Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Read Comics

As I wrote about on Tuesday, we're going to be spending the next few weeks on this blog talking about how to get into comics. Hope you enjoy today's post, where I do something a little different. 

Learning to decipher the comics medium was my number one road block to reading comics. I don't want this to be a roadblock for you. I kept trying to write a blogpost about the basic rules in comics, but the more I worked on it, the more I realized this would make more sense to tackle as a presentation. So below is a 48 minute video tutorial on the basics of reading comics. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.

How to Read Comics from Mandy P. on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where to Start: Comics: Introduction

I have failed you, my dear readers.

If this was the TV show Arrow and this blog was Starling City, the Hood would have hunted me down in first season and declared I failed this city.

How have I failed you?

Well earlier today, I was online and I saw someone ask, "I've never read a comic book before, but I want to, and I don't know what to do. Help me?"

And I started to answer and then realized....

I have an answer to this question now.


Mea culpa, readers. Please forgive me.

It's strange to think that less than two years ago, I had never read a graphic novel--that the closest I had come to comics was Calvin and Hobbes. That two years ago, I knew who Iron Man and Captain America were--barely--but still thought of little gray aliens first when you mentioned the names Thor and Loki. (And that Loki always made me think of Colonel O'Neill being cloned.)

And yet now, in the present, I am sitting here, typing this while wearing a Kate Bishop t-shirt and a Hawkguy beanie. (Because this is how I normally dress. Not because I dressed especially to write this blogpost.) And I've spent more money on comics than novels so far in the year 2014. And that a lot of people on twitter, tumblr, and facebook view me as their friend who is a comic book expert.

Which is kind of scary when you think about it.

I blogged a lot of my angst about getting into comics here: everything from finding the medium itself difficult to trying to figure out where to start in Marvel comics. I occasionally blogged about finding something I liked, but for the most part, once I settled into comics, I stopped blogging about it here. Since last February I have not ONCE blogged about comics.

As I said, I have failed you. 

But as of today, that failure is no more. I am going to once and for all give you my definitive--current--answer on where to start in comics. 

The problem with comics, unlike my many other "Where to Start" posts is that there is no one answer. This isn't one complicated series that needs to be parsed. This is multiple series across multiple publishers, with multiple genres, characters, and things. This is a WHOLE MEDIUM I'm trying to guide you into.

Hawkeye, Matt Fraction & David Aja
And my answer isn't going to cover all bases. It's only going to cover the bases I know--the bases I used to break in. I'm also going to assess a few of the generally recommended starting points and whether I think they are actually good places to start or not.

So for the next little while here on this site, we're going to be talking about comics. I'm sure other topics will occasionally also be discussed, but mostly comics.

Prepare yourselves, my friends, it's going to be a fun ride. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cheating the Redemptive Story-Arc

Let's talk about Loki.

I don't just mean movie (MCU) Loki--though we will be talking about him. I mean Marvel Loki in general. This discussion will include spoilers for Thor: The Dark World, the end of the comic Siege, issues #622-645 of Journey Into Mystery, and Volume 2 of Young Avengers, and slight vague thematic spoilers for issue #1 of Loki: Agent of Asgard. Proceed at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Introduction to Fan Fiction

In all this talk of shipping, I've kept mentioning Fan Fiction, also lovingly known as fanfic. It's possible that you may have no idea what fan fiction is.

Ms. Marvel, Issue #1
At its most basic definition fanfic is fiction (short stories, novels, and everything in between) written using characters and worlds from already existing fiction--so not original to the writer.

Mostly when people think of fan fiction, they think of unpublished, poorly written works. Some people might think of Fifty Shades of Gray, recalling that originally it was a popular piece of Twilight fan fiction. I myself have neither read Twilight nor Fifty Shades of Gray so I can not attest to how good either is, and therefore, will not be talking about them here.

Fan Fiction should not be synonymous with poorly written and bad. I know I've succumbed to this connotation at times, but its simply not true.

The best and saddest piece of epistle fiction I've ever read was fan fiction. If you know me well, you know I don't read a lot of romance novels, but I will admit, the one romance story I re-read the most is fan fiction. And of course, one of my favorite television shows is fan fiction.

