Monday, 27 June 2011

Review: 25,000 years of erotic freedom-Alan Moore


An exploration of The Pornographic Imagination:

When you read this book and then look at a picture of Alan Moore, the two things don't seem to correspond. Alan Moore is a very strange looking figure, a hairy behemoth with huge gothic rings who openly worships a snake-god/hand-puppet called Glycon. But in reality, as comes across very well in this book, Alan Moore is a person who seems well versed in everything, from history to philosophy, maths and the arts. His writing is intelligent, witty, extremely cohesive, and makes him appear very normal indeed. In fact his writing style and the way his argument flows so easily normalises the argument to the point that any other viewpoint seems ridiculous.

But I get ahead of myself. It would make sense that Alan Moore would write this treaty on the decline of pornography as art form across the ages, after all his three volume erotic masterpiece illustrated by his wife pioneering underground American cartoonist Melinda Gebbe is a definite attempt to make pornography credible and beautiful again. He is also extremely sexually progressive. Before marrying Melinda Gebbe he was in a three way relationship with his previous wife and her girlfriend, and he compiled and published through his own publishing company Mad Love a one off anthology comic called AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) which was a response to a controversial proposed government clause designed to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. This is a comic book I would very much love to own as it boasts a very fine line up of writing and artistic talent including Howard Cruse, Dave Mckean, Kevin O'Neil, Savage Pencil, Posy Simmonds, Art Spiegelman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Oscar Zarate, etc. One of the stories from the anthology called The Mirror Of Love written by Moore is available from Top Shelf.

What Alan Moore does with this book is put sex at the centre of a vibrant and forward thinking society and swiftly dispels all myths that an overabundance of decadence was the cause of the demise of certain famous civilisations. In fact, in the most famous case of the fall of Rome, he blames the eventually forced conversion to Christianity which meant that forgien troops who originally felt more at home fighting for the empire as they were allowed to worship their own gods and observe their own customs, would no longer be so willing, leaving the empire vulnerable to attacks from all sides.

His opening sentence sets the tone: 'Whether we speak personally or palaeoanthropologically, it's fair to say that we humans start off fiddling with ourselves'. To Moore, its pretty common sense that sex is a vital part of human existence, so its repression by religion, and its repression in art, seem absurd and illogical to him.
Moore's basic argument is very simple: Sexually open and progressive societies such as Rome and Greece gave us civilisation: philosophy, maths, running water, heating systems, roads, great works of art and literature, etc. Sexually repressed civilisations brought us back into the Dark Ages. Even at one stage the Christian church embraced erotic art but by attaching the stigma of sin and shame, and by using it as a moral lesson and a fearful warning, it has left a very long sticky residue throughout history concerning our attitude to pornography and sex. It is this shameful attachment that has affected pornography ever since, taking it down into the shadows, particularly in the Victorian period where (in Moore's opinion) the last remnants of truly great erotic art died off in a gasp of shame (Beadsley on his death bed, the trail of Oscar Wilde etc). The shame has lead to its degradation, its decline in quality and merit. In fact merit is a quality that Moore thinks pornography should try and regain, quoting the infamous obscenity trial against Alan Ginsberg's Howl where the Judge was in favour of the poem because of its 'redeeming social importance'. Pornography enjoyed a brief resurgence with high end production values during the sexual revolution of the 60's with the underground comics (although the sex in these would often have brutal misogynistic undertones) and importantly with the liberating mass viewings in cinemas of pornography, but soon it all became commercialised and crass, and with the introduction of the home video boom in the 80's, pornography was more readily available but once again stigmatised as the pursuit of the lone weirdo.
Overall this book is thoroughly well researched, well argued, and entertaining. It is difficult to get across the amount of different strains of the argument and the various references Moore makes in the space of a single review (although it is worth mentioning his discussion of the uneasy relationship between the anti-porn feminists and the Christian right) but Moore does so in such a way as to make the reading an easy experience that seems to be over too soon. Perhaps the only small hole in Moore's argument is that these sexually open civilisations were also as much war-faring ones as our modern day sexually repressed cultures, if not more so, but this is a minor bone of contention in such a pleasurable book (puns not intentional there).

