Pretty Deadly: What Good Stories and Comics Are Made Off

I found myself yesterday in Megacity Comics (Candem, London). I came home with a comic I had already eyed out in Outland during my visit to Oslo, called Ragnarok: Last God Standing. And Pretty Deadly. It is no secret that I am a big fan of Image. I was pretty thrilled when they announced that Kelly Deconnick and Emma Rios were teaming up for this one. They are kickass; only something epic could come out of this union – yet I’d never guessed how this would be achieved. They had already worked together in Osborn (2010). Deconnick’s reputation working with Marvel precedes her, as well as her fabulous work in manga adaptation – and The Witching Hour which I love! Rios is a talented compatriot whose art amazes me – Spiderman and Runaways. So I knew things would go well. But this?… This was something different. Train time comes and I think to myself “got an hour to kill”. Rganarok was ticker so I grabbed the Image volume. I have a page and a half when the train got home…I did not stop reading until I was done.

The thing is, Pretty Deadly is a bit like Memento: if I tell you about the plot, there’s no point you reading it: it would be ruined. So I’ll limit myself to give you reasons as to why you should! For starters the art work is LUSH – SO Refreshing. The colours are so moody, and Emma Rios can draw, in such a way that even when drawing something disgusting, it is still beautiful. The landscape is relatively minimalistic, yet so effectively used. The composition of the pages shows synergies: touches of American style comics, with manga design and yet such a remarkable good taste for French BD at stages. In that sense it was like American Vampire meets Long John Silver and Vinland Saga.

The narrative is incredible. Fantastic use of several voices sometimes at he same time. Moving from first, third and even second person seems so natural. Flashbacks are classy and very fitting of this western/fantasy mix. They are not jumpy; they take place as part of the characters own discourse. Moreover, the story-telling is remarkable. The plot doesn’t begin at the beginning, neither does it start at the end, and it most certainly doesn’t start in the middle. Have you seen Zu Warriors? Or like the Legend of the Monkey King? It is a very different way of telling stories. It is mythical. By beginning the story with a seemingly random but ultimately crucial point of the narrative it allows you to set a degree of unexpectedness. Here the is no guessing the plot or the characters evolution, because you lack the understanding. You think you know them but you actually don’t; you have only been told what you needed to know thus far. You are instead introduced to a concept, and in fact that is that Pretty Deadly is a conceptual narrative. It’s not about emotions, although they play a part in the plot. It’s about ideas and the nature of things. But at the same time, it is a story of stories. There is a narrative drive that reminds of medieval tapestries, where the main action would take place in the big scenes, but the borders will often contain animals and symbols that presented allegories and motives, which are intrinsically linked with the scenes above. And if you missed them, you will only be getting part of the picture. Bunny and Butterfly do this in a very modern way, which is beautiful and demonstrates such a mastery of these dynamics. How to use something seemingly unconnected to actually tell you what really is happening. That is the first story. Then you have the main narrative. Moreover, the plot and several characters at multiple stages refer to stories within their own to move the action forward. The degree of meta and self reference is only rivaled by folk legends. And that is what I was saying earlier, this is not something you find in modern times. It’s not linear, it’s not multilinear, it’s not a compilation of stories to add to the gran narrative. It is like the murmur of a river being whispered by the trees and that you only hear far away from the river, yet you know it is there. It’s a folk tale you should have always known, yet you didn’t.

I am trying really hard in here not to destroy this – so excuse me if my argument is not very tangible. Now there is one thing I will tell you in a bit more depth, because I think encapsulates the general spirit of the comic. One of the main characters in this tory is Death. But Death is nothing like you believe it to be, or maybe it is everything everyone thinks it is. Death is depicted wearing black robes but of rich textures like a lord would. There is nothing creepy about it, not even remotely. Represented with the skull of a long mouthed mammal, perhaps a wolf, it stands in glory, yet in the shadows. Almost, like Hades in Greek mythology, as lord of the underworld, something that should be revered. Death is capable of emotion, and his actions are driven by it but also forced by untimely fate. A fate he is aware of. I thought, in a way I wished this death to be like Sir Terry’s DEATH from a less loving and more romanticist yet clinical perspective, but that it such a trivialisation of the concept it just doesn’t justify it. Death has minions. Death has weapons – a blooming shotgun! Death thus stands there as a god, and unstoppable force of the universe…Yet, vulnerable.

