So it’s been awhile, but in between work and play I’ve got another issue in the pipe. Issue II of Ether Tribes pushes past the introductory efforts of the first issue and gets into the family life of Mathias. I have a strong desire to explore characters from the inside out and to show how they are shaped by the world around them. There is a temptation to let 2d characters have 2d personalities, but it turns the characters into objects. I believe people make decisions in their lives but many times I see a focus on “free will” that ignores the reality that shapes the action. “Reality” in this case is the world the character lives in. It includes their family life, relationships with their community, environmental challenges and economic challenges.
There is a philosophical debate on “free will” and I won’t pretend to have an answer to it. But I have noticed that society tends to worship individual action, often at the expense of what shapes the action itself. This is most noticeable when issues of success and crime come up. If someone succeeds it’s because they did it and the coaches, teachers and families that created the support structure tend to go unmentioned. I think about all the fame that gets tossed at movies and almost none of it goes to the grip/electric department. Know what a grip does in movies? If you do then you’ve probably worked on a film. Without them, big films lose light. Films without light all look the same… dark. The grip department gets to set the earliest and leaves last. They work the hardest and get paid the least. They participate in greatness but are treated like shadows. They get awards, just like actors, but their ceremonies aren’t televised. Every major film owes their success to a rock solid grip department and very few people even know who they are. I can think of hundreds of actors and actresses that I’ve never met. I can’t think of one grip unless I shook their hand. This is a small injustice but I’m sure you can think of some better ones. For all the care and labor that goes into a movie, the fame tends to fall on only a few faces.
Crime is a tougher issue. Victimless crime tends to be a smokescreen for attacks on the poor. The state brings the hammer down on them for whatever reason- racism, breakup labor movements, etc. all in the name of some righteous indignity that the individual is supposedly responsible for. Don’t believe me. Look up the prison sentences for “crack”- a poor man’s drug and “cocaine” -a rich man’s drug. If we’re so concerned about drug abuse in this society then why are there such judicial discrepancies between expensive drugs and cheap ones? There is an answer.
Crimes with victims are where the “free will” issue gets charged. Lots of emotions get involved. If someone in my family is murdered or attacked then the perps got to pay. But as much as I want to hold someone accountable, it doesn’t let society off the hook. There are strong correlations between crime and social injustice. Inequality creates thieves. Neglect and emotional distance are the bedrock of sociopaths. Pressure and stress are bedfellows with hostility and insanity. I can see a shocking crime on TV and ask why. Answers given by the media tend to focus on the individual psychological profile. No one asks the bigger question. How did this horrible crime happen? What brought all these nasty events together? The answer to those questions are usually all around me- run down schools, poisonous living conditions, mind numbing jobs, television babysitters, no community activities. These thoughts rattle in my head when I put together the stories for Ether Tribes. There is tension between what I’ve been taught and what I suspect. This tension is useful to anyone creating a fantasy/sci-fi world because it sparks the part of the brain that sees the bigger picture. The wider the net you cast into your imagination the bigger the catch. You can build that net by opening your eyes around you. Ask questions you haven’t asked. Strip away filters until you get an answer that absolutely makes sense.
It’s not enough for me that Porrbrandir is a cold and mean father to Mathias. I want to know why he is that way; and when I dig in his past I find that his childhood was harsh and survival was at the expense of his emotional development. Just when he was about to conquer a cold and careless world of barbarians and mythological monsters, he gets sucked into a world he doesn’t understand. This personal injustice filters into his attitude towards his circumstances and his own family. And they react. Natalia is understanding, but she can afford to be. She grew up in the same fashion as Porrbrandir and respects the sacrifices he has made for her and their family. Pol and Trem have their feet in two worlds, the Vent is a cold reality but also a memory. Koronost is a playground in comparison. However, many of their attitudes were learned from Porrbrandir and as they grew up they adopted many of his prejudices and insecurities. They come out in different ways but, then again, they are different people. Mathias is another story all together.
This part of the series is called “The Origin of Mathias” for a reason. Mathias will have a complex relationship with future events that will have a great impact on The Kingdom of the Trees. He will not always make the right decisions, but when he gets overwhelmed and makes the wrong one, I want you to understand why. The more pressure I put on Mathias the more opportunity he has to be heroic. In this issue, I explore the pressure put on Mathias by his own family. Revenge and violent retribution are not motivations that everyone shares. For Mathias to have them I have to know why. When children develop they can be like sponges- evolving very quickly to survive in environments they don’t understand. They take cues from whatever party cares for them. But what happens when some of those caregivers don’t care? What happens when none of them do?