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Last night a comic saved my life: Comics & Medicine, a graphic revolution.

Comics and graphic novels with a medical narrative seem to be to the best example of comics that can actually make a difference to peoples lives. I've always been a little weary that political comics while giving a useful insight into the life of someone fairly remote from us have an aspect of 'preaching to converted' about them. Reading them won't stop a war in some remote country, and it will probably won't shift perceptions too far as it's highly likely that if you've sought this particular graphic novel out you're already of a relatively liberal mindset. Whereas with medical comics the issues discussed are more personal and close to the bone. Cancer can happen to anyone, and is something that most people have had a degree of experience with. Mental health issues as well, although more stigmatised than most illness, are a lot more common than people think, being stressed and feeling a little bit down are things that happen to pretty much everyone, but when these things are left unchecked they can often lead to unchecked feelings and anxiety that can often be difficult to understand. Mental health issues are not a sign of a weak will and mind (and neither are they on the other hand an expression of complete creative genius or something to glamorise, we need to find some sort of middle ground).

As well as being reassuring things to be read by a person suffering from an illness, or a friend or relative of that person (Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters, a graphic novel about HIV immediately springs to mind, expect an indepth review soon) but the process of creating it for the artist can often bring them out of the very funk they are describing. For example in Darryl Cunningham's Psychiatric Tales it is the recognition he starts to receive for his strips that brings him out of isolation and therefore becomes part of the process of healing.
Katie Green, who I mentioned in my previous post, also mentioned in her talk that when she decided that when she wanted to be an illustrator, this was very much the fork in the road between her dying and her living.

Of course, you may complain, 'I don't have a creative bone in my body!', 'I can't draw!', but there are plenty of comic artists that tell their stories just as well with a slightly more primitive stripped down style (I'm thinking John Porcellino, and Sarah Leavitt's Tangles). Even the process of keeping a diary about your experiences is a useful one. To me the rising discipline of Medical Humanities which draws from literature and art when treating patients, is a highly important one. At it's roots, it seems to me to be about treating the patients as well as the disease, stressing the humanity in medical humanities (of course it would be fairly redundant without a certain degree of good medical care as well). But the fact that medical students are being encouraged to create their own comics in certain places about their own experiences (as well as thinking more carefully about what it might be like to be in their patients shoes) can only be a good thing. In my opinion I think that these graphic novels should be made more readily available not just to doctors, nurses, and medical students, but to the patients themselves(*1). Try to imagine for a second the conflicted emotions and guilt of a person suffering from mental health issues for the first time, and then imagine the relief they might feel knowing that they are not alone when reading something like Psychiatric Tales. The artists of these books often talk about creating the book they wish was there when they were suffering, it would be great to see that these books got into the hands of those who need them the most.

On a final note this post was inspired by the wide range of internet coverage of the recent two day Comics & Medicine Conference in Chigago organised by Ian Williams and MK Czerwiec and playing host to the likes of Scott McCloud, David Small, Brian Fies, John Porcellino, and Phoebe Gloeckner. Personally I wish I could travel back in time and attend this.

Publishers weekly coverage.

New York Times Coverage

Sarah Leavitt's blog coverage.

Brian Fies coverage

Scott McCloud coverage.

John Porcellino's coverage.

John Swogger's coverage.

and finally:

Paul Gravett at last years London conference talking to Darryl Cunningham, Brian Fies, and Phillipa Perry.

(*1) I know that libaries of medical comics are starting to be made avaliable to medical proffesionals and students but I'm not sure if they are being made avaliable to patients yet.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Laydeez Do Comics 20th June with Katie Green, Charles Hatlfield, Joumana Medlej, and myself

It's something of an extreme rarity for me to blog about something I have done rather than something someone else has done but on the 20th of June I had the extreme pleasure and the honour of speaking at the monthly event Laydeez Do Comics in London. Laydeez Do Comics was founded by comic artist and curator Nicola Streetham and artist, writer, curator, and academic Sarah Lightman. What started out as more of a reading and discussion group which set out to prove that ladies not only read but DO comics, has now blossomed into something of an institution. Dropping the book group aspect to focus more on bringing the best in speakers from the comics and illustration world, both established (Trina Robbins, Melinda Gebbe, Posy Simmonds) and non-established, male and female, LDC boasts a fantastically friendly and thriving atmosphere, which is inspiring and warm. It's a great place to meet people for whom the medium of comics is a passion, and to discover new things along the way.

