December 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Cartoonist Melissa Mendes’ new book, “Freddy Stories,” mixes autobiography with the history of children’s comics as a springboard to a promising future.
The Hancock native’s book stands as the end result of a five-year process, beginning with the creation of the character Freddy, who takes her through her college years and into her professional life across New England. Mendes attended Hampshire College in Amherst, then graduate school at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. After that, she lived in Providence, R.I., before returning to her hometown.
Mendes was reading a lot of Little Lulu when she came up with Freddy, who always seems to wear a red hoodie — Mendes says she practically lives in hoodies, and so Freddy reflects that obsession. The tone of the comic echoes Mendes’ mid-30s comics creation, but unlike Little Lulu, is definitely a modern girl. Mendes’ book takes the reader through the divorce of Freddy’s parents and overnights with gruff bachelor Uncle Sully, among other scenarios.
“When I first drew her at Hampshire, she was totally silent; she never said anything. She didn’t have a name either,” Mendes said. “She had an imaginary friend, and she was like a vessel for me to write stories that are sort of about my childhood. The first story I did was about her parents getting divorced, and now her Uncle Sully is based on my grandfather.”
Freddy was given a more urban environment to grow up in than Hancock, and that was just the beginning to her taking on her own life in conjunction with the one Mendes had offered her.
“She evolved from being this silent, nameless character into having her own personality and being this more rambunctious kid and having a dog,” Mendes said.
Some people get into comics because they are surrounded by the form as a kid, but Mendes is almost the exact opposite. She says that comics just eventually found her.
“When I was a kid, I was always really into ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ ” she said. “I never read superhero comics. I read some ‘Archie.’ I drew a lot, but I was more of a writer. But I really loved drawing.”
She focused on drawing all through high school, but for college, she decided to pursue linguistics, which did not work out for her.
Mendes had a lot of interest in comics, but found that it wasn’t one she could share with many people at Hampshire. She started a comics club to try and spark an interest, but there weren’t many people taking the bait.
There was one academic turning point, though. In a class on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, students were asked to write a paper about a conversation between the two as a way to illustrate their views. Mendes got permission to do it as a comic instead.
“I just drew these shapes talking, and I realized that was how I made sense of things: by drawing them,” she said. “I guess comics, to me, are a combination of my interests in language and art.”
Her senior thesis at Hampshire was a comic that featured Freddy. Even with these events lining up, Mendes still hadn’t made the decision to pursue cartooning and was even considering going into an education program for her future. An ex-boyfriend sent her a newspaper clipping about the Center for Cartoon Studies and it immediately intrigued her. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually exist yet.
“I emailed Michelle Ollie, who’s the president there, and asked if they needed an intern, and she said ‘sure,’ ” Mendes said. “I was one of the first interns, but there was nothing there yet, so mostly I painted things and babysat for people, but it was really great.”
Following that, Mendes decided the two-year program at CCS was something she should pursue, and that is what moved her into the realistic direction of wanting to pursue cartooning as a profession.
“I didn’t seriously think that I wanted to be a published comic artist until I made the decision to go to CCS and so before that, I was just doing my own thing.”
The school introduced her to many aspects of the industry, including the well-known mainstay, the comic book convention. To the outside world, comic book conventions might just look like a place where people go to buy merchandise and get books signed.
But in the comics world, they are the epicenter of networking, where publishers meet new talent, where outside of their studios, creators connect with other creators, and where older professionals find opportunities to mentor newcomers. They are the social and business center of the comics world.
The focus of the two-year program, though, is learning the hard grind of how to create comics as your job.
“The first year is really intensive, just churning out work,” Mendes said, “but it was really hard and really good. It’s like you have to be self-motivated, and you get what you put in.
“Before I went to CCS, I was more interested in education, but what it gave me was selfconfidence in my own work and helped me realize that I could draw comics and make stories, and that’s what I wanted to do.” One of the biggest differences from the Hampshire experience was the critical mass of other people interested in cartooning and working in the field, that was at her social and educational disposal.
“I think a big part of that was the community of it and going to conventions — my classmates all being really talented cartoonists. We had a visiting artist every week and meeting professional cartoonists and being surrounded by it is really great.”
It was during her time at the CCS Mendes first applied for the Xeric Grant, a prestigious award to help newcomers in the field self-publish their work.
Though the traditional publishing world is beginning to catch up with this mentality in the digital age, in the comic book industry, self-publishing is anything but a signpost for marginalization — it’s encouraged and respected and often the breeding ground for much of the avant garde and intellectual work in the form.
