The Deniability of Chuck Dixon

Oh man. The levels of issue I have with this interview is long. Very long. I know what Dixon is thinking he’s saying, and what he’s actually saying aren’t meshing up. I know there are Chuck Dixon fans, and Chuck Dixon himself on the Internet. That said, I don’t have any problem going to the dance with anyone who wants to to reply to me here and discuss my reading of the interview and my interpretation of the chasm between wanting deniability and stating support for the sexual orientation or existence of relationship between two characters. If you want to write for the deniablity, then in my view, you’re not writing for the support of the existence of ANY aspect of the character.
Onto some quote by quote work after the jump

‘Maggie Sawyer, in Superman, was obviously being portrayed as a lesbian. But there was a level of deniability because she wasn’t always being shown in romantic clinches with her girlfriend.’
Because deniability is important. Mustn’t forget that denialability of sexuality is more important than any other aspect of sexuality. In fact, so important…
‘When I was writing Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s romance I stayed away from stating that they were in any kind of sexual relationship. You could absolutely imply it. But you could just as easily tell yourself they were saving it for marriage.’
Yup. One of the most important things Chuckles has given us was the deniability of Dick Grayson’s heterosexual liaisons with Barbara Gordon. That way, we can deny Dick to Barbara, and it’s only implied they were an item. Thus sating Dan DiDio. Double points!
‘Astute readers picked up on it.’
Anyone who’s ever picked up on Dick Grayson’s deniable heterosexuality is an astute reader.
‘Others either didn’t notice or chose not to’
Thanks to Chuckles Dixon, you can now chose not to notice the heterosexual orientation of any character he writes. Thanks Chuck!
‘Maggie even appeared on the cartoons with her girlfriend.’
They were just good friends who enjoyed hot tea together. In a deniable way.
‘I much prefer this kind of characterization over Northstar’s ‘I’M GAY!’’
That’s because Marvel doesn’t have any truck with deniability as a core to character sexuality in this instance?
‘The important thing, for story purposes, was that Maggie was a good, three-dimensional character first and a lesbian second.’
This statement bothers me to the point I won’t mock it. What Chuck Dixon says here is that the sexual orientation of a person is an add-on pack to their character. That who we are as people is something that consists of everyone but the way we would love people, form relationships and bonds with others, and who we would choose as our partners, lovers, soulmaters, and marriage partners. It’s saying that the deniability is more important than the reality. It’s detaching Maggie’s capacity to love another woman as a partner from who Maggie is, and making it not part of her being.
Chuck Dixon didn’t say ’ The important thing, for story purposes, was that Clark was a good, three-dimensional character first and a heterosexual second.’ when talking about Lois and Clark.
I know Chuck Dixon was asked a set of questions about issues of sexuality being raised in comics, and I know the context behind it. The problem is, Chuck Dixon says some bloody stupid things here, and that’s when as far as I can see, he’s trying to be supportive.
As far as issue comics and real life issues being raised in comics… look, it’s okay to have a dissenting opinion on whether that’s the best place for it but the reality is, it’s the place it is happening. The heterosexualised normative values of the comic book is a reality that is used by artists and writers to convey messages that are sufficiently grounded in today’s reality to make sense to today’s readership.
Try going back and reading the comics of the 1950s and you’ll see an alien world. If the contemporary comic books characters have mobile phones, iPods and Myspace equivalents, then they make a connection at a base level. Characters interacting in social stratas that make sense to the contemporary reader.
‘But why can’t that be outside the pages of a superhero comic? Why do comic writers have to take on the mantle of social engineer?’
They don’t, but they do have to then accept that comic books are for kids, and that the stories they tell will have an upper age limit. Comic books would be just for kids, and that market has talking ducks.
‘I haven’t met a comic book writer yet I’d let talk to my kids about sex. Why would I want them doing it as part of a story about super-powered men and women in tights?’
Because they have been since the creation of the medium? This is an art form, a communications medium, a mechanism for broadcasting ideas, stories and characters. In short Chuck, the reason this is happening is that you’re working in a popular culture medium that addresses the contemporary culture, shapes and frames stories against the current world and filters these events through the lens of Batman, Wolverine and every other franchise character.
What we become as people is informed in part by the media we consume. Comic books aren’t given a get-out-of-influence free card (nor are they solely responsible). They’re part of the package deal of content and informational influence that shapes us.
‘It’s of paramount practical concern that the comic companies guard and shepherd their franchises even more carefully than before.’
By ensuring that all sexual and/or relationship elements are deniable?
‘They’re being seen more and more by audiences of casual readers who have an expectation of who these characters are. This is no longer the sub-culture hobby that it was even ten years ago.’
Some of those more and more readers might actually want to see characters that speak to their lives, their desires, their hopes and their dreams. When I was in high school, having Oliver Queen and Dick Grayson was to have characters who I could identify with, and to use to pin my fantasied reality of an ideal world to my reality. I wanted to be Oliver Queen, muckraking journalist by day, costumed crime fighter by night. I had that character, and the white male middle class entitled and privileged costumed hero to call my own.
For me, Ollie Queen wasn’t about being deniably ambiguous. He was about being identifiable and unambiguous.What’s wrong with wanting the rest of the place to have characters they can call their own without having to permanently wear a shadow of deniability?

