You Never Know: Resurrecting a Phoenix and Moving On

I’ve been writing a lot on here lately again. There is so much else that I am needing to do, but now I just want to spend some time and really get contemplative on something.

I still find it really amazing just which of my articles garner the most attention. When I first wrote my When I Recognized Elfquest article, I had no idea that so many people would find it fascinating or even relate to it: never mind having the Pinis Favourite, Retweet, and Share it throughout the Elfquest community. The fact is, you can never predict these things. I wrote that article back in 2011 and it sat on my Facebook without input of any kind until I realized, after my hiatus, that it was time and I brought it here–with some revisions–to where it rightfully belongs. I actually have another Elfquest personal story in me. I’m not sure when or where I’ll post it but hopefully I will share it one day.

And then there is my Sequart article On the Art and Cycle of Proper Suffering: The Artist Figure in Phoenix: Karma. That article has its own personal story as well and, as I sit here late at night, I consider the place from where it came. It was originally a paper for a class in my Master’s Program. It was conceived and written in the 2008-2009 period when York University was on strike and, as such, many deadlines and time tables were severely messed up. We ended up having to do Fall term papers during the beginning of our Winter term. It was not a pleasant situation.

Nevertheless, I liked my class and I decided that I wanted to write a paper on Tezuka Osamu’s Phoenix: Karma: as I consider myself an artist, who sometimes emotionally suffers and, as such, finds sympathy with that work. I had a lot of challenges to face when writing that paper. Between continuing to live on my own at the time, and juggling my other assignments and relationships in addition to the readjustment of the school year I found that I had to ask for a few extensions on the paper.

It was towards the end of summer, or what I termed at the time the Summer of Hell when everything seemed to be falling apart, that I finally emailed the final draft to my professor. There were a lot of things wrong with my paper back then. I barely grammar-checked it, never mind read through it, and it was barely twenty of the twenty-five pages that it was supposed to be. But I reached a point where, quite honestly, I just didn’t give a damn any more. It had been hovering over my head for so long and I just wanted it done so I could finish the last of the original term’s work and move on.

After going to a much needed vacation at Dragon Con in Atlanta, I came back to find that my professor marked my paper and left it for me. I remember telling myself to prepare for the worst. Despite that, it was both a surprise and a slap in the face. The comments that my professor left on my paper amounted to the following: that I hadn’t done the work I was supposed to have and that this was not Graduate school material. He ended up giving me a B- which, I have to admit, was pretty damn generous of him.

And suddenly, the reality hit me and I felt a great deal of shame. Here was this excellent comic that I read in the remaining years of my Undergrad, while I vowed to write a modest paper on and which I rushed when I just couldn’t take it any more. I didn’t understand my professor’s instructions, despite asking him a few times and it frustrated me. I was also, before all of this, a good student and to see those words in front of me, that what I made wasn’t Grad School material, honestly made me angry. It made me so angry after everything I’d gone through that I wanted to quit my Program.

Of course, this was all ego talking and most of the suffering I went through had nothing to do with academics and more to do with the choices I made in my personal life. In the end, it was too much and I just took the paper, put it in my desk drawer, placed it under a pile of other papers and tried to forget about it and the lingering shame of failure.

Fast forward a few years. I was living with my girlfriend and we talked about the paper. She gave me a bit of a reality check and told me what I already knew: that my professor had been damned generous. So I called up a digital copy of my paper and read it. I actually read it. I looked at all the grammatical errors, the bad sentence continuity, the lack of flow between ideas, and even some outright preventable errors. And when I mean preventable, I mean I made spelling errors. I even misspelled one character’s name.

It did not sit well with me.

So I spell and grammar-checked that son of a bitch. I made more transitional sentences. I made the word flow a whole lot less awkward and painful to look at. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I finished the assignment years ago. There was no point. Maybe I planned on publishing a better version. I do know I was toying with doing more research and going beyond the narrow limits of books that my University had available on this subject at the time. But then life happened and I forgot about it again.

A year or so later, Julian Darius saw my comments and my work on Mythic Bios and asked me to join Sequart. At one point, another year later, we were informed of it being Manga Week: that we had something of a call to papers or articles to do with manga, its creators, and culture.

That was when I realized something. My professor was right. Maybe “Proper Suffering” wasn`t Grad School material.

But it is Sequart material.

There were some difficulties of course. I’d evolved a different style of writing thanks to Mythic Bios: a combination of the formal and the profane as I like to say. Even my article on The Stitching Together of a Mythos: Kris Straub’s Broodhollow, for all of its relatively extensive footnoting, still had the informal aspect of contractions and some personality on my part. In the case of “Proper Suffering,” my idea was first to re-adapt my old paper into an article that specifically focused on the manga of Phoenix: Karma itself and then get rid of the internal citation and the formal arrangement of language in the paper. But first, I eliminated the extra material on Japanese modernity in the paper. I narrowed and focused it solely on the manga. I added more to the title of the thing. And then I remembered something another professor said to me about my work with comics at York. She told me that I needed graphic examples to complement my written work as that was the medium I had chosen to examine.

So I looked for scans of Phoenix: Karma panels on the Internet. I did not find much. I tried to scan my own copy professionally but it didn’t work and it would been too expensive: especially for bad copies. I did work on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Overture #1 in the meantime and forgot about it until I was asked to contribute another article. So that was when I decided to bite the bullet, place the graphics in that I could get, create transitional sentences between parts because, at this point, I realized “Proper Suffering” was at least three serialized parts in Sequart format. I even added in an extra part examining the kleptomaniac Buchi, whom I didn’t have the time or the energy to look at before, though she was important in the artist Akanemaru’s future decisions.

Then, finally, I sent it in.

And there it is. It still isn’t perfect. Sometimes I wish I added a bit more about how the artifice in the ancient Japanese city of Nara in Phoenix: Karma was representative of the Hindu and Buddhist concept of maya: that all of reality is an illusion of sensory addiction and suffering and how Nature leads to a truer state of non-being beyond ego: or nirvana if you’d like. I feel as though some of the graphics are not quite positioned in flow with the words of my article and then there is the occasional awkward sentence. I thought very few, if any people, would want to see something so painfully, bluntly, academic. It was a relic from another time in my life and I had reinvented myself in many ways much like Tezuka’s emblematic fire-bird.

But then I noticed something. People were retweeting my article in all its three parts. Not just Sequart and my peers there, but other places and people like Brigid Alverson and Tezuka in English. I mean, I was told by Julian that there were few scholastic English sources that focused on manga in depth, but I didn’t believe him. I thought what I made was mediocre at best or at least serviceable. I still think that to some extent.

Yet having “On the Art and Cycle of Proper Suffering” acknowledged really vindicated something for me. It’s one of the few things that from that point in my life that I could go back and give another chance. It was the only thing I could fix. And I did fix it. I resurrected that work like the namesake of the book that I examined and made it better. I suppose, in the end, in doing so I didn’t just make a good and reasonable article but in so doing I also redeemed a perceived failure and honoured a part of my life: with something to show for it in the end.

Perhaps that is one of the real lessons that Tezuka’s characters should have taken when hunting for the legendary phoenix. Like the ancient Sumerian hero Gilgamesh realizing that a mortal life of accomplishment is far better than one of perceived eternity and perfection, I realize it was the process of searching for the phoenix and that even though the pain was a part of it, it was only part of a totality.

So yes, sometimes you just don’t know which of your articles or writings people will like, or become relatable. Sometimes you just have to keep moving on.

Tezuka's Phoenix v4 p108

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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