Written by Josh Breidbart

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Review

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/22/12222016-it-is-pretty-funny/

Have you ever pick up a book thinking it was about one thing, only to realize it’s about something completely different? I know people always say that thing, something something book by its cover, but when a story completely catches you off guard, it can be jarring. Like firing an arrow at a target, only to have it bounce off and hit the assassin sneaking up behind you. Not that anything I’m speaking of reflects the content of Stephen Collins’ graphic novel “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil”, but I couldn’t think of any beard metaphors at present time.

So I originally bought this book looking for grooming tips. Morality aside, I’ve always wanted a gigantic beard and this book even had illustrations.

Seriously, this book was a gift, and as soon as I saw it I decided that the beard must be a metaphor for misunderstood creativity. The idea of uncontrollable output. And due to the fact that the novel never spells it out for you, you might construe it as such. On the fictional island of Here (surrounded by a dark sea and a distant shore, known as There), we meet Dave, a bald man living an average life with an unaverage tiny hair sticking out from under his nose. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, the hair begins to grow, and soon sprouts into a beard of unimaginable size. It can’t be cut and it can’t be stopped, and it eventually threatens (well, inconveniences) the residents of Here. The book explores Dave’s journey as the beard slowly consumes his life and the lives of those around him.

I don’t get to read many graphic novels I know nothing about going in, and was saving it for a good reading day. Again, I thought I knew what it was about, so I figured I’d save it for a day where my creativity had hit a wall. And once more, that metaphor can work in regards to understanding the book. But when I read it, the metaphor that came to me was that the beard instead represented… depression. There’s a weird solitude to Here, where things aren’t perfect, but are orderly and ordinary, ideal compared to the dark and violent unknown of There. Here, things move in unchanging patterns (even if their origin is mysteriously unimportant), and it’s safe. Calm. Knowable. Any veering from those patterns is forbidden. Until the Beard casts a shadow over Here, to the point at which the other residents have to deal with it. Some attempt to explain it. Some attempt to manage it. Some grow from the experience, while others ostracize Dave for being different and not being able to control or fix his situation. But Dave doesn’t grow. Only his beard. He can’t shave it, get rid of it, or even get someone else to fix it. It just continues, inexorable. Until eventually, he’s cast out for it, consumed by the unknown blackness.

It made me think of old friends whose issues became too much to deal with. I, and others, grew through dealing with them, but ultimately, they shared Dave’s fate. It wasn’t their fault, per se. There isn’t always a solution to every problem. And even when there is, sometimes the solution feels too painful to attempt. And so the beard grows. How desperately I wished I could cut it off of them myself. “Fix” them. And I think, sometimes, even they wanted me to do that too. But they couldn’t stop that twisting darkness from springing eternal, until eventually I had to say goodbye.

I loved this book. The writing, the art, the themes of the story – they both resonated and made me jealous, made me wish I could produce something similar. Maybe I’ll be inspired to do so after this. But I hope works like this, works that make me think about things I never thought I’d revisit and things I never thought I’d have a new perspective on, spring eternal like the Beard.

My highest recommendation.

Monk Funk

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/20/12202016-visceral/

I adore Bloodborne, don’t you?

Not many people know this, but I made a game once.

Well, not just me. It’s important to note that games require an insane amount of work to get done in under 80 million years. I had only a semester, and I had to do it with a team of five. It was a class I took out of Cornell in ’02 with a few others. Though I did take up the expected job of writer, I was also the sole artist for the entire game.

It was a turn-based RPG about a bad-ass monkey named Monk Funk (yep) whose barber is kidnapped (yep). It was a notably simpler game than what I originally pitched, which featured a blind samurai who uses sound to illuminate each level and travels with a baby named Meatshield (yeah). But I wasn’t the programmer, and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to code a game on a Mac in 2002. So my samurai yielded the floor to Monk Funk.

Yeah, this was a special kind of something.

