Don’t F**k With Cats

This three-part documentary series on Netflix is really upsetting, and I mean really upsetting. It’s difficult to write a summary, but basically, a group of people on Facebook tries to track down a man who posts videos of himself killing animals, thus giving him the attention he craves and inspiring him to post a video of himself killing another human being. The documentary itself is well-made and doesn’t show the grisly bits of the actual videos, but it’s still not a pleasant experience to watch. Thankfully, there’s nothing particularly sensationalist about the project, and the “internet nerds” are presented as normal and intelligent adults.

The director has said that he created this documentary for the purpose of spreading awareness, which I appreciate. My experience with trying to get my anxiety treated over the course of the past year has been that a lot of people – especially people born before around 1980 or so – just don’t understand how violent and upsetting online engagement can be sometimes. Even people my age and younger haven’t responded well when I try to talk about this, and common responses include:

– Maybe the person attacking you has a mental illness. (That’s not a valid justification.)
– Maybe you shouldn’t spend so much time online. (That’s not the problem.)
– Maybe you deserve this. (No one “deserves” death and rape threats.)

What I think people who haven’t experienced extended episodes of online harassment aren’t getting is that sometimes it’s possible to encounter people on the internet who are genuinely scary. When you become the target of a person like this (as one of the primary “narrators” in Don’t F**k With Cats does), it has nothing to do with you specifically, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

I also recently read the book Nobody’s Victim, which is written by Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer and advocate for the victims of internet stalking and harassment. This book is just as upsetting as Don’t F**k With Cats, especially since many of the people Goldberg represents (as well as Goldberg herself) have had to suffer through intense and pervasive victim blaming. No one they go to for help understands what happened to them, and everyone thinks the fact that they became the targets of scary people is somehow their fault. Very few people believe what they’re saying in the first place, and a lot of the evidence they produce to document what they’ve experienced is used against them.

I personally haven’t been the target of anything as severe as what appears in Don’t F**k With Cats and Nobody’s Victim (thank goodness), but it was still very easy for me to recognize the patterns of how popular online platforms enable abusive modes of behavior and the hate crimes of disturbed people. I’m finally starting to see people within fandom share resources (like this) discussing best practices regarding how to process and handle these types of encounters, and that’s wonderful, but I’m really looking forward to there being a greater awareness of these issues in mainstream society as well.

How to Make Classes Work, Step Two

Wear a suit to every class.

No exceptions.

Because of some weird harassment from [redacted], I had an intense panic attack at the beginning of the semester that left me so sick and weak that it was impossible to wear a suit for the first two weeks. Anxiety may be psychosomatic, but it’s still very much a physical illness.

You may be thinking that I must be some sort of crazy person, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but I’m actually one of the most normal people I know. If you sat next to me on an airplane or met me at a wedding reception, you’d think I was normal too. I like to talk about normal adult things like pets and vacations and real estate and other people’s children. I’m even a little boring, but in a totally normal and average way.

So how does a normcore person like me with no history of health issues turn into a nervous wreck? Stewing in a toxic environment for a few years will do that to you, and at this point I’m having trouble imagining a more toxic environment than academia.

That’s by design – the university system is structured to consume so much of your life (see my essay about how tenure works) that you stop being able to imagine what the world outside looks like. This isn’t healthy, obviously. If I get tenure, one of the first things I’d like to do is to figure out a set of concrete actions that will help to enable the promotion of a culture of kindness, tolerance, and diversity. I genuinely believe that both professors and university administrators (myself included) would be much better at our jobs if we weren’t so stressed out all the time.

Anyway, I think the combination of my casual clothes at the beginning of the semester and the fact that I’m not a cisgender man may have led some of the students to arrive at the conclusion that I am fun.* I actually am fairly easygoing, but I’m always 115% serious in the classroom, and the suit helps convey that message with less room for misinterpretation concerning the level of effort and engagement I expect from my students.

 

* This conclusion is erroneous. I haven’t had fun since 2008.

Sweaty & Upsetty

Sweaty & Upsetty is a collection of short comics I posted on Tumblr between 2014 and 2018. Some of these comics are about fandom, and some are about anxiety, but most of them are about the experience of being on the internet as a weird little gremlin. There are also a few comics about my Super Mario Bros. headcanon, which is that Bowser and Princess Peach are not-so-secretly dating.

