Okay! The above is actually the title for my proposed panel presentation for Comics Arts Conference – Wondercon 2015, but I figured it’s about as good a title as any for what I’m about to do … which is basically blab on about Sarah Stone’s art for IDW’s Transformers comics and the worldbuilding and character handling James Roberts is doing for the same property with the Transformers: More than Meets the Eye ongoing ‘and’ explain gender and relationships using Loki and penguins. Largely to help myself hash things out more so I can try to fit all of that into a little proposal that will still hold up five months from now (the abstract on the proposal is what the panel description is taken from for the program – usually with some degree of mangling in between) and which fits into an even smaller twenty minute presentation. And also because my personal circumstances are horrible and terrifying right now and I don’t know what the outcome will be, so ‘someone’ is going to hear me talk about robots being penguins and about how awesome Starscream’s legs are. ;P
Note: Oh gosh, this is already getting long. Apparently I mustered enough Nautica-ness for an opening sub-lecture where I demystify/totally ruin what comics scholarship and being a professional comics scholar are like. Sorry not sorry.
Soooo, provided I survive my current circumstances, have the proposal in by December 1st, get a “Congratulations! You’re in!” e-mail in probably January, and everything after that goes fine, I will be presenting for the third year running at Wondercon Anaheim as part of the Comics Arts Conference. I really want to do a series of posts about Wondercon, including a bit about CAC (mainly because I was quite out of luck looking for guides and advice for introverts and people with Superman-level sensory stuff who want to have fun at cons and had no idea what the flip to do or expect when it came to presenting when I started out), but, basically, the Comics Arts Conference is where the queer, nerdy, disabled chicks go to blab about kinky caped superheroes and ex-sex-worker anti-heroes and feel like legitimate professionals and scholars.
Or, in other terms, Comics Arts Conference is basically a con within a con, with a focus on comics scholarship and, I think, a pretty darn open admittance policy when it comes to speakers and topics (I’m a freelance writer and speaker with no university affiliation and too poor and too disabled to do the whole publish or die dealio. Plus, I eventually came to the realization that I’d much rather keep control of my own work and also be able to have it come out when it’s still relevant. Not, err, two and half years later …). Which means you can get some really cool programming to check out and some variety in tone and approach and variety in the speakers themselves. I personally am not into a drier presentation style or referencing a lot of theoretical or specialized reading, but some people are ‘and’ I’ve also had darned cool co-presenters who speak more in that style. Not my thing, but I’ve had consistently lovely people as my co-panelists and they’ve had cool topics. Plus, there is nothing quite like a guy speaking in a very dry, academic style about explicit gay pornography.
Also, basically, nobody bites. Seriously. Which is also true of Wondercon as a whole. It can vary a little, especially if you go to the really big panels sponsored by the movie studios or whatnot (which I don’t because I need a lot of my spoons to present and also to visit with people, do the exhibitor’s hall and see hopefully all my must see panels and people), but Wondercon tends to be a bit more low key. I think I got this slightly more my first year, but you can get panelists who otherwise don’t go to cons or normally wouldn’t go but are making an exception for Wondercon due to its smaller size and more relaxed nature. It ‘is’ growing in attendance but it still feels comfortable to me (or as comfortable as something with that many people and that much standing and sensory input can 🙂 ) and people come off as particularly people-y. And, well, how intimidating or unfun can a scholarly conference within a con be where they let me talk and on topics like the ones I pick (and while wearing a corset, skirt, and a pair of Converse)? Plus have co-panelists rocking Captain Marvel-inspired dresses and letter column analysis to talk about changes in super-heroine costuming?
All of which brings me to next year’s con and what I want to do. Which is add the IDW Transformers comics (or maybe Transformers comics in general? I think it may very well be that one) on to the list of properties and fandoms that the Comics Arts Conference has covered. It ‘does’ break my bat- and cat-tastic streak when it comes to presentation topics, but I think there are really darned awesome things going on with the Transformers property right now and I want to share them with people who may not know about them. Or may not quite realize how awesome the awesome-ness is. 😉
Now, this could be a fabulously bad idea and not just because I am trying to write (and write a successful proposal – they really love having me there, but I still have to have a good proposal and also one that groups well with two other proposals to form a unifying panel subject area), plan, and commit while super-stressed, underfed, and in imminent danger ‘but’ honestly, mostly, this will only be fabulously bad if I have to drop out or if I can’t get my suddenly expanded subject area wrangled into a just vague enough proposal and then a twenty minutes tops presentation or if dealing with a live text comes back to bite me in the butt.
