Can We Agree to Boycott Bryan Singer?


In 1997, Bryan Singer was accused by three underage extras, including a 14-year-old, of filming them nude for a shower scene in Apt Pupil. In April 2014, Singer was accused of drugging and raping Michael Egan in Hawaii at a party when Egan was 17 years old. In 2016, actor Noah Galvin alleged in a Vulture interview, in a quote that was eventually pulled, that Bryan Singer “likes to invite little boys over to his pool and diddle them in the fucking dark of night.” On December 7, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit against Singer for allegedly raping him in 2003 when Sanchez-Guzman was 17. This is an incomplete list.


When the first X-Men film was released (2000), I was still mired in a Christian worldview that bristled at the idea of gay subtext in popular media. Friends of mine, who had flocked to see The Matrix the year before, were refusing to see X-Men because the director was gay (though both directors of The Matrix have since come out as trans). Another friend likened Magneto’s plan to transform unsuspecting humans into mutants to “the Homosexual Agenda forcing its lifestyle on people” and corrupting our nation’s youth. They also objected to all the foul language.


It was a long, difficult road to my self-acceptance, but when I acknowledged that I was gay, I was able to enjoy that film and the second one on a whole other level. Bryan Singer became someone I could respect and admire. I thought he was someone young gay men could be inspired by. Instead, he was preying on them.


I was crushed when he was accused in 2014. Not just because of what had happened to Egan, or because one of my heroes had fallen, but I knew this somehow lent credence in the minds of my old friends to all their ideas about the insidiousness of homosexuality. “Gay men are child molesters or victims of child molestation” is a common refrain in that world, and here was further proof, as far as they were concerned.


When Egan dropped his allegations, I breathed a sigh of relief. If I’d bothered to learn more than that simple fact, of course, I would have had to face the hard truths I’m facing now. Like that the allegations were dropped on a technicality, or the reality of how traumatizing such court battles can be for victims. Eventually, some of Egan’s former lawyers apologized to two people he accused, and he was sentenced in 2015 for fraud. That this accuser might not be entirely credible does not mean he cannot be a legitimate victim. I turned a blind eye and went on my willfully ignorant way.


The other great lie the Christian Right loves telling about the gay community is that we’re a shadow network that conspires to corrupt children, covers for pedophiles, and take down politicians or preachers who try to stop us. Turning a blind eye to behavior like Singer’s practically validates such thinking. Kevin Spacey tried to take advantage of the gay community’s largesse by coming out of the closet as a way of hiding his admission of guilt in regards to sexual assault. Thankfully, other gay celebrities were not going to let him “hide under the rainbow,” as comedian Wanda Sykes put it. Nor should we let Bryan Singer try to do the same.


The gay community should be a welcoming place where people are free to be their best selves. Singer took advantage of that feeling, of his status and privilege, and turned it into something nefarious. He has irrevocably damaged the young men he has coerced and violated.


The day after Sanchez-Guzman’s accusations, the USC School of Cinematic Arts said it will remove Singer’s name from its Division of Cinema & Media Studies program known as the Bryan Singer Division of Critical Studies. But more must be done. After being found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl (whom he knowingly intoxicated), Roman Polanski lived in a Swiss chalet and won a Best Director Oscar. He might finally be facing consequences for his actions; we must hope such a reckoning takes place for Singer.


But what about his movies? Can we still enjoy them? This is more than separating art from artist. This is being complicit in a pattern of criminal behavior that destroys lives just so that we can have a few good X-Men movies. What message do we send to victims of abuse when we continue to enjoy the fruits of their abusers?


I can’t do that anymore. And none of us should. I’m not going to host bonfires of X-Men merchandise or beseech my friends to denounce Singer. I’ve written favorably about work he’s produced, but no more. He might be nothing more than a producer on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but I’ll be skipping that too. I’ll never enjoy another piece of art that his hands have touched. Because admiring the art while loathing the artist allows us to enjoy what we want without considering the human cost, the harm done by the people who have made this art. If an attempted rapist creates something beautiful, we need to be strong enough to recognize it as ugly.

Daniel Dae Kim in Hellboy Is Better, but Still Problematic

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Image courtesy of Gizmodo

Daniel Dae Kim will play Ben Daimio in the third Hellboy film, Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, a role previously offered to obviously white actor Ed Skrein. To Skrein’s credit, he turned down the role, saying, in part, “[R]epresenting this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories…I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.” While Kim is unquestionably a better choice, he’s still not the best choice or even necessarily a good choice for a simple reason.


