Progsheet - A Few Words With...Liana K
A Few Words With...Liana K
By John A. Wilcox
I first became aware of Liana K (aka Liana Kerzner) as the sidekick of Canada's outrageous Ed The Sock. Their late night show on G4 pushed more than a few boundaries. These days, Kerzner is an outspoken voice in the gaming community. We recently talked about comic books, video games, film, cosplaying, and...life. Strap yourself in for a memorable one...
PS: Where were you born?
LK: I was born in the Toronto area, lived in Knoxville Tennessee when I was really little, then Athens Ohio, then back to Toronto before I started school.
PS: Do you come from a creative family?
LK: My family was working class. A lot of working class people didnít have the luxury of being creative. That being said, my mother made our Halloween costumes until we were old enough to do it ourselves, and she always made character cakes for our birthdays. I think every family has creative people in it, but some have the opportunity to express that more than others.
PS: Happy childhood?
LK: There were good parts. There were not so good parts. I think that you need a balance of both to become a well-rounded person who understands how to really care about others. If you never have adversity, you tend to blame others for being ďlazyĒ or ďstupidĒ when they go through bad times themselves. Iím glad I didnít have an overly happy childhood, because people who do can end up as assholes.
A defining moment of my childhood was when my friend Aparna died in the Air India bombing. She was seven. I was six. Six years old, and I was getting a crash course in terrorism and victim blaming. Kids spread rumors that Aparna was smoking on the plane, but as I got older I realized what a dumb rumor that was. Again, painful event, but it really shaped my worldview.
PS: What were the best & worst aspects of growing up where you did?
LK: The best aspect of growing up in Torontoís Jane Finch neighborhood was the food and exposure to different cultures. The worst part was the poverty. Iíve done pretty well for myself, but my mother struggled to raise two kids. A big reason I donít have kids yet is that I never want them to feel like a burden. I frequently felt like a burden to my mother. Thatís a bad thing a kid should never have to feel. It has been something Iím working on overcoming, because it makes it very hard for me to ask for things as an adult. So I was basically the typical nerd, I guess. *laughs*
PS: Were you a bookish kid, or an outdoorsy kid?
LK: I was outdoors with a book? I liked climbing trees and playing in mud, but I loved to read too. Reading was something I could do on my own. I actually taught myself to read based on books on record that my parents got me. The repetition following along with the book let me learn the words on my own, so I was reading at the age of three.
PS: At what age did you first start getting seriously into video games?
LK: I was three, and the game was Pac-Man. I called it ďbukka bukkaĒ and my mother would hold me up to play the coin op machines. Centipede, Space Invaders, Wizard Of Wor, Defender and Dig Dug followed. Crystal Castles was a later one. Iíd say this was a serious thing at this age because it caused fights with my mother. *laughs*
PS: What did they bring into your world that was not there before?
LK: A sense of accomplishment. It was a way of challenging myself, failing, trying again and getting better and better, without being mocked or criticized. There was also a sense of magic and power that games gave me. Being able to control sometime on a TV screen was pretty cool. Games were worlds where I was in control. They made sense at times that real life didnít.
PS: Really the same 2 questions, only about comic books...
LK: Comic books were about seeing people like me. There werenít many bottle redheads back in those days! But there were a lot of redheads in comics and fantasy novels. Kids like to see other people that look like them, I guess. The eighties were the era of the blonde bombshell, so I went outside the mainstream for entertainment. My cousins had Spider-Man comics at their cottage, and there were Donald Duck comics at the local library. My father hated comics, so it was a form of rebellion.
I didnít really get into comics until high school though. The X-Men cartoon was on TV in the nineties, and I liked the characters. Later on, my boyfriend was into these collectable Marvel cards in the days of the foil cards and that stuff. I became curious about the stories that went with the images of Venom and Carnage, since the Spider-Man comics Iíd read were older than the introduction of those characters. I couldnít really let into comics seriously until I started working though. Couldnít afford them. Justice Society and Batman: No Manís Land really grabbed me.
PS: Did your dad ever express why he hated comics?
LK: If he did, I was too young to remember. He didnít really need a reason to dislike something. If he didnít understand it, he didnít like it.
PS: Where & why were you being mocked & criticized in your childhood?
LK: I was an overweight, shy, super smart ginger girl who liked Dungeons And Dragons, science fiction and fantasy, and video games. There were plenty of ďreasonsĒ to mock me! But it went beyond that. Iím just not a person who tends to fit in, and I donít self-censor enough to keep attention off me. Thatís why Iím an entertainer.
PS: As you transitioned into your teens, were video games still maintaining importance in your life?
LK: Yeah. I mean, technically it was the Mario generation, but I was more into Sega. My friends had Nintendo though, so I played it thereÖ back in the days when you could do that in top games, because they actually had couch co-op at their house. After I graduated high school, I moved into PC gaming. Predominantly RPGs. University was a horribly disappointing experience for me -- it was not the center of raw intellectualism Iíd been promised, but instead a petty collection of politics and personal agendas -- so Baldurís Gate let me believe that there were still people in the world who believed in fairness and justice.
PS: What sort of books were you reading at this time?
LK: I was a big fan of Terry Brooks. I read Tolkien, but Middle Earth was very much a realm of men with women as supporting characters, because at the time, war was not considered a place for women. Tolkienís books contained the feminine within the masculine -- Frodo as a passive hero bearing a ring, Aragorn as active hero bearing a swordÖ I mean, come on, that begs for an analysis of symbolic gender. However, as a Christian, Tolkienís metaphors were all embedded in the masculine -- the father, the son, and the holy spirit donít have the mother, the daughter too, after all. So while I really liked The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, the character that was most like me, Eowen, has an extremely minor role. Think about the message that sends to girls.
