Clichés in Fantasy Storytelling: Prophecies

Clichéd storytelling, man. It freaks me out.

It reoccurs in many films and books throughout many cultures around the world and we’re usually quite satisfied with the final product.

Specifically I’m speaking about any kind of prophecies that are placed in the film in order to actually make the story a story. Yes, there are films and books whose stories rely entirely upon a prophecy. Without the prophecy there would be no need for a story and as such no way for the masses to consume. Prophecies are a big part of fantasy stories. One is almost to expect them to appear in one way or another in the story as they seem almost like common practice for the genre.

Some of these clichéd points are done either really well or really awful. Or they’re hidden well enough that when one considers how the rest of the story is portrayed, the cliché is forgiveable.

In my eyes, writing in a prophecy is no different than writing a deus ex machina for the ending of the story. The only difference is that a prophecy gives the writer the rest of the story to set up the crap-shoot of an ending to make the prophecy make sense. In contrast, the deus ex machina will simply resolve it by some bizarre fashion (or groan-worthy moment).

I think of it like writing during NaNoWriMo: if someone decides to make a story for the month, they plug away at it and when they don’t know how to end it, the deus ex comes in and saves the story.

Alternatively, if someone doesn’t really know how to end their story properly because they “just need to write X amount of words,” putting a prophecy in at the beginning makes the ending fall into place easier.

But it’s strange. We’ve all shook our heads to clichéd storytelling at one time or another, yet we let some stories get away with it more than others. For example, films like The Fifth Element and Lord of the Rings (we’ll go with the film version for LotR simply to make it easier) both use cliché storytelling models and we’re (well, I am) mostly okay with it.

The Fifth Element is self-aware and tongue-in-cheek regarding its central prophecy (that a Fifth Element will save the world), and it is established at the beginning of the movie. The story itself is a wild one, filled with nods to other science-fiction films and stories, while kind of really making the prophecy the central point of the movie – it became fun and was purposefully clichéd.

If your prophecy includes Chris Tucker, I'm instantly hooked.
If your prophecy includes Chris Tucker, I’m instantly hooked.

While one easily argue that The Fifth Element is rather trite with its story, it still reeks of fan-service to its audience that (in my opinion) out-weighs the stories short-comings regarding the cliché of prophecies.

In the Lord of the Rings film, it is established early on that the sword that cut off Sauron’s finger which bore the ring is needed to quell Sauron’s forces. Only Aragorn, if he fulfills the prophecy of returning to the throne by wielding the sword, can he help defeat Sauron’s evil.

This cliché feels a bit more laxed as there are multiple stories happening within the film, so as a viewer, it is not the central story to the movie. It’s a bit of a passable cliché solely because it’s not involving a main character – or at least one that hasn’t become a main character yet from the storytelling and audience’s perspective.

Then we have The Matrix. One character, Morpheus, passes the prophecy onto our main character, Neo. Then the viewer is dragged along for another two movies as the prophecy is continually shoved into our face with more philosophy than action (I should take this time to say I actually enjoyed the Matrix trilogy. However, I have to be critical for reasons of this discussion). The prophecy, from the beginning, becomes the heart of the movie and in-turn, is all the movie is trying to resolve – Neo fulfilling his destiny/ancient prophecy told by the elders.

"If I'm the Chosen One, does that mean I get to keep this spoon?"
“If I’m the Chosen One, does that mean I get to keep this spoon?”

Now that I’ve ripped on three major films regarding this topic, let me redirect the focus to something a bit more constructive.

Let’s look at Star Wars and how these films deal with prophecies.

A long time ago in a prophecy far, far away. . .

Starting in order of appearance, we have the Original Trilogy (OT) – episodes IV: A New Hope, V: The Empire Strikes Back, and VI: Return of the Jedi – which do not really deal with prophecies much at all. Then we have the Prequel films – episodes I: The Phantom Menace, II: Attack of the Clones, and III: Revenge of the Sith – which is all about the prophecy of “the Chosen One” (to clarify, I’m not referring to this chosen one).

That’s not to say that there are not prophecy-like instances in the OT.

What I would like to try and show here (and is essentially my thesis) is that the way in which Star Wars presented prophecies is what I think, one of the better ways to tell a story involving prophecies.

Now let’s drive right in and talk this one out.

Within the OT, we have the traditional fantasy story of a young hero out to save a princess and fight the forces of evil. Within that fantasy is the all-powerful Force: a mystical power that binds everything together and can be used for good or evil. As the story moves on into episodes V and VI, it unfolds to finding out that the villain is the hero’s father (spoiler) and that it is up to the hero to save him and defeat evil once and for all.

"Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure  up my stolen dank mix tapes."
“Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up my stolen dank mix tapes.”

That is a very bare-bones summary of the OT, but I think it works when trying to discuss prophecies. There was a mention about an “ancient religion” by Admiral Motti in A New Hope, and villain Darth Vader does proclaim, “Luke it is your destiny,” in The Empire Strikes Back when it came to trying to convince Luke to join him.

But that was really all that stood out regarding prophecies. The OT films did not rely on prophecies to make the story work and rarely alluded to them as well. There is mention of the Force in all three of the OT films, but it is not tied to a prophecy at all. The Force just “is.” Most people agree that the OT films are the best ones because of acting, action, effects, and so on. However, they may not be aware of it – but it could be because of the lack of clichéd prophecies within the fantasy world too.

But let’s look at the prequels.

“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this. . . boy [Anakin]?” asks Mace Windu in The Phantom Menance.

