Thursday, July 04, 2013

Building a Living Fantasy World II

Since this a comic, let’s start with visuals. They are the part that will catch everyone’s attention and it also means that you can give the artist something to work on. This means that you need to make a lot of minor decisions that are going to add up quickly. So let’s go through those decisions.

Era: This is one of the two most important decisions to make right off the bat. An era is defined by a combination of its time, location, and moral outlook. When you decide to emulate the era, you are making a decision as to what people will be dressing , what the architecture will look like, and what beliefs are common among the people of your comic. Examples of decent eras are the Meijing Era of Japan, the Victorian Era of England, and the Pre-Civil War Era of the South. See how each of those phrases evoked a mood just by mentioning them? You can also define your own era, so just you know what makes it work.

 You need to decide which era you are attempting to emulate, even if it’s a combination of eras. The era will define what technology is available, at least in a general sense. It also tends to define the clothing and other stylistic traits. You also need to debate how closely you will follow the era; a historical fiction will follow the era closely, whereas a more magical setting may not follow the era more than accepting its basic. Of special note is “indeterminate tech”, which is ostensibly a medieval setting, but high technology seems to be easily accessible if you know where to look, such as laser rifle disguised as a musket or even some sort of sensing device.

Geography: You have two basic choices here: The first choice is that the entire comic happens in roughly the same kind of geography, such as rolling, forested hills, or a huge desert, or even a large city. This is great if you are making some sort of point about ecology or just want a simpler geography to deal with. At the other extreme is a more realistic geography, which is one that has a number of different zones, such as mountains here, desert there, even some forest and plains; it’s just more interesting, but harder to draw. Keep in mind that even space has its own geography, ranging from asteroid belts to dead space to areas full of plasma.

You can also be a lot more exotic, such as a planet that is a whole tree to one that is a broken up bits of land. Your planet can even be a living being or nothing but sea with maybe a few islands. Have fun with the geography, but be advised that you need to know what makes it special from the beginning with an option explain why it it is the way it is. Just remember to be consistent and you can have all of the fun you want.

These should be two of the first things you worry about. But they are just the first…

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Building a Living Fantasy World I

One of the problems with most fantasy worlds is that they are not places you want to live in. Beyond the usual hygiene issues, the problem is that they were set up in a rush with more worries for literary issues than anything else. Because of this it may help to take a step backwards and look at the world in general.

The first point to look at is whether you need to look at in micro or macro. Looking at the world in macro is a pretty good idea if you are doing something epic or legendary; you need to know how the world works as a whole before you make major changes in it. On the other hand, it helps to look the smaller details if you writing a coming of age story or something personal. If you are looking at in micro, all you need to establish is where the food comes from, what the hierarchy the person needs to worry, and what the person does for a living. It really is that simple, but you will also have limited range of stories to worry about as well.

Let’s look at the micro view for a moment. If you are just interested in a limited story, you need to avoid nobles and any military above the rank of company captain. Nobles do not work for small stories, especially if it’s a fantasy world; they are just too rare and therefore important to how the world works so they cannot be used in small stories. The higher the rank of the noble, the more you need to have a story that uses him. This is why Disney princesses are usually involved in major stories; if you are going to use someone that rare you simply don’t waste that person’s presence in a small story. The same applies to any high-ranking military officer; the scope of their command usually justifies a much greater role. This is not to say you can’t use them in small stories, just realize that it may come off as strange; you wouldn’t send a hero of the realm to go after a small minnow, after all.

You also need to establish where the food comes from. It may sound trivial, but in a medieval environment that will an extremely important detail. Even if it’s just fish or grain it is important to establish that there is a food source. If you don’t, then you establish that there is some sort of famine, and that’s just as important. Either way you establish something important about your environment. You also need to establish what job the characters have as that also adds to environment, especially given the difference between status level when it comes to things like who gets priority when it comes to protection, food, or decent living quarters.

In short, you need to establish just enough that it’s a real world. And this level of detail is required just to make a short story. Imagine the level of detail you’re going to need for something bigger…

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is feminism hurting comics?

