Thursday, March 31, 2011

Therapy with the Vampire: A Biased Review

Disclaimer: I fucking adore Robyn E. Kenealy, both as a friend and an author. I will now attempt to write about her new comic calmly and without over-gushing. I may not succeed, but I will at least describe in detail WHY I'm gushing.

Robyn E. Kenealy excels at writing fan fiction, although the term hardly does her work justice. Her Roddy McDowall fandom inspired Roddy's Film Companion (which I attempted to review earlier), and the Battlestar Galactica fandom brought on the brilliant Emissary from Another World, written in character as Gaius Baltar (a very difficult task, as the character is so layered). Her latest work, Therapy with the Vampire, delves into the pscyhological underpinnings of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. The first part can be found here on DeviantArt. For some reason, you must click on "Prev" to get forward.

Ms Kenealy writes slice-of-life. I don't mean the Questionable Content type slice of life where nothing happens and the characters just sit around being witty. Ms Kenealy's writing is like an episode of Mad Men or the Sopranos: every word contains meanings and emotions, the whole history of the characters comes out in the way they interact with each other. Deep issues with humanity and the characters are explored in small moments. It's not really about what happens, per se, or what changes (very little, I'd imagine, it's Lestat and Louis after all). It's what is bubbling under the surface, what is implied. Life itself becomes the plot.

What I love about this kind of writing is that it makes you think. It makes you ask important questions. Like who is Lestat? Why is he the way he is? What general human issues does he embody? What about Louis? What's under Louis' angst? Is Lestat in fact angstier but just tries to hide it? What about me?

Life and humanity for these characters is particularly painful, because they must live forever with all of their issues and problems. They are not intact to self esteem issues, jealousy, anxiety or even guilt. There is nothing glamorous about being a vampire, in this comic; it is the pain of humanity multiplied, and one that goes on forever.

A lot of this is probably present in the books already. I have read none of them, but this does not stop me from enjoying the comic. The history these characters share can be read from just the expressions and dialogue. There's clearly a very fucked up couple here, and it's beautiful. Kenealy gives time to the first scene, letting the characters slowly build up to the fireworks of emotion between them. The first panels are just Louis and a lot of night sky; it takes a while for him to notice Lestat, so it takes a while for the reader too. The buildup is slow and calm, Lestat's appearance almost ghostlike after the serenity of the stars and black sky. Throughout the comic, the night sky remains the backdrop, and it's both beautiful and fitting.

There's something delicious about their constant tug-of-war, Lestat trying to be suggestive or seductive and Louis bringing it back to reality and their issues (see especially this page). This is supported particularly well by Kenealy's drawing style, which is sketch-esque in other details, but utterly precise in the expressions. Lestat's luscious leer is perfect. So is the sulky silence between them in many panels. It's like the conversation keeps starting up and then coming to a halt, over and over again, because Louis refuses to take Lestat's crap. This can prove unbearable for Lestat, whose rage is clearly always just beneath the surface. Louis remains composed and unstartled by it.

It is hard to tell how much of this is Ms Kenealy's brilliance and how much is Anne Rice's. In great fanfic, the border between author and fan is blurred. The fan might have insights the author never had. (This might be why Ms Rice has publicly renounced fan fiction, which hasn't stopped fans from writing it.) Kenealy has a specific talent for peeling the layers of a character and writing them so that every layer becomes visible, every bit of the character's history is always there. This is the thing that is often missing from fan fiction (and let's be honest, even from book and TV sequels).

I also particularly like the dog and his expressions. It's a nice visual detail in an otherwise minimalist comic. You'd think a dog is a bad companion for a creature living for all eternity, though. Also, Lestat's flirtation with the waitress. "It's French, darling - it's French FOR darling". As if no one could help but find him adorable when he speaks French and asks like a charming little boy. (Which might be why Louis calls him The Brat Prince.)

I'm very curious to see how the therapy is going to develop, and how deep Louis can cut into Lestat's onion of self-denial and self-indulgence. The therapist is, at least, not scared of asking personal questions. (Do they even have sex?)

I'm not sure if this was already too much gush and too little substance, but read it for yourselves. A must-read for a Vampire Chronicles fan, and highly recommended for everyone who loves psychological drama.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Drive-By Notes, Part 3

Brought to you by the Webcomics List. 

"Absolute Hot Sister". This doesn't sound very promising. In fact, it sounds just like another male-gaze-hot-chicks comic. And judging by the last five or so strips - it is. Thanks, but no thanks.