Part of the reason the ďAngry FeministĒ trope exists is that we are angry. Weíre angry at ourselves for internalizing the idea that we are supporting characters in the stories of men. Iím going through this personal challenge right now where my friendís son thinks Xena would be better if Xena was a boy. Now, kids do that because they want cool things to be like them, but this kid believes that boy things are better, and thatís not coming from his parents. So we were out to dinner with them the other day, and this cool little boy was murdering the battery of his momís iPhone playing games on it. Since they needed that phone in case of an emergency on the road, I gave the kid my Xperia, loaded up with Angry Birds Star Wars. Of course he was right into it. After a little while, his sister comes over, watches the phone for a minute, then asks me ďdo you have any girl games on your phone?Ē
I said to her ďWell, its my phone, and Iím a girl, so theyíre all girl games.Ē It didnít really seem to satisfy her. A small part of my brain exploded. This is the reality of modern childhood. Everything is pink for girls, blue for boys. Corporations are overriding the parenting process and programming kids to think that there are boy games and girl games to limit sharing and hand-me-downs. I have no idea what to do about this.
Terry Brooksí Elfstones Of Shannara was the first book Iíd read that was epic fantasy with a defined female lead. That took me to David Eddingsí Belgariad too. Itís amazing that epic fantasy is still seen as the male realm, since the Norse and Celtic cultures that theyíre based on were highly egalitarian. I was given a book about Boudica when I was little and it was a pretty big deal to find out there were female military leaders other than Joan of Arc. Nowadays I highly recommend Julie Czernedaís A Turn Of Light. Itís the first book in a new fantasy series with a female lead, and it deals with so many issues related to girlhood and womanhood with an appropriately light touch.
Are men and women different? Well thatís undeniable because every individual is different. Can you accurately predict likes and dislikes based on gender? Well, no. Of course not. Dungeons And Dragons, for instance, was seen as something ďfor boysĒ, but the Forgotten Realms campaign setting had a gendered pantheon of gods and goddesses, and the authorís ďMarty StuĒ -- the character in the series thatís basically a fictionalized version of the author -- reports to a female deity: Mystra, the goddess of magic. So I think this idea that boys wonít consume stories about girls is because boyhood is seen as inherently more active and exciting than girlhood, and thereís a shunning that happens on a societal level when boys try to play with dolls or things that encourage nurturing. Now, fortunately, The Hunger Games proved that boys will sometimes accept stories that feature girls, provided theyíre interesting to them. But how many of them are thinking ďthis would be better if Katniss was a boyĒ. I donít, meanwhile, hear ďHarry Potter would be better if Harry was a girl.Ē Iíd love to see J.K. Rowling do a next generation series that focused on Lily Luna Potter, Harryís daughter, because that would be a hell of a test of tolerance and a new story. Similarly, Iíd love to see the new Star Wars movie focus on a female character, since weíve now had two male protagonists over six movies. And why, in all his many incarnations, has Dr Who never, ever, been a woman outside of a comedy sketch? thereís a wealth of new stories to be told just by using a character of a different gender in the same world. You get a pair of fresh eyes.
But the likelihood of or Dr Who becoming female-driven is small. And thatís why I play video games that allow me to make my character female. I donít expect the story or the character to change, because that character is an individual, not a reflection of gender. So I can get my female action heroes without so much damned focus on the ďstrong female characterĒ nonsense. Thatís code, too often, for ďflawless female characterĒ, and thatís just boring.
So Iím still getting my fantasy stories. Iím just cutting out the Patriarchy as much as I can. Not because Iím anti-male, but because Iíve just seen the stories with a male lead so very many times that theyíre feeling repetitive. If thereís a great story with a male lead that feels fresh, Iím all over it. For instance, thereís a game thatís in alpha mode right now called The Long Dark that I tried out. Itís about a bush pilot who crash lands in the Canadian North after some sort of apocalyptic event. The playable character is maleÖ because most pilots are male. The choice of a male lead is justified, so Iím good with that.
Another game is a story of overcoming child abuse from an addict father called Papo & Yo. Itís about a little boy because itís based on the designersí own experiences. I loved it. I really related to it. If a man wants to tell a fictionalized version of their own story, I can relate to them as one person as another person. Thatís different, for me, than stories like The Lord Of The Rings (or Batman) that actively attempt to say things about gender roles. Tell a story first. Politic second.
PS: I want to jump ahead a bit here. In our other conversation, it struck me that writing was/is a transformative aspect of your life. What was your initial impetus to write & what were you first writing about?
LK: In the first grade, I wrote a story about ďthe Number LandĒ, where the number 6 was seen as evil because he looked like an upside down 9. ďNasty NineĒ was the bad guy, and Six was just misunderstood. I was six years old. I have no idea what I was trying to say there. *laughs*
PS: What does writing currently release in you / draw out of you that nothing else fulfills?
LK: I wouldnít say that nothing else fulfills what writing does. Itís more that Iím better at it than other things and Iíve been given the opportunity to do it in a public venue. Any crime needs both motive and opportunity.
Though I suppose that through the written word, no one is looking at the size of my breasts or whether or not they think Iím fat or pretty. Itís something of an equalizer that way. Appearance is not something Iím comfortable competing in. Itís very subjective and I completely disagree with modern beauty standards. I see it as being a race for whatís most expensive, versus any objective search for the sublime.
Beauty, to me, is something that is also sacred. Beauty is the things that make you feel glad to be alive. Itís the things that touch you and make you feel human in the best of ways. The form of beauty thatís promoted these days is not that. Itís a violent form of profanity thatís achieved through knives, starvation and other forms of personal torture. Iím repelled by it.
But, see, I can talk about that, because text has no gender. I can jam, I can wax poetic, and I donít have to see the snickers from idiots because they donít get that sometimes you just have to those creative risks that make life special instead of just a series of breaths in and out. Iím not an existentialist. I think there is inherent meaning to life.
PS: At what point in your life did you find yourself gravitating toward working in television?