I was hugely nervous about speaking myself, but having witnessed the general atmosphere of these events a number of times before, I was more nervous about the act of speaking in front of an audience than the response I would get (although I was perhaps a little self-conscious of looking like the dud in the room went put up against a soon to be published artist, a published and highly regarded academic, and a comics artist from Lebanon). Thankfully, the obligatory round-the-room introductions with the added question 'name something that has scared you recently' was a nice ice-breaker and it was reassuring to see some of my fellow speakers also admit to nerves.

I was speaking about my autobiographical comic in progress about my life with the terminal illness Cystic Fibrosis. The one thing that's always drawn me to autobiographical comics is their non-idealised humanity, and this was something that I really hoped to try and achieve with my own work. I wanted to talk about all the things that I had done, or thought, concerning my CF that didn't exactly make me the model CF sufferer (which is why I called this first issue of the comic The Selfish Gene). I wanted to offer an alternative to what I like to call (in a typical nod to my Cultural Studies background) 'the poster-child syndrome', the image of the angelic smiling child with a terminal illness which to me is completely devoid of personality and places the person with a terminal illness way too easily into the role of passive victim. My biggest inspiration since the age of 17 is a guy called Bob Flanagan (I showed a clip from the documentary film Sick, which is about Bob, during my presentation). Bob Flanagan was an American performance artist, poet, and writer who at the time of his death at the age of 43 was the longest living survivor of CF. He was also a masochist, a submissive, and a prominent member of the S+M scene who combatted the pain of his illness, with more pain, but ultimately pain he was in control of. He was also an incredibly intelligent, warm, and funny figure whose gallows humour*(1) (along with the discovery of the hilarious and inappropriate gag cartoons of John Callahan) helped me determine the way I wanted to write and draw about my own experiences. After all, if you can't laugh about terminal illness what can you laugh at? I finished off my presentation by talking about another comic that I am working on, the semi-autobiographical 'Confessions of a self-hating male' which was inspired by my best friend calling me a self-hating male after spotting that I was reading a book called Women without men. This collection of strips is a chance for me to have fun by exaggerating aspects of my personality as a 'cowardly feminist', a straight white male who often gets mistaken for being gay because he doesn't like football or making noises like a baboon when he's drunk. A man ashamed, fearful, and disgusted by traditional masculinity, but also finds it difficult to stand up to it, and who is also very much afraid of women. A man who doesn't really identify himself as a man. These comics are going to explore this mainly through trivial events such as getting the train home from London after a big football match, somehow always being the target for blokes who like to shout stuff out of cars at strangers, and that grey area I like to call sex. I've got lots of ideas for this comic, as stuff that happens in my day to day existence tends to inspire it.

The response was far better than I could have possibly imagined, it was slightly surreal and astounding but a massive confidence boost as well. I'd been a little worried that my style was slightly too rough around the edges, but judging by the response, I needn't have.
There were many routes suggested to me but I think perhaps the first one I aim to explore is to tweak to perfection the pages I've got so far (I think there's about 28) because they are a perfect lenght to enter into the Myriad editions First Fictions Graphic Novel competition. In the meantime I'm going to work on developing it into graphic novel lenght, which is a very exciting prospect.

