Friday, 19 December 2014

Funding Friday, "Moonshot" - Comics & Crowdfunding News

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol. 1
Edited by Hope Nicholson

Hope is rapidly becoming the most cited person on this blog, which I suppose goes to show just how busy she's been this past year-and-a-bit. Having brought both Brok Windsor and Nelvana of the Northern Lights back to our bookshelves, Hope is building a reputation for being the go-to person for comics Canadiana and it makes perfect sense to me that she was the one Andy Stanleigh approached to edit Moonshot, Alternate History Comics' next cultural comics codex. Just this past year AH released another kickstarted anthology, The Jewish Comics Anthology, edited by Jewish librarian Steven Bergson, and hinting at what may become this publisher's modus operandi: collecting well-curated and respectfully presented collections of cultural stories as a literary window onto worlds which we as modern readers may not entirely understand.
Cover for Moonshot; original painting by Cree artist Stephen Gladue
For me, this respectful approach is one of the shining highlights of the Moonshot project. K.D. Callaghan's interview with Andy for directly addresses the issue that immediately struck me as the biggest problem a project such as this faces: cultural appropriation. Andy met the question head-on.
One of the biggest concerns when working with Indigenous stories and culture is that of cultural appropriation. You’ve noted that any traditional stories are being printed with the permission of the elders in their respective communities—a wonderful and respectful way to deal with this issue. Were there any other concerns around appropriation with this project? If so, how did you handle them?

There were definitely concerns about appropriation, and both Hope Nicholson and I are big comic book fans who have seen a lot of the character stereotypes out there. Even with the best of intentions, non-indigenous writers and/or artists can unwittingly cross that line from tradition to stereotype/appropriation. The way we’ve dealt with this is being extremely selective with which writers and artists we bring on board. The collection will be comprised of over 90% indigenous creators, who have all had a say in who they work with on MOONSHOT.  As well, the non-indigenous creators involved are all experts in the field who have a massive history of work in the community behind them, and are welcomed by the indigenous creators involved.
Now, that answer made me pretty damn happy, so when I got around to reading Hope's mission statement for Moonshot (as posted by Sequential), it was the icing on the cake.
  1. Accuracy – No mish-mash of cultures or appropriation. (ie. If a traditional story is being relayed from a Metis culture, don’t have characters with Cherokee outfits).
  2. Permission – a writer brought up that some stories are not meant to be told outside of the community. When in doubt in regards to the appropriate public telling of traditional stories, I’ve asked the writer to consult with an elder if possible. Google is a great place to start with research, but must be used judiciously.
  3. No addiction or self-harm in the stories. Not because these issues aren’t important or relevant, but when you turn on the news and that’s the only representation you see, it becomes a biased view of what everyday culture is. I know there is a greater variety of stories that can be told.
  4. Creators – Together, the publisher and I researched and found a great variety of artists and writers that identify as indigenous. Having stories told by members of the community, and to encourage young aspiring artists/writers is very important. It’s also important to me to prove that there is no excuse for a non-indigenous writer/artist to not create a complex indigenous character, and there are a few non-indigenous creators involved in this collection.
  5. Romanticizing – Too often a writer will see old-fashioned stereotypes and go so far in the other direction that they end up doing the exact thing they wanted to avoid. Any reference to a brave, dying culture rings to me as an untruth and stories that portray this type of depiction are not included.
I think the second item on the list is crucial. I'm far from being an expert on First Nations culture and one of the least comfortable people when it comes to engaging in the seemingly tenuous relationship between the North American indigenous peoples and all us other folk who came from somewhere else. But the sentiment I am most familiar with, and which coincides with what Hope mentions in her blurb, is that these stories are not ours to tell. I can't even begin to elaborate on what all that issue entails, and I won't try, but I'll say that it seems to me the Moonshot project is going about this matter in all the right ways.

