Category Archives: art

Raven Steals the Sun

Raven Steals The SunThis is an ancient story told on the Queen Charlotte Islands about how Raven helped to bring the Sun, Moon, Stars, Fresh Water and Fire to the world.

Long ago, near the beginning of the world, Gray Eagle was the
guardian of the Sun, Moon and Stars, of fresh water, and of fire.
Gray Eagle hated people so much that he kept these things hidden.
People lived in darkness, without fire and without fresh water.

Gray Eagle had a beautiful daughter, and Raven fell in love with her.
In the beginning, Raven was a snow-white bird, and as a such, he
pleased Gray Eagle’s daughter. She invited him to her father’s
longhouse.

When Raven saw the Sun, Moon and stars, and fresh water hanging on the sides of Eagle’s lodge, he knew what he should do. He watched for his chance to seize them when no one was looking. He stole all of them, and a brand of fire also, and flew out of the longhouse through the smoke hole. As soon as Raven got outside he hung the Sun up in the sky. It made so much light that he was able to fly far out to an island in the middle of the ocean. When the Sun set, he fastened the Moon up in the sky and hung the stars around in different places. By this new light he kept on flying, carrying with him the fresh water and the brand of fire he had stolen.

He flew back over the land. When he had reached the right place, he
dropped all the water he had stolen. It fell to the ground and there
became the source of all the fresh-water streams and lakes in the
world. Then Raven flew on, holding the brand of fire in his bill. The
smoke from the fire blew back over his white feathers and made them
black. When his bill began to burn, he had to drop the firebrand. It
struck rocks and hid itself within them. That is why, if you strike
two stones together, sparks of fire will drop out.

Raven’s feathers never became white again after they were blackened
by the smoke from the firebrand. That is why Raven is now a black bird.

Ravens symbolize many things in different cultures. Native American tradition honors the raven as a symbol of courage and of magical guidance. The Arab culture calls the raven Abu Zajir which means “Father of Omens.” They are seen as oracular birds, used in divination. They are seen as symbols of death, life, the sun, magic, shapeshifting, and tricksters.

Legend from Ella E. Clark: Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, University of California Press, 1953.

Image: Raven Stealing Sun, by Ken Mowatt.

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101 Dalmatians or Faux Fur?

101 Dalmatians First EditionPongo and Missis Pongo are a pair of Dalmatians. They live with the newly married Mr and Mrs Dearly (their “pets”).

Missis gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies. The Dearlys are concerned that Missis will not be able to feed them all and Mrs Dearly looks for another dog to act as a wet nurse. By chance, she finds an abandoned Dalmatian mother in the middle of the road in the pouring rain. She has the dog treated by a vet and gives her the name Perdita, from the Latin for “lost”. Later Perdita tells Pongo about her own lost Dalmatian love and the circumstances that led to her being abandoned in the middle of the road.

Mr and Mrs Dearly are invited to a dinner party hosted by Cruella de Vil, an intimidating and very wealthy woman with one side of her hair coloured white and the other side coloured black. They meet her furrier husband and her abused cat, and discover her fixation with furs.

101 Dalmatians Storyboard

Shortly after the dinner party the puppies disappear. The humans fail to trace them but through the Twilight Barking, a form of communication by which dogs can relay messages to each other across the country, the dogs manage to track them down to Hell Hall, in Suffolk.

We keep 7.5 million cats and 6.1 million dogs as pets but do we know where that fake-looking fur trim comes from? Today in China over two million cats and dogs are killed each year for their fur and for their skins. Among other things, these furs are used as linings in boots and gloves, jackets and coats, blankets and rugs.

Pongo and Missis try to explain to the Dearlys where the puppies are but fail. The dogs decide to run away and find them.

After a journey cross country, they are met by Lieutenant Pussy Willow, a tabby cat and the Colonel, an Old English Sheepdog who shows them Hell Hall, the ancestral home of the de Vil family. He tells them to rest overnight and that they will see their puppies the next day. They then discover there are 97 puppies including their own 15 and many others who later turn out to have been legally bought. They also discover that the puppies are being kept in Hell Hall by Saul and Jasper Baddun, two crooks who work for Cruella de Vil as caretakers of Hell Hall.

According to government estimates, 500,000 garments sold in the United States every year are trimmed with bobcat, fox, rabbit, or other animal fur, potentially with nothing on the label to indicate there is any fur on the garment. With the labeling loophole in place, consumers are left in the dark; they have no idea that their new clothes may contain fur from animals—even dogs and cats—whose treatment can include being skinned alive, anally electrocuted, or held struggling underwater to drown.

