Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: Stop Trying to be Sexy; Start Picking Your Nose

Willard, James B., writer; Beavers, Patrick K., artist. Penny Palabras, Episode 2: The Devil’s Weight. Hollow Scene (January 15, 2014). Kindle edition file size: 9876 KB. AISBN: B00HVT0NV4.

Straczynski, J. Michael, writer; Kotian, Sid, artist; Farmer, Bill, colors. The Adventures of Apocalypse Al #1. Image Comics (2014). AISBN: B00I48Z3HK.

Do you know what I love to read about more than anything else in the world? Inescapable doom. It’s what drew me to Lovecraft: the reveal that while you were in the womb – or perhaps even before – a terrible fate was being written for you. Every choice you make along the way is another nail in your coffin. You are unknowingly writing your own, awful demise and every step you take draws you closer to that horrific eventuality.

Penny Palabras is a regular, school-aged girl, except for the whole paranormal thing. She’s being hassled by a trickster-type spirit she knows as The Straw Man, who is a pain in the ass, but doesn’t seem actually dangerous. That is, not until he burns down her local library, leaving her a mocking note at the scene and killing the local librarian. It’s obvious she’s going to have to get rid of him, but to do that, she’s going to need some serious help.

I adore that Penny Palabras is doing the Lovecraftian doomed protagonist theme with a child. I’m coming in at the second issue, so maybe I’ve missed some backstory and I’ve got this all wrong, but I really enjoy the way that it feels like Penny has grown up seeing monsters and demons. and now they’re no big deal. Penny is a hard-boiled protagonist who’s still in grade school. That’s one of the things that make this comic so fantastic.

The art is perfect for this story. The soft, muted tones give it a dreamy quality that works so well with the otherworldly elements of the tale. It is exactly the art that is needed to make Penny Palabras a wonderful comic that should be read by anyone who likes Lovecraftian horror.


I really wanted to like The Adventures of Apocalypse Al. I really, really did. Centered around a lady who kicks a lot of ass and fights doomsday-causing evil like the lovechild of Fox Mulder and Lara Croft, it seems like the perfect storm of things I like in comics. Except it’s not.

The problem with Apocalypse Al is that it’s created by men for other men to get hot and bothered over. Alison, the titular character, is tough and sassy. Also, she’s got really awesome boobs that defy both gravity and physics, and change size every other panel. She acts like men think strong women act, not like how strong women actually act.

Look, I’m cool if you want to make a comic about a hot lady who kicks ass. I’ve got no problems with sexy ladies. Tank Girl, for instance, is pretty awesome at running around in skimpy clothes and being tough without ever coming anywhere close to the pseudo-boudoir-shot silliness of Apocalypse Al. Really, this gets so close to cheesy porn material sometimes that I was expecting a sexy delivery man to ring her doorbell and tell her he had a package for her.

There’s an episode of Adventure Time that I think all men who want to write Strong Female Characters should have to watch. In it, Finn and Jake are hiding in Marceline’s house, and see her do stuff that girls do when they think no one is watching, like picking her nose. This is how you write female characters, even the sexy and tough ones. You make them people, because they are.

Maybe I’m coming at this from the wrong angle here, though. As women, we’re aware from a young age that men fart and pick their noses, and are generally horrible, disgusting creatures (i.e., human beings). Men don’t ever get that knowledge about women. We’re delicate pearls wrapped in rose petals and we don’t ever do anything so vile as having body functions. Let me tell you, all of you – if there’s one thing I learned from being a nurse, it’s that people are gross. We’re sentient piles of meat and slime, crawling with bacteria.

I’m not saying all female characters need to have nose-picking scenes (although I have to admit I wouldn’t be sad if that became a thing), but maybe they could be less focused on being sexy, even if only because trying to be sexy is the least sexy thing imaginable.