Sunday, September 14, 2014

Serenity: That One Really Good Christian Comic

I love Christian storytelling, but I'm also one of the first to be critical of it. 99 times out of 100, Christian fiction has fallen into one of three embarrassing categories:

1. Sanitized rip-offs of secular stories, which the church endorses far too openly seeing how stealing ideas is still stealing.
2. Attempts at making a film or novel length Chick tract which nobody who actually needs the message can stomach the cheesiness of.
3. Self-righteous "SUPER Christian vs HORRIBLE atheist" combat that conveniently forgets Christians also have trouble with sin and that Satan, not other people, is the enemy.

But then there's the 1 time out of 100 where somebody gets it right. Veggietales did it by creating a cast of funny characters that give a unique spin to biblical history. Sherwood Films, creators of works such as Facing the Giants and Fireproof does it by showing Christians as the flawed human beings we are and injecting genuine heart into its stories. But as I was organizing my room to prepare for moving to my college campus, I found another example of great Christian storytelling that isn't talked about nearly as much as either of the above examples and really should be: Serenity.

No, I'm not talking about that film based on Firefly. I'm talking about a 10 issue graphic novel series that came out in the late 2000s. During this time, there was a big fad in Christian bookstores: manga. Several companies were trying to appeal to today's Christian teen by making comics in the popular style of Japanese comics. The biggest seller was Realbuzz Studios, who specialized in Christian manga. By 2008, the fad had passed and Realbuzz Studios died off after a short 3 years. The problem had been twofold: Christian bookstores thought that manga was synonymous with hentai. In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, Buzz Dixon of Realbuzz said, '

“We had to fight tooth and nail to get it into the stores because people would assume it was hentai [porn]. [...] We had a radio interview cancel on us five minutes before we went on the air, because they said, ‘We went to the bookstore and looked at the manga section and it’s all witch girls and samurai chopping each other in half.’ ”

This isn't hard to believe as I remember having trouble finding Couplers, a space opera manga Realbuzz put out.

The other problem, in my opinion, was that some of Realbuzz' work wasn't sure what it wanted to be. Goofyfoot Girl, a story about a surfer and her friends at the beach, while receiving some of the best reviews of Realbuzz' works, felt like it wasn't trying to be Christian at all. Characters gossiped meanly behind other character's backs and this was never addressed as a bad thing; in fact, it was played for laughs. The idea of God was played rather tongue and cheek with the main character being agnostic and any miracles turning out to be acts by another character. It had the opposite problem most comics have of being too preachy: it apparently was afraid to be Christian at all because that wasn't "cool enough" for the story.

Serenity wasn't free of the identity crisis either, but its problems lied in the artwork. One word: backgrounds. At first glance, Serenity lacks the detail and eye-candy manga screen tones usually add, opting for plain gradient backgrounds. It does what is otherwise a cute looking manga a major disservice, giving many pages an empty feel.

Don't get me wrong: this article is about what makes Serenity a great read that I think everyone should give a look, but I have to admit that Goofyfoot Girl smoked it in the art department with its watercolor look.

In fact, what makes Serenity special isn't clear for the first few volumes of the work, which is probably why it didn't sell well enough to keep Realbuzz afloat. But by the time you get to the third volume of the series, there's a review quote on the back by Stan Lee.

Yeah, that Stan Lee. The Stan Lee, in fact, who had originally asked Dixon to create a Christian comic centered around Spider-Man, but Dixon had wanted to create Serenity instead. The quote reads:

"...a clean, inspiring Christian comic done in a hip, contemporary way. I think you've got a real winner."

Of course, the positive quote by one of the biggest people in comics is on the back of the book, while the review quote on the front is by Melody Carlson, who strictly creates Christian teen fiction - a genre that doesn't have the best track record. Oops.

So, what makes Serenity good enough for Lee to give it a nod of approval? Like I said, it's not clear at first. Serenity is a story about a teenage girl of the same name who has spent most of her life with the wrong crowds. She's crude, loud, promiscuous, and really - really - hates Christians. As the story progresses, Serenity learns that Christianity is really about and starts to see things differently.

A lot of you are already rolling your eyes, as did I at first. "Oh, no, not the story of the perfect Christians versus the horrible atheist again."

But this is where it gets good, in two ways. First off: the antagonist, if one had to be picked, is a Christian.

Kimberly, Serenity's classmate, is a part of the Bible study group that wants to connect with Serenity, but winds up foaming at the mouth because of Serenity's interest in her boyfriend, Derek. Eventually, she flat out says that she hates Serenity, and spends much of the series wishing bad upon her even though she knows better. As the series goes on, we learned that Kimberly, despite living in a Christian home with a pastor as a father, has plenty of her own problems.