Next up was Katie Green who is also from Bristol and who is currently working on her graphic novel about recovering from anorexia and sexual abuse entitled Lighter Than My Shadow due out sometime in 2013. I admire Katie's bravery to be so open about these very painful experiences in her life, not just on paper, but in front of a room full of people. Katie's talk was very enlightening, and she peppered it with humour to put everyone at ease (talking about the surreal nature of these experiences being talked about in an editorial fashion, her editor at one point saying 'there are too many suicidal moments'). Katie said some very interesting things, for one thing, we often assume that the process of writing something like this is cathartic, but Katie questions this assumption herself, wondering if rehashing these events over and over again really is the healthiest thing. But then Katie has made a wonderful sacrifice in this respect because her intentions with this book is to write the book she wished had been there when she was suffering. I think the decision to make this book more aimed at secondary school children and beyond, as a realistic manual on recovery, is a fantastic one. The pressure on women to loose weight far outweighs realistic depictions of eating disorders in the media. As for the artwork Katie's childlike and naive characters perfectly juxtapose the dark underbelly of the story and I love the fact that something that was purely accidental (a crease in the paper she was scanning for her background) has become a crucial element in the structuring of her work. Katie you see doesn't like to use panels or speech bubbles(*2), so this crease became a way of separating the images although her splash pages and double page spreads are defiantly a thing to behold. Her representation of her eating disorder as a dark forboding shadow with whom she can have conversations is also a brilliant idea. I for one am highly looking forward to when Lighter Than My Shadow comes out.

After Katie's talk was American professor of English and published academic Charles Hatfield (he wrote Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature). A highly articulate and energetic guy Hatfield talked to us about his job teaching comics based courses at Calafornia State University and for one thing it was refreshing to have an academic openly demystify the process of academia. Hatlfield who was in the UK partly as a research trip (lucky man!) broke down his ideas into several areas which I'll try to remember off the top of my head (I was still in a post-nervous haze and foolishly didn't take down any notes). First and foremost Hatfield confessed to being a formalist at heart, encouraging his experiences to take from the formalists toolbox of terms. Hatfield talked about the influence of Thierry Groensteen's semiotic study The System Of Comics (which is one of the academic books on comics I've struggled with the most).
He then went on to talk about cartooning, and interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary being the area that most interests me. Comics more than any other medium seems to be able to borrow from a whole range of other mediums, and cross other into respected disciplines, such as medicine, history, sociology, anthropology etc. It was also interesting to hear him discuss certain limitations in alternative comics, mainly that culturally it is something that it is created in the majority by middle class white males (although I think this is changing quite rapidly) and creators of colour are still something of a rarity. I look forward to hearing Hatfield talk again at the Manchester conference and picking his brains afterwords.

To finish the night we had Lebanese comic artist Joumana Medlej who is the creator of Lebanons first superhero. Inspired by the her childhood in war torn Beirut and taking the city as her main setting Joumana's presentation was a testament to the fact that you can get used to anything if it is part of your everyday life (something I myself am very much aware of). For Joumana the reality of war was simple: bombs meant no school, and no bombs meant school. Surprisingly life during wartime could be boring and Joumana took to drawing as a means of escaping that boredom. Her superheroine Malaak (Angel of Peace) is by day your average teenage Lebanese girl but by night is an ass-kicking bringer of a justice with a bumbling male side kick who thinks he is stronger and more fearless than he actually is (a nice touch). Also a nice touch is the creation of a league of civilians who help Malaak along her way (which Joumana confessed, was an easy way to meet the demand of friends begging her to put them in the comic). Malaak, Angel Of Peace is a refreshing reinvention of the superhero genre which far outweighs some small press attempts I have seen her in the UK (which tend to follow the superhero soap opera line) by being firmly placed in a reality familiar to Jouamana.

So overall the night was fantastic, and if there are any budding comic book artists out there or simply if you have a passion for the medium, I highly recommend you get yourself down to a Laydeez event in the future.

The general euphoria of getting a good response however could not match the hilarity of me falling down the gap between the platform and my train home. Pure class!

Expect a blog post from Mike Medaglia soon on the Laydeez Do Comics blog, and you can read Katie's two part summary of the evening here.