I’m not sure if the thing can be shared or played anymore. If I could, I would. I totally would. I can’t say it would be “good” or “worth your time”, but it certainly exists (UPDATE: I found where it was originally posted. Not only is the link dead, but only the Cornell students are listed as having made it. THANKS GUYS!!!). Quality aside, the art was a huge strain to take on alone, especially for someone who isn’t an art major, ESPECIALLY especially for someone who was also trying to turn his passion project into a webcomic (a previous incarnation of Fenix Gear that we don’t discuss ever).

Not to mention, you know, the usual college course work.

I bring this up because it was during this project that I fell down a flight of stair and twisted my leg.

No, I didn’t mistype that. I missed one step and ended up the hospital the night I planned to work on the final boss.

I was leaving the cafeteria and I missed the last step, causing me to plummet to the floor. Literally, just one step off and my leg twisted all the way around and remained incapacitated for the rest of the semester. I dropped my dinner tray, and my friend Spunky laughed her ass off at me before realizing it wasn’t a joke. Once she realized the situation was more dramatic than a comical pratfall, she laughed even harder. I was wheeled out on the stretcher past my friends making their way to the upcoming dinner rush. I was later told there was no fracture, but I wouldn’t be able to put weight on it for a few months – a pretty tricky ask on the icy hills of Ithaca in winter. The timing couldn’t have been worse. But somehow I found an insane balance between the painkillers from the hospital and the energy drinks from the Rite Aid. I came home on crutches, sat down, and got to work.

What I created was an abomination of insanity. Fueled by my homemade not-quite-jet fuel, I concocted a final boss: my professor, with an Afro. His name was Fro-do. Yes.

YES! I turned this in for a final grade!!

And I got an A.

Sometimes you get hurt. You fall down. You can’t do a thing to stop it or fight it. But you keep fighting. And who knows how – but somehow, you get to the finish line. Maybe it’s limping on crutches. Maybe it’s fueled by quantities of caffeine and high fructose corn syrup that should be illegal. But as long as you keep fighting, pushing through the hurt, the pain, the damage, refusing to give in, you’ll make it. The result may not be pretty…

But at least you got through it.

Was the Bible a First Draft?

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/15/12152016-hooked-on-a-feeling/

Author’s Note: The following should be read with a degree of patience and an acceptance that many people believe many different things. If you have problems with that… go away, I guess?

I sometimes wonder if the Bible was a first draft.

I mean, inherently, it isn’t. It’s been translated and retranslated, retold and reprinted so many times that the text we read barely resembles the original anymore. But I’m referring to the initial draft put out into the world. First edition Bible with God signing copies at Bethlehem and Noble’s. Did God make it all up in one shot and didn’t feel like bothering with revisions? Was it still a work in progress, and the holy men bouncing ideas around just had a deadline to hit? Or maybe there is no God and existence is meaningless and we all die alone. Who knows?! All I know is, I’ve never written something good that didn’t have a shitty draft first.

Looking at this as a writer, I know that everything I have ever written, whether a blog like this, a chapter like the above, or even a tweet, goes through a rough draft, retinkering, and extensive notes before I consider it ready. Often, I’ll return to the drawing board completely for what’s called a page-1 rewrite. Either way, you have to ask what the process of writing that book initially must have been like. And I kind of wonder what those initial sparks were that never made it into the final book.

Comically, I like to imagine God hunched over his Macbook (his OS: Original Sin), pecking out stories and wracking his brain. “Oh fuck, how am I supposed to get them out of Egypt? Uhhh, plagues. Plagues should – no, no, then Pharaoh loses his arc. Maybe if he chases them out…” Every story I’ve ever written has a companion document called the “Series Bible” that covers the history, the themes, and all the intimate background details that you need to make a story feel lived-in and true. Then again, my series Bibles never end as living documents, but as collections of outdated ideas and moot points next to the world I finally create. So maybe it’s not so different at all.

These are obviously ridiculous flights of fancy. God would never use a laptop. He’s a desktop kind of guy. But when a writer has no choice but to play God to achieve their task, how can you not equate the two? I believe in a higher power of some kind, something too great to fully understand, but if you look at it as a writer, someone who created the raw material and let the characters write themselves, sometimes clearing the board and recasting for a new season here and there,… I mean, am I crazy? I wonder, if there is an almighty, if that is the reason why so much is mysterious. Things considered standard aren’t even part of our programming. We are instead left to figure it out for ourselves. Maybe he just didn’t do enough research before writing his first draft.