That's right, my definition of fan fiction--fiction written about characters/worlds not owned by the writer--includes things like Sherlock and Elementary. (In fan fiction terms, Sherlock is a Modern AU--alternate universe--and Elementary is a Modern AU + fem!Watson.) My definition would also include things like Wicked, (heck, Wicked is two layers of fanfic deep, since the musical is basically a fan fiction of a fan fiction) and the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Look, if it's not canon--it's fan fiction. Plain and simple.

So why do people write fan fiction?

Out of love.

As much as I rant and rave against Moffat--and boy, do I rant and rave--the man LOVES Sherlock Holmes. He loves him. And Sherlock is nothing but a labor of love, an ode to one of his favorite characters of all time.

It's also written with a mentality of "What if." What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the modern era? How would that be different? How would it be the same? And Moffat does a lovely job of exploring that.

But point of fact, Moffat did not invent Sherlock Holmes. Nothing he writes is Sherlock Holmes canon. Nothing he writes changes or has any bearing on the original stories. It is not canon. It is fan fiction.

Beautiful fan fiction that he's getting paid for, but fan fiction nonetheless.

And it is no different in the works that fill the different fan fiction sites of the internet. People write Avengers fan fiction because they love the Avengers and they want to explore the questions, problems, and situations that the comics and movies either can't or won't.

"Can't?" you gasp. "What kind of problems can't they cover?"

A lot of times it's the mundane ones. A published story has certain expectations of plot and appealing to a massive audience associated with it. It doesn't have time to answer the question "How does Steve Rogers react to a microwave the first time he sees one?" There just isn't time to answer that question in a movie or a comic. But a fan fiction writer can write a 1,000 word amazing short story on the topic. (I actually don't have an example for this, BUT I AM SURE it exists. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've read one, I just can't find it. I'm sorry.)

Loki: Agent of Asgard, Issue #1
But sometimes it's not the mundane problems. Sometimes it's questions of "what if" that leads to Alternative Universes--like Sherlock. What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the modern era? What if Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were dating? What if the Avengers were in high school? What if Loki had taken Coulson instead of Hawkeye in The Avengers? (Answer: Loki would have taken over the world quickly and efficiently. Seriously, read this fic. It's good.) What if Coulson wasn't dead? WAIT! THAT'S RIGHT! FANDOM WON THAT ONE. COULSON LIVES! And then you get these amazing, often well written stories that are just as plot and characterization heavy as any published novel.

So yes, I read fan fiction. Mostly Avengers fan fiction: full of shenanigans, crazy super villains, team building, and roombas. Yes, I said roombas. (Seriously, read the Toasterverse. I cannot express enough how awesome it is. Also I can never look at a roomba the same way again.)

If you have a fandom you love that you're curious to check out fan fiction for, I recommend Archive of Our Own. The stories are free, the writers are very good at tagging* their fiction appropriately, and the system is very searchable. Whatever you're looking for, you can find it. Also let me recommend--especially if you're new to fan fiction--a good way to figure out if something is good, is to look at the number of kudos. My usual rule of thumb is that if the kudos to hits ratio is around 10% than it's probably a good read. Anything better is of course better!

Fan Art of FanFic. It's a thing. By KeesdemonSource
Though if you are new to fanfic, and like the Avengers, I really am going to have to recommend you start with the Toasterverse. The first story is Some Things Shouldn't Be a Chore by scifigrl47, in which Steve makes a chore chart for the Avengers and Tony makes a roomba army. It's rated teen, it doesn't really have a romance (just some background relationships and a little bit of pining if you read it with the right frame of mind, but that could be ignored if you're not a fan of romance), and it has a sentient toaster. What more could you want?

