Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to make your own MASKS T-shirts (and other stuff too)

Okay, here’s how I put together the T-shirts the stylin’ Masks Posse wore to Comic-Con. These directions tell you how to create the image on a black T-shirt, which is considerably harder than on a white one. All images referenced in this post are available in this Photobucket album.

1. Snag the image of Rae and Trevor holding hands—either full-color or black, white, and red. Save it to your computer.

2. Open it using the GIMP image manipulation freeware (available at http://www.snapfiles.com/reviews/The_GIMP/gimp.html)

3. Copy the image (right-click + “Copy”).

4. Open a new image in GIMP of the same dimensions (my version was 4844 x 5358 pixels).

5. From the “Layers” menu, select “Add Alpha Channel.”

6. Also from the “Layers” menu, select “Color to Alpha” and set the color to whatever the background color of your image is. (In my case, it was white.)

7. Paste the Rae-Trevor image onto your new image.

8. Now here’s the tricky and time-consuming and crazy-making part. Using the Eraser tool from the main GIMP toolbox, erase all the parts of the image that aren’t Rae and Trevor. All that uniform white around them? Erase as much of it as you can, keeping as close to their bodies as you can without erasing the figures. You will see a checkerboard pattern emerge as you erase the black. Everywhere you see checkerboard, you will have a transparent image. So erase everything you don’t want to see on a shirt.

9. Save the file as a PNG file, and jump through any hoops GIMP makes you jump through to do that.

10. Go to http://www.cafepress.com/make/custom-t-shirts.

11. Click on whatever T-shirt you want to design. I created this design for a black T-shirt, so I recommend something that comes in black. There are sizing charts and whatall—just pick what you like, click on the shirt, and go to the shirt designer.

12. Upload your image to Cafepress. If it’s too big, go back to GIMP and re-save your image in a smaller size.

13. Add the text to your shirt. I used the Chandler font in a dark red for “MASKS” and in white for “Truth / Justice / Secrets.”

14. Drop your image onto the shirt and pull it around and resize it until it’s where you want it. The pattern will let you center your image, but please note that Rae’s and Trevor’s hands are slightly off-center because Trevor’s throwing arm sticks out a little more on his side. I chose to center their hands over the S in MASKS, and centered the text. Don’t go outside the boundaries of the design area on the shirt. Nothing outside that box will print.

15. When you’re satisfied, click “Done” and order your shirt!


Just upload the image and add the text. No muss, no fuss.


The button images are available too. Upload them to either Cafepress or Zazzle.com (the site I used this time around), center and jigger them around until you’ve got what you want, and then order as many buttons as you can stand.

There. You are now the most stylish walking billboard in town!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

As promised, two new scenes.

These two scenes are part of a series of flashbacks that occur throughout my novel, Masks, to explain how my characters, er, got that way. All you really need to know to understand them is that a) Rae has been bullied since she was six, and this is the day she stops taking it; and b) Trevor was adopted by a superhero when he was six, and this is the night he finally deals with the stress. Rereading these scenes out of context reminds me just how screwed up my characters really are ...


Ten years old and Jaime Ortega had finally said the last wrong thing. And Rae exploded.

One final, “Hey, owl,” and she spun and lunged at him, screaming in rage and frustration and pain, fingers hooking for his eyes, face contorted into a mask of fury. Around her, kids stopped laughing. Her scream would give them nightmares for years.

She didn’t know how to fight, so she bulled into him headfirst, and they crashed to the asphalt together, kicking and gouging and howling, Jaime in pain and Rae in the savage voice of the monster in the woods, of failure, of vengeance denied.