Designated Sidekick: Wrapping up 2006

In summary, I wish to say this… My trolls are lame. Where am I going to get the XP if I can’t get a decent set of trolls to vanquish? GRC practically levels every second post, and I’ve been farming for months without a hint of something koboldian. Stupid orcs.
Slightly More Serious Note: Success or Failure?
So, it’s the end of 2006, and there’s no Robin-in-jar for Stephanie in the Batcave does this mean Girl-Wonder has failed?
One of the things I realised when I signed onto this gig is that my day job as a marketer meant that I was rather useful for the cause, if nothing else, for the fact that I really don’t expect to see name recognition achieved inside 18 months, and substantive shifts in marketshare inside of 10 years. Girl-Wonder’s name recognition alone is fabulous success.
Girl-Wonder isn’t a year old yet. That people know of the existence of the site, that the first letter campaign was met with letter writing and letter responses is a success. This roadshow is on track for the timelines that commercial marketers use for judging success. Y’all can have variable mileage on what you expect by what date I’m just going to cheer on the success that we’ve had in the short time frame we’ve been operating.
Bumps in the Road: Looking forwards
At some point in the next 10 years, several of the crew at G-W are going to leave. This is because 10 years is a long time, and any organisation will turn staff over in that ten year period. My prediction of G-W is that one staff writer/blogger/contributor/hard-core poster to the board will leave in a manner akin to a slam-the-door-I-quit! resignation. This to me is par for the course. Every organisation has these moments. In the world o’ privilege where I operate, this is so par for the course that you worry if you hit year five of ten without a stomping of the feet from someone on the squad. When it happens here, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. It’s life as usual.
That said, it’ll be taken as an omen of dark times and gloom, spawn countless OMG!TheEnd! posts, and it’ll be a bit like finding out the drummer is leaving Matchbox20 tragic at the time, but later we’ll wonder why we thought it was the end times.
Things I can pretty much expect to happen next year
Somebody will say there’s no point to the mission.
Failure to deliver radical and long lasting change in comics will be deemed to be the fault of Girls Who Dare To Suggest Things Could Be Different (ps: That title free for a blog)
Some male comic book readers will defend their comics with impassioned outbursts against feminists who want comics to be decently written, well drawn and not traced from porn
Some female comic book readers will defend the same comic books for different reasons
Somebody will notice that not every woman is agreeing with the female bloggers and declare this to be proof of something. The fact that I’m around as a guy disagreeing with other men will be ignored for being inconvenient .
At least one person who’s working hard for our side of the argument (ie the argument you, the reader, cares about) will have some self reflection and doubt. At least one person on the other side of the argument will do likewise. Blog posts from both parties will be treated in diametrically opposite statements of ‘The cause has failed’ and ‘The cause has succeeded’.
Greg Land will draw Sue Storm with a porn face.
Greg Land will draw Black Canary as Sue Storm as Black Canary as Sue Storm.
Transformers:The Movie will lack any decent female characters, spark a rift in the fandom between those who saw their childhood trashed by the new movie, those wishing it was possible for a Transformers franchise in 2007 to include positive portrayals of women, and those people who wrote massive tracts of Optimus/Megatron.All claims on ruination of childhoods will be met with ‘We called dibs on that issue’ by Star Wars fans. In conclusion, another fandom will feel the pain that is X-men3.
Marvel, DC and Dark Horse will produce one or more ‘For Women’ comics special events. Marvel will make it pink, DC will sell special issues with a refrigerator on the front cover, and nobody will notice Dark Horse.
