Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Comics Should Be Good - Storytelling

By Scott Clark & Dave Beaty
On the the Monkey House Games forum I shared that Scott Clark, one of the early creators at Image comics passed away recently. It was a big lost to a friend of mine, because Scott had helped him get into the Big Leagues, inking for DC and such. [see awesome image to the right]

Now Scott Clark had talent and skill and treated his buds right. Personally, I liked some of his work, some of Jim Lee's work and very little of the other Image creators. Many times, their work was all pretty girls and big guns and frankly, was missing real depth of story and characterization. And frankly, after they did a four year raping of the industry, no one wanted to collect comics anymore because of the multi-cover, super gloss, ultra-ridiculous content of so many books they put out.

Another poster called it what it was: The Dark Ages of comics. Storytelling went to hell as wallets were fattened on empty promises, cookie-cutter art and pinups.

There's "Hey!", "Hot!"
"HAWT!" & "Huh??!"
"Huh??!" :P
Again, I have nothing personal against these guys - they have some very admirable qualities and technical skills. But good comics are good stories, with stunning moments of writing, of art.

The motive behind your storytelling is almost as important as the tale you actually tell. We can smell a shyster, a pro who's offering you the ice cream of sexy babes and hot action to get you to pay for a trip in his unmarked white van with the tear-stained mattress inside.

This is not just my opinion; these young creatives nearly undid an industry as they soul-raped the myths we grew up with and offered something half as thought-out as the hot new replacement. Their temporary success was like what recently happened in the housing boom. All who invested ended up with unsellable property.

Their creations are all-but-gone; and if they are not extinct, they are still less than 1% of the market they thought to beat. They are forgettable mutants with extra ammo packets. [One could hope they all decided mass suicide was necessary to save the Earth's original heroes and finally did something anatomically correct and noble in the same breath.]

Good Artists Know their Calling
If you are going to draw, draw. But comics, as visual as they are, can survive fairly weak art with a good storyteller. There are usually three people working to make the page appealing - the penciller, the inker, the colorist. There is only one writer, 95% of the time. If he or she fails, no one can pick you up, except the editor.

I think that may be why so many editors jumped in to take fuller control of more storylines. They have a plethora of good artists, but only a few writers they trust. Story is king, baby. Even the artist, who tells the visual part of the story must obey the rules of storytelling.

And frankly, many FINE illustrators do NOT know how to tell a clear story - how to show what is necessary for clarity to the reader. They draw interesting angles and fabulous figures in great poses and you end up saying "What was this guy doing when he was reading comics? Did he think pacing, environment, structure, backgrounds, and close-ups were for sissys or something? Did he honestly think because he could draw well, he knew how to tell a story on a page in 6 panels?"

We Needed Top Gun Because Pilots Forgot Dog fighting
Did you know that in the 1960's the US found their air combat kill ratio in Viet Nam dropping so badly that they formed a school to RE-TEACH the art of aerial combat? That's why Top Gun was formed in 1969.

They thought fire-and-forget missiles would replace the art of dog fighting. They were wrong.

That's where we are today. We've forgotten good storytelling.

I want show you something nearly 30 years old by Frank Miller, artist turned writer. I was mesmerized by its pacing and power and realized as I re-read it - the art is so simple, so iconic, a 12-year old could have done it. But THAT made it work all the more. The simplicity WAS the power.

Here it is, from The Dark Knight Returns, vol. 2, pg. 47:

Now we've got SIXTEEN panels of story here, starting with a psychiatrist laying the blame for Two-Face's crimes all on Batman before we "cut" to ANOTHER ancient foe of Batman being visited at Arkham Asylum by a child-man in a pastel sweater.

But is he a sweet misguided soul? No, he's a bomb maker being commissioned by Two Face, so, out of loyalty, he visits the Joker. You understand the horrific irony here? The satire Miller is laying out visually? Our natural sympathies are being played with, and hard.

Cartooning is GOOD
Miller uses the clear-cut visual language of a cartoonist to keep the identities separate, even as the actual words belie their innocence: it adds up to make everything MORE impactful than if a serious or realistic figures had been used.