She rolled up to sit on his belly and pounded his face until she felt his nose crunch under her throbbing knuckles. She filled his eyes with blood and tears and sobbing and she was crying too. And suddenly her fists were brown and her eyes were sky-blue, and for a moment her ST END charm flew past her eyes and it was Sam’s BE FRI and she was someone else and it was so much better than being herself—

And the teachers grabbed her by her arms and hauled her off, kicking and wailing, wretched and furious and thirsty for more. How dare they deny her? She wasn’t Rae anymore—she was misery and terror, and she was revenge, and she would finish this if she had to tear their throats out with her teeth—

And then she saw two green eyes and the wave of a black-tipped tail beyond the schoolyard fence. And she relaxed, silent except for the sniffles. She would suck her cracked knuckles for the rest of the day, and Jaime’s nose would never be straight again, and she would never say she was sorry. But she would be silent, because out in the dust and darkness, someone understood.


Ten years old and he wasn’t supposed to be here. He crouched on a warehouse rafter, invisible in the clothes he’d so carefully stained with mud and rooftop grime. Jude would ground him forever if he knew. If they both lived.

Right now Jude was strapped to a table below, unmoving, probably unconscious. It made Trevor’s skin crawl. He didn’t even like to see his mentor sleeping—it was too much like seeing his parents in their caskets. He’d wake Jude up at three a.m. sometimes, just to see his eyes open.

Dr. Maligno was busy with something at his lab bench, all syringes and beakers and test tubes full of phosphorescent goo. Trevor shivered as he watched. He felt nauseous, waiting up here like this. He didn’t like the look of the bubbles in those beakers. Didn’t like Jude not moving. Didn’t like having to choose between saving someone he loved and keeping his nights as a shadowy sidekick secret from his teacher.

Then Maligno turned around, needle in hand, and Trevor was more scared of that than of being grounded. He dropped out of the darkness with a yell, and one sneakered foot glanced off Maligno’s shoulder, and the little mad doctor stumbled into a wall of beakers with a crunch of glass, a hiss of something caustic, and a bellow of pain.

And as Trevor landed in a crouch beside him, Jude stirred and opened his eyes to see his adopted son sawing at his restraints with a shard of glass. Their eyes met, and he took in the bare-faced boy he’d tried to keep at home, and for once he had nothing to say about homework or proper sleep habits.

As Dr. Maligno struggled, shrieking, to his feet, Jude pulled himself free of his restraints and smiled at Trevor as suddenly as lightning on a summer night and said, “We’d better get you a mask.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I write like WHO now?

In the last few days, a wacky little site called I Write Like has attracted some attention by analyzing text and finding similarities between submitted prose and work by famous authors. On a whim, I decided to see whom I wrote like. The results were … interesting.

I copied and pasted the whole first chapter of Masks and was informed that I write like Raymond Chandler. Well, I haven’t read as much Chandler as I should and don’t really consider him an influence, but I am writing a noirish adventure story set in Los Angeles, so a certain Chandlerishness is probably good.

Chapter 2 came up as similar to the works of Arthur Conan Doyle. Hmmm, weird, since that’s the chapter where Trevor is having frantic paranoia fits and talks to a crazy homeless guy. Maybe Frank the crazy homeless guy was Sherlock Holmes in disguise. Keep going.

I skip ahead a bit to Chapter 6, where Trevor makes a grim and life-altering decision. Apparently I am now like William Gibson. I’m familiar with Gibson, of course—seminal science fiction writer, author of Neuromancer, coiner of the term “cyberspace”—but I, er, haven’t actually read him. Oops. Wonder how that happened.

Chapter 7, then, where Rae and Trevor actually talk for the first time. It’s long, vocabulary-rich, and has lots of dialogue, which I haven’t really tested for, and should provide lots of data for the analysis. But now I’m apparently like David Foster Wallace, and actively insulted because I’ve only ever read one David Foster Wallace story and I disliked it so intensely that I now use it as a classroom example of how not to write an interesting story. And my manuscript readers all like Chapter 7! Grrrr …

Chapters 9 and 10, where Rae meets the Masked Rider and Trevor meets John Lawrence, score as Cory Doctorow and Margaret Atwood, respectively. Now I’m really confused, because I’ve never read Doctorow. And why would the chapter that’s all about the interaction of two male characters score as similar to the works of a prominent Canadian feminist? Interestingly, Atwood herself tried the site when it first came online and was told she writes like Stephen King, so perhaps I write more like Margaret Atwood than Margaret Atwood does.