Captain Benjamin Daimio is Japanese American (and for anyone who hasn’t read BPRD, he’s also the grandson of the Crimson Lotus). Daniel Dae Kim is a Korean American actor who was born in Busan, South Korea and moved to the United States when he was two years old. He needed to relearn Korean for his breakout role as Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost.


Korea is not Japan. Japan is a large archipelago country that dates to prehistory and has a complicated relationship with the United States. Korea is a smaller peninsular country that has been the homeland from one to three kingdoms in the past, and is currently divided in two. They are geographically separate places with their own vastly different cultures, mythologies, languages, and histories. And the idea that there’s “no difference” must end. Sure, white people in this country might not be offended if they were mistaken for Irish instead of German, but see how that would fly in Europe itself. To act above such necessary acts of intelligence and sensitivity betrays one’s privilege.


In accepting the role, Kim said, “I’m excited to confirm that I’ve officially joined the cast of Hellboy…I applaud the producers and, in particular, Ed Skrein for championing the notion that Asian characters should be played by Asian or Asian American actors.” I don’t fault Kim for accepting the role. He’s a great actor, deserves his share of great parts, and has earned several awards. He has been vocal about the pay disparity between his white costars and himself on Hawaii Five-O.


I fault the Hollywood casting practices that have conflated the entire continent of Asia yet again. This is the casting equivalent of shrugging and asking, “Korean? Japanese? What’s the difference?”


It’s too bad casting directors didn’t think to call Ken Watanabe, Shun Oguri, Takeshi Kitano, Jin Akanishi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, or Toma Ikuta to portray Ben Daimio. If you think I had those names in my back pocket as some sort of “gotcha” tactic, they were simply the first six results of the Google search for “list of Japanese actors,” an action that took me all of two seconds, but was still too much effort for whoever is in charge of casting Hellboy. I would have used the results for “list of Japanese American actors,” but that includes three dead people and two women. As much as I would like to entertain the possibility of a female Ben Daimio, how awesome would it be to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mortal Kombat) in the role?

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Image courtesy of IMDb

The notion of the Asian monolith has proven persistent and is just as harmful as any other racist stereotype plaguing POC actors. The Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange was supposed to be in Tibet, but the set designer settled on “P.F. Chang’s waiting area” instead of drawing on any particularities of any of the 48 countries that make up a continent larger than North America. I’ll probably still see Hellboy, but Hollywood can’t be congratulated for doing a better job when that “better job” still amounts to racism.

Extracting Beauty from the Darkest of Places

Seven years ago, I started working on a comic book with my good friend Reed Olsen. It would go on to become the series Dream Crasher, which we are now self-publishing through Kickstarter. Dream Crasher is a 12-chapter story about a group of children who survive a bizarre cataclysmic event and find themselves navigating a strange new world filled with angry ghosts, strange beasts made from human parts, and interdimensional parasites that feed on their dreams. At its core, Dream Crasher is also a story about overcoming trauma, the fight for autonomy, and creating a world where we all have a chance to define our own destiny.

One year into our new comic creating process, Reed and I were on fire. Kickstarter was just beginning to reveal itself as an vehicle for indie comics. Chapter one was drawn and painted, and the work on chapter two had already begun. I had found my voice in writing, and had found a brilliant creative partner in Reed. We had momentum. I was excited for what the future held.

Running parallel to all of this, I found myself very much in love for the first time in my life. Blair changed my jaded views on that four letter word. He challenged me to be a better person. He made me smile every time he laughed at his own jokes. He gave me confidence in the creative choices I was making. He was also a talented writer and musician in his own right, and he encouraged me on this project when it was still in its early stages. To say my life was perfect would be a lie, but I was the happiest I had been in a long time.

All of this changed when Blair died in the summer of 2011. My whole world fell to pieces. The unexpected trauma, the weight of the grief, and the subsequent depression and healing all took their toll in various ways. I’ve written extensively about the grief and the healing over the years since. This tragedy permeated every aspect of my life, and the still-unnamed Dream Crasher was no exception. Comics were put on hold. I scribbled ideas in notebooks and thought about the project from time to time, but in the end it took more than six months before I sat down to work again. And even then, the work was slow. It took another year after that before I finished the script for the third chapter. It felt like starting from scratch and learning how to write again. In hindsight, this was in no small part due to a fresh perspective I had on my main character, Amalie.

