Comic Books

135_unicornbloodmobileEverybody involved in the industrial production of mediopoly goods (movies, music, books, news) has been wondering what the new model will be for transactions in the age of the Internet.

There isn’t one. There isn’t going to be one.

There has to be one, right? How else will people get paid? Silly Rabbit, the ownership doesn’t care about that. The people who do the work—authors, rock stars, journalists, cameramen—they can all eat cake.

What about the executives and the shareholders and…and…you know, the patricians who have a little bit of ownership?

Nope, sorry ol’ chap. Not just professionals, freelancers, and working stiffs.

Yes, even the companies themselves are going to lose capacity. The movie industry, the publishing industry, the newspapers, all of it is going to shrivel up and break into little cubes. Taking any patricians invested in them down into the black gulf of unprofitability and layoffs with dramatic gnashing of teeth for the commentators.

The reason is simple: The world is going broke and nobody has as much money as they used to.

Rich people too—they’re holding onto their profits for dear life, not giving an inch—but the other 99% of the world didn’t have much to begin with and that’s all been tapped out.

All that’s left to take the hit are standards of living.

As they begin to drop all around the more developed countries, the industries that depended on income from the surplus of leisure spending workers had, well they shrink too. The CEOs of these industries are surprised because they thought they were part of the club. But hey guv’nor, it’s just business. Sorry to hear your son won’t be going to a top school anymore.

All the models that have been proposed so far—paywalls, pay as you go, subscription, kickstarters—they’re all dead ends. People got no money, dude! At best all you’re doing is finding efficiency techniques to redistribute whats left of a declining wage class with fewer dollars to spare.

The Internet is built around a distribution model, not an exchange model. Transactions that slow down the flow lose energy and crash out of the psychological lane of traffic.

Into this setup comes cheap entertainment from the Internet—and it’s all going to be free, all of it—mass produced and easy to make in more variations than you can consume. All you pay is your monthly Internet fee and that’s it.

Oh wait, that’s already here.

Pirates are just a bogeyman, something propped up there for people to blame like communism. The stockholders have to be told something, right?

The mediopoly companies will shift the rising cost of copyright enforcement and surveillance on the providers through the government. Mainly because they’re losing money and can’t afford to keep suing everyone. Yes, even they’re crowdsourcing the old fashioned way—on the public’s bruised back.

How long can they keep that up before they can’t afford the political favors anymore? How much can the government enforce when there’s less tax base to support the enforcement? It’s a turtle race to the bottom.

The providers can raise the prices, but again people are getting poorer and the variety of content naturally overwhelms big business content. If I can’t afford the latest HBO special I’ll just buy the craphound version off Netflix.

That’s another thing. There is no quality and there never was. There’s only your crap and my quality. You can argue that 3D Casablanca is better than Lord of the G Strings, but at the end of the day people will consume what they can afford. Fidelity loses to convenience when you can’t buy a Betamax.

People don’t want a good story. They want a story they believe is good.

That makes connection the only game to play in this environment. Some folks sense this and focus their attention on “reaching the fans” as if this was the new model itself.

Services like Pandora come close to databasing connectivity, but we’re still a long way off from any kind of prototype with which to make a media database standard. A Manhattan style Wikipedia project is probably what’s required.

Until that happens we’re stuck with “the hunt”. Friends as clue finders. I don’t care if I can get it all, I care about if I can get what’s mine.

That’s why services like Spotify don’t work as well as YouTube or Amazon’s recommendations. Tell me what part of the forest to look and I’ll get it myself. If the interface isn’t brute simple you have slowdown and again, you drop out of the psychological lane of traffic.

Even if connection is achieved though, it’ll end up being an efficiency advance. Something to mask the declining revenue pool a little longer.

The industrial age has reached its peak and is starting to decline. This confuses people because they’re used to things trending up, not down.

The owners of the world are extracting more from a smaller and smaller money pool through efficiency and productivity gains. Getting the gold is the goal, even if the river is drying up. The winners just make less.

It’s like that old Lexx episode, “Feeding Pattern.” The house still always wins, but full winnings are now half winnings and half winnings are now quarter winnings. Only in this case there’s no spaceship to take the owners to a new planet to start again.

What industry servants and their patrician managers refuse to accept is that the cost has been shifted. The slush pile has been moved to the public and crowdsourced.

Less pay doesn’t mean the death of publishing, it means more craphounds.

The craphounds see the gates to the river are now open to the public and think their chance to strike it rich has finally come. Then they see what’s left of the river.

The owners are abandoning the mediopoly factories and manipulating the remaining consumers into covering the upfront costs. Rust of media factories and their personnel is the natural outcome. Why invest in new infrastructure when the returns are going down?

Some industry folks think the problem is too many craphounds. No, that was always the cost of doing business.

The problem is that profits are shrinking. There need to be more craphounds to increase the declining pool of wizards that may still exist to be exploited before the enterprise enters the steep end of the decline curve.

You find your biggest wizards in the beginning. Then you plateau. Then you enter decline. This is how life works, folks.

So what’s going to happen?

Well the whole thing looks like a craphound mega-farm to me. This long tail mega-farm is too big for fiefdoms to control and still make a profit. What you need is probably something along the lines of Borg control nodes. That means a larger number of smaller, mid-list way-stations to provide structure and channel libido projections.

There will probably be one or two corporate overlords that remain, only in diminished form; everything else gets divided up into drones and drone units (seven of nine). The overlords will vacu-jack up the most popular and monetizable eruptions of public interest, extract the Gelfling essence. But these will become quarterly or yearly events.

Much as going to the movie theater is now.

