Ferreting out Forgotten All-Star

Because I have received multiple requests for a list of all the interviews I’ve done, I figured I should take the time to try and catalog all the times Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox has been talked about in lieu of writing a new blog post for this month. Look for the second entry in my Missing Works mini-series next month!

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking through this list. First off, it is a living document. This means that I will continue to add entries as things come out listing the most recent on top. And second, not everything is included. For example, my radio appearance on Koop’s The Pull List, with the amazing Bryan Spaulding, is no longer available, so it cannot be listed. I also chose not to include the Bleeding Cool published comments Roy Thomas made about my book because they were already made public here. You can read them in my blog post for August 2019. 

In consideration of the fact this was a requested list, I am pinning this at the top of my Twitter feed (@JenniferDeRoss), thus enabling people to do a quick glance whenever they feel the need.

Without further ado…

 

Podcasts/Radio Appearances:

https://www.voicesinmyheadpodcast.com/mobile/e/voices-in-my-head-podcast-episode-345-forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox-with-author-jennifer-deross/

http://frenzymedia.libsyn.com/a-very-frenzy-saturday?tdest_id=667015

https://girthradio.com/podcast/my-summer-lair-featuring-jennifer-deross-forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox/

https://www.kboo.fm/media/75274-live-studio-oregon-koto-kai-interview-jennifer-deross-author-forgotten-all-star

https://www.spreaker.com/user/wordballoon/wbderossongardnerfox0919?autoplay=1

https://playcomics.com/forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox-with-jennifer-deross/

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/comicsinthegoldenage/episodes/2019-08-12T03_00_00-07_00

 

Reviews:

https://geekhardshow.com/2019/11/forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox-by-jennifer-deross-paperback-review/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox/?fbclid=IwAR122t8RPJd-etKirjINzvjzou_9gy-aWyFoIKsydxBfe6KLHm6iUYDTy1A

http://www.comicon.com/2019/10/03/forgotten-all-star-shines-brightly-gardner-foxs-biography-reviewed/

http://www.comicbox.com/index.php/articles/forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox/

http://www.gardnerffox.com/book-review-of-forgotten-all-star-a-biography-of-gardner-fox-by-jennifer-deross/

There are also short reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-All-Star-Biography-Gardner-Fox

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47225570-forgotten-all-star

 

Other Interviews:

https://popculturesquad.com/2019/11/20/with-further-ado-069-the-forgotten-all-star

https://www.archangels.com/articles/Gothic-Genesis.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1JJZ94eSpBwq6XE5jzZc7kwGEg-gDBWqFIxnzjXs0V-pp8fGw11oVPiQY

 

As somebody who has been on the other side of the table, so to speak, I truly appreciate how much work goes into all these interviews and reviews. Every single person involved in the creation process reflected in the linked items above deserves a big thank you.

If you are reading through this and wanting to do something with me yourself, please feel free to reach out! Also, If I missed something, please drop a link to it in the comments and I will add it in.  

With love, allons-y!

signing

Missing Works Part 1: “Vassals of the Lode-Star”

With a canon as large as Gardner Fox’s, I had to put a lot of thought into each work I included in Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox. As such, I thought it would be fun to write some blog posts about the works that didn’t quite make it into the biography.

For the first entry in this new blog series, I am spotlighting one of Fox’s pulp magazine stories.

What I would have talked about:

“Vassals of the Lode-Star” begins with a legend, much like he would do in a large amount of his comic work.  Also similar to his comic work is Fox asserting that Thor’s astral projection isn’t witchcraft, but science. He explains any disbelief as being the same as the way that atoms have always existed despite the fact that the Romans didn’t know they did. (This sounds just like something that a very different Thor would eventually assert.) He also uses the same sort of third-person style he used in “Weirds of the Woodcarver” to introduce the setting along with the same kind of spontaneous traveling between universes and time. Unfortunately, the same distanced and mysterious style that worked for him in the horror tale doesn’t help him here.

