March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Toon Books has become renowned for their approach to children’s books, mixing an exact educational plan reminiscent of Golden Books with sequential story telling styles — that is, comic books, which has largely existed alongside the children’s book world as a parallel universe, or perhaps red-headed step child. Still under the editorial direction of New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly though now an imprint of Candlewick, the company has specialized in books steeped with humor and whimsy. With “The Shark King,” though, Toon Books breaks new ground.
Culled from a Hawaiian folk tale, “The Shark King” follows the story of Kalei, who falls in love with a mysterious man and bears his equally mysterious child named Nanaue. When fish become scarce and the people in the nearby village begin to starve, it is Nanaue who becomes the likely culprit in their eyes.
“The Shark King” is a darker-toned story than any Toon Book before — a drama that, while it has its amusing, lighter moments, goes to areas that aren’t often seen in children’s books as they exist in 2012. Abandonment, fear of the unknown, prejudice, alienation, these are all nestled within the subtext of the myth.
In the hands of writer/illustrator, R. Kikuo Johnson — a native of Maui — “The Shark King” is neither gloomy, nor, like adaptations of mythology can often be, stiff. Instead Johnson pulls from his own experience on the island as a child, and gives the myth a vitality that makes it seem alive. Mixed with his bold visual style — heavy-lined and evocatively colored — “The Shark King” stands out as a work of depth that will challenge your seven or eight year old with rich themes and may possibly invite them back for repeated investigations of the mysteries within.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Woburn-native Dawn Clements has devoted her artistic concerns to capturing space on paper by building reconstructed maps taken from pretend celluloid living spaces.
Clements’ piece “First Class (A Night to Remember, 1959)” is part of “Making Room: The Space Between Two and Three Dimensions” and is currently on view at Mass MoCA.
The work captures the sprawling space featured in the movie “A Night To Remember,” starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, portraying the Titanic disaster. Clements’ huge drawing captures the interior space depicted in the film as being the Titanic.
Clements says that her interest wasn’t in the Titanic at all, but rather an extension of her previous body of work capturing luxurious interiors on land that was part of an evolution of imagery.
“I had been doing many drawings of luxurious domestic interiors as depicted in classic Hollywood movies, but most of the films were melodramas and they’re what were generally called women’s pictures,” she said. “In the films, the family was in a constant state of crisis, kind of like a soap opera. Even though it appears they have achieved wealth and success, somehow, even though they live in these beautiful homes, they can’t ever seem to step out the door.”
After much study of the women as figures in the spaces, Clements’ eyes began to turn away from the human forms that inhabited the homes.
“I was doing drawings mostly of the female characters and the things that they said,” said Clements. “I got less interested in that and started to move beyond the figure and started to think about how spaces were acting on the figures and how these sets, like still life, is something that is usually a background and isn’t the thing that most people focus on, but it it’s definitely a very powerful presence, and so I was curious, if I took out all the figures, would these spaces still have power on their own?”
Clements began thinking in terms of gilded cages — the opulence as prisons that hold the characters in. In terms of boats, this idea seemed magnified.
“I was thinking about all the different ways that women and families and men are entrapped in these homes,” Clements said, “and then I thought that the luxury liners might be an interesting thing to explore because those are luxurious interiors that you really can’t escape because you’re at sea. But it’s strange because when you see them, it’s still got all the trimmings of beautiful, wealthy, successful worlds, and it’s all an interior, but it’s on this boat.”
These ideas brought her to movies about the Titanic, which found her studying the movies from a video monitor and freeze framing different sections of the film, taking meticulous notes to bring the data all together artistically.
“I’d start up doing a fairly detailed log with all the time codes of the different interiors and how they connect, then I’d piece them all together through the drawing,” said Clements.
Through her drawing, Clements was building a map of the set design — essentially cartography devoted to perceived spaces. The sets existed physically at one time, though perhaps not always in the actual layout that the camera implies. Editing is part of the illusion of film that takes disparate sections of a story and builds a psychological space for people to envision in their heads. Clements was taking that one step further, actually transcribing what was there to be perceived.
“The things that we see on film, we’re seeing the set, but it’s more than that, because it’s a movie camera, so we’re traveling through it also,” she said. “It’s interesting the way that we perceive the story and I was interested in that in these drawings. Not in just a single frame that would be a frozen moment, but I was interested in trying to capture more of a movement through the spaces, but again, I was limited by the information that is given to me in the film. I really only use that.”
The one major difference between what any given brain might do and what Clements strives for is that she doesn’t fill in the gaps. It’s a well-known neurological function for the brain to fill obstructed views from stored memory — like a memory cache on a computer that stores websites to load faster — but Clements leaves that to the viewer to do in their own heads, and that actually affects the shape of the work.