"Water Spirit" - Haiwei Hou
As mentioned in that fourth item on Hope's list, the project sports an impressive team of artists and writers.
Claude St-Aubin (R.E.B.E.L.S., Green Lantern, Captain Canuck)
Jeffery Veregge (G.I. Joe, Judge Dredd)
Stephen Gladue (MOONSHOT cover artist)
Haiwei Hou (Two Brothers)
Nicholas Burns (Arctic Comics, Curse of Chucky, Super Shamou)
Scott B. Henderson (Man to Man, Tales from Big Spirit)
Jon Proudstar (Tribal Force)
George Freeman (Captain Canuck, Aquaman, Batman)
Mark Shainblum (Northguard, Corum: The Bull and The Spear)
Elizabeth LaPensee (Survivance, The Nature of Snakes, Fala)
Buffy Sainte-Marie (Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, Coincidence & Likely Stories)
Richard Van Camp (Path of the Warrior, Kiss Me Deadly)
Ryan Huna Smith (Tribal Force)
David Robertson (The Evolution of Alice, Stone)
Steve Sanderson (Darkness Calls, Journey of the Healer)
Michael Sheyahshe (Native Americans in Comic Books, Dark Owl)
David Cutler (The Northern Guard)
...and more!
Stamps by Jeffery Veregge

The campaign is offering a slick-looking selection of backer awards, including a set of limited-run Canadian postage stamps, some artsy bookmarks (something which AH did for the Jewish anthology too, and are well worth the money), and an assortment of prints and digital options. No original art offerings have been posted yet, but there are some canvas prints for those so inclined. Great looking rewards. Oh, and you can get the book too. In case you were wondering.

Suffice it to say I'm hardly the only blogger out here chronicling cool comics crowdfunding campaigns (though I may be the only one obsessed with alliteration), and certainly not the only one following this project. There's a whole host of worthwhile interviews, ponderings, and reviews out around the web that you should take a gander at. And while you're out there exploring, read this thing on First Nations creation narratives that Rebecca Solnit just wrote for The New Yorker. It's pretty rad.

Paper Droids
Geek Hard
The Beat
Digital Drum
They Stand on Guard
Pastrami Nation

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Hobbit - A Final Musing

Now that I've got all that out of my system, I really did enjoy the film last night. As with the previous films in this trilogy, there were characters and moments that came off flawlessly on screen. Bilbo's parting with the dwarves before the gates of Erebor had tears welling up in my eyes. It was a reminder of just how lucky this generation, and our parents', have been to see this world of our childhood brought to life by the magic that is cinema. I put my trust in John Howe and Alan Lee's vision of Middle Earth many years ago, and they have never let me down. By their design I've witnessed Tom, Bert, William squabbling over dinner in Trollshaw forest; listened to a contest of riddles in the dark; laid eyes on The Lonely Mountain across the Long Lake. And it's all been a rather profound experience. I still maintain that it would be worthwhile to re-edit the trilogy; if one were to cut out all the extraneous blockbuster-mongering action and romance, you would be left with a pretty darn accurate rendition of Tolkien's story. A lot of work for some fan out there, but if you ever pull it off let me know. I want to watch that cut.

We die-hard lovers of Tolkien's world have had to put up with some downright wrong implications in the films these past few years, fabrications made with the intention of tying Jackson's trilogies together into a cohesive franchise (because we all know Tolkien was no good at creating a unified world for his stories to exist in...right?). I think the most forced of these instances comes at the end of The Battle of the Five Armies when Thranduil sends Legolas off to find the Dunedain and meet/mentor a "young ranger" named "Strider". From a strictly canonical point of view, this is absurd. Aragorn was ten years old at the time of the Battle of the Five Armies, being fostered by Elrond in Rivendell, and would not even come to know his true name for another ten years. He would not be known as "Strider" for five more years after that. Tolkien would shudder, I think, at the implication that Legolas and Aragorn had known each other already for nearly eighty years by the time the Council of Elrond brought The Fellowship together. It's unnecessary conjecture on Jackson's part; mythology is meant to have gaps, but PJ is bent on explaining them away. Leave it! It's myth.

