Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A J.K. Rowling Transphobia Primer (A Good, Old-Fashioned Link List!)

Below is a good, old-fashioned link list of the J.K. Rowling transgender controversy. I built this list for my college students who are reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) as part of a "Coming-of-Age" literature class (they've also read Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, and Steven Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, fyi). When I first started posting on the controversy, it seemed to many like only an intercene fandom happening, but the story has continued to have ramifications for the business prospects of the Harry Potter franchise, to say nothing of the real-world impact on the trans community. For my views, see other posts on this blog. - Donald E. Simpson, PhD.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Books Without Borders: Recent Reviews

Updated January 7, 2021.

Since 2014, I have composed a number of reviews for book editor Tony Norman at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here is a running list of the links (all have been for the P-G, unless otherwise noted):
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January 5, 2021:
Madelyn Roehrig, Andy, Can You Hear Us? Volume 1 (Winter), Andy’s Figments LLC, $39.95 direct from the publisher; $49.95 elsewhere). Art History, Local (Pittsburgh) History, Culture and Society.

August 2, 2020:
Ronald F. Levant and Shana Pryor, The Tough Standard: The Hard Truths About Masculinity and Violence (Oxford University Press, $27.95). Masculinity; Society; Feminism.

Friday, May 22, 2020 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Weekend Magazine):
Ben Katchor,
The Dairy Restaurant (Nextbook/Schocken, $29.95). Cultural History; Judaica; Graphic Novel.


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Clarissa at #100

The Ms. Megaton Man Maxi-Series at the Two-Year Mark 


The Ms. Megaton Man™ Maxi-Series is fast coming upon episode #100, as well as the two-year mark of my posting of a 3000-4000-word chapter online every Friday. I’d like to take moment to reflect on what I’ve learned from the experience so far.
        First, I can’t think of another character in the Megaton Man narrative who could function as the first-person narrator as well as Clarissa James. For one thing, she is a civilian when we meet her, and she occupies a central role among the core cast of characters Trent Phloog (Megaton Man), Stella Starlight (the See-Thru Girl), Secret Agent Preston Percy, Bing Gloom (Yarn Man), Kozmik Kat, and Simon (the son of Megaton Man and the See-Thru Girl). Therefore, the reader can be introduced (or reintroduced, if they read the comics) into the fantastic world a megaheroes through her eyes. Secondly, as a studious student and an impulsive personality with a smart mouth, she has the requisite combination of astute observation, disarming honesty, and sassy impulsiveness to remark on the world of megaheroes with sardonic wit and irreverence.
        No other character could serve this first-person narrator function, nor, I believe, the role of the central protagonist at this point in the Megaton Man universe chronology.
        Trent Phloog, the former Megaton Man, is nowhere near as dim as he was depicted in the original Megaton Man comic books; in the Maxi-Series, he presently works in a used bookstore and even attends classes at the Huron River Community College (the less rigorous academic neighbor Arbor State University). But, while Trent certainly occupies a central position, I felt that he lacked the requisite self-reflection necessary to narrate the story about his world.
        Likewise, Stella Starlight is nowhere near the airhead she was as the See-Thru Girl. Even in the comic books, through the Bizarre Heroes series, she was shown to be sharper than she first let on. In the Maxi-Series, she’s shown to be just as serious a student as Clarissa, and earns her way into a highly competitive graduate program in Conjectural Metaphysics (or whatever I call the program; I’ve changed minds on this several times). But Stella, too, at this point in her life, is blocked for a number of personal reasons, and more importantly lacks the candor and objectivity to function as a good narrator.
        Pamela Jointly, the controversial columnist, would seem the most likely candidate to first-person narrate a story about the real lives of our megaheroes; in fact, in the comics as well as the series, she is writing a book, Megasomething, a fictionalized expose that becomes a bestseller and ultimately a TV show, which in fact prompts Clarissa to respond with her own memoirs. But Pammy is also a professional cynic and a sensationalist, and her perspective on the personal lives of the denizens of Ann Street are therefore highly distorted and commercialized. While we will get glimpses into her writings from time to time, I had no interest in making her version of events the centerpiece of a prose series. Also, in the comics as well as the Maxi-Series, Pammy is only in and out of Ann Arbor and Detroit, and therefore the lives of the other characters, intermittently.
        Secret Agent Preston Percy would also seem a likely choice to serve as a first-person narrator. As Megaton Man’s handler in Megatropolis, he continued to hover over the civilian Phloog-Starlight household on Ann Street and even babysit Simon in both the comics and in the current prose series. As a professional spy, he would certainly have kept copious notes and made objective reports to officials back in Washington replete with sardonic observations. But the idea of a prose series built around such technocratic never appealed to me.
        Still other characters who might plausibly serve as first-person narrators of these events may have the requisite candor and humor but lack a necessary centrality to the main action. Of these, Donna Blank, licensed social worker and the Phantom Jungle Girl, might be the most interesting; but as a Bizarre Hero and something of an outsider to the Megaton Man universe (for reasons that will be further explicated in the Maxi-Series), she is too much on the periphery, at least at the beginning, to tell the story of America’s Extended Nuclear Family. Kozmik Kat, who has played the foil to Clarissa in parts of the Maxi-Series, would be an interesting if unlikely choice as a first-person narrator. But he, too, is also in and out of Ann Arbor and Detroit, and misses witnessing too many events firsthand.
        Of course, there is no reason stories from the Megaton Man narrative need to be told in the first person at all. But right up to the time I jumped into the Maxi-Series, In fact, the idea of using a first-person narrator to tell the story of a universe as far flung as that of Megaton Man and Bizarre Heroes in prose had been unthinkable to me.