Another reason it is fitting for this particular book: Batman, Superman, James Gordon, Robin, Wonder Woman - these ARE well-known characters. They are ICONS. So by leaving out details but keeping the signature parts, the reader is treated as a knowledgeable adult, able to fill in the missing gaps.

The reader is "in" on the joke - and in the arched eyebrow with a long drag of a cigarette, Frank Miller's Jack Nicholson-esque Joker confirms our suspicions that his reason is perfectly clear, his evil is as strong and vibrant as ever. His calmness terrifies us.

Miller knew his craft, and we loved him for it. In my opinion, the original ending to the The Dark Knight Returns stands as one of the finest in mythic storytelling.

I think we need more storytelling like that.

I hope you agree and vote with your wallet.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sexual Economics for the Bankrupt

Alright. I had a chance to talk to the pastor that I mentioned in last week's blog, and we got on the same page. In fact, he made a valid observation that I would have made if I were not so reactionary.

We talked again this week about sexual habits of the 20-something age group and we covered some wisdom of what can wound us and what is wise in the sexual arena. Previous wisdom I had said YEARS earlier on a forum came back to me [yeah, I forget], and we smashed a couple of all-too-common misconceptions about sex before marriage.

Sex bonds us to a person emotionally. That, in the right order, is good. In the wrong order, is bad.

Here are non-preachy lessons learned from pre-marital sex, born out by honest humans, whether married or not, Christian or not.

1) Beware the Soul Super Glue Syndrome: sex bonds you to a person due to the factor of physical intimacy. It is an instant bonding agent, like when you spill super-glue on your fingers. No matter what, trying to UN-bond is going to be painful. That's why breaking up with someone you have not slept with is sad, but bearable - and breaking up with someone you've slept with creates a black hole in your heart.

And if it does NOT create a black hole in your heart, I would SERIOUSLY suggest getting counseling - because, as the man said, "You got issues."

2) Beware the Enjoy Now/Pay Later, Credit Plan: even if you are engaged to be married, you are NOT married - and in the pastor's personal experience, 20% of couples he knew did not get married, though engaged. You are driving a car, making a deal, a bet even, that is NOT guaranteed. Sex does NOT create a covenant - it creates a BOND - and those are two different things. You are not trusting God - or not trusting your partner.

3) Patience is a Virtue - and Both of You Want Trust: let's be frank here: if you cannot say no and wait a few months [being engaged for years is probably not a true engagement, folks - esp. if you are having sex. It's just procrastination or a counterfeit - take your pick], or your partner cannot, then you ARE going to have some problems down the line when another attractive person appears.

You see, for some crazy reason, we think marriage ENDS temptation. In no uncertain terms - it does not! It is a a crucible of love that is sometimes cool, sometimes hot and often under attack. You have to feed and protect your marriage, and if you have a partner who cannot be trusted with sexual self-control, you have the perfect recipe for pain - 'cause sex is everywhere - whether it's porn [crack cocaine for the eyes I call it] or just a saucy girl who thinks your man is cute. And is SOOOOO sympathetic...

So we agreed that sex before marraige was fraught with danger and had some serious backlash. We agreed that God's Biblical command to keep the marriage bed pure was for our own good - and if you have ever thought of committing suicide after breaking up with someone you got sexually intimate with, you understand PRECISELY what I am saying. You learned, the hard way, God is right. We don't want to go too far.

But what about lots of kissing? How far is too far?

So we all took a little anonymous test to check of what we though what was acceptable to do in the 'romantic' arena, and what was going "too far."

Some were obvious. Others - a matter of context or opinion. But in the end, we agreed that we should probably treat the opposite sex like we treat our family members - like we treat our brothers and sisters

That way, if we do not marry, we have fond memories and self-respect. Not the anger and loathing and self-hatred that follows so many broken relationships. Or deathly silence, as it may be.

It was a good lesson. The young pastor showed even more wisdom and compassion when we spoke afterwards when I told him what hurt me about the barefoot and pregnant comment.