I had been following Kurt Vonnegut’s sixth rule to a T. I was being a sadist and making awful things happen to my main character, but I hadn’t given a second thought to how it was affecting her. I hadn’t thought about how she processed the world around her, or who she was because of it. Through my own grief, I suddenly understood her on a whole new level. In many ways, Amalie is a representation of how strong I wish I could be. She’s lost everything she once held dear but has never given in to despair. She’s not unshakeable–she’s persistent. She’s not fearless–she’s brave. She’s a survivor in every sense of the word.

In his own writing, Blair had a knack for extracting beauty from the darkest of places. His example inspired me to do the same. I began to think of this bleak new world as less of a graveyard and more like fertile soil. I realized that it’s not a story about the world that’s been destroyed, but rather the new one that is taking its place. It’s about the children who have an opportunity to shape it and truly make it their own. As dismal as the world can seem sometimes, there are still dreams worth fighting for. Beneath its dystopian exterior, Dream Crasher is a story about finding the last bit of light in a world that’s gone dark and protecting it with every fiber of our being. Even when the powers that be are stacked against us. Even when the cause seems hopeless.

As devastating as Blair’s death was, I didn’t let it stop me. That in and of itself is a cause worth celebrating. Reed and I both had numerous opportunities to put this project down and quietly walk away from it, and no one would have thought less of us for doing so. We didn’t. I’m grateful to say that, in the face obstacles we never could have anticipated, we persisted.

Today, we are on the cusp of completing the first arc of the series. That first arc, which parallels my own story of grief, captures the resilience of a character who has outgrown my original idea of her. A character who grew and inspired me in ways I never expected. I have never worked harder on any single piece of art, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world. Like many up-and-coming creators, we have launched a Kickstarter Campaign. With it, we hope to raise funds to cover the cost of printing, lettering, and designing the book itself. We’re offering a variety of rewards to any backers, ranging from digital chapters for as little as $4, the physical book for $25, and several pieces of original artwork from the series for $100. We’re off to solid start. and we’ve already made it farther than seemed possible just a few years ago. The campaign runs until October 6, 2017.

Photo Credit: Blaise Allen.

The Dynamic Queer Characters of Bone Street Rumba

“I first discovered Daniel José Older when he appeared on the excellent When Toxic Masculinity is a Villain panel at Readercon in 2015. I was inspired enough to immediately to pick up my own copy of Half-Resurrection Blues and started reading it on my way home. One of the most satisfying elements of the series is its consistent inclusion and thoughtful execution of some truly badass queer characters. With the final installment released in January–and news that the series has been optioned by Anika Noni Rose–it seemed like the right time to take a closer look at his Bone Street Rumba series and highlight some of the excellent queerness within.

The narrative of all three novels and one shorty story collection features a rotating cast of characters. Some of them are living, some of them are dead, and some of them are in-between. Almost all of them are people of color, and numerous characters fall all over the LGBT spectrum. The setting is Brooklyn, but not the part of Brooklyn most living folk can see. The sprawling narrative initially centers on the half-dead protagonist Carlos Delacruz and his missions for the Council of the Dead, then the second book changes things up by adding the points of view for both Kia Summers and Reza Villalobos. Throughout all of it, Older has his finger on the pulse of each of his characters. He knows what makes each of them tick, and translates their uniqueness and vibrancy beautifully on the page. And it’s his talent for doing this that makes the series so compelling.

Half-Resurrection Blues is the first book of the series chronologically, though it was written after most of the stories in Salsa Nocturna. The story moves at a lightning-quick pace. The only point-of-view character is the half-dead Carlos Delacruz, who has no memory of his life before his death. The book sets up a nice vibe reminiscent of classic X-Files; with with our protagonists working as investigators for the nefarious and untrustworthy Council of the Dead. The most prominent queer character is Baba Eddie Machado, the owner of Baba Eddie’s Botanica who is described as a “consummate santero extraordinaire.” As one of the living characters in the book, he is able to see and interact with the dead. He is also an expert on spiritual matters and plays a pivotal role in keeping Carlos half-alive. His sexuality is indicated by the presence of his husband, Russell, and is but one aspect of his radiant and powerful presence throughout the series. When you’re dealing with an ancient, half-dead sorcerer who literally wants to open the gates of hell, Baba Eddie is a good ally to have on your side.

Midnight Taxi Tango is my favorite of the series. Call it Bone Street’s Empire Strikes Back. Carlos is still a protagonist, but we also get the addition of Kia Summers (who appears on the cover) and Reza Villalobos as POV characters. While Kia herself is not initially presented as a queer character, her missing (and initially presumed dead) cousin Gio is. As Gio’s story is told, at first through Kia’s memories and then his own words, he becomes an integral part of the story. Kia remembers her older cousin as an passionate, anime-loving ballet dancer. After witnessing his high school crush get abducted by demons with pink cockroaches for skin, he disappeared. Seven years later, Gio returns with disturbing news: the roach demons are back and they want him and Kia dead.

