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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn
My step-back from the internets ain't going so well, if the list of linkies in my daily journal is to be believed, but on the other hand, I turned on my torch for the first time since May, so today's page is my reward. Emphasis on the my, sorry.
I remember my dad's homophobia, which was based, upon other things, the fear that homosexuals (specifically, gay men) were pedophiles; or at least, a much greater proportion of gays were pedophiles. Predators. That was a big argument, back in the late 80s and 90s. So glad we're done with it. (Mostly: I mean, it's not part of the average discourse the way it used to be, much like, say, “women drivers” still was during my childhood. Progess, however slow.) —Except we're not! Now it's transpeople who are the rapists and child molesters.
Anyway. Today's fridayfugly has to do with transmisogyny, and is unusually congruent in that the intro and page align: I doodled while listening to Lindsey Ellis’ latest, Death of the Author 2 and then followed her link to a trans activist who took the trouble to explain that, yes, actually, sex is socially constructed.
Even I was a bit taken aback the first time I heard that assertion, but it actually makes perfect sense, because while certainly one's chromosomes, oocytes [and/or] spermatozoa, or other markers associated with sex are discrete realities, the language we use to describe them is a bit more slippery. In fact, it's downright sloppy. What we think of as female and male (and, um, come to think, if we were actually logical about those two words, since female is developmentally the default, the oocyte producing/uterus having people should have the ‘male’/default word and the option switched on by the little Y chromosome should have the little ‘fe’ tag stuck on & therefore be the sex class, but I digress...) are not a perfect binary, but rather a bimodal distribution, with a host of edge cases (XXY, XYY, androgen insensitivity, intersex variations, blah, blah, blah who do not fall neatly into one category or the other. No matter how carefully and tightly you define people into female and male some of them will fall outside parameters of being a female or male sexed person. Thus, the language we use is necessarily imprecise, which is how we get to ‘sex is also a social construct.’ Like Newtonian physics, it works most of the time.
But it's not a perfect description of actual, messy reality.
Getting back to the actual topic at hand, Ms Ellis is a person after my own heart: she starts her essay with the admission that she just banged it out, instead of thinking about the script six months first. Oh, ho ho. I never do that (looking at those 5–10 year old essays that I'm still polishing...) Her thesis has to do with JK Rowling's transmisogyny.
In privileging ‘natal women’ (what a dreadful phrase, as if babies give a rat's ass, or are even distinguishable with diapers on) Rowling and her bogey[wo]men fears are, with the power of her platform, actually physically endangering real live women. Trans women. You would think an author whose books promulgated themes of acceptance and inclusion (however problematic, and why yes I certainly did notice all the good women became married mommies and that no one was trans ) would get this, but evidently not. (Please, please, please oh dear Fates, let me not turn into some sort of horrid bigot in my old age...)
Ellis’ argument, ultimately, is that (surprise!) trans women's safety trumps your—my—everyone's needs as a fan to consume Harry Potter. (She doesn't declare from on high that you must do this; only that...it is the right thing to do.) I agree: no more going to Harry Potter movies, or buying books and merch.
Well, that's easy enough.
I only went to the last two because my buddy dragged me. Sure, I liked Newt Scamander (hey, an awkward, probably on-the-spectrum character!); in fact I really liked Queenie Goldstein and Jacob Kowalski too, not least because they were genuinely kind and sweet (& not terribly “speshul” the way Harry was,) though I absolutely loathed the way they (Rowling? the other screenwriter? some asshole, anyway) turned Queenie into ...a rapist? white slaver? something awful, anyway, when she enchanted away Jacob's will in Fantastic Beasts 2 (guess I was too busy being appalled by the racism instead to mention that at the time).
Still, seeing the films wasn't a big deal.
Ellis doesn't address the what I see as the real cost to fans in giving up Potterdom, which is the huge fan community built upon Rowling's infrastructure. That's a lot of love and care and effort to throw out—just one more thing we've lost in these covid times. Certainly, Rowling's direct and most injured targets are the trans people who are the objects of her bigotry; but the fans are taking a lot of collateral damage. Drat you, Rowling.
Ellis’ argument is that the reason it's so particularly difficult to make the case that the author's intentions (outside—or even within the text) can be separated from the work is that Rowling is deeply involved in the Potterverse. (She's not dead yet, Jim!) No argument there. Where I'm pushing back, just a bit, is for the fanfiction exception.
