comics need more fan run conventions

Allow me to hijack the ongoing controversy in the online comix communities about the evils of cosplayers and how they don’t spent enough at comic conventions to make a tangentially related point:

I think Denise Dorman’s railing against the ‘instagram’ generation is hilarious but actually has a point–she’s just not using the best terminology to describe what is an actual phenomenon–before 5 years ago, no one (in their right mind) would go to a show thinking that they were an ‘attraction’ without buying themselves an exhibition space, a booth, an artist alley table, something. However, in the last few years the number of people who think that a badge (whether paid for or comped) entitles them to an audience within a convention space is on the rise dramatically. It’s been pegged as cosplayers, and honestly there are more cosplayers at shows than ever, and more professional cosplayers who are going to shows to make money and build an audience. Cosplayers attending shows as businesspeople, who aren’t contributing to the economy of the show.

As you know Bob, comics cons started as spinoffs of existing sf fandom, by people who were steeped in the mores and history of fandom and the original comics cons were very much like the sf cons, by fans for fans, with little to no distinction between fans and pros and without looking to make a profit. Where comics fandom went wrong was that conventions went commercial in the first place, which started at the very latest in the mid eighties. As the comics industry itself collapsed but cons like San Diego grew year on year, that commercialisation just grew more blatant. It’s the same thing you see with niche cable channels: they may start out with all kind of lofty aspirations and call themselves The Learning Channel, but if the money’s in crappy reality shows, that’s what they’ll end up doing. There’s no money in selling comics, so you get expensive nerd toys instead.

Cosplay meanwhile, for all its “professional” cosplayers, is still pretty much done for the love of the characters and the art itself. At worst it’s a symptom, not a cause of the difficulties comics have in being visible at comics cons. Chris Butcher is right when he says that:

The changing convention landscape is inherently shitty for people who make comic books. Art comix, indy comics, mainstream comics, whatever comics, the changing makeup of conventions is hostile to people who want to make and sell comics at comic conventions. And let me be clear, this is comic books and graphic novels, as opposed to ‘prints’ or crafts or whatever manner of tchotchkes makeup most exhibitor tables these days. Basically, comic book conventions are aggressively attracting an audience who don’t necessarily value books, or comic books.

What seems to be missing in the (American) comics convention landscape is what you still have in science fiction: a thriving fan run, non-commercial con scene. There’s Dragoncon, but there’s also Worldcon. And whereas science fiction writers may drown in the media orientated atmosphere of the former, they can thrive in the latter. The fan conventions help build and retain an audience that might otherwise not exist.

But perhaps the dismal state of mainstream comics cons is due to the dismal state of the (supposedly mainstream) superhero comic. Superheroes are more popular than ever, but the actual comics seem to be bought only by an aging and shrinking fanbase. New fans meanwhile are drawn in by movies, tv shows and cartoons, anything but comics and hence are at best interested in comics as a tertiary activity. In such a climate it’s no wonder people like Dorman find themselves struggling. They’re cut off from their audience and the new people don’t know who they are nor why they should spent $50 or more on a sketch. That’s not going to change by banning cosplayers. That can only change if you get more comics cons not run for profit, not aiming to maximalise its audience at the expense of a focus on comics, have more people, pro and fan both, go there for the love of comics, not as a business.

Judgement on Janus — Andre Norton

Cover of Judgement on Janus


Judgement on Janus
Andre Norton
188 pages
published in 1963

It’s a miracle: I actually managed to start an Andre Norton series in the right order: Judgement on Janus is the first of a duology, together with Victory on Janus. Another minor miracle is the fact that my copy lasted long enough for me to read it as the cover was flaking off something fierce. Normally Ace paperbacks hold up better. This is actually one of the first Norton novels I’d bought, years ago, but had never read so far.