“This was the second time I applied,” Mendes said. “The first was with my senior thesis project at Hampshire, which wasn’t completely finished, and I didn’t get the grant then. I think that’s why, for this time around, I just redrew the two mini comics that I had done about Freddy, and I presented that as the finished book, put all together with a cover. But the actual final result is twice as long as what I applied with.” Mendes graduated in the summer of 2010 and set to the final phase of finishing up “Freddy Stories” for the eventual publication. This process would take another year and be juggled with a so-called real life and a graphic design job in Providence.
After the book was published in the fall, Mendes realized that it was no time to take a breath. She needed to figure out what was next for her, what she actually wanted to do now that Freddy was accomplished. “I think I got stuck for a little while,” she said. “I was still doing stuff and I had to finish the book when I was in Providence, but, a lot of people have that experience after grad school. I’m just now starting to get back into making work and being more serious about it.”
The answer to her questions have involved multiple forms of investigation. She’s been creating clay figures of her characters and selling them. She also started doing a regular Freddy web comic in order to experiment and expand into color work, as well as feel out the notion of syndicating a strip.
She also hasn’t given up on the education world. She has done — and hopes to expand upon — part-time library workshops for kids and teens, teaching them how to do comics.
Like working on Freddy, settling into the world of comics has been a journey from which Mendes pulls lessons of selfsufficiency and creativity.
“So far, it’s been pretty good,” she said. “At least I don’t have to have a day job right now.”
December 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler — “This Is Christmas” (Infectious) Hong Kong-born and London- based Emmy the Great teams up with her boyfriend, Ash vocalist Tim Wheeler, for this collection of energetic and unpretentious — and sometimes very goofy — pop carols. Opening with the boppy, happy “Marshmallow World” and following with the sweet pop balladry of “Snowflakes,” there’s no mystery what’s in store for you here, but there’s still some surprises in what form it all takes.
There’s the 1950s-style love ballad of “Christmas Morning,” the Ramones stylings of “Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing),” the synth pop of “Home for the Holidays,” the New Wave novelty of “Zombie Christmas” and the pure cartoon pop of “Jesus the Reindeer”— among other sounds — that pile on for one of the more diverse Christmas experiences you’ll find without taxing the tolerance of numerous listeners.
Meaghan Smith — “It Snowed” (Warner Music Canada) This Juno Award-winning Canadian songstress offers her sophomore effort: A charming little Christmas surprise that should please fans of quirky pop even as it appeals to people with more traditional tastes as well.
New songs, like “Breakable,” “It Snowed” and “Christmas Kiss,” show off Smith’s agreeable ability to marry older jazz styles with new pop ones into infectious tunes, while older ones, like “Silver Bells,” reveal a talent for reinterpretation that takes old tropes and shines them in a new glittery light. That usually somber song comes to life with the mood of a jaunty stroll on a winter evening — happy and more indicative of the lyrics than many versions, an urban adventure.
Smith enlists Canadian rapper Buck 65 for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and reverses the roles — she’s the conniving lothario, he’s the clueless Christmas sheep left for the slaughter.
For “Christmas Time Is Here Again,” she transforms the Charlie Brown classic into a jingly, horn enhanced burst of joy — “Little Drummer Boy,” meanwhile, is a beat box driven lilt and “Zat U Santa Claus?” gives her a reason to trot out her best swing era stylings.
Rounding out the album, “Silent Night” takes a more traditional approach, largely a capella with a multi-tracked multitude of Smiths capturing the haunting quality of such a twilight.
This is probably the best Christmas album I’ve heard in ages, and once you get hold of it, it’s one that’s likely to become a mainstay in your audio device for holidays to come.
Various Artists — “Ho Ho Ho Canada 3” (The Line of Best Fit) The online British music magazine has presented a series of “Oh, Canada” compilations to download and an offshoot of these are the “Ho, Ho, Ho Canada” Christmas mixes that gathers various Canadian artists for some diverse Yuletide offerings, from folk to Indie rock to experimental.
From Quebec comes the early ’80s stylistic touches of Malajube’s “Le Blizzard” and the organ-driven garage rock of Les Breastfeeders’ “Manteau de Froid.”
Hailing from Ottawa, Werbo asks the musical question, “Jesus, Are You Santa?” in the quirkiest possible tone. Newfoundland is represented by The Mountain and The Trees, with the pop-folk “Winter Blues” that also features Ruth Minnikin.
Musk Ox, from Ottawa, approaches “Riu Riu Chiu” with experimental jazz riffs via their signature artful banjo playing, while The Wilderness of Manitoba — actually from Toronto — ups the prog-folk for a hauntingly beautiful version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
It’s an inventive and eclectic mixed bag that will appeal to multiple tastes and probably broaden your range, and it’s also a surprising steal of a deal— it’s available for free download at thelineofbestfit. com/2011/12/download-ho-hoho- canada-iii.