At least one male character (deceased) will return to life. To redress the balance in the force, six female characters will be killed. Two of those characters will be created for the express purpose of being killed. One of those characters will be killed onscreen at the end of Marvel’s Crossover-a-thon, and one will die at the end of DC’s next crossover arc.
DC will admit that OYL was a bad idea. Plans for One Really Long Year (ORLY) will be launched.
Dan Didio will hate the player (Dick Grayson) not the game (Crossoverarama).
Designated Sidekick will be fined by the Internet Bureau of Blogging for excessive word counts and sentenced to actually pay attention to his day job.
On reflection: Playing with the Full Privilege Deck
One thing that I have encountered over the past few months being involved in G-W, and then by extension feminist blogging has been the issue of privilege. Thanks to Karen (GRC) and the remarkable patience of arielladrake, I’ve been working on dealing with the fact that a lot of my responses are privilege based because I’m playing with the damn near full deck of privilege cards. I am middle class, highly qualified, work in an elite end of an elite industry, live in a nice suburb in the national capital and I went to a nice elite all male school. In theory, I’m one of the poster boys for the patriarchy on paper. In reality, I’m blogging for
Along the way, I’ve noticed various things that I freely admit confuse me, and then when I start unpacking the whole thing, it quite often ‘Okay, so that’s the non privilege position’ which is followed often by me saying ‘The privilege position of going ‘Yeah, and?’ seems a bit easier’. The longer I stay in this role, the more I think I’ll come to terms with the difficulties faced by those operating from a non privileged position. It’ll take time, and it’ll take effort, and I’ll get it wrong on the way. But that’s just reason to try again, not reason to give up (and that my friends, is an interesting statement I assume I have a right to succeed through trial error and effort. Not everyone feels that way do they?)
I came into the DS role because I also knew that having one of the bloggers operating from a white male privilege position gives the G-W squad a set of options that wouldn’t be available without my presence. In 2007, if there’s any time anyone on the G-W (or comics feminism) extended allies network thinks that a message coming from the Designated Sidekick would hit harder than from the other members, drop me a line. At the risk of going Boromir here, it’s an option, let’s use it if we need it.
Why I still want the Memorial Case
It’s been a while since Stephanie Brown died through editorial mandate. I have many reasons for wanting her recognition in the Batcave, but for now, I want to focus on one reason. As a young boy reading comics, I believed in what the characters stood for, believed in the notions of heroism, and the acceptance of personal risk for the greater good. Robin was an iconic role model for me, and I found myself identifying with him (and with Green Arrow).
I want the future young male readers of the Batman comics to know that there was once a female character, a girl of their age who believed in the things they believe in, who fought for the things they would want to fight for, and who was killed because she stood for what they believe in. I want them to know that when faced with the choice of owning the mistake, Stephanie Brown stood her ground and didn’t walk away.
I want the young male readers of the future generations to have the chance to honour Stephanie Brown because she was a Robin, and she stood for those things I believed in when I read those comics, that they believe in when they read those comics, and to know that yes, being willing to sacrifice safety, security and self for the greater good isn’t just what boys would do -it’s what heroes do. Heroes like Stephanie Brown.
I want them to have a chance to know firsthand that capes aren’t just for boys.

