Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sonichu Episode 14 Critical Review, Part One: If Fred Phelps Had A Webcomic

(Broken in to two parts, due to two divergent subjects)

After a vacation in Seattle and some new work, I realize I've again neglected this series. Sure, Christian Weston Chandler may be neglecting his own webcomic (as well as his own life), but there's still lots of unintentional meaning to be extracted from his magnum opus Sonichu. And here's where one of Chandler's greatest enemies enters the picture-- the notion that a man can love another man.

Naitsirhc, the evil twin of Christian, enters the picture in this episode. He too has had a makeover, complete with a medallion that allows him to transform into a super-powered electric hedgehog. However, Naitsirch is more evil than ever, which in Chandler's mind, means he's gayer than ever. So he debuts with a costume featuring a black codpiece, a dog collar, and green leather straps across his torso. Upon seeing this, Chris screams "Oh my Dog", offended into near-catatonia as his fantasies "blow towards the opposite gender".

Because he's now gay, Naitsirch is even more evil to the point where Black Sonichu joins Chris-Chan to rebel against his 'fallen' master. Naitsirch's evil, which is largely informed and not really justified, makes him surpass even Mary Lee Walsh and Count Graduon as a symbol of The Bad in CWCVille. So what does this say about Chandler?

The most obvious guess is that Naitsirhc represents Chandler's homosexual tendencies, as Chris-Chan reacts with such horror at the guy's very appearance. Chandler hates gays, which might be part of his family's fundamentalist background, but an actual methodology to his bigotry isn't apparent. His criticisms against gays are purely a matter of aesthetics-- he considers them icky, without questioning why. If he did, he might see something in himself that he wouldn't want to admit.

There are plenty of gender issues at play with Christian Weston Chandler, as we see throughout his history. He doesn't associate with other males (except for the imaginary hedgehog kind), and he goes on about his many "gal-pals" back in high school. He has quite a bit of jewelry, albeit in the form of anime paraphernalia like his custom medallion. And he uses imagery like hearts and rainbows that he got from shojo manga-- i.e. manga for young girls. Then there's the "recycling" thing, which I'm not going to get into but is a pretty convincing example.

On the other hand, if we're going by stereotypical gender characteristics, Chandler is obsessed with getting "China"**, uses brutal physical violence to defeat his enemies in Sonichu, and has no interest in keeping clean and tidy (to the point of not changing his clothes, even in the comic). So while he's not totally straight, he's not totally gay either; like everyone, he's somewhere between the two extremes.

No, the reaction against Naitsirch is more about Chandler's fear of anything different. To Chandler, gays are not what he knows as natural; he believes that relationships are between a man and a woman, and he clings to this belief so hard that he expels any other types of relationship. His idea of true love is Sonichu and Rosechu, characters who are in a happy, conflict-free coupling with nothing contesting their societal standing. Naitsirch in his transformed state is not interested in women, so he doesn't fit into Chandler's worldview.

Ideologically, Chandler acts like he's immunocompromised. Anything new and potentially risky gets into his bubble, and he reacts with violent outrage.

* You don't want to know, trust me.
** His euphemism for the female genitalia. This is both an example of how Chandler uses funny words to cover up uncomfortable mature subjects, and how he has no understanding of other cultures beyond the surface and doesn't plan to learn.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ruby's World Post-Script: Take That, Neil Kapit

The Pages In Question, Here and Here

One of the most frustrating things about doing long-form series fiction is that when you create a character or idea who seems less and less interesting in practice, you're usually forced to continue with that. One of the most rewarding things about long-form series fiction is that as you keep going and your universe develops, you can find ways to remake that character or idea into something to fit the increased complexity of your framework.

I started doing Ruby's World over 2 and a half years ago, so at the time I thought that the most compelling villains were those who were just pure evil to the Nth degree. Hence, the physical face of Beagle was Buzarde', who I wrote as more and more deranged with each appearance. It was fun to write a character that was every inch a depraved serial killer, but it didn't make him a very interesting character to others.

I would hardly be the first person to make this mistake, as many writers enjoy creating Complete Monster villains. Even now, I can still appreciate the appeal. However, ideally even those bad guys have some kind of viewpoint with some appeal beyond the complete release of impulses. If you're writing an antagonist who doesn't have any kind of hook other than pure nihilism, you're not really challenging the protagonists' morals, just their skills and physical abilities. Certainly there are very few people in reality who actually see themselves as the bad guy, despite their actions.