I’ve done enough social work to tell you what happens. There is no horror movie I’ve ever seen that can touch the reality of how cruel society and families can be to a child. To be honest, I’m immune to zombie movies and the like. They pale in comparison to the abuse I’ve seen heaped on our youth. It’s even more frustrating to work in environments that are supposed to help these troubled kids. Very quickly, I realized most of these abused kids are experimented on with medication, housed in prison like environments, and the staff expected to nurture them are given few resources to do so as state funds get funneled into private hands.
That last part gets to me. Taxes are collected from the community, lumped into a sum, and given to a group of investors that puts together a business. The business is supposed to help children but it’s “for profit”. There’s only a finite amount of tax money available so in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of the deal they have to cut corners. The more corners cut the more money left over. These monsters profit from child abuse. How do they profit? Take the money given to you to hire qualified staff and keep it. Consequence: the quality of staffing goes down. Not enough qualified people are hired as many direct care positions are just shy of minimum wage. The staff left are overworked and stressed because there aren’t enough people on the floor to help. Want more profit: set up minimal facilities- bad food, cramped conditions, few outings. Children from abused backgrounds are packed into rooms like sardines. Want more profit: take money from the program. Consequence: children are given few incentives to improve terrible behavior. The vast majority of them are medicated to help control their violent impulses or drug addictions. If the child refuses to take drugs- they’re punished or kicked out of the program. Which is another issue…
Imagine, you go to a “for profit” health care facility as a child, to cure an addiction to drugs. You have an empty feeling in your heart from being neglected and mistreated. Addiction is almost always a retreat from some great inner pain. But let’s put that aside- their solution to drug addiction is to give you a pill, synthetic heroine or some other standard. It doesn’t matter if the drug has a 20 percent chance of creating suicidal depression, or it pulps your liver, or even degenerates your brain. Take it. If you have parents, the doctor or therapist will convince them that you need medication. If you’re a ward of the state then god help you- no one is looking out for you, take these drugs or we’ll stick you in juvenile prison. And that’s the solution to drug problems. Take more drugs or we’ll make you take em’. Pharmaceuticals benefit, investors benefit, some state official got re-elected for greasing the right palms… but the kids. Yet again, they get screwed. The ones that need the most get the least.
When I see a “criminal” I often wonder if they ever had a chance to do anything better. People don’t scream for no reason, and I’ve never met a child that was “born bad”. Massive case files always accompany the worst kids with rich details about what they’ve endured and how they’ve acted out. For about ten years I was expected to be responsible for them, in circumstances that were unjust. I’ve had my fair share of confusion and misery growing up but it was nothing like what I was exposed to. It was painful and overwhelming and I think these kids are owed a grandiose apology. You won’t get one from the the people behind closed doors. What do they care? It’s business as usual.
But you’ll get one from me. To all the kids stuck in the health care system: I’m sorry all I have to offer is a comic book. You need much more. You need as much love as you’ve gotten hate. Society has been irresponsible to you and hasn’t even provided the basic emotional building blocks you need to thrive. If you don’t get funneled into the prison system then you’ll be expected to find your own way in a confusing and competitive world. You will stand next to people that have been given every opportunity and squandered it while you’ll be expected to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You may have victimized people in your past but you are also victims. If you can… move beyond the madness. Develop and listen to your conscience. Stand up for yourself. Find people that love you and stick up for them. If you do then you will be a hero. The world already has too many assholes… it can always use another hero.
Mathias has a troubled life. He will grow. He will prosper. He will make terrible decisions. He will also find redemption. He will become a hero and participate in a legend. In my universe I get to decide his fate. Maybe I can’t stop people from hurting each other, but I can redeem an abused child in my fantasy world. And if I could dedicate Ether Tribes only once, then it would be to all the SPED kids and imprisoned youth out there. You deserve more from me but it’s a start.
This post was supposed to be about the future of this comic but I obviously had some other things on my mind. For any fans, I’ll provide more details about Ether Tribes in the near future. Oh, and if you’ve read this far but haven’t read the comic- this is one of my favorite pages. Heroes sometimes face terrible odds. They either win… or they learn.