In Revenge of the Sith:
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Is he [Anakin] not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?”
Mace Windu: “So the prophecy says.”
Yoda: “A prophecy that misread could have been.”

“You [Anakin] were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness!” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Revenge of the Sith

The very vague prophecy is implied in little bits in the prequel films but is never fully explored or explained. We know that the prophecy revolves around Anakin Skywalker who will eventually become Darth Vader and kill his master, Emperor Palpatine. We know this because the OT came out thirty years before the prequels did. Anything that happened in the prequels was not really a surprise at all.

Can you see what I’m getting at here?

In the prequel films, we’re told that a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, may be the one to bring balance to the Force. The audience already knows that the prophecy gets fulfilled with Darth Vader, so the prophecy comes to no surprise.

Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace even takes the “mystical” out of the Force by putting science into the Force – and as such – into the prophecy. By describing midi-chlorians and how Anakin has the most of them out of any known Force-user grounds the prophecy to something more tangible rather than speculation. Anakin is the Chosen One because, damn it, he has the most midi-chlorians! That, and because the audience knows he becomes Darth Vader!

It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! I mean, I think I heard that somewhere. I, uh, I'm sure that's what it said!
“It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! I mean, I think I heard that somewhere. I, uh, I’m sure that’s what it said!”

What the prequels do WELL regarding the prophecy cliché is not try to let it become the story. While in The Matrix, there was the story of Neo being the Chosen One. In Star Wars we’re not forced to watch the path of Anakin become the Chosen One because we already know what happens and that he is the Chosen One. In a way, the prophecy is spoiled for the viewer before the prophecy is even brought up in the movie. He still has to bring balance to the Force? Well we knew all the Jedi were going to die and already know that Vader kills Palpatine. The viewer knows how the prophecy is fulfilled already.

The prophecy in the Star Wars prequel films are used as a plot device – a catalyst, if anything – to show the audience the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader – not the story of Anakin Skywalker doing thing-X and something-Y to fulfill a prophecy to conclude the story. The prophecy, first mentioned in Episode I, is used to kick-start the story of Anakin for two more films. But the prophecy is not central or really that important to the rest of the story. The prophecy is in the background being unimportant as the rest of the movies move on. The audience is reminded in little bits, such as with the quotes I’ve posted above about the prophecy, but that’s about it. No one is concerned about the prophecy because the movie isn’t concerned with it. The prophecy and even its origin is not explored any further or delved into any deeper than what it is at face value to the audience. And you know, it works.

While I could see an argument how the prophecy in the Star Wars prequels is kind of like a deus ex machina at the BEGINNING of the movie, it still is not the primary focus of the prequel films, and as such, Star Wars as a whole.

Whoopty doo!! What does it all mean, Basil?!

If the Star Wars prequels did anything right, it was how it handled prophecies within a fantasy world. Midi-chlorians aside, the prequels put the prophecy on the back burner and focused on the characters and actions within the film – the prophecy only being mentioned to remind the viewer that there was a reason why Qui-Gon Jinn died.

But how can a writer get away with clichéd storytelling when they want to write about fantasy or prophecies in general?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and I think I have a decent answer thanks to the Star Wars prequels. While one can go through great pains to avoid cliché prophecies, I’ve considered that holding off to explain a prophecy may be best until the world is built around it first.

Promo poster for The Phantom Menace. Spoiler Alert: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. But we already knew that, didn't we? It was not because of some prophecy in the storytelling.
Promo poster for The Phantom Menace. Spoiler Alert: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. But we already knew that, didn’t we? It was not because of some prophecy in the storytelling.

Look at it this way: I feel the prophecy worked in the Star Wars prequels because we already had three established films with the OT. When the prophecy is first mentioned in the prequels, the audience is generally fine with it as they understand the world and what’s to come with the character the prophecy is alluding to.

While I’m not saying one should spoil the ending of their story at the beginning solely to let a prophecy flow nicely and not feel clichéd, as a writer or author, you can keep that tool in mind to craft something much more genuine and unique. It would be something where it requires a lot of planning, but as a result, one would have a more fulfilled fantasy world with a rich and diverse setting and a deeper understanding to why there is a prophecy and how it is believable, rather than adding in a prophecy solely to get a character from Point A to Point B.

Establishing a prophecy at the beginning of a story simply to let the character go through the motions of fulfilling it makes for a clichéd – and boring – story. However, to establish a prophecy within the world without overtly telling the audience about it is key to a good writer and good storytelling.

Hulk smash prophecies

Here’s another case: I’ve recently re-read Greg Pak’s run on The Incredible Hulk with the story Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Long story short, the Hulk is sent to another planet called Sakarr and is enslaved to fight in a gladiatorial arena. After a few victories, the peasants of the planet begin to see how strong he is and how he could be Sakarrson – the one to free the people of Sakaar. At the same time, the ruler of the planet and host to the gladiator arena, the Red King, has already been considered to be the Sakarrson by the people of Sakarr.

So the Hulk – and the reader – is forced into a story and onto a planet where a prophecy was already established before any of them got there. The Hulk is learning of the prophecy along with the reader. It feels natural because the prophecy has already been fulfilled – in this case by the Red King.

PSA: Surf boards are not adequate shields.
PSA: Surf boards are not adequate shields.

While the prophecy is established early on within the story like that in The Matrix or Lord of the Rings, it comes along as a natural occurrence because it is not forced upon the reader by an obvious means.

