WoB Talk

July 30, 2012

All the Girls in Fairy-Tale Land

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 12:58 am

A while ago, I wrote a post on how fairy-tale heroes, far from being the bland princes who tend to grace Disney animated features, were actually a bunch of murdering bastards hacking and cheating their way through the Other World.  It’s time the womenfolk got their due as well.  Are fairy-tale heroines more Disneyesque than the princes?  Do they typically spend their time languishing, waiting for their princes to come, and singing wistful songs about wanting much more than this provincial life?

Well…the answer to that one is kind of complicated.  The heroines whose exploits were recorded by such personages as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm aren’t necessarily the same heroines rampaging amorally through actual tales of the folk.  Monsieur Perrault was a courtly gentleman whose views of women seem to have been rather strict, despite the fact that he wrote in a tradition shared by many highly intelligent and opinionated ladies who could probably have run intellectual circles around him, singing “Fa la la” all the while.  In Perrault’s small but extremely influential collection of fairy tales, female agency is Bad.  When Little Red Riding Hood is so foolish as to go off and pick some suspiciously metaphorical flowers, she dooms herself to a short future as wolf chow, and the narrative voice chimes in with a chiding comment about silly young ladies who allow themselves to be seduced—I mean eaten—by charming gentlemen—I mean wolves.  Cinderella wins through mostly because she just sits around and lets everyone else do stuff for her.  Bluebeard’s wife makes the colossal mistake of wondering what her husband keeps in that there mysterious room, and she nearly dies for it.  Sure, her husband is a psychopathic serial killer, but as the narrator makes clear, it’s really all her fault for not obeying him in the first place.  Silly Bluebeard’s wife:  if she’d just not unlocked that door, she would have had a long and happy marriage.  But you can’t stop them womens and their terrible curiosity!  Hahahahaha!

The Grimms were less, well, brain-meltingly misogynistic, but they were also recording their stories in an era in which fairy tales were beginning to be considered appropriate mostly for children.  We have this idea of the Grimms as the purveyors of gore, and it’s true they didn’t shrink away from a little light cannibalism, but they did edit out a lot of the sexy bits.  They also played up the moral elements, meaning that their version of Little Red was in trouble not because she was metaphorically in danger of losing her virginity but because she was literally disobeying her mother.  If you disobey your mother in the Land of Grimm, bad things happen.  But since a lot of the Grimms’ stories were told by women and were thus women’s stories featuring girls, what we ended up getting were all these stories in which little girls were rewarded for being obedient.  It wasn’t quite the same kind of passivity as that idolised by Perrault, but it was still passivity.

These are the fairy tales we know now:  the ones in which the ideal woman is Snow White in her coffin or Sleeping Beauty in her castle or Rapunzel in her tower.  There are exceptions, but we tend not to notice them.  A lot of people who read the Grimms’ version of the Cinderella story are surprised to see the protagonist running in and out of pigeon coops to escape a father who goes after her with an axe.  Perrault’s Cinderella has won out over the Grimms’ more active version.

However, if we hop over to England and take a look at the fairy tales of Joseph Jacobs, we see something a bit different.  Jacobs, like the Grimms, was a folklorist; also like the Grimms, he was collecting stories expressly for children.  However, though he undoubtedly did a bit of careful editing, he was more likely than the Grimms to preserve the batshit insanity of his heroines.*  Obedience is less likely to be a driving force in the lives of these girls.  Some of them, such as Molly Whuppie, have as much of a claim to the title of “murdering bastard” as do the heroes.  Others, such as Kate Crackernuts and Cap o’ Rushes, know what needs to be done and damn well go and do it.  Most of them end up married, but to be fair, most of the heroes end up married as well.  Jacobs’s girls are just as liable to be clever or wily or brave or completely mad as his boys are.  Jacobs’s stuff offers only a hint of the material out there; there are many collections that haven’t been edited for children at all.

Disney is no more likely to get anywhere near these girls than it is to tell a story of a boy who isn’t genuinely good at heart and just needs a bit of a push into true heroism.  Brave takes a stab at it, but when all is said and done, Brave is still the story of a princess who learns to listen to the wisdom of her parents.  It would be interesting to see what happened if someone tried to do something filmic with some of the more amoral fairy-tale heroes and heroines.  What if you don’t win through because you’re good and kind and obedient?  What if you win through because you’re lucky and a really good liar?  Some of the heroines are also pretty handy with the murdering, just like the heroes, and they’re not really in it for love.  Winning a husband or a wife is not, in fairy tales, the same thing as falling in love and living happily ever after.  The husband or wife doesn’t even have to be particularly willing.