Then there’s Reza. Reza works as a muscle protecting sex workers for the illegal side business of a legitimate of a car service in Brooklyn. When the book opens, she is dealing with fresh grief over the mysterious disappearance of her partner Angie. After Angie’s death is confirmed and linked to the same pink roach demons, Reza’s story quickly becomes intertwined with that of Kia, Gio, and Carlos. One factor distinguishing her from her co-protagonists, Reza’s story is one of revenge. She’s been through some shit, and has survived by following a simple philosophy: never be out-gunned. I absolutely loved every Reza chapter, and would strongly advocate for her to get her own spin-off series.

Originally published before Half-Resurrection Blues, Salsa Nocturna has since been reprinted with two new stories. All of these are set between books two and three of the trilogy. The majority of the stories center around Carlos and Gordo, but there are plenty of exceptions (including Reza’s “Date Night”). In the book’s preface, Older recalls a phone call with his editor Kay Holt where she called the book out for being a damn sausage party, after which he got his shit together. This thankfully gave us Krys, a mohawk-sporting phantom who works for the Council of the Dead and caries a rocket-launcher named Greta. She is the central character in the queer themed stories “Magdalena” and “Victory Music,” and goes on to become a POV character in Battle Hill Bolero. While the stories in this collection don’t seem to fit together with the larger narrative at first, they are enjoyable on their own and gradually begin setting the stage for the looming showdown in the final novel.

Battle Hill Bolero features a sprawling narrative as things finally come to a head between the corrupt Council of the Dead and the Resistance. Carlos continues to be the main POV character, but is joined this time by Sasha Brass (a mainstay from book one), Caitlin Fern (introduced in book two, and our first villain perspective), and Krys. Like all of the other books, the action starts right on page one and never slows down. As tensions heat up, Krys is introduced to Redd, a former slave whose soul was released from captivity in the Salsa Nocturna story “Red Feather and Bone.” Through context and an awkward conversation, it is revealed that Redd was not born a man. This was done tastefully and, through the failings of one character, provides a great lesson on what questions not to ask and the overall complexities of gender. As the war rages on, Krys and Redd grow closer, and it’s beautiful to see two ghosts who died young finding one another after death.

Even though the book series has concluded, it still has a lot of promise for an adaptation. We need more queer characters in our shows and movies; specifically characters that aren’t desexualized and don’t devolve into tokenism. There also needs to be better representation of people of color within queer themes and stories. Bone Street Rumba is present and unapologetic on both of these fronts. The noir, urban fantasy world lends itself to some terrifying and beautiful imagery. Some smart casting could give these already vibrant characters a whole new life (no pun intended). The genre of fantasy is more popular now than ever, and it is past time to bring some much needed diversityinto the fray.”

The Best and Worst Time to Be an X-Fan

The X-Men hold a special place in the heart of every queer geek. And for good reason: the metaphor for outsiders scorned for being different who draw power from those differences is obvious enough, but we are now at a time when there’s always a comics storyline or video game or movie to serve as a touchstone, regardless of our biological age. Could the best time to have been an X-fan have been the very beginning, when the Civil Rights metaphors were fresh and new? They were popular even then.

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Sure, it’s worth half a million dollars now. But did you like them before they were popular?

For a lot of us, the best time to be a fan of the X-Men was in the 90s, when the cartoon aired on Fox. Objectively one of the better animated adaptations of a superhero property, it’s now painfully dated (which adds to its appeal, at least for those who grew up watching it). One of the best superhero arcade games came out the same year it premiered, and I still look for it anytime I visit a beercade. (I recently had to fight two co-workers over getting to play as Storm. No one wanted to be Dazzler.)


On the other hand, between Legion and Logan, perhaps now is the best time to be an X-fan. They both garnered an unprecedented level of critical acclaim for superhero stories (though no Emmy nominations for Legion, which is practically a crime against Aubrey Plaza and several directors). My husband even loved Logan, and tells me that Legion is very popular in Thailand. He shared a 10/10 review that he roughly translated as, “I have no idea what’s going on in this show, but it’s great.”