LK: I never saw myself in television until I was there, and I think that period of my life was a fluke. I am not a TV person. By industry standards, Iím too fat, too pale, not symmetrical enough, and not typical enough of anything to be cast in any mainstream role. If people like me really got fair representation on TV, there would be a lot more actresses like Kirsten Vangsness on Criminal Minds, because thatís what people in the real world doing those jobs actually look like. Instead, we have a size range on TV that starts at 0 and usually stops at 6, and any woman whose dress size is in relatively normal range is considered some sort of feminist statement. Itís exhausting. Iíll never say never, but at this point, there are no further opportunities for me on television cameras. When the latest conservative phase of information programming set in, everyone cast became a poster child for something, and Iím not a poster child for anything but being myself. Roles I would be up for now go to people of color, because Iím not a size 4 white woman. Thereís usually only one spot on a cast of six people for that Other slot. While Iím happy that people of color are getting more work, I also have to face reality that Iíve been squeezed out of the industry.
PS: Having found yourself initially working behind the camera, did anything positive come out of that experience?
LK: I learned how the stories work. I learn whatís necessary in all parts of production. It made me so much better. If people didn't have to be zygotes to have any hope of an on-camera career, itís by far the best way to learn how to be a performer.
PS: Was it at this point that you met your husband?
LK: I met my husband while he was doing live shows with Ed The Sock. I had ideas about how to adapt the show to appeal to a wider audience without losing its edge. Unbelievably, he listened to me.
PS: You once mentioned to me that working on the Ed The Sock stuff involved a lot of backstage conflict. What was the biggest point you ended up winning & the one you ended up losing?
LK: One of my biggest victories was the mandate that the dancers and girls in the hot tub must be allowed to speak. Not just when it was convenient, but when they had something to say. There was a live microphone with the floor director that was run over to the ladies if they wanted to interject. It was important to me that these women were characters and not window dressing.
And wow, I lost so many fights I don't know which one was the worst. I guess one related to content was that I never got a chance to do the guns in the media episode on I Hate Hollywood that I had researched and written but it never got made. The more painful losses had to do with workplace harassment and had nothing to do with what ended up on screen. One tech once dropped ten bucks in my lap and told me to go buy him lunch. I fully admit I lost my shit. The director at the time backed the tech. I got told a lot that I was abrasive, rude, and did not work well with others for standing up for myself in times like that.
There were a lot of times, looking back, where I won the battle and lost the war. Fighting to make sure that the black dancer isnít constantly shoved in the back just because she was tall. Making sure that the Pakistani woman in the hot tub wasnít treated differently because she was naturally more curvy. Constantly watching that the girls in the hot tub could feel free to flash their breasts but not feel pressured to do it eitherÖ Iím sure you can imagine that I wasnít winning any popularity contests because I was constantly the bad cop.
But thatís what sex-positive feminism is. Itís not about sleeping with everyone you know. Itís about advocating for every woman to determine her own sexuality without shame. Being naked or not being naked, or having sex or not having sex with a given individual must be seen as equally valid choices. Itís funny, because now I work with youth groups, and weíve actually had people demand to know that Iím continuing to push a sex-positive mandate. My response tends to be ďthese kids are thirteen.Ē
Itís really gotten that silly when you talk about sex. Weíre building kidsí characters at this point, and a young personís character must be clearly self-defined before they can start making choices about who to sleep with, and when. The important thing is that people understand precisely why theyíre choosing to have sex or not have sex.
Weíve got a real problem with that in geekdom. The word ďquimĒ is being used in PG-13 rated films. Gamora is getting called a whore when she doesnít even kiss anyone in Guardians Of The Galaxy -- meanwhile, Starlord behaves much more like what a literal gent like Drax would consider a whore. Buffyís vagina turned Angel the good vampire evil, and she ended up with Spike, a serial killer whose first victim was his own mother. Frank Miller is synonymous with ďwhores whores whoresĒ, meanwhile Alan Moore wrote Lost Girls, which was a work of admittedly pornographic sexuality from the perspective of female characters. Lost Girl was censored. Sin City was not.
But Lost Girls, with its nausea-inducing examination of sex based on shame, didnít glamorize sexual violence. Comic books and comic book movies have descended into a vortex of violence porn while weíre freaking out trying to keep young eyes away from realistic depictions of sex. Hereís the thing: a person can reasonably expect to have sex at some point in their lives. Theyíre probably not going to decapitate anyone. So censoring sexuality while wallowing in violence is not producing relevant stories. Weíre stuck in a rut that began in Victorian times when authors used violence as sexual metaphors because no one was supposed to exist below the neck. Think about it: We can watch a zombie eat someone alive. We can see people get their throats slit, hands cut off, eyelids removed, tongues cut out, and scene after scene after scene of rape. But the minute a boob is revealed in a moment of consensual sexÖ oh no, our dear developing minds canít see that! Because of this, think about how much sex of the non-consensual or dubious-consensual kind a teenager is absorbing, versus how much consensual sex theyíre allowed to see in full, including condom use if itís a one-night stand. You almost never see condoms on TV. The fact that we can see a severed head on television but not a naked bum always blows my mind.
This all comes together in the evolution of the character of Wonder Woman. She keeps getting more and more violent, but no less virginal. They borrow the look of Ancient Athenian Greece for the Amazons, but not, for instance, the lack of stigma against homosexuality. Because DEAR GOD, THINK OF THE CHILDREN! Meanwhile, Batmanís boffing everything in a skirt, and a lot of those women end up dead, beaten, kidnapped, or crazy. Wouldnít someone in Gotham have noticed by now that sleeping with Bruce Wayne tends to reduce your life expectancy?
These characters are childhood heroes, and Bruce Wayneís promiscuity is therefore completely inappropriate. If you slap Wonder Woman in a chastity belt, maybe Batmanís utility belt needs a similar tweak.
