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Saturday, October 31, 2015

I Have Nothing To Say About The Cabin In The Woods

So I finally watched The Cabin In The Woods.

And I have nothing to say about it.

So this is not going to be an article so much as a non-article, a void where an article might have been, the hollow space beyond the stars… where there isn’t an article.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Special Release: My Superpower is Manpain!

The first Storming the Ivory Tower article collection is ready for release!

Featuring revised versions of my articles on The Dark Knight Rises (Shadow of the Bat), Arrow (Liberal from a Distance and Love Me I'm a Liberal), and Grant Ward (Everybody Hates Grant Ward), My Superpower is Manpain! explores the idea of the male superhero and his power to warp the narrative and the ethics of a story around himself.

In addition to these updated versions of past articles, now with new illustrations, the collection also includes an all new, exclusive article entitled Hugging the Joker, which grapples with the theme and legacy of Alan Moore's famous Batman comic The Killing Joke.

While the full collection in lovely PDF form is being released only to $5 backers on my Patreon, you can gain access to parts of the content:

You get to read the full draft text of the collection, including the bonus article, Hugging the Joker! If you want to read the document but can't afford the nice ebook version, this is your tier.

Want to see the various images I produced for this work? This is the tier for you. I plan to also put together some wallpapers based on the internal images, so keep an eye out for that.

The Podcast Tier! I record audio versions of my articles before I write them. The older pieces are from before I started doing this, but there is a full audio draft of Hugging the Joker available to $3 subscribers.

You get to read the full, finalized, typo free, illustrated version of the document, in lovely PDF form! And, of course, you'll get to read the article collections that will follow!

Don't have enough to contribute to these tiers? You can still guide Storming the Ivory Tower by commenting on my ongoing list of future articles, which I have updated to include ideas for future article collections. You'll also be the first to know the title and content of the next collection.


Q: Will the next one take as long to produce as this one did? Why did this one take so long?

A: God I hope not. It took so long because this stuff is all a lot harder than I expected, and learning new programs, dealing with literal and computer viruses, and mental health problems all suck. I learned a lot in this process and I think I might be able to produce the next collection much more rapidly. I'm aiming for three months, but I'd love to get it out in just two.

Q: What kind of permissions do we have for this collection?

A: I'm releasing this under a CC BY-NC-SA license, which means you can pretty much do whatever you want with it, except resell it, or use it to produce something for sale or something that isn't under a similarly open license. If you want to share it around, that's your choice.

Q: So then why put it behind a paywall? Isn't that kinda dumb?

A: I don't think so. If people want to share it, that's up to them. But I think this subscription tier, which tends to be about $6 a month, given that it's only $2 more than the next tier down, is a fair amount of money for the work I did on this project (if anything, it's probably far below minimum wage!) and I want to basically signal that this is what this project is worth to me.

I see that as separate from the rights of the end user to do what they want with the document that they paid for.

And hey, it promotes the good values of hard work and cooperation: you have to do the work of finding a download of the doc, and you have to cooperate with someone to get them to put the doc on the pirate bay or whatever for you! I like to think that I'm promoting good social values.

Q: I can't afford the weekly subscription but I want to read it! I don't care about the other lower tiers.

A: I'm not sure how to handle this exactly but if you're interested, shoot me an email at and I'll see if we can work something out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blue Screen of Death

Last week I downloaded 100 viruses to my computer, then downloaded a virus to myself, and then someone downloaded all of Patreon's information to their computer and uploaded it to the Internet.

None of this is an explanation, really, for why I haven't gotten shit done for several weeks--the timeline is wrong for one thing--but I think this hilarious chronicle of mishaps can maybe shed some light into just how precarious a project like Storming the Ivory Tower is, and all the ways that it can all come crashing down unexpectedly--the ways that it can bluescreen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Weird Beard: My Goatee, Gender, and Science Fiction

Let’s talk about my beard.

For a while now I’ve wanted to write about my goatee, which I’m sure is riveting subject matter for all of you. I want to work with one particular idea about my goatee, which is that it is a gender signifier… but it isn’t necessarily gendered. Depending on the way you address it, it both is and is not an indicator of maleness, and that has some interesting implications for science fiction.