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After we saw Logan, he asked me about “the guy who looked like Voldemort,” and was answered with a detailed history of Caliban, an explanation of who the Morlocks were, and a long rant about how criminally underused Storm is. (I’m lucky he thinks I’m cute when I get like this.) All of this helped me appreciate the film on another level, because it didn’t feel the need to pander to any nostalgia or shoehorn in any fan service. ComicMix wrote back in April that “X-Men has become too old, too bloated, and is crippling itself under its own weight in continuity.” And if you got mad at my husband or me for likening Caliban to Voldemort when they’re obviously two very different characters, maybe you also would have appreciated being pandered to.


This illustrates why it’s also possibly the worst time to be a fan of the X-Men. The franchise really does threaten to buckle and collapse. Fan expectations are higher than ever, but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of enjoying great art, we’re nitpicking over devotion to storylines and character designs that are sometimes several decades old. I’ve read on Twitter about how Logan ruined the goodwill of First Class and Days of Future Past. (For the record: No, it didn’t. That was one of the many, many sins of X-Men: Apocalypse.) I’ve known some fans who gave up on Legion before it began because it lacked the main character’s gravity-defying haircut from the comics.

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Is this the Legion you wanted?

We can’t let our nostalgia blind us to what deserves attention, and we can’t let what has gotten our attention to allow us to become smug toward people who don’t know any better. I understand the frustration of discovering new fans. We were there for the missteps and the rebranding, and now that our patience and diligence have paid off, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to force us out! But this is all the more reason to be patient. Why be the reason they stop enjoying something?


We can’t ignore the quality of what’s right in front of us. Never before has there been so much great work, and hopefully it will inspire more. The Gifted premieres later this year, and The New Mutants will be released in 2020. The reception of those will probably be divided too, but I appreciate the bold decision to make the latter a horror movie. Such experimentation should be rewarded, not hamstrung by fan expectations; it’s the best way to create and inspire new fans of what could become but never should be a worn-out idea.


So maybe the best time to be a fan of the X-Men is the future.

The True Loss of Lafayette

Nelsan Ellis, the actor most known for his charismatic and inspiring portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds on the horror drama True Blood, died Saturday, July 8, 2017 at the age of 39. In addition to his role as Lafayette, Ellis played Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Butler, Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic Get On Up, and Shinwell Johnson on the Sherlock Holmes-inspired detective series Elementary. We will never know what more he might have done in his career, because even for Black artists who achieve creative and commercial success, Black health is still neglected in the US.

Lafayette dies at the end of the first book of The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris (on which True Blood was based), but Lafayette was so popular with fans that he stayed alive on the HBO series for all seven seasons. His characterization was beloved like few others. And when we heard the news of Ellis’s death, many of us responded with surprise that someone not even 40 years old could die of heart failure. The most common response has been that “he was so young.” But it might not shock us at all if we knew that at the same time as HBO made their official statement, and True Blood creator Alan Ball, as well as Anna Paquin and other actors who knew Ellis tweeted their official condolences, Black people all over the US continued to suffer from health problems in disproportionate numbers.

More has been written about Black health than has been written about Sookie Stackhouse (even considering fanfiction). Mountainous statistics have been collected and published. There is more data available than a single essay could ever reference, but an overview from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (latest available figures, 2014) show us that Black Americans have higher infant mortality rates, higher hypertension rates, and lower life expectancy. And it’s not just genetic chance. Racism is a public health issue in the US.

A study released by Boston University researchers links racism to adult onset asthma, finding that the stress of living with racism manifests itself in the immune system and airways of Black women. The predisposition of passing asthma onto children is greater for females than for males of any ethnicity, yet Black children are twice as likely to have asthma as White children and 10 times more likely to die of complications from asthma. Geneticist Marquitta White published a study that found that most of the genetic information scientists have on asthma patients doesn’t even apply to Black people. “The majority of genetic studies, not just in asthma but in most diseases, are done in Caucasian- or European-descent populations,” she explained to Morning Edition on NPR. “The longest studies do not really include very many minority populations, which means that most patients aren’t getting the best care, because we don’t really know what the disease etiology is in their particular population.” In healthcare, a $3 trillion industry as infused with White supremacist notions as any other, Black lives are neglected.

Psychology Ph.D candidate Kelly Hoffman led a study at the University of Virginia that queried 222 White medical students and found that a full fifty percent of them believed in pseudoscientific biological differences between Black and White people, including the outright nonsense that Black people age more slowly, that their nerve endings are less sensitive, that their blood coagulates more quickly, and that their skin is thicker than White people. These aren’t high school dropouts handing out fliers for the Ku Klux Klan. These are people studying to practice medicine who likely consider themselves compassionate and progressive.