I enter some later chapters. I assume the comparisons to Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer are some kind of default mode, and the fact that James Joyce comes up three or four times may be the equivalent of an error message—certainly my brain always returned an error message when I tried to read Joyce in high school. Arthur C. Clarke comes up—well, maybe he and Gibson are the only sci-fi authors in the database, and I do use the word “teleport” a lot. But why H.P. Lovecraft keeps popping up is a complete mystery to me. I didn’t notice any tentacled monstrosities oozing through the book—just one teensy werewolf. And he has eczema, so he’s really not very scary.

After I’ve run the whole book through, a chapter at a time, I am intrigued to find that none of the authors whose work I enjoy most, except for Doyle, are on the list. None of the authors I consider my strongest influences show up, either. And that gets me thinking.

The question of literary resemblance is always a tricky one. Every new author wants to present himself or herself to publishers as being just like some successful author, to suggest that he or she will make just as much money for the publisher. But of course, the world doesn’t need another Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer (although two or more of Neil Gaiman might not go amiss—one of them could write all the time while the other does all the public appearances his fans demand, and perhaps a third actually gets to see his fiancee and kids). And nobody sets out to write just like anybody else—at bare minimum, we always tell ourselves that we’re trying to write like us.

But the fact is that we writers do learn by imitating. When I was starting out and hadn’t yet dreamed of writing for an audience of actual human beings, I carefully studied the works of my favorite authors to see how they achieved their marvelous effects. I had a few Timothy Zahn science fiction novels on audiotape, and listened carefully to how he worded his fight scenes. (I also learned about one-sentence and one-word paragraphs from him—so please direct any complaints there.) I studied the musicality of words in the works of people like Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman. I learned how to write first sentences and first paragraphs from Sol Stein. I studied the way Spider Robinson constructs his jokes, and his expository sections—there are whole pages in his novels that are actually staggeringly dull exposition and character development, and you aren’t bored because it’s all disguised as puns and drinking games. I studied how Terry Pratchett deals with big philosophical concepts in the middle of a gut-busting satire of the postal service. And just about anything I studied in novels, I studied in comic books too—how to develop characters, how to pace a scene, how to combine visuals with other information, how to write memorable dialogue. I got the very idea of writing prose fiction about superheroes from Michael A. Stackpole (who has said that he himself learned by studying Roger Zelazny and Edgar Rice Burroughs), but no one who reads my work thinks it’s especially similar to his.

And that, I suppose, is the goal. We begin life by imitating. We speak our parents’ languages, in their accents; we play the games other children play; by adolescence we spend much of our energy trying to walk, talk, dress, and think exactly like everyone else out of a morbid terror of not fitting in. (Or, in my case, declare ourselves to be space aliens and therefore exempt from human social conventions.) And yet, if we are wise enough and long-lived enough and above all lucky enough, we eventually learn not to imitate. We become less and less the people around us, and more and more ourselves. We start out singing along to our favorite recordings, and then some of us get lucky enough to learn to sing our own songs, to our own melodies, in our own voices. And maybe there’s a note here or there that a trained observer—or a particularly benighted computer program—will connect to someone else. There are only so many words in a language, after all, and only so many sounds a human throat can make. But I find I treasure the readers who say, “Well, you’re sort of like X, and a bit like Y, but not really … I guess you’re just like you.”

And as I grow older, I find that more and more I am comfortable in my own company, and slowly becoming the person I wanted to be all along. And I rather like her.

Which almost makes up for the fact that the stupid website thinks this blog entry was written in the style of H.P. Lovecraft …

Friday, July 16, 2010

Round numbers, because I feel like bribing you.

