Tuesday, October 30, 2007

This Post Is Not As Long As The Last One (A Webcomic Primer, Part II)

...but the title is.

Something I should have mentioned in the Webcomic Primer two posts ago were two specific, significant differences between print comics and webcomics.

One: "Infinite Canvas". It's said that the first thing done with a form of new media is try to approximate what is done in the old media. A good example would be the first Bibles, printed to look like handwritten manuscripts. Another good example would be the adherence of most webcomics to the page or strip format. After all, they don't need to fit on pages, or anything for that matter! The computer screen is an infinite canvas, and webcomics can be of any shape, size, or form. But old habits die hard. (If you want to see some good examples of 'infinite canvas', go check out the website of the man who coined the term, Scott McCloud.)

You wanna know the real reason webcomics look like "real" comics, though? Most webcomic authors really want to be published in print, eventually. You can tell because most of the popular webcomics are.

Two: Webcomics are typically published one page, one strip at a time. Some (who are crazy) have daily update schedules: readers get a page a day! More common is the Monday/Wednesday/Friday format. I'm not sure why that is, exactly; maybe the acronym works out better. (Those two "T" days and the two "S" days are excluded.) Other, lazier artists (like me) use a weekly update schedule. Again for unknown reasons, the day is usually Monday. (Like mine.)

And that's how Internet comics are different from comics in 'the real world'. If you want to learn how the rest of the Internet is different from 'the real world', I can't help you. Go watch this.

Oh, and yesterday was Monday. Go read my comic.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Differences Between Boys and Girls

Remember that one Jack Nicholson movie, "As Good As It Gets"? Nicholson plays an unpleasant yet very successful writer of romance novels, Melvin Udall. At one point in the movie, a receptionist asks him, "How do you write women so well?" He answers, "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability."

I thought of that quote sitting in my Psychology of Emotion lecture today. (Background: I attend the University of California, Berkeley. This particular class is taught by the head of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab, and relatively well-known emotion researcher - he has a Wikipedia page! - Dacher Keltner.)

As Keltner points out, in U.S. culture (and, in fact, most cultures) we have "clear, robust stereotypes about the emotion profiles of men and women." We think women work one way, and men another. Hence the receptionist's question to Melvin Udall. What ARE the differences between men and women?

Popular wisdom (in this case, popular wisdom gathered through scientific survey) has it that women express and experience all emotions more than men, except for anger, pride, and contempt (the antisocial/distancing emotions). In studies, women always report more intense experiences of (and feeling more) emotions, except for desire and lust, which men vastly report higher. In studies of embarrassment that my professor himself did, women reported being embarrassed at a far higher rate than men.

What does Science say about this?

Well, studies show no differences in the biological processes of emotion gender by gender. Men and women experience the same emotions in the same ways at the same level. However, big differences are seen in the labeling and expression of emotions. In other words, there aren't any physical differences in how men and women experience emotions - but we all really, really, believe there are.

(Here I should point out that there are ways to physically measure any basic emotion. They all have their own distinct physiological profiles. So yes, if any of you take a scientific study, feel an emotion, and lie about it - the researchers will know.)

Back to the embarrassment studies - when men displayed physiological signs of embarrassment, they would typically claim they felt amusement. There weren't any differences in behavior. However, there are differences in expression of emotions in other areas gender to gender; as one might expect, women tend to express emotions more. Women tend to smile and laugh more, and women are ten times - ten times! - more likely to actually cry in studies. Men, however, will do almost anything to fight crying, even though their bodies and brains are telling them to. (In other words, the physiological changes are there, but being actively suppressed on the surface, which isn't the only thing being measured in these studies.)

Women are also better at reading emotions than men - but barely. On a 100 point scale, women test at 78, men at 76. (Guesses in the classroom ranged from the 20s to 50s for men.)

Whose fault is this?

Studies point to parents. One fascinating experiment involved young parents being shown videos of an infant experiencing a startle reaction. If the parents are told that the infant is a boy, they claim that the "boy" is angry. Other parents, shown the same video, are told that the infant is a girl. They claim that the "girl" is afraid. (Note: The correct emotion, which is 'surprise', is determined by the researchers through position of facial muscles. "Anger" and "fear" are both incorrect, having different facial expression profiles.)

