Rich Handley Author and Editor

How I Dealt with Loss Writing an Essay About the Joker

Hi, folks. Here’s another guest post from my friend Valentina Rossi…

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By Valentina Rossi

In late November 2022, Rich Handley and Lou Tambone contacted me via email to see if I would be interested in writing an essay for a book anthology. They were short two articles, and they wanted to know if I could write an essay with a very tight deadline. Rich is a good friend, and I met him via Twitter when I tried—unsuccessfully—to help him get a very rare, weird Mexican Spider-Man comic that was a sort-of crossover with Planet of the Apes. I got to know about Lou via our email exchange and his book writing.

I was intrigued and really flattered. I though Rich was very generous in his assessment of my writing capabilities: I have done engineering papers and cowritten a book on robotics, but my style in English is—I think—both pedestrian and florid, maybe because of Spanish being my native language. I have never written about pop culture or anything fun, and I am just an enthusiastic fangirl with respect to comics.

The essay was to be about Batman’s archetypical enemy the Joker, to be included in an anthology with the title The Man Who Laughs: Exploring the Clown Prince of Crime. The book was to be published by Crazy 8 Press. If you are interested, the finalized table of contents and the description of the anthology are available here.

Rich and Lou asked me if I might have an original take on the Joker. I could not really think of one, except that I had experienced the character second-hand, via the translations in Spanish of the comics from Editorial Novaro, and the Mexican dubs of both the 1960s Batman TV show and the Filmation animated series. These dubs are interesting in their own right—made by very creative people, badly paid, and who wanted to subtly mock the government censorship of the time—but maybe not enough to write a full essay. Some of the best topics were already taken by people way more qualified than me—Jim Beard, Duy Tano, and Paul Cornish—or true legends of the field like Jo Duffy, Paul Kupperberg, and Steve Englehart.

As I was checking some old Novaro comics, inspiration stuck me: why not write about how the queerness of the Joker has been shown in various media? He seemed very effeminate in those Filmation cartoons, but very macho in the 1960s Batman live-action series, and creepily weird with animal-like magnetism in Chistopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He had been chameleonic in the comics as well, and it seemed like a fun topic to explore. Rich and Lou encouraged me, but I had two problems: I needed to go back to my country of origin in Latin America and was swamped with work, and the deadline was really tight.

And then… I suffered a personal loss that I am still processing. It was a devastating emotional blow, and I urgently needed to go back to my home country. Rich and Lou were extremely understanding and asked me if I no longer wanted to participate in the anthology. I was in shock, but I asked for a week to submit my draft. I felt that writing during that long trip—about twelve hours with layovers—might give me something to focus on.

I barely remember packing and getting to Zürich airport. I had taken with me a brown notebook from the Laboratoire de Mathématiques de Besançon that I had laying around, and a couple of pens.

I started to write in the plane, and the essay just poured out of me… I kept a tally of the references that I would need later, and from time to time I would add a note to the margins to not forget a certain point. Otherwise, I wrote it in one go, On the Road-style.

After a couple of hours, my blue pen ran out of ink. I continued and finished in black ink. And apart from switching the order of some paragraphs and style corrections, the paper draft was almost the final form of the essay.

I did a scale in Philadelphia after the transatlantic trip. While waiting for my next connection, I transcribed the essay to a Word document. I still needed to consult the references—in the end, I read again fully The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke—but I was going to turn my essay on time, and I was ready to come back to reality and deal with tragedy.

Now the question is… Is my essay about queer representation of the Joker any good? That is not for me to say, but you could find out if you decide to get The Man Who Laughs book. I did try my best and attempted to give an outsider perspective—to an English-speaking mainstream comic audience—as a queer genderfluid Spanish-speaking Latinoamericana. If anything, I can attest that the rest of the essays in the anthology are especially insightful and entertaining.

I want to give my deep gratitude to Rich and Lou, who had confidence that I could write something readable on a tight deadline. And also to the creators and contributors to the Joker mythos, who kept me spiritual company on those long, dark hours of my journey home.

Robotics engineer boy by day, cinephile comics fangirl by night, Valentina Rossi is a queer genderfluid Latinoamericana currently living in Switzerland. She fell in love with comic books in general, and DC characters in particular, when her grandfather lent her his large collection of Editorial Novaro Spanish translations of US superhero series.

 Her favorite excuse for everything is “English is not my native language” which unfortunately only works in the US/UK. She can be found on Twitter—still functional as of this writing—and, a micro-blog site—as @rossi_tg.

3 thoughts on “How I Dealt with Loss Writing an Essay About the Joker

  1. This is a lovely story. While I’m still sorry for Vaneltina’s loss, I’m am so happy that she could participate in the book and the essay is wonderful. I’m glad it’s in the book! Thank you for being a part of it.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Lou… I meant every word about my gratitude to you and Rich – Valen

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