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.
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.
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.
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.
Howard Chaykin is the best example this side of Steve Brust of the nominally leftist guy who keeps showing his ass in public:
For the record, the cover depicts the horrific wish dream of some 45% of their fellow Americans. Perhaps if they spent a bit more time paying attention to the fact that the world they were born into is on the brink of serious disaster, they might have less time to get worked up about an image of genuine horror that depicts an aspect of that impeding disaster.
And of course, that left has evolved into a culture and community that feels that a white, cisgendered male has no right to tell stories of characters who are not white cisgendered males. Beyond its obvious and ridiculous limitations, this is just one more variety of fascism with a sympathetic and friendly face–from a left that still hasn’t figured out a cohesive way to save itself, the country and the world from the crushing monster that my country has become.
The mistake Chaykin makes here is thinking it’s still 1987 and you could pretend comics are read only by white male nerds. Chakyin wants to pretend he’s the voice of the voiceless enlightening an audience somehow ignorant of the plight of trans women or Muslims in Trump’s America, that just depicting atrocities is a courageous stand against injustice. And perhaps in 1987, what Chakyin is doing in The Divided States of Hysteria, when you compare it to e.g. Chris Claremont’s hamfisted lynching analogies in X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, where “muties” stand in for Black people. But it’s 2017, not 1987 and you have to do better than that.
Because biff, pow, zap comics are not just for well meaning white dudes anymore.
Not that they ever were.
There’s a huge, diversive audience out there, some of which actually have first hand experience with the issues Chaykin writes about. So the bar is higher than if you are writing for a well intentioned, but largely clueless white nerd audience. Get things wrong and you will be criticised, even if you’re a Big Name Leftist cartoonist like Chaykin. And he fails at the first hurdle by falling right into the victim trap. Got a gay or lesbian character in your story? The victim trap has him dying of aids, her getting raped and all of it is oh so inspiring for their straight friends and the straight audience watching. Same of course goes for trans characters, whether or not they “power up” from their rape or abuse trauma and become angels of vengeance. Given that Chaykin has previous with regards to trans characters in Black Kiss — which wasn’t the most subtle of characterisations — it’s not suprising people won’t cut him slack with a new series that opens with the rape and assault of a trans protagonist.
It’s not that you don’t have the right to write characters other than white, cisgendered males — and didn’t John Byrne already complained about not being allowed to create anything other than white villains back in 1992 — it’s that you have to get it right. Don’t fall into the same victim narratives white male cis writers always fall in when writing about characters unlike themselves. And perhaps listen when people criticise your writing, rather than brag that you didn’t read it?
This comic reduced me to a sobbing wreck.
I had those dreams in which it turned out that Sandra isn’t dead, but still in hospital, or she’s just there as we go about our daily business, only to wake up and realise that of course it’s all a lie. There’s nothing as nerve wrecking, as guilt inducing and soul crushing as waking up from that sort of dream and Sara Goetter captured it well. All three of her comics dealing with the grief over the death of her mother are excellent depictions of what it feels like to lose someone dear to you in fact, hard to read because of it. It’s been a while since I had to cry this hard over Sandra, it having been five year since she died after all, but this went through all of my defences like a punch to the gut.
(For something lighter by her, this comic about spotting and wanting to befriend a fellow geek in middle school is adorkable.)