So, basically, if James Roberts, the GRRM of robots, does not suddenly steer all the gender and relationship awesomeness into the sun by April, then in April, anybody who can make it down to Wondercon Anaheim can hear me talk about gender fluidity, ways to be female, asexuality, and the glory of wtf-I-don’t-even-know relationships in Transformers: More than Meets the Eye. And also about the lovely gaze-y-ness of how Sarah Stone draws bots and also how her art blurs lines in terms of “masculine” and “feminine” designs. And the fact that I try to type that as blurrs every darn time I say (type) anything like this to anyone probably gives away one of the bots whose design I want to talk about.
To that end … Nautica could be a total disaster. I love love love her and she has a delightful Doctor Who vibe that doesn’t come off too strong or like the references aren’t meant for female fans too. And she’s purple and yellow. And the writer apparently has no plans to ship her with anybody (I unfortunately have not actually listened to the interview. No transcript and those are easier for access), which is awesome. ‘However,’ Nautica is the with-giant-blinking-signs female character on the Lost Light and, based upon the extra crew data we’ve gotten in-comic, her spark contains estriol. Which is a cool science-y bit, but potentially troublesome because it could be taken in a “only being female like Nautica is female is valid” direction in the future … which wouldn’t actually make the problems that the comic universe had any better.
However, I have a heck of a lot of faith in the author, which means that, barring various potentialities mentioned earlier in this post happening, when April comes I get to talk about how James Roberts and More than Meets the Eye have basically set up a Transformers universe where you can safely ‘not’ assume anyone’s gender (unless proven otherwise, such as the holomatter avatars, word of god, and the clarification around the team from Caminus) and in which Nautica and the way she experiences being female is only one way. And in which she isn’t the only female character.
Of course, I do personally take my girl party (Cyclonus, Tailgate, and Whirl) as all girls, but I think the matter with the holoavatars also works or can work as a sliding scale or spectrum where the only invalid answer would be to say gender: male and ‘only’ male with the characters whose holoavatars are female. And of course there is Ultra Magnus, who seems to have self-selected and overridden their own holomatter avatar, so that the avatar is of Verity Carlo, someone they clearly respect very highly. And which still says ‘something’ about how Ultra Magnus views their inner self. And then there’s also the matter of pronouns, where I am still not going to let the property off for using male pronouns (and otherwise functionally gendering the vast majority of Transformers as male) while talking about the robots being genderless, but where in this case it seems as though ‘functionally’ he/him/his does not have the same weight to most of the crew of the Lost Light that it would to the Camineans or to us readers and which, very importantly, has not had another linguistic option available until very recently. And which I don’t think we’ve really seen discussed in-comic yet, especially and importantly not with the bots we know it might apply to.
Which means, basically, gender in More than Meets the Eye is gloriously, messily blurry and blurred and confusing and .. well, really, a good reflection of real life precisely because it is so very ‘not’ neat and tidy. And I am probably going to end up saying much the same thing when I get to discussing relationships and conjux endurae and amica endurae, so I think I’m going to need Brainstorm’s briefcase so I can go back and have that sentence to use then after all.
But, basically, if More than Meets the Eye stays the way it seems to be now and just improves and maintains on that, we have everyone’s gender and then we have a variety of frame types, frame appearances, biochemistry, personal history, and pronouns to go with that. I really can’t think of any way to elaborate on that other than a personality-filled delighted dance at having something that awesome in a comic and pointing out that I am clearly, intentionally not using the phrase gender identity any freaking where in this post. Or in my presentation, if and when I get to make it. No one’s gender is getting ranked as more valid than anyone else’s on my watch and that’s what gender vs. gender identity does with cis and trans people.
And now I want to talk a little about the relationships all these fabulously gendered bots are in or can be in and what kind of potential the terms and concepts introduced in-universe have.
Which is basically … a whole heck of a lot. I think people pick up on Chromedome and Rewind in terms of inclusiveness easily enough, especially if they read everyone (or most everyone) as male, but what More than Meets the Eye has going on actually goes way beyond a “Look, married gay robots!” type of inclusiveness into some pretty darned cool places that also just so happen to be very ace-friendly.
Not that I don’t enjoy cute married gay robots (because I do, I do, I do and finding out they were in MTMTE is what blipped it onto my radar), so I want to make sure nobody thinks I’m knocking on the cuties, but a lot of the time queer inclusion in comics or elsewhere adds up to gay (cis, male) inclusion and that inclusion basically slots it into the most standard of standard patterns, where everyone wants kissing and romance and sex and marriage and children and you’re just swapping out two guys (or occasionally, two girls) for a guy and a gal. When of course, the characters aren’t being punished, sometimes with death, for being queer. Or are only queer in an alternate reality or somewhere else that counts but doesn’t really count.
This makes queer representation as a whole frustrating at best because if you ‘do’ find your particular type of queerness represented in a character or set of characters, it’s oftentimes basically like waiting for the trigger to be pulled because you know, just ‘know’, that they’re going to get killed or cancelled or their characterization is going to take a long, swirling journey down the toilet before they probably get killed or cancelled.