The Internet cooperative has formed itself into a way to farm out labor most efficiently to the public leisure spending that still exists. It’s a development that serves the reactive ownership in masking something more significant.

What does crowdsourcing the gatekeepers mean for servants in the mediopoly industry?

I predict extended periods of pressure to work twice as hard with half as much. Professionals will find themselves separated from their skills and positions as an identity. They’ll be expected to adopt a jack-of-all-trades model of independent contracting so they can fit into whatever flavor of the month project their patrician managers want them in.

As individual value is minimized, prestige and bargaining power will be reduced. Wages will shrink. In short, you’ll be a crew chief at Winky Dinky Dog, but it’ll be for less pay!

The patricians themselves will be forced increasingly into a hatchet man role as the owners come down on them hard to “cut costs” and “do things differently”. That’s Secret Langauge Noble for getting rid of servants and turning the treadmill dial up on those who still have jobs.

All standard plays from the ownership dream manual. The usual efforts to summon the psycho goals of free labor, automation of specialists, and value decoded by algorithm.

In short, the ideal vampire world. Fully socialized blood for the members of the Dracula Club! Anything less than 100% domination is a humiliating failure, so if the blood pool shrinks then the difference comes out of your neck first.

Meanwhile, the craphound mega-farm grows a freelance economy of atomization, domination, and zero dignity all hand delivered like a pizza. It’s diabolically brilliant.

There is no next incarnation of distribution that enforces paid transaction. This is it folks. Hold your arm out and let Renfield insert the vacu-jack.

Not just movies, books, comics, newspapers, music and magazines, but even sports will be affected. This is the decline of the second capitol, of the conglomeration of culture. It’s simple economics.

Just wait until prices start to rise on computers again. That’s when things get really interesting.

126_jessicaFor a long time I’ve had a roster of crewmembers who populate the internal main bridge of my psyche. You might say that the Star Trek organizational scheme provides a ready archetype for my thoughts and feelings to constellate around.

Handling the communications console is a personality named Jessica. I’m pretty sure she was meant to be the female companion who accompanies Logan in the 1976 film Logan’s Run. I had a childhood crush on the actress Jenny Aguetter who played Jessica in the movie.

At that age I thought Jessica the character was the real person and Jenny was just her name in our reality. So creating a character based on her in my own mind to accompany me on my journey of imagination, or just general life influenced by a personal inner world, seemed like a good idea.

The crew of the Starship Snipe still carries the internal psychic organizations I’ve given them to this day. However, I’ve never explored them in detail—they all embody personal connections with characters from books, movies and TV that I enjoyed growing up with.

With the UFO becoming the central organizing principle in my psychic voyage, it may be time to reexamine my crew and the starship model. Ultimately, Star Trek and the characters I’ve borrowed are someone else’s experience that has become collectivized.

Such communal models are easy to access and use. They have value to our survival. However, they can only be launch pads for our personal explorations. The human dimension of wholeness requires that we make a personal journey to inner space to align ourselves with the actual organic connectivity of people.

I need to strike out on my own and identify the processes and elements behind my image. What if I’m oppressing or harming some aspect of myself by relating to it through a simplified model of consciousness?

So here we go. Using my power of imagination to inquire about Jessica as an internal personality and psychological adaptation.

The name Jessica comes up in my dictionary as having a Hebrew origin—Yiskah and Iscah which means “shut up” or “confined”. There’s a Greek and a Latin version, Ieskha and Jesca respectively. Unfortunately there’s no cultural context to go on, I’ll have to beam in the Internet connection.

Which, as it so happens, is Jessica’s job on the starship. She’s helping me along with this, naturally. Maybe this is a search for identity episode, a character building moment where I finally gain enough understanding to grasp a concept of her personality.

I think of the Teen Titans comic issue #38—”Who Is Donna Troy?”—where a detective investigation leads to the truth of Wonder Girl’s parents.

A strange smell of sanctity runs past my nose. That Holy Ghost effect that I know Lucerna would find compelling evidence I am on the correct trail.

The first recorded use of Jessica comes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and refers to the daughter of Shylock, who is of Hebrew origin in the story. I also dig up numerous baby name sites that give variations of the meaning as having to do with either God seeing, watching and beholding, or referring to gifts and wealth.

I let this trail of synchro-mysticism go off into the woods for now. Next up is the position itself.

The communications officer in Star Trek has often been criticized as being little more than a switchboard operator, with Lieutenant Uhura’s role minimized many times to the point of uselessness. I agree with this assessment, mainly because the position is actually critical to the operation of the ship. It requires someone who operates at a high degree of ability to perform properly.

Think about it. The communications officer has to direct the flow of information all over the ship. Repair crews, medical teams, and security details all rely on this officer’s leadership to act efficiently. If a crewmember notices something amiss the communications officer will likely be the first to hear of it and be able to warn the captain or relevant department head.

Depending on how you interpret the technology and schematics of a starship, the communications officer also needs a high degree of technical knowledge to operate the subspace radio and long range sensors that go along with that. I could see skills in computer programming and electronics as being necessary.

Maintaining a selection of diplomatic strategies and tactics is a huge order. Languages, linguistics and translation all need a lot of theoretical as well as practical knowledge. The person in the position has to be adaptive, flexible, and open-minded as well as intelligent and highly trained.

There’s an element of espionage implied in this function too—ciphers, jamming enemy transmissions and releasing ship wide alerts. I can see why the Next Generation Star Trek world merged communications with security.

Needless to say, you see some hints of these roles with Uhura in the TV show, but it almost entirely disappears by the time of the movies. Space battles don’t require anything other than making sure the shields and weapons work. If they don’t speak English then shoot to kill. It’s profoundly anti-specialist, anti-technology, and anti-science.

