Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kieron Gillen On Diversity


Kieron Gillen has written some of my favorite comics over the last few years: Phonogram, Young Avengers and Wicked + Divine. He's also work on Thor and other properties around the Marvel Universe. Some of the things that he writes resonates with me, particularly because of his use of pop music as a thread through his writing. I've found a few good indie bands because of his comics (and I rediscovered my love for the unappreciated British power pop band Kenickie).

In the wake of Warren Ellis' long-running email newsletter, I've started following the newsletters of a couple of other comics creators, and Gillen's newsletter is one of them. If you know of any comic creators doing email newsletters like this, let me know. I'd love to see more. I would love to see more RPG creators doing something like this as well.

In my recent post from Warren Ellis' newsletter about privacy, one of the links was to setting up a free email newsletter. I think that it would be interesting to see people like Steve Kenson, or some of the OSR people even, give this a shot. It is sort of like a private blog. I've been considering it myself.

However, I digress. This post was going to be about Gillen. In his newsletter of today he posted a quote from his self-introduction to a panel about diversity that he was a member of a a comic convention. I thought the words were good ones, and helped sum up why people like myself call for wider representation, and a greater diversity of views, in comics, role-playing games, and other forms of media, geeky and otherwise.

I hope that you like what he said as much as I did. I think that it should be provoking some conversations.
Here are a selection of diverse thoughts about the state of diversity.
Perfection is impossible. Relax. “Progressive” imply change. There is no utopia, no stasis. Even the most radical in the room will be Germaine Greer one day. In 20 years time, almost everything all of us are about to say will be problematic. Especially, I suspect, the word “problematic.”
Hearing about girls sitting down and reading Ms. Marvel in the middle of a comic shop and breaking into tears would move anyone. Even a monster like me. However, as important this is, we must not forget the powerful effect on people other than those depicted. By consuming culture about people other than ourselves we flower, and our capacity for understanding and empathy expand. Diversity of culture we consume is one of the the best weapons we have to improve the world. In as much as I was saved, I suspect was saved by Tenar in Ursula Le Guin’s Tombs Of Atuan. I think that Rey may yet save a generation of boys.
It is heartbreaking when I speak to my female peers and say they’ve never had a female role model.
I often wonder how having female heroes effected Jamie McKelvie and my own work. We’re monsters, but I suspect less so.
Diversity is not just a social justice issue. Diversity is a formalist issue. Diversity makes better art, as it is truer to the world. The world is diverse. If the art our culture produces does not have the diversity of the world it pertains to show, the art is failing us.
As a creative community we are in a position where all but the biggest dinosaurs agree that diversity is good. We are all pro diversity. This is a problem, in the same way that almost everyone expresses anti-racist sentiments in a world when everyone, via the background radiation of society, is to some degree racist.
To quote Jordie Bellaire’s campaign, Comics Are For Everyone. However, that should not be confused with All Comics Are For Everyone. You cannot please everyone. That is both a truism and a directive. You should not be trying to please everyone. Ironically, the self-censorship makes less diverse art including less diverse world-views.
Creatives are not just a machine to deliver diversity.
Creatives are petrified in Writing The Other. To be honest, Creatives are petrified of Writing The Same.
I have a test for diversity. If you are using the Bechdel test in any seriousness, your writing about diversity is almost certainly pretty poor. This is surface level reading of culture. Really thinking about sexuality, about gender, about race, about everything needs to be deeper.
In a single work of art, Diversity is a zero sum game. To write a love triangle between men in Young Avengers I had to include more men. As such, I had less women than I’d like in Young Avengers. An expectation of full diversity inside any individual work actually limits the stories you’re able to tell.
Diversity is necessary but not sufficient. Treating bad art with good diversity kindly is worse than useless, because if we do then we are reducing the value of our critical opinion’s coin. As such, it worries me when I see articles about my books which have the #1 reason to read it being the diverse cast. That petrifies me.
The biggest problem in comics is the lack of diversity in the talent pool. Frustratingly, there is no quick fix for all manner of tedious economic reasons. There is a medium term fix. I believe in five years, the industry will be almost unrecognisable. I am optimistic, god help me.
I think white men should probably shut up more. So I will.
He also mentions "formalist" in this introduction, and in case you're wondering what that means, he had some talk about it over here.

I hope that his words spark something in some of you.



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Spooky Empire Appearances


I am going to be an author guest at the rescheduled Spooky Empire the weekend of December 2-4. A couple of the panels on my schedule are voluntary or tentative, but if you are going to be in Orlando that weekend, looking for something to do and want to talk gaming, you'll find me wandering around the convention center.

