Francis Quina on Morning Glories

This was the second recorded episode, but with special events and the like the publishing was delayed. Nonetheless, it’s my pleasure to have writer, comic book aficionado, and my roommate at the UP Faculty Center, Francis Quina, talking about Morning Glories.

Definitely one of the most compelling ongoing series at present, Morning Glories tells the story of a mysterious school, where powers, the supernatural, and science fiction all collide. It’s a comic book that takes your breath away with its breakneck speed, plot twists, and jaw-dropping revelations. Francis and I pick it apart, trying to understand what makes it work so well, and talk about why we enjoy the comic book so much.

You can check out the podcast here.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the official site.

And if you want to go pick it up in digital, you can find it on comixology here.

As always, thanks for listening to the podcast, please share and drop us a comment or whatever if you are enjoying it.

Next week, Vincenz Serrano talks about New Order!

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Gerry Alanguilan and Eliza Victoria at the 3rd Readercon

The 3rd Filipino ReadeCon was held this Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Rizal Library in Ateneo. It was a great even celebrating readers and reading. I was fortunate enough to moderate one of the Writers as Readers panels.

Comics creator Gerry Alanguilan and writer Eliza Victoria talked about the books that they love. Afterwards the audience and I got to ask them some questions.

Give it a listen if you’re looking for reading recommendations, as these are in abundance through the talk. You’ll hear some great essential comics titles and a lot of horror novels and page turners.

You can listen to the podcast here.

You can visit Gerry Alanguilan’s blog here.

You can visit Eliza Victoria’s blog here.

Thanks for listening!

American sf Reading List

This semester, I’ve been given the privilege of teaching a class on American Science Fiction, ENG 146. I spent a good part of the summer writing and revising my syllabus and trying to create a reading list that is a good balance and mix of different kinds of texts, that show the range and major movements of sf.

Here’s my reading/viewing list:

Short Stories

“The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke

“The Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Leguin

Novels

I, Robot

The Martian Chronicles

Ender’s Game

Neuromancer

Ready Player One 

Novellas

Flowers for Algernon

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Comics

Action Comics #1

Captain America #1

Fantastic Four #1

Amazing Fantasy #15

The Incredible Hulk #1

Ex Machina Issues #1-5

The Manhattan Projects #1-5

Films

Alien

Back to the Future

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Matrix

Looper

TV Series Episodes

“The Shelter” from The Twilight Zone

“The City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek

 
That is what I plan to teach this semester. My worry now is how willing my students will be to engage what I believe is a fantastic set of texts. I have some apprehensions as a good number of students have displayed indifference to the material. I know that if I were a student, my brain would explode with the awesomeness of this reading list. But that’s me and I’m a nerd. I just hope that the students do come around, and start seeing how much fun these texts can be, rather than trying to deconstruct them and strip them of their merits just to point out whatever it is that contemporary has taught them to see.

1st Global Conference: The Graphic Novel Fundraising Efforts

Yes we’re asking for money. Now that that’s on the table let’s move on. We’re raising funds and we promise that it will be for something worthwhile and we are hoping that you, dear reader, will give us money, and beyond that, you will tell someone else about the whole thing and that person will give give us money and so forth.

What is “this whole thing” which I am asking money for? Ah, that’s where I can be verbose and gush like a fan. We, those raising funds, have written papers and will be presenting those papers at The 1st Global Conference: The Graphic Novel which will be held at Mansfield College, Oxford, UK from Sept. 7 to Sept. 9.

The we is composed of teachers from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Together (volted-in, so to speak) we make up a panel that will discuss various angles of Philippine Komiks. The session will be called A League of our Own: Cultural Appropriations in Contemporary Philippine Comics. Leading the panel is one of the pioneers of teaching and studying comic books in the Philippine academe, Prof. Emil Flores, PhD. (and a komiks creator himself). His paper is  “Up in the Sky, Feet on the Ground: Cultural Identity in Filipino Superhero Komiks.” Micaela Chua is a Summa cum Laude grad, Erasmus scholar, and is currently working on her MA thesis on comics. Her paper is “Enabling Mythologies: Specificity and Myth-making in TRESE” And there’s me, Carl Javier (you can also throw a Prof. in front of my name, though I am still not accustomed to it). I’ve written a few books on geekiness and I’ll be presenting a paper called “Filipino humor and the Filipinization of Foreign Tropes in Macoy’s ‘Taal Volcano Monster vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro’.”