Naill Renfro is a young man who, caught up in the slums of the Dipple, sells himself as indentured labour (just like Charis Nordholm) in order to have enough money to give his mother a dignified death. He ends up on the planet Janus, where dour religious fanatics fight a never ending battle against the primeval forests covering the planet. These forests they consider a source of evil, as they do many things, especially the alien relics or treasures occassionally found. These are supposed to be reported and destroyed immediately. Those who don’t report it and try to keep them for themselves are punished by god with the green sick and left in the forest to die. Three guesses what happens to Naill.

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Your Happening World (October 3rd through October 7th)

  • Where Should We Bury the Dead Racist Literary Giants? – The Awl – At the same time, focusing on race in Lovecraft can also lead to a greater appreciation of his work, and a better understanding of its horror. Joshi may think he's protecting Lovecraft's legacy by minimizing the role of race in his stories, but the truth is that, to the extent that Lovecraft is still meaningful, it's in large part because of his portrait of his own racism. Lovecraft isn't a great artist despite being a racist, as Joshi would have it. Nor is he a lousy artist because he's a racist, as Older says. He's a great artist and he's a racist: Lovecraft's world is one in which racism poisons everything, in which the fear of anyone who isn't white is so overwhelming that it fills the seas and the skies and everything in between with gibbering demons and cosmic despair. The bleak, clotted hatred with which he renders that world is precisely what makes his work valuable.
  • What to read on the Tory proposals for a “Bill of Rights” | Jack of Kent
  • GUEST POST: Of Meat Hooks and Desire by Max Gladstone | Brian Staveley – There’s more to life than stabbing people in the gut. Or melting their faces off with a fireball. Or being dropped out of a helicopter, or tortured with a potato peeler.
  • Fantasy-Faction World Tour of Wonderment: The Netherlands | Fantasy-Faction
  • Marvel & Jack Kirby Family Settle Long-Running Legal Dispute – Page 5 – So what happened wasn't that the Kirby family sued Marvel just because they one day decided to up and want more money. They didn't even sue. What they did was file for termination of copyright assignment — the very thing that the law allows creators to do. They didn't do this against the wishes of Kirby himself — Kirby had been all for doing it, ever since the law had been changed. But they had to wait a certain amount of time, and Kirby didn't live long enough to see it happen. But he was always on board with it.

Exiles of the Stars — Andre Norton

Cover of Exiles of the Stars


Exiles of the Stars
Andre Norton
249 pages
published in 1971

It was clear from the first page that Exiles to the Stars was a sequel and a quick trip to Librarything confirmed that this was a sequel to Moon of Three Rings, which I’ve never read. It’s neither the first nor likely the last time I’ll read a sequel before the original novel and in Norts on’s case, since she wrote before the rise of the epic fantasy series, her novels always tell complete stories, with anything you need to know from earlier books neatly explained. In Exiles of the Stars the things that need explaining are the protagonists, Krip Vorlund and his companion Maelen. Both are not what they seem. Krip outwardly looks like a Thassa, a humanoid alien race, but his midn is human, having taken over the thassa body when his original was destroyed. The same thing happened to Maelen, now inhabiting the form of a glasssa, a small four footed hunting animal where she once had been a woman and priestess on a planet where the priesthood was adept at body switching. All this of course the result of the action from the previous novel.

Their prediciment shows up the important role psi powers and mind control play in Norton’s space opera, as it does here. Many of her heroes either encounter ESP or discover their own talents during their adventures. It can feel a bit old fashioned, on a par with the navigation tapes used to steer the spaceships. But in this case it also shows how large and strange Norton’s universe is, where her heroes are lucky to survive, let alone thriumph. Occasionally in the wrong body.

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GamersGate: Intel lets spoiled manchildren think they’re important

So GamersGate. A bunch of petulant man children from the open sewer of the internet got roped into some creep’s crusade against his ex-girlfriend under the banner of “objective gaming journalism”, spewed the usual mix of rape and death threats against her, but Zoe Quinn, their intended victim, turned out to be smarter than the lot of them and had infiltrated their main planning channel for weeks. These losers are still sputtering on, the 101st chairborne brigade fighting a losing war against the forces of social justice on blogs and Twitter, a tweet too far.

