I do appreciate it, Sleepy Hollow

So we’ve seen two episodes of the new tv series Sleepy Hollow. I can’t speak as to the quality of the show yet. It’s promising, certainly. She’s a skeptic with some emotional baggage who mediates the guy’s way through the world. He’s the charismatic believer who delivers awkward exposition with complete sincerity.

If that sounds X-Files, well, there are reasons for that.

But that’s neither here nor there. What I wanted to praise the show for is it’s casting.

See, in the “historical” segments, there are a lot of white folks. Mostly supposed to look English, Irish, Welsh, French, and German. (We haven’t gotten around to depictions of Native Americans yet, but I am CERTAIN IN MY BONES that we will.) In the present-day sections of the show, however, we meet character after character played by a person of color.

This is fantastic. I am depressed that it’s so unusual that I NOTICED, but it’s fantastic. It’s as if the casting director looked at each role and asked, “does this character NEED to be white? Because we have a crapton of NEED-to-be-white-folks already. So does this one NEED to be white? No? Great. Latino actor, you have the part.”

As for male or female roles, the show is doing its level best on that, too. In the historical fiction scenes we have the (male) town leaders, American rebel (male) military, (male) British spies, etc. But we also have not one but TWO covens of witches, all female. In the present-day one of the leads is an African-American woman. And the opening credits lists four actors — two men, two women, two white, two black.

As I said, I can’t tell you whether the show is going to be any good or not. But it’s promising, so far.

.
.

Growing pains and generational shifts

1. There’s an ongoing conversation occurring about diversity in science fiction and fantasy, both in the literature and media and in the fannish communities and conventions. Check out the Twitter hashtag #DiversityinSFF for places to join in that conversation.

2. Rose Lemberg in hosting a conversation at her blog, “Disability, Diversity, Dignity”. This is a case where you DO read the comments.

3. DC Comics is having a rough month, and it appears to be entirely self-inflicted. J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are leaving the Batwoman title due to DC’s refusal to allow the lead to marry.. While this may be due to a desire on editorial’s part for NO major characters to marry, the forbidding of a GAY marriage is pissing people off.

Additionally, DC is running a talent search. In which artists are to draw Harley Quinn sexily committing suicide.

***

It’s a generational shift. These are the growing pains. The future is here, and it’s FULL of difference and diversity. And there are consequently a host of

old man yells at cloud

old [for various values of age] men [and women and everyone else] yelling [or conversing without listening or monologing] at clouds [reality].

Dear Fearful Reactionaries Who Desire a Past Status Quo Benefiting Themselves at the Expense of Others:

Suck it the fuck up and get the hell out of the way.

.
.

Inadvertent Orcs

I am nearly finished with the Lars Brownworth podcast, 12 Byzantium Rulers. It’s the companion to his book, Lost to the West. I have reached the fall of Constantinople before the Ottoman Turks. It made me sniffle.

The final emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI, is the very model of a doomed last stand leader. The night before Mehmet’s final push, Constantine met with every soldier in the besieged city and thanked them, asking for forgiveness. He stayed in the Hagia Sophia half the night. He rode his horse on the battlements until dawn, offering encouragement to his men.

And when the wall crumbled, he threw aside his royal robes, shouted that the city may have fallen but the emperor lived, and jumped down into the fray, sword in hand.

Constantine’s body was never found.

I was listening to this podcast, sniffing at the doom of it all. The images in my head were those of the battle for Helm’s Deep. You know, from the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers.

But then I realized. This accidentally cast the Turks as the Orcs. And there’s all manner of problems with that.

In truth, I also thought of Helm’s Deep during the bit about the Crusader siege of Jerusalem. And also during the much earlier siege of Ravenna. Basically, if there’s a historical siege, my mind turns to either Helm’s Deep or The Alamos depending on size. But my culture, here, it betrays me.

I don’t have powerful fictional models of beleaguered people of color under siege by monstrous white folks.

I KNOW that these things have HAPPENED. History is what it is. But all the stories I know, the images that flash in my head when I listen to Constantine’s fall, are of nobly doomed white people falling before a dark-skinned horde.

I need some new images, folks. So, tell me. What are some accounts, in movies, television, or books, of a siege in which the defenders are people of color? Historical or fictional, either is fine.

(Note: I typed this on the WordPress app on my tablet, using my very aggressive auto-correct keyboard program. The format is odd, and I apologize for any strange word choice or grammar.)

.
.

YA lit with characters of color

I throw myself on your mercy, oh internet.