My point in all this is more than just bandying facts and inconsistencies about, which any Tolkien-obsessed fan can (and, with the slightest provocation, will) do. The films ends with Bilbo's return to Bag End, only to discover that his life (and many spoons) as he left it is being auctioned away. He's been presumed dead, and upon his return there is much debate as to whether or not he really is who he says he is. After all, hobbits who leave The Shire on such adventures are hardly expected, or desired, to return.
Bag End (by John Howe)
Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons - he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be 'queer'-except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders. I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party. His sword he hung over the mantelpiece. His coat of mail was arranged on a stand in the hall (until he lent it to a Museum). His gold and silver was largely spent in presents, both useful and extravagant - which to a certain extent accounts for the affection of his nephews and his nieces. His magic ring he kept a great secret, for he chiefly used it when unpleasant callers came. He took to writing poetry and visiting the elves; and though many shook their heads and touched their foreheads and said "Poor old Baggins!" and though few believed any of his tales, he remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long.
 The films does a superb job of illustrating the contrast between Bilbo and the hobbits he finds himself surrounded by upon his return. They clearly don't understand what he's been through, don't understand the weight of the name "Thorin Oakenshield" upon the contract papers he produces to prove his identity, cannot for the life of them fathom why he would have an orc helmet slung under one arm. The Shire, of course, was Tolkien's metaphorical England, the epitome of armchair-lounging, pipe-smoking, tea-drinking modern comfort. When confronted with the stuff of myth and legend, with the concept of adventure and the change in a character's spirit wrought by such trial, the hobbits simply don't get it. I couldn't help but watch that final scene with a wry smile on my face, for a I saw in those confused and disconcerted hobbit faces none other than Peter Jackson, who may have started out back in 2001 on a noble quest to bring us unadulterated Tolkien but who has long since lost himself in the armchair of Hollywood. 

I will likely return to the movies once a year or so, watching them with friends and family on holidays, and surely watching The Two Towers more often than any of the others. But I will surely return to the books and the world within their pages, crafted with almost palpable love. Someday I'll read the books aloud to my kids and introduce them to that world, where little folk are capable of great things and dwarves counselled by ravens rule halls of gold beneath a mountain. And maybe, eventually, I'll let them watch the movies, if only to see if they miss Roac, son of Carc, as much as I do.

Roac, son of Carc (by John Howe)

"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

The Hobbit - The Rant (or, There and Back Again...and Again...and Again)

Heads up; this post may contain spoilers. As it is a commentary on a story published in 1937 to which the film in all major points adheres rather faithfully, any spoilers are, therefore, material that was extraneous to the film anyway, and really shouldn't concern you too much. Take that as you will.

So...I went and saw The Battle of the Five Armies last night (at least I think there were five; it got a little hard to tell at one point). A few key points from the film, before I launch into something a tad more detailed:
  1. Legolas successfully defends his title as Lord of Physics
  2. Dain II Ironfoot should be using an axe, not a hammer
  3. Armoured goats?
Now, to business. 

I've had mixed feelings about these Hobbit films for some time now. When Peter Jackson announced the fracturing of the story into three separate movies I recognized the money-grab instantly, but could also see the structural sense it made to split the story in three. The trouble is, I'm so much in love with the Middle Earth that artists John Howe and Alan Lee have helped the team at Weta bring to life that it's been hard for me to take issue with it. In The Battle of the Five Armies , however, changes have been made to some fundamental aspects of the story, changes which I am not sure I can accept.

