Category Archives: Comics

Arisia!

As usual, I will be at Arisia this coming weekend. This year is particularly special to me because it’s my first time as a program participant! I will be on the following panels:

Fri 8:30 pm: Dragons!!!
Sun 10 am: Riverdale: A Great Place to Get Away With It All
Sun 1 pm: Marvel Cinematic and TV Universe, 2017 Edition
Sun 8:30 pm: Getting Started with Experimental Video Game Dev
Mon 1 pm: Songs of Drink

I will also be co-running playground games for kids and just might be entering the Doom, Gloom, and Despondency Song Contest. If anyone reading this is going, come say hi!

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Don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting in this pumpkin patch…

Because I’m a sap for tradition with a needy and demanding inner child, I still make a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween. Last night I finally carved out (ha) some time for it, and I cued up my DVD of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 

I watched this cartoon every Halloween as a child. As an adult, I’ve been using it as my pumpkin-carving background noise for years. By now, it’s a comfortable routine; I wasn’t even paying much attention. And then, during the scene where Linus writes his letter to the Great Pumpkin, it hit me right between the eyes that the Great Pumpkin is a metaphor for God.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the revelation. After all, another beloved cartoon has made a similar analogy about Santa Claus, and Linus explicitly calls out the parallelism between Santa Claus and the Great Pumpkin. But somehow I had never seen it before. The rest of the episode only strengthened the metaphor: Linus, the true believer, ridiculed by those who don’t share his belief. Preaching the good news of the Great Pumpkin to potential convert Sally. Denying himself worldly pleasures to wait patiently in the pumpkin patch for a reward from a being who never appears and may or may not even exist.

And from there, I had to wonder: did Charles Schulz do that on purpose?

It’s plausible. Schulz often made references to Christian theology in his work; this is the same man who could turn a baseball game into a meditation on the Book of Job. It seems significant that the Great Pumpkin believer is Linus, the same character who quotes the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas and who in the comic strip is something of a pint-sized Bible scholar. And Charlie Brown frames his and Linus’ differing beliefs (in Santa Claus and the Great Pumpkin) as “denominational differences”, which makes the metaphor nearly explicit. But if Schulz did intend the metaphor, what was he trying to say? Was he implying that God is no more real than the Great Pumpkin, or is Linus meant to be an admirable example of holding fast to faith without proof? Or, following the Peanuts theme of failure, is it that whether or not God the Great Pumpkin is out there, Linus has no more chance of seeing him than Charlie Brown has of kicking Lucy’s football? Or is none of it deliberate, and Schulz just wanted to make a silly joke about Linus confusing Halloween and Christmas?

But really, does it matter what he intended? Sure, it might be interesting to trace the history of the Great Pumpkin Peanuts strips and see if they reflected changes in Schulz’s religious beliefs over time. But even if Schulz deliberately set up a parable about faith, he doesn’t hit anyone over the head with the allegory. (I’m looking at you, C. S. Lewis.) Most viewers watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and enjoy it without reading it that way. Up until this year, that included me.

Nothing has changed about It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown since I last watched it. If anything was different, it was me. The text revealed a new meaning because I had changed in some way, or happened to have different things on my mind. It’s Death of the Author: whatever Schulz was thinking, the work is going to carry whatever meaning a particular viewer sees in it. Maybe all art, done well, is bound to carry undercurrents in it that the author never consciously set up.

 

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Ace headcanons (and a TV pitch)

Coming in late to Asexual Awareness Week, but I had to jump in on the AAW Fandom Challenge! Since I only just discovered the challenge, I’ll do a few days at once (cherry-picking the ones where I had something to say).

Sun 22nd, Day 1: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in books and comics.

Canon: Jughead, obviously! I might do a post later about Riverdale and ace erasure and trying to watch the show with my Wishful Thinking Ace Goggles on. But comics!Jughead is an ace representation treasure.