Other characters, Christian and non, are uniquely colorful and have their own issues to face. One member of the Bible group has issues with drugs. At a 12-step meeting, another girl, also Christian, talks about her continuing struggle and admits that sometimes she wonders if God can really help her more than another hit would. In another scene, Serenity gets frustrated with a broken soda machine and starts kicking it, unleashing a slew of (censored, of course) profanities in all the colors of the rainbow. Another member of the Bible group mentions that cussing won't help, and Serenity retorts that "Christians are too moldy for anything stronger than 'God Bless!'" Irritated, the Bible group member responds with a random string of (also censored, but strong bad enough to shock Serenity) profanes. Turns out, her uncle is a drill instructor. She finishes saying Christians don't cuss because "it isn't on deck" and leaves Serenity to get over her shock.

Second, and more importantly, getting saved isn't where the story of Serenity ends. Not even close. It's the set-up for the real story.

At one point in later volumes, Serenity begins to feel conscious because she doesn't "look the part" of the other teens in her church. Worried she's doing something wrong, she dies her hair from its iconic blue back to a natural brown, puts on a skirt, and starts speaking more softly. Her peers may find this Serenity less obnoxious at times, but they know it's not who Serenity really is. They set up an intervention, letting her know that you don't have to be stereotypically feminine to be Christian. She realizes that getting the sin out of her life doesn't mean throwing away the good parts of what makes her unique. In the end, her friends present her with a new tube of blue hair dye.

When I read this as a teen, I found myself crying. I'd always been the "weird kid" in my church who was more of a tomboy than the other girls and louder than everyone else. I'd never really felt I fit in either.

That's when it fully hit me: Serenity isn't about some messed-up atheist that Christians are expected to mentally preach to as they read. Serenity is a representation Christian who didn't grow up in the church. Serenity is a stand-in for every insecurity I've felt and every question I've had since I was saved at age 14.

That's what makes Serenity such a special series: it's about Christians. Real Christians with problems and insecurities. It asks the questions real Christian teens ask and answers them without judgement or patronization. It shows teenagers who are smart but still struggle. It shows parents who mean well but aren't perfectly in tune with the times. It's the kind of Christian story we need more of: a story that feels real and complex and doesn't fear imperfection. It's a story that readers from all walks of life can see themselves in, good and bad. And I hope this article has made you want to give Serenity the chance it deserves.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Content Marketing Overview

What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is the selling of digital products for re-use by consumers. Examples include blog entries to be used on the client's website, web designs, advertising templates, royalty-free music, and stock images.

How Can Content Be Used By Clients? 
The rights given to clients vary wildly and need to be made clear by the seller of content. Sometimes content is sold over to the client entirely, giving them exclusive rights to use the content however they please. Sometimes clients receive the content to use exclusively, but credit or a link back to the seller's website must be given. Sometimes clients purchase non-exclusive rights to use content, meaning other clients can also purchase rights and use the same content. The rights attached to content affect the purchase price, and the best method of sale will vary by content type and style.

How Does Content Marketing Differ From Selling Physical Products?
Physical products are usually consumed, while content can be used over and over as long as it fits into the usage guidelines agreed to when the content was sold. Because digital content does not incur the same manufacturing costs of physical products, content marketers find they have much more competition in both quality and price, but also a larger audience of potential clients. Also, content requires a digital venue to be sold with ease while avoiding piracy.

Can I Get Into Content Marketing Without Coding Skill? 
When marketing content, it helps to have a well coded website with copy protection so clients can download their purchases instantly. However, setting up a virtual shop with advanced coding isn't necessary when getting started. Some smaller markets will collect the emails of clients and send out content individually. There are also websites for selling content in a pre-built market. However, larger sellers will find that it both saves time and increases brand value to set up their own content storefront in the long run.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kumoricon, Part 2: The Fun Stuff!

Now that I've got the complaints out of the way, here are some of my highlights from Kumoricon 2014!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kumoricon 2014: The Good (Is In Part 2), The Bad, and the Ableist

Fans were great. Lower-level staff was great. I got to spend the entire weekend rooming with one of my best friends. I took tons of pictures. I played tons of games. I had an amazing time.

Most of the higher-level staff involved in planning needs to be fired.