The costs of this trip are astronomical, especially when you consider that we are making our livings teaching at a state university. The plane fare alone costs three and a half months’ worth of my salary. The conference fee costs a month’s worth. As of this writing we have not received any funding. We have requests filed with the university, but even if they were to be approved that funding would only be the equivalent of half a plane ticket. That’s why we need help.

One way is that we are throwing a benefit gig called Komiks rOX on August 3. It will be at Route 196 on Katipinan Ext. and people can start showing up and hanging out by 7pm. We plan it to be a massive party where people can hang out, talk comics, have fun, and listen to some awesome bands. On the line-up are Gang Bading, The Etiquettes, Plagpul, Matilda, and Giniling Festival. We’re having a costume contest; people can come dressed up as their favorite comic book character. If you win, you get a set of signed Trese books AND a set of Night Gallery prints, also signed. We’ll be auctioning prints and original artwork from various komikeros. And it will be an awesome and fun.

But in truth, we are asking for much more than money. We are asking that you let us represent you. Our panel is meant to represent Philippine komiks, Philippine scholarship, and  Filipinos engaging in global discourse. We are asking for the opportunity to bring our discourse to this conference and to introduce people to our komiks and to get the world talking about what we Filipinos are doing. That is “the whole thing,” the big idea.

Prospects, Concerns, Opportunities, Expectations

It’s at this point that I can admit to things not ever turning out as I expect. Then again I think it’s safe to assume that it’s only the very rare person whose life turns out as planned.

Nearing 30 was tumultuous, and being 30 has not been much easier. I’ve written before that I swung between manic and depressive states throughout February and March and my mind has been a cauldron of trouble. Work, money, personal life, family stuff. And more recently old man trouble makes another visit in my mind in the form of fortune and opportunity.

See, I got invited to submit an abstract to a conference. My main qualification? I’m a comic book nerd. it definitely helped of course that I can competently write critical/literary analysis papers. Still I did not expect that my paper would get accepted to the conference. It’s an amazing stroke of luck that all our papers were accepted, and as a result we as a panel were accepted to be part of the First Global Conference on the Graphic Novel in Oxford. Leading the panel is Prof. Emil Flores, and on it are Prof. Dough Ancheta and my very good friend Mic Chua. As far as critical writing goes, I am the lightweight int he group (though I am the heavyweight in literal terms).

This is an exhilarating prospect. To go to another country and present my ideas on Pinoy Komiks. Man, it’s just, really, it’s mind-blowing isn’t it? I feel lucky and I feel like there are so many other people that I admire and that I look up to and I think, I was just in the right place at the right time and I know in my bones that I have to do well, do right by all these people and right by all the people who have ever taught me by just making the best paper that I possibly can.

Now comes the part that is causing me many many apprehensions. And it’s the money. In just the span of a week the cost of plane fare jacked up from P42 to around P60K. so right now, I don’t really have the money to pay for that and everything else. But I have to, lest the prices go up even more.

I had thought, at 30, that I would finally be able to start saving some money. I’ll have to admit I have been a wastrel as far as money has been concerned. I felt deprived as a kid. Didn’t get to eat good food. Didn’t get to go to places. Didn’t get the video games I ever wanted. Didn’t get the gadgets. And so when I started making money, I started indulging in all these things. But after months of not getting paid, I managed to save a fair amount of money. I promised a chunk of it to go to my sister’s debut party. And the rest I planned to save.

Thing is the Oxford trip will cost, just for plane fare, accommodations, and conference fee, something in the neighborhood of P100,000. I have never had that much money IN MY LIFE. I got close. Darn close. I was planning to have that much, and let that be part of a more mature, more developed budgeting and spending so that I could start really saving up. But it looks like I will be spending that and more on the trip.

I worry because I will be back to near zero. UP provides a research and development grant, but it’s a flat rate P45K. That doesn’t even cover airfare. And what makes it even more difficult to work with is that the full amount is released months after you actually need it, what with all the paperwork that needs to get done to release money. But we need the money now.

I’m tapping friends to come up with schemes for fundraising. I’m willing to try anything. So far, looks like I’ll probably be throwing a concert. And if we can find a yacht, quite possibly a yacht party. And I don’t know what else. But it feels like this opportunity is too good to pass up. And so, here we go on another adventure, trying to raise funding for this adventure. All I can think now is, EXCELSIOR!