“I don’t embellish, I don’t add things, I don’t fill in things that aren’t there,” Clements said. “The image that’s on that big piece of paper is irregularly shaped and it really has to do with my drawing only where the camera went. For instance, if there’s this big gap at the bottom of a dining room scene, all that means is that that was a place that the camera didn’t let me go. Or maybe there was somebody standing there who was in the way and I took them out.”
Clements is not trying to make spatial sense of the sets in “A Night To Remember” in any terms but their own, presenting them as they are presented on the screen. She’s not trying to adjust them to what would make sense to the reviewer or even recreate the logic of the original set as it existed on a film lot or even in a shot during the movie. Clements’ view of the set is unique and it’s own thing.
“The one way that I do change what the film gives me is that I do a very thorough log of all of the different scenes in advance of the drawing,” she said. “For instance, that long span from the kitchen on the right to the grand ballroom on the left, the camera didn’t take me there in one movement, I went back into the film where I could see all these different pieces, the wall of the dining room where maybe the maitre d was greeting guests and there were diners.”
“They might not be all together. I might get a shot of the host in the restaurant maybe 25 minutes into the movie, then I don’t get the back part of the restaurant until maybe an hour into the movie. I’m taking all these parts and editing them and suturing them back together again.”
In some ways, Clements’ method is similar to a film editors, with her meticulous log book for the purpose of structuring a space — the creation of a piece like “First Class” is much like a step-further from the editor’s stopping, a further creation of the set as a navigable space.
“A lot of times there might be little marginal notes in the big drawings, where I’m trying to actually figure out how things join,” Clements said. “And there are numbers in the drawing and those usually refer to the time codes. For the most part, I try to let everything happen directly in the work as I’m doing it.”
“First Class” was rendered in sumi ink, but a good portion of Clements’ previous work capturing movie sets was done with ball point pen, a rising medium in the art world, though not a common one. This practice began in 20 years ago, drawing in her sketchbook in her kitchen in Troy, N.Y., when the ball point pen was a handy tool that rendered metallic grays that she could never duplicate with any other medium. It also gave a thematic edge to the drawing in context of the images she captured.
“I was doing a lot of drawings of domestic interiors and depicting the world of house wives and thought what better material than an ordinary ball-point pen, which is just like the kind of material that you’d use to write a shopping list,” said Clements. “I really like the ordinariness of a ball point pen. In those terms it was interesting to me, but I also really loved the way it looked.”
“Nothing like it. I’ve tried to find other things that can get me close, but there’s something about a ball point pen. I also like that it’s a writing tool and not really an art material.”
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
For her work at Mass MoCA, London-based artist Chloë Østmo is reaching back to her past and picking up the pieces — literally.
“Falling,” her piece featured in “Making Room: The Space Be tween Two and Three Di mensions” at the museum, dates back to 2006, and the current installation marks the first time Østmo has shown — and put together — the piece in years. Its construction is such a precision piece of work that there is no way the current incarnation will be identical to the previous one.
“I think it’s quite interesting putting it up again because it’s not going to be exactly the same,” Østmo said.
“Falling” consists of numerous photos of a woman falling down stairs, taken by Østmo that are hung from the ceiling in a formation that pieces to gether not just imagery, but the action of a woman falling down the stairs. Østmo understands that any given visitor’s perspective of the work might be different from her own, important if you consider that her perspective is the point from which the installation truly begins.
“What I’m doing is going up a ladder and connecting the thread to the mesh and when I’m up the ladder, I can’t actually see if the photos are in the right place because I’m looking from a completely different an gle,” Østmo said. “I have to go down the ladder to the back of the room and from my perspective — I’m five foot three — ask ‘does it look like it comes together as a clear image?’ I go back up and move it a millimeter or so. It’s quite a long process. Unless someone stands in exactly the place I’ve stood when I’m making it, it’s always going to be slightly fragmented.”
Fragmented viewing links well to Østmo’s actual process of shooting the images, which follow the figure at various points of her tumble down the stairs. “Falling” was part of Øst mo’s undergraduate degree show at the University of Brigh ton, with Audra Brandt in collaboration as the figure who falls. This was actually Østmo’s second at tempt at the idea.
“Together, we choreograph ed a set of movements down a staircase,” she said. “I had tried someone actually falling down a staircase, but it didn’t really work out very well, so we tried these six poses. So I stood at the bottom of the stairs in a fixed position, and she would take up a pose at the top. I would take however many photos it needed to get her whole body in and then she would move into the second pose, and I would still be in the same place and take multiple images again. Each time she moved toward [me], she was getting bigger, so that there were more photographs. It’s multiple images.”
Østmo took far more images than she used, and the choreographing of all the elements that were meant to come together photographically took a long time to work through.
