Preface

Featured

Welcome to the blog and website of Hugo Jackson, author of The Resonance Tetralogy, and general creative person. Please feel free to explore the site as you please, and don’t be afraid to comment!

BOOKS:

Legacy, Book One of The Resonance Tetralogy

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes and Noble | Inspired Quill (Worldwide shipping)

Fracture, Book Two of The Resonance Tetralogy

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes and Noble | Inspired Quill (Worldwide shipping)

Social media links:

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If you have found me at a convention and want to tag or follow my cosplay stuff on Facebook, you can find me here:

BritFang Cosplay

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RWBY: The Stirring Un-feminism of Season 4

So this is a contentious issue. I’ll state first of all that Rooster Teeth is one of my all-time favourite production companies for the huge amount of engagement they have with their community and the sheer amount of hard work they dedicate to building up their name and talent. RWBY particularly has a place forever in my heart and mind for the inspiring story behind its creation and the authentic, infinitely generous passion of its creator, Monty Oum. Trying to critique it at this stage feels like kicking a service dog, especially when it has such a dedicated, creative, and prolific fanbase, and considering the heartfelt efforts Kerry and Miles have put in to carry on what can only be a hugely daunting legacy.

But…

RWBY Oh dear

YOU WERE SAYING?

This is another feminist rant again, right?

Essentially… yeah. I mean particularly with Season 4, it’s easy to see where the dynamic has shifted. And that’s not necessarily as a result of it passing out of Monty’s hands, although two different directors being given the same content will inevitably make things that are very different. You only need to look at how the Harry Potter movies changed from director to director to see the atmosphere shift, even ignoring the darkening plot.

(WARNING: RWBY SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW)

But RWBY does so much right! It’s awesome!

It IS an awesome concept, yes. And it DOES do a lot right, or at least it did. It is the show that started making men want to crossplay in my local cosplay group, and had them talking about gender representation in media generally. The highlight of one particular exchange:

“You know, I really wanna cosplay someone from RWBY, but the main guy is Jaune, and he’s kinda weak. But… well, I guess that’s how girls feel when they watch literally any other show.”

That a show can be performing quality subliminal education on its audience to any degree is great. AND, in the first few seasons at least, there’s little-to-no sexualisation of any of the characters (even Yang’s, erm, endowments aren’t given any particular focus). For volumes 1-3 Ruby herself has no skin showing except her face and her hands, and that is SO AWESOME, especially in a combat/magical girl genre for a teenage audience where panty shots are pretty much an inevitable punchline in any given twenty-minute span.

mad_mavis_vermilion_by_skyfinity-d5v3xsp

Mavis is VERY upset by the positions her Guild members are frequently put into.

So the foundation is rock-solid. If you’re going into specifics like the Bechdel test, or even just a qualitative analysis of how the girls interact and who drives the plot, the first seasons are fricking gold standard. The very first scene is Ruby kicking arse, directing the flow of combat with incredible prowess. She drives the story and, being so excellent in front of Glynda, is the reason she’s accepted into Beacon Academy. Throughout this series, she and her team are the driving focus and very few scenes are stolen by any of the guys.

Granted, there are only two male deuteragonists at this stage; Jaune and Ren, but even then, Jaune and Pyrrha have equal footing on their interactions, as do Ren and Nora. There’s never a point where the impetus is handed completely to a guy to keep the scenes or story going, and none of the characters are held hostage in their progression by anything a guy does.  This is a frequent problem with many stories, especially ones that proclaim to have strong women, because often they’re left helplessly strung along by the guy’s actions or intentions. Please check out how many issues I had with Wonder Women for these same reasons if you haven’t had enough of my voice yet.

Nora oh no

“Rant about MY FAVES, will you?”

Alright Buster, what did RWBY actually do, then?

Aside from distorting the characters’ body proportions (see Blake’s section), the main criticism I have with the series at this point is the degredation and inconsistencies with its characters, specifically the reduction of the girls’ strength and increasing emotional dependence on the men.

Season 4 opens with Cinder sitting at a table with some of Salem’s henchmen that we’ve never met before; Hazel, Arthur, and Tyrian. Cinder is reduced to a whisper and sports a severely damaged (or missing) eye after her encounter with Ruby on the tower. The guys in the room spend their time belittling her for being weak, until Salem comes in and shuts them up.

Cinder up to this point has been a near unstoppable force in the show. Having her reduced to a struggling mute is definitely indicative of a shift in power, if for no other reason than nothing like this has ever happened before in the world of Vale, but this has some troubling undertones. We get that the guys are arrogant and conceited, but there is never an acknowledgement that Cinder was ever strong, except by Salem. Given that she had already nearly slain one of the maidens (seen in Season 3) and they have all obviously known of each other for some time, it’s a little contrarian for opportunistic malefactors like them to comment on what they see as an inherent weakness than her inflicted weakness caused by the battle at Beacon.

Salem srs

Really? Seriously? We were supposed to be past this.

The irony is that this is arguably the strongest and most independent we see any woman for the first five-six episodes in the show, because Salem shoots down her henchmen’s crappy (and rather confusingly-constructed) arguments and takes control of the room where Cinder can’t. We don’t even know who Salem is, but if she has Cinder quaking in her boots, she must mean business.

But herein lies the foundation for the tones seeping into RWBY, and it’s a sadly common occurrence for women in media, especially sci-fi action, and a largely-criticised trope of Joss Whedon fiction in particular: a woman cannot be powerful without also suffering directly as a result of that power. This begins to become apparent in Season 3, where Yang, Blake, Ruby, Penny, Pyrrha and Cinder all suffer something horrible as a result of their increasing abilities and positions.

While an escalation of danger is often necessary for furthering the plot, in Season 4 it happens in a more insidious and subconscious way than actual bodily harm. It’s about removing agency, lack of control, and having situations consistently dominated by the male characters. Kind of exactly like the Wonder Woman movie, even after it was saved from Joss Whedon’s terrible faux-feminist fingers.

ren worried

You and me both, matey.

Not a single one of the main four characters has agency in their given scenes or episodes, with the exception of Weiss, the only one of the four who stays any degree above it.

Red Like Roses Fills my Dreams (but just in the background)

Ruby fighting in team RNJR gives us unique snapshots at her increasing capabilities, but sadly she’s relegated to mostly taking directions from Jaune. Ruby was a masterful strategist in her own right by the second season, understanding her team’s abilities innately to take down pretty much anything they faced. In the Season 4 skirmishes, she doesn’t contribute anything except raw power, martial arts prowess, and in the case of Qrow’s fight with Tyrian, actually causes Qrow to be injured by way of her intervention. This takes on the Whedon-esque visions of punishing a girl for becoming stronger by making her choose between two scenarios, both of which weaken her- she chooses to fight when warned not to, and almost loses her uncle as a result. While raw power is definitely something to aspire to, it also reduces Ruby to a tool to be exploited; Nora suffers from this even moreso, whether as a bruiser for dramatic effects shots or a relatively-blank vessel to see Ren’s character development.

NoraHammer2

If you want to be the one to tell her that, be my guest. I’ll inform your loved ones.

The irony is as soon as we enter the series, Nora and Ren have a dialogue that’s more prophetic than it should have been, debating whether the team should be called JNRR or RNJR because they’re not sure if the original team majority dictates the focus of the mission. That’s how the story progresses, with unsteady footing due to the organic chemistry of the principal characters being left in the previous season when they were all in the same place.

It’s not only in battle where Ruby is forced back for the sake of others. Jaune leads them with the map; Ruby watches or follows. When they enter a village, Ren takes charge. It’s almost as if each scene has to be either serious, sad or comedic- if it’s serious, the lead is given to Ren. Sad, it’s Jaune. If it’s comedic, it’s split between Jaune and Ruby, or Ren and Nora. There’s no nuance. The plot dictates the character’s emotions, and not the reverse. This season was intended as Ruby’s journey, and she is very much in the back seat.

So Jaune and Ruby are sort of at odds, because she has both the power and the knowledge, but seems to be functionally redundant to give Jaune and Ren some interaction. And yes, Jaune needs development. But he gets that. He has the most touching moment of the entire season, following directions from Pyrrha recorded on his scroll. I think him being less active in the initial fight would have made both him and Ruby stronger in the long run by showcasing their dedication to the journey as a whole, and the contrast in their individual paths. Your characters aren’t deep or varied if they can essentially all do exactly the same stuff in different colours.

Ruby shatter

Presented without comment.

Crushing Rose

Before we get to the brilliant poignancy of that night-time training scene, we suffer the most egregious betrayal of Ruby’s character, and perhaps the show as a whole. After the battle with the Geist, we discover The Scene Had To Be Written This Way To Give Jaune Something To Do because Jaune’s equipment is currently being reforged from Pyrrha’s old weapons.

This potentially touching moment, however, is ruined by Ruby’s uncharacteristically mean-spirited mocking of Jaune’s bunny hoodie. It’s out of character at best, especially as (aside from Pyrrha) she’s always been the most emotionally receptive of anyone, particularly to Jaune when they were both found to be the leaders of their teams, AND she herself has shown affinity for animal-themed clothing. Ruby and Jaune were (from our perspective) both hit hardest by the loss of Pyrrha, so to have her break into such a raucous fit at a pivotal moment for Jaune’s reconciliation is unfair to him as a guy, and her as a sympathetic leader. This comes at a point where we ourselves are still reeling from Pyrrha’s loss, so even if this HAD to happen, it would have been better suited to something entirely separate from Pyrrha’s memories.

