Monday, June 15, 2009

ComicCon 2009: Are you kidding me?

Women don't play video games.

Women don't like action movies.

Women don't know about computers.

Women can't paint fantasy art.

And to add a new one to that list, apparently women don't go to comic conventions. At least they don't go to San Diego's Comic Con, according to the video game site IGN and the LA Times.

This will be news to Leigh Brackett and Katherine Kurtz, who were attending the convention way back in the early seventies. I guess they were just figments of the imagination? I mean, if women don't read comics then they surely don't write science fiction and fantasy. And whoever heard of a chick working on Star Wars? Come on!

Apparently IGN didn't get the memo that women would be in attendance, or perhaps they did, because their promotional contest for the film District 9 originally went out of its way to exclude women.

This sweepstakes is open only to males who are both legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and Washington D.C. and who are at least between 18-24 years of age as of July 23, 2009.

Thank you to the articles at io9 and, firstly for bringing this to my attention and secondly for capturing the original rules of the contest. As of Sunday, IGN amended the contest rules to include a separate drawing for female contestents, but not before they tried to blame the whole fiasco on their marketing team.

The eligibility requirements for this contest were determined by Columbia TriStar Marketing, the marketing team behind the District 9 film, and were passed on as a directive to IGN as Sponsor of this particular Sweepstakes running on the site. While IGN supports gamers of all ages, genders, shapes and sizes, these guidelines were created to foster a buzz for the film among a very narrow target group that the film’s promoters felt would be extremely passionate about the film’s subject matter.

Boys, if you're so proud of having balls, you'd better be prepared to use 'em. Passing this off on the marketing team? Yes, they should be fired for even thinking that kind of sexism would fly, but you are the idiots who approved it for publication.

(The subject matter of said film, by the way, is a sci-fi approach to bigotry and the segregation of those who are different and (in this case literally) alien. Because men as a gender have a long history of being treated as second class citizens and women couldn't possibly identify with that stuff.)

At least IGN had the sense (or the screaming lawyers at least) to try and make things better. I've yet to see an apology for this stunning piece of journalism from the LA Times: The Girls Guide to Comic Con 2009! Yes, women apparently need a manual now to go to a convention. You see, while they aren't "just for nerdy guys anymore" (again, I refer you back to the early freaking seventies, catch up already!), there's a twist!

And it's not all just about the influx of squealing "Twilight" girls, either.

Yay! Wow, that's a relief. Er, except...

But we've got a pretty good idea of what eager girls can expect (aside from one heck of a line for the "New Moon" session)...

Edward and Jacob appear shirtless in the upcoming "Twilight" sequel, so arrive to Hall H early – as in a week or two before...

For the poor girls who couldn't cram themselves into the "New Moon" panel...

Since the writer can't stop mentioning Twilight, apparently they're convinced that it really is all we're interested in and any extra stuff is just a bonus for us to check out from a distance while we wait in line to get Robert Pattinson to autograph our forehead.

Repeat after me. Not. All. Girls. Love. Fucking. Twilight.

Ok, perhaps that was a little harsh - the purposes of this little article/photo gallery actually is to reassure us girls that there is plenty of variety at Comic Con to entertain us. For example!

Women will be rushing the stage, offering to do star Jake Gyllenhaal's laundry on those washboard abs that he acquired for the film, since he spends much of it fighting, shirtless or both.

Yes, you read that right - offering to do his laundry. Yes, that's the first event on the list that we should be looking forward to. The film? Oh, it's the Prince of Persia something - forget about that. Focus on what's important, which is apparently being overcome with such a frenzy of lust for Jake that we will rush straight into the kitchen to wash his fucking clothes. Because THAT'S how good women show love!

There's more. Oh, how there is more.

Picture the wonderful sappiness of "The Notebook,"

Oh yes, bring on the bittersweet tears.

Plus, you know the wardrobe of Rebecca Romijn, Sara Rue and Lindsay Price is going to give those "Desperate" housefraus a run for their money.

"Battlestar Galactica" taught us that there are girls galore watching sci-fi...

"Caprica" adds an element of family drama and even soap opera addiction...

