I’m not sure how many of you will have heard of this webcomic by Jenn Manley Lee. I never had until my friend lent me the published, real-paper version of the first volume (the author is currently part way through the second volume of a planned three). It can be read at www.dicebox.net
The reader follows the journey of two friends, Molly and Griffen, who travel together in a let’s-see-what-happens kind of way, paying their way by working on ships or in factories. Griffen is witty, obnoxious and self-destructive. Molly is strong, pragmatic and optimistic.
Dicebox takes place on multiple planets and space ships. It reminds me quite a bit of the Firefly universe: everyone goes about their business pretty much the same way they do in real life, but in space. There don’t seem to be any aliens or androids around, just people, non-sentient machines, and some weird bugs. This means that the story is more character-driven than a lot of science fiction. Recurring themes are Griffen’s mysterious past and Molly’s disturbing nightmare visions. Molly spends a lot of time trying to keep Griffen out of trouble. There isn’t a lot of exposition, and that’s part of what keeps you reading: the working-out how who knows whom, why they act in certain ways toward each other. I found it pretty hard to follow at first; it’s the kind of fiction that makes you work a little harder. This also means it’s worth a second read; I was amazed how much I had missed the first time.
If there is one thing I love about Dicebox, it’s the way it deals with gender and sexuality. The Dicebox universe, or at least the parts that Griffen and Molly visit, is a utopic melting-pot of gender and sexuality representation. For starters, there’s a gender neutral pronoun that many of the characters go by, which every character seems to be familiar with: “peh”. It is used when you don’t know the person’s gender identity or when it isn’t relevant, but many characters seem to go exclusively by peh, and those that do tend to exhibit a mixture of masculine and feminine traits. Speaking as someone who has always struggled with gender, the inclusion of a third pronoun gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of representation.
But “peh” isn’t used by every character who wouldn’t fit into our gender binary. Griffen goes by “she” despite looking so androgynous that I didn’t realise until quite a while into the first volume that she wasn’t a man. Though her sex is canonically female, the author of the series describes Griffen’s gender as “a little more elusive.” Likewise, there are people in the story who appear to be presenting as one gender or the other, yet still choose to use the gender-neutral. In the comic so far, there is no obvious conflict stemming from gender issues, and being Trans or non-binary doesn’t even seem to be noteworthy.
Given the nuances of sex and gender in Dicebox, it’s unsurprising that terms like “gay,” “lesbian”, “bisexual” and even “queer” seem to have been dropped from usage. Sexual preference is never noteworthy, it seems to be taken for granted a person will be attracted to whoever peh is attracted to. Griffen and Molly seem to be attracted mostly to males and females respectively, but it wouldn’t be right to label Griffen as straight or Molly as gay because of this. No character ever labels anyone’s sexual orientation in Dicebox, even their own. The sex scenes have the touching awkwardness and lack of grace that anyone who has had or seen real-life sex will instantly recognise, a welcome relief from the choreographed, over-romanticised, porn-like sex in a lot of fiction.
Ethnicity is dealt with in much the same way as sex. Despite the racially diverse setting, racism never comes up, with no instance of anyone even mentioning race or nationality. This doesn’t mean that cultures have been lost, however; the names, clothing, and architecture of Dicebox is a jumble of different aesthetics clearly based on those from cultures in the real world. Everyone seems to speak the same language; it’s unclear whether this language is actually English or just written as such for the benefit of us present-dwelling chumps.
The comic updates with one page a week. The art is higher quality than most published graphic novels, let alone webcomics. Unfortunately this brings me to a drawback of Dicebox: it doesn’t fit into a webcomic structure very well. No page is stand-alone; scenes and conversations last for many pages. I read the first volume printed and bound and loved it. Then I went online and read all of Volume Two that had been written, and even though I like it on paper better, it was great. But once I got up to the point where I had to wait a week for the next page, I found it frustrating. Even if the format doesn’t fit quite right, I’m glad that Dicebox is a webcomic, because I have a feeling that, though brilliant, it caters for a small enough niche that it might not have been published otherwise. If you can bear reading the pages week to week, good for you, but I prefer to check back every few months, and intend to buy the second volume on paper.
Dicebox gives us a world of rich, strong characters and realistic interaction, and not just that: It gave me what I had wanted to see for a long time: a story in which there are trans people, non-binary people, people of colour, queer and pansexual people everywhere, but none of these characters are defined by the single trait of being in that group. We are all sick of LGBT and POC characters whose entire story or motivation is their gender, sexuality, or race, and Dicebox represents a refreshing step away from that kind of half-hearted representation.
43 Cartoon Theme Songs, all played by the Ensemble ACJW from “The Academy”, a program of Carnegie Hall, The Julliard School, and the Well Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education
…and edited with incredibly awesome post-production cartoon geekiness!
The squees can be heard from a mile away.
Can you list the 43 Theme songs?
The Australian comic book industry is a small community, concentrated in Melbourne, straining at the seams with brave and original talent. On Australia Day this year, the good people at Sci-Fi and Squeam from Joy 94.9 FM - a Melbourne-based independent radio station catering to the gay and lesbian communities – did a two-part podcast about women in the Australian comics scene.