Or maybe God doesn’t exist and it was just a bunch of dudes in a writer’s room (and you know it was guys – no affirmative action or equal opportunity in effect back then), tossing a plush dreidel back and forth as they spitball ideas based on “history” for their educational series. I wonder how long it took them to write. To settle on the right stories and edits. I wonder if they knew it would be edited by kings and monarchies over centuries, so it didn’t matter how final a draft it was. It was final enough. I wonder if we need to update it again to sync with our current values, and who would be up to such a task. Who can be trusted, when everyone has an agenda they are all too willing to share?

In seriousness, I know the Bible took a long time to write and faced multiple rewrites that were more difficult than we can imagine with how different the politics of religion were back then. But for each piece, there must have been a first draft. And for each first draft, I can’t help wondering how well it was written. Could even the most famous and holy of texts have started with the same shitty prose and undeveloped characters that the rest of us peons write?

A rough draft is necessary. It’s where you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Where you first establish the illusion of a story, even though it’s merely a bunch of shapes on a page. Where you first assemble the nuts and bolts that are never again exposed, because they become human.

I guess I keep on this because I WANT to see that humanity, because if you can see beyond the bluster and “how it’s supposed to be”, then you can understand the purpose behind the work. Maybe we can see past the hypocrisies and semantics of what’s in the text and see the intent that goes beyond words and sentences.

And if they had a shot to rewrite it today, based on the effects of their work, how much they would change?

Fight on! Spider-Man!

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/13/12132016-so-hard/

Man, oh, man, where do I even begin about this Spider-Man Homecoming trailer.

Before we start, let’s be super clear: these are general impressions because, shockingly, until the movie comes out, I can’t form a full opinion. I can, however, see certain warning signs based on the information that I do have. You know, kind of like how people get nervous about a certain Presidential cabinet even when it’s not in effect yet. Yes, it’s only a trailer, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the final product is going to be just as bad as advertised.

So all that said, let’s take a look at that new trailer.

Hold on. Sorry. Gotta change the language settings.

Looks pretty neat. But hey, who’s the Filipino kid with the Legos? Is that Ganke? He’s not in the Peter Parker comics…

I want to talk a bit about a word that should not come up when talking about a Spider-Man movie: appropriation. Google the word, and you get a definition like “The action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission”. The following concept may be hard to follow because Marvel owns all it’s heroes and stories, therefor, allowing it to use them as they see fit. But the most common use of the word appropriation is in regards to cultural appropriation, when people of one culture adopt the certain aspects of another, usually for aesthetic purposes and in a pick-and-choose fashion.

So, back to Ganke, the aforementioned Lego kid (or, I guess he’s Ned Leeds, I think, according to IMDB); Now, a while back, Marvel was asked if they would consider a Spider-Man movie about a hero that wasn’t Peter Parker. Would they feature the new and hugely successful Spider-Man from their Ultimate Universe line, a half-Black, half-Latino kid named Miles Morales? Between his proven popularity and the fan base’s growing calls for more diverse super heroes, he seemed like a slam dunk. But Marvel opted for the Spider-Man we’ve all known and been comfortable with taking a subway late at night with for years. And you know what, fine. Spider-Man is their character, and they should do what they want with him. Use Peter Parker. Give him a fresh take. Great!

Except it doesn’t feel so great when the “fresh take” turns out to be lifting the iconic pieces of Miles’ backstory, and then giving them to the white Spider-Man.

Again, I haven’t seen this movie yet, so who knows – the trailer might just be incredibly misleading. And, again, these stories all belong to Marvel, and they’re allowed to mix and match as they see fit. But am I the only person who thinks this is wrong? To have this new hero, with his own unique lore, who overcame audience skepticism towards and resistance to the idea of “Black Spider-Man” to become a beloved staple, a character people are clamoring to see on screen – only to have his story stripped for parts and given to the white guy that’s been front and center for 60+ years? Why does this movie’s “Ned” look and act and share a favorite hobby with Miles’ best friend, Ganke? Why do the characters appear to attend a charter school, like Miles does? Why does the villain look so reminiscent of the Prowler, Miles’ arch nemesis? Why is the main source of tension in Miles’ books – letting the proven super heroes do their thing while the baby hero stays in school – seem so omnipresent in this movie?