I’m looking for YA books for the late middle school age that feature characters of color. Books such as Five Children and It, or the Chronicles of Narnia, or The Dark is Rising series, or The Secret Garden. Books for kids at a reading level of 9-11 years old. I can find lists of books for junior-high-age kids, particularly in the YA Fantasy communities, but my kids aren’t quiet up for those yet. Where is Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret with a Latino kid? Or The Three Investigators books with African-Americans? These books have to be out there, somewhere, surely?

My Google-fu is not up to this task. Any help or suggestions are welcome. Thank you –

Warhamster and John Kovalic

A few days ago, John Kovalic’s webcomic Dork Tower began stating the perfectly obvious. Many RPGs have no people of color in them. The strip went on to discuss the chicken-and-egg mentality of many geeks who insist that there are no gamers of color. And today’s strip remarks on the insulting practice of asserting that orcs and trolls are the people of color, naturally.

Go read the strips, Kovalic holds the discussion with pointed humor that is worth your time.

My favorite part of this, though, is Kovalic’s blog post from August 31st. In it he addresses the usual complaints from gamers resistant to change or criticism with, again, pointed humor. Here are two of my favorites:

(4) “Do Dark Elves count?” I’m sure they do. They probably read and write, as well. But when painted up, their skin tone appears to be paler than even the other elves in Warhammer. And yes, I do realize you meant this absolutely as a joke. Still: buncha crackers, them Dark Elves…along with those honkey-ass Tomb Kings…

[...]

(6) “You can paint Warhammer humans any way you want to.” Yup, you absolutely can. However, as already stated, in hundreds of photographs of thousands of figs over 500 pages of your core rulebook – the go-to guide of the Warhammer universe – nobody actually DID.

These are the things I notice all the time. For instance, why is is so hard to get dark-complexioned LEGO minifigs? Why is it that every illustration in my newly-purchased Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse is of white people? There’s no reason for these things to be racially segregated. Just as there’s no reason for the Human armies of Warhammer to be all white.

Go read Kovalic’s blog post and comics, he says it better than me. And I’m glad he said it.

Ixtab for sale!

My latest comic, Ixtab, is now available for sale!

As the blurb says:

Ixtab is a reigning rock-queen, making her Mayan cultural heritage the cornerstone of her music and her act. But how does that fit with the family that adopted and raised her? Written by Sigrid Ellis. Art by K.C. Solano. Technical assistance provided by Erik Nelson.

This project came out of the iFanboy Sequentially Ever After Contest. I wrote a ten-page script and asked K.C. Solano if she could do a bit of art for the contest. She did, and our entry won an honorable mention from iFanboy.

But Ixtab means a bit more to me than that. Ixtab is a result of my decision to use my comics writing to make comics more inclusive. To make, in comics, the invisible visible. To write stories about the breadth of humanity, to include people of color and women and children and the elderly, to include people with differing levels of physical and mental ability, to include a variety of genders and sexual orientations. To, simply, put my money where my mouth is and make the world a tiny bit wider, a tiny bit more open, with each thing I write.

Ixtab tells of a girl adopted from Guatemala by a white family. It tells of the importance of names, of myths, of families made and found and lost. It’s also about a goth rock star who is not on drugs, not sleeping around, who has a plan and the passion of being a teenager.

Ixtab is for my daughter, who loves Pink and Britney Spears and Paramore, who loves macabre stories about dismembered heads, who notices that she is often the only dark-skinned child in a group of white people, who loves her flamenco class and likes to sing and play the piano.

Karla Xiomara, this comic is for you. The first of many, I hope.

Linkspam Tuesday

A few things I’ve seen around –

1. Warren Ellis goes on about print. I find Mr. Ellis’s musing on the using of media formats to be fascinating.

“I keep wondering. What can a one-writer magazine look like? What does a magazine do? You associate “magazine” with disposability: but on the other hand, I’m a hoarder, and magazines will live on a nearby shelf or stack for years in my office. Perhaps it’s simply a modular presentation. Perhaps it’s a tract. These things need considering.”

2. Tech Crunch looks at the available Android phones. This is useful to me. Unlike a lot of tech I hear of and think, “what the heck would I want THAT feature for,” I pretty well know what I use in a phone. I need easy texting — this means I need a qwerty keyboard that is study, easy to use, and has good feel-in-my-hand. I need internet access. This means I need a good screen of suitable width. I need a camera and the ability to easily upload video and image to said internet. What I don’t really need is a phone, so much. Or, rather, it can be a phone-as-afterthought. (Witness my monthly bill for August: 23 minutes of phone use, over 4000 text messages, over 500,000 units of data streaming.) It may well be that my next phone is an iPhone, yes, I understand that. But I still mistrust the touch-screen technology. I am hard on my phone. So I read these reviews with interest.

