Comic Books and the Gender-Fluid Dreams of Children

I came to read comic books rather late in the game of Life. The early 80s world that I was a kid in still had very demarcated gender classifications [you could either say that not much has changed, and yet everything is (finally!) starting to change.] But it was a weird dichotomy. Girls did also seem to have the choice to be tomboys back then, as a way to avoid pink-is-for-girls rubber-stamping.

And the world of comic books and D&D was still very much a boys’ club. Girls were definitely not allowed. Tack onto that that comic books back then weren’t seen as “smart” reading, and the lonely child that I was wanted so very badly to be smart, to be well-liked; to be something, at least.

When I watch Stranger Things, I feel nostalgia and the pangs of loss for a childhood I could have had if there wasn’t so much relentless stress put on kids to conform to external, gender-based classifications and standards of behavior.

So, my decision to expand my reading into the world of comic books was complicated by a huge array with emotions.

Quite a few years ago, I went on a comic-book-buying binge, adding to my very sparse collection that included copies of JTHM and Emily the Strange (to date myself completely!).

I wanted to know what I else I missed out on.

During this shutdown, I finally got the chance to catch up on reading from my piles of magazines and comic books that I had stacked around. (The magazine pile is never-ending, though!) And, I like to read comics. Well, kinda, anyway. I arrived at the realization that I like books better. I love the comic book art, but it’s so visually stimulating for creative-minded, visual-orientated readers like myself that I lose myself in the art and the text takes a backseat.

I’ll clarify that further by saying I like to read certain kinds of comic books. And it wasn’t the comic books I expected to like.

The Sandman comics (which I’d started to read one summer from a collection at a local library in my hometown) were probably a given. The Walking Dead? Maybe. I kinda want to see how the world had originally developed differently than the TV series. (Without giving away too much in case there’s others out there like me that still need to catch up on the series, I think a certain incident with Glenn made this graphic-horror film lover a little—well, you know, if you’ve seen that episode. I haven’t yet been able to pick up where I left off after that episode. Whew.)

If I ever get a stable day job that pays a livable wage, I want to expand my Emily the Strange collection. And fill in the few JTHM comic books that I’m missing. But my all time favourite from the diverse collection I bought? It wasn’t Spiderman, the X-Men, or even the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It was the Tomb Raider comic books. Holy cow, I’m hooked.

So, they’ll go on my shelf next to my (incomplete) Calvin and Hobbes collection and my (also incomplete) MUTTS collection and my Emily the Strange and JTHM.

The worst part of all this was that I while I was reading the Tomb Raider comics, something crawled out of the dark recesses of memory and childhood and whispered something to me.

“Those are girls’ comics.”

 Seriously. That really did happen. Even after all these years, that little voice that had been internalized in my subconscious was still there, judging me, and upholding an unrealized and terribly sexist bias.

That’s how insidious and long-lasting this gender-based conditioning that we slather children with, not only in the home, but in the media, in classrooms/schools, and in society as well. And the courage and the strength of the individuals as they challenge and overcome such invasive and deeply-rooted conditioning? It’s what makes them true superheroes, outside of the ones on the pages of comic books.

And it brings up the deeply troubling and, perhaps, eternal question:

How much of ourselves is what we actually are?

(This is why I endlessly reinvent the standardized school system in my head. It’s the only thing that gets me through the day as a substitute teacher. I imagine an educational process comprised of two-week immersive pod learning that students can “try on” areas of potential interest—everything from writing to marine biology to interior design to being a private detective or an artist or a carpenter and anything else in-between that they want to explore as they figure out who they are in a safe, judgement-free zone.)

Under a “Hunter’s Moon” with Philip Caputo

Book Review: Hunter’s Moon by Philip Caputo

Well, of course, I read his A Rumor of War in history graduate school. So, I was excited to receive a copy of Hunter’s Moon: A Novel in Stories in a giveaway hosted via Goodreads.

Not to stereotype, but I’m pretty sure I’m not Caputo’s target audience. A) I’m vegetarian B) If it were the zombie apocalypse, I’m pretty sure I would starve to death rather than hunt (and eat) one of my beloved animal friends.

But who knows what you would do in that scenario to survive? Maybe I’d be a pretty good hunter and gatherer. Which is why these stories surprised me, in much the same way as if I would become the Darryl (from Walking Dead fame) with his hunting acumen. But, even in my writerly let’s-get-a-story-from-them daydreams, I still can’t imagine shooting an animal.

