In My Humble Opinion #14

SCOTCH AND WRITERS

A Retrospective of the Works of Luba Kmetyk

Any look at the best at fanfiction must eventually come to one person, no matter how narrow or skewed their taste may be. When you make a poll of the writers in this genre about their favorite writers, invariably the conversation will end off with 'and, of course, Luba Kmetyk.' The first lady of fan-fiction and one of it's oldest adherents, here is the woman that writ large across the face of comicbook fanfiction, and changed everything.

Luba Kmetyk is best known for her voluminous and exquisite series known as Idylls Of The Cat. This series features the canon abandoned couple of Pete Wisdom and Kitty Pryde. First brought together by Warren Ellis during his Excalibar run, many fans objected strongly to the pairing of an intelligent and sensitive young woman like Kitty to the roguish, heavy smoking and drinking ex-Black Air agent. Kmetyk, on the other hand, saw it as a natural and healthy development of one of her favorite characters, and seized the idea by the throat.

I've loved Kitty as a character ever since she first appeared, long before Ellis or Pete -- as a female nerd/geek physicist/engineer who got out of the slums on scholarships back in the dark ages when 'girls didn't do things like that', how could I not?

And I like Kitty with Pete because Ellis finally let her grow up, and get past her teenage insecurities, and have a good relationship -- and get out into the world, and find out *not* everyone 'hates and fears mutants'. Contrary to what Marvel may think, I really don't like to see characters and titles trapped in amber, repeating over and over the exact same plots and characterizations -- and mistakes! -- as in the past ten or twenty years. I prefer to see positive growth and character development.

I started *writing* (as opposed to just reading and lurking) when Ellis left, just part of my usual pattern of starting fanfic when the original source dries up for whatever reason. And I'm still doing it because the characters still have something to say to me, especially Pete (and most especially to the X-Men -- he's the perfect 'outside view' of them)

Luba for a long time was the main source of the relationship that Marvel so wanted to bury and forget post-Ellis. Her site, 'The Fonts of Wisdom' was initiallly created to showcase good Wisdom/Pryde fanfic, but has since made a stunning growth. In fact, based on her regular updating, excellent taste and smoth design, the Fonts has become one of the priemer fanfiction sites on the net. It holds a stunningly high level of top quality fics, rejecting the dross must sites are padded with. For many writers, an archive request from Luba is a sigh of 'making it' withen the community. When asked about the 'exclusive' nature of the site, in terms of the quality, Luba elaborated on her idea of what the site actually is.

I certainly hope it's *not* a 'most exclusive' archive, or perceived that way! (except in the sense I'm deliberately trying to keep it from evolving into a general archive and getting way too big to keep going, so I'm trying hard to limit it to its original purpose). I've never made any claim of judging fics on quality, only of selecting stories to archive based on my own personal taste -- and my own personal prejudices, too -- a much more arbitrary standard, but it's my site and my time and my money, so I figure I have the right to pick and choose.

Luba's fanfiction experience began in the early days of fanfiction itself, with the mimeographed zines of the Star Trek and sci-fi cons. This is back during the beginnings of the subculture, into the 1970s and 80s. Since then, Luba's rise to one of the top writers in fanfiction has been built on hard work, endless hours of writing, and tremendous talent.

I started in fanfiction long before -- right after the original Star Trek was cancelled, back in the *true* dark ages when fanfiction meant mimeoed zines passed around at fan conventions. My first fanfic, at least that appeared in a real fanzine, was a humorous, non-explicit Spock/McCoy slash piece. I've also done Star Wars, Man from UNCLE and Avengers (as in Steed and Mrs Peel) fanfic, among a few others we won't mention, over various periods of time...

In most cases, it was when the show was cancelled (or ruined -- can anybody say 'tara king' with a straight face?), or the next movie took way too long to come out, and I wanted more stories about characters I liked and considered friends and wanted to get to know better.

