Fun Factoids And Fluff

Last year, I posted some fun background bits about the Action Figures series — trivia about the series and my writing process. Readers enjoyed the peek inside my head, so as I get ready for a weekend working MASSive ComicCon with my wife (and therefore will be away from my laptop), I thought I’d share some more insights (be forewarned, there might be some slightly SPOILERY tidbits).

  • Lovecraft references are scattered throughout the series. One of the more obscure references is to the film version of Re-Animator; the Lumley brothers — Gordon, Stuart, and Jeffrey — are named after director Stuart Gordon and star Jeffrey Combs.
  • While the series is roughly plotted out through the final book, game plans change as the story progresses. Originally, Matt and Sara were going to end up together, but the more I thought about it, the less I liked that idea. It fell into a trope I rather despise: boy meets girl; girl has no interest in boy; boy ignores girl’s feelings and keeps after her; girl breaks down after realizing boy wouldn’t keep trying so hard if his love wasn’t real; boy and girl get together. I dislike that trope because it sends a message that boys shouldn’t respect a girl when she says no, that a girl is a prize to be won, and that someone with self-esteem issues can be “fixed” by the love of a good person. I abandoned that story thread while revising Secret Origins and started planting hints that Sara’s lack of interest was due to the fact she was still coming to grips with her sexuality.
  • Edison “Concorde” Bose is named after Thomas Edison (who, like Concorde, was kind of a dick). Edison’s son Nick is named after Nikola Tesla.
  • Carrie owns a copy of the first American printing of The Hobbit featuring the revised Riddles in the Dark chapter, passed down to her from her father, who got it from his father. In mint condition, this book would be worth close to $2,000. Carrie’s edition is very well-read and nowhere close to mint condition.
  • The Hero Squad’s favorite flavors: Carrie = mocha. Matt = caramel. Sara = maple. Missy = ginger. Stuart = why play favorites? They’re all good.

And now, a bonus factoid or two about The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot

  • The main characters are a subtle homage to a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party composition.  There are two fighters (Derek, a straightforward fighter, and Erika, a ranger type), a thief (Felix), a magic user (David), and a cleric (Winifred). Also, the party starts to form after a chance meeting in a tavern — a traditional starting point for many adventures.
  • Speaking of Winifred, I’d originally planned for her to be a one-adventure character, but I liked her too much. How will she factor in with the rest of the series? You’ll have to wait for Assassins Brawl to find out.
  • Jorge Garcia, who should be cast in everything.
    Jorge Garcia, who should be cast in everything.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes cast actors as certain roles to help me find their characters. In S&L, Winifred’s look is based on former WWE star Stacy Keibler (which I guess would make her a Keibler elf), Derek was inspired by Mummy-era Brendan Fraser, and Felix I’ve always pictured as a scruffy Ryan Reynolds. In Assassins Brawl, I’ve fan-casted two new characters — Lord Paradim and his captain of the guard, Isla Manse — as Jorge Garcia and Gina Torres, respectively.

Curiously, no one has stood out in my mind as suitable for Erika. If anyone has their own fan-casting suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

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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.