Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

I’ve got such mixed feelings about that story. Rereading it just now, having been triggered by Tegan’s tweet, it still choked me up, as it does every time. But I’m also fully aware of how schmalzy it is, how dependent on having feelings for Silver Age Superman with all its silliness already.

To start with, the creative staff for what was to be the very last story to be ever told about the classic, Silver Age Superman and his world, was pretty much stunt casting. There’s Curt Swan, the classic Silver Age Superman artist, brought back to team up with two of the hottest flavours of eighties DC: Alan Moore and George Perez. It makes sense to have Swan there, but not have him being inked by e.g. Murphy Anderson, not having Cary Bates or Elliot S! Maggin or any of the other long term Superman writers write the last ever Superman story feels a bit sad.

The real problem is the context in which Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow was published. DC had decided that it didn’t want to be saddled with its fifty year history anymore, that all that old stuff was dumb and embarrassing, that they needed somebody modern like John Byrne to come around and give Superman a make-over. Even with Alan Moore being quite fond of Silver Age Superman, he was still in his make superheroes edgy phase and that same mood pervades Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. Imaginary stories (“aren’t they all”) were always much more bloodthirsty than mainstream Superman, but Moore turns it up to eleven. Just because Lois and Clark survive and get a superbaby doesn’t make this a happy ending.

Everybody dies: friends, villains, lovers, superdogs. Bizarro destroys his own planet before attacking Metropolis. The Toyman and the Prankster murder Pete Ross and reveal Clark Kent is Superman. Metallo attacks the Daily Planet to murder Superman’s friends. The Legion of Supervillains murder Lana Lang and Jimmy Olsen when they’re defending the Fortress of Solitude. The Kryptonite Man takes out Krypto but not before he’s bitten to death by him. Brainiac usurp’s Lex Luthor’s body. And the one responsible for the carnage turns out to be a bored Mister Mxyzptlk, because “a funny little man in a derby hat” doesn’t work in the eighties anymore. Next issue Byrne would come and reboot Superman as Superyuppie.

Thirtyplus years on it’s all just as silly as the Silver Age Supes it was saying farewell too and a darn sight more offensive. The combination of nostalgia and carnage would be a prelude of some of DC’s worst instincts during the next three decades, constantly killing off, rebooting and killing off again. In hindsight, I like the imaginary stories of Mr and Mrs Superman much better.

Why Peter Parker is the better nerd

I. Coleman has a point, comparing the hero of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One with Peter Parker:

If you want a geek hero, look at Peter Parker. He likes Star Wars and obsesses over superheroes. He’s a nerd. He gets bullied for being a nerd. But his fondness for LEGOs isn’t what makes him a hero – that would be his heroism. His goodness. The fact that he’ll go out of his way to help an old lady cross the street. He knows what it’s like to get picked on, and instead of picking on others in turn, he chooses to stand up for the little guy no matter how hard it is. Peter Parker is what geek culture needs to strive to be every day. When we write an article or a videogame or a book, we should think “Would Peter Parker write this? Would he agree with what we’re saying?”

And conversely, I propose we should also ask “would Wade Watts like this?” And if the answer is yes, you should delete your draft, burn your script, drown the thing in white-out and start over. And it’s this test, more than anything else, that Ready Player One so catastrophically fails. Yes, it’s boring, poorly-written, and literally contains a ten-page list of titles of things the author likes. But it also fails the basic test of humanity, creating a character and a world so repugnant that I feel more than justified in saying it represents the absolute worst of nerd culture.

Peter Parker: science nerd

But there’s another way in which Peter Parker and Wade Watts differ, one that’s just as important as the one Coleman points out: what kind of nerd they are. It’s this difference that at least partially explains their moral differences as well. As we all know, Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider that turned him into Spider-Man, but the reason he was bitten by that spider was because he went to a scientific exhibition, because Peter Parker was the kind of nerd who was really into science, who was studying to become a scientist. That’s why he was bullied, at a time when being a brainiac was not a good thing. There’s more than a hint of classism in the bullying, what with his principal tormentor being the popular, rich jock who could afford to tool around in a sports car, while Parker wore handme down clothes and thick nerd glasses. And that’s why he was bullied: he looked poor, he was a brainiac, he didn’t share the interests of the cool people nor felt the need to imitate them.

Wade Watts on the other hand is the worst possible sort of nerd, the one that thinks his (excessive) love of Star Wars and knowledge of eighties nerd trivia makes him special, gets him persecuted. He doesn’t create, he just consumes, never does anything original. He has a persecution complex but nobody’s persecuting him. His type is widespread among fandom, usually white men who’ve never had much hardship in their lives, but who’ve convinced themselves that a light spot of bullying during high school means the entire world is against them because of their brilliance. These are usually the same people who want to exclude anybody not like them — LGBT, women, PoC — from fandom, that only they are true fans though they never contribute anything. That’s the kind of fan who eat up flattering trash like Ready Player One.