I like round numbers. It’s insane, I know, but I just like nice, big, round numbers. I took a picture of my car’s odometer when it hit exactly 100,000 miles (if only because nobody expected a Geo to survive that long—and, okay, yes, because I was stuck in a traffic jam on the 110 freeway and excruciatingly bored at the time). And now, as Comic-Con approaches and I hope my revised and 200% more awesome manuscript will win the favor of the publishing gods … I find I want just a few more fans to brag about when I talk to them.

I’ve been telling people for a while that the page has “about 250 fans,” which is true if you round to the nearest 50 and sounds much better than “about 240 fans,” which was true if you rounded to the nearest 10 up until I finally hit 245 yesterday. But wouldn’t it be nice to actually HAVE 250 fans? I think it would. And, as is usually the case when I want something, I’m prepared to bribe you to get it.

So here’s the deal. Comic-Con runs from July 22 through July 25. I and the Masks Posse (there are four of us, in matching T-shirts!) will be at the con on July 25, meeting and greeting and handing out some truly awesome buttons and bookmarks. If the page hits 250 fans before the morning of July 25, then I will, at the next convenient moment, post not one but TWO scenes from Masksone from Rae’s past, one from Trevor’s. There will be action. There will be angst. At least one person will get beaten up, and at least one person will cry. And they probably won’t be the same person.

So go to it. Invite your friends. Beg, borrow, steal; lie, cheat, bribe. Do whatever it takes to get the fan count up to 250 … and let my round-number-based madness begin.

Monday, July 12, 2010

God hates ... Superman?

The cost of having cherished ideas is periodically having to check them to make sure they still make sense. Wake me in the night and ask me if I believe in free speech; yes, I will say, absolutely, because as long as you can think for yourself, no idea is more dangerous than ignorance, no utterance worse than censorship.

And then you hear about stupid people like this, and you have to double-check.

Today I was informed that representatives of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church are planning to protest Comic-Con in San Diego on its opening day—Thursday, July 22. For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with these wretched souls, I will explain, briefly, but not torture you (or gratify them) with a link to their disgusting website.

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church (which is not affiliated with any larger Baptist organization) believe that God hates … well, everybody who isn’t them, basically. But especially gays. And Jews. And Catholics. And the citizens of pretty much every nation on earth (the church sponsors a website called, I kid you not, “God Hates the World”). WBC founder Fred Phelps and his followers first came to national attention by picketing military funerals, screaming epithets at mourners and family members of dead servicemen, shrieking at widows and bereaved friends that their loved ones had died because America tolerates homosexuality and that “God hates” a word I won’t use on this blog but that rhymes with “flags.” They also travel around the country picketing celebrity funerals, high schools, and seemingly random institutions (including, recently, the San Francisco offices of Twitter). Their stated goal is to “spread God’s hate”; it’s also quite likely that they just like being on television.

Now, I have to say I am delighted by the response to these public outpourings of venom. Among others, a biker brigade consisting primarily of military veterans has taken to attending funerals at the request of the bereaved families and revving their engines to drown out the WBC yahoos. Other counter-protestors have taken to playing Israeli folk music and Lady Gaga songs very loudly, or running surrealist protests of their own; the WBC protestors left Twitter after about 20 minutes, perhaps because the news media were training their cameras on well-dressed surrealists smiling and carrying placards with slogans such as “I Have A Sign,” “I Was Promised Donuts,” and “God Hates Retweets.” (The surrealists stayed a while longer, posing for photos with passersby.)

