Tag Archives: Comics


4 Jan

Letting It GoWhile returning home from visiting my mom, I was thoroughly engrossed in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, a book I highly recommend.  My husband, Robert, was reading Miriam Katin’s 2013 book Letting It Go, and turned to me to share Katin’s comic about Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara was the Vice-Counsel for the Japanese in Lithuania and issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees trying to escape occupied Lithuania. He saved over six thousand lives.

I believe Sugihara’s words and Katin’s comic say what needs to be said and is sadly relevant today, as it demonstrates that every Republican presidential candidate has no sense of history:

You want to know about my motivation, don’t you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. … Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives….The spirit of humanity, philanthropy…neighborly friendship…with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.

Thank you for that courage, Mr. Sugihara, and for your shining example of humanity.








Wonder Women! Pop Culture and Feminist Role Models

24 Apr

Lynda-Carter-WWAsk someone to name a superhero, and the first answers you’ll get are almost always men. As with much of popular culture, the roles available for women in comics are often sadly subordinate. A wonderful new documentary explores this issue and the relationship between feminism and popular culture.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines was directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards and is featured on the PBS series Independent Lens. The hour-long documentary poses an important central question

What are the consequences for women when they are strong and when they are the central actors of their own lives?

The film is centered on one of the oldest and most well-known comic heroines, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston as an antidote to what he saw as the overly violent and masculine world of 1930s comics, the Amazon princess has been a figure of admiration and scorn alike since her introduction in 1941.

Princess Diana has been rebooted and rewritten dozens of times (unlike her male colleagues) but still maintains a loyal following. Her treatment over 70 years has clearly reflected the ups and downs of feminism in this country. As women were driven from the workplace after WWII, so was Wonder Woman reduced to guest star in her own books. The notorious Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent shut down huge sections of the comic industry, made it clear that a strong woman must be a lesbian and was therefore not a fit model for children. As Second Wave Feminism got rolling, Wonder Woman lost her powers — it’s hard not to see a backlash correlation there. Despite everything the character has been through, however, she remains a strong symbol for millions of people, serving as a nice symbol of the undying spirit of feminism in the face of obstacles.

The documentary features insights from a wide variety of people. Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of strong women role models in all media, and other icons from the Bionic Woman to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Xena are given their due. Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna takes a keen look at the backlash against feminism and the trivialization of strong women as merely sex symbols as the 20th Century came to a close. Comic historians and media analysts look at the roles of women over the decades, providing some sad and disturbing insights. With 97% of all decision-making positions in media held by men, it’s no surprise that women’s roles are narrow and hard to come by.

The film also remembers the groundbreaking 70s Wonder Woman series, featuring conversations with star Lynda Carter. She is outspoken about the power of the series for girls and women, however light the plots and dialogue may have been. We hear from Portlander Andy Mangels, the writer who created Wonder Woman Day, an annual comic store fundraiser for domestic violence shelters and programs. Given Diana’s mission to spread a message of peace and love in a violent world, that’s a perfect tribute.

Wonder Women! is a significant and fun look at 70 years of popular culture and how it succeeds — and fails — both to reflect our world and to inspire us. It serves as an excellent introduction to some important themes and provides a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in further study. The film is being rebroadcast on Independent Lens based on local PBS affiliate schedules; it can also be watched online at the series website.

Daniel Tosh: Hate.1, Laughs.0

14 Jul

Just Not Funny!

Thank you to my friend and LGBTQ ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. Allow me to start by admitting that I have never found Tosh to be funny. White male privilege is very seldom funny to me, unless the man has amazing talent at weaving it into something we might call wit. I would just as soon call George W a wit as I would Tosh.

I realize that comedians like to think of everything as fair play when it comes to humor and there is a very natural and understandable reaction against censorship.  What I would call attention to is what I would call bad form, or when one’s privilege overtakes the comedy and thus loses the laughable moment. For example, Tracy Morgan crossed a line when his joke involved killing someone who is gay. Tosh also crossed a line with his contemptible misogyny in defending rape jokes.  Really? Rape is something funny? Racism is not funny, as Michael Richards found out and justifiably lost his career.  Where is the line? Is it possible to cross the line? When someone describes his work as Tosh does:

I’m not a misogynistic and racist person…But I do find those jokes funny, so I say them.

it’s pretty clear he’s lacking both in awareness and a good comic sense.