Check the program and on-site information for the panel locations.

Friday
7 pm
FBI Most Wanted
9 pm
Sick and Twisted

Saturday
12 pm
The Author's Network
1 pm
Writing and Publishing 101
3 pm
Multimedia Horror
4 pm
Stranger Things
8 pm
Sympathy For The Devil (moderator)

Sunday
2 pm
Intergalactic Terror (moderator)


FBI Most Wanted: Our Google search history definitely has our authors on several Watch Lists. Authors discuss research and the joys of clearing your browser history.

Sick and Twisted: This panel is 21 and up due to disturbing behavior, offensive ideas, drunken authors, and likely a piñata. No filters allowed. If you’re not offended, you’re in the wrong panel.

The Author's Network: Come sit and chat with our authors in an informal setting. Get to know what makes these weirdos tick.

Writing and Publishing 101: We discuss how to navigate the world of writing and getting published.

Multimedia Horror: Writing for gaming, stage, radio and just about any medium you can shake your pen at.

Sympathy For The Devil: We love to root for the bad guy and we love good guys with problems. We discuss why audiences adore scoundrels.

Intergalactic Terror: SF and horror, horror in space. Fun stuff like that.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Peek At Warren Ellis' The Wild Storm

From Ellis' newsletter Orbital Operations again:
Hey, Jon Davis-Hunt did a promo piece for our forthcoming project THE WILD STORM and DC forgot to use it during the announcements, so I'm going to run it here because I feel like it deserves to be seen.  Copyright DC Entertainment of course, and please link to orbitaloperations.com if you use it on your website.
I probably shouldn't be doing this. But I really wanted Jon's work to be seen.
It looks intriguing. I'm guessing that is Zealot in the bottom panel, and Sentinel in the second from the bottom?

Edit: Apparently that is the revamped version of Warren Ellis creation Jenny Sparks. It looks like she is getting upgraded to being the Spirit of the 21st Century now. That's a bit of a disappointment. I would have liked to have seen Sparks kept as the Spirit of the 20th Century, and have them keep the character of Jenny Quantum as the Spirit of the 21st. I liked that the Spirit of the 21st Century wasn't a white person.



The Fate Of Airboy


This was originally inspired by a post by Mark Ellis on Facebook, talking about his interest in revitalizing the Hillman Comics aviator characters. I'm a fan of aviator pulps like G-8, and the Eclipse Comics relaunch of Airboy in the 80s introduced me to that family of characters. What Mark's post sparked in me was the idea to build an RPG, or at the very least a game that I can run for friends, around the public domain characters like Airboy, but in an updated format.

I love the pulps, but running a game in a historical era isn't always my thing. I'm not much of a stickler for the details, which can bother some who are playing in a historical game. This is why the idea of pulling the characters into the present appealed to me.

The other thing is that, frankly, games that spend a lot of time with the characters engaged in air combat in their airplanes can be boring. Breaking everything down to a series of dice rolls is kind of boring for me. This presents the second challenge with this property…how do I pay homage to the fact that these characters were aviators, without making everything about airplanes? I've been rewatching the TV show Burn Notice on Netflix recently, so an idea popped into my head.

My first thought to update these characters was to turn them into private security/military contractors. The characters would be part of a military security corporation like Blackwater USA, which would give them slightly more freedom than a strictly military campaign would have. Then, the story of Burn Notice swept in. What if David Nelson (the real name of the Airboy character) was a "burned" former military contractor? All of the equipment that he developed (including his signature airplane "Birdie") would be in the hands of his former employer (most likely the company he founded), the Air Fighters, and any security clearances that he had would be gone. You turn David Nelson into a Michael Westen type of character who 1) wants back what he believes is his life and 2) still wants to help people.

The characters in the campaign would be the people that Nelson has gathered around him on various "missions," that he feels that he can trust. That would be the player characters. Someone could play the part of Nelson, or it could be an NPC run by the GM. If the latter, you would, of course, have to resist the temptation to have him do all the cool stuff and leave the PCs to watch what he's doing.

I think that it could make for an interesting game.

The "keeping the aviator angle to things" could be as easy as having Nelson develop a new kind of drone technology, perhaps one with a highly developed AI that make the drones into the equivalent of his Alfred or Doctor Watson. If Nelson has trust issues, due to his being "burned," it could be that computer intelligences created by him would be the only "people" that he would be willing to trust for a long time.

Here is a write-up of David (Airboy) Nelson in a Fate Accelerated hack that I have been working on. I made my version of the character into more of a tech person, he created his plane instead of inheriting it, because I think it makes the character stronger and more "modern." He isn't a comic book super scientist, but he knows his way around avionics and aircraft technologies. He obviously knows a bit about computers (since he probably created the AI software himself), so he could probably be a bit of a hacker as well.