The origin of Ms. Megaton Man, from Yarn Man #1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1989).

Also from Yarn Man #1, an ad for a planned Ms. Megaton Man one-shot that never materialized, although the story ideas were used in parts of the Bizarre Heroes series.

        When I began this project in the spring of 2015, I originally contemplated a series of comic books or graphic novels taking place following the original on the original comic books. By 2016, when I decided to attempt prose, I chose the third-person voice. I completed one novel-length manuscript and parts of two others using a third-person narrator. For various reasons, I couldn’t find the right tone, and by the fall of 2018 had set them aside. My thoughts turned to drawing a short, self-contained one-shot comic book and perhaps abandoning prose for the time being.
        Being busy with other things, I made no notes or preparatory sketches, but I knew that the comic book I would have drawn would have featured Ms. Megaton Man. In the retroactive world-building I accomplished between 2015 and 2018, I had identified long stretches of time in which an “untold tale” from Ms. Megaton Man’s early career could take place. As 2019 rolled around, the thought occurred to me to have Clarissa James narrate the stories. Suddenly, the prose series was back on.
        In retrospect, I don’t know why the idea hadn’t occurred to me long before. For all the reasons listed above, Clarissa was the perfect character to narrate these stories. She was also the perfect voice for me, and I believe the perfect entry point for the reader. Her unexpected development in the comics, from mere interlocutor-sidekick to Stella in Megaton Man #4 (June 1985) to full-blown megahero in Megaton Man Meets the Uncategorizable X+Thems #1 (April 1989) made her the emblematic character of my own transition from the parodic Megaton Man comics to the slightly more soberly superheroic Bizarre Heroes series.
        When I first drew Clarissa as Ms. Megaton Man in my sketchbooks in the late eighties, I realized immediately that her more realistic proportions would allow her to function in both humorous and dramatic situations; this was a quality she shared with the Phantom Jungle Girl, a character I developed around the same time. Despite their ridiculous names, both were important in my move away from considering Megaton Man merely a parody of other comics and toward thinking of my imaginative universe as a viable reality in its own right.
        Electing Clarissa as the first-person narrator of the prose stories was not without drawbacks. In the comics, I presented her at first as a studious student, skeptical of megaheroes at all. Later, when she becomes a housemate of Stella, Pammy, and Trent, she is shown as having an impulsive nature, jumping Yarn Man when he appears in order to belatedly lose her virginity. She even shacks up with Yarn Man in the Ann Street basement, which seems to cause her breakout as Ms. Megaton Man.
        After this, in the comics she is shown as a rather randy character with an uninhibited sex life and an unorthodox view on life. A late bloomer who goes through a delayed freshman crisis, Clarissa never behaves within the bounds of proper decorum again, at least in the comics. Although her appearances in Bizarre Heroes are sporadic, she can always be relied upon to blurt out snarky comments, inappropriate remarks, and salacious double entendres, as well as the occasionally explicit swear word. She’s brutally honest while seldom malicious, objective yet thoughtful.
        One challenge for me has been in deciding how far to go in revealing Clarissa’s erotic life. While I know she would just as candid in a diary or a first draft memoir as she would be in conversation, that is not to say should would not be more discreet and demur in a text revised for publication, especially when working with an editor and for the record.
        Our culture, as visually permissive as it has become in the age of internet porn, still maintains a rigid distinction between what can be depicted dramatically in visual media like comics, TV, and film, while it has long been more liberal in text and prose. But that’s not to say that all things can be discussed, least of all by a straight, white male writing under the guise of a bisexual black female, let alone accepted by all readers. In the age of cancel culture, I simply take it for granted that for certain readers I will never be able to overcome this apparent dissonance, even if it could somehow be proven I had gotten the tone exactly right.
        Suffice it to say that at this 100-chapter, two-year, three-volume mark, the Ms. Megaton Man™ Maxi-Series continues to be a work in progress, experimental and certainly a learning experience for me. I hope you are enjoying it and will leave a comment on individual chapters or on my social media. Thanks again for your support!