I get tired of everyone assuming fairy tales are all about morals.  To Hades with morals!  Have you read Perrault’s morals?  They’re all “Don’t get ‘eaten’ by ‘wolves,’ if you know what I mean”** and “Why are you not obeying your murderous husband, silly woman?”*** and “As long as a kid’s wearing pretty enough clothes, all the girls will want him, obviously.”****  And then you go look up the Grimms, who were writing explicitly for children, and you find this story about a woman beheading a small child, framing her own daughter for the murder, and feeding the boy’s flesh to her husband.  Fairy tales are all about stories.  If I want to learn to be good, kind, and obedient, I’ll read sweet little condescending picture books about anthropomorphised turtles.  Hands off my fairy tales, bowdlerisers.  Let their protagonists, male and female alike, stab and con themselves all the way to gloriously undeserved happily ever afters.

*This is somewhat of a simplification.  The Grimms do have some heroines who are batshit insane; they just aren’t as well known.

**”Little Red Riding Hood.”


****”Puss in Boots.”



July 23, 2012

July 23 – August 4, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:27 am

Please read today’s Rant if you haven’t already.  Then go punch Toronto’s weather in the face for me.

The Future of West of Bathurst

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:22 am

This is not going to be an easy post for me to write.  I have been aware for a while that this moment has been coming, but I’m still rather in denial about it.  I know that West of Bathurst may not be the Internet’s most popular comic, but it’s kind of my baby, and I very much enjoy creating it.  Oh, look, I’m crying already.

This is more or less an announcement that the comic, in its current incarnation, probably has about a year left to go.  I’m including all those “more or less”es and “current incarnation”s and “probably”s because I’m not entirely certain how long the GRIPPING CONCLUSION is going to take to write.  The rough plan is for everything to come to a close around and about the fall of 2013, near the point at which the new term begins.  I like it when stories go around in circles, you see.

I’ve always thought of seven years as being the natural length of WoB.  It’s basically a fairy tale, after all (not a Disney fairy tale but a girl-goes-out-into-the-world-to-confront-monsters fairy tale, albeit in a somewhat unexpected form and with the monsters not quite where you think they are).  Every once in a while, I’ve rebelled against this natural length.  Why not have a ten-year comic?  What’s wrong with continuing indefinitely?  But one characteristic of WoB that sometimes attracts readers, sometimes repels them, and sometimes maddens them with helpless rage is that it is a story.  Despite its newspaper-comic-y form, it isn’t really a gag-a-day comic except in the sense that there is, in fact, a gag a day.  It’s just that all the gags are sort of joined together into this monstrously huge storyline that goes on and on and on like Lost or Battlestar Galactica, and it’s still not entirely clear whether the Cylons do have a plan.  And since monstrously huge storylines are still storylines, the impetus is always towards some kind of an ending.  This does sometimes cause problems, as it did with, oh, let’s say Lost and Battlestar Galactica.

At any rate, WoB is going to have to end.  I don’t really want it to, but it wants to.  Like the characters of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, WoB is figuratively screaming, “Get on with it!”  I do kind of see its point.  I’ll therefore attempt to get on with it as best I can, on the understanding that the story will most definitely be ending.

After that…who knows?  I can’t give up comics, so there will be some other project.  My friend House has made a suggestion I like at least as a transitional project to get me through what is, for me, probably going to be quite an extensive grieving period.  House has pointed out that there are many WoB-related gaps that can be filled in in a series of shorter graphic stories.  Characters such as Weird Beard, Kenneth the Porter, Sara, Steve, Basil, Morgan, and Ursula are crying out for their own stories.  Periods of time have been skipped.  And who knows what Evil Marie gets up to on her own when Marie isn’t around?  Maybe even poor neglected Fred will finally get his due.  (If you do not know who Fred is, that’s because he hasn’t really had anything to do since the first couple of weeks of the comic.  He was originally meant to be a major character, but Rahim, who wasn’t, shunted him aside.)