(*1) For example singing 'um diddle diddle I'm gonna' die to the tune of supacalafragolistic
(*2) This is something I can sympathise with having put off starting my comic for so long perhaps partly out of an unnatural fear of square boxes and sraight lines.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Blog of the week: Paralellograma

This weeks blog of the week has nothing to do with comics, book covers, animation, or graphic design, but don't be disheartened, its still a very good blog! Parrellograma (the blog name being taken from an excellent album by folk singer Linda Perhacs, which happens to be the blogger's favourite) is a fairly neat representation of the interests and talents of one Emma Mould, and if you are into the cult and unusual, or wish to broaden your intellectual palette, this is certainly the place to go. With film and book reviews, snippets of gender and post-colonial theory with one foot firmly in the world of reality and popular(ish) culture, and examples of Emma's excellent creative writing (both published and unpublished) Parrellograma is certainly a 'variety is the spice of life' kind of blog.
I would also highly recommend reading any music related article she has written, as she does so with a love and a knowledge for the subject that far outstrips any hack NME journalist. She tackles bootlegging, confessional singer-songwriters, and writes a really interesting article on the disease that is record collecting that manages to reference Walter Benjamin along the way.

Find of the week: Dark Side Of The Moonies-Erica Heffmann

Ok so technically I found this quite a number of weeks ago but I'm running a bit behind with these and therefore have a ready made stockpile to take from.

It's quite a rarity here on Graphic Engine for me to do a find of a week that didn't grab my attention for its visual proprieties. This book's cover is nothing special but the book itself is something I am very much looking forward to diving into headfirst.

Dark Side Of The Moonies by Erica Heffman is a first hand true account of one woman's brainwashing and involvement in The Moonies cult (or The Unification Church), written after her deprogramming and liberation. Heffman since her liberation became fascinated by cults and the use of power in an academic and a 'I need to make people aware of how this works' kind of way. This book was first published in 1982 so if you think cults were just a phenomena of the 60's think again (read:Scientology).

Here's a qoute from the back if that doesn't get you interested.

'I was a Moonie. When I regained my mind, I looked back at the horror of it. I was haunted by the need to understand how and why I had been transformed into what I hated most'.

Comics & Academia: Where we are now, where we are going, and some great conferences to look out for....

It seems that something has defiantly been brewing in the world of comics and graphic novels which certainly seems to be reaching a new level of intensity in the last year or so. With more and more glowing reviews of comics in the mainstream press (although papers like The Guardian and The Times are still slightly more switched on than the rest) as well as interviews with UK creators such as Darryl Cunningham appearing everywhere from the much respected Comics Journal in America to BBC Radio 4's mental health and brain focused programme All In The Mind, it seems like the only way is up. Not to mention the fact that Dundee University have just announced that from next year they will be doing an MA in comics studies, focusing on the medium academically as well as creatively and helping to push potential comic academics, creators, and publishers into their chosen careers through work experience, guest speakers, expert knowledge, and the building up of contacts. Comics have been called by one particular online literary journal 'the only true new art form of the twentieth century' and while it isn't really as new as they may think (there are people that argue the roots of comics all the way back to cave paintings and the Bayeux tapestry) what the medium is beginning to do is certainly new. For me there hasn't really been much in the way of truly great, groundbreaking modern literature or modern art recently. Modern art especially (I find) is derivative, pretentious, and doesn't really tell us much about us or the world we live in (even if it claims to do so, the message is so detached and distorted as to be rendered useless) . Whereas comics for the most part are all about us and the world we live in and not just us specifically but a multiplicity of us from all around the world, we now have access to a wide range of experiences we know nothing about and may never come into contact with. For me comics are literature, but they also are art, these two things work together and feed off each other in comics. But it's because comics are so versatile that I like them so much. I believe it was Scott McCloud the great sage wisdom of comics theory that was very fond of pushing this particular line: comics is a medium, NOT a genre. Within comics you get a wide range of different approaches. From history to philosophy, journalism, autobiography, political commentary, satire, allegorical or just plain off the wall sci-fi, fantasy, horror, thriller, literary adaptations, I could probably mention more if I wanted to. It seems people are constantly reinventing what we can do with comics, not just artistically and formally but it terms of narrative as well.

So it gives me a great thrill to see some really interesting academic conferences popping up across the UK.