Pyrrha scary face

DO NOT

To add to the inconsideration for Jaune’s mourning, Ruby is also preying on a character we know to be emotionally vulnerable from the very beginning. Placing this scene in which the lead girl openly and brutally mocks her male friend for showing ‘immasculating’ interests is blindingly punishing, and an insult to any guy who enjoys a show about girls with frilly skirts and awesome weapons. It furthers the damaging stereotypes of hegemonic masculinity that guys can’t like soft things or be emotionally open in the first place, by making fun of a character that was mercilessly bullied by larger guys for being weak in Season 1. Jaune knows his weaknesses already, and, like many male fans, he’s introverted, nerdy, and clumsy. Ruby’s cajoling is in bad taste, and destroys many of the sincere moments that have come before.

To feed my ego and read how I’d have taken the scene differently while retaining most of the original dialogue, check out a revised version of the Episode 1 script here.

fuckthistree

Wanted for destruction of positive anti-stereotypes

 

Mirror, Mirror, who are these people?

Weiss is a tricky one because she’s always struggled to free herself from her father’s omnipresence, financially or personally. The instant we see her in Season 4, she’s summoned to her father’s study, and every move she makes from this point is dictated by an interaction with another guy, except the single moment she accidentally summons a Boarbatusk to deal with a terrible privileged women who says disasters are the victim’s own fault (and seriously, Screw Her). Her brother creeps her out, her butler makes her smile again, her father coerces her into singing, another guy creeps her out at the ball, and Ironwood saves her from a very expensive lawsuit. Every turn she takes is completely dictated by the flow of other people, all men, and it’s aggressively diminishing to her character. Maybe that’s the point, the series making a subconscious but salient observation that she’s a prisoner now that she’s back in Atlas. But it doesn’t quite ring that way.

Her dialogue, with the actual words in the scripts, at least, is solid. She’s skeptical and steadfast. Despite her reputation as the Ice Queen, and despite the stringent limits to her surroundings, she actually shows incredible depth of character in the conversations she does have, a considerable amount more than her teammates. She shows genuine warmth to her butler and contempt for those who’d mock Vale, but at no point in the story does she make her own choice that drives her story until the very end, and the cinematography is focused much mroe on the characters around her than on her, which diminishes her power in the show itself, even though what she actually says gives her presence. When she had such independence in the first seasons and motivated other characters (like Ruby) to new places and have difficult conversations and learn more herself, it’s sad to see her become nothing but a passenger.

When she works on summoning the knight towards the season’s third act, we see her finally taking some volition and displaying a power completely independent of the world around her and makes the decision to escape. But not without another uncharacteristic, stereotypically-girly breakdown and cry on the bed. Weiss is the girl with the tantrums and dramatic stormy exits. If she’d just kicked around the furniture and gone straight to her summoning, it would have been an excellent turnaround. The crying, sadly, dilutes it.

And even her escape isn’t under her own steam. She asks Klein for help, and he pretty much does all of the work for her. Weiss, for all her verbal fortitude, barely escapes this dependency on others for the entire season.

weiss head roll

Sass, not sobs.

 

Black The Beast Disdains from Shadow

I’m going to start with an image comparison here.

On the left is Season 2 Blake, and on the right is Season 3. If you didn’t immediately notice the siphoning of her waist into her breasts, there’s kind of a problem. The stylisation, if that’s all it is, adds an unnecessary emphasis to her chest, which in my view upsets the boundary-pushing standard that women, especially teenage girls, don’t need to be busty or revealing to be powerful or popular. This is another damaging trope exuded by many Whedon productions: that women are entirely dependent on men for their strength, either sexually, or emotionally, and therefore have to cater to them in such a manner.

Before you cry out that I’m only picking on Blake because boobs, she isn’t the only one. Look at her stalker partner Sun:

On the left is Season 2, the right, the most recent season. Sun either worked out a bunch in the months preceding Season 4, or he makes a cushy side living smuggling shoulder pads to Menagerie. I’m not a fan of the open-shirt look, but I can at least appreciate that he had realistic proportions before The Buffening.

Sun, I Am Disappoint

I never particularly liked Sun. He looked better before he was trying to cosplay Spring Break Prince Adam. But his renewed portrayal is another example of how the show discredits young guys’ physical and mental images. Let’s also look at his shared journey with Blake.

Blake left Vale. Alone. Sun admits that he stalked her because, in his words, he knew she didn’t want to be alone. If you’ve ever spoken to a rape/harassment/stalking victim, or even a child of an aggressively protective parent, you should know why gestures like that are severely problematic. While we know on the surface this is coming from a place of protection, it’s still legitimately creepy as heck for a girl to be followed without her knowledge and against her wishes. Not only does it demonstrate a complete disregard for her and show he has no faith in her combat abilities (extra insulting given that she was An Actual Member of the White Fang and Adam Bitchpant-Taurus’s Girlfriend), it removes her from being in charge of her own story, much like every other girl this season. Sun’s grand protector role comes off as arrogant (which, granted, he always has been), unwelcome, and forces Blake into playing pithy reluctance and, despite having held her own in combat many, MANY times before, Sun’s encroachment into her battles actually forced her to need rescuing.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that it paints Blake as a perpetual stalking victim, because her violent and abusive ex-boyfriend literally stalked her for three seasons. Sun’s behaviour is unacceptable mimicry even if his motivations are different. The ‘counteract’ to this, the point which is allegedly supposed to justify his idiocy in the audience’s eyes, is Blake physically slapping him multiple times for his crass and invasive behaviour. It’s a poor justification not only because it highlights terrible communication between the two, but it also reduces Blake to being unable to verbalise or control her emotions. Just FYI, slapping a guy does not make you a strong character when you are also entirely dependent on that same guy for your emotional journey (the final admission that she did, in fact, feel guilty for leaving).

rwby-volume-2-screenshot-03

What do you mean, we hang out with GUYS? Aren’t those things contagious?

While we’re talking about guys being creepy around Blake, we can’t ignore the overbearing and way-too-familiar nameless captain that was all but working his way up to a full-blown proposition for her. Even if that was never the intention (and I doubt it was, given knowledge of the writers’ own good sense of mind), the pervasiveness of that language makes the loss of the girls’ agency and the shadow of subconscious rape culture harder to escape. If you’ve been following the ‘MeToo’ hashtag on social media lately, you’ll likely have seen a lot of instances of creepy behaviours to avoid, and this is one of them. For a show that made such a huge impact by showcasing girls with dazzling choreography and having outfits specifically designed to be practical for girls to cosplay in, it’s disappointing to not keep broadcasting that progressive attitude.

And it’s such an easy trap to fall into with writing, especially by men. I may well have done it in my own books, although I’m trying to change that. If you start incorporating traditional gender observations/tropes into your fiction without subverting them or demonstrating their fallacies, you will encounter sexism within your own creations.

And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control. – Natasha Simons, The Mary Sue

Both Sun and Qrow do this. We understand the world of Remnant is more dangerous now, so there is a justifiable need for characters to band together, but the new season is rife with elements where the girls aren’t even being given the chance to fight. Qrow is literally killing ALL of the Grimm while also stalking Ruby, even though single or teams of Grimm have never been an issue for the group. He also forbids her from fighting. There’s no justification for either his or Sun’s lack of faith or reason to keep stoic distance other than persistence of overbearing and arrogant masculinity.

Fumblebee

While we’re here, let’s briefly touch on Blake’s reunion with her father, a cavalcade of awkwardness that didn’t even get to explain the reason she returned home. She insisted to Sun that she wanted to ‘get home and relax’. Relax? After a battle that almost killed you and lost your best friend her arm? After your abusive ex showed up in the middle of a battle that destroyed your sanctuary? What about “I can’t face my team. I hurt them too much. So much of this is my fault. I wasn’t strong enough. I need to make things right and I don’t know how, so I’m starting at the beginning.” Not a single iota of that or even how she was affected by Yang’s injury is conveyed even when she confesses to Sun that she feels guilty, so all we get is irritated evasion and exasperated protests against company. It backtracks her character by several seasons, not even organically.

Blake pissed

Even she will tell you it’s not a good look.

Yellow Beauty Burns Cold

Of all of them, Yang is the one with the greatest reason to actually be disparate and in need of help, given she:
-lost an arm
-failed to protect her best friend, whom she lost the arm for
-had that same friend ABANDON HER before she even regained consciousness
-is unable to follow or protect her little sister while she’s on a great and perilous journey

Aside from the traumatic flashbacks and noncommittal responses to her father’s kind gestures, the focus isn’t so much on what happened to her, but who did it. Granted, Adam is a big part of her battle, but it’s his visage that looms in every of her nightmares. Yang has never been afraid of a guy before. Losing her strength or something valuable, like when she loses a few hairs, those are big trigger points for her rage. One of her dreams almost gets it when she’s shown to have her Ember Celicas vanish in the midst of a fight, but it’s still Adam at the centre of it, and not the traumatic loss of her arm and the friend she sacrificed it for. Yang is a fighter; bold, proud, and flamboyant, and has been from the very first moment we saw her in the Yellow trailer. And she isn’t anymore.

