finish my dissertation proposal draft. I may have felt like I was going 100km an hour and rolling downhill before comps, but right now going at a steady 50 and hour feels good enough.

E <3

“Yeah… but What if They had More Kissing?”: The Avoidance of Sex and Post Apocalyptic Parenthood in Telltale Studios The Walking Dead

Long time no see! I have been insanely busy giving talks, finishing books chapters, taking my LAST EVER class as a grad student, and writing articles about video games! Today I have an article up on the incredible game studies website First Person Scholar (aka FPS) all about how Telltale’s The Walking Dead game surprised me as an adaptation. I loved the Walking Dead game but I have done a lot of work on how sex functions in the Walking Dead comic (you may remember this post about it on this very blog) so when I started playing the game I was expecting something else. I was really expecting my very handsome protagonist to participate in some emotional and non emotional consensual sexual fun with the ladies, and if I was really lucky, the dudes as well! This did not come to pass. Instead my protagonist worked his way through the zombie apocalypse by taking care of a little girl and I played through the game by making frantic decisions and sobbing constantly because it is REALLY SAD and I cry SO MUCH at everything, always. I am that person who cries at commercials. It is not a joke! It is one of the reasons why I am happy to not have TV.

So my article today is examining the lack of sex in The Walking Dead game (which p.s, is rated M the same rating given to GTA and Mass Effect) and also the lack of sex in video games in general. I hope that you like it! Check it out here at First Person Scholar.com!

Get Some Updates

There are few blog posts lamer than one about a lack of blog posts; I am going to do it anyway. I can’t wait to return to blog activity and its central subjects, but my posting has been interrupted by the bazillions of writing projects I have on the go. This week is technically my “reading week” from my PhD coursework. A confession: I have done almost no reading, but instead been bogged down in writing obligations elsewhere. Let me tell you about what’s cooking in the lab:

1) A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the misogyny of Twilight hatred and Twilight-hate memes for the Hooded Utilitarian. It was part of a Twilight Round Table in which multiple people gave different perspectives on the series and its fan actitivy.

The whole round table was a lot of fun but I especially enjoyed Mette Ivie Harrison’s article discussing Mormonism and feminism. I’ve never really known what to do with the criticisms of the series that hinged upon the ad hominem “you know Meyer is MORMAN, right?” While I’m sure that this expectedly plays into her work in some way or another, I never quite understood why this was any worse than the variety of other writers we read who believe in a god. Harrison examines Twilight as a “uniquely Mormon version of the Garden of Eden story” that is “all about female power.” Needless to say, I absolutely loved this compelling and though-provoking piece. You can also read her short piece “In Defense of Twilight” on her tumblr in which she raises many of the problems I also have with the fervent hatred of the series and its fan base.

I really enjoyed writing this piece for the Hooded Utilitarian and I think some interesting debates came up in the comments section bellow my article. The more frustrating portion of my participation began when the article was shared on the front page of Metafilter. Nothing is more frustrating for myself as a writer, especially one who attempts to always take a suitably complex and therefore problematic view on their subject, than listening to  countless people tear down your argument without even reading it. Most of the comments on Metafilter had largely constructing their arguments around the lone quotation offered on the community page. Most people did not even realize that the article was about Twilight Hatred! Oh, the joy of reading 135 comments that were mostly one of three sentiments:

1) I am drinking/dying/going to kill myself/never have children in a world in which someone thinks it is okay that girls read Twilight.
2) Well all I know is that I am WAY WAY WAY too smart to get through even just a few pages of that junk!
3) Wait! I know implicitly without reading either book that Twilight and 50 Shades are about women taking men as their masters! Therefore I HATE ALL WOMEN WHO LIKE IT.

*facepalm* Oh GOD that was fun. I am still planning a blog post on here in which I respond semi-politely to all the comments I received on MetaFilter in order to show that, if anything, 135 comments about how my article (which was in essence about how hating on Twilight is really about hating on women) is a steaming pile of shit just for suggesting their is something good about Twilight largely proves many of the points that I had made.

2) On a brighter note, a lovely academic from the University of Stockholm contacted me when she read my article on the Hooded U and asked me if I would be interested in writing a piece on 50 Shades for a volume on “Sexual Fantasies.” I was over the moon with the chance to finally write about 50 shades, so I of course said yes. This is something I am going to be working on almost constantly between now until the 24th of May when my first draft is due. This is going to be a huge undertaking but I am very lucky that I have a very supportive professor at U Waterloo who is very willing to help me with my drafts along the way. I am unsure when this text will be available to purchase but I can tell already by reading the book proposal that it is going to be an incredible read.

3) I am participating in a university competition called 3 Minute Thesis. As you might have guessed, contestants attempt to give the audience a simplified overview of their doctoral thesis in 3 minutes. You are allowed one static slide as a visual aid but, other than that, the presentation is simply 3 minutes of you giving a memorized speech. Words cannot adequately express my excitement and terror.

4) I am currently working on my chapter for the Zombies and Sex anthology about The Walking Dead, which is an expansion of the conference paper/ blog post that you might have already read – if not, scroll down and take a gander!

5) I have been posting summaries and responses regarding material in my New Media Genres class on the class-designated blog. For anyone interested in New Media or the Digital Humanities, you may inevitably find the content on this site to be a resource. The posts all directly engage with either an article or a book that take up various topics including (but not limited to): studies of genre, social media, fan fiction, blogging, privacy, the history of the personal computer, hypertext, terms of service, affordance and design.

You can read a couple of things written by myself here on topics of fan fiction, fan communities, privacy, sex blogging, the nature of the hyperlink, and Star Wars. All of which can be found on my archives profile in which I shamelessly plug this blog in my bio on the left. Stay classy Emma.

6) This is only sort of a writing thing, but I am organizing a conference with a few friends here at Waterloo that will take place in KW (see: Kitchener-Waterloo region) this September. The conference topic is women in games, and it will discuss both female participation in game culture as well as the position of women in the games industry. I have been doing a bit of writing for our conference blog but it hasn’t launched yet. Goes without saying, but I am REALLY excited about this new blog. We are going to use the blog to collect news and information about women and gaming leading up to the conference, so that the conversations within the involved community will have already been moving by the time we are ready to get into presentations, demonstrations, and face to face discussions. The blog will be up and running under the name Gamers IRL relatively soon.

7) This week I have also been writing a book review about Nintendo’s long-awaited tomb of Zelda fan service, Hyrule Historia. The review is for the online games journal/mag some of my friends/colleges here at Waterloo run, called First Person Scholar. There is some thoroughgoing, stimulating content there you should check out that’s bound to be of interest to both fans and scholars of video games.

8) I am also looking to write an essay for FPS about The Walking Dead game from Telltale Studios. I am not entirely sure what I want to say in this article yet; I mostly want to express my shock that there is no sex in The Walking Dead Game, when that is something so integral to the tone and plot of the source material. I absolutely adored this game, but I was really disappointed that I couldn’t develop any of my relationships with my fellow survivors. I started this article this week by writing a conference paper proposal on the same topic. I figure that I will give the conference paper and then turn it into something for FPS. Or vice versa. This is to be determined by how much time I have in the next few months – which is likely less than I realistically need, but what the heck!

9) This month I also need to write a proposal for the New Narrative conference that happens during TCAF. I went to this conference last year and I can’t put into words how much I enjoyed myself. It was so nice to listen to all these other comics scholars and learn about their research. The CFP is very open this year and the proposals are not due until March 31st so I suggest you consider submitting an abstract to this great conference as well!