The protagonist is an Oregon lumberman and football player who must rescue the princess, learn the secret of the rebel universe, and defeat villains along the way. Surprisingly, most of the latter are androids. Suffice it to say, it is a hodgepodge of science fiction and fantasy. What is probably the most interesting part of this is the fact that the main villain, named Aava, is silica-based, which is the information Thor Masterson needed to defeat him. Fans of Adam Strange, in particular, will find this familiar and it shows that Fox was already thinking through these types of scientifically influenced plot devices.

Another highlight is the way it twists the pulp reader’s expectations of chauvinism. Fox kicks off what is perhaps one of my favorite examples of this kind of twist in Fox’s canon when Thor calls the purple-eyed beauty he encounters “sweet stuff.” First, Fox makes it worse when Thor says that she, “like a woman” ignored all but one thing when she attempts to repeat what he said. However, after that assumption based comment, we learn that she was actually rejecting his sexism and insisting on him calling her by her name: Karola (4). She didn’t even need to know English to recognize the sexist way he was positioning himself. This is then followed by her openly objectifying him while he flushes a little. Even though it does sometimes fall into the very tropes Fox is undermining, the story plays with genre conventions and that moment is key in giving her more agency.

Overall, while the story feels just a little too convenient and doesn’t always make sense (yes, it does include that Viking ship on the cover), there are a lot of concepts Fox would later revisit making it a noteworthy entry.

Why did I want to talk about it?

First off, the protagonist came from the same state I wrote the book in and this formed one of only two connections I found to Oregon. This was something I was tracking because his archive is located here. The other connection is a fan letter written by a University of Oregon “senior of English Literature.” I really wanted to find a reason to bring up that letter given its unique journey, ending where it may have been started. 

Also, showing his growing name recognition, it is an early example of Fox being featured on the cover!

Vassals

Where in the book it would have gone?

That was part of the problem. My first instinct was to write it into Chapter 9 to build on the narrative that Julius Schwartz proved to be just as good of an agent as he was an editor for Gardner Fox, but it didn’t fit there given the chapter’s focus on the censorship that came from the Comics Code Authority. I could have gone back and added it in Chapter 8 where I focused my discussion of his pulp magazine writing, but…

Why it was put on the chopping block?

The biggest reason was that it wasn’t really adding anything new to the throughline. The inclusion of my analysis of “Weirds of the Woodcarver” (1944) was more important given it was the first example of his pulp magazine work and it had already set the stage for my discussion of his science fiction work in the 60s. It didn’t make sense to jump forward in time just to mention another story that would have only been mentioned for its similar stage setting. Also, because Fox had a tendency to return to the same toolbox, I was still able to talk about the same motifs that I found notable in “Vassals of the Lode-Star” without its inclusion.

 

Works Cited:

Fox, Gardner. “Vassals of the Lode-Star.” Planet Stories vol. 3, no. 7, 1947, pp. 5-34.

Increasing Comprehension Through Collaging

In the 90s, I became an avid magazine reader. Looking back, I can see that I was interested in seeing other ways of living and learning about what the general populous cared about. Like many, I was attempting to solidify my own identity within the constellation of various interests available to me as I stepped into the larger world around me. This became a problem because I had trouble recycling the magazines I had already read. I did not want to replicate my father’s behavior. (Because the lack of running water made our bathroom non-functional, my biological father kept his collection of National Geographics in the bathtub. It was full.) The solution came when my grandmother found some three-hole punched collection sleeves. I took them home and cut out the various articles etc. that seemed worth keeping and placed them in a binder. Recently, the binder found its way back into my life when it was found by my step father. It has been a fascinating way of getting to know my teenage self and I’m glad to report that many of my passions then have moved forward with me into my adult life.

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While the strategy worked for awhile, the size requirements soon felt limiting. Slowly but surely, my magazine curating turned to collaging. Over the years, my collaging has grown and developed with me. I now use them as a way of processing the moments or events that feel formative to who I am becoming or seem worth marking as a point in my life worth remembering. My first step in making a collage is skimming through the pages of various kinds of magazines looking for what words or images pop out to me as I think about whatever my current inspiration is. As such, it helps me figure out what I think and how I feel about that current inspiration. For example. The piece set as the featured image was one I made while completing my undergrad. A few of my biggest takeaways from that collage was embracing that I had to sometimes put myself first to succeed academically, learning that it is important to know/accept my limits, and understanding that the best way to learn is by keeping an open and questioning mindset.