Writing Fantasy is hard

When it comes to writing about prophecies, it certainly requires some major thinking and reworking of a story in order to avoid the cliché and come up with something that is engaging for audiences.

However, I feel like it should be said again: cliché storytelling is not bad at all. It’s quite common and works a lot of the times such as with the examples of The Fifth Element and Lord of the Rings. What stings is that within fantasy realm, the cliché can be overused. As the term cliché implies, it’s a failure of originality. Once one sees enough prophecy clichés, it becomes a bit tiresome.

When a prophecy does not fall under a cliché, there is excitement and zest that comes with the story that can be felt by the reader – and more importantly – the writer.

Admittedly, I’m critical about these sorts of things. I partly blame watching nearly every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but also the fact that I’m an author myself really strikes a nerve.

Once upon a time I wrote something without using clichés. The Distomos is not one of them.
Once upon a time I wrote something without using clichés. The Distomos is not one of them.

While my book, The Distomos, avoids using prophecies like the plague, it is still a challenge to create a world that is unique and engaging for the reader to enjoy. On one hand, it’s part of the job as being a writer. On the other, it’s part of the challenge I want to give myself when creating something for the masses. I did not want to create another clone of what other people have read or seen before. I wanted to create something different and cool for readers.

But I know even I fell into some clichés while writing my story. Sometimes they are unavoidable. But like The Fifth Element or Lord of the Rings, it’s important to have something engaging for the audiences. Not only will they enjoy the story more, but it may also help them not notice the little missteps or care to critique them (See: me regarding The Fifth Element).

But am I on the right track with these ideas? Am I being too critical on The Matrix and not enough on Star Wars? What are your thoughts on clichés in fantasy? Forgiveable or dangerous? Sound off below and let me know what you think!

If not, grab a cup a tea and start writing!

Keep on Space Truckin’!

About that new Mary Jane Watson

In case you’re unaware, there’s a new Spider-Man movie coming out! It features Tom Holland as Spider-Man, an actor you’re probably now most familiar with since seeing him in Captain America: Civil War.

Since the set up of Spider-Man in Civil War, the audience got a bit of a taste on what to expect for the new Spider-Man movie, scheduled to be released in 2017. What some people weren’t ready for were the casting choices.

Since this is the third reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise, all of the characters were to be recast. Of all of the casting choices, having Zendaya Coleman cast as Mary Jane Watson – Peter Parker’s girlfriend/eventual wife – caused a bit of an unexpected uproar.

Mary Jane's first appearance.
Mary Jane’s first appearance. Her actual person would not be revealed for another 17 issues.

Personally, I never had heard of Zendaya before the casting announcement. And to be honest, I still really don’t know who she is. A quick IMDB search shows she’s been in a lot of Disney stuff, but that’s about it. I’ve never seen her act as I don’t have cable, Netflix, or watch any Disney television shows. I was going in blind upon hearing the casting announcement.

When I heard of the casting choice through ComicBookResources, I saw a picture of her and moved on with my life. It was another actress hired in another role. I’m excited for the outcome but cannot pass any judgment on an actress whom I’ve never seen work before.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction from some Spider-Man fans.

Over social media, some Spidey fans cried out about the casting choice saying Zendaya is not what they want in their Mary Jane. I know this because I bore witness to this outcry on a friends’ Facebook page:

Comment3

Is it that hard to understand that the colour of someone’s skin does not have to be the definition of a character? Mary Jane being a Caucasian redhead was never really an integral part of Mary Jane. Sure, she was nicknamed “Red,” but if she was blond, it could’ve easily been “Blondie.” Either way, a nickname that a writer creates for a character is not an integral part of that character.

In fact, all of the physical attributes this person on Facebook makes are solely based on the physical appearance of Mary Jane – not who she is as a person. From no storylines can I recall how her skin, eye colour, or hair colour were important to the story. She’s not Medusa from the Inhumans. Mary Jane’s hair isn’t that important to the character, let alone the colour of it.

And spoiler alert: hair can be dyed.

Comment2

Is it racial diversity or is Zendaya just a good actress? Mary Jane can be whomever she is cast as. Skin colour doesn’t define the role. The written characterization, the actress doing her job, and the storytelling is what defines Mary Jane.

Comment4

How does Zendaya not fit the character? The movie isn’t even out yet. There’s prejudice in these words as they make assumptions without any base to support them.

Comment5

Is it really that your fandom is being changed? Or is it that your “picture” of Mary Jane is being changed because we’re no longer in the 1960’s and people of different backgrounds and colour are finally starting to get equal representation in the comic book medium?

As of late, Marvel has made some major strides to become all-encompassing with their characters. Thor is now a woman, Jane Foster; Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American named Kamala Khan; Amadeus Cho is the Korean-American Hulk; Riri Williams – a black woman – is going to be the new Iron Man named Ironheart, and let’s not forget Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

The comic book industry is shaking up and changing in some major ways. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a lot of the major comic book characters we all know and love were created in the 60’s and 70’s when minorities did not have a voice in the comic book medium. Strides were being taken, such as Storm’s introduction in ’75, or Luke Cage in ’72, but arguably neither of those characters are “big league” characters like Captain America or Thor. But now we have a Luke Cage TV series coming out soon and the Black Panther movie is slated to come out in 2018.

It’s a changing landscape and it’s wonderful that it’s happening. But when Marvel takes a character like Mary Jane and change the colour of her skin, suddenly it’s the biggest deal on the planet?

Twitter1

Right, because Martin Luther King is a fictional character. . .