Fanfiction has always been a way for
consumers makers fen to reclaim problematic content. Ellis doesn't directly address (IIRC) in her essay (which was, remember, put together in a hurry) this issue, and I suspect there will be a range of opinions. Which is ok, because the whole point of the argument is that everyone has to draw their own line (& accept other folks’ differently drawn lines.)
Mine, as a trans...um, adjacent? person is that fanfic on the existing material, is a legitimate line. (And honestly, it's probably a bit of a pyrrhic argument, because fandoms tend to die without new material.)
(Why yes, this is just me wrestling with this.)
Nothing like learning a foreign language to drive this home. Frex, cat, a cat, the cat, and the cats all resolve in Japanese/Nihongo to the word spelled in romaji as neko.
I live in the US. I see all the time the ways powerful people can endanger those around them. It's part of the reason USians are dying by the thousands.
Sure, I'm guessing most trans fans are done. But what about the exceptions? Cuz I gotta believe, there are some—a few—at least one—out there.
So, gee, this was a fun weekend. As I mention in the linked page, Frederick Douglass’ famous 4th of July speech is more relevant than ever; Daveed Diggs, from Hamilton, has an updated version. Meanwhile we have all these crappy white people (I do feel sorry for all the kind and good Karens out there) ...being crap.
For my very own personally possibly crappy moment, I would like to push back, ever so gently, upon this article about the linguistics of BIPOC. The activists, understandibly, would like the average (ahem) Karen to take the time and trouble to learn how to use all these various labels—Black, PoC, BIPOC, Indigenous (which I gather is a big no-no in Australia)—with nuance.
Instead of the, ‘just tell me which one is correct, please’. Of course in an ideal world, every one does their due diligence; but I'm reminded that while the Black narrative is finally gaining a little traction, and those of First Americans is actually penetrating, ever so slightly, the mainstream consciousness, there are a lot of marginalized groups out there: the differently abled, the mentally ill, Latin@x, assorted flavours of Queer, fat people, the poor, and no doubt plenty of others who don't immediately come to mind. Plus the one I focus on, women.
Never mind the broader not-so-marginalized groups, such as, say, cyclists or artists or the dark-sky or noise-pollution people. There are a lot of folks and a lot of issues, and my argument is that while people should have a rough idea of important issues, their focus is likely to be on one or a few.
For the rest, I think it's important simply to have a generalizable approach. Is it perfect? Hell no. But I suspect it's a more (sigh) pragmatic approach to progress.
As it happens, I don't really care if Jefferson's memorial is pulled down, as one of his (white) descendants suggests; I think it would be a fine thing to honor Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass (on the Mall); and I'm all for Columbus Day being renamed Indigenous Day; and have no particular qualms over Juneteenth replacing (or being added to) the 4th. I do kinda like that Statue of Liberty, because it's aspirational, and and I want that hope. Hope is important, especially when one's in for the long haul.
One of Douglass’ descendants notes that he's “only 20, and I'm already exhausted” (by this struggle to be treated with the dignity supposedly guaranteed to all USians). Another, the importance of hope. —But that's for the long haul; and right now, it's hot, I'm tired (just watching this struggle) and ...so I suspect at some point I may be taking a break. We'll see.
In the meantime, stay cool.
Hey, might as well continue to clean out some ancient links (i.e. about a decade old—the page I stuck them on dates back to early 2010, how time flies...) Here's a cute one made in 2006 featuring animated typography; youtube obligingly popped another short (from 2010...) about Helvetica that in about 5 seconds or less illustrates why it's so much better than the beautifully named & deeply despised Arial. I thought I had a decent understanding of basic typography history, but I still learned something in this short discussion (not least of which is that I like the older roman typefaces better than the transitional or modern ones...)
One reason I bring all this up is that the doodling has resparked an interest in the related discipline of callig in general and English Roundhand (what is usually called copperplate, just as Black Letter is generally called “Old English”) or its US equivalent, Engrosser's Script, in particular. Zanerian.com has a wealth of good info, as for example these old scans of E.L. Brown's instructions.
My own contribution is a technical pen doodle.