Studies show consistently that mothers talk far more with young girls about emotion than young boys. With young boys, mothers emphasize anger and physical activity. Analyses of U.S. parenting manuals show that they overall suggest that boys should be naturally "wild", while girls should be "more articulate and reasonable about emotions". All this may explain why, in the area of emotion disorder by gender, women are twice as likely to experience major episodes of depression, while men, with their stunted emotion vocabularies, are five times more likely to show antisocial behavior like violence, rage, acting out (and, incidentally, suffer from alcoholism).

So men and women feel the same, but act differently. Kinda differently.

What's up with that? And what does it mean for writing gendered characters? I'm pretty sure if you analyze most men and women in fiction, they'll kinda live by stereotypes that they're expected to. It's not exactly a secret that many writers stick firmly to stereotypes for characters of a different gender than themselves, for fear of 'getting it wrong'. But what about writers writing a character of their gender, and assuming they're 'getting it right' when they in fact, may not be? And what is getting it right? On one level, perception does create reality. So writing by gender stereotypes may have something to it, on some level...

How do you "write women"? How do you "write men"?

Something to think about.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Webcomic Primer

This was originally going to be a post about "character fission" (when one character unexpectedly becomes two in the middle of writing a story), but said character fission took place while I was writing the first chapter of my webcomic (which you can find here!) and I realized that someone reading this might not realize what a webcomic is. D'oh!

So, here goes. A webcomic is a comic. On the Web. Shocking, I know. Don't stop there, though - there are a few differences between comics on the Internets (yes, all the Internets) and comics in general. If you live in the United States, I wouldn't be surprised if, on hearing the word "comic", you think one of two things:

1) Newspaper funnies! Oh, that Garfield.

2) Grown men and women flying, punching things, and wearing their underwear on the outside.

While this publishing paradigm is changing in our modern era (google "graphic novels" if you're curious), newspaper funnies and superhero periodicals do still make up the majority of comics material today. Now, "funnies" you'll find in great abundance on the Internets, although the popular ones are often different in genre and style than what you'd expect in a newspaper. (I recommend Dinosaur Comics; no, it's not what you think.) But superheroes... well, I don't actually know of any superhero webcomics. I'm sure there's many out there (Google gives me 1,190,000 results for 'superhero webcomic'; although oddly enough, the top results are lists of superhero webcomics, not actual comics) but they are certainly in the minority. The point? The variety out there is mind-numbing in degree, with the qualifier that since anything can be 'published' on the Web, the literary and/or artistic value of the comic may also be mind-numbing, though not necessarily in degree. On the other hand, comic gems that would never be published in today's world of ever-stricter publishing genres can gain huge readerships. (Not to mention that some popular webcomics have been picked up for publishing based solely on large web presence.)


Webcomics. They're not what you expect. You should read them. I'll probably elaborate more later, but for now, I have more papers to write.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Go Sleep Yourself

Thanks to school, I've been pulling a lot of all-nighters recently. I've discovered that getting a little sleep is worse than getting no sleep at all. And after successfully pulling an all-nighter, I tend to have an increased creative drive. The problem is staying awake long enough to take advantage of it.

I should take a moment to note that this post is a result of a combination between sleep deprivation, thanks to a midterm yesterday, and procrastination, thanks to an essay I'm supposed to be writing. (Procrastination theory: when you're supposed to be doing something, you suddenly become very productive at doing almost anything else.)

CNN.com quotes studies confirming that sleep is essential for creativity. Apparently when you sleep, your memories are restructured, which enhances overall thinking power. I guess that one guy who hasn't slept in over thirty years is screwed. (Assuming that case isn't a fraud, of course.)