10) Also, more obviously I have school work to do. Lots of it. There is so much that I won’t go into much detail discussing what exactly I am doing. It is all very exciting of course but it is hard to find a balance between school work and all these other fun writing projects. On top of all this there is also the writing class that I am teaching. I only have 25 students but it can be exhausting. Despite my exhaustion and the fact that my stress levels are at an all time high, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So these are the many many cookie jars in which my hands are currently stuck. I hope this gives some explanation as to why I have been so useless at updating this site. For now, I am hope you are satisfied to follow these links and read my writing on various other sites for the time being.

The summer is quickly approaching and I only have one class that I am taking in the summer semester! The luxury of being able to focus all my attention on one course (not to mention the free time it’ll provide) is almost unbearably exciting. It is also the very last class of my coursework requirements for my PhD. After that it is all about comprehensive exams and dissertations! I know that I probably won’t feel the same way when I am actually having to write it, but currently just the word “dissertation” makes me salivate. It is probably a product of having too many writing projects on the go, but the idea of having one singular project is massively intoxicating. Although, who am I kidding? Am I ever going to be the kind of person who has less cookie jars than hands? Absolutely not.

I hope that in the next few weeks I can find a spare second to write a blog post to talk about how much I am in love with both Smut Peddler and Ahoy Booty! Lovers of all things funny smart and erotic should grab them both before they are gone!

“Yer Not Comics”: Male Territoriality in American Subcultures

Oh lord. So, how am I NOT supposed to say something about this whole Tony Harris thing? I know, I know, everyone has a right to “be themselves” on the internet. So he can talk all he wants. But, I will exercise my right to be myself on the internet as well by unpacking what’s actually being said by Harris and his buddies.

Some hours ago, comic industry professional Tony “effing” Harris had this to say on his Facebook wall. Inevitably, the predictable response among his fanbase is to tell him that he is the greatest for saying what is on “everyone’s” mind. If you go directly to his wall you can see the comments which are, as always, equally as terrifying as almost anything else you’ll find in your daily cocktail of stupid people and the internet. I’m including the names (with links) of those who commented in case you follow them on twitter or buy their stuff and want to you know… not. Highlights of this commentary include:

“I think before any of these women are allowed to cosplay at cons they should be required to take a written exam on comic books, past and present, followed by a before and after comparison, one in their cosplay outfit and the other NOT in their cosplay outfit but in their normal, average looking boring clothes.

Then again you could just ask them who Jack Kirby was…I imagine they’d all fail”

-Casey Callender

Don’t you just love this one? Yes! Please! Let me prove myself to you by taking your arbitrary test that will examine my knowledge of mainstream comics! Who is this Mister Kirby? I’ve never heard of him before! So strange! PLEASE MANSPLAIN THESE THINGS TO ME A LITTLE MORE.

“Scuse me Miss, I’m going to need to see some ID, and could you also please tell me the real name of the Silver Surfer.” – Chad ‘isit’ Hindahl

Oh, Geeze… I don’t know…. AND I DO NOT GIVE ANY SHITS.

But seriously, comics are a HUGE industry that overlaps constantly with film, videogames, visual art, fiction and many other productions. There is no test that can be taken on this because we, you and I, have likely not read the same comics. At least, I HOPE we have not read all the same comics. Because where is the fun in that? One of the best things about cons is coming together and learning about comics that are to our personal taste, and the trading of source material that we’ve ideally never heard of. News flash, buddy: not everyone is going to be a BIG Kirby fan or maybe *gasp* they won’t be a fan at all! Just like not everyone is going to dig reading Chaucer or Emily Dickinson. Because taste is relative. You can’t test this shit. And, forgive me for being cheesy, but you can’t test love. And that is what fandom is all about! As Kirby himself once famously said, “comics will break your heart”.

Alright, comment number two!

“What bothers me is that these con girls forget that these comic guys aren’t the nerds Biff Tannen thinks we are. I went to Austin’s comicon last year and ran into a girl I met at a bar in my hometown. I was nice to her in her Black Canary costume, but she treated me like I was Peter Parker post OMD. I shrugged it off. Why? Because she and I both knew she refered to my dick as a member and cried afterwards. So who was really pathetic?” – Joshua Edward West

Ummmm, did you just admit to a girl crying after she had sex with you? Can I tell you a secret? Girls don’t always cry after having sex. I think something might have gone horribly wrong for you and/or for your member? And how do you think writing about this on the internet makes you seem less pathetic?

NEXT:

“You know I don’t mind having good photo reference for my art, I can appreciate them on that level. But I agree the attention whores with daddy issues clogging up booths are fucking annoying. SG has some cute models, now the ones there who actually appreciate the industry please return, the brat sitting there just in hopes of making a few bucks off some sad lonely shut in are wasting space. Seen the dwindling death of artist alley at these cons because of this crap. As a fan I won’t return. As professional I will” 

“Another thing that bothers me at a con is the comic book vendor with out a clue, some social retard who mocks the indy comic your searching for because wow some vanilla spandex bullshit we all have read a hundred times sells better then something innovative. Forget content or culture just a circle jerk to sells of mediocre norm. (sorry going off topic there)” – Some guy who goes by “Peter Christian Knudson” on Facebook.

Well, I’m glad that your art won’t suffer because of the increase of women at cons. Oh! You wish that cons would sell things that have content and culture and are more than just “a circle jerk [that] sells [to the] mediocre norm”? God that is too bad that they are not accepting of anything new and interesting!

Next!

“Thanks dude, these are things I often think to myself. This confirms that I’m not bitter or crazy or whatever.” - Benjamin Meredith

Nope, not even a little. Not bitter at all. You totally don’t hate women.

Here is one of the worst ones, prepare yourself:

“It frustrates me that the overwhelming majority of show-goers is so focused on the circus of the costuming…..they’re fans of the movies, not the comic books that inspired them, which annoys me.” 

“<— grouchy old man who remembers when girls didn’t come to cons”
- Madamic Widmar

*sigh* Oh bother. Do you like the movies? Is there anything even wrong with that? Why does being a fan of film mean you have to read the source material. Have you read every novel that the movies you watch are based on? And as far as the second part: Holy shit dude. Do you know how many lovely normal men you just pissed off? Lets forget for a second about the fact that we as women might want to be there, but do you realize that there are men who LIKE having us at cons? What did not having women there ADD for you? To the experience? That there was one place in society that you didn’t have to put up with us? I just… I just… Oh I don’t understand. Were comic conventions, for you, some mythic bastion of misogyny to which you could take a pilgrimage? Does having women present — women who love comics just as much as you do — really deprive you enjoyment? Really?

I mean, even if we don’t know as much as you we are smart right? So we could like… learn? Well not according to this guy:

“THANK YOU. Somebody finaly had the guts to say it out loud.
What happen is those CHICKS, with the advent of Movie fellas going to teh comicons. They think they will be the next Starlet. But they won´t. They show skin in a pretty sluty way, but you can´t get near. I think trhey are only the CON cheerleaders, they will probably be washing dippers, because they are no brainners.” -Silvio Spotti

Oh… Apparently not. I have no brain! I’ll go back to washing dippers. (Um, whatever those are) Oh God, why am I not smart enough to read and write for a living! If only I was more like you Silvio!

Or more like this optimistic guy!

