Defying Chinese censorship: a comic dedicated to nakedness


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When artist Yan Cong was told he could not print any nudity in his books, he set out to produce an anthology with characters in the buff

Back in the early 2010s, Beijing comic artist Yan Cong (a pseudonym that translates to “chimney”) was told by printers that they wouldn’t wouldn’t publish any of his books with nudity in them. Both irritated and inspired, he decided to respond to the censorship with an anthology in which all the main characters were nude. Naked Body, published in Chinese in 2014, highlighted the humour, loopiness, horniness and astonishing breadth of the Chinese alternative comics scene. It is finally due to be published in English this year.

Japanese and European comics have had a strong influence on US creators, but Chinese comics are less well known; partly because of the censorship that inspired Naked Body that means the state keeps a tight ...

Why books like Fifty Shades of Grey are worthy of study


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Lawmakers are calling for Missouri academic Melissa Click to be fired – in part because she conducts research on romance novels, and the hypocrisy is revealing Politicians hate romance. In Missouri, over 100 state legislators have called for assistant professor of journalism Melissa Click to be fired. The main cause of complaint stems from a video showing Click demanding that a student journalist stop photographing a protest at the University of Missouri. There’s some jostling and shoving, which the legislators characterise as “inappropriate and criminal actions”. They say it’s an assault on free speech. Continue reading...









Wonder Woman gets back to her BDSM roots in 2016


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A new Wonder Woman comic book by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette has had prudish reviewers complaining – but bondage is part of the character’s DNA “Stop portraying women being chained up in some skeevy pose!” That’s the outraged pronouncement of Goodreads critic Anne in a spoiler-filled review getting a lot of attention among comic book fans. Anne is critiquing the eagerly anticipated Wonder Woman Earth One by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette, due out in the spring. Wonder Woman is supposed to be an icon of feminism, Anne argues; her isolated homeland of Paradise Island is supposed to be an empowered all-female community. But Morrison and Paquette instead put her in bondage poses. They also present the Amazons as lesbians who, Anne says with disdain, “do sexy lesbian things”. Anne also objects to the prominence of a rotund sorority girl named Beth who helps Wonder Woman out ...

Harry Potter and the contradictions about racial justice


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The idea of a black Hermione is fantastic in pushing against the idea that fictional heroes are white by default – but it also points to inconsistencies in the series Hermione is black, and fans are understandably thrilled. When Noma Dumezweni was cast as an adult Hermione in the London theatrical production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the internet gave an enthusiastic cheer. JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, quickly pointed out that this is fully consistent with canon. In the books, Hermione’s main features are brown eyes and frizzy hair. Her skin color is not mentioned, but could certainly be black. As Chitra Ramaswamy writes, part of what’s great about a black Hermione is that it pushes against the idea that fictional characters, and fictional heroes, are white by default. It also resonates with Harry Potter’s themes; the series, as Ramaswamy says, “is as ...

Sacred Knowledge: how psychedelics shaped an academic’s life


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William Richards’ new memoir focuses on the way psychedelics have enriched his life and fuelled his own work on ‘entheogens’ and spiritual experiences

Back in 1963, then-psychology grad student William A Richards was studying in Germany when he volunteered to take part in an experiment with psychedelics. The result was transformative. He saw an “exquisitely beautiful, multidimensional network of intricate, neon-like patterns”. Then, as he tells us in his new book, Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, felt he then fused with them until, “My awareness was flooded with love, beauty, and peace beyond anything I ever had known or wildly imagined to be possible.”

Richards’ experience sparked a lifelong interest in psychedelics (which Richards calls “entheogens”), spirituality, and the interconnection of the two. Sacred Knowledge, newly out from Columbia University Press, is part memoir, part philosophical treatise and part examination of the state of psychedelic research today, ...

NK Jemisin: the fantasy writer upending the ‘racist and sexist status quo’


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Jemisin’s celebrated fantasy novels are about multicultural, complex worlds that stand out in a field that has been traditionally dominated by white men

“It’s human nature that we come in our own flavours,” fantasy author NK Jemisin tells the Guardian, “and it doesn’t make any sense to write a monochromatic or monocultural story, unless you’re doing something extremely small – a locked room-style story. But very few fantasy worlds ever do that. In fact, epic fantasy should not do that.”

Jemisin is on the phone from her not-very-epic day job as a university administrator in New York. When she gets off the phone, she says, she’s going to bike to a coffee shop to write her thousand words for the day, a pace that allows her to finish about a novel a year.

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Time Salvager by Wesley Chu review – a new sheen on sci-fi’s rusty clichés


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In Chu’s science fiction novel, the past can be mined for riches, and it’s a frightening metaphor for our own endless recycling of what’s gone before

Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager opens on a familiar scene. The spaceship captain of the High Marker stands on his bridge and receives status reports in standard sci-fi gobbledygook: “Shield arms down!” “Mobility thrusters offline!” “Aft hull breached!” “Get me one damn shield arm and I can deflect the blast!” Captain Kirk and Han Solo wander around somewhere off to the side, half-visible ghosts of sci-fi space opera past.

The ship passes quickly out of the story, but the clichés stand their ground. The world of Time Salvager is not vividly imagined or distinctive; instead it’s slapped together from old, banged-up genre tropes and narratives. In part, this is a function of the fact that Time Salvagers’ world is, even ...

Ms Marvel is a progressive superhero, but latest story arc is a step back on race


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G Willow Wilson’s Muslim Pakistani American superhero is forward-thinking, but newest brown-skinned villain reinforces tired stereotypes of men of colour

Professor X isn’t Martin Luther King, and Magneto isn’t Malcolm X, but the X-Men has always drawn on not-so-subtle racial subtext to stage their high-concept conflict between genetic super-mutant assimilation and separatism. In the very first 1963 Stan Lee/Jack Kirby X-Men comic, Xavier and his students defend a military base from Magneto’s depredations. In the 2014 film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Xavier, Wolverine and the gang make the future safe for mutants by protecting the president of the United States. For the X-Men, typically, racial justice is to be achieved, not through peaceful or violent protest, but through assiduously defending the status quo and bashing other minorities who fail to get with the program. It’s as if #BlackLivesMatter decided to fight police brutality by fundraising to ...