But many famous creative types were infamously horrible sleepers. Just ask the (now defunct) "Google Answers": Famous Four-Hour Sleepers. That includes Famous People from Thomas Edison to Napoleon Bonaparte. What's up, doc? Well, some of that can be chalked up to 'polyphasic sleep', or frequent cat-napping in lieu of one long sleep 'bout'. (Studies indicate, somewhat confirming my earlier observation, that taking 20-30 minute naps every four hours, making 2-3 hours of sleep total in a 24 hour period, lets a person mentally perform better than taking that 2-3 hours of sleep in one go.) Some of it can be chalked up to quirks in each person's unique physiology. But that's not all, apparently. The amusingly named "Sleep Review" magazine has an article up summarizing a variety of studies on the beneficial affects of sleep deprivation. Apparently the brain can temporarily compensate for lack of sleep by shifting the areas where thinking takes place. You get to keep your 'working memory'; the parts used in learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Abusing this physiological function is apparently what gives people like me the post-all-nighter temporary creative 'jolt'.

Unfortunately, 'temporary' is the key word there. The all-knowing Wikipedia has a short list of some of the entertaining effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. Highlights include depression, colorblindness, depersonalization, hallucinations, hernia, memory loss, psychosis, weight fluctuation and, uh, yawning. It can also make you act like you're drunk - for free. I have to admit I've personally experienced the majority of those effects (thankfully not including psychosis, although some friends of mine may disagree with me there).

God, all this typing about sleep. I just want to go to bed now...

Friday, October 5, 2007


Responding to David Isaak's general blog challenge. Yes, just when I was talking about how Blogspot really isn't like LiveJournal at all, I run into a meme.

Now, apparently this isn't just any meme - it comes from a blogger with the rather iconic name of Fiction Bitch. Said Fiction Bitch (now, is this a bitch that writes about fiction, a bitch that writes fiction, or a bitch of fiction?) is apparently an Important Person, because she has been nominated for an award. And if there's one thing on the Internet I love, it's jumping on a bandwagon.

The meme is "Eight Things About Me." By the time it's reached David's blog, the criteria have mutated to "eight random facts/habits or embarrassing things" about oneself.

1. I have a blog.

2. As a child, I once wrote and drew a complete comic-book adaptation of The Hardy Boys Volume 2: "The House on a Cliff". The comic-book starred anthromorphized dinosaurs in a Looney Tunes-inspired style. Frank and Joe Hardy were bright green and yellow Stegosauruses. (Stegosauri?) Humorously Fat Best Friend Chet was a red Dimetrodon (actually a pelycosaur), and so on and so forth. I was well into an adaptation of Volume 3, "The Secret of the Old Mill", when I got distracted by drawing the dinosaurian/pelycosaurian stars in unintentional parodies of old Western TV shows.

3. Speaking of which, I'm teaching a class on creating comicbooks at my university for the third semester running. Here at the U.C. Berkeley, you don't even need to be a professor to teach classes, if you can find one who will sponsor whatever random crap you can come up with.

4. I regularly read more "great works" of literature when I was around nine than I do now. (Some of my favorites: Julius Ceaser, Silas Marner, The Prince and the Pauper, Great Expectations, Much Ado About Nothing.)

5. I run a lot. Everywhere. I look a little ridiculous sometimes. But I'm a terribly impatient person.

6. While most of my interests fall under the umbrella of the humanities and social sciences - which is code for 'artsy crap' - I absolutely love any science relating to animals (including extinct ones). At community college, I was the only Art major (ex-Art major now) enrolled in zoology class. And I aced the class, dammit.

7. Though I've written a wide variety of things, I've been mentally working on the same fictional universe since I was twelve. (I'm twenty-two.)

8. I love the comicbook medium, but I do not collect superhero comics, despite - or perhaps because of - having a terribly extensive knowledge of them. (Go ahead. Ask me who the three Robins were. If there's any birdwatchers reading this, the answer is not "American, European, and Australasian".) I'm not inclined to start, either - many if not most of the plots sound cooler in concept than in execution. The superhero comic is actually anti-character development - Superman can't grow and change as a person. This may not be a bad thing (the Greek gods never grew or changed as people either, and we're still reading stories about them) but there's such a glut of superhero stuff on the market that the whole thing just gets tiresome.