…. but seriously folks….. I’ve found our little sub-culture to be the most warm and inviting…. least judgemental…. and accepting on the planet. Part of what makes us great is our willingness to take all comers. Becaus we’re the nerds. Because we’re the outcasts. Because we know how it feels not to fit in elsewhere or be cast aside by the “cool”. So to the growing throngs who are all too ready to take offense to this outlook/outcry… just understand that many of these costumed “posers” are the same people who would never give us the time of day outside the convention hall. This is not an issue one needs to take sides on. But for the “good guys” who are conitinuing to finish last within your confines of the once-safe harbors of the ComiCon lifestyle… I say this: Continue loving the past-times that make you fans! Continue turning that fandom into new properties…. and continue watching the “cool kids” try to be just like you. Thank them for their efforts. Shake their hands. Make a new friend. Walk away. Set the next trend. – Matt Slay

Ah, More Mansplaining. Thanks! The fact that YOU as a MAN have found the subculture really warm and inviting is like so comforting to me. Suddenly all those years and years and years and years and years (I’ve been gaming since I was 5 or 6, but only reading comics for the past 5 years or so) of being told that I couldn’t DO or UNDERSTAND things in the nerd community because I was a woman must have been totally imaginary. Or maybe… like these posers… I am a Jock too! That much be it. I am a “cool kid” not a nerd! Oh suddenly my years in academia are coming crushing down on me. I’m cool!? I read these thousands of books for no reason? For such a collective of “those who know how it feels not to fit in,” a lot of you guys sure have a knack for privileging, exclusivity, and bigotry.

Here is the last comment I’ll talk about:

“I’m all for cute girls in skimpy costumes, but that parade of licensed characters starts to look like a long and boring commercial after a while. And eight-tenths of it is a commercial for video games or anime, neither of which I give a good God damn about.”

“It speaks to extremes of fan culture in general. I can appreciate a really great movie or comic book series without wanting to dress up like a drag version of it. There’s a virtue in coming to see the show without needing to be the show.” -Chris Burdick

You know what, I like cute girls too. Which is why I respect their right to wear, and do, whatever the hell they want. I like this comment for two reasons. One, because it works well with the First comment. The idea that, “Hey! We should be testing you to make sure that you like what I like.” But also “Stop liking those things that I DON’T like AND KNOW NOTHING ABOUT” because clearly since this guys knows nothing about video games or anime, they don’t belong at a convention. Not to mention that in a circular messed up way you’re implicitly blaming the rise of fan-culture and the subsequent grouping of comics, tv, film, video games, animation, anime, and other entertainment as SOLELY the fault of women. I know I’m putting words in mouths here, but the idea is that they don’t want you to cosplay the things they know about, but they also don’t really want you to cosplay things they don’t know about either! Each is equally threatening.

The second thing about this comment is the drag comment. What??? What the hell? How does that fit into what you are talking about? You realize there are more male figures to cosplay as than female characters right? Like you could dress up as Batman or Tony Stark? And I am SURE you have thought about this before. I agree personally that for me there is a “virtue of coming to see the show without needing to be the show” because it allows me to sneak around unnoticed, to shop for comics where hopefully no older men stop me to ask me about the location of my boyfriend. But I LOVE EVERYONE who cosplays BECAUSE they ARE the show — or at least a small, dedicated part of it. They become like little celebrities in themselves! Which is just lovely. They are unquestionably one of the attractions of a con. I’ve been to cons with little to no cosplay, and it works, but at those BIG conventions it really adds something special, for those who care. Those who don’t? They can just as easily be tolerant and ignore it, and focus on what brings them there without having to draw such competitive, antagonistic “us vs. them” comparisons.

But seriously ladies, stop liking things. Which brings me to the most problematic part of Tony’s argument. That really, really needs highlighted. It is this:

“… I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics. So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule.”

He seems to think that this comment should be his saving grace, but what he doesn’t realize is to me, someone who has a life that revolves around comics, this is the most offensive thing he has said in this whole fiasco.

Because you are talking about women specifically. Obviously. I am lucky to have tons of guy friends who enjoy reading comics, but don’t read as many comics as me, is their anything wrong with this? No! Those guys are not posers! If I have a guy friend who dresses up as Batman for Halloween am I going to come up beside him and be like “ummm so… have you read any Batman comics? If not do you want to see my collection?” *pushes glasses up nose dramatically*. NO!

On his twitter this morning he told @princessology that “then what I wrote HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU” after she told him “and I don’t go to cons to “prey” on boys. I have a boyfriend. Who learned about comics FROM ME.”

Here is the key to your confusion Tony. You say “I know a FEW who are ACTUALLY pretty cool and BIG SHOCKER, love and read comics” which is your problem. You are assuming. You are generalizing that the rest of women just don’t know and therefore you are alienating them from this culture. An alienation I feel alllllllthefuckingtime. And I want it to stop. You saying that those of us who passed your test (and I am SURE I couldn’t pass these tests) are “as in all things … exception to the rule” is NOT MAKING IT ANY BETTER. Am I supposed to feel included? Imagining myself as a “exception.” No. No I will not.

So, if I don’t fit into this category of “exception,” which I probably don’t, then this comment is directed at me:

“you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC. But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis.”

Firstly, I am totally average on an everyday basis. I think? Are we talking about looks? Is that it? I am only a 5 but I come to a con to be a 10? What about you? On a daily basis separate from your comics, your work. What are YOU? HOW ATTRACTIVE ARE YOU? Are you a 10? What about at a Con? Are you … an 11? Secondly, I don’t think that all my friends, family and coworkers (almost all of whom I consider nerds) are pathetic at all. Nor do I think that everyone I’ve ever slept with (who I would also consider nerds) are pathetic either. So, in this one case, I would like you to know that you are just wrong. And I can’t speak for every single girl who walks onto the Con floor (and neither should you), but I bet you are wrong about them as well.

Lastly, throughout the whole rant you shit on nerdy guys too!

“a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU.”

I don’t think I have to highlight all the ways this isn’t true. I don’t really even know what to say about how horrible this is, that a man wants too keep perpetuating the weak impotent nerd stereotype.

I just want to end these thoughts with one more quote and then I will conclude. In his conclusion Tony says emphatically “Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics.”

Yer. Not. Comics. Never forget those words ladies. Never.

It would take a whole other blog post to illustrate my many experiences at cons, in shops, at sales that made me feel horribly uncomfortable. I don’t even care about wanting to feel wanted. I just want to feel comfortable. Is that too much to ask? Once a friend and I had a seller ask us “how much money our boyfriends had given us to spend that day,” even though hilariously our boyfriends were wandering around bored out of their minds because they were sick of shopping for comics. Another time, at FanExpo, I was asked countless times while digging through the bins “where is your boyfriend?” or the much worse “are you trying to help your boyfriend find something, can I help you?” which, because I am lucky to have great boyfriends, I can usually reply “No thanks, actually he is helping me look for something and we don’t need your help.”

Obviously part of the fun of cosplaying (as many will tell you) is research! Finding different interpretations of the costume you are making and getting to know the character you want to inhabit. You are just not going to find people who know fucking nothing about the things they are Cosplaying. I’m sorry, you wont. They likely will not have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything you like, or likely even of the character they are dressing as AND THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY BECAUSE THEY ARE JUST HAVING A GOOD TIME.

Tony recently posted that what bothers him about the attention more than anything is people calling him a misogynist when really he was just talking about posers or hipsters or whatever. But here he defends himself hilariously enough by saying that he doesn’t draw naked pictures of women.