Now, can these story elements all be applied convincingly to Peter Parker? Yes. Should they, when they belong to another character, one who has had less time to prove himself and is still making his mark? I just don’t think so. It seems… wrong to me.

To quote Nicki Minaj (a series of words I’ve never started a sentence with): “You can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.’’ Or as Azealia Banks said (another series of words I don’t think I’ve ever written), “Black culture is cool, but black issues sure aren’t huh?” It just feels fucking weird that Marvel would do this to a character whose apparent reason for existing in the first place was to break down those boundaries and face both the good and the bad.

Every day, I see children wearing Spider-man backpacks and talking about his adventures. His triumphs and his faults. And race doesn’t seem to come into it, ever, really. Men, women, black and white, Spider-Man’s fans just want to be like this person because he stands for something more. And I know most of them don’t know who Miles Morales is. And now they won’t. Miles and his creators worked hard to blaze his own path and his own story. But that’s been sacrificed on the altar of a God with half a century of his own rich lore, who didn’t need any more, but who will own it now. Because it sold more. Because it tested better with audiences.

And that seems weirdly shitty to me.

PS: Also, is it me or does it seem like the inspiration for Miles Morales, Donald Glover, is playing a villain, or at the very least, someone of dubious enough character to associate with the villain? Just saying…

Hey, Marvel. What are you wearing?

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/08/12082016-now-what/

For a while now, I’ve been voicing my frustration with the unchanging structure of Marvel’s cinematic universe. But even further stuck in my craw has been the treatment of their streaming content: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and most recently, Luke Cage. Every one of these shows started with such potential. But somewhere around the last few episodes, they all hit the same snag, all promising the moon, never quite getting off the ground, the ultimate payoff feeling shoehorned and unearned. It has kept me from wholeheartedly recommending any of the shows to anyone, their individual parts unfortunately greater than any whole. But if I could fix one thing, just one goddamn thing, it would be this:

Stop ending every season with the “getting the costume” moment.

This makes me so mad I hardly even know where to start. No matter where the show is going, at some point the black hole of that costume moment starts making itself felt, and by the end of the season everything that the show could have been is swallowed up in the service of “Uh oh, it’s just like the comics everyone…”. It’s happened in every season of every show thus far. In Daredevil season 1, Daredevil gets his costume. In season 2, he gets his stick, and Elektra and Punisher suit up. In Jessica Jones, Purple Man literally turns purple, and Jessica wears an outfit from her comic. And Luke Cage might be the worst. Several episodes after an actually pretty clever shout-out to the original Powerman costume, fucking Diamondback can’t decide if he wants to dress as Snake Man or Proto Man, so why not both? (Oh, and as a bonus, Misty Knight appears for literally no reason at all during the closing credits of the finale in her FUCKING AFRO COSTUME GODDAMN IT!) Diamondback is the worst offender of all, because he so completely undermines what the show has been building. He shows up halfway through the season, replacing another villain, Cottonmouth (looking nothing like his comic-book counterpart, I might add) who is a great, nuanced, magnetic character, maybe the best villain Marvel has had yet. But he doesn’t offer an opportunity for a costume moment, so forget the Hercules versus King Eurystheus (look it up) parallel the writers have been building up. Instead, we get a boring superhero brawl with the worst villain Marvel has produced to date, a character who actively ruins the show.

I don’t really care about the costumes specifically, or about whether or not they look cool. It’s the too-tight focus, the sterile package, the unmistakable scent of the factory: reducing these shows to action figures in the Marvel comics continuity they emerged from, instead of works (of art, even) that stand and evolve on their own terms. And I’m not the only one who feels let down. After 4 seasons worth of these shows, not one of which has maintained popularity after the excitement of its initial release, the pattern should be obvious. But Marvel can’t seem to figure it out.