Need to transmit or receive data or messages? Maintain channels of information in-ship? Jessica has done all this and more. I only vaguely comprehended it—mainly I fell into the trap of casting the girl on my ship into the role of social interaction mediator. See how powerfully influential role models can be?

The point of communication is to share, divide out, impart, inform, join, unite, and participate in. In other words, “to make common.” Such an important task! And yet, Star Trek has subsumed this role into something else after decades of making it a minor position.

No! Boo!

Well I’m bringing chat back, yo. Or at least recognizing what has always been there all along: Communications leader Jessica doing an incredibly difficult, complex, important job without recognition or respect from me. The collective reckoning needs to evolve; it’s way behind the times and has been fifty years ago.

At this point I have to start questioning my own assumptions. Is Jessica even her name? Is it a nickname based on a projection? Is Jessica really female, as a kid would grok it, or a human being from earth? I might be overreacting; it might just be the dialogue has been so limited as to include only basic details.

I’m usually not so good with practical questions. The time has come to face the difficulty and start asking, to open up a hailing frequency with my own communications officer.

Jessica, I’m listening!

A gal over at one of my watering holes started talking about plot, mentioning it as a process. I keep seeing plot mentioned in and around the stellar chatter of the interweb system channels, so I figured I’d tackle this one.

Simply stated, plot is “what happens”.

Not to be confused with premise, which is “what it’s about.”

I wonder about the aversion some people have to formulaic plots.  I don’t believe that’s what people object to exactly.

For example, I think of the TV show House, which is the same plot every episode—cranky doctor solves medical mystery despite obstacles.  Even though it’s the same thing every episode and the premise is never actually addressed—it’s better to be an honest jerk than a well-meaning phony—I still see it as an interesting show because it is reliable.

I think what people object to is the use of writer force to override viewer authority.  In other words, bad technique.

Plot, like light, is actually both a wave and a particle. It can be both a thing and a process.  The question is whether we are dealing with prep or improvisation.

Plot emerges from the work through the resolution of situations (character plus setting equals situation).  When it’s a process it arises from the working out of the story.  When it’s a thing it is exerted upon the story as a planned phenomenon.

Both have an underlying structure, a platform in which they emerge on-stage.  Both require practice in order to put on a good show.  Both have strengths and weaknesses it pays to spend time understanding.  Both are legitimate courses of exploration that can be adjusted to fit the project.

061_the_new_literacyAll right, enough already!  The sexual tension between these two forms is driving me nuts.  Nobody buys this mutual dislike as anything but a prelude to getting a room and making babies.  Get on with it!

For a long time we had a bunch of privileged intellectuals manufacturing consent by dividing the peanut butter and the celery between LIT and RACY, also known as high and low literature.  The “stuff that matters” from the unwashed laundry of the masses who don’t count because they are the bewildered herd and must be told what to value.

Along comes the E in Ebook and all of a sudden Pbooks are revealed for what they are—form, not the actual consciousness that inspires culture.  The entire social control mechanism that maintains access to distribution to consciousness is laid bare.  People naturally begin to ask questions, particularly those in the bewildered herd who have never known expression before.

That delicious E is the hammer in the Apple ad.  Thor’s hammer, the bolt of the storm that is the Aquarian lightning age, connecting thought.  The contact that is the point of all literature both high and low, author and reader touching each other, both one and apart, oscillating in response.  AUM.

In that moment of explosion, she joins the LIT and the RACY into LITERACY, one of the more stunning discoveries of this medieval age of thinking.  Now paper (earth) can be thought (air) and vice versa.

This is an unavoidable revolution in consciousness occurring right before our eyes.  As this bolt of electricity strikes earth and ignites a firestorm in the forest of paper, a lot of people are going to have to flee for their lives as their comfortable burrows and nests burn to the ground.

Make no mistake; this is a painful thing for a lot of ordinary folks who depend on the old growth forest for their lives.  But understand those who welcome the change as well as those who cringe in the foliage.  Everybody, and I mean EVERY BODY on any side of the fence is in on this.  We all get to participate as the forest burns down around our ears.  Open your heart and listen to the things you haven’t heard.

I emphasize with the struggle; those about to be hurt by the flames could be me, or someone I care about.  I’m excited and terrified both—where do I run?  Where do you run?  Who is already cut off from the lake—wait, is this the dry season?  That cave a safe haven or a future oven filled with smoke?  What is right action?  Shock the monkey!

It is a time for fear.

The copyright-royalty model is outdated and inefficient.  It is primarily a system for putting access to the forms of consciousness into the hands of concentrated centers of impersonal power, justified by projecting an image of the properly compensated and approved artist for their labors.

Don’t delve too far into that model—for every lucky artist you’ll find thousands ripped off, their rights in the vault of some conceptual entity that doesn’t count as a moral agent.  The millions who don’t get to participate at all because only “artists” can do that stuff?  They get to pay to know what they think.

Alternate economic models and mechanisms of access have been out for years.  Novels were the death of real books, just as recordable audiotape was the death of records and libraries would destroy bookstores.  Those with privilege, who stand to lose the most by sharing, always cry bitterly when community insists that people raise their standard of living more humanely.  Specialists are going to have to share their space with more generalists.

Access to data is still affected by class.  The decline of fossil fuels and rare metals leads to a cage match between military contracts and consumer electronic manufacturers.  The iron rule of oligarchy always obtains.  But humans are naturally moral and strive for freedom.  The human condition is nature’s way of making us figure it out.

The Kindle and the iPad are already ancient history.  You think that’s what the kids are using?  I’ll let that one be a surprise.  Developers hate Apple.  Who is going to put Ebooks in the hands of starving villagers with a credit card?