“I do not portray or Objectify half naked women in my work. I never have. I have always been VERY vocal about my dislike of that practice, and that my view is and has been that T&A in comics is a Pox. If you wanna come at me with accusations of Misogyny and sexism, youll be wrong. I think there are several Hundred “PRos” I could rattle off that are doing a fine job of perpetuating that crap without ANY help from me”

GIVE ME A BREAK. I WOULD LOVE IF YOU DREW NAKED CHICKS! I love drawings of naked chicks more than anyone else I know! Terry Moore draws pictures of naked chicks all the time and that guy is like my fucking hero! Alan Moore? Also loves drawings of naked girls especially when they are done by his incredibly talented wife Melinda Gebbie! Jess Fink, she draws a mean naked girl! Hell, I even like naked girls drawn by Robert Crumb even though a lot of the time they are fucking offensive. Because he KNOWS they are offensive, and he ADMITS his insecurities with women.

Don’t you see your problem is you can’t tell the difference between sexuality, and sexism! You don’t know the difference between an offensive naked woman and a non offensive naked woman. You don’t understand that OBJECTIFICATION is actually what YOU are doing through perpetuating these sexist ideas surrounding the female body. You can portray women as naked without objectifying them! Did you know that? Do you see? No… you don’t see. And THAT is your problem. You’d rather imply that a women (naked or otherwise) is, full stop, an offensive image.

The End

ps Anyone looking for another perspective on this can check out the guys over at Bleeding Cool.

Also, the idea for the title for this article was totally from the very cool  Jennifer de Guzman. You should follow her on Twitter.

Masked Mosaic: Update!

So, this is the busiest week of my entire semester and by no means should I be posting here when I have two seminars to give this week and 30 essays to grade but HEY, I’m excited! About so many THINGS! I will admit, some of my excitability is likely that I love November. I mean, I hate the stress that November represents for grad students everywhere but I love the fact that I am technically able to get all Christmasy feeling, but people are really creeped out by it. It’s like, talking about Christmas for most of November is kinda dirty, it’s forbidden, it is taboo, and I LOVE IT. And since the obligations of Christmas have yet to creep up on me, it means that I can just listen to Harry Connick Jr. while I do the dishes and count down the days until I get to put up my Christmas tree. There are 21!

I’m not religious, and I like to think that I am really not that commercial but I love Christmas just the same. My whole life Christmas has been a much more low key, country, quiet, crafty, food oriented, family thing then it has ever been a money thing. Which is probably why I like it so much. Also I like snow. Shoot me. So anyway, what I’m trying to say is I get really excited about EVERYTHING at this time of year. I am almost done the semester and I am thinking about what Christmas crafts my Mum and I will do and what video games my brother and I will marathon and about all the cute little presents i’ve found while thrifting the past few months.

So what I am also really really excited about, is the Masked Mosaic anthology! It is so great for me to find a home for these poems. I am a strange writer, I write poetry, but it doesn’t read like most poetry because I lean towards a more narrative,vernacular style of writing than many poets. So I never know what to do with it, or where to send it, other then to my other poet friends for a read. So Masked Mosaic was a god send. A short fiction anthology that would take my poems as short fiction! I found out yesterday that they have both a finished cover for the anthology AND THEY HAVE A RELEASE DATE! So not only can you see the amazing cover of the anthology here but you can ALSO see that you will be able to purchases this piece of Canadian awesomeness on FEBRUARY 27th 2013! Which is, just so you know, my birthday!

Image

This amazing cover is done by illustrator Steve Thomas. I always loved his stuff, so I was over the moon to see that he was doing the cover. You can buy things from him here!

The point of this post is that birthdays have never been as big of a deal as Christmas for me. But this year I am actually really really excited for my birthday! So I have a lot to be excited about. I am not at all excited about all the final essays and exams I have to grade. But that is just the hill I have to climb!

As a last note, I was going to say that I am sending off a rough abstract of my Walking Dead conference paper/post to this anthology about zombies and sexuality. So if it was accepted I would get the chance to expand my ideas from the blog post/conference paper and get into some more sexy specifics! If you are interested in sexuality studies or zombies send them an abstract! The abstracts are only 150 words and you have until Nov 9th to submit.

Thanks for reading! I will be back next Monday sometime with a few things to say. I think I will likely talk about how much I love anthologies!

-Emma

Laid to Rest: Sex in the Walking Dead

This blog post is going to be an adaptation of a conference paper I delivered for the Society of Utopian Studies in Toronto on October 7, 2012. These talks are only 20 minutes in length, so I’m hoping to extend a couple of my thoughts a bit by posting them here. On this note though, I am not extending it too too much, because with everything else going on I don’t have time to give this topic the full attention it deserves. So I am well aware that I am glossing over things a bit. I would love to get into the specific relationships between characters, especially the queer relationships, but because this was just a short talk/post I only gesture towards their existence to make a point about how important sex is within this narrative. The title of the talk I gave is “Sex, Romance and Monogamy as Survival Technique and Coping Mechanism in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead” and my presentation involved discussing the interplay between sex and the utopian impulse in Kirkman’s ongoing series. I am going to center on predominantly the first 50 issues to avoid spoilers for people who may wish to read it, as well as narrow my focus from the massive storyline that now spans over 100 issues. But, mind you, I am going to mention a few things that happen in issues 50-102 so… SPOILER ALERT but trust me, if you read the first 50 issues, none of what I will say will come as too much of a surprise but a spoiler is a spoiler. As of this writing, I haven’t read any academic work on The Walking Dead comic series, possibly stemming from the TV adaptation’s overwhelming popularity and therefore all the writing that exists on that topic. I know there is this collection of essays but I haven’t bought it due to mixed reviews and because I can’t determine how many essays in it deal with the comic directly. I also saw that there is this collection, and I would be interested to hear from people if it is worth picking up. If you know of anything relevant to the comic series I might find interesting please feel free to get in touch (email address in the About Me section).

So here is a blog post in which I say the same things from that talk, albeit in a bit more relaxed, blog-friendly adaptation. Enjoy!

The Walking Dead has become incredibly famous since being picked up by AMC as a television series in 2010. Previous to the television show, the comics themselves (now drawn by Charlie Adlard, originally drawn by Tony Moore) were already very successful, well liked, and well read within comics communities. The sales of the series quickly surpassed many other well established and canonized serials in book stores and comic shops, grabbing much attention. I feel the reason The Walking Dead has done so well is largely because it is extremely accessible to both comic book and ‘zombie enthusiast’ alike. Hell, it’s accessible to people who have never consumed a zombie narrative OR a comic book. I personally know quite a few people who have read every Walking Dead comic to date, and yet haven’t read ANY other comic in their entire life. As I mentioned before, the popularity of the comic only increased when the TV show began, and it is only increasing again with the newly released Walking Dead video game from TellTale Games development studio. What makes this series so different from other zombie narratives is what an extremely important role sex and relationships take in perpetuating the story line. Kirkman’s series is by no means your typical sex-laden soap opera, but the characters disappear, switch partners, die off and reappear just like you would expect from any daytime drama.

When we think of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, be it the TV show, video game, or comic, we likely think of classic post-apocalyptic dystopia, which of course it is. Like any dystopian narrative it takes the extreme nature of a post-apocalypse setting and uses it to put pressure on contemporary social situations and tensions to demonstrate what is wrong with our society. But what often isn’t talked about is the distinctly utopian aspects of the narrative. What utopian scholars refer to as the “utopian impulse” (the desire, the impulse, to create or imagine a perfect society) is demonstrated at length by the characters in The Walking Dead, and typified by series protagonist, Rick Grimes.

