Thursday, 27 February 2014

My Mad Fat Diary obsession

Like all the best things in my life, I always discover things far too late after everyone else is already obsessed with them, but man I’m glad I eventually found My Mad Fat Diary.

I haven’t found a tv show that has hit me right in the gut with its overwhelming amazingness since maybe, I dunno, My So-Called Life. It’s up there with Buffy, Freaks and Geeks, and other ridiculously wonderful pieces of pop culture that manage to be entertaining as hell yet touch your soul. Yeah, you know what I mean.

I didn’t watch the first season when it was first on tv. I saw the badly designed trailers and thought I would hate it. I was wary of fat jokes and laughs at the expense of mental health, and so I avoided it. But after nearly every awesome rad fatty in my life recommended the hell out of it to me, and then finally my boyfriend watched it and said I was seriously missing out, I felt compelled to watch.

I have fallen so damned hard for this show. It has wrapped itself tightly around my heartstrings and has cemented itself as one of those pieces of pop culture that makes you feel all the things. The way I feel when I listen to This Hard Land by Bruce Springsteen? The way it makes my heart hurt with how amazing it is? That’s exactly what this show does for me.

Set in 1996, 16 year old Rae adjusts to life outside a psychiatric home where she was admitted for 4 months after a suicidal period and self harm. She is fat, her insecurities and body issues are fuelling her depression, and she feels isolated and weird in her small town of Stamford Lincolnshire. Weirdo teenage fat girl in a small northern town in the 90s with body issues and mental health problems? TICKING ALL THE GODDAMNED BOXES.

It is terrifying how much of the dialogue, characters, and plot mirror my own experiences. From the exact same Care Bears duvet set I had in my bedroom down to the complex teen best friend who you’ve known forever but they treat you like shit and make you hate yourself, it cuts very close to home.  Some of Rae’s dialogue about her feelings towards her own body have been said by me/thought by me at various points in my life, and some of those things are a little hard to watch now.
The portrayal of mental health as something that is ongoing as part of your daily experience rather than something that can be neatly cured is brilliant. It feels real and hard and exhausting.

I love the portrayal of a fat girl’s sexuality. I love the way Rae is so blunt in articulating her want.

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I love the 90s fashion and references

Stacey Stringfellow with her mini backpacks and  butterfly clips and hairspray fringe and belly tops could be every girl that ever picked on me at school.


90s phone jokes!

Babylon bloody Zoo!

I love Rae talking about not being able to eat in public. I did this for years when I was younger and I could never tell anyone.

And who would have thought that Newt from Hollyoaks would be the next Jordan Catalano?

Rae is not the stereotypical fat character for laughs, and neither is she on a journey of transformation/diet/makeover which will result in her finally deserving love. Both those things are mentioned and dismissed in the show, as that’s not all her character is reduced to.

I basically just love Rae to bits. 

She's the most amazing depiction of mental health/body issues/fat girl sexuality I've seen on screen in forever.

I wish I'd had this show when I was a teenager, but as it's set in 1996, its the same effect really. I'm just waiting for the episode where Rae discovers bis and Kenickie. IMAGINE!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Fanzines forever

The other day I found myself sending off a package of my zines to a distro with an accompanying letter explaining some of my zines saying although this looks like a FANZINE, it really is a PERZINE honest pleaselikemepleaselikemepleaselikemepleaselikeme! I tried to explain away the fanzine-ness of my zines because of the weird little divide that can exist between zines and fanzines. One is real and valid, and the other is silly and frivolous and its frustrating to see fanzines as undervalued and easily dismissed.

Ok so true story, here’s how I got into zines. Back in 1997 I read an article in J17 (the golden age of J17). The article featured an interview with British girl punk band Vyvyan and included a column explaining what fanzines were with a list of fanzines such as All About D, Organ, The, Glitter Underground, Playground Lies including addresses of where to get them from. This J17 article is the reason I will never really get huffy about mainstream press coverage of zine culture because that article changed my life for real, this is the article that introduced me to the world of fanzines.

After reading the article I sent off for my first ever zine. All About D was the first zine I ever bought. It was a music fanzine written by Dee, who interviewed bands from the diy teen-c bedroom glitter pop underground.  I lived in a tiny town in west Yorkshire and didn’t have a record shop local to me, I didn’t have any opportunities to go to gigs til I was much older, and as it was pre-internet I had no idea how to discover what was ‘out there’ other than listening to Steve Lamacq and John Peel. Like most queer weird and awkward teens I was obsessed with what was ‘out there’ and desperately wanted something bigger than my own experiences. 