Various Artists — “Jingle Spells 5” (Leaky Cauldron) One of the greatest of recent musical traditions during the holiday season comes from the folks at Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron. Each year, they gather the superstars of Wizard Rock — including the kings of them all, Harry and the Potters — for a collection of homemade seasonal wonders that build around characters from the Harry Potter series. The songs run the gamut of style and, in all honesty, quality, but there’s never anything that’s not charming and worth applause. These are can-do people determined to create DIY Yuletide cheer, and it’s an infectious effort.
This year highlights include Justin Finch-Fletchley and the Sugar Quills’ lo-fi rocker “Hagrid Drank All My Eggnog,” Harry and the Potters’ bombastic “Livin’ in a Mirror” and Tonks and the Aurors’ jingle folk “This Christmas,” but there’s not a loser in the bunch, though there is a howler or two, including Awkward Voldmort’s “My Christmas Wisssssh Lisssst,” which focuses on some cosmetic desires for the Dark Lord. Available at http://www.theleaky- cauldron. org/ 2011/ 11/30/its-that-time-of-year-jingle- spells-five.
Dan Zanes — “Concorde Christmas” (Festival Five Records) As a deservedly successful children’s music superstar, it’s surprising Zanes has never ventured into Christmas music territory. His first effort at the form is a quiet one, but Zanes has never been one for bombast and his tone functions as a lovely counterpoint to modern form Christmas often takes. He’s soothing and friendly and, as ever, artful, as he pulls out traditional fare with arrangements that seem just as traditional, while still subtly fiddling with the formulas once they are filtered through his amiable presentations.
His “Silent Night” is respectful but rustic, while “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” adds a cowboy flavor that dances right alongside a sea shanty ambiance. Bringing home the DIY authenticity, the jaunty “Joy to the World” features a dog barking in the background, followed by the bluegrassmeets- Salvation Army jam of “Deck the Halls” and finishing with the friendly string ragtime of “Angels We Have Heard On High,” with twangy guitar accen with a Les Paul feel.
This as sweet a Christmas album as could possibly exist — highly recommended.
December 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Framing a workplace comedy with interpersonal drama scattered throughout within the dynamic of a team of sled dogs might sound like the typical cheesy fodder of some animated film with the voice talents of Burt Reynolds, but in the hands of a writer like Glenn Eichler, it’s like a particularly dark and affecting episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show.
In his graphic novel “Mush: Sled Dogs With Issues” Eichler — known for his work on “Daria” and “The Colbert Report” — takes the anthropomorphic concept with the dogs but doesn’t impose so much as meld. The issues that the dogs face are distinctly sled dog issues, and Eichler uses these as the kick-offs to the conflicts between them that reflect our own.
At the center is the struggle to be the head dog — female Dolly finds a slow-brewing conspiracy of double and triple crosses among her team. Exacerbating the threat are the gender issues, particularly involving Dolly’s best friend Venus, a sharp-tongued female who is resentful that she is the only breeder in the bunch. As the male dogs vie for Venus’ affections and Dolly’s status, the pack slowly descends into a bickering explosion of chaos.
On the fringes of the action are the Boss and the Boss’ Mate, a man and woman who have turned away from human society, determined to make it in isolation. But even as the dogs’ community is creating conflict, the Boss’ Mate is yearning to be part of one, declaring it the necessity of the human condition. First, though, she has to come to terms with her community of two in the shack in the woods.
Through the line work of illustrator Joe Infurnari, Eichler’s microcosm trapped in a snow globe comes to life with a scrappy energy. It’s bound to receive knowing confirmations from adult readers, but teens may find it a worthy lesson in group dynamics and how to navigate them — we’re all just a bunch of pack dogs focused on running in the end.
December 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The very high profile “Tintin” movie is being advertised as from “the two greatest storytellers of our time,” but that’s disingenuous at best and smug at worst. The number should be three, since it should count Georges Remi, known by his pen name as Herge, the man who created the character and saw him through 24 books after decades of appearing in magazines in Belgium.
Here to set the record straight are authors Jose-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromenthal, with illustrator Stanislas Barthelemy, for a magnificent biography of the writer/artist, done in the style of the very books he is famous for. “The Adventures of Herge” presents slices from the life and career of the famous and indispensable children’s book cartoonist.
Tracing his artistic life from his childhood to his early days of success — he continued to publish “Tintin” during the Nazi occupation in Belgium and saw jail time and near execution after the war — all the way through the later years, his dalliances, his reactions to fame and even an early interaction with Steven Spielberg to create a film version of “Tintin,” “The Adventures of Herge” builds on the very formula the creator mastered.
