What About The Ageing Vampire?

What About The Ageing Vampire?

A review of Carolyn Charron’s “Knit One, Purl Two” in Nothing Without Us edited by Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson (Renaissance, 2019).

By Derek Newman-Stille

There’s nothing that says ageing like a vampire, yet vampires are often a personification of eternal youth, so they present a conflicted image of age… and simultaneous youth. For some reason, most vampires in our fiction tend to be involved in relationships with young people. This suggests the idea that the physicality of age and the appearance of age are more important in our society than the experiential knowledge of age. Vampires are rarely in relationships with older adults in the stories told about them, yet they should have more in common with an older adult, having collected many years of experience and knowledge.

In “Knit One, Purl Two” Carolyn Charron writes a tale of an older woman who is in a relationship with a vampire, shifting the trope of the vampire story to one that makes more sense – a relationship based on the common experience of age. Along with adorable scenes of Edmund flinching away from the narrator’s wooden knitting needles, Charron writes a tale of a sexually empowered older woman. Older adults, and older women in particular tend to be de-sexualised as they age. Their sexuality is viewed as transgressive. Disabled ageing women are particularly de-sexualised in our culture. Yet, women tend to hit their sexual peak at around age 40, which, although not very aged, is far later than most popular culture represents. Charron’s protagonist is a grandmother, and is sexually active and sexually empowered in her relationship.

Charron brings attention to the way that disabled sex is often different than able bodied sex, requiring a lot more conversation about what works, what doesn’t, what hurts, and what feels right. She needs position her hip in just the right way to make sure that she enjoys sex and that she doesn’t do damage to her body. Charron tells the reader “He always seemed to know when her pain needed quiet and when to end the silence with a dirty joke, making her groan even while she laughed.” Edmund is portrayed as someone who navigates his lover’s body, checking in with her to ensure that he is pleasing.

Charron challenges dominant images of sexuality that associate it with youth and uses the figure of the vampire to critically question the relationship between ageing and sexuality. Vampires are symbols associated with eternal youth, yet Charron’s vampire is grey haired. He reveals that if he doesn’t bite two or three people per month, he ages. Indeed, her protagonist notes “bent and frail-appearing, she’d thought he was a decade older, but now she had no idea. Vampires were supposed to be young, powerful” and by doing so, she brings attention to the way that her narrative challenges dominant notions of age and youth in the vampire narrative, making room for new possibilities that embrace the sexually charged image of the vampire along with its age.

To find out more about Carolyn Charron, visit http://carolyncharron.blogspot.com

To discover more about Nothing Without Us, visit https://nothingwithoutusanthology.wordpress.com and to buy your own copy, go to Renaissance Press’ website at https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sbp=false

Who Said Unicorns Were Majestic?

Who Said Unicorns Were Majestic?

A review of Katie Shanahan and Steven Shanahan’s Silly Kingdom: A New Steed Indeed (www.sillykingdom.com , 2105)

People frequently portray unicorns as majestic, gentle, caring creatures… but not the Shanahans. In their comic Silly Kingdom: A New Steed Indeed, The Prince becomes obsessed with the fact that a neighbouring prince, Peatrid, manages to have a pet unicorn where The Prince only has the traditional steed of his kingdom… the llama. Obsessed with beating his rival, The Prince heads out with Markus The Kingdom Jester in search of a rare Nocturnal Black Unicorn.

He quickly discovers that his prey is far less gentle than he had assumed… and far more of a trickster herself. In a set of Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner-like attempts to catch the unicorn, The Prince and Markus end up realizing that the unicorn they are searching for has a wicked sense of humour and a lot of attitude.

Like their first Silly Kingdom comic, Katie and Steven Shanahan combine the magical with the hilarious, bringing the reader on a ridiculous adventure into a world of mishaps and magic. In this second comic, the Shanahans focus even more on the visual than they had in their first comic, stepping away from the conversion from radio play to graphic medium and instead getting into the storytelling power of images. They allow the images on the page to tell their own stories, relying on the power of expressive faces to reveal their own internal narrative and set the tone for dialogue that is used.

To find out more about Silly Kingdom: A New Steed Indeed and the work of Katie and Steven Shanahan, visit http://sillykingdom.tumblr.com/about

Wiley, Weird, and Wizardly

Wiley, Weird, and Wizardly

A review of Katie Shanahan and Steven Shanahan’s Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday (www.sillykingdom.com, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

I just got back from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and one of the first things that caught my attention was a short comic by Katie and Sreven Shanahan called Silly Kingdom.

