Well, it’s almost time for Inktober 2019, and despite my lack of enthusiasm at the end of last year’s, I’ve decided to engage in another round of stress and depression. As deftly observed by a bunch of musical artists who are mostly a mystery to me (yes, I’m old), I’m a sucker for pain (yes, I’m an idiot) (and yes, I liked Suicide Squad).
Mind you, I’ve decided to try and alleviate some of the former by doing some prep work for October, since the prompt list was released a while back, which allowed me to at least do some thumbnails and work out ideas. Last year, it was a last minute decision, so everything was done on the fly, more-or-less. I was happy with a few of the pieces, but they were mostly pretty mediocre to downright bad. One of the pieces I liked was for the prompt spell, but I thought I could do better, so I recently did a re-draw. Not sure if it’s better or not. Oh well.
Not to be confused with Nice Boobs Day, Boobs Day rolls around every August 1st in Japan, in celebration of, what else, boobs. Pretty much based on the same pun as the former, it’s just an excuse for people to post photo of boobs and artists to draw boobs. Mind you, this is the internet – people don’t really need any encouragement to do either of those things on a regular basis.
This year, I decided Red Monika from Battle Chasers would be appropriate. Now, I’ve never read Battle Chasers, but I was aware of it when it was published. Mostly I was aware of Red Monika for… two reasons.
New Year is a much bigger deal in Japan than Canada, although it doesn’t affect me as I have the same response to it no matter where I am: a noncommital shrug and ignoring in favour of whatever I am doing at the time. This year it was playing Diablo 3 on the Swtich. Or rather it didn’t affect me until I got married and suddenly I was responsible for making the nengajo. 2018’s card was solid, but I like this year’s a lot better, but…
The final art work included a subtle paper pattern in the background which I really like. However, when we printed out the card, things did not turn out well. Aside from the weird colour shift (which is not totally explained by the RGB to CMYK shift), the background texture is completely gone. Yuck. However, it was too late to do anything about it, so they were sent out as it. Last year’s nengajo printed much nicer, but also were on much better quality paper, which I strongly suspect is large part of the culprit.
The other issue is the fault of my crappy memory: for some reason, despite A6 being an international standard paper size (100mm x 148mm), Japan occasionally adds five millimeters to the shorter side – I’ve encountered commercial printers who differ on their sizes for A6, and only A6, which if doublely weird. Nengajo all seem to use the smaller A6, which is a bit of trivia I had forgotten. Ugh. This wasn’t too big of a deal, but still annoying.
It could also be my printer, but it’s always done a pretty solid job. Well, in any case, my main takeaways here are:
Never assume paper size in Japan, no matter how sure you are, and
Reviews are weird things: on one hand, there is a certain amount of objectivity which most people expect. Sure, reviewing a piece of technology gives a little more leeway in this respect than a work of art, but still – presenting the quality of the subject in an even handed manner is important. But, reviews are also expected to present a point-of-view – after all, why bother with a review if you are not interested in what the writer thought about the subject? I recently got ahold of the first TPB of Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner. Here’s my one-sentence review: it was fucking fantastic. I am impatently awaiting the next and final volume. Given that the Mage trilogy began in the mid-eighties, I, along with other fans, have been impatently waiting for over thirty years.
My grade for Mage: The Hero Denied #1: B+
So, as is the tradition, I decided to see what others thought of the first half. I had been avoiding reviews since the first floppy was released, which wasn’t difficult given Mage’s realatively niche appeal. One of the reviews I stumbled upon (which only covered the first issue) was on the A.V. Club (link to the Google cache version) and it was… words? It’s not the fact that it was negative – you’re free to dislike whatever you want – but more that most the criticisms were at best tangental, and at worst, completely non-sensical.
Let’s get the positives out of the way: the reviewer, Caitlin Rosberg, does have some legitimate criticisms of the first issue, including Kevin’s lack of character development over the years, the seeming seeming sidelining of Kevin’s wife and daughter in favour of Kevin (a writer favouring the protagonist – well I never!) and his son, and the depiction of the Umbra Sprite and the Grackleflints, who are now female, the Umbra Mother and Gracklethorns respectively. Now, I feel that all her points are on shakey ground at best, but they at least deal with the subject of the review and give some supporting arguments as to why Rosberg feels that way. But it’s those last two points where she starts to go off the rails.
First, Rosberg complains that Magda, Kevin’s wife, is reduced to doing the laundry and “nagging” (her quotes, not mine) him, despite being a powerful witch. So, yes – she is doing the laundry. Sometimes people need to the the laundry. And sometimes those people happen to be married and a woman. The implication is that this lessens her character somehow. Further, it is really a stretch – a yoga-like, spine breaking stretch – to say she’s nagging Kevin. As it’s written, it sounds like normal, married people conversation. Kevin isn’t drawn or written as if he’s annoyed or downtrodden, nor does Magda give any indication she’s browbeating him.
The second main complaint is:
These new lady Gracklethorns not only have revealing outfits instead of matching suits, they have tiny waists, styled hair, eyes to host their long lashes, and carefully defined lips. But their faces convey no emotion at all. Their progenitor, the Umbra Sprite, is now the Umbra-Mother, similarly svelte and with her butt-crack improbably showing through her pencil skirt. The overall impression is that in order to be female, they must be drawn and speak as sexual objects, and it’s clear Wagner’s writing has not evolved at all since he fridged Edsel 30 years ago.
There is a lot to unpack here, but the main point is that Rosberg quickly decided to leave reviewing the book behind and start ranting about her views on the representation of women in comics (or at least a comic). Nevermind that the Grackleflints have always embraced one stereotype or another, so conforming to a generic hot woman appearance isn’t something to lose your shit over. Although I do believe she has a point, at least from a long-time reader’s perspective: traditionally, the Gracs have always been very clone-ish, so the Gracklethorns are breaking from tradition by having more unique appearances. Not a particularly strong point, but small victories. The latter part is where things get weird: Edsel was not fridged. She sacrificed herself to save Kevin (so did Sean before her). I pulled out my copy of The Hero Discovered to make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me. She was not fridged, but that completely false narrative fits much nicer into Rosberg’s outrage / dismissal of Wagner’s writing. But the weirdest, least relevent stuff is yet to come.
Completionists may buy the books, but there’s far too much competition for Wagner to get away with serving up something so stale. There are other, better comics about predestined heroes, and many of them have women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ characters in them with agency and their own stories tell.
What. The. Fuck. This is known in psychological circles as going bat-shit insane. This last paragraph has nothing to do with the subject at hand and everything to do with Rosberg’s politics. If you want to read stories where the protagonist is not a white guy: more power to you. Go for it. Read Monstress. Paper Girls. The Wicked + The Divine. Even the bastion of white guy protagonists (DC and Marvel) are publishing more and more material where your superhero is not a re-skinned Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker. But to go write a review of a very long running series where the protagonist is known to be a straight, pale-skinned male and then use that as a strike against it is ridiculous.
My grade for the AV Club’s review of Mage: The Hero Denied #1: D (maybe a D+ if I’m feeling generous)