Luba Kmetyk has won a number of CBFFA's, the main awards from the comic book fanfiction community, and a host of smaller awards. Her work has been run and noted by such personalities as the members of the Sequential Tart, PopImage and Warren Ellis himself.

One of the benchmarks of her work is a fearless approach to what she sees as the netural evolution of a relationship. In fact, her 'Idylls of the Cat' showcase a natural progression from the first experience to a mature and mutually fulfilling relationship. Some of this is expressed with adult scenes involving bondage and left of centre sex acts. Luba's own take on this is more complex.

I think this element of my stories gets sensationalized, and blown all out of proportion.

Yes, there are the occasional 'bondage games'... heavy emphasis on the word 'games'-- no dominance/submission, no humiliation, no pain, and a serious effort to show them both taking turns and being careful. (Ok, there's always 'Dark Reflections' but I blame that one on Amethyst and 'Dark Mhairie' <g>)

There are also quite a few sex scenes with *no* bondage elements at all. And yes, it's based on my take on the characters. He's ten years older than her and, between his likely running-wild-in-london upbringing and his later years in Black Air, has to be both sexually sophisticated, and probably even somewhat kinked. And she's got a wild side, Logan's mentioned that more than once, plus she's desperate to prove she's an adult now, not a kid anymore. I could actually write it a lot *more* pronounced, and still feel it was simply in character.

I asked her if she was trying to illustrate a specific point or belief with the scenes. Her response is both revealing and passionate, underlining the motivations behind her Pete and Kitty.

The only *point* I'm trying to make in my stories is to show a healthy, loving relationship between two people, and have their conflicts come from semi-realistic outside influences (like different backgrounds and ages, disapproving friends and 'relatives', money, etc) rather than from dead spouses back from the grave, clones, previously unknown children, and other such comic/soap-opera plot conventions.

Abuse, rape and violence happen, far more often than super-villain battles do, and ignoring them *and* their consequences (as Marvel likes to do) strikes me as cheating. I include those elements if/when they seem appropriate to the story (again, 'Dark Reflections' is an aberration I blame on reading 'Dark Mhairie' just before <g>). I *hope* I don't dwell on such elements overmuch, or use them *just* for their shock-value impact.

Another oft debated element of Luba's work is her protrayals of some characters like Storm and Colossus. The most critical attack her versions as 'unrealistic and paper-thin'. However, despite her critical look at the two personalities, she has grounded both firmly in the established continuity of Marvel and the X-Books. In fact, her take on the characters holds closer to the logical evolution of their personalities then canon itself.

In general, I think Marvel canon is confused enough that you can find something there to support a wide variety of views, and I think one of the best things about fan-fiction is how stories can showcase so many different views of the same characters and events. I think my versions are just as 'fair' as many others, better or worse.

It's a conscious decision on my part to emphasize Colossus' dark side, it's a deliberate keystone of my longterm plot to have him be my villain. I find him more multi-dimensional and more interesting as an X-Man who's having trouble coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, who's been driven to the point of a nervous breakdown, and whose problems are seen but not addressed by his friends, until it's too late. (plus, I'm Ukrainian myself, and I assure you a *lot* of my characterization of him is based on the russian and Ukrainian and Polish guys I grew up with. He's *not* your average, suburban american kid...)

However, my version of Storm was not really planned -- originally, I'd intended her to dislike Pete initially, for the length of 'You Can't Go Home Again', but then agree (sincerely!) to try to accept him. But she's refusing to go along with my original plot, but keeps *insisting* on continuing to hate Pete. <g> I can justify it, of course -- Storm was shown as quite jealous of Kitty's relationship with Stevie Hunter way back when; now put that together with some guilt over playing dead after Dallas plus some resentment about losing Forge, and I think I have a believable rationale.

Could somebody else write either or both with a much more positive spin? Of course. And I'd enjoy reading it. But I'm choosing to (try to) keep an internally self-consistent characterization going, hopefully adding lots of *why*, rather than changing to suit some readers' tastes.