David "Airboy" Nelson
High Concept: I Can Trust The Technology That I Can Create
Trouble: Don't Call Me Airboy
Other Aspects: Military Background, Not The Person I Used To Be
Approaches: Careful +2, Clever +3, Flashy +0, Forceful +1, Quick +1, Sneaky +2
PowersCreature Summoning (Flying Drones, named Birdie Two through Four). Basic Creature Summoning, Tough Little Thing, Menagerie.*

I didn't give Nelson any stunts yet, but they would likely give him an edge in military or technical matters.

Nelson wants to be left alone mostly, but not as much as he wants his old life back. He doesn't really want the life of the military contractor, or technology think tank, back, but he wants it to be known that he really didn't do what cost him that old life. He's trying to find out what exactly that "thing" is, and how he can fix it. Nelson's approach to people tends to be like his approach to technology: tinker with the machines until you find out what isn't working right, then once you know you can fix it or you can bypass it. He's realized that a big part of why he joined the military in the first place was because he wanted to help people, so over the last few years he has started doing that again on a smaller scale. A couple of his old friends from the Air Fighters still keep in touch, on the QT.

*The powers rules that I am working on are a hack of the Venture City SRD, so if you have a copy of it, you can eyeball what I did in this write-up until I have something official. If you like Fate and super-heroes, this is something that is good to have anyway.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Getting Some Privacy Online


This comes from Warren Ellis, in the latest issue of his newsletter Orbital Operations, a couple of suggestions for privatizing your online persona in the coming years.
If you have access to a Windows machine, there's an excellent Twitter archive eraser called Twitter Archive Eraser, haha.  All you have to do is request your archive from Twitter, install Eraser and feed your archive to the machine. I mean, if you don't want to delete your Twitter account entirely, which I totally understand, but.
(You may want to do something with your LinkedIn account for similar reasons.)
Also, iMessage and WhatsApp are okay, but get Signal. If you're going to organise, try to form IRL spaces and try not to use Facebook right now.
Keep an eye on Safecast - as they build out their systems, their open environmental data may prove very useful in the coming years.
You may want to consider private newsletters - Tinyletter is a very good free option if you intend to speak to less than a few thousand people - and, despite being Facebook-owned, a private Instagram account may be better for you than a public one right now.
To the fine human beings whose politics lean to the right - do not assume these are suggestions purely for the weeping lefties, or that I believe they only apply now that the UK and US are under far-right governments. They applied before. I used many of them before.
If you are a fan of Ellis' work and you aren't a subscriber to his newsletter, give it a chance.

And remember, having a measure of privacy is always a good thing, no matter what sort of politics that you hold. The idea that having anonymous accounts means privacy isn't a good idea.



Saturday, November 05, 2016

Doctor Strange And The Shifting Marvel Movie Paradigm?


I think that (inadvertently) this article says more about the Marvel Comics formula back in the day, than it might say about the Marvel movies formula. This is actually something that I thought about while watching Doctor Strange, was how these characters had a similar arc from "asshole" to hero as a part of their journeys. Iron Man. Spider-Man. Dr. Strange. They all started as sort of jerks who had a life changing moment that put them onto the path of being heroes. Partially it is that Stan Lee Doctrine: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

So, yes, there is a bit of sameness to the characters of Tony Stark and Stephen Strange. That's not a coincidence with the characters that Stan Lee was crafting with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Does that need to change in the Marvel movies? Absolutely. I think that we saw Strange's transition from egotistical jerk to hero happen pretty quickly, in the course of this movie, while with Tony Stark, the journey is still going on. I don't think that the plot of Civil War would have happened if the heroes had stopped thinking about themselves for a minute and thought more about what was happening around them. Is Dr. Strange the start of a trend within the MCU to make heroes who are able to overcome their egos? The ego of heroes has been an integral part of the MCU so far (and you could probably argue that it is the same for Marvel Comics), so are we seeing a transition from that?

Dr. Strange has been one of my favorites of the MCU so far. I rank it up there with Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier as the Marvel movies that I have most enjoyed.

I'm a fan of heroes being heroes (which some may wonder about in regards to my enjoying the recent Superman movies), and I would like to see the heroes of the Marvel movies transcend the cynicism that we get in comic movies a lot of the time. It is this heroism that appeals to people in the native form of super-heroes in comics.

Go see Doctor Strange, it is a well-made super-hero movie that has some pretty mind-bending special effects.