This method of processing is hardly unique. One example of a comic creator who engages in this kind of practice is Lynda Barry.  One of the more unique features of One Hundred Demons is the inclusion of scrapbook like collages through which she reconstructs her difficult childhood. Susan Kertley makes the argument that this form allows Barry to challenge perceptions of truth and history by both revealing and concealing her sense of self. Kertley explains: “These shaped and constructed images of Barry’s life focus on girlhood as meditated though her memory and her skills as a writer and an artist, suggesting a vision that stresses an archival record of personal history…” (148). It is almost as if Barry is trying to reconstruct a temporal item, much like my binder, through which she could could have told a narrative representing that time in her life from that time in her life. Barry would start with the drawing of a demon using sumi painting techniques to try and capture the spirit of a particular emotion. From there, she would ask herself many questions to help draw out the most she could from her memories such as: What was going on before that emotion was felt? Who else was there? What were they doing?… Once she felt she had enough archival information from those memories, she would write the comic. Finally, she made collages out of scrapbook like materials featuring items she felt best exemplified the emotion that particular demon represented (152). Barry invites the reader to look at the individual pieces provided in order to form a more complete narrative for each demon than could be told by comic strip alone. Both comics and collages manipulate a juxtaposition of words and pictures to convey a larger meaning that would not be possible if utilizing only one or the other.

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I bring all of this up because I have decided to start a new collage related to my writing of Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox. I am not sure how long it will take, but I will post the final results here. In the meantime, I will also be working on a series of blog posts that will cover some of his comics, short stories, or novels that didn’t make it into the book for various reasons. My goal is to try and get a new blog post out about once a month again. In other words, there’s still a lot more exploring on my horizon.

 

Works Cited:

Kertley, Susan E., “Scrapbooking the Self: “Autobifictionalography” in One Hundred Demons.” Lynda Barry: Girlhood though the Looking Glass. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. 148-178. Print.

 

Supporting a Forgotten All-Star (Featuring Roy Thomas!)

The last few years have brought so much change in my life and I am so very thankful for all of the people who have been there to help me along. With your help, Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox has finally been released out in the world. I am in awe of how many people who have not just supported me but have gone out of their way to spread the word. In four years, I have gone from nervously emailing Roy Thomas for the first time to Robert Venditti, Tom King, John Wesley Shipp, and even Neil Gaiman showing up in my notifications. People have literally put their feet to the pavement for this book. Not only that, the last week has been filled with people excited enough to read about Gardner Fox’s life that they are sharing pictures of #ForgottenAllStar as their copies arrive. My favorite of these so far is the one Aaron Meyers gave me permission to use as the featured image for this post. It feels like the story of Gardner Fox is getting to the right people: the people who care about Gardner Fox getting the attention he deserves.

Of all these people, Roy Thomas has been the biggest advocate and I could never fully express to him just how thankful I am. In a closed Facebook group, he requested John Cimino post the following message and also gave me permission to share it with all of you:

_________________________________________________________________________________

A few years ago, a young woman named Jennifer DeRoss (I believe she was a graduate student at the time) contacted me for advice and information related to work she was doing related to the life and career of Gardner F. Fox. Fox, of course, was an early friend and mentor to me in the comics field… for instance, it was he who gave me the name and address of a young college professor named Dr. Jerry G. Bails in Detroit who had recently purchased his bound volumes of early All-Star Comics (of which Fox had written #3 through #34, to establish DC’s iconic and important Justice Society of America), and who a few years later forwarded editor Julius Schwartz’ invitation to try my hand at an early Elongated Man story for Detective Comics. Far beyond that, Fox was one of the most important comicbook writers ever, part of a pantheon that includes Jerry Siegel and Bills Finger, Everett, and Parker.