Well, I lost the link for the hand-made trumpet artisan article I'd planned for today, so I'm slotting in this ancient (but still live!) link about the mandelbulb, the 3D version of the mandelbrot. It actually kind of reminds me of...the surface of the 2019 coronavirus. (Mostly, I'm sure, because the underlying math is the same—I find it more than a little fascinating that the same math that makes ripples in sand makes stripes in animals...)
Other links hanging around include this waaaaay-above-my-pay-grade bodyweight workout by Sterling K Brown (whom I've only encountered in Frozen) but came off as a really sweet guy. It's not necessarily the sort of thing you expect for a leading man actor, and I was happy to discover it, ’cuz I need all the faith in humanity restored I can find. And I do actually know at least one person who could do this workout:)
Oddly enough, it was via some weight loss link on Crooked Timber, which rather surprised me, as I typically read the sight for political and cultural essays, such as this extremely kind and gentle open letter (from a trans philosopher) to JK Rowling.
But I think a lot of people are focusing very much on the day to day—eat well, exercise, check up on friends. Try for a bit of humor.
Which is what I'm attempting, here.
Let's get the summary review out of the way first: Doran has been drawing comics for 45 years, and this work shows her clear mastery of the medium. Though she draws in a variety of styles, she's most in her element when her love of elegant line, fabric folds, and elaborate decoration is allowed to shine.
Since this book's style is explicitly a tribute to the turn of the century stained glass artist and illustrator Harry Clark—who also had a love of line, fabric folds and intricate decorative motifs, it's gorgeous. The cover, for which both f2tE and I mistook as a nod to the roughly contemporaneous Erte, is actually a splendid homage to Clark's illustrations, and possibly my favourite image in the work.
Doran mostly eschews panels and gutters, preferring overlapping depictions of the main characters, the nameless protagonist, the king, the prince and Snow, to advance the action, carefully using eh edge of a cloak, or candlestick, or even beautifully rendered strings of drying food, to delineate the action and direct the viewer's eye.
Doran has had a superb grasp of perspective from very early on, and I admit I'd hoped to see some of that here; but she deliberately avoided such concrete spaces in her efforts to capture the interiority of the first person narrative; her anatomy, especially of highly angled heads (a very difficult view to draw) is excellent.
I liked the end matter, including working sketches and explanations of her working process, so much I couldn't even wait to finish the actual story before diving in.
Really, the only quibble I have with the art is the computerized colours; Doran justifiably can take pride in her inking which is so clean you'd never know it was done completely by hand, but her colours (especially the acrylic style painting she experimented with for awhile) have tended to be weaker. The computerized patterns and blends seem over-harsh sometimes.
The story itself is an old-fashoned fairy tale, full of witchery, bloodshed, and sex—if you're familiar with Gaiman's oevre, this should come as no surprise, but it's not a suitable book for young children nor the very squeamish. With that caveat in mind, it's superb. Recommended.
Which is hardly surprising, with such a gifted team.
I first encountered Colleen Doran's art, specifically the early, pencilled version of her life's work, A Distant Soil, as an insert in ElfQuest, and was immediately enchanted. ADS has gone through many, many iterations, and at this point I'm kind of waiting for her to finish the definitive version, and then buy the complete set. In the meantime, when I've stumbled across works including her art (including Orbiter, which so far is my only connection to the controversy I mentioned yesterday) I've bought them (Spiderman) or at least checked them out from the library (Gone to Amerikay). This latter, about Irish immigrants, reflects Doran's interest in her Irish history, in much the same way a mutual influence, Alphonse Mucha, emphasized his connection to the Slav people.
I had always considered Doran's greatest influence to be Erte but in the working sketches section at the back of Snow she mentioned Aubrey Beardsley (also relatively obvious) but in particular Harry Clark, on whose work she based this newest piece.
Although Gaiman is credited with choosing Clark (at least by implication) for the visual inspiration, given the Doran's interest in her Irish heritage, it wouldn't surprise me to learn she made the initial suggestion for the Dublin born (on March 17, no less!) Clark. She mentions it is from this artist's work, not manga, that she became enamoured of large eyes (not to mention calligraphic line work) and even the most cursory study of Clark's illustrations, for fairy tales and horror (Edgar Allen Poe in particular) shows striking similarities to manga.