In this post [originally: “conference paper”] I’m going to talk about the utopian impulse that writer Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard depict throughout the series, and furthermore I am going to focus on the central role sex plays within the creation of these utopian communities. Lastly, I am going to discuss how, for many characters, this hell on earth is a utopia for them in the simplest sense as it liberates them from their previous lives. The zombie apocalypse facilitates a utopian escape for its readers for the same reasons. It is the chance to fight, to embrace our natural instinct to battle with and kill a politically correct “other” — that is, the shambling hordes of humanity: the only other it would be acceptable to kill, the other who is already long dead, who threatens to kill you as well, who represents in many ways your own participatory death via the integration of the self with capitalism and technology (if that is the zombie theory you buy into).

Rick Grimes is an individual searching for an America that no longer exists. Despite the failings of his many utopian efforts and the many deaths of friend and family, Rick continues to push forward in an attempt to survive the American wasteland in hope that he will be able to (re)build an ideal community in the fallout of society. The Walking Dead chronicles the survival of Rick, the protagonist, and the hundreds of people he encounters after the zombie apocalypse. Rick functions as the story’s tragic hero and, no matter how far he “falls” in terms of his disposition and moral compass, he still remains one of the most likable characters in the series. He dictates the movement of his very large group of survivors as their leader and is responsible for the “creation” of all the utopian settlements that the characters build up and attempt to inhabit. Rick becomes an object of desire for various characters throughout the story in his protector role, seemingly unfazed by the death that surrounds him, his bravery and consistency marking him as desirable sexual partner. His candidacy for leadership initially stems from the old-world [pre-apocalyptic] significance he carries as a police officer, with traditional associations of order, masculinity, and protection in that role. Over the course of the narrative, such old-world significance is inevitably dispelled as his more genuine, fundamentally humane traits define him and his leadership. This tragic hero’s fatal flaw is his utopian impulse. He fails his wife, children, and fellow community members on many occasions because he can’t resist the urge to expand his community, to bring in new people, to protect and defend those who can’t defend themselves, leading to the death of all who surround him.

Like in many post apocalyptic narratives, the characters are visibly concerned about finding food, shelter and weapons but this is not the primary concern in the case of The Walking Dead. The characters primary concern throughout the narrative is attaining and sustaining human contact, and it is the reason characters most frequently survive conflict with the undead, but also often the reason they die, which I will get to later on.

The idea that Kirkman seems to focus on above all else is that, in narratives of survival (read, any zombie apocalypse story) we tend to sell into an idea that surviving, living, breathing, moving is a type of reward in its self. Yet in Kirkman’s world the characters only live — only desire to survive — if they have something, specifically someone, for whom to keep living. A character’s motivation for continuing to live in the zombie wasteland is interestingly not their children nor even their pre-apocalypse relationships, but rather the relationships they make in the new world. Their reason for living is often their post-apocalyptic partner, who they have chosen for their suitability as a partner in their current world instead of the past world. A person they feel they literally (not figuratively) can’t live without. These attachments become much deeper and more important than pre-apocalyptic attachments because the individualism that we all know and value becomes obsolete. This is not a world where anyone wants to go to bed alone.

So, to give this long ramble some structure, I am going to break it up into 4 sections, what I call the 4 Cs of the apocalypse. They are:

Coupling

Copulation

Coping

and Competition

Coupling

The first time the importance of sex in The Walking Dead becomes apparent is when Kirkman deliberately emphasizes the coupling of various characters.

Rick is comatose in the hospital when the dead start to come back to life. Rick’s wife Lori and son Carl skip town with Rick’s best friend and former partner Shane, with the assumption that Rick will remain safe in the hospital. Within only a few weeks of being separated from her husband, Lori, doubtful as to whether Rick is alive or dead, has started having sex with Shane, taking him on as a partner in knowing he has always been in love with her. The community that they join is also full of couples, some pre-apocalyptic and some not. As the story continues, we see all these characters at some point or another partake in coupling, including Ricks 8 year old son. For all the same reasons we see monogamy as a favored form of coupling today, we see this preferential habit performed tenfold by the characters who tend to pair up as if life depends on it, because in fact it does.


We see a lessening in the othering of racial or sexual difference for two reasons: firstly because the zombies have become the only “other” that holds any threatening weight for the surviving populace, and secondly because the partnering options left to people are so decreased. People couple up across racial boundaries, and many characters broaden their idea of sexual orientation, taking on partners of the same sex and even noteworthy differences in age cease to be a factor for the characters involved. Without the old-world institutions and their normative moral compass, age has no relevance as a societal qualifier and very little to do with how soon you may die. At one point, a much older character Dale questions his spouse Andrea why she would want to be with someone so old by asking: “how many good years can i have left?” To which she replies quickly “Good years? None. Nobody has any good years left.”

We see a break down of gender roles in variety of interesting ways. First of all the desire for coupling is a two way street. We see the man searching for a partner for protection as much, if not sometimes more so, then the female characters. We see females quickly decline any positions of power, decision making, or leadership and instead opt to take on soldier or warrior-like positions to defend themselves as well as their male partners. It seems Kirkman does not see women as walking away from roles of authority because of any sort of weakness, but walking away because they are less power hungry then the men, and at many times more practical and resourceful. The new world is indeed very patriarchal, but this does not stop women from embodying traditionally male roles and men being seemingly okay with this. For the most part, I’m going to leave the topic of gender alone because luckily, in this text, I don’t feel as if the personality of the characters has much to do with their gender in this harrowing new world. Strong or weak is not a division made upon gendered lines. Characters confront ideas of gender in this text but they rarely embody a recognizable stereotype. When the men or women do something that is quite conventional, they usually acknowledge this. Men still tend to be in the majority when hunting zombies, but that doesn’t stop characters like Maggie or Andrea, who are good with a gun from joining up, and the men rarely ever deny their presence. The entire community acknowledges, in fact, that Andrea is a better shot than anyone, male or female. The characters find themselves battling less with gender roles (as they discover quickly these don’t apply anymore) and more with heteronormative monogamy that still dictates their thoughts and actions.

We see some characters try to break this last sexual stronghold of monogamy in order to adapt to the new World. For example the character Carol is desperate for a partner after her post-apocalyptic boyfriend Tyrese cheats on her with an aggressive newcomer to the community, Michonne. Wrecked with grief, Carol initially sees no other options and slits her wrists in front of her own daughter. After her recovery from this suicide attempt, she changes her strategy by proposing to Rick and the very pregnant Lori to couple with her, taking part in what would be for herself a polygamous bisexual triadic relationship. She finds close moments with both Rick and Laurie and uses the moments to come on to them. Both Laurie and Rick reach out to Carol as friends and Carol attempts to convert these feeling of platonic love into something more intimate. She kisses both Rick and Laurie during these moments, hoping desperately that they will, as a unit, choose to couple with her and raise their three children together. She genuinely feels incapable of parenting her daughter Sophia alone in this world, and believes that her only option is to create a new family structure. Laurie suggests such an arrangement would “scar [their children] for life” where Carol thinks this scenario would be the option where her daughter is most likely to have a positive life. When Rick and Laurie reject her proposal Carol soon submits herself to a zombie tied up in the yard (in an overtly sexual/intimate manner) and is quickly consumed by the undead prisoner, leaving her young daughter alone in the world.