The “Women vs. Tropes” video caused a major splash a few weeks ago. The basic question is whether or not video games are serving the interests of women gamers, and the answer was probably not. Whether or not that was a good thing depended on your perspective on the games themselves as the answer got a little complicated. Some of the same basic questions need to be asked when it comes to comics.

Let’s break this down to three issues, as these seem to come up the most: costumes, Women In Refrigerators, and women in second place. Although both men and women are dressed skimpily, our perspective on that changes depending on the gender of the character. With men, it’s a power fantasy, as men like to see powerfully built men and for women it’s because guys like to see scantily clad women. It’s interesting that the choices are based as if gay or female readers don’t exist; I understand the logic, as men are the majority of readers, but it just feels weird. And I definitely understand why the charges of skimpy clothing; there is no way you can convince any intelligent person that some of those costumes (Witchblade, I’m ogling you!) are anything less than exploitive.

However...There’s an interesting problem. Yeah, some costumes are exploitive, but that’s the point; if you’re going to have men use their charm and appearance as their power, you need to allow women to do the same. It’s also representative of a healthy sexuality to dress as the person desires, and we all know men and women that dress to make the most of their charms; that needs to be represented in our heroes as well. We need characters like Vampirella as well as Wonder Woman; some characters dress that way to seduce and others because they are just comfortable that way. Diana dresses that way because it allows her to fight more effectively just as Vampirella dresses that way because she bloody well can; both should be allowed to dress how it works for them.

I just think that women should be allowed to dress as appropriate for the character regardless of political correctness. By placing limitations on women’s wardrobes that we aren’t on men’s places creative limits on illustrators, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. I know it’s weird to argue that running around in skimpy costumes JUST LIKE THE MEN is something that needs to be allowed, but it is something that should be at least debated. Otherwise we’re placing restraints on women that we aren’t on men, and that just doesn’t seem fair.

Women in Refirgerators started off as a decent idea. Originally it was legitimately pointing out that women were being treated unfairly, and that women needed to be treated as more than mere objects. However, somewhere along the way it morphed into a listing of bad things that happened to women. When it did that, it morphed into something completely different; a number of fans asked how that supported women’s rights, especially when men suffered so much more. Sure, you can argue that women are raped, but so are men in the comics; the list of men that were sexually assaulted is not a short one. Even Spiderman was molested as a boy!

Having such a list has an unfortunate side effect: It has a chilling effect on what creators can do with women. Women can no longer be the target of an attack, or it gets listed on the website. As such some of the greatest character scenes would never happened, such as Batgirl becoming Oracle, and some characters, such as Jean Grey are simply impossible. This kind of list limits creators by limiting what they can do with their creations; they cannot do anything really bad to the women characters or it pops on the list and the creators become listed as sexist.

Now, if we had been debating this a decade ago, I would not be arguing that women characters are up there with the guys. I was debating ignoring DC for a moment, but it has the most problems. Wonder Woman needs to have her own movie, period, and they need to have more female lead characters. In an industry full of incredible, deep female characters, where women lead teams, have their own comics, and basically rock even in the movies, DC has so many issues when it comes to its female characters that it needs to debate its hiring practices. I know that there is a dearth of female creators and that definitely needs to change, but DC needs to have more women characters, and it needs to happen ASAP.

Now I’m not saying that feminists need to go back into the woodwork by any stretch; someone needs to start a fire under the collective butts of DC comics. And I agree that there is a lot of work to be done. But at the same time they do need to back off a step, or we’re going to have supers in nothing but committee-approved Victorian dress to insure that nothing ever bad happens to them. At the same time, I think that the gains that have been accomplished need to be strengthened. It’s basic tactics; every so often you need to stop charging down the mine shaft and build up the supports. We also need to find a way to encourage more girls to become writers and illustrators; we don’t have enough and that needs to change. The pressure just needs to be let up a bit.

And is anyone else smiling when you picture Gail Simone literally lighting a fire under the DC execs?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Importance of Fathers In Comics

The running joke in comics is that you can only become a hero when your father has been killed. Surviving fathers can be a royal pain, as any decent Greek or Shakespearian actor can tell you. There will always be generational warfare; it makes for a certain degree of sense. The old must always give way to the new, but it doesn’t mean that the old needs to go meekly into retirement. They can have their plans, and their own young can get the way just as anyone else can. You also have the problem that the young will rebel against the old; they will fight for their rightful place in the sun as they should.

