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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
No Fear of the Future
Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jayme Lynn Blaschke's report
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
The Nebula Awards
Stephen Dedman
Alexis Glynn Latner
Chris Nakashima-Brown
Jess Nevins
Zoran ˇivković
San Diego Comic Con
Damon Knight
Creative Commons
Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow-SFWA dispute
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
"An Alternate History of Chinese Science Fiction"
Sidewise Awards
The Pleistocene Redemption
Joe R. Lansdale
Pigeons from Hell comic
Robert E. Howard
Michael Chabon
Michael Moorcock
Elric comic
"Michael Moorcock and the Comics of the Multiverse"
Julius Schwartz
Silver Age of Comics
Alfred Bester
Green Lantern
Hugo Awards
Life Sucks
Jessica Abel
Gabe Soria
Warren Pleece
Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told
Captain Marvel
Alice in Sunderland
Bryan Talbot
British Science Fiction Association
2007 BSFA Awards
Recent Books of Interest

Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece (First Second) Life Sucks
Baby-faced Dave Miller works a dead-end job as the night manager for L.A.'s finest vampire-owned convenience store. Good thing David is a vampire as well, albeit a vegetarian one. A unique cross between Clerks and Buffy, the beautifully crafted Life Sucks offers an amusing glimpse into the seemingly incongruous worlds of slackers and goths.

Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics by Julius Schwartz with Brian Thomsen (Harper) Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics
Published in 2000, this entertaining book successfully defines the legacy of Julius Schwartz in a light and friendly fashion. Placing Schwartz within the context of SF literary history, the memories of his involvement with the first World Science Fiction Convention (1939 New York) and the ensuing happenings offer a rare insider's glimpse of one of the seminal events in SF fandom. A fitting encapsulation of the beloved legend's sixty-year career, Man of Two Worlds cements Schwartz's vital place in both science fiction and comics.

Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told (DC)
Supposedly featuring the best stories from the over sixty-five year history of the greatest super-hero ever conceived, this collection of thirteen Captain Marvel tales offers a decent survey of the Big Red Cheese. Too many contemporary reprints detract from the simple elegance of the original Golden Age Fawcett tales though it does include 1953's delightful "The Marvel Family Battles the Primate Plot" and the first Captain Marvel story I remember reading, 1974's "The Evil Return of the Monster Society."

Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse) Alice in Sunderland
Released last year, Talbot relates the interlocking story of the Sunderland area of England, Lewis Carroll, and Alice, both fictional and real. By employing a variety of artist styles, Talbot creates stream of consciousness method more akin to William S. Burroughs than to traditional comics, and thus ushering in a new epoch in visual storytelling, solidifying theories espoused by Scott McCloud and others while expanding on the works of artists such as Dave McKean. Nominated for the 2007 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for Best Novel, Alice in Sunderland offers a fascinating, insightful, and entertaining history of Sunderland, its environs, and the troubled story of Alice and her creator Lewis Carroll.

A Rose By Any Other Name

On the blog No Fear of the Future1, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, a frequent SF Site contributor, issued a report from the annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) business meeting during this past weekend's Nebula Awards activities.
Much of what went on during the meeting was the traditional, tedious bureaucratic rigmarole, but one issue came up that I foresee being quite contentious in the weeks and months ahead: Just what kinds of works qualify professional science fiction/fantasy writers for membership in our august little organization?

The issue here concerns the rise of the graphic novel as a major publishing form, and the continued popularity of comics as a medium. In recent years several creators (not a tremendous number, but still...) with significant publications to their credit in the graphic novel milieu have applied for membership only to be turned away. Or rather, offered Affiliate membership, which means they'd be allowed to pay dues like everybody else, but not have voting rights. This is a popular membership category for publishers and new writers who've only partially qualified for Active membership, but for someone who could conceivably have a more successful career than the bulk of current Active members, well, it has somewhat less appeal for obvious reasons.

Russell Davis, the SFWA president-elect, made a well-reasoned point that in order to remain viable and vibrant, the organization needed to bring in new members and grow. New members means more dues money (i.e. improved financial ability to actually do something productive) and additional warm bodies to take on volunteer positions and potentially contribute to running the organization. Despite the well-documented troubles of the comics industry, it's more high-profile than genre publishing and the premier showcase of that field -- the San Diego Comic Con -- dwarfs SF's showcase Worldcon (big and spiffy though it may be). There's a significant overlap between comics and genre (and from here on out I'll use "genre" as a specific reference to SF and fantasy publishing. Tough cookies to horror, mystery and everyone else) and Davis outlined an inclusive membership philosophy that I liken to a "big tent" approach. It was a logical presentation of his position and far more eloquent than my fumble-footed comments a few minutes later.

Founded in 1965 by Damon Knight, the SFWA defines five membership classifications: active, associate, affiliate, estate, and institutional. The latter two refer to an author's estate after his death and organizations associated with science fiction (universities, film producers, etc.). Professionals working within the field but not fiction writers (editors, critics, etc.) can become affiliate members. Reserved for beginning writers (usually with just one published story), associate level allows membership for those who fail to meet the qualifications for active membership. These four classes may not run for office or vote in elections; and they cannot nominate or vote for awards.