Really, that’s where this one is going.

Friday, September 11, 2015

ANNOUNCING: My Superpower is Manpain!

Folks there's no article this week, if you haven't caught on to that yet, for a variety of reasons that I won't bore you with involving my day job and my mental illness.

However, I have not been idle! No indeed, I have been hard at work on a scheme that is only now coming to fruition! You see, I have a plot, a grand plot, to defeat all my foes in one blow, with my ultimate superpower!

What is my superpower you ask?

Hah. Hahahaha. HahahHAHAHA



Yes, at long last the first Storming the Ivory Tower article collection is nearly complete! Featuring revised versions of my articles on The Dark Knight Rises (Shadow of the Bat), Arrow (Liberal from a Distance and Love Me I'm a Liberal), and Grant Ward (Everybody Hates Grant Ward), the collection explores the idea of the male superhero and his power to warp the narrative and the ethics of a story around himself.

In addition to these updated versions of past articles, now with new illustrations, the collection also includes an all new, exclusive article entitled Hugging the Joker, which grapples with the theme and legacy of Alan Moore's famous Batman comic The Killing Joke.

The whole collection will be released on SEPTEMBER 21 (or at least that's the deadline I'm going to try to set for myself here) and can be accessed through my Patreon for $5 subscribers.

If you can't afford the full ebook version of this collection, however, there's still ways you can view the content, based on the other Patreon reward tiers:

You get to read the full draft text of the collection, including the bonus article, Hugging the Joker! I'll be working on revising this over the next week if you feel like watching my progress.

Want to see the progress on the cover image and some commentary on my creation process? This is the tier for you. I'll also be posting some more images as I finalize them.

The Podcast Tier! None of the early articles have podcasts, but I delayed so long in working on this that I ended up doing a podcast for the Killing Joke article. That audio is available to $3 subscribers.

You get to read the full, finalized, typo free, illustrated version of the document, in lovely PDF form! And, of course, you'll get to read the article collections that will follow!

Don't have enough to contribute to these tiers? You can still guide Storming the Ivory Tower by commenting on my ongoing list of future articles, which I have updated to include ideas for future article collections.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Paradox of Paradox Space's Artistic Weakness

This awesome illustration was provided by Arin aka fullmetaldorkamist. His art can be viewed here.
For about a year, Paradox Space filled in the void left in our lives by the absence of infamous 2.5 million dollar hypercomic Homosuck I mean Homestuck. Yes, the Story that can End All Stories one
if only because if printed out it could form a weight capable of crushing all the authors in the world into a red paste
went on hiatus, and Paradox Space emerged to fill the gap by updating each weekday with a new page of story content.

Expectations for Paradox Space were initially quite high--there were a number of talented people working on the project, and it seemed to offer the potential to explore areas of the Homestuck canon that haven’t been explored in the main comic. What more could we want?

Quite a bit more, it turns out, than what we got. Or at least that’s how some of us have ended up feeling. I know I’m not alone in thinking that PS didn’t quite live up to the hype. Some of that can be blamed on excessively high expectations, I’m sure. Homestuck, after all, is a very, very good story. It’s a very high bar to reach, and I think a certain level of disappointment is natural. But it’s interesting to me that a 2.5 million dollar hypercomic couldn’t manage, apparently, to turn a decent profit from a spin off comic: Paradox Space, it seems, didn’t only underperform artistically, it underperformed economically as well.

I’m not here to explain why Paradox Space didn’t make bank. Obviously, Andrew Hussie is much better at this web 2.0 money making thing than I, a mere shifty Patreon beggar, will ever be. But I do study comics, and I do study fandom cultures, and I do think I can shed some insights into why, even factoring in unreasonable expectations, Paradox Space didn’t do so well… and maybe why it could never have done well in the first place.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Post Elsewhere: Why Character-In-A-Coma Theories Suck

[Evanescence plays unironically in background]
You find yourself in a beautiful garden, a garden lush with flowery growth, marble statues peaking through the verdant leaves. You shake your head, still sleepy from your nap. Where were you? Oh, yes, you were trying to come up with an idea for an article on your favorite show… Something shocking, something original, something that would really turn the setting on its head… But what?