I believe there is a line of what is acceptable, but I also believe that someone with enormous self-awareness and great aplomb can cross that line.  Curtis Luciani does a fantastic job of articulating self-awareness and what is bad form:

1) Rape is way, WAY more prevalent than you seem to think it is. Are there more than five women in your audience? You do the math, and then you run the little fantasy scenario that I just put together in your head, and you tell me how it feels.

2) I ain’t buying any of that “If I can make jokes about genocide, why can’t I make jokes about rape?” Horseshit, unless you made those genocide jokes during a gig at the Srebrenica Funny Bone. You got away with making a joke about genocide because your odds of having a holocaust survivor’s kid in the audience were pretty fucking low.

And if you did happen to have one in the audience, and he heckled you, walked out, and wrote something nasty on the internet… would you be more likely to be a human being and say “Wow. I can understand why that person’s authentic response to what I was doing was so emotional and negative. Maybe my genocide material just isn’t good enough to justify the pain that it inflicts. Maybe I need more skill in order to pull this off.” Or are you gonna be a lousy piece of shit and say, “Yeah, I apologize, I guess, IF YOU WERE OFFENDED.”

Your job as a comedian is to take us through pain, transcend pain, transform pain. And if you don’t get that, you are a fucking bully, and I’ve got zero time for bullies.

Well said, Curtis.  One job of a comic is to help people laugh at pain and transform it into something comical.  When one causes harm, shame, or stigma it is no longer “comedy” but pathetic bullying rooted in hate.

Women’s History Month 2012: Dale Messick

3 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in women’s history whose legacy includes the creation of another feminist icon. Dalia Messick was born in Indiana in 1906. She had a passion for drawing and briefly attended art school, leaving to pursue a paying job in the field. She worked for greeting card companies, sending money home to help support her family during the Great Depression. She was interested in writing and drawing a comic strip, but there was a strong industry bias against female cartoonists. She assembled a mighty portfolio but had little success.

Frustrated, she changed her working name to the more gender-neutral “Dale” and began promoting a new strip. With the help of another woman, Mollie Slott, who was an influential assistant  at the New York Daily News, she managed to get her creation into Sunday publication. That strip, eventually the longest-running female created syndicated comic, was Brenda Starr.

Brenda was a feisty, fashionable reporter. Gaining prominence in the early 40s as many women were entering the workforce for the first time, she became one of a handful of icons for the burgeoning working women movement. While certainly interested in her romantic pursuits and pursuers, Brenda was an independent woman proud of her career.

Messick worked on other strips (including a stint on Perry Mason) but nothing matched the success of Brenda Starr, Reporter. At its height (in the late 50s), the strip was syndicated in over 250 newspapers, making it one of the most widely-distributed strips of the day. Messick wrote and drew the strip for forty years, retiring in 1980. Interestingly, she handed it over to another comics pioneer, DC artist Ramona Fradon, who helped create two long-standing characters, Aqualad and Metamorpho. The strip continued for decades with a handful of artists and writers until ending in January 2011 with Brenda’s retirement from the paper.

Dale Messick remained active in retirement. She attended comic conventions and other events and was always happy to talk about her role (and Brenda’s) in the women’s movement. She created Granny Glamour, a strip about senior citizens, for a local magazine and continued to draw a variety of projects until she suffered a stroke in 1998. She died in 2005 at age 98, leaving behind an impressive legacy including numerous industry awards.

Celebrities For Social Justice: My Interview with Suzanne Whang

11 Mar

Whang: Working For Social Justice

While we have many celebrities in the world, we don’t have many that are willing to use a strong voice and use their celebrity for social justice.

Today I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Suzanne Whang.  Most of you know Suzanne as the host of “House Hunters” on HGTV, her recurring roles on NBC’s “Las Vegas” and ABC’s “General Hospital,” her many movie roles, or her very funny and irreverent stand-up comedy character Sung Hee Park.  Today I got to know Suzanne as the very gracious, gentle, and kind social activist.  We started the interview with Suzanne asking how I was doing and how was Portland and that she loved Portland. I think I was caught off guard at how genuine and generous Suzanne was—she made me feel as though I had been talking to a friend of many years.