Cruella DeVilCruella de Vil appears in the middle of the night and tells the Baddun Brothers that the dogs must be slaughtered and skinned as soon as possible because of the publicity surrounding the theft of the Dearlys’ pups. Pongo and Missis devise an escape plan and agree that they must take all the puppies with them, not just their own 15. They escape on that same night, the day before Christmas Eve.

Pongo says that they need a miracle and find one when they are offered a lift in a removal van. The Dalmatians have rolled in soot to disguise their white hair, and they are able to hide in the darkness of the removal van with the help of a Staffordshire terrier whose pets are the movers.

The fur trade does not deny that it deals in dog and cat skins and it is quite legal for products made from this fur to be sold in Britain and Europe. Fur products do not have to be labeled by species. One cat fur coat alone requires the killing of up to 24 cats. 12 to 15 adult dogs are killed to manufacture each coat made from dog fur – and a horrific 40 or more if puppies or kittens are used.

Arriving back in London, they go to Cruella’s empty house. Her cat is still there and invites them in to destroy Cruella’s collection of animal skins, fur coats and mink bedsheets.

When the Dalmatians return to the Dearlys’ house where they are not recognized because of the soot. Once they are cleaned up, Mr Dearly sends out for steaks to feed them.

Presently, China is the second biggest commercial partner of Canada. According to Industry Canada, the Canadian fur and retail industry imported $5 million in animal pelts and $28 million in fur trimmed apparel from China in 2004. Despite the distinct possibility that many of these imported furs are from dogs and cats, the government has indicated that it has no intention of prohibiting these imports. By the year 2010, the Canadian government hopes to double commercial trade with China.

Later, the cat drops by to tell them Cruella has fled. The shock of discovering her furs have been destroyed has turned the black side of her hair white and the white side green. The Baddun Brothers have also been arrested. Hell Hall has been put up for sale and Mr Dearly buys it with a sum of money he has been given by the government for sorting out a tax problem. He renames it to Hill Hall and intends to use it to start a “dynasty of Dalmatians” (and a “dynasty of Dearlys” to take care of them). They adopt the cat, and promise her a white persian husband.

Finally, Perdita’s lost love, Prince (the one hundred and first Dalmatian) shows up. His “pets” can clearly see that the two wish to be together and allow him to stay with the Dearlys.

101 Dalmations was originally written in 1956 by Dodie Smith, and illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.

Bill Peet and 101 Dalmatians

Bill Peet storyboards for 101 Dalmatians.

Ecological Fur

Faux fur or not?

Reality Check Haiku

Tatsumi Shimura

Image: Tatsumi Shimura, Portrait of a Lady (detail), 1930
Haiku: Reality Check Haiku, Nicky Kaa Walker

Hachikō Waits

Hachiko WaitsHachikō Waits is a children’s book, written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Machiyo Kodaira. It uses the true story of Hachikō the Akita dog from Japan and adds Yasuo, a young boy, to the story. It won the ASPCA Children’s Book Honor in 2004

Hachikō (November 10, 1923–March 8, 1935), known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō (“faithful dog Hachikō”), was born in the city of Odate, Akita Prefecture, and remembered for his loyalty to his master.

In 1924, Hachikō was brought to Tokyo by his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo. During his owner’s life Hachikō saw him off from the front door and greeted him at the end of the day at the nearby Shibuya Station.

What a good dog you are. What a fine dog you are. Hachi, you are the best dog in all of Japan.

Professor Ueno speaks these words to his faithful dog before boarding the train every morning. And every afternoon, Hachiko returns to the train station to greet his master.

The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno didn’t return on the usual train one evening. The professor had suffered a stroke at the university that day. He died and never returned to the train station where his friend was waiting.

Hachiko StatueHachikō was given away after his master’s death, but he routinely escaped, showing up again and again at his old home. After time, Hachikō apparently realized that Professor Ueno no longer lived at the house. So he went to look for his master at the train station where he had accompanied him so many times before. Each day, Hachikō waited for Professor Ueno to return. And each day he didn’t see his friend among the commuters at the station.

Hachikō was a permanent fixture at the train station, and he attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. Realizing that Hachikō waited in vigil for his dead master, their hearts were touched. They brought Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his wait.

This continued for 10 years, with Hachikō appearing only in the evening time, precisely when the train was due at the station.

HachikoThat same year, another of Ueno’s former students (who had become something of an expert on the Akita breed) saw the dog at the station and followed him to the Kobayashi home where he learned the history of Hachikō’s life. Shortly after this meeting, the former student published a documented census of Akitas in Japan. His research found only 30 purebred Akitas remaining, including Hachikō from Shibuya Station.

