Posts Tagged "tansy rayner roberts"

Fantasy Art, Fishnets, and Red Sonja’s Chainmail Bikini

by on Aug 6, 2013 in Nonfiction | 2 comments

I have some complicated thoughts about fishnet tights. Specifically, I have some complicated thoughts about fantasy art, fishnets, and Red Sonja’s chainmail bikini. I’ve devoted a lot of energy over the years to the analysis of women in comics, especially superhero comics, which I love. I’ve looked at Wonder Woman’s lack of bra straps, and asked the hard questions about why exactly the teenage Supergirl has to have quite such a short skirt as she flies over the Metropolis skies. As a feminist, a comics fan and a historian, however, I will defend Black Canary’s fishnet tights to the death. So will Gail Simone. Simone’s fresh take on iconic fantasy heroine Red Sonja launched recently, with a whole lot of buzz and the support of some amazing female guest artists on covers. This version of Red Sonja wears the same tiny chainmail bikini she always has — but that doesn’t mean she’s not capable of cutting your face off in the middle of battle, or staring you down until you run terrified off the nearest cliff.   “I get why it upsets some people, there’s a long tradition of sexist costumes and bullshit going back to the end of time in comics. But, I don’t know, to me, it’s a bit like Canary’s fishnets, which I defend forever. To me, it makes some sense for Sonja. She wears what she damn well pleases and couldn’t care less what you think about it. Conan wears less. The comics versions of Howard’s barbarian characters barely wear clothes at all. Their core concept is freedom, a hatred of being encumbered. They’re barbarians, not knights.” Gail Simone, interviewed by DC Women Kicking Ass   Black Canary’s fishnets are a great example of the Fantasy Art Problem, and indeed the Comic Book Art Problem, when it comes to women. Black Canary was designed in the 1940s, and her original fishnets didn’t look remotely kinky — they were a hash pattern over what looked like thick blue leggings. On the page, they didn’t look any sillier than Wonder Woman’s skirt, or Batgirl’s suit.   Art by Ed Benes, Artwork for the cover of Birds of Prey #79 (Apr, 2005)   However, artists started getting more “mature” in the 80s, and Dinah’s fishnets never quite recovered from the emphasis on the stripper/porn implications of her costume. DC tried to change her outfit a few times but the problem is, without the fishnets, she doesn’t actually look like Black Canary. This awkward balance between acknowledging the history of female characters, and addressing the sexist problems with that history without making that history disappear altogether, is constantly with us in characters that have longevity. You can’t put Tarzan or Conan in blue jeans without radically changing their characters. You can’t have Bruce Wayne fighting with his face showing. It’s not a coincidence, though, that when it comes to male characters that have been around for decades, the essential elements of their physical character are rarely about how sexually appealing they look to male readers. And in the case of female characters… well, it’s hard to escape. In the same week that Red Sonja #1 debuted, there was another announcement around the character: Gail Simone is putting together a major anthology of short comics called Red Sonja: Legends. This will feature work by an array of mostly female writers and artists including Tamora Pierce, Marjorie M. Liu, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Nicola Scott, Mercedes Lackey, Rhianna Pratchett and Devin Grayson. Many of these writers and artists are known for their credible and thoughtful portrayal of female characters — with Rhianna Pratchett’s work on Lara Croft and Tomb Raider another recent example of giving character, depth and respect to a female character that has often been seen as a sex object. This is where I stop myself, because — actually, that’s unfair. Just because a lot of people used to make crude jokes about Lara Croft’s boobs doesn’t mean she wasn’t pretty awesome in the early Tomb Raider games. I loved those games. She was dressed practically, she was good at...