Some of us (who likely also consider ourselves compassionate and progressive) have responded to the report that Nelsan Ellis died from complications of alcohol withdrawal by implying that he was somehow the cause of his own demise. To help others who also struggle with addiction, though, Ellis’s family released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter:

Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure. Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. According to his father, during his withdrawal from alcohol he had a blood infection, his kidneys shut down, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted, and his dear sweet heart raced out of control.

Researchers find that Black Americans report lower rates of alcohol use than White Americans, but have disproportionally higher levels of alcohol-related problems, including legal problems related to drinking, even at the same levels of consumption as White Americans. And Black people struggling with addiction as Ellis was have less lifetime access to health care, are statistically less likely to visit doctors and therapists, and are less likely to be referred to specialists. No one could have done what Ellis was trying to do, alone.

If you cherished Lafayette’s effortless transition from flamboyant to masculine and back again, use your voice—in person and online—to educate, to advocate, to vote for initiatives that improve the health and wellness of Black lives. Caring for Black lives needs to begin off-panel, off-screen, before performers are cast in roles as our favorite characters. It needs to begin with prenatal care and continue throughout the real lifetimes of the real people playing these characters. If you work in health care, promote patient dignity and personal responsibility, improve communication, pay special attention to cultural context. Much of the problem is structural racism that needs to be entirely dismantled, but what we do on the ground as individuals is important too. Get involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not only about police violence. It’s about lives that are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise, from the delivery room to the convalescent home.

What if these real life struggles affected our favorite characters in fiction?

Statistically, Finn might not live much longer than the events of Star Wars: Episode IX. Black Lightning wouldn’t be able to fight sickle cell disease the way he fights Tobias Whale. For every Michonne, there’s a Black girl who would die in the forests of Georgia as a result of asthma long before the walkers got to her. For every Luke Cage, there’s an HIV-positive Black man unjustly incarcerated as a result of HIV criminalization. For every Ororo Munroe, there’s a Black woman weathering the storm of being a victim of domestic violence but denied pain medication in the emergency room. It hurts to imagine T’Challa wasting away for lack of care. It should hurt a lot more to imagine the same about real people.

Because for every Lafayette Roberts, there’s a Nelsan Ellis who doesn’t get to live long enough for a cast reunion at a future comic con. May increased awareness of Black health be our memorial to our favorite short order cook and psychic medium.  

Rest in Power

Nelsan Ellis

November 30, 1978—July 8, 2017

Review: Letters for Lucardo

Iron Circus Comics has been steadily publishing a slew of critically-acclaimed anthologies and graphic novels primarily created by women that focus on queer themes. Among their titles are the collected print edition of the acclaimed webcomic The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal and the sex-positive “by women for everyone” erotica collection Smut Peddler. Their latest, Letters For Lucardo by writer and artist Noora Heikkila, was [successfully Kickstarted last fall and began shipping this spring. It tells the story of an interracial, inter-generational queer Vampire/Human couple, and does so with the tenderness its subjects deserve.

I’ll be the first to admit that vampires are not what drew me to backing this Kickstarter. While it isn’t a subgenre I read regularly, it didn’t deter me either. I didn’t realize there were vampires in it at all until after the book arrived. Though the vampire mythos is impossible to miss once you start reading, the word vampire (to my knowledge) is never spoken. Instead, what we get is a fully realized world in its own right, distinct from the well-known genre tropes. The religion centered around the Silent Lord and ruled by the Night Court is as creepy as it is fascinating. What really drives the plot, however, are the two central characters Ed and Lucardo.

Ed is a 61-year-old scribe working for the Night Court, of which Lucardo is a member. Lucardo hails from a powerful family of ageless aristocrats, and develops strong feelings for Ed in spite of his family’s misgivings. While this is erotica, and the sexual tension is present right from the first scene, the story takes its time to build up to the sex scenes. Each one is approached with a mix of tenderness and raw primal force that is often brought out by love and mutual attraction. It’s through these scenes that we see both characters at their most vulnerable. They help set the tone for dramatic turns outside of the bedroom, making them all the more resonant and powerful.

At its core, this is a story about loving someone in spite of societal boundaries. While the world that Ed and Lucardo live in is not a direct parallel to ours, they experience many struggles resembling those interracial queer couples face. Lucardo’s place on the Night Court grants him a life of privilege unlike anything that Ed has ever known. He starts out largely oblivious to Ed’s struggles, only to realize through the cruel pranks of his siblings and disrespect paid by his father, just how powerful those societal pressures can be. Without dropping any spoilers, it is these very pressures that come to a head and leave the reader eagerly anticipating Book 2.