Twitter3

Hrrrrrnnnngggghhhhh.

Twitter2

That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy of it all.

Look, if you’re freaking out over the colour of someone’s skin because your fictional character no longer looks the same, then you haven’t been enjoying that character as a character. You’ve enjoyed their looks and therefore never really cared about the character at all.
Think about it.

Agree or disagree? Let’s chat in the comment section below.

Pokémon GO & Growing Up as a Nerd in the 90’s

With the new release of Pokémon Go seemingly affecting everyone’s lives and social media platforms (which arguably are the same thing to some folk), it always surprises me when I see something from my childhood come back into the mainstream. That’s not to say Pokémon ever went away. There are still new movies, new toys, and of course the online sensation known as TwitchPlaysPokémon which went all over the news which also introduced lots of people to the streaming service Twitch. This also happened with the Twitch Bob Ross marathon, but I digress.

I grew up in the 90s. I was born in the mid-80s, letting me absorb the cool TV shows that survived the end of the 80’s era: GI Joe, Transformers, Dino Riders, and Denver the Last Dinosaur were only a few of the many shows that trickled over into the 90s with me.

I was pretty obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. I wanted to be a palaeontologist when I was in grade three and wrote cool stories featuring both dinosaurs and Transformers in my English classes. Why I never considered just writing about the Dinobots – I’ll never know. I collected rocks and went through the gravel in neighbours driveways to look at the imprints of trilobites or plants within them. It was really fascinating to me.

Ah, my first comic book.
Ah, my first comic book.

In the early-90s, I stumble across a animated TV show called The X-Men on FOX Kids. There was also Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Tick, and a short-lived Hulk series that I also enjoyed. I picked up my first comic book, X-Men #36, in 1994 when I visited a local convenience store. I recognized Sabretooth from the cartoon. The book also featured Jubilee – who I also knew from the show – as well as having a gatefold cover which caught me up with what was going on in the series. I recognized a lot of the X-Men on there. I felt like I was in the loop!

Coming to the mid-90s, some kids my mom babysat brought over this three-part movie series on VHS called “Star Wars.” Needless to say, that changed my life in a dramatic fashion. No longer did I want to dig up old dinosaur bones: I wanted to fly into space, maybe meet the Shi’ar Empire, fly an X-Wing, and so on. You know, the usual stuff kids dream about doing.

But as with everything, there comes a price.

I was a scrawny kid. I had asthma, acne, allergies – the works. All I ever wanted to do was talk about Star Wars and read comic books. It’s quite typical to look back and think that’s all kids in the 90’s wanted to do. If they weren’t doing that, they were playing video games. Let’s not forget that great pastime. I especially played the non-sport games or popular games from franchises. NHL series? Nope. Zelda? No time! At least Super Mario? I certainly played those games to death but would easily prefer games on a different “console” – the PC. SimCity 2000? Totally. X-Wing? I still have all five floppy discs! Command and Conquer? My ion cannon was ready!

While everything I wrote above gives you a good idea to what kind of kid I was, it was definitely not considered “the norm.”

I remember in grade seven on May 4th (years before the “Star Wars Day” even existed), my grade seven teacher wrote on the chalkboard “May the Fourth be With You.” I distinctly remember arriving early to class that day before both the teacher and the majority of my fellow classmates came in. I saw those words on the board, and I nearly cried in embarrassment. I ran up to the chalk board and erased everything that was written. I went back to my seat while the few other students didn’t say anything about my actions. When class started and the teacher arrived, she asked why her message was erased. Once I was ousted as the culprit, she asked me why I did what I did. I shyly shrugged my shoulders. She was good enough to accept the answer and move on with the day.

She understood why I did it: I was picked on a lot as a kid. Star Wars wasn’t cool. I wasn’t into the same things the rest of the students were: MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV), WWF, sports, hanging out with each other after school. . . it just wasn’t me. While I did participate in after-school sports, I considered “cool” enough by my peers for a variety of other reasons. I still had no idea what music they were talking about, what movies they went to see together, and what games they were playing. I had my own world with my own interests.

I was often bullied and usually made fun of for my indulgence of the things I enjoyed. However, I eventually became a bit numb to it and ended up wearing it like a badge of honour. In my grade eight yearbook, my nickname was “Star Wars Fan” as the teacher opted not to have “Freak” put into the book. Good call, grade eight teacher. Good call.

1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.
1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.

So you can see how looking upon the fads now, I’m a bit surprised by how popular all of these things are. While sure, Star Wars is definitely one of, if not, the most popular film franchise of all time, there was a period when it was completely not cool to like it. I know that because I lived it.

With Return of the Jedi’s release in 1983, there was no new Star Wars until 1999. That’s a long period of time for something to be removed from popularity. While the 1997 Special Edition release brought the series back into the spotlight my fellow peers didn’t care, but my excitement and intensity over the films only increased. Newer toys were being released which I bought up with my paper route money.

I remember trying to talk to someone in my grade eight class about a few toys I had purchased. Their response? “You could’ve used that money to buy a car.” I was laughed at by a few of the other students. I was thirteen. Star Wars was what made me happy. I’m sorry I didn’t watch Party of Five or 90210. I was busy watching Nova on PBS. Besides, I wasn’t even old enough to drive.

Even as I began to discover music, I found myself starting to enjoy both progressive rock and heavy metal. It was complex stuff that shunned away the masses but really drew me in. As with heavy metal music, it is a purposeful insular culture that gives the middle finger to the establishment. And for me, that establishment was the two Catholic schools I attended and the rest of the people who didn’t understand me.