And then there are the times where you ‘don’t’ find yourself represented in the first place, which can happen a whole heck of a lot even in queer friendly or queer oriented media and even more outside of it. And it sucks. Immensely. And can get downright depressing and damaging, especially if you lack words and terms for who and what you are and lack any idea that there are other people like you. Or when you’re older and finally, blessedly, have them (and your existence has only gotten more complicated and kind of surpassed your original framework for describing and pinning down attractions and relationships) and just want a goshdarn comic about girls being friends and having adventures and that doesn’t involve any romance … and the promise of the first issue ends up failing you spectacularly and the stories are quite often about men and romance and everyone being interested in romance and … how on earth did a comic based on a show meant for small children turn into such a compulsory heterosexuality fest??
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that being ace-spectrum can really kind of suck and being constantly surrounded by narratives (as soon as you’re old enough to start absorbing them, basically) conveying that everyone is, inevitably, eventually, interested in romance and in sex and that the two are inevitably, irrevocably tied and that that type of relationship is superior to and more important than friendship and distinguished from it by the having and/or wanting of sex doesn’t really help either. And of course is spectacularly, hilariously wrong.
Thus why I think what has been set up so far in More than Meets the Eye has so much potential. Because we’ve seen a current couple who are conjux endura and who explicitly say they love each other and who have both had other conjux endurae in the past ‘and’ we’ve also been introduced to the related and seemingly equal status term amica endura and to a character who we know has multiple amica endurae and who, through word of god, we know will not be shipped with anybody on the ship. And wow was that a lot of “and”s. Plus my having fun with “ship.”
But, what I’m getting at with that incredibly long sentence is that not only does MTMTE put a marriage-like and a friendship-like state on equal footing, which is ‘amazing’ and well and truly progressive and awesome, it also by necessity blurs and interrogates the line between those types of relationships and what being in those types of relationships actually means.
There aren’t any genitals, there isn’t any sex, and there aren’t baby Transformers as such (aside from fan fic and fan art of course 😉 ), so in canon there cannot be the easy defaulting that happens in real life when people try to describe and delineate what separates types of relationships and feelings and validity of those feelings and relationships. Which largely ends up amounting to sex as the dividing line between friendship and a “relationship.” And also love, which is taken as going together with sex and being exclusively romantic and also easily definable.
Now, of course, James Roberts could potentially throw a wrench into all of this by coming up with equivalent ways to do x activity equals y type of relationship and z feeling is for q type of relationship, but I just don’t get a feeling from the series that this is going to happen and, again, I am putting a heck of a lot of trust in the guy to do the right and cool thing. And I’m also hoping that more of this potential becomes reality. Which doesn’t necessarily mean sitting everybot down and having an Ultra Magnus level lecture, although some direct address of matters and verbal verification is nice. But I would like to see it become really clear that a lot of what differentiates amica endurae and conjux endurae (and non-endura-ed relationships that seem like they might “belong” in one of those two categories) is the individual bots in question and their relationship and how they view and define and feel about it. Not anybot’s outside opinion or a certain set of behaviours, feelings, and actions to be checked off.
And, wow, the scrollbar when I go to preview post is getting tiny, so I think it’s time to move this along to Sarah Stone’s art.
I have a whole heck of a lot of thoughts about Sarah Stone’s artwork (including about how visually accessible it is and about how she does faces and facial expressions, but those are things for another time) but here what matters most is –
Just kidding. Mostly (I do tend to poke fun at all Hot Rods/Rodimuses). But, a major point with Sarah Stone’s art in this context is that it is pretty and, specifically, attractiveness pretty and in a way that is very clearly meant for female fans to enjoy.
Which I think is the source of some of the ire and discomfort and coded negativity I’ve come across online.
And which is where the “codeword manga” bit of my presentation title comes from, since I, in my masochistic-in-the-name-of-research search of forums and threads it would normally be best to avoid, repeatedly came across negative comments saying that Sarah’s art looks like manga. Except the comments wouldn’t explain why this was bad. But you were clearly supposed to infer that looking like manga is bad and something that is Not Appropriate for Transformers.
Fandom analysis is unfortunately my jam (I love it, but it ‘does’ involve ramping up the sadomasochism quite a bit), so it’s pretty darn easy to figure out what’s going on with those comments and negative reactions … which is that manga is a thing that girls like and there is manga specifically aimed at girls (and drawn by girls!!) and a lot of manga draws guys that are specifically meant to look attractive to girls (and that oftentimes can look a bit androgynous on top of that) and the Transformers comics in any way picking up any of those traits is ‘terrible.’ Because girls. And androgyny. And girls making stuff that other girls will like.