When we do get a show like Dracula or Lost Girl (the TV series, not the comic book) that isn't afraid of sex, too often when the sex starts, the plot stops. If itís not advancing the plot, I donít want to see it. I donít care how great Anna Silk looks naked. Pornography is pornography because the sex is the story. If youíre not making porn, the sex has to inform your story, not derail it.
PS: What was the viewer reaction to your straight man role at that time?
LK: I have no idea, to be honest! I donít trust internet message boards so itís hard to connect with viewers. I didnít have a publicist and CityTV had no interest in really promoting me. There were some Mean Girls that resented my involvement because of my relationship with Steven. Yeah, on paper it was nepotism, but no one could honestly claim that I wasnít one of the hardest working, most consistent members of that team. Wives and girlfriends, however, tend to get treated like shit.
The thing about playing the straight man role is that viewers arenít supposed to see the set up to the joke. A lot of our stuff was totally improvised so my role was two part: 1) set up Ed for punchlines 2) challenge his more problematic statements so he could be edgy without the show itself being racist, misogynist, or homophobic/transphobic. Yes, we cared about transphobia back then, even if we didnít completely understand how to avoid it properly.
Thing is, if you set up the joke and people see the set up, the joke is less funny. If you seem to always be the social justice warrior, people see it coming and what youíre saying has no teeth. So no one was supposed to see what I was doing. It was just supposed to feel like a conversation. I was coming in as support to an established celebrity, so I needed to hold my own without looking like I was trying to be the hen in the rooster house, if youíll excuse the switch of the metaphor.
PS: Going back to Wonder Woman. Reading her original incarnation, she was reasonably asexual as Wonder Woman, stereotypically "girly" as Diana Prince around Steve Trevor, yet a coldly efficient professional in other respects. William Moulton Marston's stories were more about psychological "types" in conflict - more allegory than humanity. Diana Prince as then current perceived societorial reality vs Wonder Woman as ideal. Can we agree that Wonder Woman and her supporting cast have strayed mightily from Marston's original path?
LK: I think all literature has strayed from where it was in the 1940s. One of Tolkienís motives in writing The Hobbit was to create a dragon that was a character instead of an allegory. Weíre still very much operating on the paradigm of character-driven narratives.
Characters do not stay static. I think thatís a great thing about comics. But like all long term relationships, sometimes changes are good, sometimes changes are not good. right now, DC seems to be terrified of the woman part of Wonder Woman, so theyíre trying to focus on the warrior part, which male lizard brains can relate to.
The big shift for me was that Marston wrote Wonder Woman for girls. No matter what someone thinks about his philosophies, that was clearly his intent. He apparently believed that women were superior to men, and believed that women should rule the world... so he had them tied up a lot. This is what happens when men write for women. *laughs*
But Wonder Woman today is written for a predominantly male consumer base, with a side industry of merchandising for women. Sheís gotta punch with the boys. The idea of a heroine based on love is gone. The Justice League cartoons have to sell toys to boys. In the comics books, she keeps bouncing between a love interest for Batman and a love interest for Superman. Thatís weird to me because Superman and Batman are radically different men, and the comics have failed to convince me that Diana would be interested in either one of them. Batman is far too arrogant and Superman is more like her brother. If Wonder Woman is truly seen as one of the DC trinity, she should have her own cast of characters, including her own love interest. Besides, I always thought Lois made Superman more interesting. Wonder Woman needs her own Lois Lane. In fact, why do we assume that Wonder Woman is interested in men at all? She grew up on an island of all women.
Come to think of it, I think any member of the Justice League hooking up with any other member of the Justice League is just inherently wrong. Itís the most absurd kind of long distance work relationship I can think of. Theyíre all from different places and have different lives. And a bad break up means tension when lives are on the line. Itís dumb.
PS: Media and what they put forth in terms of gender issues, sexuality, sensuality, acceptance, and equality are in a strange place. Are we better/worse/same as we were, say, 20 years ago?
LK: Ugh. Thatís the question, isnít it? The answer? All of the above. If you listen to the old Shadow radio shows, the women in those stories are much more the manís equal than in, say, a modern show like Arrow. But that was a very different time, and I canít say Iíd like to live in it.
In terms of gender issues, we transitioned to third wave feminism -- individualist feminism -- without really completing the goals of the second wave -- gaining equal status for women as a group. We havenít got the pay gap settled or abortion rights accepted as a given, and weíre on to things like legalizing prostitution and intersectional issues.
Now, I think feminism definitely needs a kick in the ass when it comes to racial diversity. Thatís a great part of the third wave. We white women do need to shut up more and listen to black women, Asian women, South Asian women and Aboriginal women.
The part of third wave feminism I take issue with is the artificial elimination of men from issues that involve them, like domestic abuse and sexual assault. Men are part of the solution to every gendered social issue. Men are not the enemy. Furthermore, patriarchy hurts men too. Iíve heard phrases like ďmy wife and daughters would rather I die on my white horse than seem weak.Ē Enforcement of traditional masculine roles is patriarchy no matter who does it.
Iím not sure Iím explaining this well, and I donít want to get in too much trouble -- at least, not about this -- so Iíll leave that there! In general Iíd like to see less focus on words and more focus on people.
PS: As far as body types on TV, in film, & in print, what can the public realistically do to effect positive change?
LK: Donít spend money on false ideals! A lot of people watch around stuff they donít like, but donít have the ability to verbalize what they donít like. Not all men like bone thin women, but Hollywood loves to make the skinny blonde the default prize for Seth Rogan typesÖ something Seth Rogan himself is now trying to change.