3. Mention of the fashion photography of Nontsikelelo Veleko. South African street fashion. This, this looks amazing to me. It looks compelling. I love how this looks.

4. Today’s Fantastic Fangirls Q&A is What comic book character should win the Nobel Peace Prize? I have to tell you, I had a tough time with this one.

Non-objective panel notes: “Turns Out This is Your Dad’s SF”

Turns Out This is Your Dad’s SF: Friday, 9:00 pm

David Levine (mod)
Eileen Gunn
Chip Hitchcock
Brad Lyau
Pat Murphy

The premise of this panel was, as presented by David Levine, a question: Are there any new ideas in science fiction, or are we merely retreading old ideas? The panelists, particularly Eileen Gunn and Pat Murphy, promptly dismissed the question as silly. They asserted that science fiction, being about the moment in which it is written, not actually about the future, is always fresh and new because there is always a new present moment about which to write.

Levine seemed a little non-plussed by the quick dismissal of the premise, and stated that he thought there were no new ideas in science fiction. This bogged the panel down momentarily in a discussion of what “new idea” meant. It turned out that the panelists had some fairly divergent assumptions. Levine was talking about the trappings, the set dressings, of science fiction — the plots. Space travel, alien encounters, brains-in-jars. Murphy and Gunn were talking about story, about the reaction of characters to the plots and set dressing.

I wondered, at this point, if what we were seeing was one of those cultural differences in how people read science fiction — for the plot, for the tech, for the relationships? But the panel was moving back to the premise.

Chip Hitchcock asserted that there was nothing new in sf, but that, instead, we had bleeding between genres masquerading as new ideas.

Brad Lyau spoke up, from his authority as a historian of literature. He said two things. First, that science fiction has won the culture war. That, when one’s imagery and stories are used to sell deodorant and sports drinks, one has won the hearts and minds of the populace. Second, he said that new writers have no difficulty coming up with new things about which to write — that their lives are radically different from people before them, and they see the future in new ways. Hitchcock added that writing about the classic ideas is still powerful, because we are still not in the future.

Murphy raised the question of marketing categories — that a lot of sf is being released as something else. Levine pointed out that sf readers are conservative and resist new forms of sf, so publishers don’t want to publish it. [At this point, I started to get irritated. The appeal to "people won't buy it so we won't publish it, nevermind that if it's not published no-one can buy it," is one habitually used as a weapon by those in authority against those outside it.] Gunn added that sf is not about experimental literature, and Hitchcock agreed that the conservatism of publishers is related to the conservatism of readers.

Murphy asserted that sf is not afraid of science, but that mainstream works not marketed as sf is afraid of science because our culture is afraid of science. Gunn agreed and added that the sf of now addresses the fear of how we will still be human in the future.

[At this point, my notes become highly editorialized. My notebook says: "Hitchcock, insert foot in mouth. Hitchocok, still foot in mouth w/ regard to paranormal romance. Still foot in mouth w/ regard to REAL sf/f. Hitchcock now slamming 'mundane' press?" I then say, "I wish they would stop us vs. them re: 'Mundanes' and 'Enlightened."

I then say: "The suppositions in this are killing me. Self-published = bad, small press = good, large publisher = necessary evil, large books stores = unenlightened gate keepers, independent bookstores = champions of the light. For fuck's sake, people."]

My notes stopped then. I did not write down the thing about paranormal romance that Hitchcock said, which so set me off. He referred to paranormal romance as “hairdryer books.” When asked by his fellow panelists what that meant, Hitchcock replied, “books women read while sitting under the hairdryer at the salon.”

I am not an impartial reporter of this panel. The presumptions, left unsaid but strongly implied —

- that there is a pure form of sf
- that this pure form is for the readers of science fiction, not the mundanes or those who read genre-blending works or watch television or movies
- that all those who do not read sf are fearful of science and the future
- that self-publishing was inevitably poor quality work that didn’t make the cut to real sf
- that genres with primarily female audiences are not in any way sf
- that real sf can only be read in books and physical anthology magazines, not the internet

— these presumptions are divisive, elitist, anti-feminist, and uphold a hierarchy that currently limits access to story, production of story, and is invested in silencing any other forms of access to science fiction. At a convention whose Guests of Honor were Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman, I found these presumptions and statements particularly ironic and misguided.

The capper, to me, of the panel was when someone — I don’t recall who, I wasn’t taking coherent notes at this point — said that people who begin reading science fiction after the age of thirty are not allowed to judge whether a work is science fiction, whether it is good, or whether it has value, because their brains are not accustomed to sf and they will never be able to fully understand it the way real sf readers understand real sf.