LFG Quest for Missed Point. PST.

Oh sigh. Good post, great stuff, then a ‘Ooh err missus!’ moment to derail the train of thought.
From the subset titled ‘Gee, Can Even I Get Away With Saying This’ (answer: Yes. You appear not to be dead, retconned or drawn by Greg Land subject to a Marvel Comics Shipping Schedule)
Every time I see a fanboy or fangirl entitlement rant disguised as a serious discussion of gender issues, I cringe, because all those false accusations of sexism confuse the signal to noise ratio to the point where genuine issues of sexism and misogyny get lost, or dismissed out of hand.
Okay, now that you all hate me…
Memo. This picture is the borg.
We’re not them. Any of us. Even the collective type ones. That thing about the internet? It’s full of people who won’t argue with you, won’t agree with you, will agree with you, will blog or not blog about what you said/didn’t say.
Baseline pal: It’s the internet, not the Borg collective.
Why did you have to assume you’d be hated?
Actually, now I come to think of it how’d you even work up a sweat about writing that part of your post?. Blogging a ‘I can’t believe I’m getting away with writing this’ is to giggle at your self proclaimed OMGNAUGHTY stance and leave me looking slightly baffled at where I was meant to be offended by a difference of opinion, since you’ve flagged this play as ‘Here! Something controversial this way blogs’.
Unless, y’know, you think we (the rest of the internet) are a collective borg hive mind. In which case, pass the talcum powder because these leather body suits chafe a bit.

Designated Sidekick: OFL*

One Fortnight Later( for a given definition of fortnight equalling the gap since the last post. Hey! Look! Comic book time! It’s squishy!) So I’ve been off in my day job, doing things that are a lot like what I do here, except with longer reference lists and slightly less snark (only slightly less though). In my absense, a) Greg Land is still alive. This strikes me as a sign that I need to break more wishbones. b) Creepy comic book related stuff continues to happen on the internet. Check the results of a meme… Super Hero Comic You are SUPER HERO COMICS! You’re everything that’s good and slightly old fasioned! You’re honorable, fair, and attractive, though at times you can be predictable. You have a strong moral code that you abide by at all times. You may also have problems connecting with the opposite sex. But don’t worry, you’ll get the girl in the end! If by ‘get’ you mean ‘stuff into a refrigerator’ umm……CROWBAR THWACK*
If by ‘get’ you mean the conquest of women through some form of conquest thing. CROWBAR BEATING
If by ‘get’ you mean accepting that you are currently perpetuating sexist through to misogynist attitudes through the storylines, porn still trace art work, utterly stupid costumes, and you will attempt, and succeed despite the occassional setback, mistake or other problem to create an industry welcoming to both genders, then yeah, you might ‘get’ the girl. By ‘get the girl’ I mean ‘understand the girl’.
In the interim…
a)what’s the protocol for referencing relatively recent comics for making points. What’s the time delay for it to still be a spoiler?
b) I have several megatons of coolant with a delivery address of ‘Hell’. They’re planning to annoy DC editorial for Christmas by bringing the time line of ‘DC Getting It Right’ forward.
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 10th, 2006 at 10:55 pm and is filed under Post Response. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Responses to ‘Designated Sidekick: OFL*’

Announcing the Girl-Wonder.Org Membership Drive is pleased to announce that it is holding elections for the Board of Directors for its governing body, Gworg.
Gworg is an incorporated non-profit feminist organization dedicated to fostering an attentive, empowered comics fan community, to encouraging respect and high-quality character depiction, and to assisting the professional development of women working in the field of comics. Anyone who supports these aims is eligible to become a member, and all members are able to vote, stand for office, and nominate others to the Board.
Becoming a Director is an excellent opportunity to support and direct the progress of! Moreover, since Gworg is a registered non-profit organization, this also makes a great entry of volunteer work on your resume.
We will be accepting new members and Board nominations from Monday, January 9th through Monday, January 30th. Elections will be announced on Monday, February 6th. Members will then have until Monday, February 13th to vote for this year’s Gworg Board of Directors.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member and/or joining the Board!