The first of which is the Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels, Bandes Dessinees and Comics 2011 to be held at Manchester Metropolitan University between the 5th and the 8th of July. This four day conference will be split into two parts, the first two days focusing on Anglophone comics and Manga, the last two days focusing on European comics. It will feature some fantastic keynote speakers such as women's underground comix legend and co-conspirator behind Alan Moore's Lost Girls, Melinda Gebbie, as well as British underground staple Hunt Emerson and French artist Edmond Baudoin. But for me it would be equally exciting to hear talks from critics such as Ann Miller and Bart Beaty who have written some fantastically indepth books about European comics, and American academic and editor Charles Hatfield (who I had the pleasure of speaking alongside at Laydeez Do Comics last Monday). Flying the flag for the UK will be academics such as Chris Murray (who will be running the MA in Dundee) giving what looks to be a fascinating talk on pyschogeography in comics, Melanie Gibson a consultant who gives training to libraries and schools on how to stock graphic novels and comics (amongst other things), Studies In Comics editor Julia Round, and Graphic Medicine guru and comic artist Ian Williams. This event is probably really only for real die-hard enthusiasts as (a it's quite expensive and (b four days of academic talks might get a bit much, but for me I approach it with as much anticipation as someone might await something like Glastonbury Festival. Check out the full programme here. Expect a report and a selection of interviews with some of the speakers on this blog.

Next up is the Comics and Conflict Conference taking place at The Imperial War Museum in London between the 19-20th of August as part of their Children's Literature Festival (although I'd hardly call the way some of the authors/artists speaking choose to tackle war child-friendly) Again featuring some fantastic guests in the form of 2000AD writer Pat Mills who created his own World War I series Charley's War, Mikkel Sommer writer/artist of Obsolete (which I reviewed here), Francesca Cassavetti who has turned her mothers wartime diary into a comic, and academics Roger Sabin and Martin Barker who will be discussing the long-running Doonsbury series.
Sadly French comic artist Jaques Tati who was going to be one of the keynote speakers is no longer on the bill, for reasons I do not know. Tati created a fantastically bleak and human tale of trench warfare in It Was The War Of The Trenches (which you can now buy as a hardcover book published by Fantagraphics as part of their Tati reprint series). Comics/graphic novels about war and conflict appeal to me as a pacifist because they look at the very human toll of war, not just that of civilians but the people fighting as well(*1), of course if you seek it out a lot of classic fiction does this as well, but comics of course have the bonus of interesting and expressive artwork.

Next up is the second Transitions Comica Symposium chaired by Dr.Roger Sabin, on the 5th of November at the School of Arts, Birbeck, London University. This conference will be look specifically at new emerging research in comics studies spanning across multiple disciplines and featuring work from postgrad students and early career lecturers alike. An event without the restrictions of theme, this promises to be a melting pot for new ideas, and they are calling for papers, so budding comics theorists apply!. (Deadline 31st July)

Finally, following on from a highly successful conference in London last year (and an even more successful one in Chicago this year, but I'll post about that later) Leeds Thoughts Bubble will be playing host to a one day conference on Graphic Medicine subtitled Visualising The Stigma Of Illness, on the 17th of Novemember. Again there is a call for papers, so you know what to do! (Deadline 18th of July) There are two other conferences, one on scultpure and comics, the other on the way in which the material form of comics affects our reading experience, but fo my money the Graphic Medicine one looks the most interesting.

(*1) An early example of human tales of war in comic book form would be the classic EC series Frontline Combat which managed to be historically accurate while carrying a strong anti-war message and featured the artwork of such luminaries as Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, and Jack Davis.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Animation of the week: The Seperation-Robert Morgan)

Ok so Robert Morgan very clearly wears his influences on his sleeve here (Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmajer, bolexbrothers) but when the result is as good as this who am I to complain. This is a creepy, atmospheric, and well paced (the movements are incredibly smooth but don't suffer being Disneyfied because of this) tale of two separated conjoined twins who can't bear to be apart. A particularly nice touch is the gloss of sweat on their aged faces that really makes them believable despite the slightly fantastic plot line. The set pieces and lighting are also gorgeous reminding me of an even more sinister Blade Runner or perhaps Brazil. Watch it here.