Having once nurtured thoughts of myself writing a bio of “Gar” (as Jerry Bails and I used to address him in letters back in the early 1960s), I was as encouraging and helpful to Jennifer as I could be. Now, she has turned her research into Gardner Fox: The Forgotten All-Star, from Pulp Hero Press, the first book ever written about the scripter and co-creator of the Flash, Hawkman (twice!), Dr. Fate, the Justice Society of America, the (Silver Age) Atom, and the Justice League of America–and of various other characters, both at DC and elsewhere–and it’s a very welcome one. Fans of the comics medium, particularly of super-heroes, should embrace it, as well.

Gardner started out as a fantasy and science-fiction fan (and history buff) who became a lawyer. But, by a stoke of luck (for us, as well as for him) a childhood friendship with Vin Sullivan–who later became first the DC editor who made the decisions to publish first Superman, then Batman, then a co-founder of Columbia Comics, and later still of his own company, Magazine Enterprises–led to Fox’s becoming the second writer of Zatara the Master Magician in Action Comics (after the initial story, probably written by originating artist Fred Guardineer), and soon one of the primary writers for the DC-related company All-American Comics, under M.C. Gaines and his editor Sheldon Moldoff. At times it’s not strictly known whether he wrote the first story of a given hero or merely came aboard with the second to point the character in the right direction (such disputes exist with regard to Sandman, Starman, the Face, Skyman, and the cowboy Ghost Rider drawn by Dick Ayers, at the very least); but in any event he became one of the most important and sought-after writers in the field. He also co-created Moon Girl, the attempt by Gaines to re-create the success of his and W.M. Marston’s Wonder Woman at Gaines’ latter-’40s fledgling company, EC Comics. In later years, after he and other veteran writers like Finger, Arnold Drake, et al., were pushed out of DC as that company flailed about trying to catch in a bottle the same kind of lightning Stan Lee had found, Stan and I were happy to give Gardner a sort of safe harbor at Marvel, where he briefly wrote the adventures of Dr. Strange and Red Wolf as well as a number of mystery and fantasy stories before deciding that he was uncomfortable utilizing the “Marvel method” of scripting, and he mostly retired from comics–but continued to write the historical, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery novels that had been his sideline for a number of years.

To partake of Jennifer DeRoss’ bird’s-eye view of the career of Gardner Fox is, in a very real sense, to scan the landscape of the comicbook industry itself, from its super-heroic transformation beginning in the late 1930s through the end of the Silver Age in which he was so crucial and instrumental. Many of today’s comics fans, even those who admire such concepts as Flash, Hawkman, the Atom, Dr. Fate, and the two all-important super-hero groups he co-created, are unaware of his centrality. Jennifer’s fine book is an important first step in remedying that error.

Best wishes,

Roy

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1683902009/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=forgotten+all+star+a+biography+of+gardner+fox&qid=1565457130&s=gateway&sr=8-3

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Thank you all for joining me on this journey. It is an honor to be the one who took that first step in getting Gardner Fox the credit he deserves and I hope many more will soon follow.

 

Coming Soonish: Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox

Hello everybody! I just received the proof copy of Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox!!! In celebration of the moment, I thought I would share another three-panel strip. This one is about the moment, in 2016, when I decided I was going to see this project all the way to the end. Considering the fact that I had only just completed my first term in the Master’s program, I was trepidatious. Thankfully, every time I had the opportunity to work on the biography, I was more and more certain that it was something I needed to see through.

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This is the piece he wrote: https://blogs.uoregon.edu/scua/2016/03/04/pulp-time-machines-flash-creator-gardner-foxs-comics-collection/

I will be deep in the book over the next week making final edits and double checking that everything is how I want it to be. See you all on the other side!!

A Comical Reward: “One Day in Special Collections”

After I realized I had 1,500 followers on Twitter, I put out a poll offering a series of rewards to thank the people who have chosen to join me on this journey. The winning option happened to be a three-panel comic strip and a follower suggested that I make the strip about a moment I discovered something about Gardner Fox that really threw me for a loop. I thought this was a fun challenge, but struggled to come up with something that could be condensed into a three-panel narrative. A day or so later, the perfect idea dawned on me: I would show the day, while I was still researching Gardner Fox’s scrapbook, that the light struck a page I was looking at in a way that revealed something unexpected. I had been looking for academically inclined annotations, but I found something a little more personal instead.