The podcast includes interviews with women in the industry, as well as broader discussions about sexism, the roles and experiences of women in the industry, and the challenge of finding a place for women within a male-dominated, male-oriented medium.
We also recommend the regular Sci-Fi and Squeam podcast every Tuesday night from 10 to 11 for fun news and discussions about all things gay and geeky.
[Image from Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg, via SMH]
Recently we learned that the as-yet-unnamed sequel to ‘Man of Steel’ will add another famous face to its lineup of heroes. Laying the foundations for a Justice League answer to the success of Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ film, Warner Brothers have confirmed that Wonder Woman will appear in the 2015 production starring Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill).
Arguably DC’s most iconic and popular heroine, Wonder Woman – a.k.a. Diana Prince – has been a long-time fan favourite; her image recognised and replicated far beyond the comics. It’s been a long time coming, but the Amazonian princess is finally set to debut in her first feature-length, live action film.*
So why are her fans so furious?
While we’ve long awaited her debut on the big screen, we’re less-than-thrilled to learn that she will be second fiddle in someone else’s movie (why are we seeing what feels like the tenth Batman movie before we see Wonder Woman in her first solo?) and the casting of her character.
Here are the two things incredibly wrong about all this:
#1. The ‘sidekick’ status. Wonder Woman is a supporting cast member instead of the leading lady. She has been relegated to the sidelines and, while visibility of women in media is an excellent mark of progress, there are some things only the titular character can enjoy.
Diana has a rich and exciting story which should be explored fully. This is something which would be difficult to include in a story focusing on one other superhero, let alone two. Supporting characters simply do not experience the full development and personal transformation like that of the primary protagonist.
I’ve seen enough movies to know the formula Hollywood works by. Here’s how her scenes will go:
She’ll appear, probably dramatically, just in time to save the day in a skirmish early on in the film. We’ll have a short introduction to her history when the chaos blows over – just enough to produce a general idea of her origins – before we return to the main arc of conflict surrounding Batman and Superman. She’ll have some butt-kicking moments (perhaps even a scene where the enemy is so shocked that a woman has bested him in combat! Gasp!) but ultimately Clark and Bruce will have the final hurrah. Roll credits.
The sad truth is, as long as Wonder Woman is merely a back-up to the big boys, she’ll never be their fully-fledged equal.
How much of Wonder Woman’s part has been scripted solely for the sake of having a female superhero? Will the director celebrate her strength as a woman, or will her scenes be more reminiscient of the fanservice Gadot provided us in The Fast and the Furious? It certainly makes you wonder when the film’s casting agents asked specifically for “exotic”-looking actresses for the role. Tokenism and the fetishization of women of colour are very harmful forces which the film industry has only recently begun to address. It would be a shame to take a backwards step.
Let’s check out the second point of contention:
#2. Gadot’s ‘model material’ body. Diana’s muscular frame are more than just for show, they are part of her intrinsic character; strong, proud and powerful – a legendary Amazonian warrior endowed with godly powers. Her presence is meant to be commanding.
The problems of a very thin Wonder Woman on her own are doubled when we then think about her alongside other heroes. Instead of standing tall and strong like the titular heroes Batman and Superman, this Wonder Woman will quite literally be half their size (even whilst teetering in what will likely be high heels).
Such a difference in frame shrinks her physical prowress and presence in comparison to her male peers, reinforcing the idea that women are the ‘lesser’ heroes in capability and in appearance.
Intentional or not, Warner Bros. has made a major statement in their decision to cast an actress with such a thin figure. If Wonder Woman can’t appear onscreen played by someone bigger than size zero, who can?
It seems that her inclusion is an attempt to toss as many recogniseable characters as possible into the movie in hopes of recreating the success of Marvel’s Avengers. This incarnation of Wonder Woman seems to be making an appearance merely to appease viewers calling for female superheroes to be given their due. Warner Bros. will tell us that this is something we should be happy with; isn’t it nice, how she helped the main characters succeed? Shouldn’t we be satisfied that Wonder Woman helps the boys save the day?
But this is not what we have been asking for. This is not good enough. This is second-best and Warner Bros. knows it.
Wonder Woman’s name isn’t included in the title. She’s yet to appear on posters or official promotional material. She will be half their size and will receive half their screen time.
Wonder Woman is not “starring alongside” Batman and Superman. This is their movie and it will be their story; their journey, their obstacles to overcome and ultimately, their triumph.
So until she is given what she deserves – a film of her own – Wonder Woman fans will just have to raise our voices a little louder!
Disclaimer: GayGeek is pleased that Gadot is expanding her career horizons and wishes her all the best. The only regret felt here is at Warner Brothers’ treatment of Wonder Woman the character and their obstinate refusal to give female DC heroines the same chance as their male peers to star onscreen.
*Preceded only by a Lego toy in her image in the upcoming LEGO movie (which ALSO has Batman set to play a more central role).