*Tagging: On the one level I mean "rating" like G, PG-13, R, etc (though Archive of Our Own uses "Gen", "Teen", "Mature" and "Explicit"). On another level I mean the tags that let people know what the story is about. If something is tagged Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, you know that ship is in the story. If it's in addition tagged "Established Relationship," you know that they're already an item when the story starts. If it's tagged "Get Together" you know they're not together when the story starts but will be at the end. If it's tagged "pre-slash," you know they don't actually get together at all, there is just some pining and maybe hints at it. But it's not all relationship tags. Sometimes it's types of stories (fix-it), sometimes its warnings (if the story contains violence/rape/abuse, etc), and sometimes it's silly things like angst, cookies, or shenanigans. But the moral of the story is that reading the tags can give you a very good idea of what a story contains, and that the writers on Archive of Our Own are very good at tagging their fiction.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Ship It

Happy Valentine's Day!!! On this day of "luv...twoo luv" I felt it only appropriate that we talk some more about shipping, this time digging into some of the ships I actually ship! So enjoy!

Nine times out of ten, when I say "I ship it" what I'm saying is "I could see that" or "that makes sense." (Heck, I've used the phrase "I ship it" to mean "that makes sense" in situations where shipping was not actually being discussed.) So when I say "I ship it" it's not exactly a resounding level of "YES THIS IS TRUE LOVE THESE PEOPLE MUST GET TOGETHER." That doesn't mean I don't have fictional couples I feel that way about, it just means there are levels to this shipping business.

Your levels of shipping may vary, but these are mine.

I'm going to use examples to explain these levels, so please remember my rules of discussing ships. Keep it civil people.

First of all, just to be clear by "canon" I mean the stories (whether they be books, movies, or radio broadcasts) that are considered "official." Canon is a whole discussion in and of itself, and maybe one day I'll write a blog post on it, but if you have any questions about it, feel free to shoot them my way.

by Airinn (source)
I ship almost all of canon. Not necessarily with a passion, not necessarily with strong feelings, but on some level I ship it. A lot of the times it's just quiet acceptance (who am I to say Harry and Ginny couldn't be together) and sometimes it's with a stronger passion (CECILOS) but if two people end up together forever in canon, I probably ship it. There are a few exceptions--there always are--but in any geeky conversation or discussion of fan fiction, canon ships are in my mind and real.

These are ships that I'm not heavily emotionally invested in, but I legitimately forget that they're not canon. And when I read/watch/discuss the stories they are a part of, in my mind they were/are in a relationship. The perfect example of this is Sirius Black/Remus Lupin.

I've legitimately had this conversation:

Me: When Sirius and Lupin dated during the Marauders era...
Friend: What?
Me: What?
Friend: Sirius and Lupin dated? In what book did JKR say that?
Me: ....oh bad....

I don't remember who first pointed this ship out to me, but it is a very common Harry Potter ship. In my headcanon, it's not that they are in a relationship during the events of the Harry Potter series, but that they were when they were students at Hogwarts. I'm not emotionally invested in this idea. Disagreeing with it isn't going to upset me. I'm completely willing to entertain other ships. But every time I read the books or discuss the series, it's colored by this head canon, my mental knowledge that these two characters totally dated at some point.

Other examples of headcanon ships: Dean Winchester/Castiel (Destiel)

OTP means One True Pair in shipper terms, and basically these are the couples I am extremely emotionally invested in the idea of. When I think about these two people together I'm just like "BUT HOW COULD IT BE ANY OTHER WAY! THEY'RE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER." Sometimes my OTP is canon (or becomes canon, as was the case for Ron/Hermoine) and sometimes it's not (PHLINT).

by flatbear (source)
Clint Barton/Phil Coulson (aka Phlint) was probably the most insidious ship I've ever been introduced to. The first time someone mentioned it, I was like "What? Huh? How does that make sense?" Then they explained themselves, and I was like "huh, okay, I see that." It was not an OTP, just a nod to the logic of it. But the more it came up (on tumblr and in fan fiction and in conversations), the more I realized it made COMPLETE sense. And the more I realized they would be PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER. And then suddenly, I was reading every piece of Clint/Coulson fan fiction I could find.*

by xxjust-a-nobodyxx (source)
So yes, Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) and Agent Phil Coulson are my OTP. Clint is a somewhat bad boy, but more of a person who just makes terrible life choices. Not because he's a bad guy, but because his entire life has been awful. (Abusive parents who then died in a car crash, so he and his brother went to live at the orphanage, which sucked, so they ran away to the circus, where Clint learned all his archery skills but also learned some more...nefarious skills, and then his brother left him, and Clint was a bad guy for a while, and then he became the Avenger we all know and love. So yeah, tragic backstory.) Phil Coulson is a stable, straight laced kind of guy, who always makes the right decision, but could use some loosening up. THESE TWO ARE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER, I TELL YOU. PERFECT.