No one watched Jessica Jones looking for a super hero brawl. They watched to feel empowered by the story of an invincible woman exacting revenge against the embodiment of everything women fear in men of privilege, who’s very word is the law. People connected with Daredevil, a man with a disability trying to reconcile competing father figures and his own internal demons as a poor Batman. They didn’t fall for the show because Punisher has a skull on his shirt!

Speaking of Punisher…

In Daredevil season 2, Frank Castle gets into a bloody fight. By the end, his white shirt is stained with blood, forming a skull akin to his comics costume. It’s an amazing and organic moment that pays homage to his origins without making it all about him suiting up in spandex. And then it’s ruined: he gets into costume and saves the day with a sniper rifle like he’s goddamn Steve Buscemi at the end of Billy Madison. GOOD THING HE WAS IN THE COSTUME!!!

So why is it that the climax of every single Marvel TV season is built so tightly around moments that have, consistently, not worked?

I sometimes get the feeling that the first and last episode of every season is written in advance, and creative writers are given carte blanche on the rest of the sandwich. And those creative decisions are great. I never liked Daredevil or Luke Cage more than I did in the early episodes of these series, when I was introduced to them in lights that were more entertaining and relatable than any throwdown with Mysterio. Jessica Jones may not be MY Jessica (I’m more of a comics fan on that one), but she became a standout hero, attracting fans who had never known the rush of empowerment that a superhero fantasy can provide. That is the magic of these shows. And I wish someone at Marvel would figure that out before Iron Fist or The Defenders premieres.

Or maybe it’s all just building up to Wilson Fisk wearing a purple ascot. Glad we had five seasons of TV to build up to that important moment.


The spark must be nourished

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/06/12062016-go-go-go-do-not-look-back-just-go/

I want to get back into writing. Rather, I want to reclaim it.

You might argue that it’s not like I ever stopped writing. Each Unlife update shows up with another blog, a foray into my imagination with a side of internal monologue. However, these days my writing faces a new challenge, one I haven’t dealt with in over four years, but still a familiar foe; balancing writing with the responsibilities of a full time job.

The days of freelance are behind me for the moment. I was recently hired for a position that demands my attention on a full time basis, and I want to give it. I have always thought of my work as a defining extension of myself. Of who I am. It’s where I put so much of my effort, and so I want it to represent me. That goes for my writing – uninspired writing kills me, and to actively bring it into the world would be a waste of my time. And now a full time job, another extension of that effort, demands a similar care.

The spark must be nourished. For a long time, writing was an all-consuming star, and just like staring at the sun, it was beginning to cause irreparable damage to how I saw things. I was hoping that maybe I was made of stronger stuff, but all it took was shifting my gaze away for a moment to realize that there was still an unexplored universe beyond; one with a new health plan that covered protective sunglasses. And, wouldn’t you know it, in that new universe, the spark still remains.

My commute is still spent in the thrall of writing, as are my first few hours home. The tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tapping of my fingers pummeling the keyboard drowns out any other thought, as if to truly encapsulate the sense of purpose I feel as I construct each new sentence atop the last. Finding those golden strings of words that, together, produce a complex idea or emotion, sometimes greater than this format can provide.

And I do feel a twinge of regret, because though the spark still burns, there’s a sense of disappointment in the loss of the imagined heights of my freelance career. I resent the idea that it was merely an interlude. I don’t regret it, and it was an important stage in my life, though one I still wish I could have achieved more validation in. Maybe that validation is Unlife. Maybe it’s something else that has yet to fully surface. But the fact that the journey led me to another journey makes me fear that it’s all endless. That each new stage erases and invalidates what came before it. That it negates it, voiding its meaning to me or others.

And yet, in the face of an eternal sentence, I have found definition in stories again, in ideas for new Unlife chapters and projects beyond. And the enduring strength of my creative spark and need to write is comforting. In fact, my reverence for it, the hunger that builds to work on it, is more potent than ever. It’s no longer my only meal, but rather the one I’m looking forward to most. You hear that less is more, but I never thought to apply that to my own dreams and desires.

Maybe less is more. Maybe I do have more than I started with.