Told in incidents and filled with the kind action pantomime that is common in the “Tintin” books, Herge’s life unfolds in a series of small moments that link to larger ones. These compile turning points of both personal and professional interest, revealing the ins and outs of one of the actual greatest storytellers of our time, beloved by literate kids around the world for over half a century and still going strong.
December 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A new chapter book for kids by a Berkshires native channels lyrical work from the past in order to pave a promising future in the field.
Michelle Cuevas is a Lee native and Williams College graduate. Her debut book, “The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant,” published by Farrar Straus Giroux and with illustrations by Caldecott winner Ed Young, tells the story of Pigeon Jones, a human boy raised by an elephant. Together they travel, encounter hoboes and circuses and achieve fame in the art world.
Cuevas’ writing hero is E.B. White and her debut novel shows that, both through the relationship between the two characters, and the elegant language that Cuevas uses to draw her readers in.
“I think the reason I initially wanted to write children’s books was that I find them very emotionally honest,” Cuevas said. “I think they can be very poetic, and I think they allow for a level of magic and a classic feel that I think everyone is nostalgic for sometimes. It’s what they grew up with. I’m always striving to say things more simply and in a way that can relate to children and adults, and E.B. White did that really well.”
Cuevas’ style and subject matter point back to the classics, which while beloved, aren’t necessarily the vogue in modern chapter books.
“Industry standards are more action oriented, but I think that there’s always going to be room for classic throwbacks,” she said.
Cuevas hadn’t initially set out to be a children’s book writer, but the promise of creative play and a chance for her imagination to run wild seemed more likely through stories aimed at kids than through the adult-oriented fiction that her work in school allowed for. She sees this first novel as “a flight of fancy” and that’s a change from what was previously possible.
“I love magical realism and the book’s got strong strokes of magical realism,” said Cuevas. “The difference is that I, as I was writing it, would never have labeled it magical realism because it was just magic. An elephant can talk, other animals can do magical things, and I think that it’s allowed, it’s just completely allowed, and I think that’s a lovely thing for a writer to be able to do that.”
Cuevas found what she wants out of writing is “the pure selfish enjoyment” and realized that’s not what she got from sitting down to devote time to the kinds of serious topics and treatments that seemed more likely when writing for adults.
“I feel like, for me, it’s not what I was drawn to do every single day, whereas something with more whimsy and something that every time I worked on it, it made me happy and I kept working on it,” she said. “And the things that I’m working on are the same. That’s just what I’m drawn to as a writer. It’s different for everyone, but that’s me personally.”
Cuevas has been writing since she was a little kid, and her first book was finished at age 8 — “The Tale of the Talking Shoe.” Her logic was that the shoe would be able to talk because it had a tongue.
“I don’t think I have changed that much,” said Cuevas. “I think I kept that part of me and it’s still operating.”
It was in graduate school, at age 26, where she began to seriously begin working on a novel for children in part as a way to more directly address some of her literary ideas.
“I was living in a cabin in the woods in Virginia, and it was gorgeous. I loved it,” Cuevas said, “and the very first thing I wanted to do was write something about the way nature creates art. That was a thing that was on my mind for children.”
A friend sent Cuevas a video of a painting elephant and that got her imagination soaring and her fingers busy at work outlining and then writing. Her output was totally different from anything else that she had done in graduate school — short stories for an adult audience — so she happily threw herself into completing the work. Writing became a consistent source of fun.
“I think the gift I gave myself was having absolutely no idea what I was doing,” said Cuevas. “Maybe everyone’s first book is like that. You can never go back and do your first book again, it’s a totally unique experience.”
Cuevas went so far as to ask one of her professors pointblank exactly how to write a novel. The answer, which involved writing one page after another and being compelled to do it all hours, jibed with her experience and she knew she was doing the right thing — and the fact that she wasn’t working on deadline or for an editor, she didn’t have a contract and was working without expectations, energized her output.
“I don’t think I ever got afraid or second guessed,” she said.
A week after her graduation, the book was sold. Cuevas credits her agent, publishing veteran Brenda Bowen, as crucial to shaping the final product, as well as giving her the initial encouragement she needed to come as far as she has so quickly.
“She said to me ‘This is your career, this is what you’re going to do, I think you’ve got it,’” said Cuevas.
And it does look to be Cuevas’ job from now on. She just signed a two-book deal with Penguin. One will be a chapter book — tentatively titled “The Ornithologist’s Dream” — about a boy who hatches from an egg and dreams of flying.