And some girls may steer clear of high-testosterone action films...

The words "female empowerment" make it into this little guide once (it was swiftly followed by that quip about the fabulous wardrobe) and while they manage to sprinkle in the odd reference to ass kicking female heroines, my ability to appreciate them was lost in the surge of bile and overwhelming rage I felt while reading this tripe. Normally I'd appreciate the nod to all the hot men in science fiction and fantasy but frankly the whole idea seems to be that the shirtless guys are the ONLY things we could possibly appreciate in "high-testosterone" action movies. This is what they think the attraction for women is? Tissues, relationship drama, and giggling over hot boys to entertain ourselves through the boring car chases and gun fights? This is how they think to get women to walk into comic, sci-fi and fantasy cons with their heads held high?

And they have the nerve to call Echo from Dollhouse "a bit of an airhead".

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Featured Artist: Ursula Vernon

Artist Profile
Name: Ursula Vernon
Job Title: Author/Illustrator
Client List: Harcourt Brace, Penguin Dial
Education: BA in Anthropology
Years Experience: 12
Favorite Medium: digital
Specialties: small, cute, disturbing
Accepting Private Commissions? No

Contact Info
Website or Web Portfolio:
Twitter: ursulav
Online Art Communities: DeviantArt

The first time I saw a painting by Ursula Vernon I decided that she was one of the most brilliant artists I'd ever encountered. Through the last few years I've watched her grow even more as an artist and a professional, and go through hard times and good times, and through all of it her sense of humor and quirky personality has remained a constant source of inspiration for me, and a ray of sunshine.

From writing and illustrating comic books like the award winning "Digger" and children's books like (the also award winning) "Nurk", to the darker paintings of Gearworld and her collection of odd animal saints and winged phalloi, Ursula demonstrates a unique and incredible talent for finding humor in the oddest of places. I consider it truly my good fortune to have the chance to interview her and find out a little about this woman who isn't afraid to walk on the wild side.

My first introduction to your artwork was five or six years ago, over on Elfwood, where I saw a painting you’d done of a vulture delivering a zombie baby (rather than a stork). It was brilliant, and made me laugh, and the description of you waking up in the middle of the night to tell your husband about the idea reminded me very much of my own midnight insanities. Do you remember the first time you put your sense of humor into a drawing? How does it continue to inform your work?
I think the first time I recall putting my sense of humor--such as it is--in a painting was a piece about a thousand years ago, titled "Bride of the Warthog." It was a kind of classic cheeseball fantasy Boris Vallejo sort of thing, except the lovely maiden was clinging to the ankle of a large warthog. Fortunately for all, this painting has been lost to posterity, but I still recall the title fondly.

The vast majority of my art today involves my sense of humor--I always had a vague desire to be a serious, significant artist doing works of Deep Meaning. Unfortunately, what I'm really good at is hamsters and other small cutenesses. Given that's the hand I seem to be dealt, I have to treat it with a sense of's hard to do serious angst-ridden rodents for very long.
One of the things that has always stood out to me about your work is that your creatures and characters aren’t typically “girly.” Your heroes are shrews, and wombats, or little dragons and slugs. Is that a deliberate choice on your part? What draws you to atypical heroes and heroines?
Well, part of it is the aforementioned cuteness problem. (I find slugs cute.) But part of it is probably just that I hate doing what everybody else is doing--I always want my stuff to be weird and unique. There's enough big-eyed wasp-waisted heroines and studly tormented heroes out there, I don't need to add to the pile--or if we're going with animals, there's enough foxes and wolves and gryphons to wallpaper a battleship. But there's very few heroic shrews and wombats. And even when I do something relatively normal, like dragons, I try to--god help me, I'm about to use the phrase "subvert the paradigm," that's probably a bad sign--but at least make it odd and unexpected and fun.

Part of it is also, I'm embarrassed to admit, but way back in the day, random people on the internet would get mad at me for painting dragons that didn't look like their notion of dragons or unicorns that ate carrion and lived in dumps, and they would send me long screeds about it on e-mail. Ten years later, I still get a sneaking pleasure from the notion that somebody somewhere is annoyed by my work.