Phelps et al. have apparently decided that Comic-Con needs a good screaming-at because “[Fans] have turned comic book characters into idols, and worship them they do!” Never mind that these people don’t seem to have noticed that Comic-Con isn’t primarily about comics anymore—it’s long been about pop culture in general, including movies, TV shows, anime, books, cosplay, etc. If all goes according to the WBC plan, there will be a ragtag group of crazies standing outside the convention center with brightly colored signs, shrieking their heads off about how much God hates pretty much everyone in the city of San Diego.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

Granted, I would not want my three-year-old niece exposed to the vile poison these morons are spewing—she tends to repeat random words, especially naughty ones. I consider the WBC’s activities an affront to the faith I practice—but that faith requires that I correct them in love, and then, if necessary, shun them. But I believe now, as I did before I began this entry, that any idea worth believing can survive an occasional intellectual challenge—and if it can’t, it’s not an idea worth believing. I believe in free speech, that people should be allowed to say whatever they like, no matter how nasty or vile, as long as that speech does not directly interfere with the rights of anyone else.

That means that as long as the WBC protestors are not, for example, physically blocking the entrance to the convention center or trying to crash the con without a pass, I’m willing to let them scream whatever they like from a public sidewalk. I support the right of WBC members to scream obscenities—and I support the rights of motorcyclists and surrealists to drown them out and steal the attention they so desperately crave. If by some miracle they’re still going at it on Sunday, when I and my friends will be making our way to the con, I will pass them by, secure in the conviction that anyone with half a brain knows how stupid these people sound, and that anyone without half a brain won’t survive at Comic-Con long enough to spread the poison.

I think this was an ill-considered decision on the WBC’s part, actually, and I feel just a bit sorry for them. Imagine, if you will, a little band of attention junkies with multicolored signs, screaming their lungs out in front of the San Diego Convention Center … all while surrounded by people dressed up as superheroes and vampire slayers and anime characters and Jedi Knights, people who will be laughing and shouting and singing and generally having a fabulous time because, for a few days out of the year, they are with their tribe. How on earth do Fred Phelps and his followers think that anyone will notice them in a crowd like that?

Prejudice intact. I can rest easy.

Oh, and I’m taking submissions for the best counter-protests, on the off chance they’re needed. So far the leading candidates are “God loves death rays” and the Backpack Coyote holding a sign saying, “I was promised roadrunners.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Of fans and fics

I have a confession to make. I’m allergic to fanfic.

I’m not kidding. I swore off reading fanfic a few years ago when I got physically ill from reading a supremely wrong story. I got nauseous, I broke out in a cold sweat, and I had a fever, stomach cramps and a migraine all night after reading it, until I finally got up at five in the morning and rewrote the ending the way it should have gone. Then, mysteriously, I fell immediately asleep and was fine when I woke up. I haven’t read fanfic since, except for what my students bring into class.

For the uninitiated, “fanfic” is short for “fan fiction”—unauthorized stories written in an established fictional universe, usually one established under someone else’s copyright. Fanfiction can be taken from books, movies, comics, television shows, even plays and popular songs. Sometimes they explore aspects of the story not covered in the canon materials—what did Character A do while the novel followed Character B on his quest for two chapters?—and sometimes they explore avenues of the source material the author deliberately chose not to explore—sure, Characters A and B are in love on the show, but what if it were Characters A and C? This last has given rise to what’s known as “slash” in fanfic—romantic relationships between characters of the same sex, especially male characters who are otherwise portrayed as heterosexual. (The earliest examples were Kirk/Spock stories … and there I’ll leave you.)

I don’t have much of an objection to fanfic personally. Many of my earliest short stories were basically fanfic, although I didn’t know the word when I wrote them, back in elementary school—and, unlike most current fanfic writers, I didn’t put the material online. I wrote it down in a notebook and passed it to a couple of fellow fans, and that was the end of it. It gave me a chance to hone my skills as a writer while I figured out how to establish my own characters and universe. That’s the major reason I support fanfic as a teaching tool, and let my students work on it in class if they’ve got all their other work done: it’s a ready-made story kit that can help you get started in writing. If you’re not yet confident enough in your own authorial voice, it’s sometimes a worthy exercise to use someone else’s to get the hang of things. Writing other people’s characters, mostly to amuse myself, taught me the basics of dialogue and plot and description. And whenever I brought out a new side of an established character, I honed the skills I would eventually bring to my own fully developed imaginary people. But I regarded my own efforts mostly as personal entertainment, and as educational exercises, much like an art student learning to paint by copying the works of the old masters. As long as you don’t hang your copy in a gallery and try to pass it off as the real thing, what’s the harm?