Whang was a Navy brat and attended seven different elementary schools across the country.  She talked about always being the new kid in a new school, and how this informed her choice in career:  “Being the new kid in school, you have to be very adaptable and make friends easily.  As an actor, every audition is like being the new kid in school and making a good first impression.  I think also instead of resisting change, I embrace change, which is why being an actor appealed to me.  Every project brought a new role, new cast, new crew, different locations, different perspectives.”  Her grandfather, Whang Chai Kyung, was a well-known Korean minister and was controversial for using humor in his sermons.  He said it was the only way to keep people awake every Sunday.


I am a minister now, and when I give guest sermons, I feel like I’m channeling my grandfather.  I call it Up-laugh-ment – using humor to raise consciousness.  There is not one religion or one perspective that will work for me.  I have eclectic taste in many different aspects of my life, and I call my self a spiritual slut.  I find things of value in many different spiritual philosophies and religions.  However, I have also found a lot of hypocrisy across the spectrum.  So I absorb wisdom wherever I can find it – in fact, when I give sermons or keynote speeches, I will often incorporate lessons I’ve learned from 12 step philosophy.


While I consider myself a liberal democrat, there are times I get so angry when I experience different liberal organizations that can’t work together and too many egos working against each other—whereas the Republicans have unity on their side.  That is why we don’t have what we want, we often lack unity or the sense of the greater good, the bigger picture.  I started speaking out for LGBT issues because it is the last stand of civil rights.  As an Asian woman, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against for my gender and my race.  The first time I performed my stand-up comedy act in Provincetown Massachusetts, which is a gay community in Cape Cod, I have to say that I never felt more recognized and appreciated and understood as an artist.  My stand up routine is a satire on racism and sexism—I wanted to show how absurd all bigotry is.  The gay community in Provincetown really understand what I’m doing, because they know what it is like to be outcast, discriminated against, and oppressed.  They understand that my routine is social commentary.

Do you worry about your career because you are such a strong voice for social justice?

I never worry that this will hurt my career—worry does not fit into my philosophy—worry and fear are negative projections into the future, and they don’t help me create what I want.  When I have worried or have been fearful in the past, I became a magnet for the very circumstances I didn’t want.  I operate from a place of abundance, equal rights, and generosity.  I choose faith and kindness, not pessimism and fear.  I’m not saying that I don’t get angry – I get very angry, but the question is, what do I do with that anger?  Does it spark me to take positive action?   It does no good to let my anger fester or bathe in it, sitting on my couch, complaining.  I also channel my anger into writing my comedy material.  I would like people to see my Sung Hee Park act and have them leave thinking:  “Hmm.  Am I a racist?  Am I a homophobe?”  I want to challenge people’s beliefs.  I love this quote from Plato:  “Time will change or even reverse some of your present opinions.  Refrain therefore awhile, from holding yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.”

Do you think we will see full marriage equality in our lifetime?

Absolutely!  (She says with great confidence.)  I think it could have happened much sooner if we were all on the same page and could have put aside individual egos.  We tend to lose sight of the bigger picture, when we get caught up in the in-fighting about exactly how to take action or when to take action.

Why do you suppose more celebrities don’t use their fame and influence for issues around social justice?


I can’t answer for them, but I would guess that some people are just not passionate about issues of social justice, maybe they have fear about what it might do to their careers, or maybe they just don’t want to enter into controversy.  But it’s not for us for us to judge someone else’s journey!


I want to thank Suzanne Whang for her time, generosity, and for being an amazing ally to the LGBT community.  Suzanne emanates such love and compassion—what an amazing soul and agent of change.


Whang concluded the interview with the following:

Hopi Indian poem “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For”

The Hopi Elders Speak

We Are the Ones

We’ve Been Waiting For

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.

Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.

And there are things to be considered:

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look

outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift

that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the

shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go

of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open,

and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least

of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and

journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

—The Elders Oraibi

Arizona Hopi Nation


My husband and I started watching Ron Howard’s Arrested Development.  What a fantastic surprise to see Suzanne Whang as a guest star in Season 4.  Her comdeic talents are brilliant in her satiric role in Real Asian Prison Housewives.  I would have watched this show just to see Whang who is hilarious.

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