Slimfigures - "a webcomic of science, satire and dark thoughts". This, on the other hand, sounds really interesting. But the latest strip baffles me. Some of the letters seem to be underlined, which might mean there's a secret message here, but what I get is "b-e-e-n-o-s-h-t". Is it supposed to be an anagram? been shot? no bees? The noseb? At least it got me thinking, so I give points for that. I have to ask my boyfriend about this comic, because he's more of a nerd than I am, but it looks interesting and original. The author's obviously playing with graphs and math a bit.

Beyond the Black Stump. The comic of the day promises bad things, namely "character A delivers punchline while character B stares at the reader with ennui". This is a pretty standard trope for newspaper comics. Interestingly, you can find comics by topic, so let's pick one at random and see what we get. "Philosophy". However, looking at some of these, they're not very philosophical.
Pun related to political topic. 
Bible reference with bad punchline.  (also, some pretty empty-looking panels.)
Meditation/fart joke.
Is this a newspaper strip? Because it really seems like one. In other words: nothing new, moving on.

Glutton for Pun-ishment. Uh oh. But it's not puns I see, it's... I'm not sure what. Is this a story? It's very confusing. When you go back, you see... I just don't know. Personally, this doesn't beckon me to read further, because I just feel really lost. The Webcomics List can be problematic in this way, because if you're dropped in the middle of a story, you have to be really drawn in to want to read more.

Ball With Hat proved to be the most amusing new find. It's a bit Marc Johns-esque, with just drawings of a ball with a hat and various things. My favorite: ball with cliffhanger and hat. LOL!

Least I Could Do: I dunno. Why does the male character look like CAD's Lucas? Why do most comic men seem to have that spiky hairdo? Why is the joke in this comic so vague? I don't get it. Quick verdict: easy reading, nothing special.

After a couple of these, they all start to look the same again. Time for a break.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hey Look, I'm QC Ranting Again!

I'm being confused by Questionable Content again. When I first saw yesterday's strip, I had no idea who the blonde girl is. (It must be Penelope, right? I had forgotten about her.) And isn't that guy the one Fay is dating?

Today's strip: we see the guy Faye is dating, who looks almost exactly like yesterday's guy, except without mustache. OK then. I can't remember either of their names. Also, men without frail jawlines and strong cheekbones do exist. QC has one of the worst cases of "the whole universe is skinny" that I've ever seen.

This highlights some of the character problems with QC:
-way too many recurring characters
-too many pairings and breakups
-confusion about who the main characters are; Penelope was on the strip every day for a while and then disappeared, ditto Raven
-if Marten is the main character, why is his breakup with Dora not the main plot? They still haven't even spoken to each other since their very brief breakup argument. I'm beginning to suspect that Jacques just got tired of Marten and Dora and decided to break them up and be done with it.

I wonder if I could sum up all the characters and plots going on right now. Let's see.
Hannelore: has OCD and crazy rich parents, is cool. Lives above Faye and Marten.
Marten: broken up with Dora, works in the uni library with Tai, lives with Faye. Used to work for some boring office job and left the job to work part-time and follow his dream, but we still don't know what that dream is. Plays in a band. Oh and his mother is a porn star (S/M) and his father is gay and about to marry his longtime partner.
Faye: lives with Marten, works at Café of Doom with Dora, dating this guy in today's strip. Goes to therapy bc her father killed himself. Has a possible alcohol problem, although she hasn't been drunk in ages.
Dora: lives with her brother Sven, owns Café of Doom, broken up with Marten. Goes to therapy bc she has some issues, but no idea what.
Sven: pines for Faye, ladies man, lives with sister Dora. Was a pop star and had some temp come in and help her with songwriting but that plot was completely dropped.
Penelope: dates this poet guy and... ???? Works in Café of Doom still?
Tai: is bi, works with Marten, can't remember what else
Steve: Marten's friend, dates some jealous girl, had an alcohol problem but doesn't now, used to date underaged Ellen
Raven: used to work at Café of Doom, was emo/goth/whatever, dated a homeless guy and is now studying physics or sth.
Pintsize: Marten's AndroPC. Likes porn, porn and porn. Makes inappropriate comments. Is mostly boring.
Can't remember the name: Hannelore's AndroPC.
Marigold also has a Chibi-style one. Oh yeah, I forgot about Marigold.
Marigold: Lives with Faye's boyfriend. Socially awkward, nerd, plays videogames. Unrequited love for roommate. Not much else to say.
Also, there used to be hipster talk about music, but that's pretty much over.
Am I missing something?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Fake Guy

You know how women always claim they like nice guys? But what they really mean is they want such guys for friends, and want to date Neanderthal assholes with gigantic muscles. And the nice guy is always left there to lie in a puddle of his own hormones and he will never get a date.
Oh those women! Those heartless women!