What kind of lame company would let themselves be roped into their campaign and feel pressured to withdraw advertising from a gaming site just because they say so? Intell, that’s who:

GamerGate’s ballyhooed success with Intel reveals them to be a movement for “journalistic integrity” that is willing to use major corporate sponsors to dictate the editorial content of a website for no reason other than the fact that they disagree with it. As a “consumer revolt,” it has shown itself to be a neoliberal nightmare wherein large corporations are the heroes and plucky independent journalists are the “elite” villains who need to be toppled.

(Incidently, the habit of Feministing here to blank out the Twitter accounts sending death threats in their screenshots but not those of the victims of said threats is mildly annoying.)

By giving in to blackmail, Intel has enabled the most whining, dumbest and aggressive part of videogaming “culture” to terrorise more women and the websites that publish them, in exchange for much more negative p.r. than it would’ve had, had it refused to play ball. The LoserGaters are a noisy and obnoxious part of gaming, but they’re only a minority. Normal people, sane people, want nothing to do with them.

Books read September

Guess what? I actually read some non-fiction this month, in the shape of a history of the 1953 Iranian coup. Apart from that, I’ve also dipped my toes in the troubled waters of Dutch science fiction and fantasy, thoroughly enjoyed Kameron Hurley’s new novel but was slightly dissappointed to still have only read six books in total this month. UPDATE: seven actually, as I completely forgot I’d read The Secret Feminist Cabal this month too.

Zwarte Sterren — Roelof Goudriaan (Ed.)
An anthology of Dutch science fiction I got from the library to find Dutch authors worth reading.

The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley
One of the biggest sf&f books of 2014 and it lived up to its hype.

Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis
A Dutch author writing in English, this is Duyvis’ first novel, a well written YA fantasy with one of the more original ideas I’ve seen in fantasy behind it.

The Secret Feminist Cabal — Helen Merrick
A cultural history of feminism in science fiction, science fiction fandom and academic research into science fiction. This is essential reading for anybody interested in the history of science fiction and women in science fiction.

All the Shah’s Men — Stephen Kinzer
An overview of the 1953 coup that ended democracy in Iran and the role the British and Americans played in it. Comes close to victim blaming at points.

The Outskirter’s Secret — Rosemary Kirstein
The second novel in the Steerswoman series of science fiction disguised as fantasy.

Roadside Picnic — Boris & Arkady Strugatsky
A classic of Russian science fiction and the inspiration for the 1979 movie Stalker as well as the more recent S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video horror games.

Your Happening World (September 25th through October 3rd)

  • BBC News – Cat Watch 2014: What’s it like being a cat?
  • The Radical Ellen Willis | Dissent Magazine – Maybe we’re oblivious, or maybe just stretched thin, but not enough people are talking about this. The late cultural critic Ellen Willis did—and years before the worst of it hit. With a clarity of thought and the kind of fury that pangs and never scabs over, she diagnosed, snarled, and illuminated what she considered a central plague of her day: the way our economy limits our creative expressions. As she put it in her essay “Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity”: “On the crudest level, the lives of American intellectuals and artists are defined by one basic problem: how to reconcile intellectual or creative autonomy with making a living.”
  • Black and Blue. – Free Online Library – The violence perpetrated by the P.G. cops is a curious development. Usually, police brutality is framed as a racial issue: Rodney King suffering at the hands of a racist white Los Angeles Police Department or more recently, an unarmed Timothy Thomas, gunned down by a white Cincinnati cop. But in more and more communities, the police doing the brutalizing are African Americans, supervised by African-American police chiefs, and answerable to African-American mayors and city councils. In the case of P.G. County, the brutality is cast against the backdrop of black America's power base, the largest concentration of the black middle class in the country.
  • kankedort: On Diversity: Two Sadnesses and a Refusal – don't refuse the issues. I accept them fully. But I refuse the sense of scarcity and shrinkage. I refuse a world this small. I refuse to believe that there are only so many seats at the table, that I have to fight for scraps against all other possible representatives of diversity. You guys, I refuse this EVEN IF IT'S TRUE. Daniel José Older and Saladin Ahmed, who were mentioned in the Nation piece, are my friends. I'm thrilled for them. Is it possible to recognize that there is a problem with women of color being ignored, and still be thrilled for them? I intend to believe the answer is yes.
  • Marooned Off Vesta: Confusion and understanding: one post about The Stone Boatmen – Though I try always to extend sympathy at least, it is difficult for me to approach any new work of sf with anything other than suspicion. But very early on in my first reading of Sarah Tolmie's The Stone Boatmen — I am no longer able to say when or where, exactly — I decided to trust: to have faith in the work, and in Tolmie's ability and above all responsibility in pursuit of it. Or — can this really be characterized as a decision? Perhaps better to say that I found myself trusting her, that something palpable but not quite locatable in or between her words made such trust not only possible but natural, even unavoidable. Tolmie does not betray this trust.

