What’s Up With Me This Week?

Well, today I’m plugging away on book five, then I’m getting ready for this thing:

RHSF

If you happen to be in the North Haven, CT area during the three coming weekends, pop in and check out the show (and learn more about it here). You’ll get to watch me take three separate beatings over the course of the day — beatings I helped direct, in assistance to my friend Cliff — and you can buy stuff from my wife’s tent (Storied Threads).

Cover Artist Spotlight: Tricia Lupien

Here’s a quick little thing over on my Tumblr page spotlighting the art of the AF series by my friend Tricia (apologies to Tumblr followers who are going to end up seeing this twice).

The Action Figures Diversity Report 2015

Last year, I took a look at the cast of my books to see how well I was doing in representing women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. I did this because I’d been reading a lot of articles and essays about how the entertainment media, in particular TV and movies, have been falling down on the job in giving audiences something other than stories featuring straight white male protagonists. If you Google “representation in media” or “diversity in media” you’ll find a treasure trove of data confirming that visual entertainment needs to seriously step up its game when it comes to giving audiences diverse characters.

The issue has been on my mind again recently, but for a different and even more distasteful reason: reactions from what I’ll call “audiences of privilege” to efforts by some media companies to increase diversity. Specifically, some of the reactions to recent pushes by DC and Marvel to attract what can be rightfully called “non-traditional readers” — meaning women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.

This should be cause for celebration. Attracting new readers, people who might not have shown much interest before in comics because they found none of the current titles appealing, strengthens the industry with an infusion of new blood (and, not at all coincidentally, cash).

Yet there’s been no small amount of push-back from the old boy community. They’re accused DC and Marvel of “pandering” to diverse audiences…because when you give, say, women more female characters and update their costumes to be less sexualized, that’s pandering to women, but keeping her in the same skintight leotard is, somehow, not pandering to men.

Top: not pandering to men. Bottom: pandering to women. Art by Kris Anka and Frank Cho, respectively, images courtesy Marvel Comics.

Top: not pandering to men. Bottom: pandering to women. Art by Kris Anka and Frank Cho, respectively, images courtesy Marvel Comics.

(FYI, “pandering” means “to do or provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable.” If someone wants to step up and explain to me why it’s unreasonable to give non-straight white male readers characters they can identify with, go right ahead. I’ll enjoy watching you dig your own grave with great amusement.)

I received a little bit of push-back myself on Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer, which explicitly establishes certain characters as openly homo- or bisexual. A reviewer on Amazon said I was getting “too politically correct.” Hardly a scathing rebuke, but what does it say about any reader when adding diverse characters is succumbing to political correctness rather than endeavoring not to be mindful of the fact not everyone in the world is straight, white, and/or male?

I admit, it took me a while to adjust my own thinking on this issue. I began the series open to creating diverse characters, but did so with the attitude that their diversity had to mean something. It had to matter to the character and the story. I didn’t want to simply throw in a bunch of diverse characters for the sake of it.

Then I read a few things on Tumblr (which, for once, provided me with civil, sane discussion points rather than a profanity-laden, anger-driven rant) that opened my eyes. I can’t find the original post to quote it verbatim, but the argument was, essentially: why do diverse characters have to have a deeper reason to exist? Real people are different for no reason other than that’s how they are. Do you walk up to an African-American and demand they explain why they’re African-American, and challenge their right to exist if they can’t provide a satisfactory argument?

The other post that made me rethink the way I approach storytelling stated that sometimes, simply seeing a diverse character in a story is enough. Giving the character depth and meaning is great, making their diversity meaningful is a lofty goal, but for some audience members, it is very gratifying and encouraging to see a character who is fleshed out, fully realized, isn’t a lazy stereotype, and matters to the story, and just happens to be someone of color, or just happens to be gay.

I understand some of you might be rolling your eyes at all this because it none of this matters to you. Well, guess what? As William Shatner said, you’re not the only one living on this planet. It might not matter to you, but to someone else, it matters a lot, and frankly, I’d rather piss off someone who complains about diversity than someone who complains about the lack of it — because those in that latter category are right.

I’d like to think I took some positive steps toward a more diverse cast with book four, and I’ll give you a head’s up now that the following updated cast list contains a few SPOILERS (capitalized to grab your attention!), so if you haven’t read book four yet, you might want to stop reading now.