Active members make up the majority of the SFWA. To achieve this classification, a candidate must have accepted payment for one novel, three pieces of short fiction, or one professionally produced dramatic script. These lucky souls vote for and hold all of the offices and nominate and determine awards.

In theory, the SFWA functions as more than an big clubhouse for authors. It offers a measure of protection and advocacy as well. Through their Grievance Committee, the SFWA "investigates claims of illegal or unethical contracts, assertions of plagiarism, evidence of contract violation by editors and publishers, misuse of royalty statements and funds, and other complaints of professional concern."2 According to the SFWA site, the Grievance Committee has not updated their services document since 1997, which, in the current internet savvy world, may as well be the 19th century. By failing to understand recent trends such as the Creative Commons license,3 which has been embraced by many prominent sf writers (most notably Cory Doctorow4) and multi-dimensional facets of many of the current creative endeavors, the SFWA's importance and relevance has diminished. The fact that sites such as RevolutionSF5, where I serve as a contributing editor, offer professional quality fiction but lack the money to offer financial compensation, and that Jess Nevins' "An Alternate History of Chinese Science Fiction," originally posted on No Fear of the Future, was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History both illustrate the evolving definition of professional.

Naturally, opposition to opening the doors to comics creators coalesced with sudden and instantaneous vigor. This is the same organization that battled for more than a decade whether to include "Fantasy" in its official name (Science-fiction & Fantasy Writers of America we now be for those unaware of such nuances).

The objections ran the whole gamut (paraphrased here because I'm a notoriously awful note-taker. But the gist of the matter remains): "There's too many of them -- this will be like a mouse swallowing an elephant"; "Their contracts and issues are different than ours"; "If you take away the pictures, the words don't tell the whole story"; "We have nothing to offer them"; "We need to grow and add more members first, then we can think about opening the organization to comics"; "Manga recycles the same plot over and over again -- that's not writing, and shouldn't qualify" (ah, there are so many things I could say here, but I will exercise Herculean restraint); and, my particular favorite melon-scratcher, "There are so many self-published comics out there, we'll be swamped with too many new members with credentials equivalent to The Pleistocene Redemption."

Pigeons from Hell
Most, if not all, of the concerns expressed at the meeting could be ushered away as trivial. And in his blog, Blaschke does just that.

Well, no. No to all of the above -- none of those are reasons to exclude comics creators/graphic novelists. They're excuses. It's not as if the only way to admit graphic novelists is to throw standards out the window. Self-published and vanity press prose don't count toward Active SFWA membership, so why on Earth would self-published or vanity comics count? That's just silly. If membership credentials were expanded to admit comics creators, then of course the criteria of minimum pay rate, minimum publications and such would be addressed. Does one issue of Detective Comics or The Fantastic Four count as a short story? Does it count as a half credit because the artist shared half the storytelling duties? This would be worked out.

I wondered if anyone at the meeting noticed that Joe R. Lansdale, the Nebula toastmaster, routinely writes comics and Dark Horse even published the first issue of the Lansdale-scripted Pigeons from Hell6 a few weeks before the ceremony. Or that the winner of the Nebula for Best Novel, Michael Chabon, writes comics as well? Even the grandmaster got into the act. Michael Moorcock has written thousands of pages of comic books, most recently an original Elric mini-series for DC.7

Julius Schwartz, the first sf literary agent and one of the founders of the Worldcon, became a prominent comic book editor whose vision helped to ignite the Silver Age. And who introduced Schwartz to the world of comics? Alfred Bester, who was writing Green Lantern at the time and would win the first Hugo Award.

A medium and not a genre, comic books differ little at the creative writing level from movies and plays. If "one professionally produced dramatic script" allows for membership then there should be no debate about comic book writers. The technical variances between these types of scripts is negligible. Is a playwright or a screenwriter less of a "real" writer because someone else enacts their words? This is no different then an artist envisioning a comic book script? It's not.

The SFWA needs to acknowledge what has become self-evident. The comic book, re-branded as the graphic novel, has come of literary age.

1 A group blog with contributions from Blaschke, Stephen Dedman, Alexis Glynn Latner, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Jess Nevins, and Zoran ˇivković.

2 From Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. Services Accessed April 29, 2008.

3 "Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights -- such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright—including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing -- nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas." From the Creative Commons FAQ Accessed April 29, 2008.

4 Cory Doctorow and the SFWA engaged in a very public dispute when the organization used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove numerous non-infringing works from Scribd, a text-sharing site similar to Flickr. Many of the works included several of Doctorow's stories that were protected under a Creative Commons license.

5 Revolution SF, not beholden to advertising revenue, allows more seasoned professionals to either reprint forgotten works or more importantly experiment with newer styles and content that may be limited elsewhere. Also, it enables newer writers with both traditional and non-traditional methods a venue for their work.

6 A contemporary re-imagining of Robert E. Howard's classic story.

7 Ironically on the day I read Blaschke's blog, my article "Michael Moorcock and the Comics of the Multiverse" was reprinted at Moorcock's Miscellany, the author's official website.

Copyright © 2008 Rick Klaw

Rick Klaw produced four years of the popular monthly SF Site column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.

He currently blogs at The Geek Curmudgeon and Dark Forces.

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