The price for everything is inflated.  People want what they want now and they want to pay what they want to pay.  You going to tell the vast majority of mindless beasts how to think?  Good luck!  Prices will have to fall and the money to be made will shrink.  Subscriptions and proprietary ala Carte tollbooths are yesterday’s memories.  Get used to it, what you think is right doesn’t matter.

How are you going to control the exchange of thoughts?  No, seriously?  Actions can be directed with a truncheon or a lawsuit, but you going to tell people what to do with their thoughts?  Even brutal dictatorships let people think what they want as long as they obey.  Rust always trumps the iron rule in the end.

Nobody can predict the future.  If you think that’s what I’m doing you aren’t paying attention.  Invigorated by the conflagration, the forest will grow back.  The new life is always greater than the old.  The status quo is death; plenty of new species will migrate to fill the void.  That’s the scary thought—who will be the new neighbor?  Won’t you be my neighbor?

The playing field gained a new dimension as well as a new form.  This isn’t squeezing anything out; it’s rather that the old way of doing things is not going to dominate any more.  It will have to content itself with being a smaller fraction of a greater whole.

Yes, this means even the crap gets a say.  Or do you mean “the crap we don’t approve of”?  I say let the crap hounds have their say and show us what they got.  If they can’t ante up they’ll make for some fine fertilizer in the new forest.  Freedom of speech means the right to participate alongside the great names and have your turn to speak—look at any sportscaster program with call-ins.

All of us start at the Level Zero crap hound bottom.  Never forget we all begin in ignorance and grow according to many variables outside our conscious control.  It’s in all our interests to create ecosystems of variable creative exploration.  It’ll do both the wizards and the crap hounds some good.

Physical objects are totems to show allegiance.  Don’t underestimate that.  Also keep in mind that whatever is not nailed down is mine and whatever I can pry loose is not nailed down.  Thoughts want to be free, so let them be so!  Air always escapes a prison.  The point is to hook up people who have an affinity with your thoughts and gratify them with stuff they actually want.

Youth culture is already doing this.  They grow up with everything that ever was at their fingertips, creating their own wants and satisfying their own curiosity.  Literacy is exploding like a thunderbolt.  Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand.

Doomsday fantasies of resentment can eat my shorts.  We’re already there.  The hum of the lightning age moves through an emerging electro-agrarianism that will bring both a shadow we’ve never encountered before and a worldwide literacy the likes of which cannot be conceived of.

Just wait until you see the child Pbook and Ebook make together.

The hybrid is the message of the savior of humanity, believe it!

I’m unsure if I should open this canister of two-four-five trioxyn, as my comprehension is limited.  But over here at the Diamond Island conversations tend towards the rare and unusual, so what the Hek.

Scott McCloud talks about comics, but I believe his ideas are applicable to probably just about any art form.  In his book Making Comics, he speaks of four kinds of approaches to comic book creation, but just substitute any art form and you got the idea.

  • Classicists want to create art that displays a certain kind of technique worthy of being admired, as an image of what art should be.
  • Animists want to create art that tells a story and relates to the emotions of the audience.
  • Formalists want to create art that tests the boundaries of what an art form is capable of.
  • Iconoclasts want to create art that has integrity and honesty to an ideal, unbeholden to any mainstream influence.

This is useful in determining what your stance is when you write, or create art of any kind.  You might say it’s the purpose you are drawn towards.  All of them are worthy; although the various camps will claim theirs is the only kind that is true art.  Yet each has a purpose that supports and encourages the other (but don’t tell them that).

Moving on, in Chapter 7 of Understanding Comics Scott also brings up the six steps of art creation.

  • Step 6 (Surface): What you see at first glance.
  • Step 5 (Craft): The skill involved in making the art.
  • Step 4 (Structure): Understanding what goes where and why.
  • Step 3 (Idiom): Speaking the language of a particular flavor.
  • Step 2 (Form): The materialization itself—book, vase, speech, whatever.
  • Step 1 (Idea/Purpose): Why am I doing this?

Basically, you start at Step 6 when you admire and are inspired by a work of art to get involved.  Each stage requires you to pass several thresholds of challenge to progress. At the end, you choose whether to go to Step 2 (re-imagining the form itself) or Step 1 (exploring the ideas available for expression within).

It’s a little strange for me to even contemplate these paths, for they reveal a pattern to our thinking and feeling, our efforts to create art which are grounded in the fundamentals of brutal survival.  Sex, Danger, Play (Art) are as necessary as anything we do.  Going further down you get to things like breathing, making hormones and the like. Then it’s molecules and elements.

The one indispensable part (so far as we know with our nervous system) of the process is the connection between artist and audience.  This relies on the system that delivers the contact between the two, which needs effort to make it effective.

Throw in the formulations of audience expectation of GNS roleplaying game design theory and you have the reader (or whatever the audience is called) demanding fun in the form of their creative agenda:

  • Gamists who want to be challenged by systems that show who cuts the mustard.
  • Simulationists who want the right to dream in an authentic ‘as if’ situation.
  • Narrativists who want conflicts that resolve premise.

These match up with Scott’s ideas of art asserting our identities as individuals through exercise of our organs (gamist, or sports/mental games), the exploration of the world for useful knowledge (simulationist or discovery in language, science and philosophy), and outlets for mental imbalances aiding in survival (narrative, or self-expression through catharsis).

This is an extremely simplified view of GNS theory, but what I have found is it demands a retraining of the brain to expand one’s mind to the horizons available for meditation.  What you have, I believe, is a re-thinking not just of roleplaying games but recognition of the audience as participant, rather than a top-down gamemaster (or artist) responsible for everyone’s fun.

