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 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 15: An Author Reading With Kate Story and Suzanne Church

Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church
Hosted by Derek Newman-Stille

Tune in to “Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church” broadcast on Trent Radio and preserved here as an audio file.

Edges are interesting places. They define boundaries and barriers. They occupy the fringes, those unventured places that stretch our ideas of the familiar. They are places of adventure, mystery, and secrets to be discovered… but they are also places of abjection, rejection, places that we ignore and pretend don’t exist.

Fascinating things happen at those tucked away little corners, those shadowy hidden places.

Kate Story and Suzanne Church write from and about those places, people, and ideas on the edge. They cast searchlights into the murky areas that we have made murky because we want the comfort of being away from the edge, at the centre of things. They seek what we deny. Perhaps this is why their fiction often encompasses the queer, the fringe, the abject, the marginalised, the ignored.

Their characters are richly complex, their genres difficult to attach a singular ontology to, and their settings beyond, within, above, other than, beneath, adjacent to, and out of this world. And yet, they speak to this world, offer insights, ask questions of it, and challenge it.

This is edgy fiction, powerful in its ability to break down boundaries and glimpse something beyond the mainstream, something that challenges our preconceptions, our entrenched ideas about the world, and maybe even our comforts.

Edges are interesting places, places on the boundaries of the world where things can be hidden or revealed. So, let’s set aside the normal, disrupt the normative, question what we believe is true, and let ourselves touch the edge.

From Shakespeare’s The Tempest re-written into space and the cosmos to a bestiary about Unicorns to addictive music, to love between a human and a storm deity, to a closet filled with amber tears, this reading bridges the genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and horror… and between hilarity and sorrow. Click below to listen to Kate Story and Suzanne Church share stories from the edges of imagination.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Poster from the Author reading "Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church"

Poster from the Author reading “Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church”

Humour and Subversion

By Derek Newman-Stille

How many people take humour seriously?

Can humour say things that we wouldn’t say in polite society?

Can humour ask us to think about things that we normally wouldn’t?

Humour has a subversive potential. Good authors of humour can wield it as a microscope on society, a lens of the absurd through which we can see how the things that we take for granted as “normal” can actually be quite ridiculous. Humour has historically been something to be wielded by subaltern groups (those people who society’s power structures disempower and devoice). Disempowered groups have often found the power of their voice in humourous critiques (being often forbidden or discourages from voicing their critiques directly).

Humour CAN be subversive, but it can also reinforce social norms and power structures. It has been historically applied both to oppress groups as well as used by those oppressed groups to give themselves as sense of liberation from oppression, to comment on the society that casts them out.

So, why don’t we take humour seriously? The great thing about humour is that it is precisely because it ISN’T taken seriously that allows it to make deeper social comments. Humour contains the potential to mock society, to raise speculative questions about what we consider normal without necessarily producing solutions. Humour and the speculative genres can often work well together, challenging and questioning the barriers of the “real”, the “normal”, the “expected”.

Historically humour has had a place in the speculative genres, those moments of comedy that heighten the emotional experience. It can allow science fiction and fantasy to poke fun at itself, mocking their own tropes to point out that they are being used intentionally and to attract the reader’s attention… but I have always felt that humour speaks best with the horror genre. There is something about fear that evokes those bubbles of laughter, the inability to contain the sustained feeling of terror without our own bodies betraying us, bubbling out awkward giggles or frightened chortles. Humour and horror can mutually support each other. The contrast between these two states of being can push one another into elevated positions – things seem more funny when they are a break from the atmosphere of fear, and things seem more horrifying when terror intrudes on a comic scene.

So can horror and comedy coexist? Can seriousness and mockery speak to each other? As far back as the Ancient Greek world, there was a recognition of the mutual dependency of the tragic and the comic. Ancient Greek tragedies were performed in groups – three tragedies followed by one satyr play. Satyr plays are not the same as satires (a word that derived from them). They were performed with a group of satyrs as the chorus -> complete with fuzzy goat legs and erect phalloi (penises)… and that chorus of satyrs interacted with similar scenes to those of tragedy, but brought in images of heightened sexuality, drunkenness, and general tomfoolery. They were brilliant intrusions into the set of tragedy, into the tragic space, adding a counterpoint to the seriousness of the tragic performance.

Seriousness and humour have been in conversation for a long time, each having something to say to the other, each forming an outlet and expressive space that bursts forth, inserting itself into the world… and yet humour and seriousness are not mutually exclusive. There is something funny about being serious… and something serious about being funny. Emotional experience can be part of a commentary, and emotions can say things that words may not be able to encompass.

Can Con Updates!

Can Con is coming up soon in Ottawa on October 4-6th (and you can find out more about it at http://www.can-con.org/ ). The diversity of activities this year is absolutely amazing with sessions on writing, academic analyses of literature and literary themes, author readings, book launches…. and even a few singing events (seriously!).Canada Day

Prepare for discussions of AI, comics, enhancing creativity, fandom, astronomy, disease, zombies, future technologies, possession, poetry, humour, horror, law, LGBTQ issues, multiculturalism, mystery, publishing, popular music, gender, genre, and YA fiction among many others.