The financial realities of going viral

One of Lucy Bellwood’s cartoons went viral a while ago, being shared by Boing Boing, Chris Hadfield, the Atlas Obscuria, George Takei and others. So what does this exposure mean in terms of cold, hard cash?

SO: To date, including the money I was paid to produce the artwork, I have made $1,761.50 from this image. Not bad! Notably: $814 of that came after Boing Boing decided to feature the art with a proper link pointing people to my shop. There are a bunch of factors to consider here.

[…]

But I also think it’s important to share these numbers as a reminder that just because you’ve seen someone’s work shared on a popular platform (or by a popular person), doesn’t mean they’re automatically set for life. It does, however, mean they might be making a couple hundred bucks more than they usually do in a given month, and when you’re trying to make it as a freelancer that makes all the difference in the world.

I’ve shared one of her sailing cartoons before, on Metafilter, but I’m not sure I’d buy a print myself, if only because it’s usually such a hassle to get that sort of stuff shipped from the US. Bellwood’s essay is a good reminder of the financial realities of “going viral” and what that means for an artist or cartoonist and why proper attribution is so important. Something I’m not always practising myself, I’ve realised. Not often we get such a honest, open look into what large scale exposure means for an independent artist like Bellwood.

Tillie Walden’s Spinning — Friday Funnies

Spinning: growing up a lesbian ice skater

Spinning is Tillie Walden’s autobiographical story of growing up as a gay teenage ice skater in Texas. It’s told with remarkably little drama or fuzz, just a few years out of the life of a girl who has already known she’s gay for years before the story starts. Most of the conflict in the story is about Tillie’s growing disinterest in skating, even as she becomes more proficient in it. There’s no great rebellion, just Tillie continuing to skate because that’s what she’s used to doing, until finally one day she stops. And inbetween her skating we get glimpses of how she finds out she’s gay, her crushes, first love and coming out. It’s a very ordinary story, but that ordinariness is its strength.

Spinning: muted colour palette

The art and colour scheme relentlessly reinforce that ordinariness. Everything is muted, mostly black and white, but with the occassional harsh yellow highlight. This palette fits the early morning grayness of Walden’s skate practise well. The occassional use of a slightly warmer colour, like above, helps to distinguish more important moments from the day to day drabness.

Spinning: subtle and understated

Walden’s art is understated here, she doesn’t use grand gestures because the story wouldn’t fit them. Instead, she relies on small, subtle gestures and meaningful looks. I like her faces especially, a nice mix of realism with just enough cartoonist exagerration. Her skating scenes fittingly verge on the mundane, as they’re mostly training scenes, but even the occasional competition skating is shown from the perspective of the skaters, for whom it’s all familiar rather than exciting.

Perhaps the most bizarre, shocking thing about this autobiography for an old fart like me is that Walden shows her younger self and her friends reading and talking about the Twilight novels, the first of which came out only in 2005. it shows how young Walden is; she most be in her mid-twenties at most. It’s rare to start an autobiography this young; usually you have more distance between the narrator and their younger self. Perhaps this is why there’s so little drama, so little attempt to fit her memories into a “proper story”. All of which I like in this undramatic story of coming out and stopping being an ice skater.

The real trouble with comix

Supporting small business is important, but Amazon won’t ask you if you’re buying X-Men for your boyfriend every week. I’ve lost count of the women I know who stopped going to comic shops after being hit on or patronized too many times.

That small aside from a story about online harassment in video gaming perfectly illustrates the challenge the socalled mainstream comics industry has created for itself. Like videogaming, comics culture is steeped in rightwing victim culture, where you convince yourself both that you and your hobby are horribly oppressed and bullied by the jocks, the popular clique, riajuu and that your particular brand of pop culture is superior to what the brainless masses consume because they don’t spent their Wednesday evenings waiting for the new issue of whatever The Avengers is called this week. So you get a culture and industry that bemoans the fact that nobody loves comics anymore, but resents any step made to make people feel welcome. In fact, people seem to feel personally insulted if others enjoy the wrong sort of comics, as this fortuitous tweet demonstrates.

Buying comics online, either digital or in trades, is so much nicer than having to make that weekly trek to some dingy hole to spent anywhere from three to five bucks (usually converted 1 on 1 or even worse into euros) for something that won’t even take you a decent bout on the crapper to read.