Through twist and turn, construction and deconstruction, almost like the product of some shamanistic dark magic, Pretty Deadly is like nothing I’ve ever read. It truly is one of those stories that happen once in a million years. And it comes delivered by two amazing women. So much for being underrepresented, not involved, lacking and ignored. If Deconnick and Rios are to go by, then the future of the comic industry is going to see perhaps one of its greatest eras. And if being marginalised means creating volumes such as this, Bitch Planet, and being nominated for awards like the Eisner…Then so be it.

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“Showing Too Much Skin”: Sexualised Clothing In Comic Books – An Article Review

Okay, little moment of scholar hat on. As some of you may know, I am doing a PhD that deals with representations in comic books – particularly focused on the Vikings, and women. Doing some research, I came across a student written article that made me 1)seriously question the peer-reviewing process of the article, 2)the actual intention and motivations of the author, as well as the 3)incredible bias, and 4)lack of quality analysis. As a student, of any discipline, rule number one is, leave your judgement home, understand, contextualise and THEN criticise where is due. Well…the article is publicly available for those interested by the way:

Gender Differences in Clothing Worn in Current Popular Comic Books

Kyle Landon Jossy

 
I appreciate it is a student written – undergraduate – text, but it has some severe flaws. The actual initiative of the project is great, as students should be sharing their work and those who do write gems should be praised. Particularly in the arts or in modern media like comic books where the is so much stigma to be removed and so much work to do to create a comprehensive field, I praise them for the effort which is absolutely remarkable. But the actual article itself has some issues that any avid comic reader – Without The Need of Being a Scholar – could flag up. 
The comic book selection is not very representative of the actual state of the comic book industry these days: we are at the peak of the most prolific and diverse publishing environments ever. The Comix authors from the 70s/80 would have considered themselves lucky of having such a scope of possibilities – admittedly not all of them are straight forward, or easy to get in to, but it has improved! These titles selected for the article are in essence mass marketing for a mass audience – they transcend the original medium of the comic book for the comic book collector. Like the article says – yes they are best-selling  comics – which are comparable to the Barbie magazine for kids in the 1990s. That is the degree of marketing we are talking about. The actual content and conventions that are relevant for the sphere of comics have been minimized and milked to an absolute bare minimum. This is a very similar strategy used in video games these days. You all known them: think of all those Facebook games that are identical, same key game dynamics that are not actually designed for the any other purpose in what is known as the “gaming industry” but for marketing, mass appeal – and to a degree, creating addiction. In no way, shape or form, this is a statement against their quality – not what I am getting at – just categorisation and context.
So, an appropriate and thorough audience analysis would have been useful. Sales are all good, But Who Is Actually Buying Those Pieces and Why? Nowhere to be found in this article. In addition, genre identification has a huge impact into what the person was looking into. “Popular Comics” is not really a genre. It is, once again, a sales and marketing division, representative of nothing but money movement and mass consumerism. The only factor that has been used to identify these comics as useful for these piece is the fact that the represent some women and that they sold lots – there is somewhere a statistics student crying because of this degree of reductionism. Those aren’t enough parameters to establish a useful, valuable comparison.
Probably the bit that gets me most is the degree of hypocrisy applied to the concept of revealing skin being sexual…As if you even needed to reveal skin to sexualise an image? I mean, let’s take Black Widow as an example, okay? How much skin does her outfit reveal? Her face, that’s it. Is her image sexualised? Considering that one of the supposed sexiest women in Hollywood impersonates her…No skin showing though! Therefore…we will completely ignore that. As a very popular female comic book character, due to the recent marvel releases, it would have been an easy point of reference, yet neglected. More importantly, this is condemning the image of women in our modern society. I mean what is this? The Victorian period where if you showed your ankles this was some sort of social controversy? Of course clothing can sexualised, but so can anything! If we cannot see the world past that lens…We are doomed. By the way, I have mentioned I am a woman right? It does not insult me that representations like these exist. I do not feel pressurised to look like them. I understand they are for fictional, and relative to conventions of specific narratives. I mean, are we going to start criticising the Greek and Roman sculptures for their portrayal of naked bodies in a praise of the beauty of mankind? No one tells those statues to cover up, and those were publicly visible by the way, you didn’t even need to buy a comic to see them…
It concerns me that this was approved for publication with no further comment or the option to even give feedback on the subject – until now, that is. Unfortunately this is a typology that repeats itself so frequently within popular/geek culture. The sexist criticism: usually coming from women and aggravated by both women and men. This degree of victimisation when convenient needs to stop. Otherwise we will never be able to move past it and remove the stigmas associated with the genre…More importantly, we will never be able to create a safe and welcoming environment for members of all genders, and backgrounds to feel safe as part of a fandom. I have argued for this in one of my recent papers (Spring Symposium, Center for Gender Studies, University of Winchester, 03/03/2016). Starting old fires will not help the situation. We should rather be putting them out and beginning alternative lines of dialogue.
Geeks united will prevail. Female acceptance within geek society would become so much easier if we would stop holding to past preconceptions and removing these stigmas, not perpetuating them.
Peace out – and to the author of the text, although I cannot agree, at least thank you for sharing and voicing your thoughts!