Losing her arm isn’t an unrealistic transition for her depressive state. But the mentality of trauma and its recovery is such a balance to strike, and it didn’t ring true, if for no other reason than it’s portrayed as the fear of Adam that’s holding her back and that never gets resolved. The apparent cure isn’t even to remind her of her friends. In some weird, nondescript way, Taiyang inviting his professor buddies over and making a really incisive insult to Yang about her arm… changes her mind? Yang might have always been one for puns, but taking a jab at her recent and severely-affecting trauma is not how PTSD therapy works. It’s almost reminiscent of the terrifyingly-dense Andrew Tate’s refusal to acknowledge that depression exists (he also claimed that anyone above 15 who watched cartoons was a loser and no woman would want you). This is something that is almost universally portrayed incorrectly in mediayou cannot brute-force depression or trauma into remission.

It wasn’t even a reminder of the friends Yang could be protecting that urged her into action. What would have made more sense is Taiyang asking her how she felt about Blake, and Yang getting upset about that and recovering to either smack Blake into shape for running off, AGAIN (see season 2), or ask her if she ran because of guilt and to smack her into shape regardless, because Yang’d gladly lose the other one if it meant Blake would survive to tear Adam to pieces. That’s the kind of solidarity and resolve the series needs, and would have been nicely mirrored if Blake had any of the same feelings, but the show has none of that. Instead it implied Yang was guilted into recovery for overhearing how bad things were in Vale, and then undergoes Magical Fighting Therapy Session and Vague Emotional Placation with her father and everything is okay again. It glosses over the severity of her emotions and implies she’s ‘just kinda bummed’ and not ‘suffering from severe PTSD that nobody’s adequately addressed’.

Yang smug cat

“I don’t do trauma, but when I do, it’d better be serious. No time for half measures.”

Oh, and by the way, Taiyang also suffered from a case of The Buffening:

LOOK AT HIS SHOULDERS. Arms really don’t work like that. Season 3’s Tai looked so much more natural, especially in his face. I hope Season 5 will be a step back in the right direction.

So, what now?

I’ve no idea. I’ve seen the Weiss and Blake character shorts for Season 5, and it’s not filling me with confidence so far, but they’re not really meant to give anything away. Yang’s looked pretty good, though.

There’s a lot more I can say. I will, but this is epic enough already. I’m actually starting up a project of revising scripts from Season 4 to make them more balanced towards the women, erase some of the elements I raised above, and bring them more cohesion. You can read the first episode here.

The thing is, despite what I’ve said, I still love RWBY. The concept of it, the characters, the absolute dedication by the creators and fans, are all beyond anything I’ve ever seen. And I’ll still watch it. So I want it to be good. It deserves to be good. I wouldn’t be as passionately worried about it if I didn’t care about the characters and direction I feel they’re being taken. The new opening already looks like this season has a better sense of focus *crosses fingers* But it’s always important to remember that we can still love something dearly while being critical of where it may fall down, or change, and enough discussion can safeguard an audience from ever being disappointed.

The Things Nobody Says

Sometimes, it is hard to do anything.

That is why, right now, instead of doing the things I cannot, I am writing about them. I hope that this may act as a small impetus to moving ahead on those things.

I took Twitter off my phone the other day because I was getting too obsessed over constantly checking my notifications and trying to take part in an argument that I didn’t technically need to get involved with. It’s part of getting wrapped up in social media. Seeing voices from people you don’t like, people you tried hard to like, and even people you do like, contributing to what I felt was a character assassination, wasn’t easy. And the thing is, the statement the guy made was dumb, ignorant, rude, and combative. There’s no defending that. Apparently an apology isn’t enough, though, because people feed into the outrage culture so quickly to get likes and confirmation of their voice that it snowballed so quickly. Trying to act in a way I thought was rational, after making my own objections, didn’t really work.

And in a way I can’t really blame people for reacting as they did, because nobody wants to be told they don’t belong in a place they finally call home after being shown their whole lives nobody else wants them. It’s a swing to the face in everyone who ever felt disheartened at society’s oppressive harshness that ‘being an adult’ means you’re supposed to lose passion for anything fun, nerdy, or that isn’t what corporations tell you to. I still feel self-conscious going through toy aisles in supermarkets by myself, even though they will always, always be my favourite parts of any store.

But it didn’t stop, and turned into a huge, animous tirade that virtually sent someone into hiding. I’ve never seen everyone go after someone relatively young and vulnerable who was actually trying to make up for his mistake at the end. I’ve seen attacks against big names, and while they aren’t invalid just for their size, they have scores of people lining up to defend them. This guy had none, and that felt very dangerous to me, especially where he wasn’t objectively malicious (like altfurry) or doubling down to save pride (like 2). Nobody seemed to care about the reparations, but gleefully joined everyone else’s jokes and used as much as they could to keep stirring up the popular argument for their favour. It was kind of disgusting, truth be told. And even knowing the original Tweet was dumb as fuck, I was still pissed. So much of the furry community had been calling out actual abusers of late and building a better, more positive community, and while outrage at the statement isn’t a bad thing, the continual, attention-seeking aggravation was more akin to the wild scavengers people make bappyfluffycute fursuits out of than the character of the suits themselves.

I don’t know. I’m not in a good place right now, I guess. I burnt out on my own outrage and attempts at resolution. That’s why I’ve spent almost three hours not moving, listening to music, or sat at my computer cycling between the same three windows with nothing new in any of the feeds. I have a big list of stuff to do, and it seems very futile right now. I checked off one, whoo: cancelling my old internet service a whole two weeks after I should have, meaning for my procrastination I still get billed the full amount at a time when I have literally no earnings coming in. That’s how depression spirals.

I was supposed to start Inktober. I’m supposed to write this book. Several books. I have articles, songs, comics, that I want to do, and seeing everyone else passing by with successes they’ve already created, or quick-share viral posts that storm feeds in the thousands, while a picture of me holding my book sits at a mere fifteen shares over two weeks. And even complaining about that feels disgustingly ungrateful, because without the amazing people generous enough to share even that, I’d have nothing at all. I just… the thought of having to work even harder after this week taking its toll just makes me want to curl up and forget about everything.

I’m sure it’ll be temporary. I’m sure I’ll forget about it and feel embarrassed about this post later. But right now I need to say something. I feel like people expect you to be constantly on, constantly positive, or risk having even the tiny pile of building blocks you’re standing on knocked out from under you. I can’t do that, not yet. I want to come back stronger and better, but it’ll be a while before I feel that way. Not until I have something to show for having taken a step back in the first place. And maybe a new set of boundaries for what I need to invest myself in.

Archantael: Story of My Fursona

I’m trying to be better at filling this blog with things that are relevant to my writing, but I realise in my previous extended absence from it I completely missed two things: the ENTIRE RELEASE OF MY SECOND DAMN NOVEL and the development of my fursona. One of these is arguably far more important to my career, so I’m going to ignore that one and talk about something much more personal. This stems from a conversation I was having with someone on twitter recently – TheYogurtThief.

For people who aren’t in the know (which I’m assuming is approximately 0% of this blog’s regular visitors), a fursona is an original character someone creates, based of an anthropomorphic animal, mythical creature, sometimes plants (although there may be a more technical name for this), or combination of any of these things. It may or may not be a representation of that person’s emotional facets, spiritual self, inner desires, or sometimes is just a funky creature they have a strong attachment to. People can have just one, or many, or cycle through them using only one main at a time depending on their mood or life cycle.

For me, my journey into furry was a little protracted because even though the characters I was most inspired by, and ones I imagined, were always anthropomorphic animals, I spent ages dancing around the edges of the fandom and refusing to call myself furry because I was afraid of the preconceptions that arrived with that particular label. Even if you look back a few blog posts ago to my TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 1: Furries ramble (it’s old enough that I really don’t remember when I wrote it) I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that my FURRY NOVEL might at some point have to subject itself to ACTUAL FURRIES.

Needless to say, I feel kind of dumb now. I can alternately point and laugh or cringe at myself for it, but at the time joining a group that I knew inherently little about despite looking up in awe at it for such a long time was a very intimidating process. I think, in hindsight, one of the biggest things that was holding me back was my lack of a fursona, because it seemed so much easier for people to find their place when they knew what they were supposed to be. I did not. And I needed to. I wanted to, more importantly, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it.

Ancient History

So my love of foxes goes way back.

robinhood

Thanks to this guy. I also took up fencing and archery because of him.

I remember conversations and elements all throughout my childhood where I’d pick foxes over anything else. My favourite Visionaries character was Ectar, who could turn into a fox; I insisted on Mum making me a fox mask for Book Week at school because something something foxes I was into at the time. I embarrassingly declared that I wanted my nickname to be ‘Fox’ at a summer camp I went to, before ceremoniously knocking a saucepan of beans out of the hands of a lunch lady with a wild flail of enthusiastic clumsiness. (Spoiler, the nickname did not stick). In French class I’d make any excuse to pick ‘renard’ as an animal, and I can’t remember if I mentioned my dissociative episode during high school when being severely bullied and depressed where I actually believed I was Fox McCloud stuck in some alternate coma world just waiting to wake up and escape my puny pubescent flesh cage.

But, as much as I loved foxes, I never believed I could live up to them. They were clever and svelte and colourful, and I was a pudgy kid with typically transient friend groups who became more distinctly average in school grades as time went on. I’d be a terrible fox, I decided, subconsciously. I thought, and eventually wrote, about them the whole time, but knew it would be some unachieveable ambition to actually be one, or even consider myself one.