If you’re on Facebook, please consider joining the Ms. Megaton Man™ Maxi-Series Prose Readers group! See exclusive artwork, read advance previews, and enjoy other special stuff.
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All characters, character names, likenesses, words and pictures on this page are ™ and © Don Simpson 2020, all rights reserved.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Other People’s Plato’s Caves

The Allegory of the Cave is told in Plato’s Republic 514a–520a. Briefly, it says,

In a cave deep underground, a group of prisoners are chained to a bench in such a way that they face a wall. The only light from the tunnel leading up to the surface behind them projects murky shadows on the wall; these shadows the prisoners mistake for substance, reality.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Fans Didn’t Enable Rowling; Success, Ego, and Power Did That.

I watched part of a YouTube video last night in which a longtime Potter fan basically laid out a thesis that fans have progressively enabled Rowling to become a bigot. This is an interest thesis, with some very small, partial truth to it; but it’s naïve—fannishly so, imagining a closer relationship and more influence on the author than fans actually have.

Friday, September 18, 2020

J.K. Rowling, Aging Face of a Zealous and Growing Ignorance Movement

It’s a shame seeing J.K. Rowling become the face of a hate movement, and worse, an anti-intellectual movement of sycophants whose rhetorical tactics (fallacious reasoning) are on the level of snotty seven-year-olds. “Back up your assertions!” they squeal, while liking people with TERF in their handles.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Conan the Uncorrupted: Pure Robert E. Howard, Belatedly

Two books came in the mail today: The Conan Chronicles volumes I and II by Robert E. Howard. Originally published in the UK in the early 2000s, I must have missed their debut. I still can't figure out if there ever were counterpart editions in the United States, but if there were, they have evaded me.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Joanne, Jo, J.K. or Robert: Somebody Help Me Out Here...

This is the second of two parts. Read part one.

It’s okay for Joanne Rowling to write novels under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”; it’s okay for her to obscure her gender using the made-up initials “J.K.” (she has no middle name); it’s okay for her to prefer the masculine-sounding nickname “Jo” over her feminine given name.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

“Who'll Have You, Freak?!”: J.K. Rowling and the Curse of Transphobia

“Who’ll have you” is a hateful putdown the author has used twice in the mouth of one of her most beloved characters and once in her own voice, the last cruelly directed at transgendered persons in the abstract.

by Don Simpson

Last December (2019), just before Christmas, I became aware of a Tweet posted by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, and the brouhaha surrounding it, that has now become famous:

“Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”