The other will be Cuevas’ first picture book, “The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles,” based on a real person employed by Queen Elizabeth I to do exactly as the title states.
Cuevas’ career turn into children’s books is something she hoped for, but nothing she trained for. The real preparation for that came from her own private endeavors — reading classic children’s books, as well as the avant garde, absorbing every bit of them and putting that knowledge into figuring out her voice. It’s something she would recommend to beginner writers hoping for a similar path.
“You notice when someone is not doing what everyone else in the market is doing,” Cuevas said. “I think the authors who are really going to stand the test of time are the ones you would never mistake for anyone else, no one could duplicate them, like Roald Dahl, those types of people.”
Which isn’t to say Cuevas suggests impersonating classic authors. It’s more like communing with them and using their guidance to find your own unique voice. And once you have that voice, write — and learn writing. Cuevas believes that it is a learnable skill, and studying it in graduate school prepared her for everything that has followed.
“It’s like building a house that doesn’t collapse,” she said. “You can be really good at designing the house, but you have to learn to actually build it.”
December 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Rick Perry’s recent video that confusingly links the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with a made-up conspiracy to stop children from celebrating Christmas is absurd, to say the least. It does do one thing well, though — it evokes the spirit of Christmas as a tribute to revolution.
The revolutionary nature of the holiday starts with the birthday boy himself. In the Nativity story, Joseph and Mary are the ultimate Occupiers — temporarily homeless and even hiding from a murderous plot.
When their son grows up — or, more precisely, Mary’s son — he is at the center of a Zionist movement at the edges of the Roman Empire that threatens their supremacy over the Jews.
He marches around preaching sermons that incite not only theological change, but political as well, gathering a noticeable following before being disposed of as a radical dissident.
Such is the political tradition of Jesus inherent in Christmas that Christians too often ignore in favor of the supernatural aspects. Surprisingly one venue that is entirely in line with the rebellious side are the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials.
People of my generation and those following after have been raised on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer” as the essence of the season.
These TV shows feature magical tales of Santa as enacted by very established performers like Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire and Burl Ives. Long after “Andy Hardy” films and two-steps with Ginger Rogers have been forgotten, the Christmas specials will live on in the hearts of Americans.
Both shows cement as normal a secular view of the holiday that Christians don’t like, but each also highlights a rebellious one that Jesus would probably love.
In “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” Kris Kringle engages in a conflict with the iron hand of Burgermeister Meisterburger as he tries to outlaw toys. Kringle retaliates with all sorts of creative ways to sneak toys to kids in the village, and out of this civil disobedience comes the tradition of Christmas.
In “Rudolph,” Santa has become a bit of a judgmental jerk who does not like diversity in his enclave, causing the reindeer with the red siren nose to take off in defiance of the norm and find himself.
He does so on the Island of Misfit Toys, where all sorts of societal outcasts have gathered, though they cling to the burning desire of acceptance. Eventually, they are embraced — the understanding is that we are not all born the same and Rudolph’s disgrace is soon seen as a strength.
These two stories seem very much in line with the man who, among other things, fed the poor, said really nasty things about rich people and urged his followers to go out and repeat far and wide the same vocal dissent he had been disseminating to the world.
Jesus, at the very root of his story, has always been about standing up against tradition and against power. This makes any given camper in the Occupy Wall Street movement a heck of a lot closer to his example than Rick Perry.
This begs a closer look at the historical meaning of the cross. While it may have been hijacked as a symbol of one man who some claim was the son of god, back in the day, it was more commonly used for the disposal of dissidents, troublemakers and slaves fighting for their freedom. And you didn’t have to be half-divine to feel its wrath.
Think of the 20,000 slaves crucified by Rome in 131 BCE as part of the first slave rebellion that started in Sicily in 134 BCE. Or the 6,000 slaves of the third rebellion, lead by the now famous Spartacus, crucified along the Appian Way as a warning to anyone who would challenge the authority of the Roman Empire.
About two hundred years later, Jesus found himself in the same position for the same reason, the latest link in a chain of defiance symbolized by two pieces of wood attached together.
Two-thousand years further and the rebellion Jesus wrought has become the establishment hundreds of times over. Whether he is fact or fiction is unimportant — his is a damn good story that’s part of a much larger and longer one.
This Christmas, give Jesus a present and follow his example — fight the power and embrace the people.
December 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There’s one Occupy effort I haven’t seen suggested and I would humbly like to do so here. That is Occupy the GOP, a mass movement of liberals to become registered Republicans in order to vote in Republican primaries this election cycle.
Is that a crooked, unethical thing to do? I don’t know.