Hollywood is not attempting to control anyoneís mind. Those in power really believe that all men secretly want the types women they cast if they thought they could have them. Hollywood also thinks that all women want Thor as a boyfriend. Thor is a nice guy, but I would not date a guy like that. Heís too violent, entitled, and his family sucks! I think out of all the Avengers, the guy closest to my type is Steve Rogers as heís depicted in the films. Heís so very much a good person, and he started out life as a skinny little guy. Inside, heís still that underdog, and so he has a huge amount of empathy for other people. Thatís whatís really important to me. I mean, my husband is 5í2Ē. People think that makes us an ďodd coupleĒ. I find this thought inherently offensive, because manhood is in a manís actions, not his height or muscle density.
Iím going back to Criminal Minds again, I know, but thereís a cast that attempts to understand diversity. But if you watch the early episodes of the show, Reid got picked on for being a nerd, Morgan was a stereotypical playa, and Garcia wasnít in it for the first few episodes. The show has evolved based on fan feedback. While Criminal Minds does have an issue with thinking that they can cycle through blondes -- removing JJ, putting another blonde in her place, then bringing her back -- and brunettes -- Elle, Prentiss, Blake, back to Prentiss and now weíre getting Jennifer Love Hewitt -- Garcia is a constant, I think because they know that if they lost her, the show would tank because the fans would freak out.
We can complain all we want about the stuff we donít like, but if people get more verbal about the fact that we will support shows and films with casts that look more believable, and then vote with our wallets, Hollywood will eventually hear this. Look at the success of Girls.
Itís more complicated than that, clearly, but I think Iíve done enough preaching. You get the idea.
PS: Speaking of body types & perception, what drew you to cosplay?
LK: Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Power Girl. The mix of power and femininity, I guess, that I identified with. Before I started cosplaying, I thought I was fat. I realized I just have giant boobs and hips. Wally Wood didnít mind that, did he?
There is a slightly different beauty aesthetic in comics. because comics are drawn, there isnít the worry that a woman of a healthy weight might look ďfatĒ from a particular camera angle. Comic book artists can be quite honest about what they find sexy, and many artists do not like bone thin womenÖ then again, I find a lot of comic book writers very much like bone thin women, so thereís someone for everyone! *laughs*
Obviously these are generalizations. Iím being funny. But humor is truth that doesnít take itself seriously.
PS: Does having, in your words, giant boobs & hips effect how you are perceived both as a cosplayer and in everyday life?
LK: Every time I get dressed in the morning, I have to think ďhow Ďsluttyí verses how Ďfatí do I want to look today?Ē People judge over the slightest things. They almost didnít let me onto the Pearl Harbor monument, because itís a memorial and the people there determined I was showing too much cleavage in a standard issue tank top. That same top on a woman who is a B-cup wouldnít have been an issue.
And letís just say Iíve stopped that sort of cosplay because Iím tired of that sort of attention. Some people think itís a right to grope. I started making costumes that cover up a lot more.
My mantra is ďcup size is not characterĒ.
PS: What character did you choose to cosplay first?
LK: My first cosplay that wasnít a Halloween costume was Poison Ivy. But when I was sixteen I made a Batman Returns Catwoman costume because, as cheezy as that movie was, Michelle Pfeifferís character arc really resonated with me. I was not prepared for boys actually noticing me for a change. Looking back on it, itís funny.
PS: Do you go beyond donning the outfit and adopt the personality of the character?
To an extent. I go with the flow based on the comfort of the people Iím interacting with. Or, if theyíre a jerk, discomfort. I donít cosplay characters unless Iíve read the comic or played the game, because I think that misses the point.
PS: Tell me a cosplay story that involves Thundercats & Edward James Olmos if you happen to have one!
*laughs* Picture it, Calgary Comic Book and Entertainment Expo. Ed and I are doing a rolling interview show, cycling people through the stage in 15 minute intervals. I go backstage for the next guest to discover theyíd brought Edward James Olmos there two hours early.
I have to tell Edward James Olmos that we canít take him for the interview now. Because heís two hours early.
I am also dressed like Cheetara from Thundercats.
I wanted to crawl under a rock. But I took a breath and went for it.
He was very understanding about it, no worries, the guy was totally cool. I feel significantly less stupid and Iím breathing a faint-worthy sigh of relief as his wranglers prepare to take him back to his table. But he has parting words to say to me.
ďBy the way,Ē he said. ďYou are so fucking hot.Ē
I also have a press scrum with Michael Ironside while dressed like a Cheetara story. But that one doesnít have swearing.
PS: My 1 fanboy question is why do I never see anyone cosplay as Platinum from the Metal Men or as Thundra?
LK: Iíve seen a Platinum once. It was pretty cool. It was a group Metal Men.
PS: So, transitioning off of TV, what was your next step personally & professionally?
LK: Iím trying to make this games thing fly one way or another. If that doesnít workÖ I donít know? Starbucks?
PS: Tell me how you ended up in the Secret Six comics.
LK: Gail Simone is a wonderful and dear person and Iím fortunate to call a friend. I met her originally while cosplaying Knockout. She emailed me one day and said ďIím giving Scandal Savage a lesbian stripper Knockout lookalike girlfriend. Can I name her after you?Ē
My response was ďYes. Liana is an excellent stripper name. What was my mother thinking?Ē
PS: Where did you first find an outlet writing about gaming?
LK: I started doing it myself on the Ed The Sock site. The show was running on G4 and there was huge backlash to non-gaming content so I decided to show that, hey, guys, I AM a gamer. It didnít work, but thatís how I started! *laughs*
PS: In terms of gaming, what do you feel you are bringing to the conversation that others are not?
LK: I've been around since near the beginning, for starters. I remember Pong. I understand narrative and graphics because of my TV background. I understand sound because I worked in music television. But I think gameplay is something you have to have an inherent feel for. If you don't click with it, it's never going to make sense to you, and as much as you may like video games, you'll never understand how they really work. That understanding of what's called "ludonarrative" is what I bring to the table.
PS: You say that "I am a gamer" didn't work. Why do you feel that was?