This zine is twenty pages long, standard half-letter size, and professionally printed by Mixam with a velvet-touch cover and full-color glossy interior pages. It was an experiment in formatting artwork for print, so I only made fifty copies to give to friends. I also dropped off a few copies at my local comic book store in Washington DC, Fantom Comics, and I have three last copies that I’m going to leave at Quimby’s Bookstore when I visit Chicago for an academic conference in late October.

My artwork has improved in leaps and bounds since I started sharing it online five years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever reprint this zine, but I’m looking forward to putting together another comics zine early next year!

Why I Buy Books on Amazon

Amazon is evil, and I’m afraid of them. So why do I still use their stupid website to buy books? Let me give you six reasons.

First, I read a lot of scholarship. Since it’s easy to get distracted while reading an academic book, I find it more productive to read paper copies than digital editions. I highlight text and take notes in the margins, so library books are out of the question. Bookstores don’t keep academic books in stock, and I’m not about to order them for full price (which is often more than $100) from the publishers.

Second, I read a lot of literary fiction in translation. I’m not trying to sound cool, because I don’t think literary fiction in translation is ever going to be cool, but I enjoy reading the sort of books that you can only find if you can search for them by means of an aggregate of hundreds of independent storefronts.

Third, I read a lot of fiction and graphic novels that haven’t been translated, and Amazon ships internationally for cheap. In fact, buying a book shipped via DHL Global Express from Amazon Japan or Amazon France is often cheaper than buying the translation at an American bookstore. True story!

Fourth, I read a lot of garbage, and I mean A LOT of garbage.

Let me give you an example. I love the manga series Black Butler, but I do not want to walk into an actual bookstore and ask an actual human being to special order the latest volume for me. In fact, I don’t even want the latest volume to be physically in my apartment, which is why I buy the Kindle editions. I also read a lot of Kindle singles, some of which are so bizarre that they’re probably intended to be performance art. Like most performance art, there’s a lot of potential for misunderstanding. Can you imagine yourself going into an independent bookstore and asking, “Hi, I was wondering where you keep your chapbooks of short experimental fiction. I’m looking for I Got Pounded in the Butt by a T-Rex, could you tell me if you have it in stock?” I guessing that you don’t need any help imagining the look on the face of the English major at the till, which brings me to my next point…

Fifth, I tend to dislike independent bookstores. Don’t get me started on the snobbishness of book culture, because we will be here all day and all night and I still won’t have said everything I have to say about literary gatekeepers and their bullshit.

(I love independent comic book stores forever and always, but that’s another story for another day.)

Sixth, I don’t dislike big chain stores as much as I dislike independent bookstores, but they’re still awful. Let me tell you a short story to help explain why.

The other day I decided that it’s finally time for me to read Pride and Prejudice, so I went to a Barnes and Noble in the suburbs. The entire store was very cringe, with lots of Harry Potter and ghostwritten politician “autobiographies” everywhere. But fuck me, I’m very cringe myself, so I went straight to the super discount shelves to check out those giant glossy books about “How to Make Your Own Healing Crystals” or whatever. I was carefully studying the covers of all the garbage books no one else wanted, and I was about to pick up one of those “witchcraft in a box” packages when a store employee came up to me. She was a super cheerful teenager with bouncy blonde curls, and she asked if she could help me find anything.

I did not in fact need for her to help me figure out where Jane Austen is in their fiction section, but I couldn’t help imagining the awkward conversation we’d have if I requested that she take me there. She would ask if I’ve read the book, and I would have to tell her I haven’t. The reason I’ve never been able to get more than fifty pages into Pride and Prejudice is because Jane Austen has always struck me as a mean girl, and I don’t like the way she makes fun of Elizabeth Bennet’s mom. I’m not sure how I would explain this to the rosy-cheeked teenager, who might respond by repeating some nonsense about the book that she read on Tumblr – where there happens to be a lot of angry and impassioned Jane Austen discourse, if you can believe it.