TheHair

Warlocks & Warriors: A Board Game By Gardner Fox

While less known than his superhero work, Fox’s canon contains multiple sword and sorcery tales, from comic stories about Crom the Barbarian to his novels featuring the likes of Kothar and Kyrik. For this post, it is important to mention that Fox also wrote stories about the barbarian warrior named Niall of the Far Travels, found in Dragon magazine, the official Dungeons & Dragons magazine put out by Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). As popular as it is, Dungeons & Dragons was not the only game put out by TSR. When doing research for my biography of the man, I was surprised to learn that Gardner Fox created a board game through the company. Titled Warlocks and Warriors, it is a recognizable part of the Fox canon with its escort mission, locations, and character options. As such, the playing of it allows one to step inside a Foxian sword and sorcery story making it a unique look at how potboiler plot points can be constructed into a narrative.

Released in 1977, it is a fairly simple game on the surface, but there are enough innovations to keep it interesting. Much like Dungeons & Dragons, the events of the game are determined by the rolling of dice. In order to win, the player must be in possession of the princess pawn, after having traveled from the seaport to the castle, and visited each of the four square adventure locations on the map along the way. The accompanying context for this objective is recognizably Fox with its vague similarities to his other works in the genre as well as the comic-friendly alliteration:

“This exciting game enables the players, either as Warlocks or as Warriors, to use magical enchantments and superb swordplay to escort the beautiful princess Sharanna from the seaport to her castle. The King has promised half his kingdom to the one who can successfully return his daughter to him.”

The decision to play as either a Warlock or a Warrior has the biggest impact on the overall gameplay. It is technically not a required part of the game, but I can’t imagine anybody playing without the optional rules because the rules accompanying the differing roles make the game far more interactive and fun. The Warlock may add one spot to their dice when fighting in a duel, but only if the dual takes place on a round space with a star on it. Additionally, they are able to use a spell when they land on a space with a star on it. That means that the player role-playing as a Warlock can make another player to move one, two, or three spaces in any direction. In comparison, during a duel, Warriors can add one spot to their dice total so long as the space on which they are located doesn’t have a star on it, which is the large majority of them. Although I enjoy the cohesiveness of the mechanics and the overall theme in this context, I find the way in which the game’s mechanics mesh with the context of the princess pawn troubling.

pawn

A lot of Gardner Fox’s work is surprisingly progressive when it comes to the treatment of women; however, this game strikes me as rather sexist in multiple ways. Some of this can be understood as an extension of the sexism common within the sword and sorcery genre itself.  That said, this feels more like a lack of thought about how the game mechanics literally objectify the only female-identified pawn, which just happens to be white, a color often symbolizing innocence or purity. Anytime more than one player is on a round space, both players “duel” by rolling the two dice and whoever has the highest number wins. Duels are the only way to seize the princess from another player. Additionally, the game starts with a roll of the two dice, and whoever shows the highest number begins by taking possession of the princess. In short, it is the only pawn that doesn’t represent a player, the players duel to take possession of her, and a player cannot win the game without owning her. Fox’s stories paint the women his heroes rescue as fairly capable and intelligent on their own, but the game leaves no opportunity to show that. There is no hint of consent or agency. None of this is helped by the use of male pronouns throughout the game manual, which was common at the time and supposedly considered gender neutral. 

grr

By far, the most interesting, and enjoyable, part of the game is the ease of narration made possible through the dice rolls prompted by the four square locations: The Lost Dungeon, Ancient Ruins, Demon Maze, and Dragons Lair. As one moves from square location to square location, the results of the dice role inform the way the player views their effectiveness as either a Warlock or Warrior. These results are made up of common plot points that occur in pulp sword and sorcery tales. In other words, The existents, or the actors and settings of the story, are determined by the board, pieces, and game manual; however, the events, or actions and happenings, are randomized and supplemented by the player’s imagination. For an example of how this functions, my youngest son played as a Warrior, but, each time he came to a square space, his dice rolls revealed that he wasn’t the best warrior out there. He wandered lost in the Demon Maze, was “injured by a falling stone” in the Ancient Ruins, and got stuck trying to roll a 7 to defeat the Elemental in The Lost Dungeon. By the time he got to the Dragon’s Lair, we simply didn’t believe “By brilliant swordplay, you force the dragon to retreat.” Many jokes ensued through a combining of the roll of 7 with the roll of 8 or 12, where the dragon is asleep and the player can simply leave the lair. We decided that his “brilliant swordplay” was simply waiting for the dragon to fall asleep, as was made contextually viable from the reading of the other result, and then sneaking into the lair to chop its head off. It can still be considered “brilliant,” but it fit the narrative we had constructed about the character my youngest was playing. I may have purchased this game for research purposes, but this opportunity for creative storytelling has encouraged us to play it more than a few times already.