You tap your chin with your magical quill and set it to the paper. To your surprise it begins writing, all on its own! Before your very eyes it spells out these words:

Sometimes I find that ideas for articles drop into my lap. Last week I happened to seea post on Tumblr that facilitated that sort of topic drop: a post about “coma” theories. Wait, wait, that’s the wrong link, hold on, ah here we go, a post about “coma” theories.

If you’re not familiar with that trope of fan analysis the concept is fairly simple to explain:

Take a show, movie, story, whatever. Preferably something fantastical and beloved. Ok?

The story is all some character’s dream while the character is in a coma.

Or the characters are all dead, or they’re all just imaginary friends, or the character is having a psychotic break due to some trauma or other, or… whatever. That mode of explanation for the fantastic elements of a story. All the kids in Ed Edd and Eddy are dead, Ash has been in a coma since episode 1, Steven Universe’s mom died and he’s imagining all the adventures and Connie is his therapist… whatever.

This kind of theory tends to be really... well... bad. When used in canon, it tends to come off as a bit of a bait and switch--you become invested in a narrative that has no meaning, where events have no impact. You get sucked into a story only to have it turn out to be utterly pointless.

This badness carries over to the use of the trope in analysis. Tonight, I want to get into why it’s bad, but also why it’s both kind of lazy and also, sadly, inevitably ubiquitous, but first I want to talk a little bit about the post that prompted my own article.

Hurriedly you cast the quill away from yourself and crumple up the paper. What is this strange writing that haunts you in your definitely real paradise? It has given you an idea, though, for what your amazing, groundbreaking fandom post should be like…

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Radical Implausibility of Love

This article is going to start out profoundly superficial, but I hope it will end at a place that is at least superficially profound.

I want to start the article with a discussion of shipping in the Dumbing of Age fandom.

Yeah, see what I mean? Don't worry, you won't need to be familiar with the comic for this article--it's one of those articles that's not exactly about what it's ostensibly about.

Dumbing of Age is a webcomic written by David Willis about a wide range of characters navigating their first year of college. It’s not particularly important for this article, but it’s maybe interesting to note that almost all of these characters came from several other interconnected comics that Willis has been writing since the early days of webcomics. To an extent, Dumbing of Age gives these characters a new lease on life.

The post that got me thinking about this week’s topic was actually a piece of fan art posted on the blog Queering of Age, whose purpose you can probably figure out from the title alone. The art depicts four of the characters on a couch together, cuddling and playing video games. I’ll link to my reblogged version of the post, since tumblr shenanigans have made the original post inaccessible:

You can see, in my reblog, basically an elevator pitch for this article. In summary, this article came about because of three reactions in quick succession that I noted in my response to the post:

First, I felt excited and gratified that a polyamorous ship that I had considered before was getting play in the wider realm of the Internet (or at least that’s the implication I read into the picture).

Then, I checked myself and thought, “No, this is cute, but it’s impossible with these characters. It simply isn’t plausible.”

And that thought was followed by the thought that prompted this article:

“Wait, what’s actually plausible about my own relationships?”

Monday, August 3, 2015

Who Killed the World? or, Immortan Joe Crossing the Alps

I finally watched Mad Max Fury Road a few weeks ago and found it to be everything that people have been saying it was. It’s a true heir to the Mad Max legacy, with some truly gonzo stunts, amazing cinematography, and a really powerful feminist message, whatever some rather shallow leftist misreadings might say. I can’t say I went into the film without a sense of what was to come: plenty of folks, my partner Lee included, have discussed the power of the film and the importance of what it’s doing both thematically and narratively.

I was surprised though that I hadn’t seen a lot of commentary on one particular aspect of the film: its relationship to the 19th century concept of the sublime in landscape painting.

...Ok, I wasn’t THAT surprised.