Perhaps. It’s not illegal. By that standard, we would only be mirroring the example set out by our government and by Wall Street and just about anyone else who has done the country a grave injustice, but gotten away with it.
Insider trading among elected congress is not illegal, but it is wrong. They do it anyway, until they are caught, then scuttle to set things straight.
We have no higher authority than President Barack Obama to affirm that what Wall Street did prior to 2008 was not illegal — he said so on “60 Minutes.” He also said that he has absolutely no pull with the Justice Department. If a president says it, I trust him. Definitely.
And so it’s time to Occupy the GOP. But it has to be done wisely. I pull from my own experience toillustrate.
Back in 2003, when I got a license renewal, I thought it would be funny if I registered as a Republican and proclaimed in political arguments that I was a registered Republican who did not support George Bush.
I don’t remember if it was actually funny — probably not — but I do remember suddenly getting lots of mail from conservative groups demanding I give them money for all sorts of goofy causes and efforts.
It was in the 2004 election that I realized I could vote in the Republican primary and I took it very seriously. I saw plenty of candidates who scared the holy hell out of me — I’m looking at you Ron Paul — and thought, well, this is my chance to put in my call for a responsible conservative candidate.
And that was not Mitt Romney, a situation that also spoke to me. I could vote against Romney in his home state. That was the butter on the bread, so to speak.
And so I voted John McCain.
As we all know, John McCain went on to get the nomination. I was planning to vote for Obama anyhow — his debate demeanor pleased me, if little else — but when McCain chose that deranged loudmouth Sarah Palin as his running mate, the teeny, tiny Republican within me died good and dead.
What a nightmare. I had taken part in allowing that dangerous person to be given a spotlight. It was partly my fault, I realize, that we’ve all had to endure her frantic me-me-me style of desperately seeking attention for the last several years. I was complicit in the creation of the tea party.
And yet, I did win, in a way. Palin was so over-the-top that she made McCain try to match her in swagger — and that was just embarrassing. When set against Obama’s temperament, it made the McCain/Palin ticket look quite unhinged and my bit of political performance art paid off in the end.
Now let’s not forget that for those who oppose the rightwing platform, this election year presents an even better scenario. They’re all crazy among the Republican nominees, but those of us who want to Occupy the GOP need to not only decide who the craziest is, but also who wears their crazy on their sleeve to the point that they can’t keep it in check and it makes them tumble in public.
Then we know who to vote for in the primaries.
Personally I think it’s Perry or Bachmann for the lose — Paul is way crazier than any of them, but he manages to keep calm and makes jokes. Gingrich comes off as Nixonian and Romney merely befuddled — he’s this year’s Al Gore, it seems.
If anything, this is one way to help it feel palatable when you do vote for Obama, rather than beating yourself up that you couldn’t find a good third party to support. If you’re forced to vote for the lesser of two evils, you should at least be able to rig the preamble for maximum entertainment.
December 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
If religious belief is a sphere, then it’s one that is flanked by two poles that dominate the way societies approach it during any given time in history. On one end is the pole that demands all scripture is entirely true — on the other is that which sees scripture as merely a collection of instructional fables that will guide you in worship.
The bulk of any religious belief will usually settle for placement somewhere on neither end. For example, in Christianity, it’s not unusual to find believers who see the stories of the Old Testament as fiction, while embracing the fact of the story of Jesus.
In any religion throughout history, it’s the power of the stories and the embrace of a narrative that has kept peaceful order more than any fundamentalist movement to control religious belief. The narrative strain of religious thought understands that no one can abide to the same schedule and through the instruction of the stories, each spiritual life is a journey of one’s own pace. Fundamentalism invariably promotes rebellion and very often pushes a historical patriarchalism that keeps control in the hands of one gender even as it pretends the control is meant to honor the other.
It’s with these thoughts in mind that I leave Craig Thompson’s touching, profound, monumental graphic novel, “Habibi.” Nearing 700 pages and taking six years to complete, it is as philosophically weighty as it is physically so, and in addressing the cross sections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam and how they differ even in their sameness, it captures the manner in which stories bind us all together and also divide us.
If you bring your own baggage to the story and consider the pagan origins of so many of the religious stories contained, ancient stories become a complicate web of story strands that wraps itself around our world and under which we are historically trapped.
But it’s not just the loftier levels of the story that impress. It’s the smaller, personal ones as well. As the story of two people, and the love between them as a tool to, yeah, conquer all, “Habibi” functions like a strong hand, gripping your heart and finally ripping it out and making you face it right there in front of you.
“Habibi” concerns two children brought together through the extreme circumstances of slavery that infects an unnamed Muslim country where children are routinely sold in order for the poor to survive, while the rich hide in palaces and only interact with the populace when sexual or service needs dictate.