I realized that I was reacting to a liberal straw man ALL of his group had heard. He was just trying to communicate honestly with them. We both laughed about how dysfunctional about every family in the Bible was - but God used them anyway. He pointed out that the household economy, run by women, is truly the FIRST economy in any civilization.

I wished he had been my pastor, 25 years ago. I would have been wiser.

I would have been less wounded.

May it be so for you, my reader.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Barefoot & Pregnant, Re-thought

I am making an intentional effort to listen to the "other side" of the aisle, the emotionally appealing, righteously calling human voices that say they are hurting, and something should be done about it.

I am trying to make sure that I am not overlooking their pain and desires, categorizing them and/or demonizing them. Trivializing their hopes, their fears, their desires for significance. To keep my heart tender and not bash them with the Bible. To be truly compassionate.

It ain't working.

I am running into too many that believe man is better than God, the Church is to blame for their moral and ethical failures as they chew upon all the Snickers bars of empty promises of the world.

I feel a Dennis Miller rant coming on. Let me share what is setting it off.

Sexual Economics
Yesterday, I visited the 20-somethings in a non-religious church service that turned out to be about sex and sexual economics. It was enlightening, and informative.This sociologist pointed out that the Power of Women in the Marriage Contract is badly diminished. By making more money, waiting until AFTER a career starts to marry and thus, offering to have sex without risk [due to birth control pill], they have become undervalued.

As one saying goes, about living with a girl and having sex with her, "Why buy the whole loaf when you can get it one slice at a time for free?"

So we men have REGRESSED into having harems - multiple women for our pleasure. We just do it one woman at a time - we are sequential monogamists. Women, therefore, are now in competition: and whoever offers her body at the cheapest price is the most sought. And used, sadly.

Even worse, men in this equation are less and less desirable. Their need to provide is diminished, to be responsible, so they become duller and duller drones for the Queen Bee.

Now that is my assessment of what this sociologist said on this DVD. His name is Mark Regnerus, and here is the article for Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/february/sexeconomics.html

Here is a video to explain his POV:

So what set off my desire to rant?

The entire "DUHHHHH!!" aspect of this concept. So many messages are sent at us that tell us "ancient wisdom" and "conservative views" was a bunch of old nasty crap, unworthy of consideration. That our grandparents getting married at 17 and having a bunch of kids was creepy or sick.

Well, turns out, they were onto something. Their system worked better, biologically, socially, and often, economically.

Worse, when I tried to affirm the truth of this, the pastor responded, "We aren't trying to suggest that women should go back to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen."

He showed his own immaturity in saying that. Maybe I sounded condescending, but it was an insulting straw man flung at my comment to assure those attending youths MAYBE the ancient wisdom was valid today, but we had a lot of things wrong. We WANTED women to kow-tow to men.

Yeah, right.

Because friend, no woman I have ever known, old school, and highly conservative, was ever like that.

So I let it pass.

Later, as I went to congratulate him on the video and its wisdom, he said "We cannot turn back the clock. We are here."

That's when I got fed up. We can "turn back the clock" on climate change, live greener, and eat organic, but we can't "turn back the clock" on sexual stupidity?

He was telling me I was being unrealistic.

And that pisses me off, because the Jewish God I know has a way of changing reality.

Here is my answer to the Barefoot, and Pregnant Woman in the Kitchen:


For few women can kick off their shoes, stay at home, and work in their very own kitchen, exploring culinary delights, safe, secure and pregnant - granting their home food, comfort, sustenance and even a precious legacy.

You demanded the right man marry you to grant you the most freedom and security. Blessed are you.

And to those hard working women out in the labor force?

May you get MORE time to stay at home, with your shoes off, making whatever you like in your kitchen.

May your man pay for it, and love you DEARLY for it.


Friday, February 8, 2013

A Lesbian for Christ

Read this article from Christianity Today. It even has a transgendered Presbyterian minister in it.


Then you may want to read your Bible.

And pray.