While this awful conversation was flashing through my mind, I realized that the girl was probably ordered to approach me by one of her supervisors, who saw me concentrating intently on something no sane person would actually buy and was therefore worried that I was a shoplifter. I then got a ridiculous mental image of myself sneaking out of the store with a giant “Witchcraft for Dummies Starter Kit with Bonus Crystals” box under my shirt, which would honestly be only slightly less embarrassing than taking it up to the cash register to pay a whole $8.99 to another teenager who would have to keep a straight face while asking me if I wanted to sign up for a store card.

What I mean to say is that this girl surprised me, and I ended up replying to her offer of assistance by saying “no.” Not “no, thank you” or “no, I’m good,” or “no, but I’ll find you if I need anything.” I just said “no” and walked away. Even though it was a little rude of her to interrupt me, this dick move instantly turned me into the bad guy, because what sort of douchenozzle treats retail workers like that? I felt like such an asshole, especially when they didn’t have Pride and Prejudice on the self with the rest of the Jane Austen books and I was too embarrassed to ask where it was.

And that’s why I don’t like going into bookstores, thank you for joining me on this journey.

In conclusion, I love books, and it makes me happy to support writers and publishers, but I’m also a weird little gremlin who probably shouldn’t be allowed to go out in public. Amazon enables the full extent of my reading habit without being judgmental, and that’s why they get all my money even though they’re evil.

DC Zinefest 2019

I tabled at the DC Zinefest this past Saturday, and it was a positive experience.

I sold out of almost all of the zines, bookmarks, and stickers I brought, and I was able to use that money to buy zines from the other people tabling at the event. I love zines, and I love the subculture surrounding zines. It’s good to support other writers and artists, and it’s always nice to smile at someone and look them in the eye and tell them how much you value and appreciate their work.

The Zinefest staff were wonderful. I tend to get overwhelmed by the crowd at events like this, so it’s important for me to be able to step back and spend a few minutes in a relatively calm space. I think the people who organize DC Zinefest understand that everyone needs a quiet place, so they set aside a small, screened-off area at the back of the room where people could chill out for a bit without bothering anyone.

My experience with anime conventions has been that the staff are primarily focused on crowd control and therefore operate under the assumption that aggressive confrontation is the best way to minimize trouble. This has led to some awkward situations when I’ve given panels at anime cons, so I appreciate that the DC Zinefest staff took it for granted that everyone who participated was a responsible adult, and I’m grateful that the organizers were willing to provide simple accommodations in good faith.

This was the first time I’ve tabled at an event like this, and here are some things I learned:

– It’s good to have some sort of vertical display for your zines. I’m not a huge fan of the elaborate fortresses constructed by some of the professionals who table at anime and comic conventions, but a low-key vertical display uses space efficiently and helps catch the eyes of people casually walking through the room. I’ve seen a lot of variations of these displays, and I get the feeling that a lot of structures are made by the artists themselves. I only trust myself enough to put together Ikea furniture, so it might be worth looking into where to buy a premade display if I table at an event like this again in the future.

– It’s good to incorporate short written descriptions of each zine into your vertical display. Some people used sticky notes, some people used index cards, and some people crafted display notes by hand. They were all cute and creatively presented, and they were useful to me when I only had a limited amount of time (and money) to look at other people’s tables.

– Along with written descriptions, it’s good to rehearse at least two different elevator pitches for each zine. It’s important to design zine covers that are able to speak for themselves, of course, but it’s also important to engage the people who stop by your table. A few people asked me questions that I didn’t know how to answer, and it would have been helpful if I could have said a sentence or two about the zine as a response, even if my description didn’t directly address what they were asking.

– A lot of people who stopped by my table were a bit awkward. That’s totally understandable, since going up to an artist’s or writer’s table is an awkward situation that takes some experience to get used to. Since I can sometimes be a bit awkward myself, I think it might be good to practice a few simple conversation starters, such as “I like your shirt” or “Do you like video games?” as preparation. It sounds silly to have to practice small talk, but I found that I got better at it with each passing hour. I was downright friendly by the end of the event, which makes me think that practice and experience probably help smooth over some of the awkwardness of this particular social interaction.