Dododa is a young girl sold into marriage with a much older man. Eventually stolen like property, she escapes into the desert with an abandoned baby boy, Zam, and from that point, the fate of the two are bound tightly even as they are separated. Following each through their life, the levels that they must stoop to survive in a world where powerful men use the dictates of the religion to dominate, it’s the fables of their belief — mostly told by Dododa to Zam — that sustain them through their journeys.
Thompson’s work is a remarkable achievement that brings the graphic novel form into a new level of spiritual intellectualism that impressively weaves in passages from the Quran and sharp explanations of geometry in Islamic design and the relevance of the faith’s calligraphy.
Through art and narrative, Thompson is able to portray the large brush of history and geography and always allow you to find Dododa and Zam among the crowds. Thompson’s tale is an important one, especially during this holiday season, that reveals how the trappings of ancient enlightenment affect us all, religious or not.
December 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A 10-day residency at Mass MoCA will result in the debut of a portion of cellist Maya Beiser’s cello opera, which investigates the end of the world through a multi-media surrealist lens.
Beiser’s “Elsewhere,” to be performed Saturday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m., promises to be an electric and mysterious mix of dance, video, music and poetry, inspired by apocalyptic poetry and dark moments in the Old Testament.
Beiser was the founding cellist for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and, since leaving, has become a superstar in her field — The New Yorker christened her “the goddess of cello.”
Though American, Beiser was raised on a kibbutz in Israel, and this background has had a huge influence on the flavors of her musical choice.
A few years ago, Beiser worked on a project called “Provenance” that took music from her childhood in Israel and connected it with Spain of the 9th and 15th centuries when, under Muslim rule, music thrived — not just Islamic, but Christian and Jewish as well. Beiser called in director Robert Woodruff to help her work on visuals for performance. The two hit it off and decided they wanted to collaborate on an entire production together.
Beiser had been working on a piece called “I am Writing to You from a Far-Off Country,” which was built around a poem by surrealist poet Henri Michaux and composed by Eve Beglarian. Beiser had actually recorded it in 2006 for her album, “Almost Human,” and performed it, but wanted to bring out its full potential for performance.
“I felt that, as a concert piece, it was just not satisfying enough because the text is so elusive and full of meaning and can be interpreted in so many different ways. And I just felt like it needed a theatrical context,” she said. “It needed a real interpretation and so Robert and I started from that and started talking about Michaux. I consider him, really, one of the unique, greatest artists of the 20th Century, but he’s rather obscure and unknown.”
The poem is the only work written in the voice of a woman by Michaux, who is mostly well-known for his drug experiments and subsequent writing about them. “I am Writing to You from a Far-Off Country” captured an apocalyptic flavor that Beiser thought just as relevant to the 21st century, if not more so.
“It’s about a woman who is bearing witness to the world as it’s coming to an end, and she’s telling the story of this society that she’s in,” Beser said. “There are all these connotations to a very oppressive society, to genocide, to women being raped and to the natural world taking over.”
Together, Woodruff and Beiser conceived what they termed “Cello Opera,” which featured Beiser in the role of Michaux’s woman while performing on her cello, and it’s this section of the piece that will be finessed and then performed at Mass MoCA.
A second part will be developed later in the spring and worked on during a residency at Emerson College in Boston. The full work will premiere at the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill in the fall.
“I’d love for people to come and see what we’re experimenting with because I think it’s a wonderful thing to experience part of the creative process and how it goes,” Beiser said, “but I also want people to understand that this is an early stage, and we’re really opening up to a million possibilities at this point and then as part of the process, we take the good stuff and let go of the stuff we don’t like in the end.”
The second part of the work scheduled for the Emerson College residency concerns the story of Lot’s wife from the Book of Genesis, which became part of the story when Beiser decided to commission composers to add on and make the piece larger.
“I started to think about the idea that this woman is talking to another woman, in another time, who’s also experiencing catastrophe and this idea of Lot’s wife came to my head,” she said.
She was prompted by an incident during a visit to the Dead Sea when during a tour in the desert, the Bedouin guide pointed out a big rock and announced matter-of-factly, “Here’s Lot’s wife.”
“I remembered reading that story when I was a little girl, studying it in the Bible and being so horrified and shocked by that story and by what happened to that woman, who is nameless,” said Beiser. “She’s only known as this guy’s wife. The fact that she had chosen to betray or disobey God and look back at the destruction of her city because she couldn’t just turn her back and go away. She couldn’t just run away like everybody else and just let it burn.”
By bringing Lot’s wife into the story, Beiser found not only a narrative link, but a huge thematic one that allowed her personal feelings to enter into both parts of the work.