Then along comes this other creature…

pangolin-ARTICLE-PAGE

LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT AAAAAAAH SO FREAKING GORGEOUS

What the heck is that thing?

It’s a pangolin. If you haven’t heard of it by now, then be prepared for my wildest eyes and a slew of almost unintelligible ramblings about how awesome they are and how you should TOTALLY GO AND SAVE THEM RIGHT NOW because they’re supremely endangered. And beautiful. If I ever got the chance to meet one of these in person, I would break down into uncontrollable sobs. And I’m not kidding; I think of this pretty much every day and it hits me the same way every time.

I don’t remember where I first saw these guys. I spent a lot of my time out of school due to illness, hospital trips, and through breaking various limbs, so I would sit for hours reading through the DK reference books we had on the bookshelf at the end of the landing. It was a nice spot were I could hide behind the laundry rack and bask in the sunlight while examining science and nature books. It was probably in there, but their relevance didn’t hit till much later.

(As I type the next paragraph, I remember my inspiration)

armadillomon

Grossly underused, Armadillomon will always be one of my top Digimon. I’m sorry I ever let you slip from my consciousness.

(And yes, I know he’s an armadillo, but when I was writing my post-apocalyptic Digimon fanfiction, I imagined an upgraded version called MetalArmadillomon, who I have YET TO COMMISSION ART OF HOLY CRAP I SHOULD DO THAT, and in my research for armadillos, rediscovered pangolins because people always get them confused)

I have body confidence issues, still, after being bullied. In my head I’m still a dumpy, inactive fourteen year-old, except now I have a receding hairline. It’s weird how easy it can be to add together all of the negative things you see in yourself while ignoring the good work you’ve done or the positive changes you’ve been through. Objectively, I know I’m not fat. I’m not athletic. I don’t even have a problem with others being fat and always, always encourage people to love themselves no matter what stage of their personal journey they’re on. But the stigma I have with my personal progress means I can rarely find satisfaction with how I look regardless of how much I believe in body positivity for everyone. It probably sounds very contrarian and hypocritical, and I have no answer for that. I love others more than I love myself.

But anyway, this amazing scaly creature, the pangolin, is hugely defensible. It can curl into a lion-proof ball, is incredible at jumping, can climb trees with minimal effort, and looks like the badassiest artichoke you ever didn’t eat. It embodied so much of what I felt I actually was- awkward, beautifully inelegant in a weird way, protective, defensible, unable to attack, and above all else, unique. I knew I didn’t fit in anywhere else and this was a symbol of that to me. But even for smothering myself in pangolin search results and incorporating a major character into my book series, my own identity still didn’t quite mesh with it.

Fracture Front Cover

You know what this naturally heavily-armoured and virtually impenetrable creature needs? MORE ARMOUR (Art by Katie Hofgard)

You know, what a lot of furries do is-

Yes, I realise that now. But the thing is, it wasn’t as simple as putting the two animals together- I needed to know who I was and what I wanted before I could make any decision of what I felt would be a fairly permanent iconography of myself. Biting the bullet, I finally decided that, yes, I was actually a furry, and began going to meets and connecting with people in the Furry Writers’ Guild on Twitter. And what seems like a simple step was actually a huge, huge one for me, because immediately I found people to talk with who understood how I felt about having an animal self, social anxieties, the weirdest things you need to research online to develop furry worlds, the fears that every time you meet someone new, you’re going to be told ‘so you, want to fuck animals, right’ and losing the respect of all your friends as soon as you try to share anything close to you. Having that outlet, those connections, and having encouragement from amazing friends I met in person through my wife, principally CatScratch and the owner of Mr. Freeze Pony. All of that encouragement and acceptance gave me a much stronger idea of who i was, who I wanted to be, and how I could help others do the same.

So with that in mind, it took me almost TWO YEARS to discover that, if I were defining myself as ME, and not as a single thing that I would have second thoughts over every time I looked at another kind of creature, that I could make a hybrid. It’s not that hard. I EVEN HAVE ONE IN MY OWN FRICKING BOOKS. When that revelation hit I was in equal parts amazed and cursing myself for not having that penny drop sooner.

But I like what I ended up with, in a very big way.

foxpan

It me. Art is by WitchZilla

This is Archantael, my spiritual self, in effect. His name is one I looked into before I started writing Legacy, although I worry now it looks like I’m trying to be self-insertive (people who’ve read the books will know why) so I’m considering permanently shortening it to Arc, but I’m not sure yet. I misread or took the name meaning from an incorrectly-listed site, because where I thought Arc’hantael meant ‘man born of fire’, it actually means ‘silver’ and is pronounced completely differently than I expected (proper phonetics is Ar-XHAN-tel instead of my presumed Ark-an-TAY-el), so I’m not sure what to do with that at the moment.

Anyway, I am a pangolin-fox, or fangolin, or pangofox, or whatever else you’d like to call it- I have no copyright claim to hybrids so it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I’m just incredibly happy to have something that incorporates both elements of myself- the part of me that I accept, and have grown to love more than I used to, and the part of me that I want to always be, that drives me forward and improves the me that I am right now. I’m even accepting the idea that I can be seen as physically attractive, which I would have always dismissed before. But If I can see something in me that’s desirable, or cute, or elegant, and know it’s connected to something so intrinsically important to me, I can start to make that change in myself too.

The Denouement 

I was still worried it’d be seen as weird or trying too hard to be different. When making my reference I asked the artist (Folfelit) what she thought about having black sclera, and she said it’d make him hard to draw and would likely inhibit the visibility of his eyes. I very much appreciated that input, and I haven’t regretted it. And I’ve been very lucky that people have seen him as unique and well-designed; I’m pretty sure that comes from Folfelit’s gorgeous work more than my concept to be honest. But it made me consider how other people saw new furries’ fursonas. I’m going to get blunt.

When I first edged into the furry community on Tumblr I took part in a survey someone was doing for their thesis, and at the end of it we all entered into a big Skype conversation. One of the final group questions was about abuse. Over fifty percent had suffered abuse, sexual or physical.

Over. Fifty. Percent.

I went very quiet. I knew people understood my anxiety, but I had no idea furries in particular suffered so extensively from trauma like that. It’s not necessarily an indication of the entire fandom, but for a sample, even just for Tumblr users, it was staggering. And it put the emotional projection of fursonas in a very new light for me. They may not always be representative of a product of hurt and anguish, but I never make assumptions about fursonas any more and what they mean.

That character you ‘cringe’ at could literally save someone’s life.

So fuck you for calling someone’s fursona ‘basic’. You don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know what they need to see in themselves when they create a character. You don’t know why they need six fursonas. Some parts of themselves, or the things they draw/write/etc, may be too fragile to hurt, but they need a new avatar for their frustrations because they have no other way of surviving. The ability to personify an ideal version of myself has been such a safety net for my confidence and means of working through anxiety, and I don’t even draw; I can’t even imagine what others may have to go through every day. There are times I see Arc with wings, or having the power to manipulate gravity using purple energy, or transforming into an enormous black-shaded demon version of himself. It’s what I need at that time to find a way forward, a catharsis for feelings that I can’t otherwise escape. For some people, the ability to focus on these characters may be the only thing that keeps them surviving, gives them the strength to pull themselves up. “I need wings tonight. I’m going to be a purple cat with wings and six tails and work on this till I fall asleep because I can’t bear to think about anything else right now and maybe, if I can just get to the point of falling asleep without something else terrible happening, tomorrow can be better”.

I would hope I’m wrong about the actual statistic, but I’m not going to pretend that everyone I know must be okay just because I am, self-reflection aside. And given the much higher proportion of LGBTQ representation in the community, it wouldn’t surprise me if the abuse and anxiety levels actually were disproportionately high as a population sample goes.

A fursona can change your life. Mine has had a profound effect on me. I have something incredibly precious to me that I can call completely and totally mine, that gives me the freedom to express what I want when I need to. Consider everyone’s the same as yours, or at least with the same respect that they treat you. And despite what everyone else might try to tell you, it’s okay to be yourself, unapologetically.

18952663_1115681785200084_2514063854963320473_n

Talk of Fame – The Problem with Furry Populism

Furry is an odd fandom. Aside from recent blockbuster animations like Zootopia and the Kung Fu Panda series, franchises like Starfox, and one-shot-shows and token characters in various other media, it is almost completely self-reliant for the content on which it feeds and grows. It all comes from within. Books, artwork, animation, even music (which arguably must be one of the hardest things to advertise as being specifically furry given that music itself doesn’t have a visual aspect and doesn’t always have words to denote the stylistic distinction). So it’s no surprise that, in an online community much like any other, there are also YouTubers, and, more recently, video game developers. Sometimes both at once.

L never wrong

So if you’re inclined to subscribe to any, prepare to hear this… a lot.

The whole fandom is kind of a franchising anomaly; you’d think that a community with a very finite pool of mainstream media content would have difficulty remaining cohesive and finding new things to do with itself, but I’m not sure anyone estimates the sheer creativity of this particular group. Aside from Steampunk, which has a far greater outside influence given its back-and-forth in literature, fashion, and media, furry is one of the few places where someone can be an entirely original creation and not be scoffed at. Anime or video game OCs don’t have that distinction, because the expectation is that you are always defined by the characters that already exist, and anything that diverts from the canon is pretty poorly considered, often dismissed as inferior. In furry fandom, everyone literally IS their own fanfiction creation, complete with everything that would guarantee a failing grade on any given Mary-Sue test. Furry is a living, breathing community of people’s uninhibited feelings and desires.