Take a step further in today’s digitized, mouse-driven age and you have the hierarchy of gamemasters telling people what to buy breaking up under a realization that everyone is both artist and audience, and capable of producing their own supply at will.

Demand is going to create supply, that is, people will create their own needs and fulfill them themselves without having to run the gauntlet of traditional gatekeepers, who dilute the message and inflate the price.

Or even demand that price exist at all.

In a free market, might not money be one of several other options (say, companionship and glory) as means of exchange?  Physical objects like books just become part of a series of modules (a way to make money on one end and a way to show allegiance on another).  Traditionals might have to content themselves with doling out prestige. If they’re lucky, that is—when one can count the number of followers they have does one even need a traditional stamp as a mark of “making it”?

This means the costs will have to go way down.  If someone can make a hit movie for ten thousand dollars, or a bestseller without the chain-gang, how will concentrations of power compete?  They’ll have to.
It can be done if they accept the reality of lower profits and less control—the alternative is extinction.  We are on the downslope of energy anyway, moving towards inner space and not outer space (it was a nice dream while it lasted).

“What about quality?!”  What about it? There’s no quality now, only your good and my bad.  Everyone is going to have to step on up and improve their game if they want to work on the delivery.  Contact is the only game in town now.  There’s no ‘elite’ telling you what works and what doesn’t.

Friends will guard you from crap.  Fans will make sure you don’t starve.  Both will “poopcan” (that is, work the dodgy parts out) your art for you if you are serious.  Just do the stuff.  Everybody’s on the same field and there’s no limit right now.  It’s a conversation; You talk, I talk.

The big question is, “what is your form about and what do audience members do?”

Fun.  NOW.

The more I explore and attempt a systematized analysis of the bad girl, the more I realize this is a vast subject matter that defies explanation. I’m on her turf now, and I’m simply going to have to abandon a wholly reasoned perspective (though I will still make attempts at some constellation points).

One could say my even treading here is invoking certain tropes that keep getting repeated. Yeah, I see a lot of bones in the shadowy alleyways and misty marsh corners of bad girl outer boundary sector two-point-two.  Yet, I’m waving my candle around because even nice guys need to be bad boys sometimes, and bad girls know most all of the cool stuff.

You opened the door and extended an invitation, right?  Let the bad girl come in so she can speak and act to assert her vitality.  You’ve got stuff to identify that she can point out.  Stuff that haunts you that you fight:  “I should be angry but…” or “I want to own a horse again but…” or “I need to weep but…”—but but BUT.

Time to recognize this stuff and draw it into your own life because the bad girl is carrying a rejected element in you, for you.  Get ready to chat, cause there’s stuff you can do to get your bad back.

Subversion is her friend
Take a summary of an art form’s schools of thought (for example, genre) and see how it can be infiltrated and corrupted.  We can look at Shojo (Japanese comics for girls) and Shonen (Japanese comics for boys) manga, for example.

Typically, Shojo is composed of daily life from the perspective of the female experience.  A major theme encountered in stories is that of love set against narratives of self-realization.

Usually the stories are set against a backdrop of romance, fantastical worlds, or a typical everyday life situation (living in company housing, for example)—all worthy and good interests for creative enjoyment. Particularly noteworthy is the prevalence of Sentai, or teams of superpowered girls working together.

Shonen tend to cater to what are considered young male experiences—goofball humor, themes of loyalty, and explicit naughtiness.  These take place along backdrops of technology, sports, and heroic adventure.  The role of females in these stories tend to be single, pretty girls.

A bad girl isn’t giving up any of her privileges, but she will transpose as she feels like it.  Put the guys in stories demanding emotional complexity and relational intrigue.  Let the gals into the stories of exploring the unknown and conquering obstacles.  Transposing of the sexes is a common plot device in manga, by the way.

Bad girls with a crew of handsome male robots and gigantic spaceships with cool space gadgetry.  Bad girls playing contact sports in all their brutal, high-stakes action and behind-the-bench struggles for what it takes to be a winner.  Bad girls hunting down werewolves in eighteenth century splendor and rescuing clueless but basically good-hearted guys who need to be protected so they can continue to be single and handsome.

That’s a good start.  But it doesn’t have to be merely mutual transposing; it can be a direct beam-in where the default assumption becomes both genders on the field and the working out of those complications.

Bad girls AND guy space adventurers.  Bad girls AND guy sports-playing—against each other as rivals at times.  Bad girls AND guy hunters in the night saving both standard Joes and good girls from monsters.  Mix it up, stir the stew, do what’s fun…and bad.

Admiration for her bad qualities
Recognize and honor the bad girl for the qualities you like.  Contemplate the things that draw you to want to be like her, and the things that remind you of her influence.  Remember, she’s everywhere—the bad girl has been keeping storytellers in business for a long time.

I think of Maleficent the evil sorceress in Sleeping Beauty.  A withering wit, a spooky castle that reflects her own ghastly outlook (yet functional!), a horde of evil beings at her command, and deadly magic.  Competent, dangerous, fashionable, dramatic, exciting, and complicated—weary at being the only bad girl in the kingdom yet still able to crack a joke.

It’s fun to think of how much havoc she causes on the simpletons in the story.  Who probably wrote it to make her look bad.  Remember that the movie begins with the opening of a book; History is written by the victors (or the hopeful who cling to the folly that she won’t turn up again like the proverbial bad penny).

There’s Pippi Longstocking, who goes where she wants to go, does what she wants to do, and refuses to compromise her freedom.  Super strong, endlessly inventive, unabashedly contrary, afraid of nothing, and always ready with a prank for anyone who takes their authority too seriously.