Ever dynamic and always readable, it's not surprising that Luba continues to receive regular accolades from the fanfiction community. Her series embodies one of the institutions of fanfiction, with a consistently high level of quality and imagination. However, like in most things, the work really does speak for itself.

Out with Onslaught, in with John Constantine was the theme around Luba's very first piece of Comic fanfiction; the classic Pulling Their Fat Out Of The Fire. Set in the aftermath of the Black Air Crisis, it sets the team up against a villain outside of their sphere; a demon that overwhelms Amanda and turns towards the team and London with destruction on it's mind. Until it met John Constantine. Far shorter and self-contained then most of Luba's work, it is a clear view of the roots on which she'd build. Jerking and clunky in spots, the bone smooth prose is visible in hints underneath. It is also one of the very first Hellblazer fics on-line, for dou-notoriety.

Gehenna is a story about dealing with it. Pete Wisdom, Wolverine, and even Shadowcat have the occasion to do nasty things in the dark, and make decisions of life or death. Cehenna is about Wisdom coming to terms with that aspect of his life, and Kitty trying to come to terms with him. Like most alcoholics, getting viciously trashed is the medicine du jour after a nasty mission, however the darling of the X-Men is unprepared for it. Told in simple direct language, the story maintains a brute elegance throughout. Pete's descent is both believable and without contempt, speaking from the point of view of a fellow heavy drinker. The psychology of killing is a predominant theme in the work, heavily effecting both mood and tone. It's not a pretty work, but it's an honest one.

Luba can also be a very funny person sometimes. The old saying: 'The only thing worse then not getting what you wish for is getting it' is held up true in bold face in Warning: Good Habits May Be Hazardous To Your Love Life. Pete Wisdom reforms. No, seriously. Stop laughing in the back. Pete Wisdom reforms, starts eating granola, drinking less, working out and generally works at becoming the man Kitty always thought she wanted. And she's miserable at this fact. A witty story with some subtle arguments about not trying to change your mate, it is laced with a vicious wit only hinted at in most of Luba's work. Certainly a classic 'turnabout' story, it's made doubly so by the penitent and sincere Wisdom, which is disorienting on it's own. One of the must reads in the entire weighty body of Luba's work, but for the stunning reversal and the amusing prose.

One of the most intensive of the erotic fics that Luba has produced is The Glow Of A Starlit Dawn. It gains this due to the starting from a point of inexperience and fear, and expanding on the nature of a healthy sexual relationship. While very anti-Colossus, building on the events in The Shadow Of A Starless Night, it is a tender and 'true' extrapolation on Wisdom and Kitty's first night together. It has a wonderful balance to it; an interrupted set of beats in the sexual act intertwined with the exorcizing of demons. While graphic, it is also a straight vanilla sex portrayal. There is a fragile delicacy to the fic, not present in most erotica. It feel real, ringing true on both a sexual and an emotional level. And it's one of the best representations of a first time on the net.

This is but a taste of Luba's work, found on her site, Fonts Of Wisdom. Luba has been reviewed by IMHO a record three times as well, a feat shared only by Amanda Sichter. Luba's site remains one of the most interesting and high quality ones on the net.

Luba Kmetyk herself is one of the great personalities of the genre. While eschewing mIRC, she's known through voluminous betas, e-mails and submission requests. In fact, it's amazing that she has the time to troll through the dross to find the regular pearls that she posts on her site, while out-producing most writers on-line.

Still, ever self-less, her final words on how she'd like to be remembered by the community to which she's devoted so much are summed up in twenty-one words:

I'd like it if my writing and archive gave back a small fraction of the pleasure the community has given me.

Right, well, thatís the ball game here, kids. Just a bit of the normal supplement. First, Iím trying to get this thing on a bi-monthy track, until I have a real job, and then back to weekly, I hope. This retrospective took a lot out of me. As always, comments, questions, reviews or, at the risk of being terribly repetitive, reviews of my own work are welcomed at this address Right, time to drink out the vision in my right eye. Cheers.

Dex

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