LK: It was too soon. Times have changed a lot. Back then, there wasn't an understanding that women played video games.
PS: Currently, do you feel that console games offer as many options as PC gaming?
LK: Console games are a different phenomenon. They're controller based, which changes the way the menus work. PCs have a keyboard and mouse, so you can have a far more complicated control scheme. That can get messy though too. There's a lot more money in console gaming right now, but PC is still more associated with indie games. That association, however, is quickly being trumped by the ipad.
PS: I recently mentioned to you that I find many current games to be second rate movies that you can play through once. Am I way off-base in that assessment?
LK: Games are a lot of things. For a while, being "cinematic" was a selling point for a game. Now there's a much greater understanding that games are something you play. The games you're referring to are a specific type of game: cinematic action adventure. There are plenty of other types of games. You'd never confuse a real time strategy game for a movie, for instance. The same goes for an arcade-style game like Super Meat Boy. But even the games with extremely strong narratives only work as games if there's ludonarrative harmony between story and gameplay. A game like Bioshock, for instance, has a lot of dissonance. A game like Assassin's Creed: Black Flag has very little. And then there's the idea of player choice, which you never get in a movie. It's very rare that I truly enjoy a movie as a whole, anymore, because I'm so spoiled by the interactivity of games that I rarely feel like I connect with blockbuster films. I think a lot of movies themselves are quite second rate, with proper structure giving way to six mandated action sequences that are determined before the plot. Take The Avengers, for instance. Lots of action. But there was no emotional arc. Everyone ended The Avengers as very much the same as they began. Sure, they retroactively gave Iron Man a lame form of PTSD, but Iron Man 3 dealt with that, not The Avengers itself.
Movie directors are also, in my opinion, too powerful. Films are made through a dictatorial process. Games tend to be collaborative. There are a lot more places for a video game professional to go for work, so they'll quit if a creative director acts like a tyrant.
PS: A naive question. Is the gaming community so juvenile that the gender of another gamer matters to them?
LK: Well, keep in mind that there are a lot of teenaged boys playing games like Call Of Duty and Halo. While gaming as a whole is fairly gender neutral -- the average person who plays video games is 37 years old, and 42% are female -- but that includes all the Facebook games like Candy Crush Saga. Gamers, meaning game aficionados, are a someone different group, albeit still more diverse than many people think.
Gaming is still seen as something of a ďnerdĒ thing, so all the problems that come with that come with gaming. But itís also a mass entertainment thing, and the representation of women in important Hollywood positions is not great either.
It only takes a minority to poison an online environment anyway.
PS: In your years as a gamer, has gaming itself improved in any way beyond sophisticated graphics? Is it still a wizard, a lizard & a princess, kill the enemy, run to the end & grab stuff on the way?
LK: Games have expanded a lot. Take Gone Home, which is an interactive story about how much a regular family can change in a year, set in the 1990s, with a backdrop of the ďDon't Ask, Donít TellĒ policy regarding gay people in the military. Or Papo & Yo, an allegory of the creatorís journey to let go of the pain related to his abusive, addict father. There are games being made for the blind, games made to teach kids social skills, and games that are satires of games, like The Stanley Parable and Saints Row IV. Weíve moved far past ďone game to rule them allĒ and into a period of really great diversity.
PS: Are there entertaining entry level games that aren't about Disney Princesses or Barbie?
LK: By ďentry levelĒ, do you mean simple mechanics? Or things that arenít violent? Or stuff that isnít super expensive? Low time commitment? Most games are designed to be accessible to new players.
PS: By entry level, I mean a game that a new gamer can grasp and not feel like an unskilled idiot playing.
LK: A game like Fable is specifically designed around single button combat. But a properly designed game should teach you how to play. If youíre struggling with a mass market console title, itís a design problem, not you.
PS: Where would you like to see gaming go that it has not been yet?
vItís less about where it goes and more how it goes there. Games are immersive experiences, so they can create really powerful experiences that are still accessible to a wide range of playersÖ if done properly. There are some companies that are designing games with a meticulous eye to creating that immersion. When I play one of those games, itís a singular experience. Itís like being at the superbowl, a great concert, and a fantastic movie all at the same time. But the people with the skills to do that are the ďusual suspectsĒ, and Iíd love to see a greater range of people telling the stories that mean something to them.
PS: My nephews grouse often that many new & expensive games then charge more to unlock part of a game they already bought. Are they crazy for feeling that way, or do you feel there's an element of shady behavior going on?
LK: Sometimes a practice called ďpay to winĒ is at work, and it sucks. Itís generally frowned upon, but people still do it. The other thing thatís been calming down of late is overly aggressive ďin-appĒ purchases in games. In-app purchases borrow from whatís called ďfreemiumĒ games -- games like Candy Crush Saga that are free to download but that are constantly grabbing at you to put money into them. Itís understandable that a free game would do that. Itís frustrating when a game you paid $60 for does that to you. So theyíre not crazy. There have been some inelegant applications of in-app premium content.
PS: Shifting back to cosplay - do you feel that most events adequately patrol the floors & protect against improper behavior toward the cosplayers?
LK: Absolutely not. If you compare the way clubs, street parties, and festivals are monitored, itís far over and above conventions. Conventions rely on a great deal of volunteer labor, that is usually poorly trained to deal with in-the-moment judgement calls like how to deal with accusations of assault.
PS: Are conventions growing to big too fast?
LK: I donít think thatís my place to say definitively. I can say theyíre growing too big, too fast for me to enjoy them as an individual. I have concerns about the sustainability of the model, but I think that Superheroes -- and thatís what these conventions are now, Superhero conventions. Theyíre not comic book conventions anymore -- Superheroes have existed since myths like Hercules, so theyíre not going anywhere. Superheroes are fairly established in the mainstream. Itís just the source that changes.
It does deeply sadden me, however, that comics are now a third-class citizen behind TV and film in a series of events that were initially created as comic book events.