I’ll have to figure all that out over the course of the next year and a bit.  Until then, it’s worth saying that I really appreciate you guys sticking with me all this time.  I know I’ve lost a lot of readers (while gaining some new ones), but that’s how webcomics go.

Tomorrow is West of Bathurst‘s sixth birthday, so stop by for an extra comic panel, a giveaway, and possibly some unnecessary snivelling on my part.  Try not to be distracted by the shiny object.

July 16, 2012

Well, This is Just Completely Ridiculous

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 12:57 am

I would like to ask the weather to go back to Hell.  Clearly, that’s where it has come from.  Is it really necessary for it to be above 30C and humid every freaking day?  I had to get up yesterday at 2:00 a.m. and take a cold shower.  I can honestly say that I’ve never done that before (cold shower, yes:  at 2:00 a.m., no).  People keep saying the temperature will go down in a few days.  Environment Canada claims it will be 34C on Tuesday.  Damn it all to Hades.

On Saturday, I was foolish enough to board the subway without a bottle of water.  When I transferred at Yonge, I found that the train I would otherwise have been on had broken down.  Apparently, the only way for the subway workers to remove this train from the tracks was to tow it all the way to Finch.  As a result, the trains behind the broken train, one of which I was on, kept on stopping for long stretches of time to let the broken train limp halfway across the city.  I was standing for half the ride and probably would have been standing for most of the rest of it if I hadn’t come so close to passing out that I had to hunker down on the floor of the train.  Some nice lady eventually offered me her seat.  I felt as guilty as if I’d been faking it, which I absolutely hadn’t.  This was exactly the second time in my life I had almost fainted on public transit; the first time, I had the flu (which had only made itself apparent earlier that day while I was in class), and I asked someone for her seat.  It was so freaking hot on Saturday that I had the same symptoms I had that one time I caught the flu.

There was a thunderstorm today.  It didn’t help.  Nothing helps.  Everything is hot and sticky and disgusting.  I’m supposed to be marking, but I start getting tired at about 1:00 p.m.  I would like to punch the weather in the face.

Yes, I do realise that 32C “isn’t that bad.”  I know that people from Louisiana are laughing at me right now.  You know what?  I don’t care.  It may be worse in other places, but it’s bad enough here.  I think I need to go stand in the shower for an hour or so.

July 9, 2012

July 9 – 21, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 12:53 am

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Poor Marie.  However, Evil Marie doesn’t seem to have the same problem…

Bravely Done (Now Onward and Upward, Please, Pixar)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 12:50 am

I’ve posted my feelings about Pixar’s seventeen-year run of male protagonists before.  Basic summary:  my love of Pixar and my huge frustration with Pixar’s apparent inability to write female characters who are not relegated to secondary roles have been at war with each other for the last decade or so.  The frustration peaked around about the time of Ratatouille and Up, both of which I adored and both of which could easily–easily–have been written with female leads.  The writers wouldn’t have had to change anything but the pronouns.  As far as I am concerned, the substitution of female characters here wouldn’t have affected the meaning of either film at all, but (as I am sure everybody is tired of hearing me reiterate) we have this maddening way of seeing “male” as the default and “female” as a special category that automatically limits a work to a special audience.

Oh, Pixar, I do love you so.  I appreciate your fresh, innovative, character-driven plots; I delight in the way you surprise me almost every time (the Cars franchise doesn’t count).  I’m just kind of tired of the dudes.  I realise that all of you are dudes, but if you genuinely believe that you are incapable of writing female characters, even though I fail to see why this is the case because women are, in fact, human beings too, you do have the power to hire female writers.  It isn’t hard.  Do you know how many female writers would gnaw off their own limbs to have a chance to work for Pixar?  Would you like my freaking phone number?

At any rate, Pixar has, at long last, produced a film with a female protagonist.  It actually has more than one prominent female character and is probably the second Pixar film to pass the Bechdel Test (with The Incredibles being the first). I recall reading something somewhere on the Internet about men complaining that Brave relegates the male characters to the background.  Welcome to our world, gentlemen.