The physical copy of the book is available now for pre-order, and digital copy can be purchased now from the Iron Circus Store. You can also check out a 10-page preview on the Iron Circus Tumblr.”

Kickstarter We’re Into: Bingo Love

There is so much about Bingo Love, an 80-page graphic novella about two older black women in love, that feels unprecedented, including its subject matter, its intersectionality, and the speed with which it was funded. This is a comic unlike anything on the market right now, and deserves attention. I first learned of Bingo Love through my Twitter feed, and was immediately intrigued. I always want to know about any queer-themed comics that are being produced, and support them as best I can, and the image of two black women with gray hair cuddling over bingo cards was stunning. Launched on March 15, the Kickstarter campaign organized by publisher Inclusive Press reached its goal in only five days.

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The story written by Tee Franklin (who will be tabling at FlameCon 2017) concerns Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, two black women who meet in 1963 and become friends. Their relationship develops into love, but suffers because of the time period. It proves indomitable, though, as they reconnect several years later, and learn they are just as in love as older women as they were as teenagers. Jenn St-Onge is the artist who will bring these characters to life, accompanied by the colors of Joy San and the letters of Cardinal Rae. Erica Schultz is the editor.

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As quoted by Bleeding Cool, Franklin wanted “Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ meets Moonlight. We want to tell the story of women who are gay, Black, and in love — and who learn to live without apology. We also want to show that love and passion are present at every age — and just as intense for women in their sixties as for teenagers.” Franklin is the innovator of the #BlackComicsMonth campaign and started the publishing company behind Bingo Love to increase representation. In a recent interview with Comicosity, she explained why she chose Kickstarter as the method of producing this book: “There are so many strikes against this comic that doesn’t fit in this straight white male comics dominated world.” Hopefully, this comic’s tremendous success will change the industry and what it perceives as bankable properties.

As of this writing, Bingo Love has earned more than $31,000 of its initial $19,999 goal, and that number continues to climb. With more than one thousand backers, it has garnered media attention on Huffington Post and Book Riot.

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The Kickstarter campaign for Bingo Love ends Monday, April 17 at 11:00 CDT. Among the rewards are digital and print editions, enamel pins, postcards, and variant covers by other artists, including Genevieve Eft and Nilah Magruder. There are also script and portfolio reviews available from comics professionals such as Shawn Pryor (Cash and Carrie) and Bryan Edward Hill from Top Cow, and Skype sessions with comics legends such as Gail Simone and Steve Orlando. Let’s see what stretch goals we can unlock!

Solarpunk: Fighting the Trajectory of our Dystopian Future

“Badlands” by Reed Olsen.

Most of us are pretty familiar with bleak dystopian landscapes at this point: The Walking Dead, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Hunger Games are some recent examples, but the subgenre has been around for ages. Just a few weeks into Trump’s first term as president, it’s beginning to feel like we are living in (or on the cusp of living in) our own dystopia. Amazon sold out of George Orwell’s 1984 (originally published in 1949) during his first week in office. Others have been arguing that we should be paying closer attention to the warnings of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (originally published in 1932) instead. Either way, the outlook isn’t great. If the future they have already warned us about is here, then what hope is there for a better future? The answer might lie in the genre of solarpunk.

“City Landscape” by lavaria-chan.

Wikipediadefines solarpunk:
Solarpunk is a relatively new eco-futurist speculative movement focused on envisioning a positive future beyond scarcity and hierarchy, where humanity is reintegrated with nature and technology is used for human-centric and ecocentric purposes.

Solarpunk first came to my attention after a panel at Readercon 2015, and the movement is still very much in its early stages. There are already examples of people publishing anthologies and webcomics in the genre. In times like our present, it is easy to see the appeal of such a movement. Named in a similar fashion to the more well-known cyberpunk, it envisions a starkly different future. Not a dystopian hellscape nor an escapist fantasy, solarpunk looks to create possible worlds where humankind has achieved harmony with the world we all live in and depend on. Optimism is not a new concept, but it is rare in contemporary science fiction and fantasy. Solarpunk offers the opportunity to show the world some different ways to move forward.

“Green City” by Nick Pedersen.