By that time as well, I was in high school and I had stumbled across a PC game called StarCraft. Even to this day, I watch professional StarCraft as my “sport” of choice. I don’t and never have followed popular sports. But I do follow the eSports scene.

Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.
Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.

With all that being said, you can imagine seeing the rise in popularity of comic books, their respective movies, and other nerd culture being highlighted in the media – how someone like me can feel a bit overwhelmed and if not sometimes feeling like a bit of a shut in.

However, now some friends and family will come to me to ask me questions about comic book character X, or ask me about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or Legends as it’s now called). Suddenly the ridicule for the things I enjoyed for the first sixteen years of my life was to be forgotten: my interests were in the spotlight and as collateral had it, so was I.

But I wasn’t, and still at times, am not ready for it. It’s just seems strange to see people freak out over Pokémon Go now when I still talked about Pokémon exclusively with my younger brother when I was in grade ten because I didn’t know anyone else who was interested in it (shortly after I found, and still have, some long-time and close friends who I can nerd out with). Even look at the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Kickstarter that BROKE records. While I am super happy for MSTies everywhere, it was only myself and two other friends who watched the show religiously, making it a surprise for me to see the revival actually happening. How didn’t I know so many other people liked it? Where were these people in my life growing up?

Now when the big comic book movies hit the theaters, I’m allowed to be myself in public and indulge in the culture I was once made fun of for indulging in before. When I’m at work, I’ll see a customer with a comic book movie shirt on and talk to them about it. They may not be fans of the comic books, but that’s okay! It’s great to finally be able to have the conversation without getting made fun of.

I'm actually level 15 now.
I’m actually level 15 now.

As irony would have it, I was out playing Pokémon Go with a friend the other night. We were only two out of about 150 people in the downtown core playing at a couple of close proximity Pokéstops. Five kids, I’m guessing ages 7 to 10, rolled up next to us on their scooters and bikes, looking out to the crowd of 15-35 year olds playing Pokémon Go. Their response? “Pokémon Go is THIS popular? What a bunch of losers!” they said out loud.

While everyone ignored them, my friend and I laughed as they rode away in disbelief. It was certainly something wonderful to see that despite all of the diversity and ridicule one may have had growing up, I looked out upon this group of Pokémon Go’ers and felt right at home.

In another instance this week, I spoke with a lady in her late-forties and joked with her about the game – not revealing that I play it. She said, in all-seriousness, “If I catch my son playing the game, I’ll kick his ass.” Her son, she admitted, is twenty-seven years old. Fortunately I was mature enough to simply let the conversation bounce off of me and not feel concerned about what she thought (and unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to correct her at the time).

So in one instance there’s a mother bullying people younger than her over the game, while in another instance those young kids who looked down upon my friend and I would’ve been the same kids to do that to me when I was their age.

While some things will never change and crappy kids and adults will always exist – one thing is for certain, if not a bit clichéd: enjoying what you do – regardless of popularity – is important. Life does get better.

Remember my grade seven teacher who wrote “May the 4th be With You” on the chalk board? Later in the day she did come to me in private before recess and apologized for unintentionally offending me. She knew how I felt and it was really one of the only times in my grade school years I felt someone outside of my family actually get what I was going through. I know this because here I am in 2016 still remembering that very simple gesture from all those years ago. I can only hope that more people are like that to children today. Empathy is a wonderful thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch some Pokémon with some friends.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Getting Your Book Signed: Good Move or Bad Idea?

Collecting comics can be a pretty fun, if not costly hobby. It requires keeping up with current market prices as well as the know-how of what makes a quality book.

A lot of that weighs heavily on the cover. Having an original, un-restored version of the book cover is important, along with it having vibrant colours. Also having a cover fully intact improves the overall price of a book.

But what about when a creator signs a book? What happens then?

Surely if you have a copy of Jack Kirby and Captain America #1, you’d be sitting on a goldmine, right? What about a copy of Showcase #22 featuring a signature from Gil Kane?

Chances are actually, the book would be worth less.

Before you start shouting at the screen or balling your eyes out, let’s find out why – and see if you can do anything about it.

A lot of this hooplah about the quality of the book degrading over a signature can be somewhat blamed on the company, the Certified Grading Company, or the CGC. For a more in depth synopsis of the CGC, check out what I wrote about them in the past.

CGC Hulk 340

But if you wish to keep reading, I’ll make it simple: the CGC is considered the best of the best when it comes to grading comic books, magazines, cards, and many other types of relatively-flat, printed collectibles. If you get your book graded by the CGC, chances are the price of your book can increase by a small or large margin.

Considering there are a lot of scams within the comic book collecting hobby, the CGC are considered the best place to go to get the “truth” behind a comic book. Through their grading process, they have experts in restoration check to make sure the book is in its original form. From there, they will go through the entire book to guarantee the book is up to par and not missing any pages. At the end of the evaluation, they assign a grade on the book from .5 (Poor), to 10 (Gen Mint).

The CGC will then put the book in a transparent case along with a coloured label to tell the viewer what kind of book they are looking at. Blues are the most common as they represent basic, graded books. A Purple banner means the book has been restored, while a Gold banner means it has an authentic signature.

While I could write different stories about the other banners (which you can read in the blog I made about them), it is the Gold banner we’ll be focusing on. The Gold banner stands for the “Signature Series.”