  • Carrie Hauser/Lightstorm: straight white female
  • Matt Steiger/Captain Trenchcoat: straight white male
  • Sara Danvers/Psyche: lesbian white female
  • Stuart Lumley: male, one-quarter African-American
  • Missy Hamill/Kunoichi: half-Japanese female
  • Edison Bose/Concorde: straight male
  • Bart Connors/Mindforce: gay white male
  • Natalie Guerrero/Nina Nitro: straight Hispanic female
  • Astrid Enigma/Dr. Enigma: bisexual white female
  • Dr. Gwendolyn Quentin/Doc Quantum: straight white female
  • Joe Quentin/Rockjaw Quantum: straight white male
  • Megan Quentin/Megawatt Quantum: lesbian white female
  • Kilroy Quentin/Kilowatt Quantum: straight white male
  • Farley Quentin/Final Boss: white male (sexuality TBD because he’s only six. Give him time)
  • Tisha Greene/TranzSister: African-American transgender female (heterosexual by virtue of her current gender)

I dare say I have the LGBTQ spectrum well covered, and I readily admit I am more comfortable presenting these kinds of characters because it’s what I’m familiar with. I know a lot of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, at least one asexual individual, and one transgender person (that I am aware of, at least) through the renaissance faire community, and I encounter these people frequently at the pop culture conventions I work with my wife.

Obviously, my failing continues to be in presenting people of color in prominent roles. There are many minor supporting characters of color, but few in any major spotlight role. Let’s see if I can correct that as I move forward with the series.

Back In Action!

Sorry for the lengthy radio silence, but the last few weeks have been utterly insane.

To cut a long story short, a few months ago my wife and I made the difficult decision to sell our home, which we could no longer comfortably afford on our self-employment-based incomes. We found a new place quickly enough, but that meant we had to set about packing up our lives and moving to the new condo, a project that took up pretty much every spare minute I had since the end of March.

Fortunately, the move is done, and I wish I could say that means I’m getting back on the laptop to resume work on Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups, but I won’t have any proper writing weekends for about eight weeks as rehearsals for the Connecticut Renaissance Faire start up today, and I’m returning to assist my friend Cliff in his fight direction duties.

However, with the new place mostly unpacked and semi-organized, I will have some time during the week to get writing done, so don’t worry. Book five should be out in late September!

Cruel Summer – Print Edition! (And Other Stuff)

Art by Patricia Lupien

Art by Patricia Lupien

For those of you who have been waiting for the print edition of Action Figures – Cruel Summer, sorry for the delay, but the wait is at last over! The hard copy version is now available on Amazon, so go get it!

The Kindle edition has been flying off the metaphorical shelves since it dropped last week, and has been hovering near the top of two best-seller lists, which gives me plenty of incentive to keep cracking on book five, Team-Ups.

I’ve mentioned book five quite a few times in the past couple of months, so you might be wondering exactly what’s going to happen in the next installation. For starters, the book will be tonally more in-line with the first three books in the series. I make no apologies for running dark with book four — it wasn’t a story that could be told with my usual lighter touch — but believe me, I’m happy to get back to stories that are more on the fun side.

The big curve ball for readers in book five is that it will consist of a series of vignettes — self-contained stories each spotlighting a different member of the Hero Squad as they recover from the events of book four. Here’s a sampling of what’s coming…

  • The King of Pain deals one last blow against the Squad, and it could shatter the already fractured team forever.
  • Matt and Nina Nitro set out to apprehend two escapees from Byrne Penitentiary, but things don’t go as planned after local hero (and noted jerk) Deuce X. Machine lends an unwanted helping hand.
  • Carrie spends quality time with the Quantum Quintet.
  • Missy begins her formal training…with the Entity, but the mysterious vigilante has an ulterior motive.
  • Stuart follows Dr. Enigma into Boston’s underworld to recover a powerful magical artifact, but an old enemy stands in the way.

Book five will culminate in a major revelation as Carrie — and readers — finally learn exactly where her powers came from…and that her fantastic abilities come with a price.

Godzilla Likes My Book!

I bet that got your attention, huh?

My friend Lauren, who took the photo I use as my official author photo, did up a silly thing for Tumblr to show her love for my books.

Photo by Lauren Dubois. I suppose Toho Studios should also get a mention.

Photo by Lauren Dubois. I suppose Toho Studios should also get a mention.

To view the full thing, go here. I hope it amuses you as much as it amused me.

As you’ll see, Godzilla is ready for book four. Fortunately, he won’t have long to wait, because it drops tomorrow! You can still pre-order it for the Kindle, and the print edition should be ready for sale later this week.

Godzilla isn’t the only one eager for the next book. Over the weekend, pre-order sales drove Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer up to the number two slot on Amazon’s best-seller list for Kindle e-books in the comics & graphic novels / graphic novels / action & adventure category!

Cruel Summer – Back Cover Art Reveal!

Hey, everyone. I’m taking a few minutes out of my writing weekend — I’m already cranking out Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups — to show off the finished color art for the back cover of Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer, courtesy of my artist Tricia.

Art by Patricia Lupien.

Art by Patricia Lupien.

Oooh, foreboding!

This means the cover art package is almost finished, which means the print edition of book four will be available soon! I’ll let you all know when it becomes available for sale on Amazon.

If you can’t wait, and you’re a Kindle user, you can still pre-order book four, which will be released this coming Tuesday!

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