Overall, even though Warlocks and Warriors wouldn’t be a particularly notable game were it not for its creator, it is still an interesting touchstone from the era where role-playing games were first getting their big start. The more creativity you bring to the game playing experience, the more fun you will have with it. Essentially, the game allows players to step into the boots of heroes like Kothar, Kyrik, or Niall in a somewhat randomized Chose Your Own Adventure-like tale. The way the gameplay functions makes the players of the game designers of their own narrative; therefore, they can themselves become narrative architects just as much as Gardner Fox was when creating the game. Even with the problematic princess mechanic, which is actually quite rewarding if the player ignores its more troubling aspects, it is a fun game. More than that, selling the game put Gardner Fox in the right place, at the right time, for a what-could-have-been story for the ages.

Design Credits:

Game Design: Gardner Fox

Development: Brian Blume and James Ward

Graphics: David Sutherland, Brian Blume, and Gardner Fox.

Ephermal Thoughts

As someone who has done archival work, studied archives in grad school, and uses an archive as my main source for the biography on Gardner Fox I am writing, It’s probably not surprising that I pay attention to seemingly random items most people wouldn’t keep. This behavior started when I was quite young because I would see my mother save these types of things from my childhood in a giant chest in her room. When I left the house at 18, she gifted me a chest of my own and it quickly became the location where I kept items I had personally saved over the years. The saving of these items was a coping mechanism for me. I suffered from a great deal of depression and anxiety because of bullying, as well as other factors, and the items I saved reminded me of better times. They became a way of reminding myself that I could be happy and that there were people in my life that cared about me… even if I didn’t believe it at the time. I still do this and my trunk now has items from my own childhood all the way to a picture youngest son drew last week. Just as my mother would open her trunk and share stories related to items I may or may not remember, I now replicate that action with my boys. It encourages a shared reminiscing that makes us closer as a family. Because these types of items hold such importance in my life, I decided to send out a prompt on my twitter asking what kind of ephemera my followers collect and why they collect those items.

This prompt garnered many responses and also some confusion, so I thought I would start with the definition of ephemera. Going with the experts, The Ephemera Society of America cites Maurice Rickards’ definition of “minor transient documents of everyday life” as their base and acknowledge that the understanding of the term has shifted to include many items that would not normally be included in that definition. That said, the key term remains “transient,” which implies that once these (often) printed items have served their intended function, they were “generally expected to be discarded.” Obviously, this definition is fairly open to interpretation. For me, ephemera is a commonly thrown away object that serves only as a reminder of something from the past. The more important that something from the past is, the more important the object that reminds one of that past something becomes. One of the most common examples are tickets to movies, concerts, and other types shows.

Tickets were included in several responses to my prompt and I admit I keep many of these as well. I keep tickets, playbills, and even promotional flyers from events that were particularly impactful for any given reason. Once again, the bigger the impact the show had on me, the more likely I am to hold on to something related to it. Emotional resonance is a key reason somebody might save an item with multiple people saying that the reason they save things includes remembering a simpler time or the prompting of a sense of positive potential. This certainly mirrors the reason I saved so many things as a child and why I save things from the lectures I attend etc. One of my followers invoked emotionality when he shared that he and his wife built an archive of their relationship through the ephemeral items attached to important moments they have shared.

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This is a beautiful reason to hold on to ephemeral objects and something that was once much more common. I admit that one of the objects in the featured image comes from a box related to a recent relationship in my life. Similarly, I have a scrapbook I made as a teen containing letters, photos, and other ephemeral items like sketches and poems etc. in my trunk that represent the friends I finally made in high school. 