The Zero Stone — Andre Norton

Cover of The Zero Stone


The Zero Stone
Andre Norton
221 pages
published in 1968

You can’t accuse Andre Norton from starting her stories slowly. When The Zero Stone opens, its protagonist, Murdoc Jern is fleeing through a primitive town on an alien planet, barely one step ahead of a mob of religious fanatics wanting to kill him. They already killed his boss when the priests of a local cult indicated the both of them for their next ritual victims, but Murdoc managed to escape. He finally manages to reach the dubious safety of a free trader ship, where his only friend is the ship’s cat, but when it falls pregnant after ingesting a strange stone on the traders’ first stopover and he himself falls ill of a strange plague once the cat gives birth, he learns not only that the trader’s crew plan to abandon him on an airless moon, but also that they had been hired to kidnap him. Luckily for him, the cat’s mutant offspring turns out to be a mysterious and powerful alien intelligence who calls himself Eet and who sets out to save Murdoc from his predicament.

The reason for Murdoc’s continuing bad luck turns out to be the old memento that was the only thing he’d taken from his adopted father’s home, who had been not just a gem trader but also a retired crime Guild boss. This memento is a ring too large to be worn and containing a dull, lifeless stone; it was found on a corpse drifting in space but Murdoc’s father could never find out anything more about it, which is why he called it the zero stone. As you’d expect in a story like this, his son has more success in finding out at least some of the story behind the stone, if only by being dragged behind it in a series of increasingly desparate escapes from danger, aided and abetted by his alien companion.

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A proper love story

Now here’s a great soppy love story I ran across when reading Jan Morris’ Wikipedia entry, about how she was forced to divorce from her wife after her gender reassignment surgery and how they got remarried again in a civil partnership in 2008:

. In a touching story of constancy, they stayed together after Morris’s trip to Morocco in 1972. He went as a man, and came back as woman. The law, then, did not allow same-sex marriages, so the couple were obliged to go through an amicable divorce. Morris used to describe her as her “sister-in-law”, but on BBC Radio 4′s Bookclub yesterday, she revealed that the relationship was closer and more enduring than that implied.

“I haven’t told this to anybody before,” she said, “I’ve lived with the same person for 58 years, I married her when I was young and then this sex-change thing – so-called – happened and so we naturally had to divorce, but we’ve always lived together anyway. I wanted to round this off nicely so last week Elizabeth and I went to have a civil union.”

The ceremony was held at the council office in Pwllheli on 14 May, in the presence of a couple who invited them to tea at their house afterwards.

“I made my marriage vows 59 years ago and still have them,” Elizabeth told the Evening Standard. “We are back together again officially. After Jan had a sex change we had to divorce. So there we were. It did not make any difference to me. We still had our family. We just carried on.”

I was looking at her Wikipedia entry because I just bought her Pax Brittanica history trilogy, which were still credited to “James Morris” but did have this dedication in them:

During the writing of the Pax Brittanica trilogy James Morris completed a change of sexual role and now lives and writes as Jan Morris.

Which is, changing language aside, a decent thing to do and it goes on to consistently talk about her as female, but the edition I have is from 1980, some eight years after her public gender switch and I wonder why they kept her old name on the books.