Maybe in an attempt to reclaim something I thought I lost, I found it was still by my side, loyal to the end.

The Lab

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/12/01/12012016-but-baby-its-cold-outside/

A great many of these blog posts have been written on the A and F train on my way to and from my part time profession. For what some weeks only amounted to 7 hours of work, my travel to and from my place of employment left a lot of time for me to spend on my other job, Unlife. But on those days, as I whisked myself to Brooklyn, I found myself in possession of the gig I always dreamed of for myself, before finally, recently, having to wake up. But for a while, I got to slumber in the blissful sleep that was “The Lab”.

To rewind a bit: my life has been in a state of upheaval since July, starting a lot of new, healthier habits. And as a result, I started to attract new, healthier opportunities. Before I knew it, I found myself in the lucrative position of after-school counselor for the children of hipsters in Park Slope. And by lucrative, I mean I was able to buy a beer after work. But it was (fortunately) never about the money for me. It was about working a job I didn’t hate – one I actually enjoyed and looked forward to. Something of a luxury, coming at something at a cost (see: beer money). But I didn’t care. What I liked was the environment. At my previous workplaces, I always hated the oppressive atmosphere of a bottom line taking precedence over art, getting ahead over positivity and kindness.

“The Lab” was none of that. Functioning as an after school activity for children 7-13 by day, and as a late night hub for nerdy adult gamers, they hired me to wrangle that first group. The program focused on playing complicated board games with kids, letting them pitch creative alterations and mods, and then applying them to the game to try out. On top of that, through the use of merit gathering and “leveling up” by playing the games, there was a Harry Potter-meets-Magic the Gathering meta game, “Immortal War”, that pitted different groups of kids against each other in a year-long contest that combined aspects of the other games they had been playing and modding all year.

The whole experience was a blast, my job amounting to being a not-camp counselor. The schedule was flexible and easy, and allowed me space to focus on my writing with time to take care of things at home. Not to mention, the other employees there appeared guided by the same star as me, focusing on their creative projects outside the confines of work. It was inspiring, and at last I didn’t feel like the strange one. Just… another one. Maybe, with the bevy of artists and other creative personalities there, another project could have one day come to life. Or maybe, that even rarer find, a friendship that could last a lifetime.

The day after the election found me working there, all the counselors were in the same funk as me. Even the kids felt it (being the children of hipsters, anti-Trump sentiments were not unfamiliar to them). And I remember the day starting with a bland pall before evolving into laughter and cheer. People playing games, telling jokes, and enjoying each other’s company. There was a bond there that was not only needed, but reciprocated, and…

It was what we all needed that day, and we gave that to each other. And that’s something. It really is. It meant more to me than I can describe.

And, as of this writing, I had to sever that bond.

Maybe sever is the wrong word. Put aside for a moment. This was a part-time job, and having recently accepted a full time job, I just didn’t have the energy or the presence to maintain both. I tried. For weeks, I tried, only succeeding in making myself crazy and guaranteeing I couldn’t do either job to the best of my ability. A hard choice had to be made, and in the end they said the door would remain open if I ever wanted to step through it again, an offer I hope to one day take advantage of.

This is the last blog I’ll be writing on the trip between my home and “The Lab”. And with it comes the closing of a chapter that, although I knew I loved it, was even more precious to me than I realized. It’s not the end of the blogs – though, fair warning, I do plan to review the “once-a-post” schedule once this chapter closes – but it’s the end of something I cherished. And that breaks my heart. Because maybe all we did was play games. But to me it was more than a game.

It was something like a dream.

Miles Ahead

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/11/29/11292016-seeing-red/

Telling you Spider-Man is my favorite superhero is like saying Dragonball Z is my favorite cartoon; it should prompt a resounding “duh-doy” at this point. He is also the one I have the most conflicted relationship with, especially in light of how… I’m struggling to find a delicate way to put this… whored out he has become. I have needed a palate cleanser, which is why I’ve avoided the web head since creating my Marvel Unlimited account. Lately, I finally found myself giving the character another chance – but not with Mr. Peter Parker. Instead, I’ve been exploring the high flying adventures of Miles Morales (or as the media have called him, “the Black Spider-Man”). This kind of “reskin” can be iffy, but happily, experiencing this character fresh for the first time has been nothing but a treat. Miles has proven to be his own unique character, irrespective of who wore the Spider-mantle previously.