Kirkman establishes two things about his views of humanity through these situations. First, he establishes his views that monogamy is possibly the most deeply entrenched social norm of our culture, and second, that humans are inherently selfish and would choose death over loneliness even if it means leaving their own children to suffer out the apocalypse alone. Abandoned children is a extremely frequented subject within The Walking Dead.

Copulation

Next, we see increased copulation between the characters. Many characters, if not for all of them of them, are having much, much, much, more sex then they did in their previous, pre-apocalyptic life.

Instead of using the common trope of increased conservatism in a dystopian climate, sexual interaction becomes much more liberal. Sex before marriage, gay sex, sex between different races, and between people of greatly varying ages becomes normal as the availability of sexual partners is limited. Monogamy still reigns, and reigns seemingly more powerful then ever before due to its endurance in such morbid conditions. If you lose your partner, to the undead or otherwise, there may be no other fish in the sea, so to speak. Therefore, you want to make sure you 1) have a partner and 2) that they are sufficiently pleased. Moreover, if one isn’t living sufficiently, they may as well be one of the zombies from whom the group is trying to protect themselves.  Simply put, a zombie’s “life” is quite over. They can’t eat or sleep or love or have sex. Those in the community actively having lots of sex are those that remain furthest from the dead, in a psychological, existential sense. Sexual intimacy becomes the most readily available and effective form of comfort for the characters.

As the characters attempt to settle down into and inhabit multiple locations, they attempt to build a utopian society from the ground up. The many commune experiments are predicated on protecting the family unit and brining as many people together as possible in order to create more family units. Facilitating the ability to have sex and a family play a large part in the logic of building an ideal space in which to fundamentally exist. Much like Charles Fourier’s ideas of building a society that works with human nature instead of against it, Kirkman’s society encourages people to embrace their desire to have sex, as well as their instincts to kill. Mental stability seems to be found most frequently in the characters who have little problem shooting and killing zombies all day and who have a caring, active sexual partner to come home to at night. Finding, protecting, and maintaining a sexual partner becomes for many the raison d’etre.

Sex saves the lives of many in The Walking Dead. One of the most lovable characters in the series is the young Glen. From their time in the original camp Glen has had his eye on the attractive Carol who couples up with the strong and reliable Tyreese. After this coupling Glen loses his compassion, he loses his will to live. Kirkman and Adlard show many silent panels of Glen looking unsettled throughout the first three “camps” that the characters inhabit, alluding to a possible suicide or act of carelessness. Just when it seems Glen is about to see an early grave, Rick’s son Carl is accidentally shot and brought to a nearby farm home to a spiritual and knowledgeable vet, Hershel, and his young adult family. Hershel’s daughter Maggie sees the sombre Glen and inquires in a very frank manner as to his gloomy temperament, to which he replies, “everyone around me is pairing off … I don’t want to end up alone too.” In view of the situation, Maggie succinctly and pragmatically offers in response “…if that’s what your after, I’ll fuck you.” This terse conversation spurs possibly the most authentic and earnest romance of the entire series. The two become arguably the most psychologically stable couple in the book who kill zombies together during the day, and enjoy each other’s company at night. The two become self sufficient on their own, they have the ability to survive, but, they also want marriage, they want children and to do that they need a home and a community.

Observing sex in play actually also acts as a comfort to characters. When the characters realize that others around them are comfortable enough, (their immediate needs are met and they are physically safe) to have sex, they have hope and optimism for their own future, for their own visceral escape. They use sex as a way to distract themselves from their situation, to forget that the end of the world has already come. For example, the short lived character Donna walks in on Dale and Andrea having sex soon after the group has arrived at their first “utopia,” Willshire Estates. Although Donna initially exhibits an extremely conservative sentimentality, seeing this display of physicality between the elderly Dale and twenty-something Andrea, this display of human truly living, Donna is shown placid, contemplative, and left with some genuine hope. She says to her husband directly after “you know, I still don’t approve of those two, but Andrea is a grown woman and she can make her own decisions. It’s just nice to see people happy with all that’s going on. I’m happy for them.” She goes on to elaborate that, “[Dale and Andrea] both lost someone they loved… someone very close to them, it hit them hard, we saw that … but they eventually puled out of it. Seeing them together last night… they’re happy. Seeing them — knowing that they can put their lives back together, it gives me hope.”

Unfortunately this happiness is both short lived and unproductive. The next morning the newly happy Donna is careless in her inspection of the homes in the suburb. She joyfully looks around saying “This is going to be so fun. It’s going to be like one of those home shows but better!”  Almost immediately after this display, the left side of her face is torn off by a stealthy zombie. In this scenario we see Dale and Andrea using sex to cope with their tragedy, but when one moves past simply coping in this world, to full fledge optimism as Donna has post-voyeurism, they quickly die. Kirkman’s work seems a bit formulaic in this sense. You can often tell when someone is going to die because things seem to be going too well for themselves, or more so, when they get ahead, when they gain too much hope and reflect old-world optimism, it usually indicates that Kirkman is getting ready to kill them off. Often, the character to die is the character who is the most enthusiastic about the settlement and who views this habitat as their potential new utopia. We see repeated throughout the narrative that a character will become too complacent, and their lack of fear and awareness gets them killed. Or worse, their disregard gets their partner killed. I’ll speak more to this trend later when I dwell on the groups habitats.

Coping

As I have been explaining the main use of copulation in this narrative is for coping. It is near impossible for the characters to deal with the overwhelming fear they feel and therefore they use sex as their main coping mechanism. Sex is one of the only pleasures left that is completely free and attainable in this dystopian future. This is highlighted by Glen and Maggie in two of my favorite panels in the whole comic. The reader is provided with a conversation between the recently widowed Alan and Rick while watching Maggie and Glen sneak off hand in hand to have sex. In the two panels Alan says “I know what you’re saying Rick it’s just hard. Everything is just hard” to which Rick replies “I know, nothings easy anymore. Nothing.” This conversation when contrasted with these two panels quickly implies that actually, even at the end of the world there is one thing that is still simple, and in many ways it is even simpler. Sex and coupling is presented as available to everyone in this world: young or old, gay or straight, able or disabled. Even if you can’t be a protector, you can still be a sexual partner and a confidant. It becomes an easy way for the characters to escape the drudgery of their lives which are full of death (or undeath, depending on your definition). Not only is sex an access to pleasure, of which there hasn’t been much in their lives recently, but it reminds them that they are not yet completely dead themselves. This sounds a bit dramatic, as what would make you feel more alive then being surrounded by zombies? But when one is simply surviving instead of LIVING, the line between living and dead begins to blur. Rick meditates on this topic upon being demoted from his position as leader after he is seen killing in cold blood Rick lectures his group saying:

“The second we put a bullet in the head of one of those undead monsters — the moment one of us drove a hammer into one of their faces — or cut a head off. We became what we are! And that’s just it. THAT’S what it comes down to. You people don’t know what we are! We’re surrounded by the DEAD. We’re among them — and when we finally give up we become them! We’re living on borrowed time here. Every minute of our life is a minute we steal from them! You see them out there. You KNOW that when we die — we become them. You think we hide behind walls to protect us from the walking dead? Don’t you get it? We ARE the walking dead! WE are the walking dead.” -Vol 5

This is when we get into the real thesis of Kirkman’s work, where out of these 1000s of pages we can see what he is trying to get at. To kill or not kill in this world is a complicated matter, ethically more so in contradistinction to the values of the old world, where the case might be made that murder is much more black and white. What is much more complicated in Kirkman’s new world is the choice to live or die. And if you choose the former are you living or just surviving on borrowed time? Furthermore, it allows us to pull away again. To look at ourselves. In case the reader forgets the self-reflective aspect of dystopian fiction, Kirkman has left a little reminder on the back of the book. It asks the reader: “When is the last time any of us really worked to get something that we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really needed something that we wanted? After following these questions up with a description of the world the characters are living in he concludes “in a world ruined by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

We. Not they. Kirkman is looking out at us in society through Rick’s eyes, in a manner of speaking. Telling us personally that WE, so unconscious of our existence as a society, WE, as capitalistic media drones, we are the walking dead.