Isn’t it All Fanfic?

I don’t know if this counts, but I like to think that it does. My earliest acts of fan-fiction were as a kid playing with my action figures. Like a lot of kids, I got toys from different franchises and pantheons and smashed them together. One of my favorite toys was B.A. Baracus from The A-Team, who, in my first act of creative crossover, I would have drive the KITT car from Knight Rider. And though the action figures we had ranged from Ninja Turtles to Ghostbusters to G.I. Joes to Transformers to X-Men and Visionaries and the now little-remembered Toxic Crusaders, we only had one backdrop for it all, The Ghostbusters’ Firehouse playset.

I, along with my brother and cousins, would construct intricate storylines bringing these characters together and creating plausible narrative devices which allowed for the crossovers. These stories we made would be serialized—once play time for that day finished we would try to remember where in the story we had left off so that at the following day’s playtime one of us would do a voiceover of “on yesterday’s episode” and then we would get back to playing. One of my cousins was smart, and a real smart-ass, and he was the self-appointed Consistency guy, always calling us out when we made our toys do things out of character.

It’s from this memory that I gather three things that are major elements of fan fiction: Love, Playfulness, and Creativity. We only want to spend more time with characters, only want to make more stories for them, because we love them, we are emotionally invested not only in the stories already created about them, but in the stories enabled by their character and our imagination. We are playful in that we take what’s there and we work with it not because we’re required to, not because someone has asked us to write a paper for a class and a grade, but because we find pleasure and fun in creating these new stories within the parameters set forth by the original creators. And we are creative in that we are engaging one creative act to produce another. So it’s creativity begetting creativity, one narrative giving birth to many narratives all joined by a collective kind of imagination and sense for story.

Fan fiction has become a topic for study in recent years because of its proliferation enabled by the internet. But I daresay that well before the internet age we were already constructing new stories for already existing characters, filling in the gaps of the shows that we followed or movies that we watched. The What Ifs which in my mind truly began with my first reading of a Marvel What If title, were what got me started reading and writing. Somewhere in a landfill is a notebook filled with my scribblings of What Ifs from the Marvel and DC universes.

I bring us then to the idea that fan fiction is not a terribly new thing, it is only relatively new in that it has been given a name and a classification thanks to its being observable and to its having a significant readership. And it’s here where we find the sudden struggle between our own literary/academic trappings of what is literature, smashing head on against the millions of fan fiction works of varying quality. I suppose that may be one of the things that the academe can’t stand, and one of the reasons for the insistence that fan fiction is not “real literature.” Yes, there’s so much bad fan fic out there. But hey, can we not also say that there’s so much bad literary fiction out there? So many bad CNF essays? So many bad poems?Sturgeon’s law is, after all, applicable. 90% of everything is crap, whether it be fan fic or high brow academic poetry.

The Academe (emphasis on the capital A) insists on its power to define whether something is Literature or not, and more often than not it believes itself to be the “Gatekeeper” of quality and taste. This leads to the exclusion of anything which does not fall into the leading academics’ paradigms (and these leading academics are not necessarily those who are most active, producing the most relevant work, or the most insightful, but usually those who have the most political clout in their respective departments). It has these academics casting themselves as the protectors of the good, trying to stop the entry of “unworthy literature” into the annals of academic study.

And so now we find ourselves in the curious struggle to convince our academic elders (especially because we often find ourselves in these institutions) that fan fiction is a legitimate form of literature. I’ll admit to our own attempts at this project many years ago when Adam and I were still active young members of the UPWC, when we released the Fan Fatale zine, which tried to show how Fan Fiction and literary writing could easily be one and the same.

But it’s clear to me now that this is a mistake. It is not for Fan Fiction to find a way to be elevated to the status of Literature with the capital L. Rather, it’s for us, who write, read, and engage in literature, to realize that all writing is in its essence fan fiction.

To wit, it’s love, playfulness, and creativity. And are these not among the things that drive us to try to contribute to literature? Are not these things catalysts, impetuses which drive us to write? These are definitely things that drive me. I believe too that these are the things that have driven writers, artists, musicians, and other creatives since art began. We draw inspiration from what is around us, and thus, we are practicing fandom and attempts at replicating and expanding that by our own engagement in these things. Sure the definition of fandom is constantly changing, but can we not point to significant works that would justify this assertion?