I’ve enjoyed exploring Miles’ story, a new take on Peter Parker’s, but twisting threads that are simply untwistable in classic Spidey continuity. From the characters’ differing responses to discovering their great power and responsibility, their troubled relationships with their uncles and the effect of those relationships on their fate, there is a reverence for what it means to take up the standard of a popular hero, to rise above yourself and become worthy of the task.

A 13-year old selected for a prestigious charter school by luck of the draw, Miles Morales finds himself struggling to prove his abilities less to the bad guys, and more to the heroes and population that held the original Spider-Man in such high regard. My friend Debbi once wrote an article about why Spider-Man had to be black, or at the very least a minority, in order to embody his underdog persona. The extremely young and obviously brown Miles Morales adds an authenticity to this uphill battle as he struggles to be more than the “Black Spider-Man”, to simply be worthy of the moniker without the qualifier.

The update that struck me most was Miles’ home life versus Peter’s. Where Uncle Ben represented the promise of the man Spider-Man could be, Miles’ uncle is instead the man he’s terrified he’ll become, a fraught relationship that was a highlight of the series for me. But even with such clear similarities and echoes to the original Spider-Man, Miles’ turn as the wall-crawler still feels as surprising and as inspirational as Peter himself once was to me.

I’d rather not go into the specific events of the book, although Miles has been around for some time now, and we’re probably past the statute of limitations on spoilers. He has fully earned his place in the main Marvel line. I start every issue thinking Miles has to prove why he’s worthy of the legacy of Peter Parker, which has been fresh in my mind for the 25+ years I’ve known him. And yet, every time, Miles finds a way to rise to the occasion against all odds.

And really, what’s more Spider-Man than that?

Don’t Run Away

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/11/22/11222016-sweet-embrace/

I always wanted to go to Japan, and in 2009, I saw that dream come true. I wrote earlier about my maybe-cancer scare. Between that chapter and the one where Jena and I became a couple, I had what I guess Unlife would describe as “an interlude”. There was nothing I wanted to do more after my medical emergency than run away. But I went through with every appointment and, finally, surgery. And for bravely facing my fears, I rewarded myself… by running even further. It was an unforgettable trip, one that pointed out what was important to me and what I valued when I was removed from it. I still carry pieces of it with me, even literally; I’m wearing the same Japanese coat I bought there as I write this on the train to work.

I was not alone on this trip. Spunky and Gore (you know who you are), friends of mine who at the time lived in Japan, were amazing enough to put me up for ten days. They provided friendship, a place to crash, and a language I knew in a sea of foreign peculiarities. It was fascinating exploring a land I had only witnessed in anime, giving it an odd familiarity. Even the sounds of the birds and trees felt similar to what I grew up listening to. There was an odd sense of belonging.

The weirdest part of Japan is how opposite of a culture it is to America. Not even just opposite; parallel. From the quiet on the trains of Japan to the unearthly roar of an American city; their abhorrence of violence and indulgence in sexual fantasy versus our celebration of violence and terror of sexual expression. But I think the biggest difference was the difference of fantasy and reality when it came to working as a team.

In America, an eternal theme within media and entertainment is that the most important thing is trusting in each other and working with each other as a team. How many stories can you think of in which the hero was finally able to triumph only once s/he accepted the love and support of friends, family, schoolmates, or another group? Unifying in the face of adversity, always stronger together. But in the real world, the encouragement is to look after yourself and your interests. Take care of YOUR family and YOUR wellbeing. Because it’s all up to you. And in Japan, it’s kind of the opposite. Their anime, their entertainment, normally revolves around that one guy (or girl but… usually guy) that has to make it all work and inspire everyone else. It’s all up to them. And yet, in their culture, they are expected to be an unwavering, unbreaking team that does for others more than themselves. Selfishness is frowned upon, and if you step out of line, you’re cast from the pack.