September: Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy by Fumi Yoshinaga

I’ve got a weakness for foodie manga. Yes, it’s a genre of Japanese comics about eating, and by all accounts it should be boring stuff. Typically, foodie manga meshes food facts (the cultural history of a dish, how it’s best prepared) with characters over-reacting to the deliciousness of said food, all within a candy-coated semblance of a plot that only exists to get the characters to eat more and talk more about food. It sounds boring, but it’s not. Trust me on this.
Enter Fumi Yoshinaga’s Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy, which, despite having a mouthful for a title (GROAN), is one of the better foodie manga I’ve read. Perhaps it’s the form. Not Love is a series of 15 vignettes that take place at 15 real restaurants in Tokyo. It’s heavier on plot than typical foodie manga, and follows a year or so in the lives of manga artist Y-Naga and her friends as they enjoy phenomenal meals and stumble through careers and relationships. It is very loosely based on Yoshinaga’s life (see the similarity in names and careers between Y-Naga and the author), and features a great cast of rotating characters.
I was particularly impressed with a chapter in which Y-Naga takes her friend A-Dou out for sushi. Y-Naga has written comics about gay characters, but never realized that A-Dou was gay. Throughout the dinner, the two bond over an incredibly illustrated meal, and Y-Naga explores her own prejudices and assumptions about gay culture. It’s a little heavy-handed at times, but nice to see such a subject addressed with some nuance.
Not Love is a travelogue of sorts, but also serves as a cultural document. It works well in translation, providing an inside peek into contemporary Japanese food culture. It occurred to me more than once while reading that I needed to take this book with me as a restaurant guide when I go to Tokyo.
Yoshinaga’s other works that have been translated into English include Ooku and All My Darling Daughters. Both are worth a read as well.

Violence: Next to none, unless you’re a vegetarian.
Sexualized Violence: None
Gender: There are several solid women characters. Y-Naga is a single career woman who, though she would like to settle down someday, is in no hurry.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass! Y-Naga and her male and female friends do discuss their romantic lives, but also discuss food and personal values.
Minorities: This is a Japanese comic about urban Japanese life. There isn’t much room for other cultures here.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: Characters do discuss sex and homosexuality, but nothing is overly offensive, lewd, or condemning of other lifestyles.
Review by Erin Polgreen