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The Patrician

by on Jan 1, 2013 in Short Fiction | 1 comment

Clea Majora walked through the hot streets of Nova Ostia, her sandalled feet lightly treading on the wide, baked, paving stones. She bought a honey cake from a pastry stall and nibbled it as she walked, using the vine leaf wrapper to catch the crumbs. At the wall, a couple of boys she knew from school were playing a covert game of soccer, and called for her to join them, but she waved and kept walking. It was too hot for games, and besides, she had her own plans for her lunch hour. Outside the stifling confines of the city, she kept walking until she came to her favourite gum tree. She unpinned her stola so that it folded underneath her when she sat down on the rough ground, and slid in the earbuds of her iPod. For a blissful forty minutes, she listened to music, and a podcast about movies she would never get to see. The rest of the world existed, out there, and she liked the reminder of that. Clea did not see the stranger until he was almost on top of her. She was startled when he tripped on a root nearby, and stared at her as she yanked out her earbuds. “I’m sorry!” he exclaimed. “No, I’m sorry!” Quickly, Clea fastened her stola back up so that it covered the front of the Gladiators Do It in the Arena T-shirt she had borrowed from her brother that morning. “I’m not supposed to be here,” she confessed. “Not during daylight. Are you a tourist?” “Yes,” said the stranger in a cultivated, I-was-not-born-speaking-English kind of accent. “I suppose that I am. Are we near Nova Ostia? I lost my way.” Tourists always came to the city by train or by coach, but were asked to walk the ten-minute hike up the sloped road so that they entered the city without the ease of modern transport. Clea recognised the factory-produced tourist toga and tunic as one from Roman Road Tours. This man must have wandered away from his group. “You shouldn’t wander off-road,” she said accusingly. “This is Australia, the bush can be dangerous.” She should tell him about drop bears. That would serve him right. She was resentful of losing the last fifteen minutes of her lunch hour. “Come on, I’ll take you.” He wore a hat, at least. Many tourists refused, wanting the full “authenticity” of the Roman experience, only to appear at the city gates bright red like crayfish. The city was built with shaded streets to keep the Australian sun away from bare arms and bald pates, but that ten-minute walk could do a lot of damage. The visitor wore a broad-brimmed woven straw hat, not a design Clea recognised from Roman Road Tours. His hands were blistered from their moments in the sun, but the rest of him was a paler, European colour. Clea dropped into the usual tourist spiel, about how a replica Roman city had come to be built in New South Wales, though it wasn’t really a replica, but a combination of several Roman towns. She added the part about real stone from Ostia and Herculaneum having been shipped over as part of the building process. “Yes,” said the visitor with a sigh. “I wish you hadn’t done that.” Still, he seemed interested enough, and stopped to peer at the triumphal arch that served as the city’s gateway. The soccer boys were gone, probably yelled at by one of the merchants. The worst crime in Nova Ostia was to be inauthentic where the punters might see. “Would you like to wait for your tour group?” Clea asked politely. “Or some refreshment, perhaps?” She would be late getting back to the thermopolium at this rate, and it would look better if she brought a customer with her. The stranger’s eyes were fixed upon the wall of the Temple of Vesta, and it was as if he had already forgotten she existed. “Thank you,” he said absently. “But I travel alone.” * * * * Clea dreamed of snakes, of women...

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Girl Meets House: Kitchen Sinks, Joanna Russ and the Female Gothic

by on Jun 5, 2012 in Nonfiction | 2 comments

By Tansy Rayner Roberts It’s not just me, right?  The Gothic novel is ripe for a comeback.  This particular sub-genre has been creeping into my subconscious for some time, and not just because I accidentally went to a lecture the other month on the Female Gothic in Film, which quoted Joanna Russ and made me squee like the fan girl I am. Joanna Russ might be the Prime Minister (I’m not going to say queen) of feminist science fiction and literary criticism, but the first piece of her non-fiction that changed the way I look at the world wasn’t How To Suppress Women’s Writing at all.  It was Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me and I Think it’s My Husband: the Modern Gothic. (1970) Before I read this article, I had no idea what a gothic novel was.  But it intrigued me. “In addition to the Heroine’s other troubles, she gradually becomes aware that somewhere in the tangle of oppressive family relationships going on in the House exists a Buried Ominous Secret, always connected with the Other Woman and the Super-Male (whatever relation they happen to bear to one another in the novel).  The Super-Male is at the centre of the Secret; when she unravels the mystery about him (does he love her or is he a threat to her?) she will simultaneously get to the bottom of the Secret.  Then the plot thickens…” –Joanna Russ, Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me. Gothic novels were the original trashy read.  They were books built to be despised, and oh boy, were they despised.  Possibly the most famous literary interrogation of the genre is Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, though as Jo Walton pointed out here, Jane Austen didn’t read the genre herself, merely parodied what it was in the mouths of her characters.  Thus continuing an essential literary tradition of people who don’t like a genre managing somehow to create a public definition of that genre.  (A phenomenon with which horror, science fiction and fantasy readers should be well familiar)  On the one hand, Northanger Abbey kept Mrs Radcliffe’s novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, from being forgotten, but on the other hand, it completely cemented the Gothic tradition as a silly genre of books read by silly girls. And there’s another spark of familiarity.  Because “silly books featuring silly girls” (and read by even sillier girls, so many of them, that’s a bit of a worry) pretty much characterises how the Twilight fandom and, more recently, the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon are portrayed by people who don’t like or read those books.  After realising how much I don’t like the methods used to denigrate women as readers (and writers, and characters) in so much of the criticism surrounding Twilight, I find myself paying much sharper attention to other books that are dismissed for similar reasons. I don’t have to like those books to defend them.  But neither do I want to automatically assume I won’t like them simply because many, many women are reading and enjoying them.  I’m far more interested in prodding said books with a stick to find out why. “The Modern Gothics are neither love stories nor stories of women-as-victims.  They are adventure stories with passive protagonists.” –Joanna Russ, Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me. Joanna Russ is brilliant at a form of criticism I particularly enjoy: she is able to appreciate something for what it is and point out its cleverness and/or value while, at the same time, making fun of it.  Her point about the passivity of the Gothic heroines, and the appeal of that to so many (especially female) readers, is a concept that seems quite confronting today. Labelling a female character as passive in 2012 is generally taken as a literary insult akin to “get back in your kitchen and make me a sandwich.” But books as well as audiences have changed a great deal since Russ was writing about “modern” Gothics in the 1970’s.  Given how much science fiction, fantasy and romance have all developed as genres in those four decades, what might the truly modern 21st century Gothic look like?  And would it be...