And that can be a real problem.

HOW DARE! DON’T TOUCH MY FAVES!

When I say ‘problem’, it’s less in the sense of ‘people shouldn’t be allowed to do that’ and more that ‘when there are no limits to the content we create for ourselves, we see the truest extent of people’s capabilities and psyche’. As anyone who’s looked through a YouTube comments section knows, the internet is a scary place, and it can get even scarier when you have a giant glittery wolf face grinning seductively at you from the other side of the screen with a million equally sparkly minions barking to the same tune. Or, if you don’t like canines, there are a few other figureheads you could grapple with, some without nearly as much head hair or moral scruples.

Kakashi

You know who I mean.

The hierarchy of infamy in Furry is typically dominated at the top level by fursuiters and artists/animators, because, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a hugely visual fandom. Writers, prominent Twitter users/bloggers, musicians, and most others tend to fall into an undulating mass underneath, with con organisers and web admins the free radicals that can be absolutely anywhere in that they do a heck of a lot and everyone seems to know who they are, but they generally maintain low visibility in photos or art. Except Dragoneer.

So when you have a fandom that essentially creates its own characters, when one starts to become more well-known and popular than others, usually via YouTube videos, memes, or insanely prolific social media accounts, they start to don the mantle of ‘popufur’, whether they want it or not. (You would assume, if they’re a YouTuber, that they do.) They become their own product to sell to the community.

And thanks to YouTube’s ad revenue, that’s totally a thing you can do now: market yourself. Whether it’s advice, goofing around, playing games, making ridiculously offensive remarks under the guise of comedy, commentary on current events in or out of fandom, or just a furry twist on anything else that hasn’t yet been ‘ruined’ enough, you can Do That Thing.

IMG_20170706_195423

And look, there they Do Those Things! (Image made by RhyeRhythm on Twitter)

Now, any celebrity, YouTuber or not, will know the double edged sword of popularity; your mere presence can be hugely polarising, and the more you do, the more intense the polarisation can become. Sticking to the thing you’re good or comfortable at is usually a safe bet, but there’s always a push to get more views, subscriptions, and money by extension. I get that. I consider every Tweet I make to be some kind of investment to selling my own books. You have to start thinking that way when your social media becomes your major marketing tool, and even moreso if it’s actually a source of income. There will likely come points where the character and person inside it become inseparable; anyone who is giving their very presence or personality as a selling point needs to have a sustainable way of doing so. When a person becomes the product they’re selling and their own means of production, unless they’re incredibly resilient, focused, open-minded, flexible, or determined, they will come up against conflict. And not everyone handles that well.

People need to remember that fame and success are very different things, and that both of these terms have very different interpretations depending on your perspective. Sadly most of this article so far is kind of a preamble to my main story, a personal case study of how a fandom with a community network that’s very intrinsic to its own sustainability starts to fall down when populism doesn’t reciprocate.

EdCB

Yep, sorry. Please take a break if you need it, it gets a little hot from here.

“Fame has only the span of a day, they say. But to live in the hearts of people- that is worth something.” – Ouida.

LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME

There’s no denying that, if you have a fursuit, it’s nice to be both noticed and appreciated. If you have a creation that you’re proud of, be it a book or piece of art, or video game, or music, it feels great to have it shared. And if you make a YouTube video or write a long post, having people laugh or console or engage with you (where appropriate) is great. There’s no reason you shouldn’t feel good for being able to engage with your passion in a constructive way. But you also have to understand that every path comes with obstacles, that you can never be all things to all people, and there will come times when your work will be criticised. I wrote a long post about my first bad review.

But…

Okay, here’s the context. This is not intended to be a hit piece, I promise. But it is a sincere attempt at an objective assessment of character and judgements as part of the furry fandom. And to be honest, it’s not unique to furries. There are Facebook pages you likely see every day that do exactly the same thing.

There’s a popufur who began his furry journey on Second Life, by the name of Klace Vakarian. As I’m sure most of the people who will be drawn to my blog will recognise, Vakarian is the last name of a character from Mass Effect.

me3_garrus_vakarian_3_by_chicksaw2002-d57v12b

AND HE IS BEAUTIFUL

I can’t really criticise here too harshly, because my fursona’s surname is Clow, a la CardCaptor Sakura. But Vakarian is a very obvious name to choose given the franchise’s popularity. It shows, on the surface, a potential for appropriation. And it’s not necessarily an unfounded observation when we see what happens later.

Klace Kickstarted a furry video game on Steam, called Major/Minor, presumably a reference to music given the prominent self-insertion of Klace’s popstar fursona and not a lift from a 2013 acoustic punk rock band from Ontario of the same name. Cool, furry video game! It was made with RPG Maker, so in the end it becomes more like a choose-your-own-adventure game, or slightly branching visual novel. I’ve never made a video game, but from what I hear this engine is pretty simple to get to grips with.

The gaming community is very particular about certain things; firstly, the presence of furries; secondly, quality of the game; thirdly, evidence of changes and information manipulation. The sheer mention of furries meant that it stuck out like a sore thumb (for both furries and its critics) in an indie market which had not yet been sufficiently tapped outside of flash games and Dust: An Elysian Tale. Trolls aside, at the time, furries were eager to take more or less anything they could consume.

But it wasn’t without its faults. It (and Klace) received a good amount of criticism for the game, which, for a first-time attempt, isn’t unexpected. I used to browse Kotaku and IGN a lot and I’ve seen even just from those brief minefield excursions that criticism often blurs the lines between creator and project; sometimes subconsciously, sometimes not. “What the hell was the writer/dev smoking?” would be one example of a sideways criticism that isn’t necessarily a direct attack, but definitely isn’t a great thing to read. But open criticism should be a fair process and any creator needs to take this into account. Even I grudgingly admit in the dissection of the negative review of Legacy that I should at least pay attention to the review’s points, even if they could be invalidated or dismissed later. I did not request the review to be removed, though. It’s not fair.

Klace did, however. He did it a lot. The biggest conspiracy around this game (oh, aside from the weird DMCA claim) was his continual flagging of negative reviews, much to the concern of many users and community members, and the bizarre decision to re-release the exact same game as a ‘complete’ version in order to create a completely new review standard, despite his assertions that people should ‘carry their reviews over’. If it’s not a different version of the game, why bother?

And that was even ignoring the content of the more constructive reviews, that foretold of similarities between his story and the Persona series, a hugely popular Japanese RPG series which has dialogue in a very similar format. Given the similarity of the language used between the two, I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been some kind of eye cast this way by Atlus.

We all want our work to succeed effortlessly, but criticism, if given properly, is not a personal attack. It can be embarrassing to know something you did has a flaw, or needs improvement, or has a plot hole, or whatever, but these are aimed at making These Things You Do better. Removing any form of negative remarks to try and instill an air of perfection is misleading and arrogant. And lots of people do this, not just Klace.

I’m not going to pass judgement on his game because I haven’t played it. I don’t intend to. There were rumours floating about that his version of RPG Maker was bootlegged, which may create some weird legal ramifications if  true, but I don’t know if they’re substantiated.

Persona 3

To be fair, the same thing happens to me when I see furry media almost anywhere.

But anyway, when I first discovered Klace it was on Facebook. Klace is a person who constructed his social media platform and spread word about his game by making memes of himself and sharing them ad infinitum, and adding literally anyone with a furry avatar that he could find. I was one of them. I figured with his enormous friends list (of FIVE THOUSAND, literally the maximum Facebook will allow) that he must be super popular or super important. For some emotional background, this was at a sensitive time for me when I was trying to become a sort-of-semi-professional cosplayer but had run into fairly debilitating drama.

This next part is my personal experience/beef with Klace that he likely has no idea about, but affected me in a pretty big way. I apologise that this will be a less objective section of the article. But I hope it will at least appear relevant as a demonstration of poor community interaction.

It’s here that I may have to admit to being the one who inspired him to make a Facebook page for his game, possibly. I glanced through his gargantuan friend list and his feed, to see everything on it was basically direct from him. Not necessarily unusual in and of itself. Or there was stuff from others, about him. Or fanart of him. Fan memes. Or the same thing of his I just saw, shared again two days later for more hits. It’s like he ate a Facebook ad service and was slowly puking it out in the form of selfies.

But anyway, I thought he at least seemed active and had a lot of people willing to interact with him and who took his approval very seriously. Feeling disheartened about my own lack of success in both cosplay and my dwindling book sales, I thought I’d try appealing to him for a share of my stuff. I’d already accepted his friend request by this point, and I was pretty new to the community so I perhaps pre-emptively expected too much from any interaction that wasn’t solely about him. I had my own facebook page for my books (you can see it here) and I thought, wow, if he has a reach of 5000 and a good load of engagement, maybe he’d be willing to share my page and give me a hand. And fuck, I needed the boost then. Over a year later, I still haven’t broken 200 likes.

I sent him an invite to my page before going to sleep, eagerly anticipating what interactions I might wake up to.

The next morning I log on to see no new likes on my page, no response to my invite, but my own invite to a BRAND NEW MAJOR/MINOR PAGE which already had over 500 likes. In a matter of HOURS.