August: Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics by Stan Lee

Stan Lee’s writings on comics–and indeed, his early comics–have the kind of enthusiasm about making comics that I did when I was nine and first decided to learn how to do it. Since then, my enthusiasm has been tempered by the frustration and effort involved trying to understand the production and theory in greater depth.
Books like this are a shot in the arm!
It starts with a little history of the field–as one might expect, Stan’s own experience is recalled in more detail. I’m not weeping over the brevity of the section on the Nineties, though.
Chapters two, three and four talk about drawing, specifically materials and anatomy. Really, this is too large a part of the process to rely on this book alone unless the art part is not going to be on your plate–but, fortunately, there’s a list of recommended reading included, and I can vouch for the ten of the fourteen on the list that I own. Books, I haz them.
Chapter five and six have some of the great rarer stuff. Five talks about design choices, as they apply to character acting and panel action; six gets into character naming and costumes. Anecdotes!
Chapter seven is dear to my heart. Environments, or backgrounds as they are often dismissively called, are discussed, yes, but there’s more! The book discusses how to use Google’s SketchUp to help with perspective for objects like houses–and in some detail. So, for you who are desperately terrified of complex perspective, this one’s for you. (I don’t blame you.)
Chapter eight is worth the price of the book alone.
Why? Because it deals with one of the most difficult and technical parts of comics–and the part of the mix that makes comics what they are.
Layouts, people! Stan discusses eye path, cinematic continuity, camera angles, clarity… and then there’s the true chewy gold centre for aspiring comic makers.
Mistakes. Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Jezreel Morales produces a four-page layout of an action scene with specific problems, which Stan then discusses–not only what’s gone awry, but why. It includes my pet peeve, rampant abuse of panel break-out!
Another useful element is a sample 3-age breakdown/layout by Wilson Tortosa, which is designed to be worked up to completion or expanded upon in new ways by a developing artist. How cool is that?
Developing artists may enjoy chapter nine especially. It discusses pencilling styles, and showcases some very different, but quite effective, pencillers and discusses the development of style over time–Al Rio starting out as a clone of J. Scott Campbell? Having only become familiar with Rio fairly recently, it’s heartening to see how much a style can grow. But then, I can barely picture the stark differences between early Deodato and modern Deodato, and I own a good chunk of his Wonder Woman run. Does not compute!
Speaking of Deodato, there’s some process pages where the book demonstrates how to use photoreference properly–that is, as to support your carefully-considered layout design, not as a replacement for purveyors of pornface. Derivative pornface at that.
Chapters ten, eleven, and twelve deal with inking, lettering, and colouring, and covers are discussed in good detail. The final chapter is concerned with portfolios and getting work in the industry. The indexes include, as mentioned, the reading list, some schools offering courses in comics (all American), and even places to find art supplies.
As a primer on the many and varied aspects of production, I haven’t found a better one. Some of the content is similar to How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, but unlike that book, this has quite a breadth of artists in it and has a broader focus.
It’s not without problems–there’s a section on representing ethnicities that’s not really worth listening to. This is a standard, pervasive problem with almost every drawing book I ever encountered–everybody’s got that European body and face. Blah. Hunt ye down Joumana Medlej’s resources for ethnotypes instead. Also, there’s some of the usual stuff about female characters needing to remain sensual without heavy emphasis on muscle… of course, the last full illustration in the book is Frank Cho’s physically powerful Red Sonja with a big axe on her shoulder, so take that as you will. There’s a few issues like that, but nothing that makes me want to kill-kill-never-stop.
It’s a big field, and Stan’s experience is put to good use discussing not just the practises but also the reasoning behind them. And call me a keener, but I’d rather have a slab of a book that gives a more complete picture than a dozen skinny ones–and this book isn’t even a slab. For real facility, you will need to supplement this book with others in the field in question. But the reading list has some excellent material, and I do encourage checking out some of the titles listed.
Seriously, this is at the top of my list on technical grounds alone, but it’s also served by Stan himself–you know he loves comics, and that comes through. That kind of spirit is a tonic for me when I’m banging my head against the latest production problem, and makes me remember why I love comics in the first place.
Violence: Present, and varies–because it’s not a narrative, the art jumps all over the place in style and content.
Sexualized Violence: None.
Gender: Inherent problem of anatomy discussion–plus the usual silliness about drawing women. Not egregious.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Not really applicable.
Minorities: Just ignore everything on pages 70-71 that discuss ethnicity in particular and looking for Joumana Medlej’s series on ethnotypes.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: There’s comic book violence and more than a little cleavage.
Review by Winterbourne.