And that level of vehemence is pretty much the definition of an OTP.

My other OTPs**: Tenel Ka Djo/Jacen Solo, Mara Jade/Luke Skywalker, Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger, Oliver Queen/Felicity Smoak

This is OTP but bromance variety. These are characters that I think are perfect for each other--but as best friends, friends with an epic bromance. We're talking JD & Turk (Scrubs) levels of bromance.

By the lovely and wonderful flatbear
I have a lot of BroTPs but I think the one I feel most fervently about is Clint Barton & Natasha Romanoff. (A brief note: "/" is used to denote romance and "&" is used to denote friendship. So Clint/Natasha is a very different thing from Clint & Natasha.)

In mainstream Marvel comics (616, for the comic savvy), Clint and Natasha were totally an item at one time. The two are intrinsically entwined in their back story. Even the MCU was sure to tie them together. (What's the one thing that brings Widow in from a mission? Name dropping Clint. And it's heavily implied that Clint is the one who brought her into SHIELD.) These are two broken people with nefarious pasts, it's easy to see why they would be soulmates.
From Loki: Agent of Asgard Issue #1

But I much prefer my Clint and Natasha as platonic soul mates. Sure, it's easy to say that's just me writing off Nat romantically so I can have my OTP, but I honestly think that with her backstory, Natasha is the sort of woman who has used romance and sex as a weapon. She needs someone in her life who doesn't want anything from her--sex or otherwise--and I think that person is Clint. I like to think they have such a deep level of understanding and trust that they can just cuddle up on the couch without expectations. 

I think they both need that and I think they are that for each other: platonic soulmates, bros, besties. Our in the words of Clint himself (in Hawkeye), Natasha is his "work wife."

My other BroTPs: Arthur & Merlin (from Merlin), Sherlock & Watson (specifically, but not limited to Sherlock), Harry Potter & Hermione Granger, Tony Stark & Bruce Banner (Science Bros!), Steve Rogers & Tony Stark, Steve Rogers & Clint Barton, Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes...Steve with everyone. STEVE SHOULD BE BROS WITH EVERY AVENGER.

This level only applies to non-canon ships, and most often it applies to ships that *could have* become canon, but slowly, over the process of new canon being released, you realize your ship is not going to be the one that comes to be. And you don't care. You don't care that canon just revealed your ship is not true, because you know these two characters are MEANT TO BE. 

The perfect example of this, for me, is Harry Potter/Luna Lovegood. 

I always felt that it was obvious that JKR was going for Harry/Ginny, but I also knew that she had and did change her original designs as characters developed and the books were written, so I always had this hope that maybe she would forgo the obvious Harry/Ginny and give us Harry/Luna. I loved those two together. Luna is an intensely loyal friend, and perhaps one of the few people who can relate to Harry's feelings of being outside of society. 

And I went down with this ship. I still don't care--nearly seven years later--that Ginny/Harry is canon. If we're talking theoreticals, this is the couple I think should've happened. If I'm reading fan fiction, this is the couple I want to read about. I still ship Harry/Luna, and nothing is going to change that.

Other "I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP": Tenel Ka Djo/Jacen Solo***

A NoTP is something that I don't ship--under any circumstances. Other people may ship them and that's their right and prerogative, but I just can't see it and /or I'm disturbed by the entire concept. Usually if I see a fan fic contains this ship--even if it's primary ship is my OTP--I will not read that piece of fan fiction.

Probably my biggest NoTP is MCU Loki/ANYONE EVER ****. Look, it's not that I'm opposed to Loki having love. It's that Loki is in a very, very, very, very, very unhealthy state of mind. He's so full of self hatred that he pretty much does everything in his power to sabotage his relationships, and even when he starts building them back up and fixing them again in Thor 2, he has to go and do something stupid once again so that no one--possibly not even Thor--will forgive him this time. (I'm not saying Loki is not redeemable, NOT AT ALL, in fact I have a whole separate post written on this subject that I'll be posting next week. I'm saying that Loki goes out of his way to do things to burn bridges between himself and other people.) 