I originally found this recommendation through master of comic book/movie sleaze Rick Trembles and the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal (which looks fantastic, and where Rick Trembles has his own animation film Goopy Spasms debuting).

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Some forthcoming releases to look out for....

(this above image is taken from Pravda by Guy Peelaert)

Self Made Hero, one of the holy trinity of UK independent publishers who I will probably be referring a lot to from now on, have recent released a catalogue of all their forthcoming releases to whet your appetite. As a publisher you can see that they are really beginning to grow outside of their original manifesto of literary adaptations and graphic biography. They recently put out their first original work Hair Shirt by Patrick McEown and have also released the first of their gift books, a Moomin cookbook of Finnish cuisine. In the future they will be continuing with their Sherlock Holmes and H.P Lovecraft adaptations (the later in the form of a multi-artist anthology) as well as Reinhard Kleist's next graphic biography this time about Fidel Castro, and The Incal the collaborative sci-fi graphic novel between old master Moebius and cult directer Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Here are a few of the highlights for me:

Black Paths by David B-With the recent release of his literary adaption The Littlest Pirate King and the forthcoming release of The Armed Garden, Black Paths fits quite snugly into the dream tales and surreal and invented wars and myths of other cultures he touched on between the pages of Epileptic. This time set in the more recent time of 1919 it weaves a slightly more fantastic tail amongst the background of the First World War.

Fish+Chocolate by Kate Brown-a collection of short stories set to be published in September, although if you manage to catch Kate at a comic book convention you will have an opportunity to buy an advance copy (which is something I instantly regret not going myself). All these stories explore the mother-child relationship in various ways, but usually carry an uneasy feeling along with them. Style wise from what I remember flicking through it, it has a slight surreal Mangaesque quality filtered through American and European influences with nods to the fluid qualities of Miyazaki and the general aesthetics of Taiyo Matsumoto.

Hellraisers-written by Robert Sellers and illustrated by JAKe.

Hellraisers is a graphic biography with a difference. It mixes biography with fiction to weave a Christmas Carol style tale of regret for a potential hellraiser. The story begins with our anti-hero Martin sitting in a pub in London at Christmas time, trying to drink himself to an early grave. At the end of the bar sit the original bad boys of Hollywood, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, and Peter O'Toole. They each take him on a tour of their lives in attempt to warn him against the path he is taking. An interesting twist on the traditional biography, but then comics have always been a great medium for twisting, breaking, and reshaping tradition.

The Wolf Man-Written by Richard Appignanesi, illustrated by Slava Harasymowicz

A graphic adaptation of Sigmund Freud's most famous case, need I say more?

Sandcastle-Written by Pierre Oscar Levy, illustrated by Frederick Peeters

From the brush of the artist and author of the taboo crushing and very personal graphic novel about living with someone with HIV Blue Pills, comes this collaborative tale of suspense, murder, and science fiction.

Robot-Adapted from the work of Stalinslaw Lem by Andrzej Klimowski and illustrated by Danusla Schejbal.

Here we are presented with two robot themed pieces adapted from the Polish master responsible for that wonderful piece of psychological sci-fi that is Solaris.

Finally Fantagraphics are to release not one, but two, billiant examples of Belgian comic art by cult artist Guy Peelaert who has a style reminiscent of the space age pop art exotica of Barberella. The Adventures of Jodelle (due May 2012) is a satirical spy story set in a futuristic space age Roman empire, whilst Pravda (due November 2012) tells the story of an all female biker gangs journey across a mythical America. Both are kaleidoscopic psychedelic visions of colour and elasticated form mixing both high and low art. From the few images I can of this work I am literally drooling with anticipation (2012 is a long way away). If what I've said doesn't convince you, then read the much more articulate Fantagraphics post.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Find(s) of the week: Pop-up Jules Verne & The Story Of Gardens

As I haven't done one of these for a while I thought I would start with a double whammy.