PS: Is there a place within modern pop culture for old turds like me? I like my animation & my games in 2-D. I like comics with bright, flat color. I like my heroes heroic & not villains that kill the "right" people. Are folks like me going the way of the Edison Cylinder?
LK: I think thereís a revival of answering that sort of desire. Thereís a definite 2D revival in video games, alongside isometric camera 3D thatís easier on the eyes. The problem with the ďheroic heroesĒ concept is that heroism means different things for different people. ďTruth, Justice, and the American WayĒ has been replaced by ďpolitics, social justice, and non-Eurocentric perspectiveĒ. Heroes have to be extremely well-defined now in order to stand up to that scrutiny.
I tend to get really disappointed that, for instance, comic books have not made Superman growing up in Kansas more relevant. Iíd love to see a Superman story that shows him in his younger adult years as having a morality defined by conservative thinking. Obviously Superman is a very good person, but Iíd love to see Lois, who is very left-wing, challenge Clark on certain assumptions. Iíve always thought that part of the reason that Superman is so taken by Lois is that before coming to Metropolis, heíd never met a woman like her. Lois, in my mind, is extremely comfortable being flawed, and I think that Kal El would enjoy being with a woman like that, because around her, he doesnít have to be Superman. He can just be Clark. Sheís the one person in the whole world that doesnít get totally disappointed when he makes a mistake. I can imagine that the mantle of Superman would be a very heavy crown.
Thatís what doesnít work for me with Superman being romantically involved with Wonder Woman. Diana is inherently regal. She would not give him that. Wonder Womanís attitude is that, of course, the members of the Justice League have to be better than everyone else, and thatís fine, because they are better than everyone else. But while Superman is an embodiment of everyoneís hopes and dreams -- which means he has to be an embodiment of an entire spectrum of virtue -- Clark Kent is a simple guy who likes his baseball and apple pie. Diana isnít just a 1 percenter like Batman. She comes from a culture that is so completely foreign from Americana that I think she would find trivial the simple things that Clark takes so much enjoyment from. Wonder Woman and Lois Lane are both dominant women, but theyíre distinctly different dominant women, and I donít think that Diana and Clark are as suited to each other as Lois and Clark. Wonder Woman and Superman have profoundly different relationships to their respective Otherness -- he's an alien that tries to blend in. Sheís an Amazonian princess that is quite okay with being different. The more they diminish Wonder Womanís Diana Prince alter-ego, the more than divide grows.
PS: As entertainment has made every film, game, comic, show a major world changing event, is the still room for small? Can you make a small, simple game, for example, and make a decent living off of it?
LK: Oh heck yes! Braid and Fez are both retro-inspired games that did exceptionally well for their creators. Mega Jump has had over nine million downloads, and it was made by a small studio called Get Set games. And Gone Home has achieved critical acclaim (and controversy) despite being made by four people and their cats. Right now Iím following a game called Starwhal, which started in a game jam and itís about narwhals in space. Itís so very simple, but itís a lot of fun.
PS: As you've come to know creators & business folk in the game business, has it changed how you look at a game?
LK: Yes. Absolutely. Itís made me more aware that these games, at their cores, are the products of people who had something to say that was important to them. Iíve become much more impressed by earnest, personal stories than sweeping works of ďimportant thoughtĒ. This makes my tastes seem all over the map, but thatís the through line. So Iím less likely to enjoy games like Halo, Call Of Duty and Grand Theft Auto that are these massive games that focus on raw player experience, and more likely to enjoy games like Gone Home, Papo & Yo and Heavy Rain that are much more personal stories. Now, that being said, there are Triple A titles I love because, to me, they are still about something. Gears Of War is about masculinity -- war, fighting, killing, fathers and sons, brothers in arms, and emotional deflections which were dismissed as bad writing when I felt that, instead, they were actually saying something quite personal about how Cliffy B and company felt about being men. I do not have to feel embraced by the masculine to benefit from an exploration of it like that. I thought it was great, because of bunch of butthead guys who cared about such simple stuff were still there for each other in vulnerable moments.
And then thereís Assassinís Creed, a franchise I just didnít take to when the first game came out. I loved the idea, but found the game mechanics too frustrating. I dabbled in two, but didnít finish it. And then I started dealing more and more with Ubisoft, and I started seeing the subtly cool things they were doing with that franchise. Theyíre not perfect games, but theyíre powerful, and Iíll forgive the persistent issues with gameplay mechanics because the interactive storytelling component they're doing is so amazing. Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, and Caribbean protagonists all get their turns. We hear the languages of those places. We have to navigate through their struggles. And I love it love it love it. And as a person who writes about games, I feel like itís my job to say ďyeah, the controls are clunky, but thereís still this incredible story there, and itís worth you giving it a shot.Ē
PS: How important a role does music play in your life?
LK: I tend to apply lyrics to problems Iím solving. But I also have that dance background, so tempo and movement and interpretation of sound is also constantly running in my background scripts. I don't listen to as much music as I used to when I was working in music TV, but I know itís still important. Iíll dance in the grocery store even if I donít like the song, just to make it more fun.
It really made me happy to see people respond to Adele the way they did, because I think Adele is, once again, an avatar of those deeply personal stories that are so important. Now, that being said, Nicki Minaj gets personal in a different way. Nicki is a walking experimentation and I love her for it. Sheís fierce and she's sexual and right now sheís literally shoving her ass in peopleís faces. And she can do that because sheís made so much money that she doesnít have to worry about making money ever again, so who cares what people think? Iím reveling in that freedom vicariously.