“The thing that I love about both women is their humanity,” Beiser said. “What I take from Lot’s wife is that she chose to look back because she couldn’t not have compassion. She could not just turn away and leave and soothe herself. I think that is, to me, the ultimate thing to take from this piece, which is that her fate was terrible. She died along with all these other ones who died there, but she did the right thing, which is she didn’t turn her back.”
“I think that is really a wonderful message about standing up to things that you feel are wrong and even though they might be in the name of God. I think that there are so many things in this world that arewrong unfortunately that are in the name of God.”
Also at center are issues relating to men and control and their role in Western religion and the lives of women.
“I think that this piece in the larger context is really about being a woman and especially being a woman in a non-western society,” said Beiser. “We’re asking ourselves through the pieces what is the role of man and how the monotheistic god is so much identified with the male character and how women are being treated.”
Both sections are about the end of the world in some manner, and Beiser recognizes that this issue is part of daily life in our current era, thanks to issues like global warming and disasters, like the tsunami in Japan. She says these were very much on her mind, though her hope is that they won’t dominate their piece so much as function as part of the thematic mix.
“The piece is really rather abstract,” she said. “It’s not a political piecem per se, and it’s not a piece saying, ‘Look we’re all going to doom and gloom here if we don’t do anything about the environment,’ but it is talking about all those issues. For me, all those issues are related to music and to art and to what I want to say, so it’s all connected.”
“I think in many ways, the message in this piece is about beauty. There’s so much beauty in that music and there’s going to be a lot of beautiful images also, and there’s beauty in nature, and it’s about embracing all of that and understanding that there’s all this stuff. There are things that we cannot control. There are things that we can control; we can control our actions.”
December 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The National Defense Authorization Act has been getting a lot of ink in the liberal press lately. This is mostly because of the controversial section that could allow the military to indefinitely detain American citizens and brush away the detainee’s civil rights while doing so.
Of less concern are other provisions contained within which cover everything from the procurement of satellites to caps on the number of reserves allowed to be active at any one time to compensation guidelines to directives about the Navy dumping plastic into the ocean.
This is the sort of political blackmail that has become standard in our government. It’s sold as part of the spirit of compromise, as if giving up our civil rights is on equitable bargaining terms with preventing the dumping of plastic in the ocean. Why we should have to give up one in order to achieve another is something the fine folks in our government will have to explain.
Given that the left is so worked up about the threat to civil rights, I wondered what right-wing bloggers and journalists thought of the act. The answer was better than I expected when an outraged report from right-wing online news website CNS News claimed that there was a provision that would allow sex with animals in the military. Huh?
That’s not quite what I expected to find, especially considering that while the bill had many Democrats voting for it, it had almost as many Republicans shouting “yay.” While Democrats are most certainly dirty sinners who have sex with animals on a regular basis — while cursing God and spitting on the flag, of course — Republicans wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a rather fetching goat with bedroom eyes.
Why would they support this bill? And does this mean by not voting for it Rand Paul has stood forth as the lone Republican against bestiality?
What’s going on exactly is the repeal of Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which promises to prosecute any soldier who “engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal.” Sodomy, for those not up on their sexual deviance.
I tried to follow up on this, but the only websites that cover this aspect of the bill are right wing or religious, which either means left wingers are in full support of zoophilic tendencies or are maybe a little more concerned with the sections of the bill that will affect a majority of people.
Of course, there could be another reason.
Looking at the actual bill reveals it is included under the “Subtitle E — Military Justice and Legal Matters Generally, Sec. 551. Reform of Offenses relating to sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct under the uniform code of military justice.”
Aside from being a section that should never be read by those of us with very delicate sensibilities — it’s the most graphic document I’ve read since the Old Testament — if you go way down to page 174, it does specifically say “Section 925 of such title (article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice) is repealed.”
This article is the justification for the discharge of gay service members. The right wing opposition has everything to do with this and almost nothing to do with the chastity of sheep.
The liberal objection has to do with an assault on civil rights, and the conservative objection has to do with an acknowledgment of these same rights.
Given the way the right wing pop veins in their foreheads over PETA, I figured animal rights advocacy was hardly up their alley. Controlling what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms, however, is one regulatory measure that the most libertarian of Republicans seem to vigorously embrace.
Pushing the bestiality angle in the section in order to frame same-sex fraternizing as equitable is especially heinous, though typically misleading, for that crowd.
It doesn’t help that some are obviously trying to use this nonsensical form of hysterical hate speech to obscure from the real damage the National Defense Authorization Act could cause — and let’s just say it’s not the farm animals who should be scared about now.