So, dissatisfied with what I'd done, I came up with a solution that would break the Fourth Wall to make Buzarde' more compelling; a villain who was literally designed for evil, and failed at it. Then he's kind of a pathetic figure because he can't help the way he is. Not only was he constructed only to do evil, but he wasn't even good at it. And his impulse to torture when he should just execute turned out to be a flaw in his effectiveness, something an instrumentalist villain like Dr. Carcharria would not tolerate.

In the new world of the Ruby Nation, villains so simple have no place as a credible threat. This is me symbolically outgrowing those past mistakes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sonichu Episode 12.5 Critical Review: No. No. No. No. No.

Damn it, Chris, you can't even make this sympathetic

This is the single most unsettling chapter of Sonichu. It's not the most disturbing, the most grotesque, or even the most pathetic. In terms of story quality, it's probably the best thing Christian Weston Chandler has written. It's the only Sonichu story where Chandler actually conveys real, heartfelt sadness. Instead of obsessing over his latest 'sweetheart', or railing against people who've slighted him, Chandler is mourning the passing of his dog Patti. He's deeply sad that a creature who loved him unconditionally is gone from his life, a creature who treated him with the caring and respect that nobody else had ever given him.

The bizarre, disturbing way in which he deals with this real loss is what makes Sonichu 12.5 so unpleasant to read.

A bizarre mix of photography and drawings (which highlights the crude, scribbly nature of Chandler's drawings a thousandfold), the comic opens with Patti the dog mourning her aging and wishing for the opportunity to talk, so she could finally tell Chris-Chan how much she loves him. The next morning, she wakes up and finds herself an anthropomorphic creature with green markings on her head, able to talk. Chris-Chan (who is represented by his photographed real self) greets her and gives her a "makeover" of a green mini-skirt and jewelry, and takes her to a place where she can run free and happy for eternity. They take a shortcut through Chris-Chan's room, about which Patti notes the need for a woman's touch.

Chris-Chan agrees, as will anyone else who sees the room. It's cluttered wall to wall with Transformers, video games, anime DVDs, and Legos. Patti's comment that the room needs a woman's touch ignores the fact that Chandler could clean the room himself, donate or even sell off a lot of the children's toys he bought with taxpayer money, and create a space that isn't a candidate for an episode of Hoarders. But that's how Chandler thinks about his Love Quest; self-improvement comes after he finds the woman willing to put up with him, not before.

But this wretched hive of scum and arrested development gives way to an even worse place, as Patti is taken CWCVille and offered a seat in the mayor's office. Here we meet Alison Amber, Chris-Chan's secretary. She's similar to Pepper Potts, in that she does all the administrative work while her boss plays superhero-- or in Chris-Chan's case, beats up people who slighted him and ogles women clearly not interested. Also, Alison has an (ugh, he says) boyfriend, so she won't have any sexual tension with Chris-Chan. All she'll do is keep CWCVille running in his stead, which includes offering sanctuary to Patti (now Patti-Chan, as she has the deus ex machina powers and vaguely Japanese-sounding names common to the Sonichus).

Yes, Chandler is keeping his dog's spirit alive as a furry playmate in his imaginary utopia. He cannot accept that she's dead, so he's brought her likeness into CWCVille, his home away from reality. And his retreat from the rest of the world continues, as the only being who ever truly loved him has emigrated to his imaginary space.

Some people have commented that by bringing Patti into CWCVille, Chris-Chan is preventing her from passing on to the afterlife and keeping her in a state of purgatory (or hell, given how it's CWCVille). The sad part is that I can understand Chandler's motivations, and even sympathize with them. I've lost beloved dogs too, and it took me a long time to get over their passing. The death of Terra, the Kapit family's Australian Shepherd, still hurts when I think about it. But dogs don't live forever, and as hard as it is to accept the loss, it happened, and all that's left to do is move on. I can even see Chandler's logic, how giving Patti a new conceptual home would give her peace and allow him to move on.

But CWCVille isn't a space of moving on. It's a hideous Neverland Ranch free from the discomforts of adulthood, progress, and experience. It's a place where arguments are represented by turning the opposite side into a cackling supervillain, children's toys are imbued with WMD levels of power, and even the notion of mortality is optional. Instead of growing from his trauma, Chris-Chan has magically hand-waved the problem into obscurity, so that as long as he retreats from reality, he and Patti can live happily ever after.

Which would be benignly tragic is Chandler just stayed in his imaginary world. But he wants to share CWCVille and Sonichu with the Internet, and become rich and famous off of his Frankensteinian mash-ups of other characters. So CWCVille floats around Chandler as a badly-drawn balloon attached by umbilical cord, and every time he retreats to it in light of his real-world failures, it contorts (or more precisely, distorts) to accommodate the needs of a man-boy refusing to move forward in stronger and stronger fashion.