Another common response included comics of many kinds. A particular favorite of mine was clippings of comics strips. This touched me because I lived outside of newspaper delivery as a young child, but I still got to read the funnies because my grandmother was a big fan and would clip out her favorite strips and send them to me via mail. I kept many of them and still work strips into my life by putting them on my fridge and in my office etc. 

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Considering the fact that I stick to comics twitter, it isn’t surprising that most of the comments were related to comics. What was surprising is that the conversation brought a new light to the subject I had not considered before. A couple of people brought up the idea that comics themselves could be considered ephemeral. If we look at the definition provided above, it seems pretty clear that older comics very much could be considered ephemera. Even the creators saw them as something to be read and then thrown away. Additionally, they most certainly trigger positive memories and that remains a primary reason so many people collect them.

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I agree that comics can no longer be considered ephemera as we now see their value and purchase them because of that value, but we can still see examples of ephemera within them. A shorthand way of telling us a lot about a character is the inclusion of ephemeral items in the background. Examples of this include everything from a fashion magazine left on Hawkgirl’s bed in the Golden Age to the protest sign propped up against Alison Bechdel’s dorm room wall in the more modern Fun Home. Readers can derive a lot of information from the through lines presented in these items because we know what those types of items represent in our own lives. They show us what kinds of activities characters enjoy and a semblance of what their life might be like. In short, it is a way of nonverbally characterizing them. Real or not, our lives are surrounded by ephemeral objects and their impact remains the same regardless.

The final topic that was raised calls this certainty into question. We are very much moving into a digital age where paper is being used less and less. This means that tickets and the like are now regularly purchased online, thus having physical evidence of said purchases require an extra step. Receipts are often texted instead of printed and even bags are disappearing as we necessarily move away from plastics. These changes are indeed needed for environmental reasons while the reduction of ephemera is simply an unfortunate consequence. This shift makes comments about items people wish they had kept feel particularly relevant. I was wondering if we were witnessing the end of an era by the end of this twitter conversation, but then something happened. My family and I went on vacation up in a Washington tourist town and I was handed a bit of ephemera after making a purchase. As expected, this is now in my big red trunk where it will remind me of the fun me and my boys had together playing with all the old nickel and dime machines in this strange little store/museum this summer.

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Perhaps, instead of completely disappearing, ephemera will simply be relegated to a charming callback to the past. In the end, ephemera may just end up ephemeral.

 

Works Cited:

http://www.ephemerasociety.org/def.html

To read the original prompt along with responses from those like TwoMorrows Publishing writer Doug Zawisza and leader of Sirens of Sequentials CJ Pendragon: 

https://twitter.com/JenniferDeRoss/status/1024059095089729536

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My Segue from Comic Crusaders to the Sirens of Sequentials

I was going to write an entry exploring ephemera based on my twitter prompt, but some recent online events have happened that I wanted to talk about in a more expanded form.

When I first started doing comic reviews, it was fun. It was a mini vacation from writing my book and an opportunity to get a quick sense of accomplishment. For the last several weeks, those positive feelings have been stripped away and replaced with stress. It seems like every day there has been some new revelation that made me question how much I wanted to be associated with the team I was once appreciative to be a part of. This is a real shame considering the last piece I wrote for Comic Crusaders was the one I cared most about and the closest I got to in field work while writing for them.

https://www.comiccrusaders.com/review-moving-target-the-history-and-evolution-of-green-arrow/

The analytical skill I brought in my reviews garnered considerable praise from creators; and, as the American superhero was the focus of my Masters’ degree, Richard Gray’s book finally gave me the opportunity to put my academic training to use. In contrast, however, I increasingly felt like I was being censored and punished for my informed insights in chat discussions. Like many of the women who used to be on the team, I was often made to feel like nothing more than a troublemaker. I truly do not want to bash the company and I still care for several members on it, but the drama therein has already spilled out onto the world wide web several times with one person even making a podcast where he blamed the lack of a new episode on a female team member, by name, because she expressed discomfort with the misogyny in the book we were supposed to all be reading. By the time the intentionally misleading and incendiary column regarding Gen Con was mistakenly published, I was already wanting to take a step back. The resulting response columns and backlash gave me further pause. Then, I was offered the position of Assistant Editor in Chief where I could prevent something like that from happening again. The fact that the articles were eventually taken down gave me hope that I could help turn things around, so I accepted the position. That said, I made the decision to not write any more reviews for Comic Crusaders because I didn’t want my writing to be associated with that kind of rhetoric.