Competition

And so we’re brought to the last C that comprises my talk. In this dystopian landscape, “survival of the fittest” is the rule of the day, particularly in regards to the sexual survival of the human species. Those who show their desirability not only survive, but survive in order to copulate, and every established relationship is thus at risk from competitive corruption by remaining survivors. When an eligible bachelor or bachelorette makes him/herself available in the time of the zombie apocalypse there is no time for shame. Against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, bachelors and bachelorettes makes themselves readily available to each other almost entirely without any shame that might have mitigated the progress of socio-sexual play before the fall of civilization.
People establish very quickly what they have to offer and their willingness to have sex in a timely and efficient manner. What arises is a sexual competition that, directly or indirectly, leads to a variety of characters deaths. Carol’s eventual death is a result of the combative and militaristic Michonne effectively “stealing” Tyreese from Carol in a sexual affair, and Rick’s best friend Shane’s death comes as a result of Shane’s jealousy and failure to retain the companionship of Rick’s wife, Lori. The dynamics of sexual conquest and deprivation become a lot more complicated as the series progresses. When first at the abandoned prison (a major settlement and attempt at utopia), Rick offers an edict to the community “you kill you die,” in what Rick perceives as a much needed moral compass. He soon realizes, however, when he has to start killing the living as a matter of survival that things are not so black and white. It is soon after this that we start to meet other characters in competitor communities, who also share Rick’s utopian impulse but not his specific ethical design for arriving at that utopia.

It is because of these relationships, this coupling and copulation for the sake of coping in the eyes of competition that the characters seek out the constructs of their previous society. It is because of all these factors that Rick continues to set out and establish a utopian setting for his group of survivors.

Utopias?

The group moves from location to location in an attempt to establish some sense of permanency in the face of adversity. Settling in with the intention to stay indefinitely, Rick’s group consistently comes up aganist the threat of not only the zombie populace but of competition with living humanity, and this sends the group packing in every scenario. By the time they reach Hershel’s farm, the third settlement on their journey, most of the survivors have coupled up with five couples admitting they are “in love.” Shortly before his infidelity, Tyrese proclaims to Carol: “I’m so glad I found you… Everything is perfect.” As established in Kirkman’s grand scheme for the narrative, this display of confidence and optimism places Tyreese in a dangerous, sobering territory suspect to horrors beyond expectations. And these horrors do come to him inside the prison, the place he believes will be his personal utopia with both his daughter and Carol supposedly safe and sound. In a similar set-up, upon discovering the prison Rick exclaims to the group: “It’s perfect. We’re home,” and well…  I’ll just let you guess how well that goes for him.

Pairings like Rick and Lori, or Glen and Maggie, are looking for a place where they can properly raise not just existing children but children they want to bring into the world. The ongoing competition against and within the community is a competition is for space, for food, for weapons, but more importantly for the creation of a habitat where monogamy and reproduction can thrive; without love, without sex, without companionship, the characters’ existence would mirror that of the walking dead.

Once these basic needs are met, however, Rick’s need and drive to establish a community grows beyond its initial design. He ruins his groups chance for safety because he needs to keep expanding the community, much to the reluctance of everyone already involved. His safety in the prison has given him an increased sense of optimism, and despite the fact that he has a partner and a baby on the way, he risks everything when he sees evidence of another group of survivors, reasoning that “the idea of meeting other survivors has me more than a little excited.” Despite having everything one could ask for in this struggling new society Rick can’t stop striving for more.

The utopian impulse keeps Rick moving forward. He discovers a fully functioning town which serves as a working Utopia for some involved. Unlike himself, though, it’s leader is no self-styled hero, at least not in the sense that defines Rick. The town is run by a power-hungry, murdering rapist and implied necrophiliac incestuous child molester. Let’s face it. You don’t really get many villains far worse than that criteria. The meeting of these two societies marks the moment when both the reader and Rick realize that the walking dead is by no means the definitive enemy to the group’s survival and utopian goals.

The man who runs this town calls himself the “Governor,” and he does not share Rick’s optimism for this new world. The Governor insist that: “You gotta keep people occupied, or they’ll turn on you. Reading and fucking will only keep people busy for so long. Eventually there’s got to be something else. Hence our little sporting event here” (ch 5). What the Governor is referring to here is the modern Colosseum he has built where two living people engage in theatrical, hyper-violent competition with each other while surrounded by the chained living dead, in a sort of post-apocalyptic shades of the classic Roman Empire. In a grim reflection of Rick’s earlier assessment of humanity and its undead counterpart, The Governor says of the undead “I almost admire them. The thing you have to realize is that they’re just us — they’re no different. They want what they want. They take what they want, and after they get what they want — they’re only content for the briefest span on time. Then they want more” (ch 5).

The Governor continues to murder and rape his way to his goals, personally abandoning any of the old-world standards of restraint or virtue, while publicly serving as authority figure who enforces the makeshift laws in the community of Woodsbury. When the Governor walks through town the reader can see how people try to return to their normal lives, even the homeless “bums” attempting to go back to being bums despite the fact that food and shelter are free and easily obtainable.



A Better Life?

All these 4 cs: coupling, copulation, coping, and competition, allow many of the characters to become a completely different and often better people then they were before. Or at least a person they like. Carol for example says to Laurie upon arriving at the prison “I’ve almost got things BETTER now — Tyrese is better than my husband EVER was … I mean look around you. Look at this place. We could have it all here. We could rebuild — make a new life.” This rhetoric never seems to die down for the characters of The Walking Dead. No matter how many settlements fail, no matter how many group members they lose to the shambling hordes, infighting, or outside competition, the only way to carry on and keep living is to hope that this is the time it may work out. Otherwise, as Rick says, you are the walking dead.

The most moving example of this is Andrea, one of the only characters who remains from the first chapters of the story up to present day. She tells Rick,

“Rick listen… When Amy and I were living in the RV with Dale… before you even made it to the camp, I realized my parents were probably dead. That was hard. Then I lost Amy. I felt so alone it drove me into Dale’s arms, and I fell in love with him. Then Donna died, followed by Allen, and Dale and I were left to raise Ben and Billy. I had a family… I’m Twenty-six years old. Over the course of a year I inherited a family – I grew up – I loved the women I became and the life I had. And now it’s all gone. I’m all alone and all I can think about is how I’m that girl again, the girl I was… the one I didn’t like.”

During her sexual attachment with Dale, Andrea implicitly displays her refusal to recede into some existential infancy; her ability to find in Dale a reason to keep living marks her and those like her as distinct from the undead mimicry of those in the Woodbury community. Despite being surrounded by death and decay constantly, having no luxuries and being constantly uprooted, Andrea has more attachment to her post-apocalypse life. She had all the things she didn’t have in normal society. Including the chance to fall deeply in love with a man who was over 20 years her senior. Once that is all taken away from her, she is left with nothing. Despite the fact that, at this point in the narrative, she finds herself in the community that is by far the most utopian of all the places they have lived, she is back to the point of hating herself.