However, I will defend the medium itself to the death.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Posting On Sleep Deprivation: Probably Not As Interesting As Posting Drunk

The book of the day is... Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose"!

Why is this the book of the day? Because I just stayed up all night writing an essay on it. Yes, I'm a college student, for the... zero... people who read this and don't know me.

"Rose" is both super-pretentious and, um, anti-pretentious at the same time. On one hand, it's done by a semiotician, for crying out loud. The text bleeds intentional double, triple, even quadruple, meanings. Word gymnastics abound, along with references to every famous person in the time. On the other hand, Eco, in an afterword, admits that he wrote the whole thing for silly reasons, makes fun of people who read too many things into the text (both in the afterword and in the subtext of the text itself - ironic!) as well as crappy questions people ask him about the book, and at one point says "That kind of nonsense belongs in term papers." It's like he knew I was going to read this!

Well, I wrote an essay, not a term paper. Anyway.

I've come down on the side of liking the book. The chapter subtitles were enough to win me over alone. They're the only thing in the novel that comes to you courtesy of a different narrator, one with a very dry sense of humor. (I wanted to tell the actual narrator to shut up several times throughout, but he comes out okay overall, unlike, say, that douchebag from "The Rachel Papers".) The subtitles, which merely explain what happens in the chapter to follow, get funnier as worse things happen. A hundred pages in, the following...
In which William and Adso enjoy the jolly hospitality of the abbot and the angry conversation of Jorge.
...gets a second look and a smirk. Another hundred in, and we get...
In which the abbot speaks again with the visitors, and William has some astounding ideas for deciphering the riddle of the labyrinth and succeeds in the most rational way. Then William and Adso eat cheese in batter.
...and I start to think, he's doing this on purpose, isn't he?

The subtitles continue to get more flippant, until the climactic chapter reads thus:
In which, if it were to summarize the prodigious revelations of which it speaks, the title would have to be as long as the chapter itself, contrary to usage.
In common parlance: I lol'ed.

Oh, and the sort-of-main-character, William of Baskerville (get it? Baskerville?), is a transparent Holmesian figure, right down to the getting high bits. And that is always a plus in my book. That, and the medieval sexual issues, although I mostly appreciated those because so many writers of this time period leave all that out.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Death of An Author

According to Yahoo! News, where we all go for obituaries, Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, has died. He was working on the final book of the series at the time, titled "A Memory of Light."

Eerily enough, only a few days ago I was discussing Jordan, and his plans to finish the Wheel of Time series, with the inestimable David Isaak. The reason "A Memory of Light" was intended to be the last book (even, according to the author, if it hit 2000 pages) of the series was because Jordan had fallen ill with amyloidosis. In an interview before his death, Jordan stated
"I'm getting out notes, so if the worst actually happens, someone could finish A Memory of Light and have it end the way I want it to end. But I hope to be around to actually finish it myself."
It says something about authors that they make plans like this. I mean, it's just a book, and they'll be dead. Why care? They won't be around to see it. But somehow, if I were in the middle of a millions-of-fans-style popular book series, and I found out I was terminally ill, I think I'd do the same thing.

It may sound cold for people to be worrying about the end of a book series, when a real human being has just died. But wouldn't many - if not most - authors take that as the ultimate compliment?

R.I.P. Robert Jordan, 1948-2007.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hic Sunt Scriptores

(Original title for this journal: "Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist".)

I've noticed that every time I visit a Blogspot website (er... blog) I end up reading about something literary, or if you prefer (which I do), "writerly". The writerly types, it seems, tend to migrate here. Far be it from them to dip their feet in with the huddled masses of Xanga, or in the dismal swamp (a real place, by the way) of a LiveJournal. There be dragons, and probably teenagers.

(To be fair, I'm judging from a rather limited pool, but I've never let that stop me from making wild assumptions before.)

I do, indeed, have a LiveJournal, but that mostly serves as a method of communicating with friends. So perhaps this blog, by its very existence, will remind me to Write More, because I now have a place to bitch about how badly it's going. Or maybe it won't. Time will tell.