In spite of my anxieties, I quickly threw myself into doing all I could in order to get the company get back on its feet: I suggested creating a mission statement that would inform the content the site would provide; I was set to help a teammate draft a contract new members would have to sign; it was even suggested by another teammate that I serve as an admin to cut off volatile comments before they escalated into conflict on the group chat. I really did try. Then, a member suggested that I invite a friend of mine to do a podcast, and I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to do something that I myself would not do given the still current circumstances. I told her that it would be a cool opportunity, but waiting might be wise. For protecting my friend, I found myself, once again, in trouble with the group after I shared that information in the interest of full transparency. This is when I was kicked off the team, which is what happened to the majority of their other female members. I told the owner that it seemed like an overreaction and he privately told me he needed a few days to think. All things considered though, I don’t think Comic Crusaders is the place for me. Clearly, what I had to offer the team and what the team actually wants are two different things. I still am thankful for the platform Comic Crusaders gave me and I really do hope to see them rise above all this. I just know that I personally can’t be a part of it anymore. Thankfully, as one door was closing, another had already opened.

I know for a fact that other groups have suffered from the same problems Comic Crusaders recently experienced, but it doesn’t have to be this way. In the Sirens of Sequentials, I see a refuge from the toxicity that has become so prevalent in the comics community. Every member is able to bring something unique to the table and that is honored and respected. We make decisions as a group and those decisions are centered around us doing things we want to do based on our skills, connections, occupations, etc. We are a small group, but I am proud to be a member. One of the things that we are doing to inject a little more positivity into the battle for awareness is spotlighting the many women and minorities who are working in various different parts of the industry. We are also engaged in showing how, even though character creation and stories haven’t always had our readership in mind, geeky girls have been around since the beginning. I know this one personally as my grandma is the one who got me into comics in the first place. We are not going away. This media is ours too and our team is filled with intelligent powerful women who are not afraid to read against or across the grain. If you want to join our cause or have materials you would like us to promote please feel free to reach out. We are predominately female but are looking to grow and want to highlight diversity in all forms. Together, we are only going to sing our siren songs louder.

In sum, when it comes to reviewing, I have found my happy place again. I just had to move to a new company to do it. Apologies to all who were waiting on my ephemera entry to post. Look out for that next month! 

An Exploration of Extremes in Comic Form

 

A number of years ago, I was given the assignment to either write an essay or a comic that explored topics related to the modern American superhero. I am far from an artist, but this was not the first comic I had done as I have a long history of taking on more complicated and experimental options when it comes to final projects. The main jumping off point for me was the question: what would our heroes look like if taken to their extremes in relation to the way they function within society. I decided that the first thing to do was to make the society itself extreme in a way that these traits would be drawn out. With this in mind, the setting quickly became a nice neighborhood being impacted by a long term zombie-like monster breakout. From there, I created a Batman-like character, who was focused on eliminating the threat and doing whatever he felt would be necessary to further that goal on an individual level. In contrast to this, I created a Wonder Woman like character, who was focused on creating an egalitarian society through the rebuilding of a community. There are many influences that can be seen including manga and horror comic aesthetics along with the consideration of how some of these key questions have already been explored in superhero comics. I don’t want to spoil the end, but suffice it to say that I decided neither group would have the skills needed to deal with the other’s societal positioning when the society itself was so broken; the Wonder Woman-like character’s community was unprepared for the Batman-like character’s methodology and the Batman-like character methods are not sufficient enough to serve his ultimate goal.

While I normally just write about comics, making comics has been very beneficial to me because it has helped me develop a better grasp of what each creator must consider and the way that each person’s work impacts the final product. I thought I would share this short self-made comic not only because it is a fun departure from my normal blog posts, but also because it shows another way that comics can be used in an educational manner. Enjoy!

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