Klace took a big, sparkly, pink-and-rainbow shit all over my face.

He and I are walking the same line, at different paces. We both want shares, financial stability, and appreciation for our work. But we’re worlds apart. Here’s me, an author who’s been pouring my soul into these books since 2006, desperate for even one more like or sale or share, trying to sell it on its own merits and not become someone who has to post about it every few minutes and irritate the community I’m trying to sell it to. Here’s him, using a crowd he’s built using suggestive artwork and cute selfies in a fursuit head by a very talented maker, whose video game endeavours may as well have already been funded for life.

How many people on your friends list right now use Patreons, or Ko-Fi, or have a pinned Tweet that says ‘commissions always open’? How many times a day on your feed do you see ‘If you can’t commission, please RT/share?’. When your platform literally has the ability to fund an entire video game’s worth of development in less than a week, imagine what you could do for the community.

So I can’t lie, I was pretty fucking crushed to see that kind of selfishness from a substantial bulwark of the community that I had only recently felt confident enough to open my heart to. It put me off trying to write or engage with people for quite a long time, and as you can tell, I’m still pretty bitter about it given he has over 30 times the amount of followers I do on Twitter and frequently boasts about how his haters can’t understand how he got $30,000 worth of funding in under a day. That’s over twice what I make in a damn year. And if you’re still here reading this, it’s got to sound like I’m sitting on and slowly absorbing, through one end or another, a huge bunch of sour grapes. You wouldn’t be wrong.

paper tear

So… yeah. I have felt like doing this to my books a few times over this.

Sorry, I said this wouldn’t be a hit piece. I got distracted. Because it fucking hurt. But you see the effect negligence can have if you’re deemed unimportant by someone. That’s a big problem when you’re part of a very inter-connected and generally insular community, and especially if you’re trying to make yourself a figurehead of it.

But that’s just you, right?

Well, yes, and no. Because this attitude isn’t a one-time opportunity snub. It happens a lot online, and especially in the cosplay/fursuit community. I see people frequently complain about fursuit and artist elitism. Klace isn’t unique in that regard, sadly. On the other hand, you can’t expect everyone to share everything just because they have reach. It would be legitimately overwhelming. So there has to be a balance. But using him as an example again, you can read between the lines in his feed that everything he shares is to do with him, or a meme that he’s taken from somewhere else instead of retweeting it from the source.  Because if you take it for yourself, you get all of the exposure for the share. You see where this appropriation habit sneaks in? There are entire bootleg empires on Facebook set up that do ONLY this, and are sickeningly effective at it. Klace didn’t take anything directly from me except the concept of owning a Facebook page for a project. But it’s simple common courtesy: if you ask people to like your page, you typically like theirs back. That’s how a community works and grows organically. Asking someone for a share without the offer of anything in return is a poor show, and, if you put it in the more tangible context of an art trade, which I see a lot on Facebook, damn inexcusable.

Maybe it was coincidence that he happened to make his page at the same instance that I sent him my invite. I’m sure he’ll say that’s what it was, but the timing was fucking shit, to be blunt.

The problem with an attitude like this in a community that is absolutely, fundamentally reliant on itself for the creation of its content is that your platform starts to become higher and thinner the further you climb, to a point where getting toppled is remarkably easy. The less you give, the less inclined people will be to support you when you absolutely need it, and the quicker you’ll fall into obscurity at the end of it. If all you have to fall back on is:
a) a suit someone else made for you
b) art someone else draws for you
c) memes of yourself

and you give nothing back except the SHEER GIFT THAT IS YOUR VERY PRESENCE BECAUSE OMG IT’S *INSERT FURSONA HERE* SQUEE, your magical shell of saleability starts to look mighty thin.

And more importantly, when you steal memes (or art, more drastically) and take credit away from the source, you’re actively damaging the community by shitting on the little guy and taking away their fair share of a voice. I have always felt that you should be judged by your own merits, and the content you create yourself in earnest, and the way you treat others, are a big part of that. Mara Wilson is great at calling out people who steal others’ Tweets, and she is fortunate enough to be in a position where she could choose not to care entirely. But that level of understanding breeds a better, stronger community at the base of it and encourages everyone to try for their own achievements. If they’re always being overshadowed by the popular guy who steals all their quotes and memes to try and further solidify their platform, they’ll very quickly get discouraged, and may leave the community entirely.

This point is paramount: your popularity or success should never come at the sacrifice of others. Be honest, and if you support others, you’d be surprised what you would get in return.

I may begrudge my Twitter numbers by comparison to others, but damn if those I know and talk to on a regular basis aren’t some of the most supportive and encouraging people I’ve ever met. And I don’t have to keep mentioning myself and looking cute for them to talk to me, which is an absolute blessing. I feel proud to share art and creations by others; shock horror, even books that could potentially directly compete with mine! Because we’re in the same boat, ultimately. Their success becomes a gateway for mine, and vice versa. It makes sense to bring everyone up alongside you because that’s how a community becomes stronger and opens new pathways for wider success further down the line.

When all you have to sell is yourself, give nothing back, and show no support to your fellow creators, you’re not part of the community, you’re just a product. And products expire.

Major/Minor did not push any boundaries in my view. One of his major talking points and favourite self-memes is that Major/Minor is ‘clean’ furry material, i.e., no adult content, as if that was somehow a new concept. Legacy and Fracture are non-adult. Klace would have known that if he had bothered to take time to look at my book. I’m not even the only clean author/creator around, not by a long shot. And Klace will frame Tweets of his own clean-media praise with pictures of himself in underwear straddling another fursuiter, in obscenely tight underwear, or coyly tell people *giggle* “don’t search for me on this porn site, you’ll burn your eyes” as if he was some black-and-white movie harlot trying to seduce Clark Gable. It comes off as insincere and opportunistic when juxtaposed in this way.

For one final demonstration of this attitude of appropriation, we’ll look at the Furry YouTubers image I posted earlier. Klace took hold of it and announced that he’d be there as well, but he altered it.

 

See the difference? Top right. Instead of putting himself in, say, the black space in the lower-right center, he pastes himself directly over a user called ZennieTweets. That may denote a history I’m not aware of, but regardless, it’s blatantly tactless.

Oh, and no credit to the original user who likely spent a considerable amount of time and effort to put these guys into this image in the first place: RhyeRhythm. But at this point, did you expect anything different?

smileoptimism

Yeah. I’m going to bed.

ADDENDUM: Because I’m an anxious twerp, I want to stress this point: I believe ‘popufur’ is a state of mind or particular subset of behaviours, the idea that popularity is the end goal over success of creative content. YouTubers and fursuiters are not automatically popufurs. Any community member or creator could easily fall into these traps, and I almost did when I was trying to become a popular cosplayer. If you’re conscientious, kind, humble, and actually boost the community that supports you instead of seeing yourself as separate, above, or removed from it to take advantage of its generosity and excitability, then you’re already way out of danger.

Wonder Woman: Things It Got Wrong, And Stuff It Did Right

Wowee, it’s been a long time since I was last on here.

Anyway, seeing as I’m trying to get back into writing again I thought it’d be a good idea to flex my fingers and start the gears grinding by writing up some thoughts on Wonder Woman, after seeing it with my wife this last weekend. We talked about it afterwards for a long time, and these are a mix of both our thoughts about it.

I will start by saying it is a good movie, probably DC’s best in latest memory. Still suffered from the over-serious washed-out colour plates that make everything look like it’s been hidden inside a neglected swimming pool for too long, but eh, I’m used to everything being mostly shades of grey in theatres now.

Gray.Fullbuster.full.464204

Not this Gray. Although admittedly, it would make movies a lot more compelling.

Oh, heavy spoilers follow, by the way.

So, What Went Wrong?

Initially, it looked fantastic. Little Diana was the rebellious, battle-starved little Amazonian I hoped she would be, but very quickly after she entered adulthood, her agency and presence was taken away from some fairly lazy storytelling mistakes.

A Stronger Girl Than A Woman

Firstly, the establishment of her as a fighter was great, and we absolutely needed to see that. She has trained almost her entire life to beat people up and this culminated in her unleashing a small piece of her as-yet-undiscovered goddess powers on her beloved teacher. But the second a threat enters Themiscyra in the form of some angry Germans chasing Chris Pine, she is relegated to hiding behind a rock.  Chris Pine immediately removes her autonomy and pulls her behind it, and she hasn’t even witnessed the effect of their rifles at this point. She has waited her WHOLE LIFE for a fight, it arrives on her beach, and she loses almost all of the passion which we’ve seen in her up to this point. She always defers to her mother, but she was throwing shields and arrows AT HER FRIEND’S FACES not minutes earlier and this one man who has proved nothing superior about himself except his lack of buoyancy manages to strip her of a chance to have stood on the beach and threaten the Germans away like she already has the power to do.