Last weekend I went to London and visited the fantastic Out Of This World exhibit at The British Library which is running until the 25th of September. A pretty comprehensive collection of science fiction/speculative fiction featuring some of the earliest examples complete with a variety of illustrations and vintage cover design, with some comics thrown in for good measure. Definitely worth a visit, and it's free!

Whilst there I spotted something I could only hope was available to buy, and thankfully when I started to browse the gift shop, I noticed it was for sale.

The item in question was a pop up hardback comic book version of Jules Verne's classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Sam Ita. Complete with moving parts, hidden flaps, and massive 3D renditions of scenes such as the discovery of Atlantis and the notorious giant squid attack this is an innovative and fresh approach to the genre. One thing that puzzles me is whether or not this pop-up book can actually be considered aimed at children, for the most part the language is fairly comprehensible, but there are occasional words that may trouble a child, not to mention the violent anti-colonial undertone that has been kept from the original book. One thing is for certain the visual devices alone could be a brilliant way of getting children into reading and eventually turning them on to the greats (anyone who argues comic books encourage illiteracy is a narrow-minded fool).

Sam Ita has also published two more pop up comic book literary adaptations: Mary Shelley's Frankenstien and Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Next I finally visited the Nobrow shop and gallery and picked up a nice little mini comic The Story Of Gardens by polish artist Kuba Woynarowski. Fitting the sci-fi theme of this post nicely this starkly finished black white and blood red surreal and wordless tale presents us with the ultimate 'what if...?'. Tying into and exploiting our current environmental fears it shows a world devoid of human life, but where disregarded human artifacts remain. Slowly but surely nature begins to regain its stronghold in the world through the presence of an eiree looking shrimp like insect and the eventual swamping growth of plants and weeds. There are some wonderfully creepy and atmospheric sequences in this little comic, including a scene with the shrimp like insect emerging from the 'heart' of a blood red cabbage which reminds me a lot of Charles Burn's work with its nods to B-movie horror. This mini comic presents a possible future world like an unsettling alien landscape and sends a shudder down your spine in a mere 16 pages!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The dark side of Disney

The Micky Mouse Corperation has always been an easy target for the disenfranchised artist and youth. From Dan O'Niel and his underground comix gang the Air Pirate Funnies and their constant goading of Disney, to the derivative Micky=greed=true face of America graffiti that pops up every now and then, and the references to Walt's anti-semitism in animated programs like Family Guy, anyone would think the family dream machine was a genocidal monster.

But there is at least one concrete example of when Disney have been less than ethical (although probably at the time Walt thought he was entirely justified) when they crushed the hopes and dreams of one Lou Bunin. Bunin was a puppeteer, artist, and pioneer of stop motion animation who had worked as a mural painter under Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo's lover) in Mexico City in 1926. Whilst in Mexico he had created political puppet shows including a version of Eugene O'Neils The Hairy Ape. He later returned to the US to create animated three dimensional puppets for the 1929 World's Fair in New York. His 1943 stop motion animation war propaganda Bury The Axis like a lot of war cartoons from that time will certainly make you cringe now, especially with its portrayal of the Japanese. But obviously this got people's attention as he later landed a job with MGM where he produced the animated prologue to Ziegfried Follies.

But the crushing blow came in 1949 he created his first feature lenght animation, an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland that merged a live-action Alice amongst the marionettes*(1). Disney filled a law suit against Bunin to prevent a wide US release of his film to prevent it competing from his upcoming 1951 animated version, as if Carrol's story was Disney's intellectual property alone. Bunin of course being one man, lost, and as a consequence this wonderful looking animation is reduced to a single clip on Youtube here.

It's criminal that things like this don't get released on DVD for the whole world to enjoy, but I suppose when CGI is the norm, this tends to look dated and unexciting to most consumers.

There have many adaptations of Carol's work, Disney's being the most famous, but the Alice story permeates throughout culture with references in film, fiction, and beyond. Personally my favourite adaptation would be the Ralph Steadman illustrated version. Also if you wish to delve more into the depths of the Alice story and the life of Carrol I recommend you read Bryan Talbot's excellent graphic novel Alice In Sunderland.

(*1) This technique and indeed this version of the much adapted story was a huge influence of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's surreal 1982 version.