Major spoiler: The call is coming from inside the house. Women have always read and enjoyed comics and women have always enjoyed and been a part of Transformers. Actively including and appealing to them more isn’t going to bring about some kind of destructive, cataclysmic change. And, well, if you can’t handle not having everyone being clearly and easily definably male or female, I think reality is going to hurt quite a bit more than some cartoon robots because, guess what? The only way to reliably know someone’s gender is to … ask them! Gender has zip to do with genitals (and people have all different kinds of feelings about, and relationships with, their genitals), there are a lot more chromosome combinations than XX and XY, the gender you’re assigned at birth and that impacts your life and well-being so much is somebody’s guess (and that guess isn’t always right), everyone has both estrogen and testosterone in their systems, and, for the love of Primus, gender is not related to reproduction. You can imagine some kind of silent scream going with that last one, because I have seen way too many comments acting as though adding in female Transformers means having genitals and popping out babies via sexual reproduction.
Which, again, is why what James Roberts is doing in More than Meets the Eye is so darned cool (and I can’t remember if I mentioned it earlier, but, if we take Whirl, Tailgate, and Cyclonus as girls, then they actually outnumber the closest equivalent to a real life cis woman on board. Unless Nautica somehow, suddenly clones herself at some point in the future, that is 😛 ) and is part of why Sarah Stone’s art is so awesome. I will be getting into using some non-neutral pronouns in this, since we’re operating outside of MTMTE, so forewarning for that. And now, for why I keep trying to add an extra “r” to “blur.”
Full confession: I originally thought Blurr was a really hot-looking chick and Chromia was a good-looking dude when I started reading the Windblade mini. I am so queer it’s no longer mappable, so this was not a problem at all and I think part of what makes them both so good looking and also makes their designs part of a positive change in comics. Because Blurr, barring some MTMTE-ness to mix things up, seems to get taken as male and Chromia is explicitly female (and with the trio from Caminus it’s very clear on gender) and … Blurr has a very streamlined and also somewhat feminine looking design and Chromia is very masculine looking, including a masculine looking face and facial expressions (at least, again, in Sarah Stone’s art) … on top of being a big, heavyset bruiser of a character. With a riot shield.
This is freaking ‘awesome’ and also really distinguishes the three women from Caminus from each other, because yay! three more girls and ones without … troublesome explanations behind them, but also – that’s only three more girls (or, characters who “look” female and who everyone will easily and readily accept as female, from Hasbro and toy packaging to fans … even if those fans will then complain about there being girls). So it’s really important that they’re distinct from each other and I think they are, at least in Sarah Stone’s art for Windlbade and, also, generally, Nautica in MTMTE (occasionally she seems to look a bit more dainty, but usually she reminds me of a roller derby girl in build – more femme-looking than Chromia, but still a bit of a heavyset bruiser).
Aaand I think that’s just about it because wow is this long (although if you’ve read to this point, then you know part of why the scrollbar is so terrifyingly small is that I included a good number of images) and wow did it kind of end up being like me giving one of my talks, except in a written format and with a bit more of an attempt at casual language. Because I think this is actually the first time I have ever actually used the phrase “… is my jam.” But I do love joke slides/images and mixing in a fair bit of humour. Plus I only loosely go off of the actual slide presentation when I give talks, so my writing this directly out of my head and only going back to proofread and add in images probably ends up replicating that pretty darn well. Except for the part where there’s then a Q&A and I am then wandering around the Exhibitor’s Hall or sitting through someone else’s panel and realize I totally forgot to mention something.
So, thank you all for reading and for reading this far if you’ve made it. 🙂 And hopefully this turned out well and I am not the only one who finds my panel presentation idea interesting. 🙂 And even if I am, then, well, at least I got to get it down in a fun, rough first draft form. Which I say about three long, solid days of writing and image work, which is still the product of even more writing, thinking, and discussing so .. not so rough after all. 🙂
And, in case anyone is interested in being awesome, because, quite frankly, I and my partner really really need people to be awesome so we don’t end up like, well, a number of MTMTE characters (I am exhausted but still coherent enough not to give spoilers for issue #34, or anything specific really, but hopefully you can make the proper, depressing inferences from that), my donation post explaining in brief what’s going on with us and what help we need and how to give it is here. And massive thank yous in advance to anyone who signal boosts and/or donates, because, well, I quite like being alive and want to stay that way. 🙂
I cannot art to save my life (which is kind of bitterly funny at the moment), so, obviously, none of the images used above belong to me. All I did was select, crop, and caption the lovely work of the various Transformers: More than Meets the Eye art teams and Sarah Stone. Published by IDW. Don’t sue me because all I can give you is a few potatoes and a lot of cockroaches. A ‘lot’.