It’s obviously a bit of a niche interest; I just happen to fall in the center of the venn diagram of People Who Study 19th Century Art, People Who Have Stolen Your Chair, and People Who Like Watching Cars Ram Into Each Other At High Speeds In A Postapocalyptic Hellscape. Still, there’s something really remarkable here about the way the film’s landscapes correlate to landscape art conveying ideas of the sublime, and I want to take some time analyzing just what that might mean. So let’s talk about Mad Max and landscape paintings!

Oh, you’re not interested in this topic? Hm, well, I mean, I know my articles on actual artwork tend to get less views, but hey, if you feel like finishing your drink and leaving without hearing what I have to say, well, no one’s stopping you, ha ha!

No one except for Lord Humongous, the Ayatolla of Rock-and-Rolla. Isn’t that right, LH?


Quite, quite. Oh, you’ve decided to stay after all? What a surprise! I’m so pleased.

Since you’re sticking around I might as well start with the obvious question:

Just what is the Sublime?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Black Lives Matter and Public Art

I have been worried for a while that several of the articles I had planned to write six months ago would no longer be relevant once I finished my thesis and was able to write semi-regularly again. one
Though obviously the “semi-” is important here: this article has been delayed several weeks by a combination of overwork in my day job and a bout of my old friend, Depression. Writing, it turns out, is Very Hard.
Much to my disgust, that which was politically topical six months ago remains politically topical now. As Zoe Quinn put it on her blog, August never ends, and my previous article on Gamergate and Wikipedia is just as relevant now as when the story of the hostile takeover of the open access encyclopedia first broke.

Unending, too, is the ongoing crisis of police brutality, white supremacy, and state sanctioned murder. This article in a sense is a response to a protest that happened here in Toronto, my adopted city, back in December, but the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement has not diminished over the course of six months. Far from it. Every few days news of another atrocity comes in, while the political establishment and corporate media continues to turn a blind eye to the crisis where it can, and vilify them where it cannot.

This article is triangulated upon three different sources of information that I want to put at the front and center of my analysis for this week. In a sense, this article is a vehicle for these resources, which are the real voices I want to elevate here, but while my role here is something akin to a curator of this information, I do want to try to contextualize these a little bit with my sense of the broader art world and the world of public art in particular. As a white writer, it’s not my job to speak for black writers, but I might be able to use my privileged access to the (white) art world to dig into some of the behaviors of that world and the contradictions and racist practices that underlie those behaviors… and the actions of liberal art and culture patrons.

So, with this in mind I want to start, before the cut, by putting the three resources I will be working from front and center.

If you can only pick one article to read through today, please read one of these.

The first article, by Kirsten West Savali from The Root, is about a recent art exhibit which features a mannequin dressed to look like Michael Brown’s body. Obviously, trigger warnings for… everything related to that. This article drags the thought process behind this piece over the coals, labeling it a “revictimization” of Brown and his family carried out by a white artist.

The second is a statement by artist and activist Bree Newsome. Newsome, with a group of collaborators, engaged in a daring takedown of the confederate flag in front of South Carolina’s capitol building several weeks ago, and her statement eloquently articulates the issues at stake in what some see as “vandalism.”

Finally, I want to link to the facebook page of the Toronto iteration of Black Lives Matter, which has been my main source of information for actions happening in the city. This source in particular is important because it seems like many white commentators perceive this to be a uniquely American problem. This organization and others like it demonstrate the ways in which the movement transcends national boundaries to challenge white supremacy in a variety of locations. In particular I think it’s worth noting the response to the recent police shooting of a mentally ill Somalian man, and the way in response the group has highlighted the particular vulnerability of the mentally ill to police brutality. This represents one of the most admirable aspects of the movement: the way in which the movement has centered itself upon those who are most at risk--the mentally ill, the homeless, the queer, and those who face similar difficulties.

This final resource is particularly important because it leads into the main event that this article revolves around: a protest in Toronto last December. This protest started with a rally at city hall and a march to Dundas Square, one of Toronto’s largest and most garish commercial hubs. The march concluded with a die-in which took place in the center of the square. Not in the center of the sidewalk, but in the center of the intersection, the bodies of the protestors blocking the street. At the conclusion of the protest, the words BLACK LIVES MATTER were spraypainted on the road, and participants were invited to leave their signs around the spraypaint.