Even Christian Weston Chandler's real, heartfelt tragedies are undermined by the rest of his bizarre life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sonichu Episode 13 Critical Review: Frank Lloyd Wrong

Because Mall Are Such Great Political Offices

It's really hard to think of Christian Weston Chandler as a creator in any sense of the word other than the most technical. Though he does write (badly) and draw (badly), his characters are all plagiarized from his childhood fandoms, he never expanded his tastes beyond what he enjoyed as a kid, and his plots consist of his real-world personal problems repurposed to make him look better. But all of that wouldn't be so damning were it not for the fact that he refuses to learn from his mistakes, or even acknowledge that he makes them.

This is still the phase where Chandler is obsessed with Megan Schroeder, to the point of telling Sonichu about his love for her. Sonichu, dutiful imaginary son that he is, says that he and all the other electric hedgehogs wish Chris-Chan the best of luck. But before Chris-Chan can convene with his entire council of imaginary friends, he discovers that Mary Lee Walsh has waged her latest assault on the emotion of love. He learns of this thanks to an announcement on the CWCVille Radio by DJ Jamsta Sonichu (SERIOUSLY), who interrupts the latest Anime Hits block to break the news. Ideally Chris-Chan would actually pay attention to what's going on in his city, so the station could finish playing Nakagawa Shouko's "Sora iro Days" from Gurren Lagann. However, there's no time for something more interesting, because Chris-Chan has to remind us that the real police wear Black and Blue, while the evil Jerkop impostors wear brown.

Chris-Chan makes this arbitrary distinction to indicate that he doesn't have a problem with authority in general, just when they try to cock-block him. And he does that to himself better than anyone else could.

Anyway, Chris-Chan tracks down Mary Lee Walsh with his special Sonichu DS, which is a hi-tech satellite surveillance system in this universe (though presumably it didn't inform him about Walsh's return before the radio announcement, presumably because he had it in Sleep Mode amidst a game of Pokemon Platinum. This is another unintentionally symbolic representation of CWCVille's ethos; the mayor is too busy living out his childish fantasies that his main line of communication to his constituents is first and foremost his handheld game console. But Chris-Chan and Sonichu are pretending that they have no time to lose, so they jet over (Chris-Chan on a hoverboard) in one of the most atrocious uses of perspective in human history.

They're joined by the Chaotic Combo and Crystal Weston Chandler, but face Mary Lee Walsh's latest minion; CADD Chef Keneru Meneth. And this is a new middle for Christian Weston Chandler (as his lows are so improbably low).

Keneru Meneth is based on Kene Meniru, Chandler's Computer-Aided Drafting and Design teacher at Piedmont Virginia Community College. Meniru apparently gave Chandler an F on his CWCVille Mall class project. Most students would have taken this as a sign that they needed to change something, because what they submit didn't fit the class guidelines. Chandler, of course, not only recycles the hideous mayoral mall for his webcomic without any improvements to its haphazard structure, but makes his teacher into a giant monster partially modified off of Chef from South Park.

Chandler picked Chef, a parodically stereotypical black man, as the inspiration for his portrayal of the black Kene Meniru. It's established that Chandler has a very narrow range of tastes, and that toilet humor-featuring animated sitcoms like Family Guy and South Park are about as "mature" as he likes to venture. It's also established that Chandler is (despite his claims to the contrary) somewhat racist, even though he'll deny it. And Chandler has never created a unique character that doesn't have grafted, Frankensteinian parts from other materials. So the only black character he knew to steal was Chef, down to "Hey there Chicos" as a catchphrase (derivative of Hey There Children).

Chandler doesn't call himself racist, and probably doesn't even see himself as bigoted against other races (though gender issues are another matter). But bigotry transfers through ignorance, through people repeating stereotypes and acting before reflecting. Chandler's knowledge of non-white people (given how his main fandoms are Japanese childrens' shows with non-racial or even non-human worlds) comes from these adult-audience animated sitcoms, but his field of interests so narrow and fixed that he probably isn't even aware of African-American identities outside of Chef and Cleveland Brown from South Park-- and Cleveland wouldn't work as well as a giant, rampaging monster.