I just can't support anyone being in a romantic relationship with someone like that. Not even a fictional character.

But as I've said, it is your right to ship Loki with whoever you please. And that's fine. Just don't expect me to read the fan fiction about it or support your side in a geeky argument.

My NoTPs: Anything to do with incest (looking at you Wincest and Thorki). I can't even support canonical incest (LOOKING AT YOU, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE). As I said, you can ship what you want, but I just can't. I can't. 

There are a lot of ships in this world. A LOT. People ship nearly everyone with everyone else. Basically if two characters exist, they are shipped. And most of them I don't hate. They're not NoTPs. But they don't fall anywhere on my "OMG I LOVE THEM" scale and neither are they headcanons that I've just accepted.

From Avengers Prime Issue #5
The biggest example of this is probably Steve Rogers/Tony Stark. I don't really ship it. I prefer them as a BroTP. But I get why people do ship it, and I don't find the idea disturbing. And it's a very, very popular ship. So it's background in a lot of Clint/Coulson fanfiction. I'm still going to read that story--heck, I've even read Steve Rogers/Tony Stark fan fiction (the Toasterverse is amazing, you guys). I really have no feelings about it one way or the other. It can be, it doesn't have to be, and frankly, I just don't really care. 

Other examples of meh: Natasha Romanoff/Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes, Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley, and A WHOLE LOT OF SHIPS

So those are my seven levels of shipping and some examples of my ships and NoTPs. Who do you ship? Where do they fall on this scale? Love/hate any of my ships? Just remember, keep it civil. FOLLOW THE RULES.

*I should say every piece of Clint/Coulson fan fiction that was rated PG-13 or less. I don't read the explicit stuff.  I generally stick to the "Teen" and lower tags on Archive of our Own.
**I have been very lucky that so many of my OTPs have become canon. This is not always the case. You may think Luke/Mara was always going to happen, but that is not true. There was a time where the Powers that Be in the EU that Callista was Luke's One True Love. And I never shipped that business. I was always hardcore Luke/Mara, and I'm so thankful it came to be, even if I'm not grateful for how it came to end. (Honestly, let's just pretend that everything from the New Jedi Order on didn't happen, okay?)
***You might say "but they are canon!" to which I say if that's your idea of true love coming to its fruition...we need to have a long talk. 
****We're just talking Movie Loki here. (MCU = Marvel Cinematic Universe). Comic Loki and his various incarnations are an entirely different bag of cats, as is mythological Loki. Myth Loki/Sigyn is probably one of the best relationships ever. Kid Loki/Leah are completely adorable. But MCU Loki...he needs to pull himself together.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Rules for Discussing Ships

Shipping Wars get vitriolic fast. Nothing brings out the angry hoards faster than proposing a theoretical yet unpopular ship.

As I’ve said before, I think this is silly. All ships can and should coexist peacefully.

But I get why this happens. People get very emotionally invested in ideas—and especially in ships. And when you’re invested in a non-canonical ship, odds are that people in real life have probably looked at you like you were crazy when you mentioned it. And it’s hard to stand up for yourself in a real life situation, when your parents, friends, or classmates are staring at you like you’re insane because you see the homosexual subtext in Supernatural.*

So you transfer all that pent up frustration with your real life friends to the internet, and suddenly you’re lambasting everyone who thinks that maybe Dean and Castiel aren’t meant to be together.

Look, we’ve all been there. I know I’ve been emotionally invested in ships. I grew up in the Harry Potter era, and let me tell you, Luna/Harry was never the most popular ship. Most people fell in the Harry/Hermione and Harry/Ginny camps.

But shipping wars—aka huge, hate filled arguments about which ships are more valid—are not the answer. And to avoid them, I abide by a few simple rules when dealing with online (and real life) discussions about ships.