Because the CGC has become a staple in the grading process, the general comic collecting community has agreed (somewhat – but that’s also a whole other article for another day) that what the CGC says is authentic, and so the books should be sold as such.

For example, if you have a non-CGC graded book (or an “unslabbed” book), it may only be worth $50. However, if you get your book slabbed, it may suddenly be seen as $100, or even more. That’s great news, no?

But with signatures, it gets tricky.

If you say, have a copy of Captain America #1 signed by Jack Kirby before his death in 1994, you cannot submit it for a Gold banner to the CGC. Even if you have photos or video of the event happening, they will not consider it for the Signature Series. This is because a CGC representative was not present at the time of the signing.

I hope you see where I’m going with this.

To receive a Gold banner for the Signature Series, a CGC representative must be present to witness the signature. Nowadays, CGC goes to just about every major comic book convention. It’s great money for them to do it. If you get a book signed by Neal Adams or Stan Lee with CGC present, they’ll grant you the Signature Series banner. But CGC only began in 2000, with their Signature Series starting in 2001.

Any books prior to 2001 cannot be submitted for the Signature Series as a CGC representative would not have been present – let alone the company was even around then.

That being said, you can set up a CGC-approved witness for a signing by contacting the company.

CGC Buffy

So let’s get back to the slabbing of the book.

For unslabbed books with a signature, the books are considered – to many collectors – not valuable, solely because there is no guarantee who signed it. Even if you have videos, pictures, and a great story to go along with it, CGC set the standard to signature books. A collector may be hesitant to purchase a book even if you provide the proof. This is only because in their minds, they may be aware of the CGC “standards” of the comic collecting industry.

So if an unslabbed book is worth $50, and slabbed it’s $100, surely a Signature Series book will increase the value even more, right?

Yet again, I’m poised to say the answer is both yes and no.

Why it may increase in value: a signed book that is authenticated by the CGC is considered more valuable than a signed book that is not authenticated. The reason is that CGC guarantees the book was signed by the signer. There’s no if, ands, or buts about it. They guarantee the collector (or buyer) that the signature is real, and thus it would not depreciate the price of the book. They guarantee the signature is not just a “scribble.” It’s actually proven to be signed by Jim Lee!

On why it’s not increased in value: sometimes you get buyers who do not want a signature on a book – that it “ruins” the artwork on the cover. Even if CGC authorized the signature, it still may not be what the buyer wants. Effectively, that signature may have just shunned away a potential buyer.

Keep this all in mind if you’re a collector and are considering having someone sign your comic book.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Sound off below! Or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram! And indeed, keep on Space Truckin’!

Comic Collecting and Price Jumps!

I was visiting one of my local flea markets recently and stumbled across a copy of X-Factor #6 from 1986. This book has some significance as it is the first full appearance of Apocalypse.

I saw it bagged and boarded on the wall at this particular flea market without a price. It had a sticker on the bag stating the comic was “NM.” (For those unfamiliar with the grading system, NM stands for “Near Mint” and represents a 9.4/10 when it comes to grading quality).

I asked the gentleman who ran the booth what he was asking for it. He had the price tucked in-behind the book because, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If regular people around here saw what these books went for, they’d get stolen from me.”

He lifted the book from the wall and revealed the price.

$120 (Canadian, by the way).

I was a bit shocked at the price. But before I move on, let’s backtrack a bit here.

XFactor 6

If it wasn’t obvious from this website already: I collect old comics. It’s a serious hobby of mine, and yes, it’s an expensive one. I love to go to shows and seek out the best deals on books: to compare prices, grades, quality, and experiences with other collectors.

While I’m big on finding old Horror and/or Atomic Age books, I have a particularly personal investment with Marvel books – especially the X-Men related books.

So when I see something X-related and the price surprises me, flags go off in my head. Why is the price the way it is? Why would someone charge so much for this book? I knew the NM price from the Comic Book Price Guide: around $50. Why was this price so inflated?

Of course, there’s the newest X-Men movie: X-Men: Apocalypse. But does that mean the price can fluctuate that high?

Well, yes and no.

Demand for the book would dictate the price. While I’m not at every convention or following all of the prices for every book out there, it seems as if recent demand has suggested the price of X-Factor #6 to inflate to a surprisingly high price.

However, the book’s sudden inflation is solely based around the movie. The book is actually quite common and may only be “up” for the short people that the movie is around.

It’s not as if movies transform viewers into readers either.

I remember when Iron Man 2 was released in theaters, I saw these numbers on The Beat:

02/10 Invincible Iron Man #23 – 50,027
03/10 Invincible Iron Man #24 – 49,239 ( -1.6%)
04/10 Invincible Iron Man #25 – 73,694 (+49.7%)
Iron Man 2 is released.
05/10 Invincible Iron Man #26 – 53,625 (-27.2%)
06/10 Invincible Iron Man #27 – 52,268 ( -2.5%)
07/10 Invincible Iron Man #28 – 48,690 ( -6.8%)
08/10 Invincible Iron Man #29 – 49,012 ( +0.7%)

Iron Man 2 Movie Poster

Now I had blogged based on these numbers when the movie came out all those years ago. But as you can see, there was no major influx of readers because of the movie.

That all being said, Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon are friggen’ rock stars now, so who knows?

What I do know from collecting comics is that prices can be quite drastic when they rise and fall. While X-Factor #6 may even be considered a “steal” at $120, I personally do not think it would be a great investment for down the line.

But don’t take my word for it. Am I the be-all to end-all dictator of comic pricing?

Not yet.