As many of you who follow my blog will note, there are a few special areas of interest of mine in Canadian Speculative Fiction: portrayals of characters and themes of LGBTQ or Queer people, and discourse about disability featuring highly among them. I am particularly excited that I get a chance to talk about both of them at Can Con this year and I hope to see many of you at these panels. Here are the panel descriptions:

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction

How many spaceships are wheelchair accessible? Do office buildings create light shielding for the undead who might be singed by solar exposure? Can my guide dog be a werewolf? Does one need to simply WALK into Mordor… or can one wheel in instead? SF has an interest in the body, whether it is the augmented body of sci fi, the body horror of the gothic, or the magically altered body of fantasy, and it is worth looking at the way disabilities are portrayed in Canadian SF.

Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Tanya Huff, Douglas Smith, and Dominik Parisien

Let’s get Fantastic: LGBTQ or Queer Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction is sexy, but so often TV only shows heteronormative relationships. Canadian SF literature seems to be more willing to portray gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered, and queer-oriented characters. Let’s take a look at gay zombies, sex-changing aliens, lesbian superheroes, bisexual wizards, and other potential queerings of the fantastic.

Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Tanya Huff, and Liz Strange

You can explore all of the panels at http://www.can-con.org/2013/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Can-Con-programming-panel-descriptions-2013.pdf

Check out some of your favorite authors like Robert Sawyer, Tanya Huff, Sandra Kasturi, Chadwick Ginther, Jean-Louis Trudel, Brett Savory, Karen Dudley, Hayden Trenholm, Marie Bilodeau, Violette Malan, Dominik Parisien, Derek Kunsken, Matt Moore, Sean Moreland, Liz Strange, Kate Heartfield, Suzanne Church, Lydia Peever, and many more. This is your chance to meet some really brilliant Canadian Speculative Fiction authors, scholars, and fans and have a chance to ask those questions that have been occupying your minds.

I hope to see you there, and please feel free to come up and chat with me about Speculative Fiction. I always enjoy a chance to have a great conversation about this genre that I love,
Derek Newman-Stille

Interview with James Marshall

An Interview with James Marshall
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of James Marshall

Author photo courtesy of James Marshall

After reading Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, I was fascinated with James Marshall’s different take on the figure of the zombie and his use of the zombie medium to question the zombie-like state of uncritical thought in our society. I appreciate that he was willing to have a conversation about his zombies and about his writing overall to provide some insights into the world he has observed and reflected in a dark, distorted mirror.

James Marshall is the author of Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos (both available from ChiZine publications), and known for his darkly satirical look at society.

Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

James Marshall: I was born and raised in Alberta. I moved to BC after high school. Writing is my passion. I play guitar for fun.

Spec Can: Two of your novels that are out from ChiZine currently feature zombies. What is the appeal of the zombie for you?

James Marshall: I like the zombie because I feel sorry for it at the same time that I fear it.

Spec Can: Why do you think zombies are so popular right now? What is their appeal to our society?

James Marshall: I think there are a number of reasons. People are terrified of dying so the idea of living on, even in a severely diminished capacity, is fascinating. In the age of air travel, the fear of a contagion spreading rapidly seems very real. And a lot of people want to bash out some brains.

Spec Can: In Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, your zombie characters seem to offer a distorted window of our world. In what ways can literature about the zombie offer a critique of society?

James Marshall: The zombie does two things: it consumes and reproduces. It does those things unthinkingly and unfeelingly. That’s a pretty damning indictment of society. The zombie reproduces via infection rather than sex but it’s the same thing.

Spec Can: In Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, the zombies have created an education system that essentially creates the preconditions for kids to become zombies – rote learning, behaviour control, suppression of creativity. What inspired you to look at the education system from this perspective and what would you like to see change?

James Marshall: I’d like to see everything change. I think the whole system needs to be fundamentally rethought. But I don’t think it will be because we’re dealing with such huge numbers.

Spec Can: How can Weird or Dark fiction challenge the status quo and get readers to think outside the box?

James Marshall: I think that by satirizing, we can expose the absurdity of certain ways of thinking.

Spec Can: What can Weird or Dark fiction offer readers that realist fiction can’t?

James Marshall: Zombies. 🙂

Spec Can: Your character Guy Boy Man (from Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos and Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies) advocates for a religion that focuses on ending human suffering. What inspired your exploration of religion?

Cover photo courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo courtesy of ChiZine Publications

James Marshall: Reason. I hope that reason will be popularized someday.

Spec Can: What impact do you hope your novels will have on readers?

James Marshall: I’d be really happy if they just make people laugh and think a little.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?

James Marshall: To learn more about my books, please visit my website www.howtoendhumansuffering.com and to connect with me, please follow me on Twitter @james_marshall or friend me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/authorjamesmarshall

I want to thank  Mr. Marshall for taking the time to answer questions and share his insights with readers. I know many readers are fascinated with Canadian dark fiction and the figure of the zombie in particular, so I am happy that Mr. Marshall was able to provide thought-provoking responses.