[LATE EDIT: I've added the full article below for ease of access and archival purposes]
My Train Wreck Conversion

The word Jesus stuck in my throat like an elephant tusk; no matter how hard I choked, I couldn't hack it out. Those who professed the name commanded my pity and wrath. As a university professor, I tired of students who seemed to believe that "knowing Jesus" meant knowing little else. Christians in particular were bad readers, always seizing opportunities to insert a Bible verse into a conversation with the same point as a punctuation mark: to end it rather than deepen it.

Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That's what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus, who in paintings looked as powerful as a Breck Shampoo commercial model.

As a professor of English and women's studies, on the track to becoming a tenured radical, I cared about morality, justice, and compassion. Fervent for the worldviews of Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin, I strove to stand with the disempowered. I valued morality. And I probably could have stomached Jesus and his band of warriors if it weren't for how other cultural forces buttressed the Christian Right. Pat Robertson's quip from the 1992 Republican National Convention pushed me over the edge: "Feminism," he sneered, "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." Indeed. The surround sound of Christian dogma comingling with Republican politics demanded my attention.

After my tenure book was published, I used my post to advance the understandable allegiances of a leftist lesbian professor. My life was happy, meaningful, and full. My partner and I shared many vital interests: AIDs activism, children's health and literacy, Golden Retriever rescue, our Unitarian Universalist church, to name a few. Even if you believed the ghost stories promulgated by Robertson and his ilk, it was hard to argue that my partner and I were anything but good citizens and caregivers. The GLBT community values hospitality and applies it with skill, sacrifice, and integrity.

I began researching the Religious Right and their politics of hatred against queers like me. To do this, I would need to read the one book that had, in my estimation, gotten so many people off track: the Bible. While on the lookout for some Bible scholar to aid me in my research, I launched my first attack on the unholy trinity of Jesus, Republican politics, and patriarchy, in the form of an article in the local newspaper about Promise Keepers. It was 1997.

I was a broken mess. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world.
The article generated many rejoinders, so many that I kept a Xerox box on each side of my desk: one for hate mail, one for fan mail. But one letter I received defied my filing system. It was from the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith encouraged me to explore the kind of questions I admire: How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God? Ken didn't argue with my article; rather, he asked me to defend the presuppositions that undergirded it. I didn't know how to respond to it, so I threw it away.

Later that night, I fished it out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk, where it stared at me for a week, confronting me with the worldview divide that demanded a response. As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical materialist worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken's letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it.

Friends with the Enemy

With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen. Oh, I had seen my share of Bible verses on placards at Gay Pride marches. That Christians who mocked me on Gay Pride Day were happy that I and everyone I loved were going to hell was clear as blue sky. That is not what Ken did. He did not mock. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted. My motives at the time were straightforward: Surely this will be good for my research.

Something else happened. Ken and his wife, Floy, and I became friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them. They did not treat me like a blank slate. When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before. His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things. Ken's God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy. And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.

I started reading the Bible. I read the way a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations. At a dinner gathering my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend J cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine. "This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria," she warned.
With tremors, I whispered, "J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?"

J exhaled deeply. "Rosaria," she said, "I was a Presbyterian minister for 15 years. I prayed that God would heal me, but he didn't. If you want, I will pray for you."

I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might. Then, one Sunday morning, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in. The image that came in like waves, of me and everyone I loved suffering in hell, vomited into my consciousness and gripped me in its teeth.

I fought with everything I had.

I did not want this.

I did not ask for this.

I counted the costs. And I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign.

But God's promises rolled in like sets of waves into my world. One Lord's Day, Ken preached on John 7:17: "If anyone wills to do [God's] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine" (NKJV). This verse exposed the quicksand in which my feet were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read books and write about them. I expected that in all areas of life, understanding came before obedience. And I wanted God to show me, on my terms, why homosexuality was a sin. I wanted to be the judge, not one being judged.

But the verse promised understanding after obedience. I wrestled with the question: Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God's point of view, or did I just want to argue with him? I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to obey before I understood. I prayed long into the unfolding of day. When I looked in the mirror, I looked the same. But when I looked into my heart through the lens of the Bible, I wondered, Am I a lesbian, or has this all been a case of mistaken identity? If Jesus could split the world asunder, divide marrow from soul, could he make my true identity prevail? Who am I? Who will God have me to be?