I don’t believe any system is perfect, nor am I putting Japan on a pedestal. They seem to have just as many problems as we do, just in different places. Though there is something to respect in the fact that a culture so opposite can still find a way to function and keep moving forward. It was almost like some weird thing binds us and keeps us together, no matter what the problem. I can’t emphasize how important it was to see a culture so radically different, and so laden with its own problems, that still works.

One afternoon I was in Kyoto, climbing up the hill with the orange gates. The Fushimi Inari Shrine. I was most of the way up when it got dark. Crows screeched at me, the night descended, I was alone, saw no one, and didn’t speak the language if I did. I was scared, not sure if I should turn back or go forward, unsure if I was nearing the end. And as I wondered what to do, as if in answer to my plight, out of the bamboo woods emerged 3 kittens. As I walked, the trio continuously circled me. Not watching me or trying to draw me in but almost… protecting me. Keeping me safe. I can’t explain it even now. The whole thing seems batty as I type it, but without language, without anything in common, without any sort of basis, they provided a protection for me, either literally or figuratively in calming my spirit. When I found myself at the top of the hill, in a well lit space, they dispersed, and that was that.

You can’t run away from things that scare you. You must run through the unknown and towards a new direction. And know that there is good out there that surrounds and binds us, even if we can’t control or understand it.

I think that’s important to keep in mind right now.

The Little c

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/11/17/11172016-ecstacy/

Woo, so…

This is a tough one to talk about, but I’ll do my best.

There was this one time when I thought I had cancer.

It was a very maybe/maybe not kind of thing. My thyroid had grown to an unimaginable size, and considering I come from a family with a history of the big C, it was hard not to grow worried every time the biopsies came back “inconclusive”. I still cringe and shake when I think of that enormous needle piercing me, taking out a piece of me. I remember crying in the car over how helpless I felt. How awful it still feels, the memory of being so out of control. Especially when everything was just… “starting”, I guess. I had just landed this great job in animation, I was finally FINALLY making Fenix Gear with some super talented artists, and Jena and my romance had begun to blossom. But for all that I had accomplished, I felt like the victim of something that I had no say in. I was powerless and weak. And all I could do was cry.

But that actually wasn’t the worst part.

I’m having trouble forming the words that make sense…

Throughout this whole ordeal, I had people telling me it was going to be okay. That I was alright. That I might have cancer, but at least it wouldn’t be bad cancer. That if this was cancer, it was easy to cure, so it would be fine. In the moment, it felt like being told I had no reason to be sad or feel helpless. I know it was their way to try and make me feel better, but in a weird way, it made me feel worse. Hearing that I had nothing to worry about when I was scared out of my mind only made me feel that the people around me thought my fears weren’t justified. That I had no reason to be crying in the car.

That my pain did not matter.

I’m not sure why, but that stayed with me long after the offending piece of my thyroid was removed. That feeling of my fears and terrors not feeling important enough to be justified. That I shouldn’t, or couldn’t, sink into myself in wallow. That I had no excuse and had better pick myself up already because… a person should be stronger than that. I should be stronger.

It’s all kind of a blur now. Different fears and experiences pre and post surgery. I came out of it with a new perspective on myself, my work, my comic and my life. In fact, where some things did get better, some things got worse, as if I woke up from that surgery in a parallel world. Or maybe that’s just life.

I’m not sure why I decided to tell you this story now. Maybe it’s my subconscious screaming after the abysmally depressing election followed by its somehow worse aftermath. Maybe it’s some subconscious association I made with the comic above. But this was years ago, nearly 6, and hardly the fuel for James’ saga.

I still have to get checkups here and there to make sure my thyroid is working properly. The shadow of this time in my life lingers, though I try to forget it as often as I can. But I can’t, not completely. I can’t forget being told that I had no right to be afraid. When still, to this day, I am terrified.

On my fridge, I have a picture of the maybe/maybe not. That initial sonogram they took when they weren’t sure what they were looking at. Under the printout, I wrote “Everything will be okay.” It wasn’t fixed forever. It wasn’t great. But I was right. It was okay.

And maybe that’s enough.