Solarpunk doesn’t necessarily preclude a utopia. However it does offer a unique chance to create worlds that are free from our present social justice struggles. What might a world look like where LGBT acceptance is as commonplace as religion? What implications would that have on future understandings of gender? What new social problems could emerge once we figure out the conflicts of the present? Once you start digging in, the possibilities are endless. Some of the ideas I’m particularly fascinated with are: what does it look like when having an egalitarian social order conflicts with free will? What happens when a present day counter culture movement becomes mainstream? For anyone who thinks a utopia wouldn’t have enough conflicts to make an interesting story, it might be less challenging than it seems. A more perfect world doesn’t mean it’s a perfect world.

“5:45 to Santa Monica: now boarding!” by cienias.

In the US, we now have a president who denies the existence of climate change and is seen by most as a threat to LGBT rights. It is easy to feel powerless and lose hope. Solarpunk could be a powerful tool for inspiring a future worth fighting for; it doesn’t need to be an exercise in wishful thinking. Rather than using the fear of a grim future to scare people into action, solarpunk can use fiction to give people hope. It can help push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. It can give us a roadmap to work from. Mind you, this is all coming from someone who is currently writing a post-apocalyptic webcomic series. In my defense, the underlying theme of it is about fighting for free will against the institutions that try to shape us, but I’m not here to do a pitch. I’m using it as an example to say: painting a hopeful future isn’t exactly my forte. That doesn’t mean I can’t take up the challenge that solarpunk offers, and I am hoping other writers will heed the call to lend their unique voices to the movement.”

From Stonewall to Strange

A little more than one year ago, the movie Stonewall was released (I’d write came out, but that’s too easy). Supposedly about the riots that led to the Gay Rights Movement, it replaced the historic Black and Latinx rioters with the blandest cis white guy imaginable to tell a fictional coming-of-age story. The director, Roland Emmerich, partially justified this to Buzzfeed by saying: “As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.” Apparently, there’s a shortage of white protagonists upon whom Emmerich can project himself. The real rioters of Stonewall were trans women of color, drag queens, lesbians, and other representatives of the gay community that are largely ignored by most media, the marginalized of the marginalized.

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This guy was not present at Stonewall.

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Marsha P. Johnson was, and deserves a better movie. (Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

Last month, the newest Marvel movie opened. Doctor Strange has the benefit of not depicting historical events, but it still contains a white actor in a role that is historically Asian. Even worse, the story is steeped in the “Shangri-La” myth, the idea of an “exotic” East that leads white people to higher levels of consciousness (while presenting a homogenous and watered-down view of Asian culture). These are throwbacks to Victorian ideas that anything as “mysterious” as Asia must also be “magical.” It’s the condescending, sanctimonious cousin to the “yellow peril” storylines that dominated Golden Age comics, and from which the original designs of the Ancient One were derived.

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Is it better or worse that a racist stereotype is played by a white woman? The question itself distracts from the fact that the story deals in racist stereotypes in the first place. Doctor Strange’s origin dilutes the importance of the culture presented; it becomes less about the people with mystical powers and more about the white person who reacts to them. One of the writers of Doctor Strange admitted that one of the reasons they made this change was out of consideration for the Chinese movie market, because they cannot acknowledge the existence of Tibet. Instead of changing the setting, or the main character’s race, or any other aspect of the story that might result in less outrage, they made the Ancient One white. (He later clarified that this statement did not represent Marvel, but the damage had been done.)

Finally, Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson is set to open March 31, 2017. There were reports that video effects were going to be used to give the GITS cast more “Asian” features — the CGI equivalent of slapping on a set of buck teeth and glasses. Though this was abandoned, the movie was not. This regressive treatment of people is shameful and the gay community should be among those expressing the righteous indignation that is the only proper response.

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Any defense of such marginalization to maintain a status quo becomes increasingly indefensible. It is obvious how offensive it is, and the only reason more people aren’t offended by it is because we’re all so used to it.

Gay icon Alan Turing was given a biopic (also starring Benedict Cumberbatch) last January that barely hinted at his homosexuality. There is also a history of straight actors playing gay roles and cis men playing trans roles. Thankfully, Stonewall did not do well at the box office. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange has so far grossed more than $600 million and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. As much as I would like Ghost in the Shell not to do well, frankly, I have a sinking feeling it will be considered a success by those who made it.

This affects us, too, because so much of the gay community is also Asian. According to one study, ethnic minorities actually make up a majority of gay people. We are represented not just by a literal rainbow, but a physical one. This intersectionality means we should be the first to stand up for minority rights and representation. The stereotype of a weak, effeminate gay man has been replaced with an affluent, straight-acting, cis white man and is just as harmful. Worse, racism is well documented among us. The gay community transcends race, or at least it should; there are gay people of every creed and culture, class and race. We should be the first to demand more representation of everyone.