Then, one ordinary day, I came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. In this war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. The church that had been praying for me for years was there. Jesus triumphed. And I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world. I drank, tentatively at first, then passionately, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in private peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, where one calls me "wife" and many call me "mother."

I have not forgotten the blood Jesus surrendered for this life.

And my former life lurks in the edges of my heart, shiny and still like a knife.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant). She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina, where her husband pastors the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham.

All testimonies are inspiring; when a hurting human being realizes the power and lordship of Jesus Christ, the transformation of their heart and mind is just amazing.

We all need saving.

Jesus is that Savior because He is the Lord of All.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Story, Part 2

Christ in the Desert
I saw this in Moscow by Russian painter I.N. Kramskoi (1837-1887)
So while I am reading Donald Miller's fine semi-autobiography, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I got to give a brief introduction to the prophet Isaiah in my Sunday school class and watch the Super Bowl XLVII the following week.

Also, my niece had to be rushed to the hospital for a C-section and, on the same day I found out later, a dear elder friend I know from serving at the Billy Graham Center had a stroke, a godly man I have known for a decade.

I attended the funeral for a pastor dad of a fellow Christian artist and had to buy groceries for my landlady's daughter who is estranged from her husband. It was emotionally exhausting.

It was story after story after story. The ones on paper and on film helped me realize this world is no safe place. We don't expect to avoid trouble and heartbreak, but we do want a positive outcome.

We want to win.

An online bud recently shared how he was teaching his little girl to play role-playing games - she likes Disney Princess characters - to exercise her imagination. He has kept the dice rolling out of it until now as to not confuse her. However, now when she rolls - secretly under the table - she announces that she has a "20" over and over again.

He does not want to hurt her feelings, but he's PRETTY sure she is fudging the rolls.

We want to win.

In giving my intro to Isaiah, the teacher had given me the question "Who is Isaiah?" and 3-4 minutes to speak. He knew there was not much data on Isaiah, and it should not take long.

He forgot my proclivity to expand. I found out a LOT about Isaiah by inference. How the man who was ashamed to see God and humiliated by his sins in Isaiah 6, was bold enough to stand beside his king when Jerusalem was surrounded and declare the utter destruction of the Assyrian king's armies. [2 Kings 19]

He asked me to sit down before I was finished. He was right, of course, but I was humiliated.

We want to win.

We want our stories to come out good every time: that the person we love will live and not die of cancer, that the pastor will live another 20 years, that she will say yes, that he will come home, that your friends will forgive, that your spouse will say "Don't go."

We want to win.

But as Dr. Bruce Banner so aptly says in Marvels' The Avengers, "Yeah... well, I don't always get what I want." His story is so bad, you understand immediately. You empathize.

I will tell you a common secret: here, in this world, you do not always get what you want.

But in Christ you do.

The drama is for now, but not forever.

You and I cannot defeat death. Christ did. You and I cannot heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind - but Christ did.

It is a galactic scale story. Here is just the opening act. Here the effects are only temporary. Here it is a challenge to simply get out of bed some days.

But in Him - and yes, I have felt His power - there is eternity. A story that never ends. In film classes, they say if you are good enough, you can have a very long climax to a film - say fifteen to twenty pages - and no one will be upset. But as soon as the climax is over, end the film.

I think we are living something like that here on Earth.

I also think heaven will be like that - a crazy super-climax. A never-ending stacking of glory upon glory. It just will not end.

The famed C. S. Lewis said something like this, concerning "Aslan's Kingdom" [i.e. heaven] in The Last Battle:

"All [the children's] life in this world and all their adventures... had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning
Chapter One of the Great Story
which no one on earth has read:
which goes on for ever:
in which every chapter is better
than the one before

I can see that happening. With no decay, no evil, no sin, it can be like that. We are promised it will be greater than we can imagine. A story that gets better every day, with each chapter BETTER than the one before?


I hope you make it to Aslan's Kingdom.

I want you to win.