Headcanon: The Fool, from Robin Hobb’s Farseer/ Tawny Man books. He/ she (the character is canonically genderfluid) clearly has a massive thing for Fitz, but gets really offended when Fitz construes that as being necessarily sexual. I think the Fool is asexual and Fitz-romantic, which kind of sucks because they keep running headlong into Fitz’s wall of heteronormativity, allonormativity, and transphobia, none of which their universe has words for yet. The later books, where the Fool spends more time in their female identity of Amber, have some painful scenes of Fitz Tries and Fails At Allyship.

Mon 23rd, Day 2: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in shows and movies.

Canon: Sadly thin on the ground (see my earlier lament about Riverdale), but apparently I need to watch BoJack Horseman.

Headcanon: Adrian Monk. It’s been a while since I watched Monk, but I remember him being very sex-repulsed. He clearly had a loving relationship with his late wife Trudy, but there’s a scene with his therapist where he refuses to discuss their sex life that I choose to interpret as evidence that their relationship was non-sexual. I’ve just learned the term acevague (asexuality influenced by neurodivergence), which I think applies here because it’s likely his sex-repulsion is tied up with his OCD and germophobia.

Sat 28th, Day 7: Post about asexual representation in general. What does it mean to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? Why is it important to you to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? What sort of stories/plotlines would you like to see about asexual/spectrum characters? What genre do you really want to see asexual/spectrum characters in? How would you like to see asexual/spectrum people represented?

I’ve written this post already, but it bears repeating: asexual representation is how we normalize asexuality. It’s something for aces to latch on to for validation of our identity, but it’s also for the benefit of people who don’t know much about asexuality–like, say, that it exists. I also think that wider awareness and normalization of asexuality might help challenge some of our toxic cultural narratives about sex, which hurt both aces and allos. (And hoo boy, has this been a month for confronting the consequences of our culture’s fucked-up ideas about sex and consent.)

For example, compulsory sexuality. In the older post, I mentioned the asexual relationship at the heart of Pushing Daisies. Even though neither Ned nor Chuck is asexual, I love that their inability to have sex with each other isn’t really an obstacle to their relationship. In contrast, I had soooooo little patience for Richard and Kahlan’s angst over not being able to have sex in Legend of the Seeker.* Ned and Chuck can’t even hug each other! Stop whining about your lack of orgasms when you’re supposed to be saving the world! I want to see more fictional relationships that aren’t centered around sex, and having ace characters in the mix is a great way to bring that issue to the surface. I would love to see ace/ace couples in fiction, but I’d also love to see long-term ace/allo couples who have figured out something that works for them.

But hey, the aros can come join the party too! Let’s have some plots about aro characters dating and figuring out that it’s not really what they want, or dealing with the social expectation that they’re supposed to date.** Let’s have some gray-A and demisexual characters. The more I think about it, the more I think there needs to be a rom-com anthology series about every shade of the ace spectrum. Love, Asexual Style?

 

* Yes, I watched Legend of the Seeker. I also watched every episode of Heroes Reborn. I hesitate to use the term “pop culture junk food”, because I hate genre snobbery and that kind of judgment gets disproportionately aimed at SF and fantasy, but it really is a bit like eating a whole bag of potato chips when you know you should have a proper meal.

** For example, the story in Jughead where aroace Jughead goes on a date with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, thanks to a misunderstanding and Archie’s misguided attempts to play matchmaker. Sabrina tries casting a love spell that will amplify any tiny bit of attraction someone feels. On the one hand: that’s perilously close to date rape. Not cool, Sabrina! But I appreciate that in this case all that happens is that Jughead feels hungrier.

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Schroedinger’s canon

I’ve written before on the subject of divergences in fictional continuity and what qualifies as “canon” or not. As it turns out, the subject has come up again in relation to my two most recent posts.