1. NEVER use the word “canon” like it’s the ultimate end to any discussion. I guarantee the shipper you are arguing with knows what is and is not canon. But the joy of shipping is the joy of thinking beyond canon, thinking beyond the page—even if it is in support of a canonical ship. Ultimately shipping is about critical thinking. So if you want to argue in support of your canon ship, you need a better excuse than “it’s canon.” I want to hear: “Hermione & Ron make sense together because of these reasons.” Think about why you support a ship. Don’t just support it because an author told you to. Support it because it makes sense!

2. LISTEN FIRST. Look, you don’t have to agree with me that Sirius and Lupin were totally an item back in their Hogwarts days. That’s fine. But remember this is a theoretical discussion where most of the fun is pulling apart clues from the text and psychoanalyzing characters. We may not agree, but it’s still fun to see what the other person’s rationale and reasons are. You might learn something about one of your favorite characters from it. But the key here is: don’t start yelling as soon as you hear “Sirius/Lupin” cross my lips. Listen first. Then prepare your counterarguments or questions. Or maybe just say “Yeah, in that context, that makes sense” and then explain to me why you think Sirius/Snape makes more sense.

3. Do not insult a person’s ship. You may think it’s the dumbest pairing you’ve ever heard—that there is no way in Hell that Crowley and Sam Winchester would get together (get it? No way in HELL…sorry, is that just me laughing over here?**)—it doesn’t matter. Insulting a person’s ship is like insulting…a person’s actual naval and/or space vessel. You just don’t do it, or else Captain Kirk is probably going to punch you in the face. So instead of saying “That’s dumb” or “That’s stupid” just say “I don’t really see that, but if you do that’s cool.”

4. Sexual orientation is always malleable. Remember this is an exercise BEYOND canon, and remember that we live in a world that has very few gay and lesbian characters. Also, very rarely is a character’s actual sexual orientation called out. Yes, Clint Barton had a relationship with Natasha Romanoff and Bobbi Morse in the past, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t bisexual. Yes, Harry dated Cho Chang, but he wouldn’t be the first teen to discover he was gay at a later date. And you know what—I don’t remember Draco explicitly dating anyone. Which isn’t to say that your straight ships aren’t equally valid. Just accept that you can ship someone who might seem canonically straight as anywhere on the QUILTBAG spectrum. And vice versa. You want to ship Dumbledore/McGonagall? Go ahead, my friend. Ship to your heart’s content.***

5. Remember it’s supposed to be FUN. Any time we’re discussing a theoretical geeky topic, it’s because IT’S FUN. If you find yourself getting angry or upset, you’re doing it wrong. So step away from the computer and take a deep breath.

6. Ships ARE NOT mutually exclusive. This is the big one, and the part that most fans get hung up on. For some reason, people think that my believing in Clint/Coulson impinges on their right to believe in Clint/Natasha. This is simply not true. All ships can and should coexist in peace. I can simultaneously ship Clint/Coulson, Coulson/the Cellist, and Clint/Natasha. AND THAT’S OKAY. It’s not mutually exclusive. Heck, the Avengers exist in different forms in like five canonical universes. Make up your own separate universes in your head. IT’S OK. And just accept that someone else’s ship exists in their universe. Remember rule #5. It’s about fun. Not about who has the canon-ground or who has the best psychological profiles to match two people up. IT’S ABOUT FUN.

7. DON’T FEED THE TROLLS. This is always a good rule to abide be when dealing with the internet. If someone is attacking your ship from an angry place, just don’t respond. No one is making you interact with anyone here. And in real life, just remind them of rule #5 and then walk away from the conversation.

And that’s it! My seven rules on avoiding a shipping war. If you have any additional rules or thoughts, please share them in the comments!

*”Subtext?” you cry. “That’s not subtext. THAT’S TEXT.” And I agree. But not everyone sees it, and you know what? That's okay.

**You still don’t get it? You must not watch Supernatural, so brief explanation—Crowley is a demon and the King of Hell. Look, it’s funny. Just trust me.

***Though remember that things can get sticky in this sort of situation. People might accuse you of straightening a character because you’re homophobic. In these cases, just remind them POLITELY that you are shipping based on chemistry and remember the other rules of shipping. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What is "Shipping?"

(I've been meaning to write this post forever, but in light JK Rowling reigniting the Harry Potter shipping wars this past weekend, I thought writing it now would be apt.)