You could argue that she was shell-shocked from almost explodifying Cool Mom Antiope and embarrassing herself in front of Real Mom Hippolyta, but this brings up an inherent conflict in her portrayal. Here she is, demonstrably the most proficient and powerful fighter in all of Amazonia, brought up to know that Nobody Must Ever Find This Island and We Are Here For A Reason, and also from very early on that Men Are Very Corruptible and Ares Is Out There. She knows all of these things. It is literally in her very being as the God Killer weapon made by Zeus. But she became a deer in the headlights when faced with the arrival of men. Part of this may be due to the contradictory nature of the Amazonians themselves, a race of women eternally training for a war which their leader is in denial (or fear) of ever happening. That doesn’t make focus easy. But this was a Diana who was JUMPING OFF A FUCKING CLIFF just to avoid her babysitter. Tiny Diana was fearless, rebellious, and wanted to kick ARSE, Her behaviour at the beach doesn’t quite ring true, and while this is essentially the first step of Diana becoming the figurehead for the Amazonians and there needs to be some kind of growth to her emotions, at this point in the journey she’s far less headstrong than when she was a child. I’m not ever sure whether she really regains that over the course of the movie, either.

wwbarda

Regardless, Wonder Woman has nothing on Big Barda.

It is still a good movie.

Amaz-oh no-nians

Antiope is a tactician. The best Tactician Mom, if Worried Mom Hippolyta is to be believed. I wonder if the movie confused ‘tactician’ with ‘combatant’ though, because she is remarkably efficient at fighting, but it is very basic military tactics that if your archers have the high ground, YOU DON’T GET DOWN. Now, granted, they are facing guns, which they have never been up against before, but even then, assuming that the guns used are the German Gewehr 98, which were used a lot in the Ottoman Empire (I wasn’t paying that much attention to the rifles in the movie so they may be different models), with iron sights they only had an effective range of about 550yds, AND they’re firing up against gravity, which vastly influences their aim and the force of their bullets. Especially given the size of the cliff (we’re given an extraordinary view of Diana jumping off it to save Steve), a few steps backwards would have completely negated the German’s ability to shoot any of them at all, and they’d be completely at the mercy of intense cavalry and infantry charges.

But, Antiope, or whichever overexcited Amazonian had been watching too much anime that day, decided to try out her Attack on Titan moves to swing down and shoot the invaders first-hand, which not only lowers her into a more effective line of sight for her enemy, but also completely removes her advantages of angle and stability when aiming. There’s a lot of overchoreography of the fights in Wonder Woman, and this is probably the worst instance of it. Anyway, the Amazonian gets shot, and dies.

The Amazonian who has been training her whole life, is physically pristine, gets shot in the abdomen and dies by a single bullet. There are soldiers with absolutely zero training who are less goddess-like who’ve sustained multiple gunshot wounds and have still survived to kill dozens of enemies. It was just… it was very unnecessary. It was a plot-convenient death to spurn Diana into action. It should not have been this way. Diana should always have been ready to fight. If they needed to be shot on the beach, they needed to come directly to the beach, and not essentially remove themselves from a hugely tactical position. It’s just not very smart. And I would feel that way about any movie tactician/troop making that decision, not just because they’re women. If they are supposed to be military elites, especially incredibly well-read ones given Diana’s praise of their library, they need to be portrayed that way.

Ikakku wrong

The longer you look, the worse it gets.

It is still a fun movie.

Princess on Parade

The movie continues with Diana’s trip to England, and this is where the worst betrayal of her character happens in my view, if only because it’s so consistent and subtle that you don’t quite notice it until you reflect on it.

An awful lot of Diana’s exposure to WWI London is played for laughs. Firstly, Steve (Chris Pine’s character) implores that she cover herself up. Diana, in her sacred armour of the goddesses, doesn’t even protest. She is given the meagre retort of ‘Well, what do women wear here?’, but is given no opportunity to be proud of her heritage, her body, or encourage other women around her to do the same for themselves. It’s so representative of what women actually go through that I don’t even know if it’s a commentary or not that she gave minimal resistance. She’s treated like a nuisance or an embarrassment and the excuse given (by Steve) in the movie is that she needs to abide by the UK’s customs. This is not how I wanted to see Wonder Woman treated. She should have strode right into London, armour blazing (which is hard to do when your saturation levels are set so low), and giving no apology to Steve for anything that she is. She is an Amazonian Fucking Princess. And she’s pushed and shuffled around by him like a confused relative, or an exuberant foreign exchange student nobody really wants to deal with. Which I guess is not that far from the truth from Steve’s point of view.

This diminishing treatment of her is further amplified when she walks into the meeting of the ministers. They all stop talking, appropriately, because she’s FUCKING WONDER WOMAN, and begin their sexist comments about how she shouldn’t be there, because she’s NOT DRESSED LIKE FUCKING WONDER WOMAN. Instead of using the silence to empower herself, sit on a bench and say ‘Carry on”, like the badass she should be and without being given the opportunity to approach them as she did the Themiscyran senators earlier in the movie, she just makes a few quiet noises and obeys Steve’s herding back into the antechamber.

Steve kind of ruins the movie for her. There’s so much focus being given to how he keeps trying to protect her outside of battle that she isn’t given a chance to show strength of character. She fights like the best of any superhero, but at any other time she plays right into the direction Steve is facing, because he is already facing that way. Exception is made to her infiltrating the gala, and her assaulting the German trenches, and these are the points there should have been more of during the movie. Not just her fighting, but her taking a stand instead of being ushered from place to place and being told that her mission to defeat Ares was all secondhand to Steve’s suicide mission in the war.

ww wet chris pine

And, disappointingly, his pants.

It’s still an important movie.

Blunder Woman

My wife mentioned this, and I hadn’t really noticed it before now; there’s only one woman in the movie who could be considered ‘normal’, the terribly British Etta Candy. Etta spends about as much time diminishing Diana as Steve does with downplaying her beliefs and habits as bizarre quirks that should be subdued for the sake of acting ‘properly’, although she does it in a much less insidious way because she appears ready to take her place as Angela Lansbury’s cheerful, bouncy, younger reincarnation. Her awkwardness is a stark contrast to Diana’s elegance, however. You’re either a goddess or a well-meaning bluster of tea and purple tweed and there’s nothing inbetween. Oh, or disfigured and undesirable, as is the case with Dr Poison. A play is made by Steve trying to seduce the Dr at the gala, and for a time she’s almost taken in, apparently because her disability prevents her from getting the affection she desperately needs. She begins to fawn, and suddenly snaps out of it when she sees Steve looking over her shoulder at Diana when she gatecrashes the ball (by knocking an old lady unconscious, we are led to believe). So here you have a woman who, despite having incredible knowledge of chemistry and a burning (hah) desire to further her work, is almost completely seduced by a man within ninety seconds of his arrival, and is so embittered by jealousy as soon as she sees another woman in his view, that she storms off. It’s such an awful trope straight from a high school drama.

Not even Wonder Woman HERSELF was safe from Steve’s ridiculous charms. What’s slightly disturbing about the way relationships like this develop in a story where you have a woman who doesn’t understand her surroundings or is very out of place, is it almost feels like she gets persuaded to have sex by a man who has secure footing. Steve knows his world. He knows he wants sex. He even mentions it their very second time alone together, on the boat. But Diana regards his nudity with an almost girl-like innocence when she sees him in the bath, and even though she delivers the fantastic line “when it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, not necessary”, she still gets talked into bed with him at around the beginning of the third act. It’s just… yes, he’s the first man she’s ever met. She does not have to sleep with him. He’s obstructive and pushy and secretive and literally denounced her ideas as crazy, and yes, very attractive, but she’s WONDER WOMAN. Wonder Woman should not be that easy.

All of the other women on screen (civilians, mostly) are victims begging for help; even Dr Poison’s brilliance turns out to have been manipulated by Ares so we never even discover how much of her work is genuinely hers, or even whether Ares invented the ideas FOR her. All of their foundations, except the Amazonians, are based on the actions of others. And Wonder Woman herself acts so rarely on her own that the movie may well have starred Steve from the beginning.

So as much as Wonder Woman is a movie that needed to happen, there are no capable women who aren’t already goddesses. And that’s… not very feminist. There’s no Peggy Carter, who loved Steve Rogers so completely yet still held her own against him in an argument and beautifully in her own series. I wanted Diana to be Peggy. Unashamed of her goals and unafraid of what the world thought of her, even if it was one she’d never set foot in before. DC has beaten Marvel to the punch by making the premiere Hollywood blockbuster woman superhero movie that should always have been available, but they didn’t do the best they could. It wouldn’t even pass the Bechdel test (not that that’s necessarily the best indicator of a movie’s strength of character, mind you, but it’s something to consider).

sad WW

Yep, that about sums it up.

It’s still a movie you should see.

Well, crap, did ANYTHING work?

There were three parts of the movie that were great.

First, young Diana. Awesome, every little girl should have that much spirit in her, and after seeing how eager she was to be strong, THAT’S how the movie should have continued.

Secondly, her busting out in armour to assault the German trenches because she’d FINALLY had enough of following Steve around for half a damn movie was amazing. Seeing her sprint and leap into enemy strongholds was phenomenally powerful, especially given the current political rhetoric that’s trying to limit or control women’s bodies and autonomy RIGHT THIS MINUTE, that image is something that should be seared into the mind of every woman when someone tries to infringe on their beliefs. And my wife was saying that moment, where Diana says “I must do this, there is no other choice”, that she herself has felt that way, it’s a very feminine thing to act instinctively when there’s a wrong that needs to be corrected. That’s the kind of empowerment I want to see from any hero, especially of marginalised race, sexual characteristics, weight, age, gender, anything.