The panel colored my view of the rest of the convention. I left that room with a growing sense of unease which I still carry, weeks later.

Bluntly, if that’s what being an sf fan is about, I want no part of it.

But here’s the thing — I don’t believe there’s a “real” sf. I don’t believe that a publishing industry gets to tell me how I can access my stories. I certainly don’t believe, at all, that anyone else can govern my response to a creative work. Work made on the internet, or through vidding or fanmixing or self-publishing, these are all creative works. They need to be judged, certainly! Some will be good and some will be bad. But the means of their production and distribution does not score points one way or the other on value. To assert that only works passing out of the hands of the artist, through gatekeepers who control the means of production away from the worker, and judged by those invested in maintaining that hierarchy of production are valuable is as self-serving a claim as I’ve ever seen.

I appreciate the work of those who came before me. I value and respect the stories and ideas, the craft and effort and sacrifice made by previous authors. But Now is a moving target, and investing so heavily in the past and its values obscures one’s view of the Now. I love my dad’s sf, as it turns out. It’s shaped who I am.

I know what my sf is. And it’s not my dad’s sf. My sf is made by people any damn way we can. My sf is produced by peers, distributed through gift economies and barter. My sf is made available legally and illegally because the more people who read and watch stories, the better we all are. SF is about the now. It’s also about the future. We don’t need time travel to change the future, we only need right now, this moment. The changes we make now create the future. And my sf, the sf of now, embraces diversity, gives ownership to the creators, judges stories in peer networks, and invites everyone to participate in owning tomorrow.

ETA: David Levine, the moderator of this panel, responded to my remarks in the Wiscon LJ group. He has very kindly given permission for me to add them here. I think hearing his view is valuable and necessary for the generation of dialog and understanding. Thank you, David, for taking the time and energy to reply.

“The panelists discussed the panel extensively in email before the convention. Eileen objected strenuously to the original panel statement, which boiled down to “there are no new ideas left in SF,” and we found that none of us agreed with it; I asked the convention to change it and they did, by changing the statement to a question (“is it true that there no new ideas left in SF?”). Eileen also invited Pat Murphy to be on the panel, to increase the number of women on the panel and because she thought Pat would have some interesting things to say about the topic (which she did).

“I’m sorry to hear that I appeared “nonplussed” by Pat and Eileen’s rejection of the panel thesis. What I was trying to do at that point in the panel was to raise questions and elicit discussion on the topic, and I may have been playing devil’s advocate a bit.

“Personally, I thought that the panel went well and did a good job of demolishing the idea that all the good ideas have been done already and the real world has become so science-fictional that writing SF is no longer possible. I disagreed with some of Chip Hitchcock’s statements, but I didn’t feel it was my place as moderator to slap him down for his opinions, only to keep the discussion moving and on-topic.

“I do believe that the science fiction genre (both readers and publishers) is quite conservative, resistant to new ideas and new forms of storytelling. However, just because I’ve observed this conservatism doesn’t mean I think it’s a good thing, and I don’t believe it should be used as an excuse for continued conservatism.

“The presumptions that you found so appalling (the bullet list in the middle of your post)… well, I don’t think we actually discussed any of those topics in the panel, though as you say they were presumptions rather than stated. I personally do not agree that real SF is not for those who read genre-blending works or watch TV/movies, or that all non-SF-readers are fearful of science and the future, or that self-published works cannot be real SF, or that genres with primarily female audiences are not real SF, or that real SF can only be read on paper and not on the Internet. I’m sure that Eileen Gunn, editor of the groundbreaking webzine The Infinite Matrix (2001-2006) would disagree even more strongly with that last!

“I do not recall anyone saying in the panel that “people who begin reading science fiction after the age of thirty are not allowed to judge whether a work is science fiction, whether it is good, or whether it has value,” which I agree is an appalling statement, but if it’s in your notes I suppose someone must have said it or something like it. We did talk about the differences in perception of SF and science-fictional ideas between people who grew up reading SF and those who didn’t, and about how non-SF writers who tackle SF ideas without reading broadly in the field first can get it badly wrong, and I can see that something along the lines of “no one who didn’t read SF before the age of 30 knows anything about SF” might have been said at some point.

“Bottom line: I can see how you might get that kind of anti-media, anti-Internet vibe from some old-time fans, but I personally did not see that vibe explicitly on display in this panel and I was surprised and disheartened to find that you came away with it as your primary memory of the panel.”