Professor Ueno’s former student returned frequently to visit the dog and over the years published several articles about Hachikō’s remarkable loyalty. In 1932 one of these articles, published in Tokyo’s largest newspaper, threw the dog into the national spotlight.

Hachikō became a national sensation. His faithfulness to his master’s memory impressed the people of Japan as a spirit of family loyalty all should strive to achieve. Teachers and parents used Hachikō’s vigil as an example for children to follow. A well-known Japanese artist rendered a sculpture of the dog, and throughout the country a new awareness of the Akita breed grew.

Hachikō Waits official website

Moon and Star

Moon and StarMoon and Star: A Christmas Story is a beautiful and heart-warming picture book for the season by writer and illustrator, Robin Muller.

Moon is a toyshop dog. He is named Moon because he has a moon-shaped mark around his right eye.

“Moon loves all the toys, but secretly he loved one above all the others: a delicate little porcelain cat with a shining star painted on its face. Moon calls the cat Star.”

The shopkeeper tells Moon that all the toys go to the child who will love them the most, so Moon is sure that Star will be his on Christmas day. Moon loves Star so much that, every night, he takes Star to his mat and curls up beside her as he sleeps.

Toy ShopOn Christmas Eve, a rich woman buys Star, and Moon is heartbroken.

Moon follows the woman home, and finds that she has given Star to her ungrateful grandson. The spoiled child throws Star against the wall and shatters her into pieces.

A housemaid sweeps Star’s pieces into a little box and tosses the box onto a rubbish heap outside. Moon collects the box with a heavy heart.

But this season is a time of miracles. That night, an angel visits Moon and he discovers that magical and wondrous things are possible.

Moon Star Window

War Horse Puppet Theatre

War HorseMany audience members weep openly. When the play reaches its moving climax, it sends them to their feet in rapturous applause.

In the somewhat blasé world of London theatre-going, this kind of emotional empathy with what’s happening onstage is a rarity. And when puppetry is involved, one might imagine further barriers to connecting viscerally to what in essence is a battlefield horror story.

But War Horse – the latest jewel in the crown of Britain’s National Theatre – is a horror story with heart. It’s a brilliantly realized stage version of Michael Morpurgo’s acclaimed novel about a Devonshire farm horse named Joey who is sold to the cavalry and thrown into the carnage of the First World War. There, after suffering dreadful ordeals, he ends up reunited with the humble farm boy who has enlisted at the age of 16 with one goal in mind: to find the beloved animal from whom he has been parted.

But it’s not just another tenderly wrought story of a boy and his animal. It is also a searing examination of an almost forgotten chapter from the First World War.

When you watch the lacerating scene where members of the cavalry are mowed down by the Germans’ mechanical might, you can’t help but recall the idiotic assertion by the British military establishment that the machine gun had no stopping power against the horse. The grisly truth is that between the years 1914 and 1918, a million horses were sent across the English Channel to France – and only 62,000 returned. War Horse tells us what it was like for them.

They were used as cavalry horses, for pulling guns and ambulances; in the battlefields of the Western Front they were essential to the armies on both sides. I discovered also that at the end of the war most of our surviving horses were sold off to French butchers. Here was a strong story, I felt, the story of how it was to be a horse in the First World War.

And so I wrote War Horse, like most of my novels a book that is as much for adults as for children. Now, 25 years later, War Horse has been turned into a play at the National Theatre. It would be difficult to imagine a production of greater ambition and complexity.

War Horse

The puppetry miracles are wrought by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. There’s a touch of the abstract in these awesome, larger-than-life creatures whose components include a flexible bamboo framework, translucent skin and the brilliant manipulations of teams of puppeteers – yet they emerge as intensely real, both physically and emotionally, in the toss of a mane or the pricking of the ears or in the basic flexing of the loins in preparation for a charge.

Other puppet imagery also emerges, ranging from the comical – in the form of a cranky farmyard goose – to the horrific – in the moment when a carrion crow descends on a dying horse.

This is an astounding production with emotional resonance, performed by an exceptional company of actors.

Full review at National Post.

Michael Morpurgo website

Images from the production

Graphic Novels: Comix or Lit?

Its fans number in the millions, and both the publishing industry and Hollywood have fallen in love with it. Despite seeming to be on the forefront of popular culture, however, there are grounds to dispute its very existence–or, if it does exist, exactly when it was born. This omnipresent but elusive creature is the graphic novel, and some people think it is 30 years old this month.