From my perspective, this protest represents a temporary artistic intervention into the space, and the difference in reception between this form of artistic expression and more culturally sanctioned forms of “protest art” exposes the hypocrisies of the white liberal art establishment.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Repent, Feminist!" Said the Wiki Man (Or: Deface Wikipedia Today!)

As I wrote the first draft of this article, a few months ago now (god help me), I took periodic breaks to look at my dashboard on Tumblr. Not because I was really reading any of the content but because I was skimming for instances of people taking advantage to the most recent site update to totally break the website's functionality. If you missed that exciting experience, let me tell you it was at times pretty breathtakingly disorienting, with various icons, text boxes, images, and so on, bouncing all over the screen. While they've caught the major bugs of that update a few more incredible little glitches keep popping up to trash the screen in exciting new ways, months after the fact.

I'm starting here because I think it sheds light, in the usual roundabout sort of way, on the recent clusterfuck over on Wikipedia. If you haven't been following the conflict, the long and short of it is that Gamergate, the violently misogynistic hate group ostensibly dedicated to "ethics in game journalism" but in fact dedicated to hounding women out of the game industry, has been gaming (ahah.) Wikipedia's systems for a while now in order to gain dominance over the article about them. A group dubbed the Five Horsemen has repeatedly opposed their efforts. Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee ("ArbCom") responded by handing down a decision that ousted the Five Horsemen along with a few gamergater burner accounts, patted itself on the back for a job well done, and effectively handed gamergate the keys to the kingdom. You can read about this on the blog of Mark Bernstein (and on his twitter), who broke the story and was banned and denounced in retaliation, or on Wikipedia itself in this editorial by user Protonk... who of course was ALSO banned and denounced in retaliation. Exciting times over on Wikipedia. The story's continued since then but those are the basic facts in the case that I think are worth relaying.

Before getting back to Wikipedia though let's take a moment to talk about the culture of Tumblr and its attitude towards its leaders. Any time Tumblr's staff updates the site there's immediately a race to see who can figure out the best ways to break the new features, or at least do something truly bizarre with the new features. Some of this of course stems from the endless frustration that we all have with a staff that prioritizes trivialities over critically absent core features (a functional blocking system! a functional inbox!) but more broadly speaking I think there's also an attitude on the site that if something CAN be fucked with, it SHOULD be fucked with. It's a creative attitude, and an oppositional one as well, one that resists rather than encourages consensus.

It's this attitude, more than any other form of resistance, that feels to me like the right strategy for dealing with Wikipedia's increasingly glaring flaws. Wikipedia is an engine for generating consensus, so artistic interventions--more plainly, vandalism, or even more plainly, fucking shit up--are essential for disrupting that engine. If Wikipedia has failed to live up to its ideals, instead becoming mired in the dehumanizing mechanisms of a bureaucracy that only a plutocracy of technocrats can engage with, then it's time to stop thinking about incrementally transforming the system, and start thinking about a way of breaking the system in half.

There's a really obvious pun I could make here but I'll resist.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Building and Breaking, In Comics as in BDSM

The seducer of the innocent. Corrupter. A medium driven by affect--the raw, visceral, embodied experience of emotion. A trap to lead the unwary into perversion.


It is to this gutter medium, this medium of ill repute, that I dedicated the last eight months of my life, transforming myself into the willing servant of an often capricious master. My thesis was, in large part, about the emotional content of comics--the very content that encouraged cultural critics ranging from Frederic Wertham, infamous comic censor, to Clement Greenberg and his followers, masters of disinterested analysis and the pure aesthetic critique of art, to malign the medium. I analyzed a structure that I dubbed the building and breaking template, a template consisting of a rising narrative arc depicted with a rigid grid of panels that concludes with some break from that grid at the moment of narrative climax.

I did NOT, however, analyze Stjepan Šejić's comic Sunstone. I namedropped it briefly in my conclusion, but I did not analyze it, simply because devoting a whole chapter of my thesis to a comic about two women discovering their love of domination and submission, sadism and masochism, and that other letter pair that I always forget, seemed like a pretty risky prospect. Unfortunately I'm not entirely sure that the time is right for the affective and semiotic analysis of porn comics, at least not in academia.