However, sometimes dads and sons get along, and that’s something we need to consider here. You need to look at the occasional father that acts as friend and mentor of his son, just in case it happens. So let’s look at some examples of fathers that did right by their kids.

Jonathan Kent: May as start off with the best. Jonathan had a tough row to hoe; you know that punishing little Clark had to be tough. Nonetheless, through some no-doubt creative parenting, he was able to raise Clark into a responsible citizen of the United States. Jonathan is one of those characters that they did right on a number of levels; he’s not only home-spun but not a hick, and someone you would not mind having a beer, not wine, with. He leads you to the right answer without forcing it, and he has more power over guilt than a Jewish mother. Although he seems to have one of the highest mortality rates of any non-hero (he’s died at least four times), he nonetheless seems to be one of DC’s major presences.

Reed Richards: Although he has a reputation for misogyny thanks to some older comics, Reed is nonetheless a great parent, and not just because he has some of the best toys and he can turn into a slide. The classic issue here is X-Men vs. Fantastic Four #3, where one of his old journals has been found and the team is undergoing an existential crisis. Franklin is having a nightmare, and Reed calms him by giving his rendition of “Saggy-Baggy Elephant” followed by one of the most severe ticklings ever. That he can switch between the analytical scientist and loving father says a lot about the strength of the character.

William Hunter: Most comic book fathers are idealized in one way or another and have great kids; Mr. Hunter is not one of them. Missing an arm, he is a widower and father to Timothy Hunter, greatest mage of his generation. Tim is not the greatest son; he sucks at school, he runs away constantly, and has some issues with authority. However, William still supports him, no matter how weird, and makes sure that Tim always has a room to come home to. Although he isn’t always sure what to do about Tim’s comings and goings, he nonetheless adapts to his son, providing a great base for his adolescent son.

In short, if you want a great father, make sure that he supports his son, that he adapts to his son’s unusual abilities, and that he’s someone you wouldn’t mind having a beer with. It helps if he is the receptacle of wisdom, but he can get away with knowing someone who is. Not all dads need to total jerks with a desire to rule/destroy the universe, but we can discuss those jerks at a later date.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why the Feminist Frequency Sucks For Marketing

One of the problems that any webcomic faces is the conflict between audience and profitability. In essence, the larger the potential audience the greater the potential profitability the webcomic has. By doing anything to limit the audience, you also limit the potential there is for profit. If I target a primarily female audience that means that I limit my potential to half that as much as if I went after everyone.

The bad news is that this means that I also need to keep in mind my operating costs. If my operating costs are relatively small, then I can ignore the profitability of my webcomic and do pretty much anything I want to without worrying about what other people say about the comic. On the other hand if I’m trying to make a profit from the comic, then I need to worry about what the public thinks about my comic, and I need as many people as possible to read the comic.

This is sort of what “Tropes against Women” gets wrong. Gaming is not about making progressive stands to better society; it is not about making a stand for or against something so much as it is about making a profit. In that regard it tends to operate on free market principles; whatever sells is usually what they produce. This means that whatever consumers buy the most of in a particular year will probably find itself being produced more of in the following years. The problem is that women make up less than a quarter of gamers, and developers are more interested in the majority of gamers, producing games for male gamers. Given the millions that it takes to develop games, this makes sense.

However, and contrary to what Sarkeesian thinks, the portrayal of women has improved over time. They have changed from merely the reward at the end of the quest to the motivation for that quest as well as aid along that path. Zelda may get captured, but until that point she proves to be an able ally, sometimes having to choose between her duties as princess and those as Link’s benefactor. At one point she even invents an identity, that of Sheikh, in order to adventure alongside Link. A decade ago she would have been limited to just being the object of the quest; now she is an equal partner, even telling Link what to do.

Obviously I’m not trying to say that things cannot get better, but that it takes a different approach to work. I think that webcomics can benefit from looking at some of Sarkeesian’s points. So I’ll be exploring those points over the next series of colums.