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The Australian Dark Weird

by on Nov 1, 2011 in Nonfiction | 4 comments

By Tansy Rayner Roberts Australians. They’re generally happy people, right? Beer, sunshine and prawns. Happy people in shorts, sunnies and thongs (it’s a kind of footwear, honestly!) Nothing sinister about that. And yet Australia has produced some of the darkest and weirdest speculative fiction of recent years. Authors like Margo Lanagan and Garth Nix have brought their particular brand of weirdness to a vast international audience. Veteran storytellers like Richard Harland and Robert Hood have been constructing Australian horror, not only in stories for adults, but also for children and teenagers. Hard on their heels we have a whole generation of short story writers graduating to novellas and novels, or selling stories into the professional SF and horror scene. Dark stories. Sinister stories. Strange stories. Australia might have warm weather and a reputation for a relaxed, “no worries” attitude, but we also have a long tradition of dark, Gothic literature and a deeply uncomfortable relationship with our own history and surroundings. This is a country, after all, full of snakes and spiders, a country where people sometimes walk into the bush and never return. Deborah Biancotti, author of the short story collection A Book Of Endings, wrote an online essay last year in which she admitted a hatred and fear of the Australian landscape: “The sweaty, swollen rainforests that threaten, in my memory, to tip into the thin wedge of playgrounds. The vast brownness of some places, the spindly silver trees, the ungenerous scrub by the sides of roads, wild grasses that whip the edges of beaches. Strange powers control those spaces. Indifferent powers. Wind alone doesn’t describe the movement.” [poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com/2010/03/land-waits.html] This idea resonated with many readers, who provided a variety of responses: some were indignant at the idea that the land was in some way “out to get us” while others found that unsettling idea strangely appealing. So why is it that Australian spec fic writers, especially those known for their short fiction, so often tend towards the dark and weird? “I think writers write in reaction to what’s around them,” Biancotti suggested. “We come from a culture of ‘she’ll be right, mate’, but we’re not part of it–we live on the fringe. And from that vantage point, it’s easier to see the darkness behind the happy-go-lucky Australian attitude. The history of white settlement is pretty savage: we practiced genocide on the native Australians and wiped out rainforests to make space for houses, we turned the place into a prison island by shipping out convicts. Oh, and there’s all those wars we were dragged into as canon fodder. How can you not be affected by the anxiety that it will all be taken away from you, with a history like that?” It’s important to note that the majority of speculative fiction published in Australia is from the perspective of non-indigenous writers, and rarely uses iconography or cultural influence of Aboriginal culture. Apart from the lack of Aboriginal writers getting their own work published, which is certainly a concern, there are also issues to do with cultural appropriation. There are taboos within Aboriginal culture surrounding the sharing and distribution of traditional stories outside one’s own family or tribe, which absolutely throws Western ideas of copyright out the window: faced with the idea that borrowing a myth could be seen as the grossest form of cultural appropriation even if the writer in question is of Aboriginal descent, most non-indigenous writers are now encouraged to steer clear of indigenous themes (this was not always the case). As Deborah Biancotti points out, the classic Australian novel Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, based on a “true life” event when some privileged schoolgirls went missing in the bush, is an example of that awkwardness of the white Australian approach to the country’s landscape. “We think we can take our frocks and parasols out for a day’s picnic, but occasionally the landscape will eat us just to show who’s boss. I think that’s one of the darkest things a human being would have to endure: the inexplicable disappearance of another human being.” Biancotti...

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