I can't call Chandler a creator, but I can call him an ideological contortionist. His talent is finding ways to distort and dismember reality to fit his worldview. He takes a teacher who gave him a bad grade for his lazily-constructed CWCVille Mall and makes him a giant monster and racial stereotype. He takes Megan, a woman who was willing to be his friend but not much more, and makes her lack of attraction to him due to inner turmoil and a troubled past that Chandler doesn't bother to explain. And this doesn't even touch his depiction of Mary Lee Walsh.

At least he admits that the Attraction Sign was a bad idea, but it's a case of one step forward and a hundred backwards.

Monday, March 7, 2011

28 Days of Black Superheroes, By John Garrett

Last Black History Month, John Garrett of Hypertransitory did an amazing project with his 28 Days of Black Superheroes. He drew fan art of each character chosen, while writing up an analysis of the different heroes. Included were 28 great essays like the difference between WNF and BNF, the problems with Storm, and the insights behind his own character, Kid Hype.

I happened to win the 20X30 Poster of all 28 Characters, so I'm going to do my best to return the favor. Check the site out here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sonichu Episode 12 Critical Review: The Union Of Perversion And Despair

Four Failures And A Wedding

Recently I was asked how I can justify criticizing online fans for making personal attacks on creators, yet do these Sonichu reviews. It's probably because I'm not really insulting Christian Weston Chandler, or denying him any professional or personal respect due. I'm not evaluating his comic critically so much as analyzing the Chris-Chan phenomenon, trying to draw some kind of meaning from the trip into one man's personal hell that is Sonichu. Nothing I could say or do would demean Chandler any more than he already demeans himself.

A good example of said self-demeaning is Sonichu Episode 12, titled "My Best Friend's Cherokian Wedding". In a rare move of internal consistency, Chandler has acknowledged the continued existence of Sarah Hammer, his childhood friend, unrequited infatuation, and super-furry comrade from earlier installments. Fortunately for the real-world Sarah, she's moved on with her life and has married a new man (having broken up with Wes Iseli, a.k.a. the evil Wes-Li Sonichu from the Wasabi Clan). Unfortunately for the real-world Sarah, the ceremony has been pulled into CWCVille, and interpreted through Chandler's arrested egotism.

At least Chris-Chan has stopped hitting on Sarah, but that's because he has a new sweetheart, one Megan Schroder. In real life, Megan was a girl he met at card game tournaments who was willing to be friends with him, but not go any further. Chandler repeatedly ignored her wishes, working her into his comic, getting inappropriately touch with her, and even putting erotic artwork of the two online (the latter being the final nail in the coffin, obviously). This comic was made when Chandler was infatuated with Megan, so he's deliberately worked Megan's interests into Sonichu in order to impress her-- not only does everyone now have anime-style eyes, but Chris-Chan uses Yu-Gi-Oh cards as weapons against his enemies, and has even cast bit characters (such as Sarah's husband-to-be) as Yu-Gi-Oh monsters. This doesn't particularly disrupt the flow of the narrative (such as it is), because everything in Sonichu is already filtered through the lens of Chris-Chan's childhood fandoms, despite dealing with his struggle against growing up. It's likely that Chandler simply didn't bother with drawing from a photo of Jack Spicer, instead tracing a Yu-Gi-Oh card within his immediate grasp.

I have never played Yu-Gi-Oh and have only seen a few episodes of the anime, so I can't speak to how badly he's mauled the source material. What is clear to everyone else, however, is that a fantasy card game does not offer one the tools to negotiate relationships and deal with developmental milestones. Here, Chandler has set up circumstances so there's a clear villain (Wes-Li Sonichu, crashing his ex's wedding to kidnap her), and a clear method to take him down. It also is supposed Chandler look good, for not doing what Wes-Li is doing despite being similarly obsessed with Sarah. Finally, the acknowledgement of Chandler's heroism gives him hope from the cast that he'll one day get a girlfriend-- Megan (as Sailor Megtune, with Sailor Moon-type powers and an anthropomorphic skunk sidekick named Megagi) rescues him from a defeat at the hands of Wes-Li, and Sarah gives him her blessing, throwing the bouqet of flowers to him in the hopes that he'll one day be getting married (and hoping that it'll be to Megan).

Megan, being a young woman with a reasonable grasp on reality, wasn't won over by being inserted into a newly anime-ized Sonichu comic as the protagonist's (eventual?) love interest. It just got worse from there.

I should also note that Wes-Li calls Chris-Chan an autistic freak, despite the fact that Chandler's avatar does not associate with autism in any way, shape, or form. This is true for Chandler's own understanding of autism as well; he hasn't bothered to actually negotiate or even understand what it means. All he admits is that it's a label that can be blamed for everything that doesn't go well in his life.