This movie doesn't actually cover a lot of book. It would take me perhaps an hour-and-a-half to read aloud the last six chapters in which the events of the film are told, complete with details and entire characters that simply aren't in PJ's interpretation, and yet I sat through a two-and-a-half hour film last night. Knowing this, it saddens me that certain simple yet key things were either altered or overlooked entirely (Roac son of Carc, anyone?). I must urge everyone reading this, if you have not already, read Tokien's novel. If you enjoyed the tale you've encountered (perhaps for the first time) in this trilogy of films, go find a cheap paperback copy of The Hobbit, curl up in an armchair for the day and lose yourself in the tale as it was ever intended to be. Yeah, I'm sentimental about it; but you'll never understand why unless you read it for yourself.

Those who have only ever seen the films, for example, will never know that Bilbo is ultimately responsible for the slaying of Smaug. For it is Bilbo who, in his banter with the dragon, discovers that Smaug the Impenetrable is not quite as impenetrable as he might think he is ("Old fool! Why there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!"). He relates the facts of the matter to Thorin and company, a conversation overheard by...the thrush. The same thrush whose knocking upon the rocks leads Bilbo to discover the door.
"Drat the bird!" said Bilbo crossly. "I believe he is listening, and I don't like the look of him."
"Leave him alone!" said Thorin. "The thrushes are good and friendly-this is a very old bird indeed, and is maybe the last left of the ancient breed that used to live about here, tame to the hands of my father and grandfather. They were a long-lived and magical race, and this might even be one of those that were alive then, a couple of hundreds years or more ago. The Men of Dale used to have the trick of understanding their language, and used them for messengers to fly to the Men of the Lake and elsewhere.
"Well, he'll have news to take to Lake-town all right, if that is what he is after," said Bilbo; "though I don't suppose there are any people left there that trouble with thrush-language."
 Turn your eyes southward now, where Esgaroth is under attack. The town has seen the dragon coming, rallied, and with evacuation underway has met Smaug onslaught with a storm of arrows. A bowman named Bard is down to his last arrow, and is startled when a (nay, the) thrush alights on his shoulder. 
Unafraid it perched by his ear and it brought him news. Marvelling he found he could understand its tongue, for he was of the race of Dale.
"Wait! Wait!" it said to him. "The moon is rising. Look for the hollow of the left breast as he flies and turns above you!" And while Bard paused in wonder it told him of tidings up in the Mountain and of all that it had heard. Then Bard drew his bow-string to his ear.
There's a reason my SCA heraldry is
a black thrush holding an arrow.
The rest, as they say, is history. The film paints quite a different picture. Bard, the only person in the town fighting the wyrm, standing alone atop a tower with some ridiculous jury-rigged ballista (Smaug has broken his bow and is talking to him...what?) spots the gap in the dragon's armour all by himself. It removes Bilbo entirely from the central role for which Tolkien always intended him; this is a story about a hobbit who, intentionally or otherwise, is responsible for some incredible events (like the slaying of the last great dragon), the weight of which he does not fully understand.

Let's fast-forward to Thorin's death on the screen. He is killed in a gimmicky single-combat sequence atop a frozen waterfall with an orc who was meant to be dead 142 years ago. And I don't mean "meant" in that they supposed he had died from his wounds; Tolkien writes that Azog was killed in 2799 by Dain II Ironfoot, and the Battle of the Five Armies was fought in 2941. So, yeah. Way to stick to the text, PJ. That's been bugging me for three years now. Anyway, that's not really the point. The point is the way it affects Thorin's character at the end of the story. We see him come back to being himself again, come bursting out of the mountain and rally the dwarven forces to him, break the goblin ranks, and then...jump on an armoured mountain that materialized from frakking nowhere and bugger off up a mountain to chase a single orc. Where he dies, and Bilbo happens to be there also (because he must warn Thorin of the other secret army, which PJ invented so that he'd have something to warn Thorin about) just in time to hear the great dwarf's last words...which are damn near identical to Boromir's last words to Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). But that's not how the story goes.
When Gandalf saw Bilbo, he was delighted. "Baggins!" he exclaimed. "Well I never! Alive after all - I am glad! I began to wonder if even your luck would see you through! A terrible business, and it nearly was disastrous. But other news can wait. Come!" he said more gravely. "You are called for;" and leading the hobbit he took him within the tent.
"Hail! Thorin," he said as he entered. "I have brought him."
There indeed lay Thorin Oakenshield, wounded with many wounds, and his rent armour and notched axe were cast upon the floor. He looked up as Bilbo came beside him.
"Farewell, good thief," he said. "I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate."
Thorin dies not in single combat with some mythical orc but as a soldier, wounded many times by many foes as he led by example in the middle of everything. And lying, torn and bleeding on his deathbed after the battle is won, he asks for Bilbo to be brought to him so that he can make amends. It's his initiative, the summons of a king which Tolkien knew is no small matter. Jackson's obsession with nemesis, pitting Azog against Thorin and Bolg against Legolas (I'm not even gonna touch that one...except maybe once, later), has effectively robbed us of the intended destiny of Thorin Oakenshield.