I’ve already discussed my feelings about Daredevil volume 5. I enjoyed the end of volume 4 because for once, the story ended happily. But as Orson Welles pointed out, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” (A quotation I learned from White Collar, a series whose ending proved that sentiment apt… but I digress.) When Secret Wars happened, it undid the happy ending, or overwrote it, or possibly just continued past it–I don’t know, Secret Wars’ relationship with “canon” is weird. But the writers are treating it as a soft reboot, so volume 5 feels more like a reset than a sequel, and I felt a little cheated that the ending that I wanted was wiped away.

I also recently learned that the CW is working on an Archie Comics TV show called Riverdale. Overall, I’m very interested to see what they make of it, but having posted on the subject recently, my first thought was “…crap, Jughead probably won’t be asexual in this one.” (All right, my second thought, right after “Hey, Jughead is one of the twins from Suite Life of Zack and Cody.”) Maybe I should give Greg Berlanti and the CW some credit; by my count, the relatively small Arrowverse has more canonically queer characters than the entire MCU, though that’s a depressingly low bar. But while queer representation in media is improving, asexual representation remains vanishingly rare, which is why I was so excited over Jughead in the first place.

So, what’s the one true canon? Is Matt Murdock’s happy ending gone for good? If Riverdale says Jughead is straight, does that override the comics saying he’s asexual, or do the comics win by dint of coming first? And for that matter, what if there’s an earlier Archie comic where Jughead is into a girl? Does “canon” mean the original version, or the latest version, or the most popular version?

Just as Kate Griffin came to my rescue last time, by writing a rather more coherent post about the varying incarnations of characters across media, this time I’ve been given some perspective in the form of a post by Max Gladstone. You should really read the whole essay, but I’ll quote the part most relevant to my point:

The Expanded Universe doesn’t go away just because that story’s done.  The tale, well told, remains. […] Honoghr doesn’t disappear.  It’s still out there, rebuilding.

That resonated with me. The stories as I want them to be are still there. Comics-Jughead is still asexual, Daredevil at the end of Volume 4 is still living happily ever after in San Francisco. It doesn’t matter if another writer has come along and done something differently; the old stories aren’t any less valid than the new ones.

You can’t ask questions like “Is Jughead asexual?” out of context. Or, to give another cross-media example, is Clint Barton deaf? It depends on whether it’s the Clint Barton of the MCU or the comics, and possibly on which era of comics canon you’re talking about. Sometimes characters even enter a Schroedinger’s-cat-like state of being both alive and dead; Game of Thrones has pulled this more than once, as did the manga vs. anime versions of Fullmetal Alchemist. Some adaptations diverge from the “canon” portrait of a character deliberately, which is how we have a black Nick Fury in the MCU and a female Watson on Elementary. It’s perhaps instructive to pay attention to which characteristics are deemed so vital to a character that they persist across continuities. You might see a Clint Barton who isn’t deaf, but Matt Murdock is always blind–even when he isn’t Daredevil, as with Spider-Gwen‘s Murderdock. Riverdale‘s Jughead may or may not be asexual, but you can bet their Kevin Keller will be gay.

There’s a reason I keep putting “canon” in quotes here. Canon is not monolithic. In the notorious labyrinth of comics continuity, or when a work gets remade or rebooted or adapted, canon becomes able to encompass multiple, often contradictory states. Does canon contradict itself? Very well, then it contradicts itself! Canon is large and contains multitudes.

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Seriously, do not mess with Jughead’s burgers. He will have his revenge.

More catching up on comics. Yesterday it was the Archie ‘verse (reboot edition), and I was very excited to see that Jughead #4 casually mentions that Jughead is asexual.

Asexuals get far too little representation in fiction, even compared to how small the proportion of asexuals is in the general population. And I was already really enjoying the new Archie‘s version of Jughead, who is sort of Secret Chessmaster Jughead. On the surface he’s still the slacker who’ll only exert himself when food is involved–but come after something he cares about (like his friends… or, okay, his food) and he will swing into action, and do it in such a way that no one will ever prove it was him.

Also, it seems fitting that the person who mentioned Jughead’s asexuality was Kevin Keller. If you don’t know who that is, his claim to fame is as the first Archie Comics character to be openly gay.

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