Off the top of my head are Louise Gluck’s poetry collections, like The Garden which draws upon the story of the Garden of Eden, or Meadowlands which takes from Greek Mythology. In an ultimate declaration of fandom, Dante casts his literary idol Virgil as his guide in Inferno. Shakespeare wrote his historical plays based on various sources such as Plutarch. Allen Ginsberg hangs out with Walt Whitman in “A Supermarket in California.” Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution is a Sherlock Holmes novel (and there are so many Sherlock Holmes stories all over). Alan Moore takes Victorian public domain characters to make his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Scott Edelman takes Of Mice and Men and turns Lenny into a zombie going after George. LA Noire: The Collected Stories is a short story collection based on a game based on a film genre based on hard-boiled crime novels. These are just overt examples.

But all work seeks to contribute to the dominant mythologies of its time. References to the monomyth may be applicable here, but I do believe that at any given time there are many different mythologies and belief systems that one can subscribe to. And inevitably, all literary work falls into one system or other, whether it be the nature-moralist mode of contemporary Filipino lyric poetry, or the middle- to upper-middle class domesticity-drowned-in-irony tendencies of Filipino literary fiction, or the fact that the majority of our novels attempt to replicate the Noli Me Tangere. Attempts at subverting the dominant modes are, in doing so, creating their own alternative mythology.

The difference isn’t the attempt or the intention, it’s the approach. Where all of these different works of writing are driven by love, a desire to contribute to a mythology, and an outpouring of creativity, one kind of writing (literary) takes an approach accepted by the dominant academic/literary institutions and publishing models, while the other builds itself around online communities of sharing run voluntarily and with passion by enthusiasts.

I personally attempt to navigate these various monomyths in my own work and because of my own background. As a product of the undergrad English and MA Creative Writing programs, a member of the English Department faculty, and a person who works in publishing, I am aware of what the dominant modes of thought and writing are within these institutions. At the same time, my own writing, literary production, and reading, seek to move beyond what is prescribed by the formal literary institutions.

The fiction that I have produced is always playing on a motif, an element, a trope, or something from a story or novel I’ve read, a movie or TV show I’ve watched, or some other cultural input. I will never try to call my fiction wholly original. Conversely I will ask my readers to identify the cultural touchstones upon which I have drawn.

As if the referencing and drawing from other works were not enough in my short fiction, the project of my second novel will be as a piece of extended fan fiction. The main character, Carljoe Javier, unable to cope with the real world, plunges into an existential coma which can only be worked out of by passing through various fandoms. So each chapter of the novel will be set in a specific fandom, with the character trying to navigate through that world and understand the real world through the experiences in each fandom. This allows me to play with What Ifs that have been in my head for a long time: what happens when Skynet attacks the Philippines? What would a Pinoy do on the Nostromo? How could we as Filipinos tell a Replicant from a real person? Where in the Firefly ‘verse would we be? What happens when the TARDIS lands in Kamuning?

The project of writing is a large one, and the project of the academe to understand what is labeled Fan Fiction is only beginning. What we have to do, as readers, is to break down the barriers which prevent us from reading and critiquing. We must move beyond prescribed notions of what is and isn’t literature. In effect, I’m saying, Fan Fiction isn’t fan fiction, it’s just Fiction. Our question when reading it should not be whether it’s appropriate for us to use these characters or settings, or whether this mode of writing is literature or not. What we should ask is always whether the writer is successful in his/her project, ask how the writer has utilized the tools that are available, and if the writer has made a contribution to the literature that s/he is trying to write in.

As writers the questions are similar. Have we written well (in terms of aesthetics and technique)? Is what we’ve written worth reading? Does it contribute to the mythology? To the larger projects of Philippine Literature and Literature in general? Have we imbued our works with enough love, playfulness, and creativity to bring them to life?

 

The Adventures of Tintin (Review)

Every year brings about new developments in moviemaking technology, and so it’s almost a given that we will be astounded with some kind of visual effects extravaganza. Last year gave us Avatar, which was really Pocahontas with blue aliens. It was brilliant in action and its use of 3-D, but rather lackluster when it came to story.

Lackluster story is not something you would ever accuse The Adventures of Tintin books having. Nor this year’s film adaptation, which is surely this holiday season’s technological breakthrough. A visual feast that is powered by a compelling story and lovable characters, Tintin strings together memorable action set pieces that will be entertaining many generations of young viewers, just as the comics have done for decades.  Read more of this post