How great would the battle scene have been if PJ had stuck to the text? I'm frankly sick of the narrative contortions through which the script had to go to set up certain characters' deaths. Instead of
Thorin wielded his axe with mighty strokes, and nothing seemed to harm him. "To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk!" he cried, and his voice shook like a horn in the valley.
we get a bunch of elves and dwarves cavorting through towers on mountain peaks and hanging upside-down from giant flying bats (don't ask) in a bizarre series of swashbuckling hijinks that is...ridiculous. There's no other word for it. What of Beorn? He's overlooked entirely, except for one shot where he actually gets airdropped into combat by the Eagles. And then we never see him again. To PJ, this guy's just a giant shapeshifting bear-man who offers some sick CGI opportunities. Tolkien actually had a purpose for Beorn, as he had a purpose for everything he created.
In that last hour Beorn himself had appeared - no one knew how or from where. He came alone, and in bear's shape; and he seemed to have grown almost to giant-size in his wrath. The roar of his voice was like drums and guns; and he tossed wolves and goblins from his path like straws and feathers. He fell upon their rear, and broke like a clap of thunder through the ring. The dwarves were making a stand still about their lords upon a low rounded hill. Then Beorn stooped and lifted Thorin, who had fallen pierced with spears, and bore him out of the fray. Swiftly he returned and his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him. He scattered the bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed him.
And who wouldn't have loved to see Bolg killed by a giant bear, rather than...Legolas? Yeah, I went there. It bothers me. contest.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Electricomics - The Zine

In my earlier post on Electricomics, in which I reported on the Thought Bubble panel that I'd attended, I mentioned the zine I'd picked up from the Electriccrew at their table there. The booklet's available on  Alan Moore's online store, but it's likely that they're nearly out of stock. I've been asked if I could share the zine digitally, so I scanned it for your reading pleasure: an introduction to the Electricomics agenda, some wicked great art from Colleen Doran, an interview by Alison Gazzard, and a short comic about comics by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey. Enjoy!

(This publication can also be accessed here?e=12419341/10540340)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

When Art Critiques Go Wrong

I was perusing the long-defunct "Notes" section of my Facebook account today when I unearthed this gem from a few years ago; to be precise, from the 6th of October, 2011. I recall sitting down for an art history class called "The Critical Viewer" and being informed by a classmate that Steve Jobs had died of cancer. So naturally the lecture hall was abuzz by the time the prof walked in, calmed us down, and got the class rolling. He started by throwing this photo up on the screen...