Community Identity, Privilege, and Concerts

Last night was the Twin Cities GLBT concert at Lake Como. A band, an orchestra, and four choirs all performed. As people who got my txts last night may have noticed, I was sort of grumpy. In my meagre defense, I have a cold. The sort of energy-sucking cold that made my daughter wonder if I have swine flu. But said daughter was in the concert, as was my partner, Tern, and my son wanted to see it. I concluded that sitting in a bandshell on decent benches, with internet access, wouldn’t kill me, so I went.

But, by 7:30, when Transvoices went onstage, I was tired and grumpy. And I was snarking about the lack of scansion and rhyme in their compositions. But I caught myself and looked — really, really looked — at the performers.

They were having a blast. Huh.

Someone clearly had a problem here, and it wasn’t the person who’d written lyrics about the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care and set them to the Sesame Street theme. The only person in this picture with a problem was, it seemed, me.

This made me sit back and think a bit. I mean, I am perfectly comfortable with other joyful amateur celebrations of community. I have no problem with latex Klingon foreheads. I have no problem with cosplay of any sort. I have no problem with filking as a concept, though I often don’t find it funny. I looked around the bandshell, at the crowd of people I had every reason to presume was mostly not-heterosexual. I looked at them and realized that I don’t really feel myself to be a part of the GLBT community. That’s why I was having trouble getting into the spirit of things. Geek is an identity for me, Fan is an identity. Queer is . . . . something that I am. Not something I personally build identity and community around.

This is funny for a couple reasons. First is that I am most assuredly queer. By modern societal standards of condoned sexual, relationship, and romantic behavior, I don’t quite fit the mold. But I live and move in a time and place where my differences on those fronts are not punished often. The second reason that my lack of gay identity is funny is that I spent a solid three years heavily invested in the queer women’s art movements in the Twin Cities. I have spent more time at Vulva Riots than is really reasonable. I find the “Over the Moon” number from RENT to be utterly hilarious. But I moved away from that crowd, that community and identity.

Why, I wonder? Well, the obvious answer is that my partner at the time and I split up, with great acrimony, and I didn’t want to be around what I perceived as “her stuff.” But I never went back to it.

I looked around the crowd at the concert last night, and I listened to the banter of the MC. And I noticed something that is currently in my thought, as I read the unfolding conversation on Oliviacirce’s post — that there’s something in the language of gay identity which bothers me. There’s a defensiveness, an underdogness, a willingness to all-too-easily look at everyone who is not gay as Other.

This is a perfectly understandable tendency. When one is an oppressed group, one develops community around oppression. People do this, it’s human. But I am uncomfortable with it. I worry that if I immerse myself in the mindset of community built around shared danger and threat, it’s too easy for me to see everyone not in the group as threatening. I don’t like that. I don’t like myself when I think like that.

Now, I detest the polar opposite view, the “we’re just like you in every way except this weensy, unimportant one!” I think that view is dangerously misguided — it splits oppressed groups apart, pits them against each other, and places minority groups in a contest established by those in power. A contest to be “the right kind of gay,” and the rules always change and you can’t ever win. I do not support this tactic at all.

I just hope, I try to work for, a middle ground. A ground in which I don’t try to be Normal Enough to Pass, but neither do I presume I am an embattled freak who you hate. Something between Xavier’s School, hidden under holograms and trying to be a nice neighbor, and the aggressive defensive arrogance of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. (C’mon, you knew I was going to go there, right? Right.)

Do I hold this view because I have the privilege to do so? Yes, yes I do. I have health (other than my head cold,) I have white skin, I have income, I have education, I have leisure. Can I pass for Just Like Normal Folks? Mostly, yes, aside from an occasional “Sir” in businesses. What I am stuck on is, is this a case where my privilege damages gay rights, or helps the cause? Does my mainstreaming my queer identity make it easier for other lesbian moms in homeschooling groups? Likely, yes. Does mainstreaming take my energy and contributions away from gay activism, depriving them of what I might offer? Yes, yes it does.

I haven’t figured out the answers, here, clearly. I don’t know whether I tell myself my middle-road approach is good because it is good, or because it’s merely comfortable for me.

In any case, by the time Transvoices finished their section of the concert I had relaxed. They were having so much damn fun up there. It would have taken a surlier person than I to not smile back at the clear, present joy.

More on Wiscon and fannish divisions

Over at Dreamwidth, Oliviacirce has a great post about media fandoms, books fandoms, creative/transformative fandoms, RaceFail09, and a bunch of other things. Excellent reading for those interested in the topics:

Admitting Impediments: Post-WisCon Posts, Part I, or, That Post I Never Made About RaceFail ’09

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,200 other followers