“Armed for Battle”: a backstory for Brunihild for the One Ring

A while back you may have seen my character creation process for Brunihild for a game of the One Ring I did not get to play – yet. As a very thorough player that I am, I cannot create a character without giving them a back story – does not feel right. How am I supposed to know who they are if I don’t tell others?! But this is no news – everyone knows I am the best bard in all of Krynn! (I will tell you about it one day). So this the background for Brunihild. I am a massive Tolkien fan, so I have tried to keep the story consistent, not only with One Ring dynamics, but so I would fit in within the general narrative sphere of Middle-earth:


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Creating Brunihild for The One Ring – Brunihild Creada para el One Ring

So here is a character concept I developed for One Ring game Alex was working on for an online forum, but that we didn’t really have the chance to go through with. However I very much enjoyed the proces and liked the type I came up with. Who knows, maybe I will get to play as her in the future:

Aquí os dejo un personaje para el One Ring, el juego de Cublicle 7 basado en la Tierra-media justo después del Hobbit y antes del Señor de los Anillos en la narrativa de Tolkien. Alex estaba desarrollando el juego para un foro online, aunque al final no pudo ser. Ha conseguido redirigir su campaña a esta narrativa tipo fan-ficción que escribe como si estuviese masteando la partida, pero bueno yo decidí seguir con el personaje, y bueno igual con un poco de suerte puedo usarla en un futuro próximo:

 

brunihild

I used the main books from the One Ring and the online character generator, which is extremly useful. Me limité a usar el libro de reglas original del One Ring – aunque hay expansiones, tampoco quería complicarme mucho la vida ya que solo he jugado un par de veces – y este generador de personajes online que es muy útil:

http://azrapse.es/tor/sheet.html

This is really useful as well if you want to have a full discussion as a group about individual characters and how to link stories together – it saves the characters online and it allows you to chat amongst yourselves. Handy! Esta herramienta es genial si además quieres comentar una partida online o incluso jugarla si no tienes otros medios, porque te permite guardar ahí mismo los personajes de todos los jugadores e incluso sus fichas de trasfondo.

The Skyrim Diaries – Los Diarios de Skyrim vol.5

Luthien had now awaken her spirit to continue with her task. But so much had happened while she avoided her destiny; her errands now seemed never-ending. She really needed to destroy Alduin and get rid of Miraak, but her duty to the Dawnguard was also pressing. It hit her, when on a dark evening one of her friends from Whiterun (Adrianne from Warmaiden’s) died due to a vampire attack, that this threat should come to an end. She owed that to Serana. She had been her rock and support through this rough patch. Moreover, travelling the vast lands of Skyrim would become much easier if Luthien could sleep at night, not having to worry about the creatures of the night creeping on to them in their sleep. Thus, the path of blood begun. Following the advise of the Moth Priest the elf set to find the missing piece of the puzzle.