Oh, to be a close friend of hers like Annika and Tommy!  To disdain all the rules and have unalloyed fun—to accompany a girl so alive and unstoppable as to be a force of nature.

On a less fantastical note, I think of Foxfire and The Devil Wears Prada. In both of these movies the good girl brings herself into the field of the bad girl and forms a mentor relationship with her. In Foxfire, Maddy learns about friendship, loyalty, and courage from the wandering loner girl Legs. In The Devil Wears Prada Andrea endures hardship and challenge under Miranda’s unremitting demands, and emerges tougher and more resourceful than before.

It should be noted that in these two movies, Maddy and Andrea both voluntarily depart their bad girl mentor and strike it out on their own. I imagine they create and shape a power for themselves, strengthened by their experiences. And I also imagine the effect they’ve had on their mentors, for in teaching one learns the last few clues one needs to advance to the next level of awesome.

Telling her story because you can
My grand and wonderfully creative friend Hexe knows a thing or two about bad girls. This last holiday I gave her an Edward Gorey calendar based on various neglected murderesses.

All this past year she’s been taking the murderess of the month and making an artistic creation out of each entry, based on imagining what the murderess’ side of the story might have been.  You could say she’s been studying her subjects and drawing out of them the bad girl for everyone to see and contemplate.

That’s right, every month is bad girl month!

This is a form of invocation—putting yourself at the disposal of the bad girl and giving her a voice.  Bad girls need to recognize each other and realize how much they have in common. Like it or not folks, there are things they can only get from each other.

Pick a form—writing, painting, music; whatever.  Choose a subject.  A particular bad girl or theme associated with bad girls you find interesting.  Dedicate it to your own bad girl and just see what happens.

You got all that?  Because now its time to meet the biggest baddest girl of all.

Reading some practical applications to the Bechdel Test at girlsreadcomics, it occurred to me there is a powerful, transformative scene when you have two bad girls together.  This is where using exercises to recognize patterns is useful.  But there’s another technique—meditations and visualizations which coax out feelings of immersion through mirrored identification.  You gotta have two bad girls.

I’m thinking of that scene from The Fisher King, where Anne and Lydia have a conversation about identity.  The two women share a few drinks together while Anne does Lydia’s nails.  The conversation culminates in this exchange:

Anne: You’re not so invisible. You want a personality? Try this on for size: you can be a real bitch sometimes.
Lydia: (cracks a smile and laughs a little) Really…?
Anne: (smiles) Yeah!
Lydia: (laughs) Wow!
Anne: I know, I know – it feels great!

It’s a moment of eureka for Lydia.  That’s the crux of it—finding the clue which opens up possibilities one is unaccustomed to expressing in one’s self.  Other people can hold up mirrors to us and share ideas we might not be able to obtain ourselves.  Two women sitting together sharing a pastime is a form of legitimate meditation.  It releases the mind so that you can enter a free-flowing state—out of which insights can spark and hopefully start a fire of inspiration burning.

I’m also thinking of the character of Storm from The Uncanny X-Men comic book.  There was a long storyline where she underwent an identity crisis and her powers started to slip from control.  She had been the gentle, life-giving weather goddess for a long time.  Her childhood roots as a thief on the streets of Cairo had become blocked off emotionally and left largely to stagnation.

This personal repression made sense because it was during these early years she developed her claustrophobia after being buried alive under rubble.  She survived by temporarily repressing a trauma.  But now it was coming back and she was getting wilder.  Her powers were truly like a storm untamed.

At one point, in order to save the X-Men she had to challenge the leader of their current foes to a knife-fight for dominance.  The panel where she stares hard, challenging the Morlock leader Callisto to a death-duel, despite suffering from exhaustion due to a super-power induced plague, still burns in my mind.  She returns to her roots, plays dirty, and kills the leader to the shocked looks of her team members.

Later, she runs into a woman mercenary named Yukio during an adventure in Japan (a friend of her teammate Wolverine).  Wild and untamed, Yukio regularly risks her life on unscheduled adventures for the thrill of being alive.  She invites Storm to come along for a night on the town.

For several days they push the envelope of physical danger.  Living only in the moment, delighting in physical prowess (and allowing her powers to roam free of having to “control” them for the team), Storm rediscovers joy.  She laughs out loud as she breaks through her wise, patient “nice girl” personality and finds she enjoys the taste of it.

Storm completes her transformation by openly embracing her bad side and changing her costume from an ultra-feminine, revealing outfit with a cape to a butch, punk-rock leather outfit complete with mohawk.  Stunning.  Her friend Kitty breaks down in tears and runs away, an image of Storm as “nice girl” shattered forever.  But as Storm says herself, “This is who I am.  I won’t hide it any longer.”  She would become the undisputed leader of the X-Men shortly afterward.

(Incidentally, Kitty would embrace her bad girl eventually as well, but that would be later.  Coincidentally, in Japan as well with Yukio making another appearance.)

The bad girl lives inside you gals right this moment, or maybe more properly she exists whether or not you recognize her life in you.  She isn’t going to be satisfied with being relegated to backstage; she’s going to pee in your soup as it passes from the kitchen to your refined restaurant table if you don’t watch out.

The question isn’t “Are you a bad girl?”  The question is “How are you a bad girl?”  She lives.

The next question is, “How are you honoring her?”  She has a right to be felt in your personal life and your work.

By asking these questions and answering them, you are granting her the right to existence.  You draw up a place where the two of you can meet each other halfway.

Because when two bad girls get together, stuff gets done.