But this isn't academia. This is Storming the Ivory Tower, where I can do whatever the hell I want up to and including stealing your chair, and this week I want to take a look at Sunstone through the lens of some of my research and explore some of the ways that comics--all comics--get us hot and bothered.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fitzskimmons Lament Part 2: Satisfaction

Last week I posted my article, part one of this series, to the Marvel subreddit, mostly because I am a little shit and like to tweak the noses of overly fawning fans.

Before the article was predictably downvoted to oblivion I did get one comment useful not so much for its contents, which were predictably terrible, but for the interesting irony that it presented. This redditor simply dismissed my article as "the babblings of a patreon-begger." Interesting. The claim there seems to be that my article can be safely ignored because I'm merely out to grab cash off of Marvel's success.


I'll own up to it proudly! In fact, I'll encourage you all to donate to my Patreon today! I'm absolutely shameless. In fact, it's a little off theme, but is it time to bring back the supervillain suit? I think it is!

I know what I am.
But you know, I'm no more shameless than Marvel and Disney are, and a whole hell of a lot more honest. If I'm a hood at least I'm an honest one, with no illusions about why massively successful franchises frequently turn out to be the subjects for my articles. They're the subjects because when I write about my real loves, like fanfiction of a children's trading card game for example, nobody reads my articles.

These are concessions I MUST make, to a certain extent, if I want to make this blogging thing work for me. Marvel is in no such position. Anything they do seems to turn into a megahit, even if it's, say, Thor 2. Marvel fans will even get a little bit smug about this, proclaiming that DC can't make a movie with a female lead while Marvel can make a movie about a raccoon and a tree in space.

Ay, Marvel fans? You know who else can't make a movie with a female lead?

Marvel Studios.

So let's take this week to talk about the various ways in which Marvel, a studio that seemingly can do anything, continues to do, in a myriad of ways, absolutely nothing to support its queer fans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fitzskimmons Lament Part One: Marvel and the Endlessly Straight Path

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a lot of things. Among them, the MCU is very, very straight. Aggressively straight. Obnoxiously straight, I might even suggest.

It's straight to the point where, after 11 movies and three-and-a-half-sum-total seasons of 45 minute episodes of various tv spin offs from said movies, the lack of any queer representation whatsoever has finally crossed the borderline from "minor stain on an otherwise remarkable record" to "holy shit this is indefensible and appalling."

Marvel and Disney apparently can make a movie about a talking raccoon and his tree friend but can't introduce a single queer character. Or make a movie starring a woman. But that's a rant for another day.

For a while now I've been lamenting the effect that's had on a number of my ships in the MCU--ships being fan parlance for preferred romantic relationships. I tend to gravitate towards queer ships because, well, in our modern media landscape they just don't happen that often in canon, so I have an inclination to stubbornly ship everything queer, which just results in me getting more irate when none of my queer pairings become canon, which just causes me to be more obstinate, until the next thing you know I'm up at three AM reading Draco/Neville/Hermione BDSM fanfic instead of writing Storming the Ivory Tower articles.

In fact that's precisely where I've been for the past eight months!

But no ship has suffered quite as much as Fitzskimmons, the ship that put the "One" and "True" and "The Numeral Three" in OT3, my one true poly triad, the relationship of my dreams. This is a ship that joins the Agents of SHIELD characters Fitz, Simmons, and Skye into a beautiful poly trio.

It will never happen, and I know it will never happen, but by god I can write an entire article lamenting the fact that I'll never see this group get together.

Pictured: more like GAYgents of SHIELD
That's what this article is in the broadest sense: a lament for Fitzskimmons. But I don't want to just sit here and babble about how great they'd be together (even though they would be) or how much more heartwrenching the events of season 2 are in the context of a poly romance between the three characters (though wow can you imagine it?). Ultimately this isn't about the worthiness or unworthiness of one particular ship. It's about the wider way in which the compulsory heterosexuality in an entire serialized and shared fictional universe leads to sub-optimal story decisions and lost opportunities.

It's about how restrictions on the range of possible relationships leads to bad writing.