Questions? Concerns? More questions? Ask away! Or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram! Until then, keep on Space Truckin’!

Six Tips to Buying Comics at a Comic Book Convention

ta Comic collecting can be a very demanding hobby. Not only is it difficult to keep up with prices and to find the best deal, but it’s important to know that you’re not getting ripped off. When in a comic book convention especially, things can seem hectic and you can feel pressured into something you did not feel comfortable with in the first place. Here’s a personal, if not, embarrassing story that happened to me when I first started collecting.

I saw X-Men #66 – the last issue of the series before it went into reprints – for a meager $20 at a local Comic Convention. The Comic Book Price Guide suggested a near mint (graded at a 9.2) copy of the book would go for $240.

I asked the retailer to take the book down and give it to me. I looked over the cover in the bag and couldn’t believe the price. The quality of the book was pristine. But there was no mistaking it as there was a big two inch by two inch $20 sticker right on the front of the bag the book was in.

X-Men 66

Realizing the great deal I was getting, I paid the man for the book and went on my way. It wasn’t until I got home did I see what had happened.

Had I opened the bag and pulled the book out I would have noticed that behind the large $20 sticker was a corner of the book that was obviously torn off and taped back on by the retailer. The sticker was covering up the defect! I was had! Or was I?

Let’s just say I had learned my lesson. As the years went on, I picked up on some other tricks about collecting comics at conventions. Here’s how you can guarantee to not fall under the same trap I fell into.

Open the Bag

Reading my story, it’s obvious that opening the bag should be the number one thing you do when you’re checking a book for quality. Whether it’s in a bargain bin or on the retailer’s wall, open the bag up and look at the cover. Check for defects and make sure the cover is all in one piece. Look at the staples, look at the vibrancy of the cover, and check for creases, tears, or touch ups. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, ask the retailer to open the bag for you for you to look at.

They’re trying to make a sale, so they are more than willing to let you nitpick over the book. You want to make sure that you’re paying for what you’re getting. Even ask them questions about that book’s history: who owned it beforehand? Was it touched up? Are all of the pages intact?

Open the Book

Another early collecting story of mine is when I picked up a copy of Fantastic Four #45 – the first appearance of the Inhumans and Black Bolt. While the cover was alright, I purchased the book and went through it later when I was at home. As I looked inside, there were clippings from the mail-away advertisements missing. So while the cover makes up the majority of the price, the interior of the book must also be in good condition to make the value. While you have the book out of the bag, by all means, flip through the pages of your potential investment.

House of Secrets 92

Don’t be a Booth Bum

Most Comic Conventions have more than one retailer. By all means, look at them all before you purchase your book. You can save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by being vigilant and checking/comparing prices from the various vendors.

Know What You’re Looking For

Go to these conventions with a goal in mind. If you’re looking for House of Secrets #92 featuring the first appearance of Swamp-Thing, know what the general prices are before going into the convention. Check out the Comic Book Price Guide and try to memorize the numbers. The book is often considered as the Bible to what book prices should be. You should never aim to pay more than what the book is asking.

Alternatively, you can use it as a reference guide to pricing and to help you find the version of the book in your budget. A good quality (CGC 2.0) version of House of Secrets #92 goes for around $50 according to the Guide. However, a near mint copy can start around $1200. However, you may find a vendor only asking $1000 for a 9.2 graded copy of the book – or maybe they’re asking $1300. The purchase is your call.

The Guide is NOT the Bible

Allow me to be contradictory for a moment. According to the Comic Book Price Guide, a near mint version of The Walking Dead #1 should be $800. However, it has been recorded beyond the Guide that the book can easily sell for $1500 or more.

While the Guide offers a great reference point to both retailers and collectors, the market can fluctuate the prices of books dramatically. For example: if someone wanted to pay $1500 for that quality copy of The Walking Dead, chances are the next book will sell for $1600, or $170.! Maybe even $2000! It’s important to do some additional research before you jump into the thick of collecting. You may just be in for a surprise when the book you want is surprisingly out of reach.

Iron Man 55

Plan Ahead

Think about a book and WHY it should increase in value. For example, we’re already two Thor movies in with a third one on the way. While a villain for the third film hasn’t been announced yet, it’s been heavily rumoured for years that The Enchantress will be making an appearance in the Thor series.

It’s probably best to buy Journey Into Mystery #103 where she makes her first appearance BEFORE she gets put into a movie. What if she never gets put into the film? The book will rarely ever depreciate in value, so it’s best to get a head start before everyone else.

I’ve always wanted to buy Iron Man #55 as I love Thanos. Iron Man #55 has his first appearance and before The Avengers movie hit theaters, it was heavily rumoured that Thanos was going to appear.

I’ve always stalled on buying the book – where a near mint copy would go anywhere from $20-$75 before the film was released. Once it came out, the book skyrocketed to over $800 at some conventions. A missed opportunity there.

Lessons Learned

You’ll never be 100% flawless from buying comics at conventions. There will be some point where you’ll get burned on price or realize the book you should’ve bought was at another vendor: it’s part of the comic collecting experience! It’s important to learn from your past mistakes, much like I have and blogged about that X-Men #66 experience before.

Nowadays, I do my best to stay vigilant and look for certain opportunities when they arrive! I once grabbed a near mint copy of Uncanny X-Men #266 – the first appearance of Gambit – in a dollar bin. The book could’ve easily went for $60+. But I knew what I was looking for and knew the prices. Not all vendors are perfect, you know! However, if it seems like too good of a deal – it may just be that price for a reason (but that Uncanny X-Men #266 went to me for $5 and it was sincerely in near mint condition – the retailer’s fault)!