As adorable as it is hilarious, Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday is a tale of the magical in the mundane. It is a story of magical mishaps and jealousy by a 211 year old wizard who is jealous of a jester who performs magic tricks as part of his act. Katie and Steven Shanahan’s playfulness suffuses every page of this short comic involving an overly optimistic princess and a prince who enters far too easily into existential crises. This is a cute, fast paced, and exciting comic that brings humour and the fantastic together.

Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday was originally a radio play that was adapted into graphic form, providing a fascinating view on the process of converting a tale from one format to another. One would think this would create a text-heavy comic, but the Shanahans have been able to adapt the story effectively to graphic novel pacing. The story is as much told by the hyper-expressive facial features and exuberance of movement by the characters as it is by the dialogue.

To discover more about Silly Kingdom: Alengrimrickshaw’s 211th Birthday and about the ongoing work of Katie and Steven Shanahan, go to http://sillykingdom.tumblr.com/about

A Squirrelly Comedy Duo of Doom

A review of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3 (Marvel, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In addition to continuing to be incredibly adorable, Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3 continues to play with narrative in fascinating ways. The comic continues to use elements of commentary at the bottom of each page, playing with the messages given on the comic page itself. It employs twitter feeds as a method of conveying dialogue and interacting with the wider Marvel comics universe (though most of the tweets are directed at Iron Man). This method allows for a different engagement with ideas of speech beyond just the typical speech bubble. Background narratives about characters are provided by cards that Squirrel Girl keeps with her that outline the stories and abilities of various baddies in the Marvel universe, and of course these cards are created by Deadpool to create a connection between these two characters that defy the conventions of superheroes and add a comical meta-narrative to their stories. North and Henderson add on different tech features of storytelling in this narrative by including things like Wikipedia pages and “While You Were Out” notes that allow for a different engagement with narrative, allowing the character to speak to those who aren’t present on the page and will likely not acknowledge these notes. They are an opportunity for the character to engage in a frustrated soliloquy about her experiences.

I am always incredibly impressed by the way that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl achieves her victories through negotiation and conversation rather than the traditional superhero method of “punch until villain is incapacitated or accepts your viewpoint”. For this volume, Squirrel Girl first makes a mistake when encountering a villainous character and attacks him, but later questions his intentions and whether she should have attacked him in the first place. She later revisits an old enemy, Doctor Doom. North and Henderson play with the idea of Doom, exaggerating his narcissistic personality by having him rename everything after himself, creating DOOMipedia, DOOMhenge, and even a programming language that consists of variations on the name Doom. Squirrel Girl’s sense of play comes up against Doom’s utter seriousness in a comedic duo trope of the comedian and the straight man that accentuates the humour of the situation. 

To discover more about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, visit http://marvel.com/comics/characters/1010860/squirrel_girl 

Aw Nuts!!

Aw Nuts!
A review of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 1: Squirrel Power (Marvel Comics, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Rather than creating an origin story for Squirrel Girl in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 1: Squirrel Power, Ryan North and Erica Henderson create a story of Squirrel Girl seeking to create a civilian identity for herself, something challenging to do when you have a tail and squirrel teeth… and even more difficult when your squirrel friends insist on talking to you while you are attempting to have a normal, civilian life at college. 

North and Henderson play with comic book expectations not only by having a reverse origin story, but by having Squirrel Girl create her own theme song (a slight modification of the Spider Man song), having her talk to villains to convince them of better opportunities for them, and this desire to play with genre expectations is highlighted by the small text at the bottom of each page of panels where there is a critique of the panels and choices in them and by the ending of each comic with a series of tweets between Squirrel Girl and her enemies and other heroes. 

Squirrel Girl, despite being preoccupied by the small acts of heroism that enhance people’s lives, keeps getting wrapped up in bigger problems, having to battle villains like Galactus when she really wants to keep other college kids safe from muggers, protect squirrels from animal violence, and deal with bullying. Oh, and of course these battles get in the way of the things she really wants to be doing like going to classes, choosing clubs to belong to, getting to know her roommate, eating nuts, and hanging out with her squirrel sidekick/overlord Tippy.

Squirrel Girl is fun, able to critique the superhero genre while participating in creating it, and is a superhero that people can relate to. With her battle cry of “Let’s get nuts!” and her playful approach to superheroism, Squirrel Girl is a character who can climb into our hearts faster than a squirrel can climb into a bird feeder. 