– It’s good to table with a friend, or at least to have someone who can drop by for an hour or two and give you a chance to walk around and stretch your legs. The floor layout of DC Zinefest is well organized and has enough room for people of all sizes, but I still think it’s a good idea to apply for a half table (instead of a quarter table) if you have more than one or two zines. If nothing else, a half table comes an extra chair, which means that anyone who comes with you will have a place to sit if they (or you) need it.

The only slightly critical thing I have to say about this experience is that I had a bit of trouble with some attendees – all adult men – who wanted to buy something for $1.00 and insisted on paying with Venmo. If you’ve never used Venmo, it’s a money transfer service that allows smartphones to communicate via QR codes and thereby complete transactions quickly, usually within five to ten seconds. What a few people (about one per hour) did was to make a big deal about having trouble with Venmo. They would make a scene and refuse to let me direct the transaction from my end, and I got the impression that they might have been trying to pressure me into giving them what they wanted for free. I understand that sometimes money transfers can be tricky, and I understand that sometimes QR codes don’t scan, but this happened so many times that I started to suspect something bigger was going on, especially since all of these Venmo “problems” were solved immediately as soon as my male tablemate stood up, spoke to these men at eye level, and told them that they could try transferring the payment to his account instead. The idea that grown-ass men would try to use some sort of stupid “my Venmo doesn’t work” scam to get a $1.00 sticker or bookmark for free at a local zine fest makes no sense to me, but something weird was going on.

Anyway, that’s another reason why it’s good to table with a friend – so that someone can play “bad cop” if an interaction seems as if it’s heading in a difficult direction.

Those minor instances of strangeness aside, I had a fantastic time. The organizers knew what they were doing, the staff was great, my fellow tablers were lovely, and the event was a huge success. I’m truly grateful that I was able to table at the DC Zinefest this year. I met some cool people, I made some good trades, and I came home with a bag full of interesting zines. I’m looking forward to next year!

No Drama, Not Today

This comic was drawn by Vreni Stollberger (here’s her website) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I routinely get a lot of strange comments on all of my blogs and social media accounts. What this has taught me is that, if you exist on the internet, people will send you hate. You can be the kindest and most conscientious person in the world (although I’m certainly not), but mean people don’t need a reason to harass you. I’ve learned that it’s best not to engage with trolls, since there’s no better way to shut them down than to deny them a platform to stand on. Still, it’s frustrating to have to deal with people like this when all you want to do is stay in your lane and enjoy your time online. The pressure to maintain a “positive” attitude and pretend as if nothing is happening when you’re trying to cope with threatening messages can get a little intense and unreasonable sometimes, to be honest.

Ah, well. Haters gonna hate.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

I’ve been learning some things about academic book publishing recently, and I can’t believe I ever had the nerve to criticize any of the academic books I’ve read. This process isn’t easy!

I don’t mean to suggest that publishing an academic book should be as simple as writing something and submitting it. Peer review is important, of course, and academic presses should maintain standards.

That being said, a lot of academic presses seem to expect that their authors will do a fair amount of the formal work of publishing for themselves. I want to discuss this in more detail in future posts, but let it suffice to say that it takes a great deal of time and effort for an author not just to ensure the quality of their manuscript itself but also to act as an editor and agent of the press.

I’m working with Palgrave, which is better than most, but the process of getting my book into print hasn’t been as smooth as I (perhaps naively) hoped it would be. One of the most rewarding aspects of publishing academic writing is working with a good editor, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of editorial support in academic book publishing. For me personally, this has unfortunately exacerbated the anxiety I already feel about this project.

I therefore decided to hire an independent academic editor. I’ll write more about what this entails in the future, but for now it’s liberating to admit that I really need some help getting this book published. Because I’m already so stressed about everything, I also asked a close friend to help me out and serve as a liaison with the editor to make sure communication remains open (as opposed to me having a panic attack and taking two weeks to respond to an email).

I understand that this is somewhat unorthodox, but I believe in this project, and I want to publish the best book that I can. In order for this to happen, it’s important for me to have access to help and support. Manga Cultures a really cool book project, if I do say so myself, and it deserves to be done right.