Don't get me wrong; I have mostly great things to say about Kcon this year and I had a great time, but some things need vented first. Behold my tale of disorganization, common sense fail, and even a little downright ableism.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The "Phantom Ninja" Incident

If you didn't know, I'm autistic. I have Asperger's Syndrome, to be specific. If you've ever been friends with an autistic nerd, you know there are things the person is a fan of, and then there is the thing. The Thing. That one thing that an autistic person is currently obsessed with and latches onto like Velcro. In my case, there are those works of fiction I like and then there's The work of fiction that I can't wait for the next installment of and have pull myself away from spending too much money on merchandise of every time I go to Wal-Mart. Ninjago was, and is still at time of writing, that Thing.
While waiting impatiently for the release of The LEGO Movie in the United States, to give you a rough idea just how long this stupid mess has been going on, I got hooked on another LEGO themed series: Ninjago: The Masters of Spinjitzu. The show is currently airing its third season, which is only eight episodes long. This means the story is really tightly written, but it also means that somebody at either LEGO or Cartoon Network got the bright idea of stretching out their investment by airing two episodes every three months.
If you've ever seen a fandom during a long hiatus, especially one mid-season where every episode ends with a cliffhanger, it's not pretty. Weird fan art starts popping up. Horrible puns flood discussions. People start foaming at the mouth. Okay, maybe not the last one, but I'm pretty certain their brains start foaming at the proverbial mouth. And few nerds start showing symptoms of "Where the heck is the new episode of my show?" faster than college students like me who have nothing else to look forward to on the weekend. But even at the corner of "They haven't even given an airdate" and "We had to wait 2 years for this season to even start" there is hope in the growing realm of tie-in comics. Ninjago has a line of graphic novels, also released every few months, with pretty good stories that seem to be getting better every issue. Volume 9 was great, and news came that Volume 10: "The Phantom Ninja", would be released early May, smack dab in the middle of the break between two sets of episodes. I ask my comic book store to add the Ninjago graphic novels to my pull-list and mark my calendar.
Except my calendar turns out to be wrong. "The Phantom Ninja" is pushed back to the end of the month.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Follow Up: E3 According to Everything But E3

Well, color me very pleasantly surprised. :D

Monday, June 10, 2013

E3 According to Everything But E3

There are two kinds of gamers on the internet: Those who pay close attention to every E3 update in real time, and those who make no effort to pay attention to anything but get all the same news within an hour of each event because it’s all over their Tumblr dashboard. I've been up for 19 hours and forgot E3 even started today, so it's no surprise I'm in the later group.

But I may shift gears and watched archived press conferences over the next few days, because it sounds like this is the biggest train wreck of an E3 ever, and it's still Day 0. The "Big Brother Is Watching You" XBOX ONE just got announced to the tune of 500$, no apologies or explanations for the privacy invasion given. Meanwhile, Microsoft is releasing an XBOX 360 game called Watch Dogs about trying to take down a corrupt system.

I'm not kidding.

Seeing how this blew analysis guesses to the tune of 350-450$ out of the water, who knows how much Sony thinks they're getting for the PS4 in a horrible economy. I won't be surprised if they're so out of touch with reality that they have an even higher asking price than Microsoft.

What really gets me thought is how Nintendo seems to be winning by not doing anything. In fact, this has been 2013 so far - Sony and Microsoft keep digging deeper holes while Nintendo keeps selling more copies of Luigi's Mansion and Animal Crossing while they bring down the price on the Wii U to something a bit more reasonable. It is the most backwards thing I have ever seen - a console war is being won by the company who is being the least proactive. That's just not how technology works. The spoilers always go to whoever announces all the newest, highest quality toys with the most bells as whistles at the latest date. But Sony and Microsoft are both madly in love with ending the used game market in the middle of a recession that they are totally blind to how much trouble they're about to be in.

So my prediction?  Once we see the sales on the XBOX ONE and the PS4, the Wii U is suddenly going to look really successful in comparison. Analysts have said the console is doing poorly, but we haven't really had a control for how many consoles sell in hard economic times on average. If the Wii U doesn't come out on top, I may lose some of my faith in humanity because really? Consumers are really going to let Sony get away with killing used games and let Microsoft get away with a laundry list of privacy exploits that are downright scary?

Yeah, no. I want to believe the gaming community is smarter than that. At least the members of the community who buy their own stuff, at least. Personally, I'm not shelling out 60 hours of ghostwriting to pay for either of these bricks.

I'm going to bed. Wake me up if they announce Half-Life 3. (Read: Don't wake me up.)

Awesome Link of the Day: What Are the Craziest Gaming Accessories?