I could go on at length with virtually hundreds of specific examples of why sex is the driving force behind Kirkman’s ongoing story. Because it really does come up that often (no pun intended… well, maybe). This spurs a variety of questions as to how primary this force really is in our society, how much it effects our day-to-day interactions, and how much our movement towards monogamy and cohabitation is a reflection of a very primal and primitive desire to survive in the face of the other.

These zombie narratives allow readers or viewers or players to imagine something as liberating as it is unimaginable: a world without capitalism, without law, without rules, without borders. This dystopian world for many invokes a new American dream. The kind of world where we can be an entirely different person. Where we can ask what parts of society do we value? In Kirkman’s eyes the answer is human contact, human experience, love, family, and community. He then asks the much more deeply problematic question of what parts of being an animal do we value? How much of our existence is as caught up in the desire to kill? To dominate? To… fuck?

Does the hysteria over the zombie narrative in our society demonstrate that there is a deep-seeded desire for justified, thoughtful violence? Allowing us to play out the fantasy in which we embrace our violent instincts and feel no shame over it? For many characters within The Walking Dead, this post-apocalyptic existence is in many ways an improvement over their previous lives, as it allows them to be the person they always wanted to be. A person they like. They have the opportunity to transcend their imposed roles within the order wrought by capitalism. A gym teacher becomes a soldier, a policeman becomes a leader, a lawyer becomes the lone warrior, a young girl is blessed with her fantasy family without ever giving birth, a prisoner becomes a farmer, a thief – a husband. Most importantly, this narrative allows us as readers to live out a type of postmodern fantasy in which we can pretend, even for one second, that we are able to once again identify our selves and our enemies by splitting society into two. That we can imagine the simplicity of dividing ourselves into the simple categories of us or them, living or dead.

Lacking Action

Alright so now that I am in the full swing of the school year I will admit I have slowed down in my posts and my traffic a lot. Funnily enough, it actually isn’t school work getting in the way of updating, it is the combination of my TA job (which takes up an inhuman amount of time) and all the extra curricular stuff I have been taking on. This blog though I assure you is my real #1 priority. I have many, many, half written posts that need attended to but will likely be neglected a bit longer. I’m sorry about that, but I am going to try to post at least once a week! Anyway, enough excuses. What comics stuff have I been up to?
WELL, I went to the annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies (of which I am a proud member) in Toronto last weekend and gave what I think was a very successful talk about sex monogamy and the utopian impulse in The Walking Dead. I enjoyed myself very much and managed to give my talk on only 3 hours of sleep after drinking late into the night with my fellow Utopians. I will (I SWEAR) be posting a longer version of this talk to the blog by this time next week. The thing is that you can’t really post a conference paper right to a blog because it was written to be heard by an audience and not read in print. I am in the conversion process and I will get that gem out here pronto.
Further more I sent in an abstract for a very cool collection of essays that is coming out called Canadian Graphic Life Narratives. I find this topic really interesting because it involves three sections of literary studies. The anthology is working in the traditions of Canadian Literature studies, Comics Studies and the currently very popular vein of studying life writing. Getting into anthologies such as these is difficult for young academics because the competition is open to everyone, some with more publication history and experience then others. There is nothing wrong with this of course! But, I’m sure the majority of applicants have many many more years of experience writing about comics then me and that’s okay. Writing this abstract was a great experience. Even if my submission isn’t accepted I am still going to go through with writing this piece as I think that it will be an interesting study. Furthermore, who wouldn’t I want to read all these comics I mention again? Also, I am really interested to read this collection! I think it’s going to turn out to be both incredibly interesting and useful. So, without further ado, here is my abstract. Sound interesting? Boring? Let me know what you guys think!

ps if you feel like the whole thing sounds squished that is because it is! The thing about abstracts is you have to propose a relatively fleshed out idea but stay under a word count. So this means you have to pack a lot of punch into every sentence.

Reading The Fourth Biography: The Intersections of Authenticity and Persona in The Works of Chester Brown, Joe Matt, and Seth

    Half the pleasure of reading the autobiographical works of Seth, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown is reading how the narratives intersect in both time and locale. These three Canadian cartoonists (Joe, an honorary Canadian, as Seth notes in GNBCC) appear frequently in each others’ narratives in both positive and negative lights. The title of Seth’s sketchbook, Vernacular Drawings, is the perfect idiom to categorize the life writing by these three men. Seth, Joe, and Chester are all drawing in a colloquial language, typifying the everyday, using conversational illustrations to sketch out a memoir of not only their own lives, but each others’ as well. Each author characterizes his two peers to create additional perspectives on their individual habits, relationships, careers, and personalities.
For example, reading Joe Matt’s Spent and Seth’s It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken becomes an important element of understanding Chester Brown’s Paying for It. Joe and Seth’s critiques of Chester’s practice of visiting prostitutes could ring with more or less truth depending on what is known about the characters themselves from reading their own autobiographical narratives. The Seth who appears in Chester’s comics differs from the Seth in Joe’s comics, and differs vastly from Seth’s own depiction of himself both in visual likeness and dialogue. Through these contrasting accounts a type of unintentional, subsidiary narrative is formed underneath their respective independent narratives which unconsciously writes their life with each other in Toronto. More then simply a subtext, a ‘fourth biography’ emerges as a sub-narrative within the timeline and setting.
The divergence in these representations allows one to question the authenticity of their narrator, and furthermore allows the reader to question the reliability of the other two men. This question of authenticity is even more important in this specific style of extremely self-depreciating autobiography that all three men use. Self-deprecation and hyper-criticism are visibly biased, but despite this the narrator is supposedly being quite candid and vulnerable in their writing of the self. Moreover, they frequently depict events within their texts as more unfortunate and disagreeable then their real-life occurrence. As authors and subjects, they let their readers know their own faults, allowing the reader to see their depictions of their own shameful or intimate moments, and exposing themselves as emotionally and often physically naked. All three men portray themselves the way they neurotically imagine their persona, without hiding their own doubt and disgust; Joe portrays himself as unstable and hyper neurotic; Chester shows himself as unfeeling and cold; and Seth presents himself as disconnected, pensive, and introspective. The same characteristics are not necessarily used for their portrayals of each other. For example, In Seth’s texts, Chester comes off more philosophical and loving than in his own work, and in Chester’s work Seth becomes much more buoyant and animated then he is in his own texts.
By examining these texts together, I would like to uncover this sub-narrative of the friendship held between these three men, highlighting the contradictions between the narratives. In this article I would examine all comics by the three men that include depictions of each other, works including but not limited to: Paying for It, It’s a Good life if you Don’t Weaken, Spent, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, Palookaville, The Little man, Yummy Fur, Peepshow and The Poor Bastard.  Within these works, we see variations on how the three men feel and talk about their vices, art, and friendship, which creates in all three cases dynamic character studies in both comics and life writing.

So there is that! Like I said, abstracts are not always the most enjoyable thing to read. They always sound like you are jumping from topic to topic, because you are, in order to fit in everything you need to say. The full article it self would be much nicer to read! In about a month I’ll find out if my proposal was accepted and I’ll be sure to let you all know.

As far as comic stuff goes that is what I have been up to. Tune in for my Walking Dead post later this week!

-Emma