Fanzines were my first real experiences into this world. There were music fanzines providing interviews and reviews of bands I’d never heard of and would never get a chance to see. But they were written by real people with spelling mistakes and dodgy photocopies and blurred pages and grainy black and white photographs taken at gigs I would never get to go to, and they included personal information about their lives at the same time. It wasn’t like reading Melody Maker, it was like an extended letter from a penpal. They were funny and clever and silly and asked hard hitting questions like ‘who is your favourite powerpuff girl’ rather than boring questions about tour dates and the recording process.

In the late 90s and early noughties I wrote zines like Angel Food and Go Lola which were mostly music fanzines. I interviewed all my favourite bands realising that there was no magic to the interview process, I could write to a record label and ask for an interview, usually a paper questionnaire as bands weren’t often passing through Dewsbury. I wrote about bands like bis and Bratmobile and Helen Love and Lady Die and Angelica and The Butchies and Bangs and Sleater Kinney. My zines were also very personal with lots of awful teenage angst thrown in there alongside a nice Drew Barrymore collage. In fact when telextext reviewed Go Lola #2 they only gave it 2 stars (this has haunted me to this day) because it was too personal. But it was unashamedly a fanzine. It was all the things I loved and geeked out about on a page. I don’t think I read a single perzine for years to come, fanzines were my world.

Through the years I discovered perzines and loved reading about other people’s lives and experieinces that were the same as mine, as well as those that weren’t which opened up my world in lots of ways. Perzines are powerful tools, and growing up queer and discovering queer perzines was incredibly empowering. But I can equally say the same about fanzines. 

I watch way too much Supernatural

Pop culture is engrained in my bones. Like in the episode of Supernatural where Dean and Sam get Enochian sigils engraved on their ribs by Castiel. Oh my god did you see what I did? I have no shame in being a fan of things and I absolutely LOVE writing about the things that I love. I think that’s what amazing zines do, they take the thing that the writer loves/hates the most and describes it through their own experiences/backgrounds/viewpoint. Perzines do that too, they are a window into someone elses life and I see no distinction.

Last year I wrote a zine called ‘Me and Bruce and my Dad’ which is issue 2 in a series of zines written about Bruce Springsteen. On the surface it’s a music fanzine, and even worse, it’s a fanzine about Bruce Springsteen. That’s a pretty damned niche zine right? I often have to tell people ‘it’s ok, it’s a perzine really!’ in order to get them to consider reading it. Asking people to read a fanzine about Bruce Springsteen when they may not like Bruce Springsteen or fanzines can be a task. The zine is actually about my Dad and my own experiences as growing up working class then moving away from home and feeling disconnected from my middle class surroundings. It’s about my working class roots and my Dad’s experiences, and I’ve simply appropriated some of Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics as a way to try and justify my fandom and my experiences. I’ve not been able to send this zine to a few distros as they don’t accept music zines or fanzines, and when I have sent it to people I’ve had to over explain that it really is a perzine, honest!

Fanzines can carry just as much weight and as much insight and as much validation as reading a perzine. I like that zine culture is broad with many different genres and forms. Except expensive art zines ( a tenner for some lino printed images of birds on tracing paper bound by a bit of string? Nah mate) which are really artists’ books, I feel no shame in differentiating there. Even the driest of fanzines can be totally validating, to posess a zine written about something you love makes you think OH MY GOD SOMEONE ELSE LOVES THIS THING TOO?? IM NOT ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE! Obviously with internet fandom you are maybe less inclined to rely on fanzines to have those feelings, but to see a zine in print about something you love, to interact with those fanzine writers at zine fairs and to find an entry point into the world of zines through a fanzine is a pretty wonderful thing.

I like the small silly zines about people’s favourite bands, tv shows, writers, artists, films, books. I love reading people getting passionate or angry or defensive about the things they love. Being a fan isn’t passive, it can be incredibly creative and proactive and inspires some brilliant zines and writing and art and I love people who love things. I will happily read a zine about every good tv show that has a special paintball episode or a zine about someone's Placebo fandom just as much as I would read a zine about someone’s daily personal experiences.

Which is why my next zine is going to be about Batman, and which is why I’m referring to myself as a fanzine writer from now on. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Comic shop fatigue

The wonderful Noelle Stevenson recently uploaded little comic describing the reasons as to why she no longer visits comic shops.