But I also love my hard rock and country. I think that genre does inform the message of the song. People seem to treat the Johnny Cash version of Hurt as the new default version of that song, but I remember connecting to the original Nine Inch Nails version that was way more angry and way less at peace with the inherent self-loathing that comes with the song. When Trent Reznor says ďWhat have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end.Ē itís a cry for help. When Johnny Cash sings the exact same lyrics, itís a noble struggle. Similarly, Leonard Cohenís Hallelujah has been covered a sickening number of times, but itís interesting to hear how that song changes as people make it their own. I find it a very sad song. Almost a perverse song. To me, itís about a person who seeks the sacred through profane means, and completely fucks it up. But thatís my take, so if I covered that song, thatís what it would come out as. Thatís not always the case.
I also love Tori Amosí covers for that reason. When she covers songs, she puts different spins on them, and they cause me to rehear the lyrics through a fresh voice. Thatís caused me to really get in deep with the dumbest songs. Like Rick Springfieldís Jesseís Girl. A woman could cover that song as someone envious of the girlfriend, instead of Jesse himself. But with that twist, suddenly the pain and the longing shifts to wanting to be Jesseís Girl, instead of wanting Jesseís Girl herself. It shifts the focus away from ďwhere can I find her, a woman like that?Ē to the question every woman has asked herself at some point in her life ďWhy canít I be her? A woman like that?Ē
Because we all know there are certain types of girls who get the notice of boys, and certain of us who have ďnice personalitiesĒ. And because Iíve got a Clark Kent persona to go with the Superman version of me thatís more public, Iíve been able to see both sides of that divide. Music appeals to these ďpettyĒ problems in a way that lifts them up to something that matters.
PS: How does your Clark Kent persona expose itself & why?
LK: Iíve started doing more stuff with minimal makeup and wearing glasses. Because thereís a time and a place for glamour, but itís a lot of work.
PS: As for heroes, I guess I have become disenchanted with the hero that kills or the cliche of the hero fighting the dark side of themselves or their colleagues.
LK: I have too, donít get me wrong. I think itís way easier to write an anti-hero these days than a person who at least tries to be good.
PS: A simple/complex question: what makes you feel at peace on any given day?
LK: One of my cats doing something adorable? *laughs* Or the dog not destroying something or attempting to accidentally kill himself.
PS: What would you say is the biggest aspect of you that most folks don't get?
LK: That I have feelings! People treat me like Iím made of stone, Iím terribly arrogant, and that I need to be taken down a peg. While I donít get stage fright, I do get ďdealing with the publicĒ fright. I feel like a lot of time is taken away from creating art and comedy because of some people who have a vested interest in taking away my humanity.
PS: What's next on the horizon for you?
LK: Iíve started a Patreon campaign to do ongoing web content. TV is shrinking. For the kind of stuff that we do, the web is the place to be. The campaign can be found here. http://www.patreon.com/lianak Basically, this campaign allows me to produce content thatís publicly available for various services without worrying about how Iím going to make money at it. Itís letting people pay to subsidize the people who canít afford it, which in a way is better than a TV service. If the campaign goes well enough, the content can be ad-free as well.
PS: For people that want to read/see/hear your work, where can they find it?
LK: Metaleater.com for my writing, and I link my other stuff via Tumblr. Iím redlianak on Tumblr and twitter. I just started on Tumblr, so Iím still feeling it out. Iím also Liana K on YouTube, other than that, weíll see.
PS: Please tell me 6 games you never get tired of playing.
Baldurís Gate 1 & 2 (itís a continuing story so Iím counting it as 1)
The Quest For Glory series (although I wasnít crazy about 3 and 5)
Assassinís Creed III and IV -- I know ACIII gets a bad rap but I love its take on the American Revolution, and AC IV is just so inherently playable. You also get to be a pirate!
Sid Meierís Civilization -- Civ 2 is where my heart is, but I played a lot of Civ V too.
PS: Please tell me 6 CDs you never get tired of listening to.
Tori Amosí Catalogue -- Iíve outgrown Little Earthquakes a bit, but Tear In Your Hand still gets me. One of my bad day songs is Mother Revolution off the Beekeeper album. Talula off Boys For Pele will never get old, because it deals with the fear inherently linked to idealized womanhood, and some of her covers are just amazing. Iíve rediscovered a lot of songs I didnít realize had such amazing lyrics through Tori Amos covers.
Creedence Clearwater Revivalís Self Titled Debut Album -- I am a sucker for anything that hits the intersection point between rock, country and R&B. See also: Aerosmithís first album.
Adeleís 21 -- I never got into Amy Winehouse, but I get that she was a forerunner for Adele. The blues isnít about creating trouble for yourself. The blues is an outlet for the shit in life that you cannot control. 21 deals with so many facets of a breakup, so many stages of grief, anger, and acceptance. Itís one of the most authentically raw albums Iíve heard in a long time. Iím glad to see soul making a comeback, but I donít want Adele to be at all pressured to release something until sheís ready. 21 is an album made by a person in a very specific place and time, and I think she needs to wait for another one of those moments, hopefully a much happier one.
Pearl Jamís Ten -- I was a teenager in the 1990s, so stuff like this and Nine Inch Nails reminds me of how utterly fucked up that decade was. Iím pretty over Nirvana at this point, because I can hear the heroine. Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails were better bands from a purely musical standpoint. Nirvana was a phenomenon.
Lady Gagaís The Fame -- I made sure to put something poppy on this list so it was clear Iím not bullshitting. *laughs* This album is such an example of something thatís fun and smart at the same time. Like Nicki Minajís Anaconda, or Missy Elliottís stuff, theyíre club tracks with a lot more going on than most people realize.
Sons And Daughtersí The Repulsion Box -- An album that is proof that the music industry is kind of bullshit and totally unfair. Sons And Daughters was a rock band from Glasgow, Scotland, and The Repulsion Box was an amazing, dark, punk-inspired concept piece that reminded me a lot of the band X. Because itís so completely out of the mainstream, this album never gets old. I feel similarly about Gogol Bordello and The Decemberists, although the Decemberists are more pop-oriented.
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