Well, it turns out there’s some very real harm, after all.

Today, of course, there is a large and vital fanfiction community online, and you can find thousands of fics on any subject you can imagine. People read and comment on them, argue about them, respond with writing of their own. Most active fanfic communities have produced more words about their chosen subject than the source of that material has published in the canon—the Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter communities, for example, have published the word-count equivalent of every Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter story a hundred times over (at least). Fanfic ranges from the innocuous to the obscene, from the touching to the twisted. And it’s creating a bit of a problem for the people who care about things like copyright infringement.

The basic problem with published fanfic—the stuff that’s out there on the interwebs for everyone to see—is that it’s out there without the permission of the copyright holder. J.K. Rowling has not authorized the million-and-one fics out there speculating on a romantic relationship between Harry and Hermione (or Harry and Draco). And to the extent that people are reading the fics rather than Rowling’s books, the fic writers are stealing Rowling’s business. That may not be much of a problem for J.K. Rowling, considering a) that she’s richer than some small countries and b) that in my experience the Harry Potter fanfic writers obsessively buy and read Rowling’s books to support their writing, but Harry and company are still Rowling’s creations, and she still has the right to decide what does and does not happen to them. That may not matter to the average blog troll, but if you care about a fictional universe enough to write about it, you might want to spare a thought for the author’s feelings.

There are some fairly complex legal arguments on both sides of the fanfiction question. Supporters claim that fanfiction is a “transformative” use of the canon property—a legalese word that means it’s different enough that it’s not infringing. Opponents call it outright theft. Some authors, including Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, have said publicly that they approve of fanfic set in their fictional worlds, and even linked to fics from their own sites. Others, including Anne Rice and Raymond E. Feist, have demanded that fics based on their works be taken down. A large number of copyright holders simply turn a blind eye as long as fanfic writers aren’t actually turning a profit on the work. (This may be because they don’t care, or because there’s only so much satisfaction you can get out of suing a fifteen-year-old English nerd for copyright infringement.) As often as not, it seems to come down to the individual preference of the author or artist who owns the copyright to the original work.

Recently I’ve been asked for my views on fanfic. A couple of Masks fanfic stories already exist—although, since most of them were written by my friends as a gag, they may qualify properly as friendfics. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the fanfic question until one of my students began bringing anime fics into my class and asking my opinion of them—at which point I discovered that a) fanfic made a terrific teaching tool and b) I was acutely uncomfortable with its publication—the putting-it-on-the-internet part. Discovering the wide range of responses to fanfic didn’t really help me figure out how to guide my students. I finally decided I’d have to set some ground rules for my own fiction—because as far as Masks goes, I’m the copyright holder and it’ s my way or the highway, at least so far.

So, because Masks is an adventure story for teens set in a vivid fictional universe with a lot of side characters with a lot of bunnytrail and alternate-relationship potential (read: a prime candidate for fanfic), I’ve decided to lay down some ground rules here and now, before it becomes an issue. I am speaking only for myself and only for the characters and stories to which I hold copyright. But if anyone asks, ever, about fanfic set in the Masks universe, here are the three rules under which it’s completely fine by me (and only me).

Yeah, I know it’s silly to be laying down fanfic rules for a book that’s not even published yet. But what can I say? It’s been a slow blog week.

1. Don’t charge for Masks fanfic. This is an easy one, and a common restriction for fanfic writers. If you’re writing stories for your own amazement and amusement, you don’t need to charge money for them. Internet publishing is free. If you’re not charging for your work, you’re not poaching on my domain—because let’s face it, the only person who gets to charge for writing stories about my characters right now is me. If you want to be paid for your labor, write something original to you and charge as much as you like for it. (It’s what I did!)