Our task was to form small groups and come up with supposed commonly accepted and alternate views on the meaning behind this image. The later didn't have to be feasible; we could interpret the picture however we chose. I must have been in some kinda mood that morning because I may have let this one get a little out of hand. As recorded in my Facebook note from that day (with some belated proofreading):
"We begin with McDonald's. McDonald's is probably the most blatant, the ultimate, symbol of American consumerism and capitalist corporate business society. Now, a very large portion of corporate profits goes towards military funding; America has the world's single most potent military force, an accomplishment they have fought much opposition to achieve. Now, the McDonald's symbol on the crab-like creature is upside down in this image, and so becomes the middle initial of President Bush. George W. was born on July 6th, under the astrological sign of the crab, Cancer. Bush's invasion of the Middle East coupled with America's social values of excess have greatly impacted the Muslim world, and many conservative Islamic people refer to America as "The Great Satan", a term embodied in the horned top of the crab. Let's move on to the ketchup creature thing. There is a saying that only two things will survive a nuclear holocaust: cockroaches, and the Chinese. This cockroach form is clearly representative of China, especially in the politically-charged military context I will get to momentarily. The cockroach is red, with a distinct little yellow crescent on it, a symbol of the communist power with the ability to survive nuclear war. The other half of this military reference is the crab's shadow, which mimics the form of Sputnik and is a symbol of Soviet Russia and the Cold War arms race. Both Soviet Russia (shown to be merely a "shadow of the past") and Communist China have opposed and threatened America in its rise to power, but now they are portrayed as weak; one is a fleeting, insubstantial shadow while the other cowers beneath the powerful predatory stance of corporate America.

Now, in case you aren't convinced of the validity of this argument, allow me to prove to you three more ways in which the crab made of french fries represents America. Firstly, it stands for corporate America, and this is where it gets creepy. Some of you may be aware that Steve Jobs, the CEO and founder of Apple Inc., died yesterday. He was head of a corporation that landed at number 35 on 2011's Fortune 500, a significant player in the American economy. Now, that crab is made of fries, and fries are made from potatoes. They are, decidedly, "French" fries, and the French term for potato is "Pomme de Terre"..."Apple of the Earth". Apple. Now like I said, Steve Jobs died today. Of cancer. Which, as I have already told you, is the sign of the crab.

Now secondly, it stands for imperialist America. The Roman eagle, the symbol of the Legions and of the power of the Roman Empire, was adopted by America upon its constitution. The eagle was tradionally made of bronze if it were to be carried on campaign, gold for ceremonial purposes. Both of these metals are yellow or distinctly yellowish, dependent on their quality. So what in this image stands out as yellow? Well, the fries, and the three points of the "W". If you count up those points there are eight legs, two 'arms', and the three prongs of the letter, you get thirteen. There were thirteen colonies brought into Constitution in 1787, the first States of America.

And lastly, it represents America's international efforts to remain a step ahead of all their competition. I have been calling the larger figure in this image a "crab" up until this point, but I seemed to be one of few who saw it that way in class. Most people referred to as a "spider", and it definitely can come across that way. It has eight legs, and is certainly predatory. So let us work with the spider for a bit. Spiders in many cultural muthologies are the tricksters. They are the only living creature that sets a constructed trap and lies in wait for its prey to snare itself. Out of this devious characteristic have risen legends like Anansi as well as ficticious constructions like Tolkien's Ungoliant and Shelob. The creature in the image bears all these connotations. The crab also carries a distinctly engineered skeletal feel to it's composition, and this is no acident. The Central Intelligence Agency is rumoured to have been founded by members of a secret society at Yale University called Skull and Bones, the members of which are referred to as Bonesmen. The CIA is responsible for feeding intelligence to the American military, as well as conducting operations within allied and opposing countries to plant and manipulate information. In short, the Agency sets traps, spins webs, and then waits for someone to fall in. As well, George W. Bush is a known alumni of the Bonesmen. Coincidence? Perhaps..."
Don't worry; I'm well aware of how inaccurate parts of that spiel are, and the blustering bravado of the young art student that saturates my words (or in Art Spiegelman's words, "the Artist as a Young %@&*!", which I was). But it's a fun bit of nostalgia to look back on and a ridiculous glimpse into my brain, and now it's your ridiculous glimpse into my brain.

You're welcome.