“I spent about a year making it,” Østmo said. “So we spent a lot of time going over lots of postures, getting me to be as steady as possible. Even things like the clothing was a massive issue. And then it was decided on this stripy dress, which just seemed to work, making the body feel more three dimensional. It was a long process but not necessarily particularly scientific.”
The sculptural configuration for the images Østmo was shooting was something that had to be devised concurrently with the taking of the photos.
“I’d end up collaging together the different postures, so the whole gesture is made up of nine postures, still moments within this fall,” Østmo said. “With each of those, I would print multiples of each image, and I did a lot of sticking them together so that I had a strange, solid cardboard figure, and then maneuvering and hanging those so I would have nine big bodies to try and get a three-dimensional, vague layout there.”
“It completely changes when you hang them singularly be cause the perspective changes, depending on the how close the photos are together, or how high or how low they’re hung. In the end, it was a matter of hanging the first photo and then hoping that the rest of it fell into place, so to speak, which it does.”
Østmo followed up “Falling” with two works that explored similar concepts: one of a wo man diving in water and another simpler one featuring a woman walking in a straight line. As she moved on in her work, the figures within them became less important, though not necessarily the movement. In her most recent work, Øst mo manipulates found images of buildings through a multi-layered process that creates a subtle surrealism that reveals the actual time/space of the image shifting within itself.
“I got to the point where I felt like I was looking at space — the physical experience of space which is body — and thought actually architecture might be an alternatively interesting subject matter,” Østmo said. “My later work really started being more about constructing alternative spaces and this idea that spaces are rooted in an image. I think there’s something quite interesting about how the image is a starting point for a physical experience.”
To create this body of work, Østmo photocopies the images and then manipulates those copies, molding the paper and then photographing the result. She uses a large format camera, like the type architectural photographers use, in order to take advantage of its adjustable perspective, and then scans the resulting negatives for large prints. The result is a three-dimensional quality to the image that sheds its illusion the closer you get to it, and the layers of the process are revealed.
“I’m really interested in our physical relationship with images and their physical presence as objects,” Østmo said. “There’s something about the kind of limitations of photography, something that essentially flattens things, but also we experience physically.
“Even if it’s a piece of paper, it still has a physical presence, and how that might be brought out into space to create a kind of alternative space that isn’t just a depicted image but has some kind of relationship with you.”
Originally, Østmo had in tended to show the actual models she created in a three-dimensional work, including a huge image of a building collapsing into the space, but she liked the subtlety that photography brought out in the work. She’s also attempted to take her own photos for similar work but felt something was lost by doing that. It took away some of the mystery that she strives for.
“I quite like using found photos. Particularly with the building series, I thought it added to this idea of the loss of any origin,” she said. “You can see some of the processes that it’s gone through. You can see the dots of the photocopy and the physical coupling, and it’s almost like there have been so many transformations that the origin of this building is lost and it gives it a timelessness.
“Although some people look and say “Isn’t that such-and-such building?’ or ask ‘Where is that?’ which isn’t really what I’m interested [in].”
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Citizens of America, as rhetoric steams ahead and the idea of bombing Iran continues to pop up in our media, you could do a lot worse than to find out who exactly your country is going to bomb.
It’s not just going to be the politicians, nor the religious leaders, but also the ordinary people dealing with their ordinary concerns and battling their ordinary dramas. It’s a cliché, but it’s also the truth. They aren’t much different from you or me; it’s just that certain details of their culture diverge and sometimes offer narratives to their lives that seem, on the surface, alien to ours.
Coinciding with Iran’s “are they or aren’t they” effort to push the world into nuclear oblivion — depending on who you ask — has been the country’s rise in quality filmmaking over the last decade. Most recently, this was celebrated with the deserved Oscar win for “A Separation,” surprisingly the first Iranian film to ever take that honor.
Director Asghar Farhadi’s “Fireworks Wednesday” was one of my picks for the best films of the previous decade, so it’s exciting to see his brilliance noted. “A Separation” bears resemblance in plot, with both films focusing on the experience of domestic help as they become embroiled in the personal lives of their employer. But “A Separation” takes the situation to a more heartbreaking and dire landscape.
The film starts with Nader (an amazing Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) as they seek permission from a judge for a divorce. Simin wishes to emigrate to America and has just over a month to act on the visa she and her family procured. Nader feels he cannot go, that he is shackled to his father, who is devastated by Alzheimer’s. The judge rules against their wishes, playing down their problems, and the couple is left to cope with the state’s view of their personal life.
Simin moves out, leaving behind not only her husband and father-in-law but her daughter, the studious Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), who seems to believe that by not leaving with her mother, she can broker her parents’ reconciliation.