2. Don’t pass Masks fanfic off as canon. This is more of a courtesy issue. I grant that some fanfic may be very, very good—certainly my students’ work is better than the average fics I remember. On the off chance that someone could mistake your work for mine, say somewhere that it’s not mine. I don’t want people getting mixed up on Captain Catastrophe’s secret origin. I wrote it the way I did for a reason. So if you’re going to change it, posting a disclaimer somewhere would be nice.

3. Don’t ask me to read your Masks fanfic. This is nothing personal to you as a writer. It’s partly a legal issue and partly a health issue. I do not read fanfic, except for what my students bring me, mostly so no one can accuse me of stealing an idea from it. If you have a really good sense of my characters, you might be able to predict which way a story will go. I’ve done it myself a couple of times with franchises I enjoyed. I don’t want you suing me for stealing your idea when we just happened to be thinking along the same lines, so I’m just not going to read your fic. Plus I really didn’t enjoy running a fever from that last fic I read, so I’m going to stay out of fanfiction for the sake of my health.

I wish you good writing, good learning, and someday a fictional universe of your very own to play with. Until then, be safe out there. The sanity you save may be your own.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In praise of dorky superheroes

I have a Fourth of July tradition. Specifically, somewhere in between sleeping in (because I’m free to do so) and showing up at the family conflagration—er, barbecue (because I’m NOT free to skip it), I binge on Captain America comics.

It’s not a particularly patriotic observance, I grant you. It’s mostly because they tend to be good summer reads—lots of stuff blowing up, bright colors, and completely random plot twists (we’re having an epic battle in the middle of the Smithsonian—WHY?). And my collection is now large enough that I can cherry-pick a day’s worth of reading on whatever theme I like. Some years I feel like exploring the goofy alternate worlds; other years, I go for the espionage action of the Ed Brubaker run; sometimes I just stare at Jim Steranko’s art and try to figure out what was going on in that man’s head.

Of all the superheroes for whom I harbor a soft spot—and there are many—Captain America is probably the second most likely to provoke eye-rolls from random strangers. He is terminally unhip. From the fuzzy pseudoscience of his origin (a mysterious and non-replicable combination of “Super-Soldier Serum” and “Vita-Rays”, now lost because someone shot the scientist who kept the formula in his head) to the questionable value of his powers (he throws a trash-can lid at bad guys? REALLY?) to his discomfortingly anachronistic costume (when was the last time YOU felt the need to run around wrapped in the American flag?), he’s sort of like the crazy uncle everyone ignores at Thanksgiving. And yet his comics continue to sell, and produce excellent stories, and they’re now making a movie, although I continue to hope they’ll cast someone other than Chris Evans of Fantastic Four fame to play him.

And the thing that always strikes me about the major criticisms of Captain America—he’s anachronistic, his costume is silly, he represents an outmoded expression of American national pride—is that those criticisms are valid, but they basically boil down to “He’s dorky.”

Well, yes. He’s dorky.


Being a superhero is inherently dorky. Putting on a silly outfit and setting out to change the world by example is quixotic at best, psychotic at worst. That’s what it’s about, frankly. It’s about being a colossal dork, in public, because you think the world will be a better place for your dorkishness. And a healthy society needs exactly this kind of dork.

Giving blood is dorky. Writing your congressman is dorky. Volunteering at a food bank is dorky. A friend of mine helps run an orphanage for disabled kids in Haiti, and she sends out the dorkiest emails imaginable about how amazing her kids are. I love her for it. We’ve made it uncool to care, unhip to give a damn about anything. It’s dorky to do good. But we need dorks. Dorks rule. Long live dorks.

Oh, and I’ve gotta get me one of them trash-can lids …