I can't imagine I haven't stumbled across this guy's stuff before, but like her probably mistook it for Beardsley, or perhaps school of. I'm so pleased to have been given an intro to this guy's work, and though my own is certainly not on that level, I have to admit that today's piece does have a somewhat similar feel.
Part of the reason the middle of last week dropped out was that I accidentally took a vacation from the internet by dint of binging on a bunch of Ring of Fire novels—I started, IIRC with The Ram Rebellion, because it had a woman co-author (& I was pretty sure I'd read the first two years ago) then went back and re-read those, plus a couple of others; then Katherine Addison's delightful Angel of the Crows dropped, and I spent another day or two reading (& re-reading) this wonderful pastiche of Sherlock Holmes re-imagined as an angel.
Why yes, it did start out as a Sherlock wingfic, as the author readily admits in the back of the book; but her editor thought the buying public would also enjoy this kitchen sink fantasy-atmospheric horror novel, and in my case, she was absolutely correct: I found out about the book even before it was promoted on Whatever, and between the fact that Tor put healthily large chunks to sample and the ebook was DRM free, I immediately (had the wizard) [to] purchase(d) it.
This was definitely one of the better adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes mythos I've encountered: the author is not only familiar with the source material, (which she updates with a feminist slant that I deeply appreciated) but also the sensational literature of the era that would've fascinated Holmes himself. I suspect she found the modern emphasis on Sherlock's superhuman powers of observation a bit much, because though still a gifted detective, her interpretation exhibits much less (ahem) godlike powers than are depicted in the BBC show; otoh, as a pushback on Watson's bumbling (especially in the classic b&w films featuring Basil Rathbone) and like the films featuring Jude Law, Watson (charmingly renamed Doyle—and btw their landlady's name is a nice oblique ref to the Lord Peter Wimsy stories) is a true partner, doing nearly as much detecting as Holmes.
So: Holmes’ unearthly (autistic) personality—including the pettiness & vanity that sometimes gets smoothed out—check; the affection for Watson—check; some racist and sexist cleanup—yes please!; supernatural horror—check; and of course an appearance of the Hound from the Hound of the Baskervilles, thank you! I, personally, would've been perfectly happy for Addison to have dug even deeper into the original stories that clearly served as the initial template for her own work—if anything gets short shrift, it's the personalities of the clients which I think more important to the originals than a lot of people realize, though I'll concede not every reader enjoys the ‘detect the variations on a theme of the originals’ game as much I do.
But in return, we get all sorts of imaginative updates, such as those for McMurdo, Toby and the Baker Street Irregulars, all of whom are various fantastical and/or supernatural characters in this update. Doyle also has some interesting secrets, and again, as compensation, we get a lot more backstory on the character's Afghanistan adventures, which, along with Crow (Holmes’) efforts to make a life —really, more like a justification for living—as ‘The Angel of London’.
So if you like fantasy—werewolves, vampires, angels, mechanical 3 headed dogs, real hellhounds:)—plus a host of others, you're in luck. Addison has been writing atmospheric horror for years—check out her The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth (published under her real name, Sarah Monette)—making her well suited to evoke the moody settings of the originals. And for those of you wanting Holmes to pursue Jack the Ripper...well, that's the cherry on top. (However, I think I'd like to put that in a spoilerific second essay.)
With those caveats, highly recommended. I certainly got my 15USD's worth of it.
It was awfully nice to get away from all that sturm und drang that has has been particularly bad here in the USA since the beginning of 2020. I didn't even realize, really, what I was doing while burying myself in stuff that's usually too ...uh...mary-sueish type fanficcy? to tolerate (And the RoF is just that, a union guy's gary-stu-ish fantasy of a dying little West Virginia mining town plopped back into 1600s Germanic princedoms to jump-start USian style democracy...)
Until I came out of it, opened one of my favourite blogs to discover yet another MeToo scandal, to the point that the blogger's wife told him to take an internet break & I to realize why I'd just taken one.
2020 sucks y'all.
Hm. This was supposed to be about Colleen Doran's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's “Snow, Glass, Apples” but is already waaaaaay too long. Next time!
For now, a really old drawing, a bit of fantasy not quite as eerie as Addison's.
Unless otherwise noted, text, image and objects depicted therein copyright 1996--present sylvus tarn.Sylvus Tarn