Finally, the thing that I liked most about the movie was how Ares treated Diana. He knew from the very beginning that she was a weapon. Not once did he ever consider her less than an equal to him because she was a woman. He knew she was a threat, or an equal, which made his conversation with her even more powerful, and the climactic fight even more intense. If you can write a VILLAIN that treats a woman that respectfully, why is it so hard to get the PROTAGONIST to do it?

exhausted

A new, potentially better, Wonder Woman movie could be built around this line alone.

The bottom line is, it’s still a movie that will inspire millions. It’s a movie that should set a precedent that the formula CAN and DOES work, and that it can be done better than any time before. Women creators, POC creators, LGBTQIAP creators, young creators, ANYONE, should be able to see how a hero can be or do anything. And damn, if it isn’t about time we had some decent representation in superhero movies.

Just… do it a little more thoroughly next time, please?

 

New Review! Cosplay! Acting!

Following on from my last, rather vocal post, here’s something much more satisfying to talk about: another review! This one is by David Popovich of Bookworm Reviews, and it’s a video!

I’ve never had a video review before so this was very exciting. And he was certainly fair, too. I’ve never considered Legacy to follow groundbreaking or vastly original ideas, but I’m really glad that he enjoyed it and considered the tropes used well (even if they are well-used). Best comment: “It’s like reading an anime.” That was the highlight for me, especially as I’ve been influenced a lot by anime for a good seventeen years or so now, that he thought it came across in my writing is a great compliment for me. That’s the style that I see playing through my head when I write.

Not gonna lie, I was kind of like this thinking about it over the last few days

Not gonna lie, I was kind of like this thinking about it over the last few days

So that was all at once an awesome surprise, a great relief, and a big motivation. Fracture is going through some more ‘final first draft’ edits (that I’m actually a little overdue on, erk) and I managed to get a lot done after watching the review last night. I hope to finish it this morning, not least because I have a butt-ton of other stuff to accomplish this weekend. Most principally of which is…

COSPLAYING ALL THE THINGS

I haven’t mentioned my cosplay at all yet because I was waiting for some photos to be taken that weren’t of me looking confused or standing in THAT ONE POSITION I ALWAYS STAND IN FOR EVERY PHOTO so finally I have something to share.

Ain't no thing like me, 'cept me... and a few others.

Ain’t no thing like me, ‘cept me… and a few others.

Boom. Or, more like, whirrrrr....

Boom. Or, more like, whirrrrr….

The above two photos are by Tomisina Lynn Portrait Photography, by the way.  This is my Rocket Raccoon, although I don’t expect anyone currently on the internet to not know what Guardians of the Galaxy is. I also have a comic book version that won me a first prize at Oak City Comic Con in Raleigh this year:

Scooby Doo took a turn for the awesome, finally

Scooby Doo took a turn for the awesome, finally

And there’s my Beowulf from Rooster Teeth’s RWBY series.

No, it's not a bear, and I'm not doing that thing they supposedly do.

No, it’s not a bear, and I’m not doing that thing they supposedly do.

New acapella album coming soon: Jazz and Howling

New acapella album coming soon: Jazz and Howling

Photos are also by Tomisina Lynn

You can follow all of my cosplay ramblings and progress photos at BritFang Cosplay on Facebook. DragonCon is my next big upcoming event, sort of our yearly pilgrimage, and it’s going to be a big one with lots of amazing dehydration. Just as well it’s only minor repairs left, because I’ve had even MORE projects that I’ve been involved with, although very few are currently ready to advertise because they’re not finished yet. I do have these two, though:

Redwall Audio Drama (Fan-Made)
Escape Pod Episode 484: That Tear Problem

I do voice acting projects now. Once I have time after DragonCon I will audition for more, but to be honest it’s been a very intense few months, so time management will be essential… especially when you have a habit of wanting to do everything at once.

Me vs. my head. I don't know which is which.

Me vs. my head. I don’t know which is which.

So that’s an update from me! Stay tuned in another two months for more insecurities and self-assurances!

So I got my first negative review of Legacy on GoodReads…

And I wanted to address it, because for one thing, despite only being posted last month, it refers to the very first version I self-published in 2010, so pre- Inspired Quill edits.

Kuzco knows the score.

Kuzco knows the score.

I’ll post the review, by user ‘Anila’ below:

Post-nuclear-apocalypse furries wielding magic crystals.

Honestly. I’m struggling to talk about this book without just… pointing to that sentence up there and raising my eyebrows. I should probably play nice because this was a Kindle freebie but really. Post-nuclear-apocalypse furries, I swear, what the actual hell.

Okay, okay. An attempt at a real review, in some form.

– Plot: Balanced between ‘completely transparent’ and ‘where the fuck did that come from and why didn’t you bother to foreshadow it’, with the former dominating the earlier portions of the book and the latter taking up much of the conclusion. Note that when I say ‘balanced’ I don’t mean that it all came out well, ’cause it didn’t: the stuff that was completely obvious was often ignored by the characters, which left them looking stupid, and the things that came out of left field were crucial to the plot, which meant pretty much the whole conclusion of the book just had to be swallowed whole. Also, the epilogue jumps two years and just roughly summarizes the interval, in which all kinds of interesting things and developments happened, in a few paragraphs. Really?

– Setting: Grandiose self-aware infodumps that really, honestly, read like a child’s history essay at points. Completely inconsistent technology/awareness thereof – no one is confused when ancient secrets about nuclear physics become a topic of discussion, yet they’re still predominantly wielding swords and bows. Is this supposed to be a medieval-tech society? Is it industrial? Is it electronic? I HAVE NO IDEA, and apparently neither did the author.

– Writing: Started off on a bad foot with countries being referred to as “sovereigns” (that means ruler, not nation) and carried on from there with words that were either incorrectly applied or just plain made up. “Malefically” remains my favorite of the ones that don’t actually exist.

– Characters: Stock fantasy tropes, occasionally with a side of annoying (whatsisface the raccoon) or just plain dumb (the guy who, given the opportunity to kill his lifelong rival and one of the major antagonists, FAILED TO STAB THE DUDE AND NECESSITATED YET ANOTHER LONG DRAWN-OUT SWORDFIGHT WHICH ALMOST KILLED HIM). Relationships were predictable and uncomplicated, and I just generally don’t give a fuck.

Basically: If you want sword and sorcery with woodland creatures, read Redwall. If you want innovative epic fantasy, read any number of other series – if it’s the young female protagonist who must learn to master her powers that gets you, I suggest The Final Empire. But at the end of the day there isn’t enough originality in the concept nor quality in the execution to make this one worth your while.


Much review. So wow.

Much review. So wow.

Okay, so initially that wasn’t easy to read for me, as it’s not particularly polite, but whatever- I’m over it now. As soon as I hit the first sentence I figured it was going to be written by someone who thinks the idea of furry fiction as a whole is pretty laughable. If, on a profile, you write a big declaration that you get HONEST reviews (in big capital letters that MEAN SOMETHING, DUH), generally you’re assured that someone is going to be outspoken and phrase things combatively.

There’s a difference between being honest and being rude. For someone so particular about word definitions, I would suggest learning it.

The main points I take from this:
-Anila took almost as long to review this book as it has taken me to write my second.
-Criticism of the word ‘sovereign’ being used as a term for nation is fairly petty. It’s a fantasy novel, people use unique terms for things all the time, even ‘made up words’ that are apparently so abhorrently amusing. If you’re going to be a reviewer of fantasy books, best prepare for some disappointment if this particular trope bothers you.
– ‘Malefically’ (adverb: ‘in a malefic manner’) is so a word. Even if it isn’t listed by most dictionaries, it’s not a stretch to see that ‘malefic’ actually is, and that ‘ally; is normally added to words to create an adverb form. Getting pedantic over alternative definitions or extractions of words pisses me off. I was criticised at one point for using the word ‘decimated’ as a synonym for ‘ravaged’: I got a comment that read “what, they had 1/10 of the population killed?”. If that’s your favourite definition, then fine, good for you, but there’s another: ‘ kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of ‘. Congratulations on your short-sightedness.
-Foreshadowing is apparently meant to reveal the whole story before it happens. Someone who admits they ‘generally don’t give a fuck’ isn’t going to notice it.
-Reading the ‘in progress’ comments under the review, the reviewer shows more lack of attention to detail, probably brought on by my ‘rough’ writing and poor use of tropes. When Maaka (the surgeon, a falcon) operates, she criticises that BIRDS DON’T HAVE HANDS. Correct. Maaka uses tools strapped to his wings, and objects operated by his beak. He never has hands. Bravo for observation on that one.
-Old review is old.

Too many useful applications for this gif right now, I'm spoilt for choice.

Too many useful applications for this gif right now, I’m spoilt for choice.

Reading this has actually made me aware of some inconsistencies I need to address, like the disparities between the older technologies and Eeres’ current portrayal, and my tendency to infodump (which my editor already brought up with me during the edit for the new version ALMOST THREE YEARS AGO) but I’ll be going through with further revisions of Legacy fairly soon anyway as my publisher goes through its back catalogue.

And considering it’s still averaging a solid 4-star plus rating, I’m not too worried. You can’t please everyone. I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope for a greater response from a Fullmetal Alchemist and Sabriel fan, but never mind. It’s not like every anime/manga/book fan is going to be nice. I don’t even mind (object as much to) a bad review as such if it’s phrased intelligently. But, well…

Yep.

Yep.

Still, I got two stars. That’s more than her review of Game of Thrones, so screw those guys.