The puzzle ostensibly began in October, 1978, when Baronet, a small publishing house in New York, brought out a book entitled A Contract with God. Although the volume had the general feel of a comic book, it featured no superheroes or monsters. Instead, there were four fictional accounts of ordinary people coping with the burdens of life. More interesting yet was the cover of the book, which proclaimed it to be “a graphic novel by Will Eisner.”

Although Eisner had been more or less out of the comics business for years as of 1978, he still would have been revered had he never returned. His finest achievement had been the 1940-52 run of The Spirit. That series, depicting the adventures of a non-super-powered crimefighter, was famous for its superb composition. Bizarre angles, heavy use of shadows and a playful way with the opening titles were its hallmarks.

Despite the great success of The Spirit, Eisner drifted into other areas of commercial art during the 1950s and 1960s. When he returned to comics in the 1970s, he was no longer interested in straightforward tales of heroes and villains — he wasn’t even comfortable with the term “comic book.”

While searching for a publisher willing to accept A Contract With God, he portrayed the project as a “graphic novel.” (He later joked, “It didn’t work. I sent it to them, and they said, ‘It’s a comic book.'”) Eventually, he found Baronet, and history was made.

Or not.

Today, the concept that Eisner reputedly invented back in 1978 seems to be a resounding success. Often packaged as trade paperbacks featuring contents that integrate words and pictures for an audience not necessarily interested in Batman or Superman, graphic novels have won considerable recognition. Art Spiegelman, the elder statesman of the field since Eisner’s death in 2005, won a Pulitzer prize in 1992 for his Maus books, which dealt with the Holocaust. Serialized during the first half of the 1980s, and printed as an initial volume in 1986, the various editions of Maus had sold 1.8 million copies by mid-2004. Movie studios have been receptive to the graphic-novel phenomenon, and recent acclaimed films based on graphic novels include Road to Perdition, American Splendor, Ghost World and Sin City.

Yet there is a worm in this apple — if there is even any apple at all. Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian-born, French-based creator of the widely praised Persepolis books, snootily (and inaccurately) told The Wall Street Journal last year, “I don’t like ‘graphic novel.’ It’s a word that publishers created for the bourgeois to read comics.”

More surprising, Art Spiegelman has discounted Eisner’s impact on his own books. In a Nov. 14, 2003, column, Andrew D. Arnold of Time.com quoted Spiegelman saying the following about A Contract With God: “I liked one of the stories very much, but it didn’t register with me as having anything to do with what I had climbed on my isolated tower to try to make, which was a long comic book that would need a bookmark.” Eisner himself had doubts about terminology in his last years and was advocating several alternatives to “graphic novel,” including “graphic literature,” “graphic narrative” and the clunky “sequential art.” The British comics writer Alan Moore has offered a scornful suggestion: “big, expensive comic books.”

Even if one discounts all of the above and insists that the graphic novel emerged immaculately in the 1970s, alternate versions of its birth still abound. In 1971,Gil Kane brought out Blackmark, a 130-page fantasy tale in pocketbook form that billed itself as “the next step forward in pictorial fiction.” In 1975, a group of French writers and artists founded Metal Hurlant, which soon spawned a U. S. version, Heavy Metal. These two magazines highlighted numerous creators, including Guido Crepax.

In 1976, Jim Steranko and Byron Preiss collaborated on Chandler, a private-eye story printed as a trade paperback and touted as a “visual novel.” In the same year, writer Harvey Pekar started his autobiographical American Splendor series. In 1977, Canada’s Dave Sim started what would turn out to be an eccentric, 300-issue epic about a talking aardvark named Cerebus. In October, 1978 — the same month as A Contract with God was released — Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy brought out the adventure book Sabre, which the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide has called “the first direct-sale graphic novel.”

According to comics historian Denis Gifford, the San Francisco comix scene of the 1960s and ’70s was heavily indebted — through inspiration or outright mentorship — to none other than Harvey Kurtzman, who founded Mad magazine in 1952. Spiegelman has confirmed that he was one of the many kids avidly devouring pocketbook reprints of Mad in the 1950s. In addition to the curious involvement of Mad, there is an argument that graphic novels already existed in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1941, U. S. publisher Albert L. Kanter defied the trend of superhero comics and created a line of graphic adaptations of famous novels aimed at young readers. This line soon became known as “Classics Illustrated,” and it ran new material right up to 1969, just nine years before the release of A Contract With God. European contributions to the children’s market are just as extensive. Belgium’s Georges Remi (alias “Herge”) brought out the first of his celebrated Tintin books in 1930, and these visual escapades — about 60 pages each, some of the narratives continued from volume to volume — appeared until 1976.

Let’s get over it, and just accept that there are a multitude of genres and approaches within the comic literary form.

Full story at National Post