Luthien convocó una vez más sus fuerzas para continuar su cometido, sin embargo, había pasado tanto tiempo mientras ella había estado ignorando su destino que las faenas se le acumulaban. Estaba claro que debía deshacerse de Alduin y Miraak. No obstante, su promesa para con la Dawnguard también era de carácter urgente. Fue en una tarde gris y oscura, que uno de sus amigos de Whiterun (Adrianne de Warmaiden’s) murió a causa de un vampiro, que la joven elfa decidió que aquella debía ser su prioridad. Al fin y al cabo, se lo debía a Serana. Su compañera había sido un gran pilar en este duro bache con el que se había tropezado, no lo hubiese sobrepasado sin ella. Además, si debían viajar por las tierras de Skyrim, Luthien pensó que sería más fácil si tanto ella como Serana no tuviesen que preocuparse por que las criaturas de la noche las asaltasen mientras dormían. Así pues comenzó el sendero de sangra, y guiada por el consejo del Moth Priest nuestra aventurera se encaminó a por la siguiente pieza del rompecabezas.

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Continue reading “The Skyrim Diaries – Los Diarios de Skyrim vol.5”

Realistic Combat RPGs

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Recently I have been looking through some interesting and slightly unusual RPG systems that, among other things, have an emphasis on realistic combat. In the case of these games I’m primarily talking about melee combat in a medieval style.

There are four systems of this particular style (that I know of) and they all seem to be derived off of one game in some way or another named ‘The Riddle of Steel’. This game was released in 2003, designed by Jacob Norwood and published by Driftwood Publishing. As indicated by the name, it takes thematic influences from Conan and its gameplay and mechanics are loosely derived from a Polish RPG from 1997 named ‘Dzikie Pola’. It describes its setting in a way that although contains magic, it doesn’t seem to be going for an Epic or high fantasy vibe more popular RPGs do, and instead goes for something more dark and gritty. 

The Riddle of Steel appears to have gained a following over the years, and clearly people were interested in the style of the game, as three fan-made (eventually more professional) systems were started. Two were named ‘Song of Swords’ and ‘Song of Steel’. As far as I can tell they were started independently at about the same time in around 2010/2011, and both were largely formed by collaborative work and discussions rooting from 4chan’s traditional gaming board, and eventually spreading to their own forums and wiki pages. Due to the obvious name similarity that came from them trying to pay homage to The Riddle of Steel, Song of Steel changed into ‘Band of Bastards’. 

The third, and latest game in this style is named ‘Blade of The Iron Throne’. Released in 2013 and also fan-made, it is considered a true successor to the original Riddle of Steel, and is also the most complete and professional of the three, as it can be bought in print and is complete, whereas the other two are still in beta stages. Due to this game being more complete, it also has more fleshed out rules for things aside from the combat mechanics compared with the other two, and it describes its setting in a similar vein to The Riddle of Steel, calling itself ‘sword and sorcery’ rather than usual fantasy. Continue reading “Realistic Combat RPGs”

My Problem with Captain America: Civil War

I’ll try to keep this one short because I could potentially rant forever about my disappointment with this film – also I’ll try not to make many spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Where to begin?! First hour/hour and a half of movie drags on. A Lot. I was Bored Out of My Mind. The inappropriate seriousness, and the dry argument line just prompted me to spend more time looking at my phone than the screen. By the time everything goes kaboom, I actually had to check my watch thinking “there cannot be much movie left”, only to find the agony of another hour waiting for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy they actually decided to bring this topic into the Marvel narrative, but there were ssoooo many other ways of approaching the subject. Civil War involves more than 8 characters, c’mon. It does not deserve that name: it’s more like Cap’ holding a grudge ’cause Stark is right. I am sorry, but it doesn’t make any justice to the intrinsic violence, alliance issues, involvement and reach of the actual concept of Civil War. It was perhaps better suited for an Avengers movie or just a generic Marvel Universe thing.

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