The film is about so much more than one couple’s break-up, though. Brought into the mix of collateral damage are Razieh (Sareh Bayat) and Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who become involved with Nader as he seeks out a housekeeper and caretaker for his father. In this situation, the separation is a broken link in a social chain that sends the entire structure of their personal lives tumbling. And though the Muslim divorce rules might seem strict, there is a side to this film that argues that the Iranian culture might not be set up for equality as we understand it until it comes to terms with its own warts.
As the players collide, the film constantly transforms its drama from a family one to an unfolding court case, and then stretches out to circumstances far beyond the couple in a broken marriage.
There for examination is the Muslim culture itself, which is portrayed without nostalgia or disdain. The obvious point is that a non-secular society brings its own problems to the structure of everyday life, and with the male-dominated — or perhaps male ego-dominated — social order, simple things like women getting jobs take on the involvement of husbands in a way people in our country couldn’t imagine.
In a film like “A Separation,” these social and religious customs become a part of the story, ingrained in the motivations that set off the action and create the landscape in which one moment Iran seems just like home, while the other becomes another universe moments later.
“A Separation” is by no means a critique of Iranian and Muslim culture. It is a presentation and an examination, a drama of equal footing, that speaks to the human condition on a micro level — your country’s politics, society, religion, they all affect your personal interaction and decisions, but they don’t supersede these.
As an examination of people regardless of culture, it suggests that there is no emotion we Americans might have for Iranians than the very simple ones of recognition and empathy.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Joining Tintin and Asterix in the ranks of European comic superstars that never quite made it as big on our shores is Corto Maltese, the work of Italian creator Hugo Pratt, who over his career created sprawling adventure graphic novels with the character until his death.
When we meet Maltese, he is a scurrilous pirate in the Pacific seas of pre World War I, rescued from a sure death onboard a floating raft by his apparently permanent foil, Rasputin, another pirate who greatly resembles the monk of the same name. Perhaps that’s what makes their connection an in-joke — they both work for a mysterious smuggler who actually goes by the name The Monk.
Maltese might be a brigand, but he’s a well-humored, fairly honorable one who has the respect of all sorts of sea-faring types, but most of all, the victims of a ransom scheme that he is part of — the rich Groovesnore cousins, Cain and Pandora. Teenage Pandora specifically bonds with Maltese, offering an unlikely and unrealized romantic tone to the adventure, which is a throwback to another era in the best possible way. Think Terry and the Pirates or Steve Canyon, but with a European frankness and an unapologetic darkness that never turns its back on the concept that Maltese is a scoundrel and bad things do happen in his world.
Pratt’s story speaks to the end of colonialism, which the world still grapples with in social ways, and the mannered, authoritarian system of Great Britain finds itself provoked by those who don’t fit into their convenient world order. This sort of wild card is personified by the character of Maltese, whose very existence runs in opposition to the staid and desperate attempts of England to keep the world under control. Maltese is the face of the future.
This new translation is the first time a Maltese adventure has found its way onto our shores in more than two decades, and it captures the pure adventurous spirit of what has appealed to European audiences for much longer than that. It’s old fashioned, but not even remotely dated, and the European view of world politics of the era offer another side point of interest to an adventure story that would probably be a beloved classic of the genre in our own country if it weren’t a graphic novel. Now that we have caught up with the rest of the world in that area, it’s definitely time for more people to give this unpretentious, first-rate effort a chance and hope for more volumes to follow.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Originally published in 1974, renowned French cartoonist Tardi paid tribute to his legendary fellow countryman, Jules Verne, in what the publisher describes as “vintage icepunk” and finds social criticism wrapped up in sarcastic satire, but outfitted in some great designs of Vic torian science.
The book opens in 1889 with danger in the arctic and the discovery of a strange spectacle: a grand sea vessel impossibly resting on top of an enormous and foreboding iceberg. What follows is the investigation — and perhaps seduction — of our hero, Plumier, whose seafaring adventures in the arctic and curious investigation of his missing uncle, who is an eccentric scientist with curious abandoned experiments and contraptions, give way to the answer he seeks.
What Plumier finds is Tardi’s way of investigating how easy and amusing evil is. Rather than a burdensome madness, it’s a delicious enticement, a liberating decision that might just be the only sane reaction to a world that embraces injustice as its one reliable constant. New evil plans meant to pick up the pieces and move along with the destruction of life as we know it becomes not just a bridge to adventure, but a continuum to narrative, as well as life.
Tardi’s story is one thing, but his beautiful renderings give it a depth that brings it far beyond satire.
The attention given to the Victoriana — in technology, fashion and graphic layout — functions as a love letter to that bygone world, which keeps the book from ever seeming cartoonish, and that its major strength. Tardi never copies straight the era he captures, but wraps it in modern and literary concerns to make it something more than just another Victorian adventure.