You can view the whole thing at her tumblr here

The comic struck a chord with me and many other people and over the last couple of days I've read a lot of things online from people who have had similar experiences describing how some comic shops have caused discomfort, tension, and a feeling of not belonging. It's disheartening hearing women and girls who are eager to read comics and who are looking for a place within comic communities, but feel alienated from certain comic shops.

I remembered my first trip to a comic shop with humiliating clarity. I knew NOTHING about comics. Nothing wrong with that though, surely? The point was, I wanted to know more about comics. A friend had bestowed the greatest gift you could ever receive: a collection of Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men and I fell in love immediately and wanted more. On my first trip to the comic shop in the nearest city to my tiny town I bravely asked for help from someone behind the counter and was immediately laughed at for not knowing the difference between a graphic novel and a comic. I was 14. I didn't go back to a comic shop for years after that and stuck with my public library instead until adulthood.

That memory of my first comic shop experience got me thinking, and so here are all the stupid things that have happened to me in comic shops:

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I was once asked if I only read comics with girls in them with scorn when I took copies of female led titles up to the counter despite the rest of my pull list having about a billion dude titles in there. I wasn't aware that reading female-led comic titles require comment or investigation. 

A guy behind the counter completely ignored me, didn’t even make eye contact, didn't even try to serve me, but instead attempted to chat to my male friend stood behind me while I tried to get served and pay for my comics. He tried talking to my friend about comics despite the fact that my friend doesn’t read comics and was begrudgingly keeping me company, yet when I tried to join in because I read the shit out of comics, the guy behind the counter pretended he hadn’t heard me.

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While buying my weekly comics I once asked the guy behind the counter if they had any long boxes and comic dividers in their shop as I hadn’t been able to find them myself and desperately needed to re-organise my own overflowing long boxes at home. The guy then told me that there was no such thing as long boxes. That I was making it up, they simply DIDN’T EXIST. I asked him about comic dividers and said they didn’t have any. As I was leaving I saw long boxes and comic dividers for sale on the shelves by the exit but he wasn’t interested in serving me or taking my money for some reason.

I once asked a guy on the shop floor if a particular issue of a title was out that week as I was sure it was due out that day. He did a big long dramatic sigh and told me that I’d got the date wrong and it was out next week. I went into another comic shop and found the comic I was looking for as I was right and it did actually come out that day.

I  made the mistake of buying some Batman comics pretty soon after the release of the The Dark Knight film came out. Tip: don't buy mainstream superhero comics around the time a big mainstream superhero film is out while being a girl. Just don't. As I was queueing to buy them the guy at the till and the guy stood next to him had a little chuckle. He then asked me in the most patronising voice possible if I was a batman fan now. 'Now' meaning a *new* batman fan having just seen the film. I said no and that batman was one of the first things that got me into comics. He then proceeded to quiz me on my favourite Batman artists before letting me pay for my comics. I wonder what would have happened if I had been a brand new batman fan. What if I had seen the movies and though 'oh boy, I want me a piece of THAT!' and ventured out to the comic shop with hope and optimism in my heart only to be quizzed by a grumpy man that for some reason didn't want my first ever comic experience to be a positive one.  

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Same thing with the Avengers around the time of the Avengers movie except it was more subtle as the guy simply said ‘so you’ve seen the film then?’ in a tone that suggested that he assumed I was new to the Avengers and was judging me.

I'm not exaggerating any of these things. There's a danger that when you voice your frustrations and describe negative experiences that those who haven't had those experiences don't quite believe you or assume that because their experiences are positive then surely it must be the same for everyone else.

I will only go to those shops that have historically treated me and other women and other new comic fans well. In London I will always always ALWAYS Gosh Comics and Orbital as I have been treated well in both those places. And when I am up north I will always visit Travelling Man because those are my favourite comic shops on earth and I find them incredibly accessible and welcoming for all types of comic fans. If I have a bad experience in a comic shop, I don't go back. 

Comic shops are intimidating spaces and I completely understand why people new to comics, especially women and girls don’t want to visit them and would rather purchase from traditional and more accessible places like bookshops or access them through libraries. 

Just like record shops, guitar shops, bike shops, there’s an awful lot of pressure to feel knowledgeable before you even step foot through the door. Good shops will be welcoming and accessible for everyone. Bad shops will not give a shit about you.

I no longer visit the comic shops that are shit. They obviously don’t want my money and even though it’s sad when comic shops go out of business, I hope they fail and I hope the good ones prosper. They do exist!