While there has been some progress in the raising of racist and sexist issues in fiction, I believe we are still struggling to pull ourselves as writers out of the dark ages.  One has only to read minimized perspectives to realize the American fiction market still has work to do.

For comic books, the women in refrigerators syndrome has come to the forefront of some very interesting conversations.  I’ve followed it, mainly because I’m no longer interested in conventional stories.

I’d like to see rare and uncommon points of view get more play in the mainstream.  But this is difficult, because the system of manufacturing consent internalizes values in those who develop the privilege of being able to generate culture beyond a step 6 or 5 art line.

A while back, while examining the question of agency for women characters, I came across a checklist chart from heroplay.  You basically counted the number of situations a hero was helpless (in need of rescue), tortured, and turned evil/sexy for women and men characters in a story.  Are the characters struggling or helpless during the situation?  Defiant or frightened?

Techniques like these are useful for rationally examining what one-sided tropes of a story might be manifesting.  I’d like to see more tools like the Bechdel Test (not just for women but other under-represented groups) appear out there, so we can reflect on what we’re doing.

They aren’t foolproof systems of thought, just springboards for constelating coordinates.  A means of asking questions and identifying positions so that we might test them.  The point is to make more-informed decisions, not proscribe or enforce lines of thought.

So, Tribal Writer explores writing like a bad girl.  This is not an easy approach, as it’s not an either-or proposition.  Women have both qualities existing inside of them as if they were living characters themselves.  Allowing both a wholeness of expression is the moral problem.

Too much good girl and there’s no joy of life.  Too much bad girl and personal relationships disintegrate.  The key, I think, is to generate tools that give these qualities a means to exist free from repression—personal or societal.

I think of the good mother/bad ogress in Japanese culture.  The endlessly patient, yielding and long-suffering mother figure is serious business there.  Everyone else is subordinate to that, even father—who is often portrayed as an impotent buffoon.

But the ogress is always waiting to jump out, tenaciously strong and voraciously sexual.  The housewife manages the finances, goes on golf trips with her girlfriends, and makes arrangements for her husband’s mistress.  Both figures exist side by side without contradicting the other.  This is as natural as a mountain vista.

So, I’ve been contemplating another tool—a checklist of characters based not on situations but on qualities.  Specifically, how often do male and female characters in a story show:

  • Desire
    Actively pursuing the fulfillment of sexual appetites or ambitions?
  • Mobility
    Actively demonstrating a literate mind or a useful/practical/marketable skill?
  • Interiority
    Actively confronting authority or asking difficult/awkward questions?

How many predominantly unambitious, timid, unskilled male characters will one come up with?

Actually that sounds rather interesting to me.  But the point of this exercise is to examine your own fictional characters, or the characters of others.  With the hope one will gather clues and learn how best to construct characters for one’s own formula.

Because each of us has a magic potion we are formulating in our combination of technique, inspiration and meditation.

053_threejewels1Whirlwind of changes to the new honeycomb hideout, while the ghosts and goblins run riot in the streets looking for juicy life forms to fill their empty gullets or just plain entertain them in boredom-town.  My psychic ovens can barely keep up with the new demands, even with the new transwarp drive.  Looks like I’ll have plenty of collops from timber-jack land for the pot.  Celtic New Year, here we come!

In preparation for my two parter halloweenie story of doom shortly to arrive, I’ve been contemplating the Buddha a little.  Bodhisatvas, to be precise, particularly the Jizo aspect of Ksitigarbha.  These are beings whose compassion for the suffering of others moves them to remain in the world and help all beings attain enlightenment.  The Jizo acts to empty the deepest hells of suffering souls, protecting and guiding those lost in ignorance and error.

So where did all this brain activity come from?  Well, I’ll tell yeh.  Been looking through my old GI Joe artifacts (as in Adventure Team, the seventies Kung Fu Grip version) and came across my old book-and-record of Search For The Stolen Idol.

The story goes like this:  A foreign country on the list of approved business partners has had it’s idol (a vaguely detailed Buddha) stolen by “not on our side” rebels.  Right before an important festival where the idol must be on display for the local tribes to accept the current leader.  Our illustrious “ordinary guy” secret agent type white-hat adventurer must recover the idol (and the leader’s authority) in time, or presumably those tribes will go on a rampage.

It’s a laughable story, with blunt edged stereotypes I’ll pass on deconstructing for now.  The important thing is that this is the first time I can remember seeing the image of Buddha.  Doubtless through a westernized lens, but seeds planted in the past bear fruit in the future.

My favorite part of the story is when the rebels dump the Buddha in the “poison pit”, and Joe has to enter this pit to retrieve the Buddha.  Guarding the Buddha is a giant cobra immune to bullets.  Joe has to use an electric rope to defeat the cobra.  It stood out because I don’t remember this rope being in the play-set I saw in the stores or mentioned in the story before—Joe pulls this deus ex machina out of nowhere.

Looking it up on the internet, I see the play-set did come with three ruby jewels.  I presume that treasure would have been kept by Joe as a reward for his heroism (the Buddha appears to be made of some kind of weathered bronze or similar material, if it’s not at least silver who cares right?).  But there’s a hidden meaning also in the three jewels, that perhaps there is a more subtle reward for bringing the Buddha out of the poison pit.

Cobras are considered divine manifestations in some cultures, and snakes can be associated with guardianship and the underworld.  The sacred serpent figure (known as an uraeus or ouraios) is an emblem of sovereignty.  Joe has to face a supernatural being (a cobra immune to bullets!) and defeat it with a crazy unexpected maneuver (electric rope!) to recover the goal.