To find out more about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, visit Marvel Comics at http://marvel.com/comics/series/19750/the_unbeatable_squirrel_girl_2015_-_present

Grey’s SUPERanatomy

Grey’s SUPERanatomy
A review of Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe edited by Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” intertwines the medical drama with the superheroic, creating a commentary on the medicalizing of bodies that differ from a socially created norm. “SUPER” presents the reader as one of a group of doctors who are being led into a facility whose purpose is to deal with medical issues that may arise from superhero bodies. The reader is led through an introduction to the facilities and some of the specific concerns that relate to super bodies. Redekop, although playing with humour and the absurd, also plays with the hyper-real by examining the potential realities of the diverse bodies presented in traditional superhero comics from the problematic digestive issues of a body made of stone, what happens when a super body heals too much and produces new bodies out of every discarded part, and what happens when an elastic body stretches too far. He also invites questions around those issues not explored in comics like what happens when a superhero acquires an STI or how superheroes cope with erectile dysfunction. 

Redekop plays with medicalised rhetoric around disability by instead applying this to superhero bodies, bringing attention to the ways that we socially construct disability as a problem. He uses medical rhetoric like calling people “supercapables” (playing with the term ‘handicapables’) to point at the way that language often is used as a distraction from deeper social discriminations against people with different bodies. He brings attention to the way that rhetoric often replaces real social change and nifty acronyms replace accessibility. Indeed, the facility itself is called SUPER (Sanatorium for the Uberhuman Palliative, Emergency, and Restorative care), playing with the way that medical bureaucracies often apply language to new situations instead of policies of change. Bringing attention to things like palliative care and terms like “restorative”, and “sanitorium”, Redekop focuses the reader on the institutionalization of people with disabilities and the aged. He invites the question of “what happens when we no longer consider different bodies to be USEFUL bodies?”, a question that has occupied disability scholars regarding the representation of disabled bodies as only valuable when perceived as productive. 

Redekop reverses the lens of looking at disability as the Other by also ensuring that the doctors are from traditionally pathologised groups, made up of people who exhibit borderline personality disorders and “near-crippling” social phobias. The doctors would likely be treated as stigmatized people because of their psychological disabilities and be subject to all of the social oppression that other people labelled “mad” would experience. By situating the doctors as people with stigmas, Redekop breaks down the barrier that is arbitrarily created between able-bodied and disabled, or, in this case, between able-bodied and superable-bodied. He portrays the psychological disabilities of these doctors as assets, aiding in their ability to think up new medical treatments. By putting the reader into the position of one of the doctors through the second person narration, Redekop further complicates the portrayal of disability by having the reader occupy a diagnostic position, making the reader the medical authority who is learning about new bodies. 

Combining social critique and questions with his characteristic humour, Corey Redekop wields his words like a scalpel, cutting to the root of complex social questions and operating in a theatre of critical wit.

To find out more about Corey Redekop’s work, visit his website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html 

Graphic (Novel) Sex

A Review of Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick (Image  Comics, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Premised on the idea that when someone orgasms, time stops for them for the moment, Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals needed its graphic format to be as effective as it was. As much as sex can be a textual, ideological experience, it is graphic and the art of this comic shapes its aesthetic engagement with the idea of sex. Along with the beautiful visual quality of creating the scenes of the space after an orgasm (called either The Quiet or Cumworld) which is characterised by sparkling lines of luminescent colour and fluid bands of light, the visual aesthetic of the comic is also shaped by a backdrop filled with sexual humour – posters that are as much pun as porn. Zdarksy and Fraction set out to bring sex as a topic into the area of play, a space for ridiculing anything that takes itself too seriously.

Starting with a girl’s attempts to discover her own sexuality in a world that casts girls into the role of “slut” if they even ask about sex and sexuality and culminating with the discovery that there are sex police, Sex Criminals explores the idea that sexuality is policed and that the culture of shame around sexuality can do harm to our social fabric. Sex Criminals portrays sex as an act of joiusence, a sparkly, beautiful, time-stopping adventure that pushes people out of the realm of mundane, confined reality and into a space between. This space between, that magical liminal space, allows the characters to resist the controls placed on their world and to exist in opposition to social controls. However, even the sex police push boundaries and Zdarsky and Fraction blend cop with kink in a brew of mockery, challenging the idea that there can be an authority on sex or that sex can ever really be policed.

In addition to the humour of this graphic novel, the characters are complex, revealing their own multiplicity and defiance of a singular, easy interpretation. As much as it is a humorous romp through the world of sexuality and ideas of sexual control Sex Criminals is an exploration of loneliness and the desire to find a way to be in The Quiet together, a way to not feel alone after each orgasm. 

To find out more about Toronto comic artist Chip Zdarsky, visit his website at http://stevetastic.com/chip 

To read more about Sex Criminals, visit Image Comics at https://imagecomics.com/comics/series/sex-criminals