This undoubtedly marks me as a terribly juvenile individual, but I'm coming to terms with it.
You seem to dabble in a little bit of everything. You’re a humor columnist (EMG-zine), author and illustrator of several books for children and young adults, a comic book writer and artist, a card game artist, and you also do gallery shows and paintings of adorable phalluses. Do you have a favorite creative outlet? Is there a direction you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?
My favorite creative outlet tends to be the one I'm not doing right at this moment. Other than that, probably gardening. Gardening is very low-stress--the only audience I need to please are the bees and the butterflies and the goldfinches, and they're generally a pretty unjudgemental audience.

I'd really like to get more into sculpture. I haven't because I'm not really any good at it, and I don't really know where to begin. Occasionally I start in that direction, but I don't have any of the skillsets, or the equipment, and I'm easily distracted, but that's a place I'd like to get to eventually.
I read in your bio that your mother is an artist, too. What kind of work does she do? How do you feel that’s influenced you, as an artist?
She does very very realistic paintings, and she's brilliant. Part of it is just attention span--she spends a month on a painting, and I get antsy if I'm working on one for more than three days. But she's definitely influenced me--I occasionally find myself throwing in random elements from her paintings, like disembodied hands--and a series she did when I was young heavily influenced a whole series of paintings I've done, the Gearworld work.

Even more than individual elements, I think being surrounded by her art helped cement my view of What Art Looked Like.
Okay, I have to ask, what’s up with the adorable penises?
Lord. It just kinda happened! My boyfriend sent me a link to some *cough* erotic chess-sets, and some of them were these little winged penises, and that reminded me of my long ago archeology classes, and I went rummaging through the internet until I came up with the ancient Greek and Roman "winged phalloi" where they'd have little penises with feet and wings and tails and sometimes even little genitals of their own, and...well...I mentioned the cuteness problem, right? And the problem with images that simple and iconic is that you can do anything with them, they become a great blank canvas. It's sort of like My Little Ponies. Except...err...with penises. With feet.

I'm not well.
How do you feel being a female artist working in this industry has either helped and/or hindered you? Do you ever get strange looks because you’re a woman drawing anthropomorphized wombat comics and blue penises in the mist?
Being on the internet for the vast majority of my career has, I think, really blunted a lot of the sexism, or perhaps I'm just oblivious to it. But since 99% of my clients know me as a portfolio and a screen name, it just doesn't come up as much as it probably would if I was going into offices and so forth. It's probably out there, but it's not something that impacts me personally.

I do catch occasional flak on the penises, but I suspect I'd catch a LOT more if I was male and painting them. You get random trolls, but I think most viewers see them for what they are--absurd and silly and kind of weirdly non-sexual in a way.

One of the things I'm proudest of about "Digger"--the wombat comic in question--is the fact that it's mostly about female characters--and that doesn't MATTER. People don't spend a lot of time going "Digger's a tough female character!" they just go "Digger is tough!" (Half the time people don't know she's female until somebody mentions it.) Probably a lot of it is that most of them aren't human, and that we fool with gender roles a bit with the hyenas, but still, I feel like the next stage after "Girls can do anything boys can do!" is to have the girls just DO whatever it is, and nobody feeling a need to comment on the fact that they're girls. And for the most part we seem to have gotten really lucky with Digger in that regard--her problems aren't that she's a female wombat in a male wombat's world, it's that she's got to deal with dead gods and crazy priests and vampire squash.

This isn't intended as a slam on comics that are about being a female whatever in a male whatever's world, because I think there's a lot you can say about that and say it well. It's just not what I particularly had to say with Digger.
Any advice for other girls out there who have oddball senses of humor and an urge to paint?
I hope they do! It's not exactly a lucrative field, but it's the best job in the world. I have more fun doing this than I can imagine having doing anything else at all.

Image Credits:
Above: "Battle Hamster Raid" ©2004-2009 Ursula Vernon
Below Left: "Phalloi in Flight" ©2009 Ursula Vernon
Below Middle: "Owl Saint" ©2006-2009 Ursula Vernon
Below Right: "Cthulu's Day Out" ©2008-2009 Ursula Vernon