So the moral of the story is to be prepared when going to a Comic Convention! If you do have any questions about collecting, ask away or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram!! And keep on Space Truckin’!

That Time I Was Lady Jaye

For the past few months, I’ve been reading articles, reading blog posts, seeing images, having some conversations, and reading some status updates from friends and family – mostly all on “the Facebook,” mind you – regarding what really defines masculinity and how the whole feminism movement is “ruining” whatever it is people are finding it ruin. I can see what all the hooplah is about though: men are suddenly getting pulled out of their comfort zones – being confronted with the sudden realization that “what makes a man” can be based on societal expectations. Uh oh, SpaghettiOs.

While I think we could talk for eons about the whole subject, I felt like sharing something that I hope would bring up a discussion of how the world can be full of expectations when it comes to defining roles and how it is really isn’t a norm.

Get this awesome patch here.
One of the things I saw on Social Media. Get this awesome patch here.

Once upon a time – and this may be hard to believe – but I was younger than I am now. It was the early nineties and I was busy watching cartoons with my closest friend and brother. Cartoons such as X-Men, Transformers, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and so on. When we weren’t doing that, we’d play games on our Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Bros. 2, Guerilla War, Clash at Demonhead, Blades of Steel, BurgerTime, and many more.

Sometimes we’d find ways to incorporate the video games into our imaginative world of pretend play. We’d re-enact games like Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge by playing the game, then running around as an X-Man character. This also worked when we played road hockey after playing Blades of Steel. “Get the pass,” we’d say. Although we probably heard it as “Hit the Pads” or “Make the Pass” as the language in the game was a pretty garbled mess.

We’d also all watch the G.I. Joe animated series. We had a lot of fun with our action figures and on the odd occasion, we’d pretend we were G.I. Joes. We’d play the NES game, Captain Skyhawk and pretend we were on a mission to do whatever it was the Joe’s had to do. Fight Cobra? Defeat aliens? I don’t know. Why we just didn’t play the G.I. Joe game for NES still boggles my mind to this day.

However, when we played G.I. Joe, we picked who we’d pretend to be. My friend always chose Duke. My brother was either Snake Eyes or Roadblock. Me? I was always the bad-ass javelin-throwing Joe, Lady Jaye. We’d spend hours in front of the television and hanging out with one another as we defeated whomever it was we had to defeat in the video game – then we’d take the fight outside and pretend to fight Cobra as well. We were kids – it was fun!

Lady Jay? More like, Lady SLAY!
Lady Jay? More like, Lady SLAY!

Looking back at it now, no one ever told me it was “weird” to pretend to be Lady Jaye. All of us just picked a Joe we liked and was that person for the few hours when we pretended to be G.I. Joe’s. My parents never said anything to me about it. Talk about progressive parents. It probably made as much sense to them as seeing us young Canadian boys pretending to be Real American Heroes.

To me, Lady Jaye was and is still just another one of the Joe’s.

Later in my life, I picked up the G.I. Joe cartoon series on DVD and ploughed through it all. Reflecting on my childhood, you know what? Lady Jaye really was a bad-ass. The writers on the show did an excellent job not making sexist or misogynistic characters. And even if they did for an episode, the female Joe’s proved them otherwise.

Lady Jaye, Scarlett, Cover Girl, The Baroness, Dreadnok Zarana, Jinx – all of them kicked some serious butt. They were written as equals and no one ever said otherwise in the cartoon show.

Scarlett wrecks Dreadnok Torch
That time Scarlett didn’t give a damn what Torch thought

I even remember an episode dedicated to just showing how awesome the women Joe’s were. Spell of the Siren featured Lady Jaye, Scarlett, and Cover Girl as they had to rescue every male-Joe who was brainwashed by The Baroness. I can’t think of any other show that I grew up with that did anything similar to that outside of the X-Men animated series with Rogue and Storm. Even both cartoon shows managed to pass the Bechdel test!

It’s interesting to go back and see why I wanted to be Lady Jaye: she’s simply an incredible character! As a young boy, I never saw her as anything else but someone to look up to. As an adult, I still see the same thing.

Admittedly, I’m speaking solely about the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero TV series. While even the early Marvel comics have shown her in a positive light, a simple Google search can show you what she’s currently like in the mainstream – especially since the second live-action G.I. Joe movie.

Scarlett, Cover Girl, and Lady Jaye from "Spell of the Siren"
Scarlett, Cover Girl, and Lady Jaye from “Spell of the Siren”

While I’ve tackled some other obvious issues regarding the way women are portrayed in comic books and in cartoons, I have to say that I’m completely surprised and impressed how these Joes were written and portrayed.

What my parents thought of me wasn’t based on them telling me how to live. It wasn’t them imprinting their expectations on me. They were letting me be me. And if you ask me, I think I turned out just fine.

But to my main point: Lady Jaye didn’t fill the traditional role of a woman or a man. She was her own person. When one thinks of G.I. Joe, few people would think women would be included in that group – let alone being able to name one of them. They’re JOES after all. You’d expect no women, right? But that’s the thing about societal expectations: what you think you know is not always what’s right. And while some of you may be thinking, “She was seen as one of the Joe’s because she was written like a man,” try re-reading what I wrote above and think about why you’re wrong.

I know I’m just barely scratching the surface with this topic, so for any comments, questions, concerns: sound off below!