Brave has been treated quite harshly by critics, who usually fall over themselves to praise Pixar films.*  When I say “treated quite harshly,” I mean that it’s at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes instead of Pixar’s usual twenty kazillion percent.  Personally, I really enjoyed it.  Sure, Pixar has chosen to make its first female protagonist a damn princess.  Sure, the film offers us the tired old “I’m a tomboy who just wants to be as good as a man!” theme.  Yet it manages both these elements well.  Merida is, to my absolute delight, a fallible character who creates her own dilemma and takes the bulk of the film to realise that what has happened is, in fact, her fault.  This may seem a strange thing to be delighted over, but let me explain.

There is a fundamental difference between a “strong person” and a “strong character.”  Some writers and filmmakers set on creating strong female characters–not all, but a good portion–apparently subscribe to the belief that strength is equivalent to an absence of all but the most superficial faults.  Last year, for instance, I read a young-adult novel that I won’t name because I really don’t want to go around slagging it without doing so in a proper review.  The female protagonist is beautiful, kind, and intelligent; she also has magical powers.  A hunky young man is in love with her, and her only fault seems to be that she doesn’t realise this until he spells it out for her.  She ends up in terrible danger through no fault of her own.  Frankly, she’s boring as hell.  I’ve already forgotten her name.  The beauty, kindness, intelligence, and magical powers serve only to make her appear fundamentally unreal.

Merida’s faults seem, at first, a little too typical of a teenage girl as imagined by Hollywood.  However, then they land her in hot water, and instead of instantly learning her lesson and vowing to change, she just keeps on screwing up in the same way.  She’s appealing not because she’s a woman fighting to belong in a man’s world but because she’s an individual, a smart kid who does stupid things sometimes.  Her main conflict is not with some sneering baddie–unlike Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, whose arc is also predicated on a boneheaded choice–but with her mother, who is neither saintly nor villainous but just as stubborn as Merida, and just as in need of a shift in perspective.

Brave is not Pixar’s best film.  It’s less original than many of its predecessors, and it lacks my favourite Pixar ingredient:  those heart-smashing moments of silence in which character development happens without a word being spoken.  However, I can forgive it its lack of originality because it takes its atmosphere from fairy tales, which do not need to be original to be meaningful.  In fact, it’s in the lack of originality that a fairy tale’s meaning is often found.  The familiar motifs of Brave raise echoes, especially in the treatment of otherworldly spaces not as realms of evil (as in some Disney films) but as places in which both danger and knowledge can be found, sometimes simultaneously.  I won’t tell you about my favourite bit player, as that would be a major spoiler, but let’s just say that this bit player does an excellent job of embodying what the Other World means.

All in all, then, I am happy with Brave; I don’t agree with a certain friend of mine who places it just above Cars 2, which he hasn’t seen, on the Pixar spectrum.  I would say it’s quite respectably situated.

Now that Pixar’s got its feet wet, however, I hope it will consider creating a film in which the whole point is not that OH MY GOD, SHE’S A GIRL.  Just give us a character who happens to be female and is allowed, in true Pixar fashion, to be not a type but a unique individual trying to make her way in the world.

*Let us just take it as a given that when I say nice things about Pixar, I am never ever ever including Cars or Cars 2.

July 2, 2012

Productivity is Terrible

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 3:44 am

I notice this every time it happens, and it continues to baffle me:

I am more productive when I have more to do.  I don’t mean I’m more productive at what I should actually be doing; I’m more productive at everything, including work for which I am not being paid.  When deadlines are looming and I am panicking at how much work I have left to complete, I do plenty of work, but I also write thousands of words’ worth of fiction, build up a buffer of comic strips, and even produce a song or two.  I feel guilty about this because I am not working at my “real job” when I’m doing these things, but the truth of the matter is that I need breaks from my “real job” if I’m going to produce anything coherent for it.  As long as I’m working frantically at something, I always eventually return to the course I’m creating, and I probably write a lot more of it every day than I would if I took no real breaks at all.

On the other hand, sometimes I have relatively little to do.  This happens very, very seldom, but it does happen.  These periods are characterised by almost zero productivity.  I could be writing stories or cleaning my apartment or getting ahead in my comic, but it just doesn’t happen.  In fact, I find I am more likely to have a comic buffer when I am bound to produce more comics in a shorter time.

This is all a little bewildering, and it sometimes makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork, but I guess all I can do is accept it and get even busier every time I’m busy.  My brain makes me sad.

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