If you frequent tumblr or the geekier sides of the web, odds are you know what I mean when I say "I ship it." However, interactions with people outside of the internet has taught me that not everyone is familiar with this term, or at least how the term tends to be used in fandom. 

Granted, writing a blogpost about shipping to answer the questions of people who don't frequent the web is something of a silly notion, but I know I have friends and family reading this who are not as deep in fandom as I am, so I figured the least I could do was explain the term I tend to use on Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr to their continued confusion.


First things first, it has nothing to do with the postal service. In fandom "ship" is a verb that is derived from the word "relationship" (get it? relationSHIP). To "ship" people is to wish they would get together, aka have a romantic relationship.

The easiest pop culture example is Twilight. You'll remember that Twilight fans generally divided into one of two camps "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob." In shipping terms, this meant there were two major ships: Bella/Edward and Bella/Jacob. The angst and arguments between the two groups of "shippers" is what we call a "shipping war."

(NameOne/NameTwo is the common notation for a ship, though you'll often also see name combinations, like Clint Barton/Natasha Romanoff combined to form Clintasha, Tony Stark/Steve Rogers makes Stony, and perhaps most adorably Tony Stark/Pepper Potts is Pepperony.)

Shipping Wars can and do get ugly, much to my sadness, because I think all ships should be able to coexist in peace. But...I'm getting ahead of myself.

If you're not heavily involved in fandom, you may be wondering why people care and what exactly is involved in this shipping business. To answer the first question, there are a lot of reasons why people care.

The most common--the one that everyone usually has at some point regardless of whether you're a hardcore fan or a casual reader--is that you're trying to predict who a person will end up with in a work that is as yet not complete. For example, as readers we had years between Harry Potter books. Years between books to hypothesize and wonder and try to figure out how things would turn out. One those aspects is who would end up with who. If you'd only read the first four books of Harry Potter and you're waiting the TWO LONG YEARS for the next book, you're going to wonder everything from "How are they going to defeat Voldemort?" to "Do House Elf rights ever get taken seriously?" to "Do Ron and Hermione end up together?" It's just one of the many hypothetical questions to be considered when trying to suss out the future direction of the story.

Thus the Shipping Wars of Harry Potter fandom were EPIC. The Harry Potter shipping wars also had the distinct honor of being the first major worldwide phenomenon among kids and teens during a time when the internet was in its infancy. All of this built into the perfect storm of Harry Potter fandom that was both beautiful and ugly.

(If you missed it the first time, you're now getting a taste of it with JKR's announcement over the weekend. The Harry Potter shipping wars got ugly. And now they're reignited. Thank you, JKR.)

But guessing what will and will not become canon is not the only reason people ship characters. People ship characters even when there is a zero likelihood of them being a couple becoming a reality. So why do they do this? Why do we ship things that are never going to be canon?

Chemistry between characters is a big reason. Fans look at characters who are fantastic friends and think "but what if it wasn't platonic?" Fans also look at characters who have never met and think "but what if they did meet? They would get along famously!"

And this directly leads to another reason: a lack of gay and lesbian characters and couples in canon.

When you look at a show like Star Trek, which manages to represent almost everything else under the sun but not gay and lesbian relationships, its easy to see why people might look at the Kirk/Spock relationship and say, "They're such good friends, but what if it was something more?" People are looking for representation, a reflection of themselves in the world.

Which is not to say that everyone who ships "slash" and "femslash" couples (gay and lesbian ships, respectively) is gay or a lesbian. Remember people ship based on chemistry. And as we move into a world that is more accepting of gay and lesbian couples, we move into a fandom that is more and more willing to pair characters into gay and lesbian relationships. (Arguably fandom has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to this. John Watson/Sherlock Holmes is probably the oldest ship in the book, followed by LOTR ships and Kirk/Spock.)

The final reason for shipping leads straight to the discussion of "what exactly is involved in this shipping business." And one of the big answers to that is Fan Fiction--which is a topic in and of itself and will be discussed later this week!

Still the most common use for a ship is geeky arguments. For those discussions at night in the college dorm where someone asks, "Who do you think Sirius Black dated when he was at Hogwarts?"

And those are some great discussions.