It’s perfectly logical to find Buddha in the middle of places you would hardly expect to find such a being.  In skyscraper laden cityscapes, corporate boardrooms, in the midst of horrific crimes of immense scale, you name it.  Even a book for young readers loaded with disturbing portrayals and models of behavior.

I mean, if you buy the Buddha thing at all, then you start at a point of ignorance.  You’re going to be going on missions for hell with a jolly smile on your face, and everyone not on the Adventure Team is going to appear savage and get their well-deserved fist to the face.  A sacred image is going to be an object you have to move from point A to point B to keep the hell’s furnaces running.  That’s how I experienced it, I was projecting into the good guy, the hero for hell.  That’s what I learned.

Buddha knows!  He knows, and is silent.

Joe safely accomplishes his mission and goes onto the next job with a pat on the rump and a copy of the home game.  But that poison pit—that didn’t fit for me.  That’s where it’s just Joe, the (divine) cobra, and Buddha.  Where did Joe get that electric rope?  From Buddha, of course!  Joe doesn’t realize it, but because I’m the witness I register the missing panel.  Buddha has materialized into the illusion (Joe’s Adventure) to show me I’m in a fantasy world.  But I wouldn’t start to get that until much later.

Bullets don’t work against the supernatural.  You got to have vajra, man.  That Joe would be able to use this is a moment of enlightenment born, starting down the path.  For even if all he sees is some object he has to cart around, still it is Buddha!  He has seen even if he does not see, but he will.  Even in the propaganda toys rests the Buddha, waiting for the poison pit moment when ignorance, error and suffering run out of bullets.

One day we will find our light.  One day we will find out there was no rope, just three jewels.

Yes, exciting updates for those who desire non-returnable and un-consumer Mr. Nice Car exposure.  It’s all about the mysterious sightings when it comes to avoiding the “go back 3 spaces, now go back 1 space, now go back 5 spaces, now go back to start” phenomenon.

My favorite month of the year is right around the corner, and the weather is taking a turn towards a new season of attempts to request unlimited credit.  I’m just trying to keep my brain pan clear of any banker tendencies, just in case Count of Monte Cristo random encounter comes a-callin’.

So what’s in the psychic hopper?  Still have some garden goods in the line-up, and the herbs are still going.  But definitely this is the wind-down to post-harvest.  Tomatoes are canned, and all the major events are taken care of.  It’s only a matter of time before the basil gives up the ghost, for example.

Ran into my super-duper, techno-webmaster friend for lunch.  The monolith-monster barrier reefs were impossible to pass, so it was hard for us to have a bite and catch up.  We parked right next to each other in the parking lot, but looked for each other on opposite ends of the food trough mall.  That’s how it’s been—connected by the roots, but branched out at different angles due to the wind.

He’s a wise old turtle, reminding me that “it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”  Thanks for busting through the reefs man.

Now that the currents have changed, all sorts of things have been stirring up out of the nutrient stream.  I’m particularly excited about the imminent publishing of Carl Jung’s Red Book.  This is a journal the psychoanalyst started during a period of mental turmoil in his life.  He decided to use active imagination to explore the depths and meaning of his, well to put it mildly, schizophrenic crack-up.  When Jung passed away his family locked the thing away in a Swiss vault.

I’ve caught glimpses of the vividly stunning pictures and nakedly personal writings, enough to make me wish I could be one of a dozen people who had ever seen the thing.  Now in a month I’ll have a chance to behold the journey into madness and insight myself.  I can hardly wait.  Since when do I ever get excited about stuff that’s coming down the line?

Well, I’m also excited about Crumb’s graphic novel take on the Book of Genesis.  This too, promises to be awesome.  The guy’s art is a national treasure, every tortured line of his artistry both difficult and energizing to behold.  Rumor has it he started out on the project with a irreverent take, but then decided that wasn’t working.  He started over and played it straight.

From the previews I’ve seen, I think this was the right way to go.  If he was going for mockery or sarcasm, then his own artistic style is enough to carry that through on an as-is presentation.  This allows the reader to bring their own take to the material and come away with a richer panorama.  But I’ll have to see for sure with the book in my hands and see what the impact is.  Reading Crumb is a personal meditation, just as contemplation of any great artist tends to be.

On the semi-manga bandwagon, I’ve been reading parts 2, 3 and 4 of the Scott Pilgrim series, as well as the newest batch of Courtney Crumrin.

Scott Pilgrim faces the usual slacker challenges of growing up, while working on his relationship with Ramona Flowers (his true love).  Of course, he still has to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in kung-fu video game challenges.

I’m enjoying how the story is unfolding, but the 3 volumes I read didn’t pack any of the gobsmacking punch of the first volume.  I literally was stunned with laughter and delight at the style and execution of that first volume.  In 2-4 the complications just don’t flow as well.  Creative, amusing, but something I just can’t put my foot on is draining the momentum.

Maybe it should have been three evil ex-boyfriends.

Courtney Crumrin is as well drawn and skillfully executed as ever.  The previous three volumes I think are destined to become classic graphic novels.  The latest in what I presume will be another series, Courtney Crumrin’s Monstrous Holiday, is like a bonus round of birthday presents.  I’ve been itching to know what would happen on the trip that ends the previous series.

Courtney the witch and her warlock great-grand uncle go on a tour of Europe in a two-part adventure.  The old theme of “bad things happen sometimes” continues, first with an opposite ends of the tracks love story in which Courtney tries to lend some help.  Then a “bad news” boyfriend who has a not-so-healthy hunger for Courtney.

The young witch is learning about love and limitations.  Hopefully, she is learning from her poor (if very understandable) decisions.  Uncle Aloysius is looking like he might not be there for her for much longer.  Definitely a more mature book than the ones we’ve seen before.  Moar pleez!

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