July: Bad Machinery, by John Allison

John Allison’s Bad Machinery follows on the heels of his brilliant Scary Go Round, which ran for seven years of (largely) understated English surrealism and fantasy. Bad Machinery stays in the same universe (and in the West Yorkshire city of Tackleford), with a few beloved characters still around, but shifts its focus down a
generation to the twelve-year-old set. The girls (bright Shauna, impulsive Charlotte and troublemaker Mildred) and the boys (shy Jack, ambitious Linton and good-hearted Sonny) engage in a friendly rivalry to solve mysteries and right wrongs. Obligingly, Tackleford is full of that sort of thing spirits, monsters, trolls and magic pencils abound.
Moving from the teens and twenty-somethings of Scary Go Round to the children of Bad Machinery lets Allison give his natural gift for dialogue full rein. His cast of smart, guileless kids all have distinctive voices and a sharp phrasing which was SGR’s hallmark. Awkward relationships are as engaging as monster hunting when rendered in in his colourful, expressive style.
Violence: Some bullying, some cartoonish monster-fighting. Nothing serious.
Sexualized Violence: None.
Gender: The girls (who have roughly equal time, perhaps a little more, with the boys) are pro-active, clever and irrepressible. They are distinctively female without being stereotyped.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passes near-constantly.
Minorities: Linton and his family (who are black) are the only significant non-white characters.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: Apart from the occasional bullying scenes, I can’t think of anything.
Review by Sean Halsey

June: Neil Young’s Greendale by Joshua Dysart and Cliff Chiang

Neil Young’s Greendale is a graphic novel adaptation of the album of the same name by — you guessed it — Neil Young. If you’re a Neil Young fan and you’re reading this website, odds are you’ve already read this book. But if you’re not, it’s important to note that this graphic novel requires absolutely no knowledge of that album or of Neil Young in general. It only requires that you be a person who’s interested in the coming-of-age tale of a teenage girl tapping into previously-unknown power, brought to stunning life by Cliff Chiang’s art.
With this book, writer Joshua Dysart takes the basic ideas of Greendale, a concept album about the Iraq War, environmentalism, and a small California town’s reaction to it all, and turns it into a beautiful story about one 17-year-old girl, Sun Green, whose female family members have always held some amount of sway over the forces of nature. Sun is a girl who is deeply concerned about the world around her, an avowed pacifist and environmentalist who doesn’t understand, in 2003, why the whole planet seems to be going to hell. Meanwhile, things are spinning out of control within the small, close-knit circle of her family, and a mysterious devil presence is set on making them even worse. It’s up to Sun to realize exactly what kind of power she has and use it to combat those evils, both personal and global.
The book has a strong narrative, despite how meandering the original music is, and the people of Greendale, California all feel deeply real. The focus on matrilineal power is especially awesome, as Sun draws strength from her female ancestors, all of whom have distinct personalities. But the biggest highlight of the book is probably Chiang’s art, which is clean, soft, expressive, and simply gorgeous. The most mundane elements of the book shine under his pencils, and the fantastical elements positively sparkle. Even if this doesn’t sound like the book for you, I recommend flipping through it in a bookstore or a library just to check out the art.
But mostly I recommend this book to anyone who, like me, found themselves in high school in the harsh, confusing days of the early 2000s and wished they, like Sun Green, had the power to change the world.
Violence: A few moments of gun violence, including a murder and an attempted suicide, and a few scattered scenes of minor fantastical violence. But the protagonist’s pacifist beliefs mitigate the violence and definitively cast it in a negative light.
Sexualized Violence: None that I can recall. Even the devil character’s violence is completely nonsexual.
Gender: This is the story of a young woman coming of age and taking charge of her own inner power, as passed down matrilineally throughout her family’s history. It’s a profoundly feminist book about female agency.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: The book absolutely passes, as Sun has conversations with various female relatives and a classmate with no reference to men whatsoever.
Minorities: Easily the weakest point in the book, especially given the California setting. This is largely because almost all of the characters are members of Sun’s (white) family, but all of the supporting characters are also white.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: I would rate this book at least PG-13; there is definitely implied sex in addition to the aforementioned violence. But nothing is particularly graphic, and the moments of near-nudity are completely tasteful.
Review by Jennifer Margret Smith