OK, who here thinks this is a tedious and untrue stereotype? I do.

Apparently, there's a whole comic dedicated to this idea: The Nice Guy. This overlong strip is the best example of what the concept is. Jeff is a nice guy. That means pretending to be a friend to women you like, in the hopes that one day they will want to date you. Also, being a friend means lying when your friend asks for genuine advice about a relationship. It means never saying what you're truly thinking. Women are stupid and should be coddled. 

I was offended as a woman, my boyfriend was offended as a man. Yet this comic apparently is out as a book - WHY? Who reads this stuff? The art is mediocre, but not stellar in any way; the backgrounds and colors are dull, the characters look angular and bulky, and basically it contains all the basic flaws of webcomics. The women have huge boobs and small waists (sigh) with white teeth shining out as they flirt shamelessly with men they don't intend to sleep with. The men are animals who only care about sex and sports. 

I'll leave you with this xkcd strip about how DUMB this stereotype really is. 

I think the right name for this kind of comic is The Fake Guy. Pretending to be someone's friend when all you want is sex? Is NOT nice. 

EDIT: Loyal (sometimes only) reader Robyn found another review of the comic. It's much longer and more detailed and AWESOME, and I encourage people to read it. Unless you actually like The Nice Guy, in which case you may be terribly disillusioned.

I'll quote the same bit as Robyn did in the comments. I hadn't even noticed that strip and its horrendous  message:

Yeah, Mike and Tim, it’s fucking hilarious that your goddamn Mary Sue perfect hero wants a “counterpoint” to not committing date rape. ‘Cause it’s just such a crushing burden going around all day not raping women that even Jeff, the nicest guy in the universe, so nice he has twoangels, needs a break now and then. In his own words, he deserves a counterpoint, as if there’s some kind of rate of exchange whereby you’re allowed to treat someone else’s body as your property once for every five times you let someone cut in line in front of you. In case the fucked-upness hasn’t quite hit home yet, I’ll reiterate: This is a comic about how Jeff is so nice that, faced with a drunk woman, he considers raping her, and is annoyed that he can’t properly justify it. In a comic series where Jeff is meant to represent a man who respects women. And it’s a comedy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grumpy Feminist Comics Reader, Part Umpteenth: Questionable Content, Once Again.

I frequently feel bugged by the way Jeph Jacques writes women. They all act like "one of the guys", and I suppose that's the kind of girls a guy would mingle with. Maybe it's realistic; it's not the kind of girls I've met, but that might just be because I'm a girl. I think I wouldn't mind it if they weren't all so brittle inside. Faye's all fierce but she has major issues, ditto Dora (although we never really delved into those issues). Marigold is a socially inept nerd. Hannelore is exempt because I think her issues are actually believable.

Today's comic is fine, it could be any two girls (or guys) discussing therapy. But yesterday's comic really pissed me off. Girlfriend is mad! She is so mad and insecure that she wants to see the woman her boyfriend flirted with! And tell her that she's the prettier one! And then, instead of telling her off, the flirtee just says: "I still can't believe he's not gay!"
Hahahahahahahahahaha. Not.

Which raises another issue: when has this strip ever had a male gay character? The "less offensive" lesbians and bisexual girls have appeared several times, but where are the gay guys and transsexuals? If they're so OK with sex, why not have some of those too? Why is it still an insult and a burn for a guy to be thought gay?

Sometimes I feel like Jacques only wants to cater to horny young guys. See also: last week's strip where a girl is lulled to sleep on another girl's boobs. Honestly.

Calling Out the Transphobia in "Skipping Out"

My boyfriend wrote this, and I really think it says it best. Skipping Out is a gay comic, and while it has been confusing and unfunny in the past, it has always been tolerant. It seems like it has stepped out into territory where artist Schlegel doesn't feel comfortable and is willing to take swipes at trans women. That's just no ok. 

The trans woman character is portrayed terribly in basically every aspect. She’s drawn atrociously - why is he giving her an more exaggeratedly masculine facial structure than the cis men in the comic? And her name - Kevi with no ‘n’ - har har, she just took one letter off her “real” name! I feel like the way he’s making her so violent and mean/sassy is a way of showing how unfeminine she is. “Real” women don’t beat people up or act like anything other than demure flowers, AMIRIGHT?

What we have here is something very similar to the semi-regular butch dyke barista of the strip. She is bulky, masculine, chain-smoking, rude, will grab you by the collar if you want to order anything but regular coffee. Poor innocent Skippy is always being pushed around by these scary women. The misogyny is loud and clear.

Maybe it's time I stop reading this strip. It's obviously not going to improve, and it just makes me mad.