Because of that, I wanted not to like this story collection.

I’m not even really a fan of general fiction. I’m a genre reader, pretty much these days.

So that’s at least two strikes. The third being that I’m getting more and more women-centric these days–way above and beyond my usual feminist beliefs. Men have had the limelight for long enough in this world.

But the writing won me over. The good old turn-of-the-phrase. Haunting, sparse, compelling me to read on.

And, because, as I’m entering into the confusing swamp of middle age, these stories all had a theme I could relate to.

I don’t know what to call it, really. A loneliness that feels like an old friend. A poignant seeking for something that will not be able to be resolved as long as we’re still sitting in the box called the human condition. A quality that reminds me of the kid that so wanted to be a child of the forest and the wild, instead of living among people, and yet was drawn indoors by the lure of sustenance, or the fear of punishment.

Of being alone, still, among all the other seven billion and counting people on this planet, taking up more and more space. And that it is, in fact, even more lonely for people like me.

It’s a transition that I haven’t come out the other side of yet. But the stories captured in Hunter’s Moon tell me that maybe I don’t have to know, yet. I can just sit with it a while, under the hunter’s moon, until the sun rises on the next part of my life. Or that the moon keeps an eternal watch on this, the end times (sans zombies).

(I received this book via a giveaway hosted by the book’s publisher/author via Goodreads.)

 

 

The Journey Back to Earth

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Whew, finally getting around to reviewing some books for #writingwednesday!

First up, Versions of the Self (poetry) by Christy Birmingham.

Linky links:

Amazon

Goodreads

Christy Birmingham’s When Women Inspire blog: https://whenwomeninspire.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/christybis

Review:

I’ve followed Christy Birmingham’s blog for years, and, likewise, she’s been a strong supporter of mine. I think she was one of, if not the first, who purchased my book of poetry when I self-published (Oh, Createspace, how I miss thee!). But this is the space for honest reviews, and, being an honest, ethical, straight-arrow type, with a healthy dose of blunt forthrightness, here goes my honest review. (Please, stick with me to the end of the review.)
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book, the first time I read through it. I felt somewhat removed from the poems within, and I couldn’t understand why. As a woman, going through what seems a similar journey of self-transformation, why was I feeling unsettled? Why didn’t it grab me straight from the beginning?
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realised what was giving me this sense of disquiet. I spend a lot of time in other realms. The theme of my own poetry book is all about journeys to other worlds. Alternate dimensions, astral travel, tandem dreaming, visits to fairyland–however you want to classify it, it has very little to do with the “real” world. And my short stories reflect more of the same–fantastical, surreal, spooky, and a little escapist (or so I hope!). I spend so much time up here in my head, or a million miles from it, that I’m not very present. I constantly receive gentle instructions to become more grounded, to visualise coming down into my feet. But it’s not a place where I’m most comfortable. I want the deep vastness of space; of the ocean. Of anywhere but here on Earth.
Christy’s poems reflect exactly that sort of grounded earthiness I’m constantly trying to avoid. Being present, being in the moment. Being real, no matter how much it hurts. Or how confusing it is. From my way-out-there, interdimensional traveller perspective, I see her as a very present poet. And I’m also not used to reading that in poetry.
And it’s a necessary, and lovely, stability in the rareness of the feeling her poetry inspires. With each poem brings another block to lay on the foundation under my feet. As a woman, as a denizen of this planet no matter how much I dream myself otherwise, she connects me back to the Earth under my feet; to my own “Version of Self” that connects with lines of her poems.
“Gliding under Water” reminds me of the simplicity of being a young girl in a pool; a time where my sensory experiences were more immediate. Though her work is titled “Versions of the Self,” I see it more as a stripping away of those versions to achieve a strong core, bringing us along with her as she goes back to basics. To having strong roots. And water, ironically, also helps root the reader in a very real, relatable experience of loss and change, in her poem “Within a Few Feet”. We have no choice to be present right along with the poet, because her pain is ours. It’s a pain that, sadly, lies in most women, and maybe the human race in general.
Lastly, she reminds me that it’s okay to be down here, in the muck and mire that is Earth, to “start at the bottom” (from “Bottom of the Waterway”). Because it’s only from there that we will learn to fly.