Ozymandias …. by Zen Pencils

On May 26, 2015 Bear Skin posted a blog about Percy Shelley’s classic poem from 1818,  “Ozymandias.” The poem captures beautifully the Romantic notion of transience and decay of what was once proud and beautiful.

Having recently liked the sublime page Zen Pencils, an illustrative blog of all things inspirational, I came across this version of an illustrated Ozymandias.

It’s too good not to share. Enjoy!

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Doctor Strange [spoilers within]…

The latest installment from Marvel Comics and Disney Studios is 2016’s Doctor Strange.

It tells of Doctor Stephen Strange, who is a brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon who through a twist of misfortune ends up crippled and unable to perform surgeries.

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Much like Bruce Wayne’s genesis as Batman, Dr Strange journeys into the Himalayas to search out the Ancient One and learn the mystical arts of healing. 

Also, like many comic book and hero stories, Strange learns of unique giftings hidden within him and an uncanny aptitude to learn magic and sorcery. With the aide of a side kick and several magical items such as a levitating cloak and necklace which can bend time, Strange becomes a serious force to contend with in the magical realm.

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The story is classic hero journey.  A skeptical scientist carries the audience with him on a journey into mystery, thrown from his comfortable reality into the depths of dream and deep psyche. 

On this journey, he discovers mentors, allies, enemies and magical weapons and touchstones.

Strange’s story reaches denoument when he faces a choice – he can channel healing into his hands and return to love and career – or he can stay and battle forces of evil, a broken man the rest of his days. 

His choice to remain, carries him to the very nexus of evil, to face the Dormammu or the Dark Dimension.

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Herein lies on the most startling hero motifs of any sci-fi or fantasy I have seen for a long time. 

Doctor Strange with the aid of his time bending amulet, creates a loop of time in which he and Dormammu are trapped without end. In doing so, he willingly condemns himself to infinite death so that humanity may live.

Our hero takes infinite death that humanity might live……..

This saviour motif resonates time and time again, throughout stories, myths and legends of many cultures. Too many to recount. 

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All in all, the film relies too heavily on computer generated effects and the at times the plot is clumsily narrated through longwinded dialogue. Nevertheless the cast are brilliant and some genuinely witty interchanges brighten the story.

I give it – three out of five stars.

 

Where Are The Female Superheros

A strong theme of Bear Skin is how narrative both reflects the world and shapes it. Story is educative, story asserts a view, story informs and we viewers and readers engage, and re-tell and become.

Deeply truthful stories are vital to good and strong society. This wonderful TED talk by Christopher Bell sums up the importance of this fact by addressing the place of strong female role models in narrative, not only for little girls, but also for little boys.

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But here’s the question that I have to ask. Why is it that when my daughter dresses up, whether it’s Groot or The Incredible Hulk, whether it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Maul, why is every character she dresses up as a boy? And where are all the female superheroes? And that is not actually the question, because there’s plenty of female superheroes. My question really is, where is all the female superhero stuff?Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

Because every day when my daughter plays when she dresses up, she’s learning stuff through a process that, in my own line of work, as a professor of media studies, we refer to as public pedagogy. That is, it is how societies are taught ideologies. It’s how you learned what it meant to be a man or a woman, what it meant to behave yourself in public, what it meant to be a patriot and have good manners. It’s all the constituent social relations that make us up as a people. It’s, in short, how we learn what we know about other people and about the world.

Leunig

Michael Leunig is a Melbourne based cartoonist and social and cultural commentator. His best known works include The Adventures of Vasco Pyjama and the Curly Flats series, which features recurring characters The Duck and Mr Curly.

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Leunig’s drawings are famously sparse, usually in black and white with the human and animal characters.

Over the years he has gained a loyal following for his quirky take on social issues. He has frequently satirised concepts such as globalisation, greed, consumerism, corporations and warmongering, as well as spiritual and religious themes.

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He also iconically presents  a world of whimsy, in contrast to the sorrows of our current world,  featuring characters besotted with teapots, fantastically curled hair and many goats and ducks.

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My own favourite is a recent comic below, satirising leadership. With a few pen strokes Leunig, without a hint of religiosity, puts his finger [or rather pen] to the point of the gospel.

God is love.

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For more Michael Leunig you can follow his Fan Page on Facebook or check out his website here.

Green Eggs and Ham

Reading is fun ! 

Green Eggs and Ham is one of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s, [Dr Seuss], most famous works.

It has been listed as the fourth best-selling English-language children’s book of all time even surpassing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and coming close behind The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter.

Seuss, a cartoonist and writer, is best known for his quirky illustrations and rhythmic poetry [anapestic tetrameter] which make his stories so appealing.

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Green Eggs and Ham was originally written as a bet between Seuss and his publisher. Seuss had completed The Cat in the Hat using only 236 words and was challenged to complete an entire book with fewer words.

Seuss [a German name rhyming with rejoice] completed the book with only 50 words.

The 50 words are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

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Seuss wrote the stories in the 1950s, an era when children’s readers were Dick and Jane stories. A national report on illiteracy among school children at the time, concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring.

Seuss’s books which were both simple and amusing, sold record numbers.

Want your kids to read? Read them Dr. Seuss.

 

Tommy Taylor: The Unwritten

Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross, “The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” is the first episode in a graphic novel series first released in 2010.

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The novel tells three interweaving stories. The first tells of three kids Tommy, Peter and Sue, facing the wicked wizard Count Ambrosio. Tommy Taylor has dark hair and round glasses and has a wheel tattoo which aches when his nemesis is near. [Harry Potter much ?]

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Tommy speaks the words of a spell defeating Ambrosio but injuring himself in the process. Bruised and dying, Tommy cannot survive the encounter but his friends know the prophecy and taking Ambrosio’s trumpet, they sound the final note.

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The second tale is set in the present day, Tom Taylor is a celebrity doing the rounds of comic conventions. His father, Wilson Taylor authored the wildly successful comic book series about boy wonder “Tommy Taylor”.  His father’s sudden disappearance at the height of his fame, meant Tom unaccomplished in his own right, has been the face of his father’s work.

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During a comic convention Q&A, Tom is accused by journalist Lizzie Hexam to be an impostor. Evidence emerges that Tom’s childhood records have been fabricated.

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Fans begin to agitate for the truth about Tom’s identity. One fan, steeped in Tommy Taylor lore, claims that Tom is the “word made flesh” and is the incarnate form of the boy written into the comic books. This fan theory is dismissed as the bogus ramblings of a crazy man but Tom is shaken by it. Framed as an impostor, pursued by crazed fans thinking him to be the real Tommy Taylor made flesh, Tom flees to Europe to track down information about his deceased father.

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Here Tom is framed for murder by Pullman, a mysterious hitman.

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The third tale is a behind the scenes account of sinister characters seeking to rewrite public opinion and conceal the truth of Tom’s identity.  In an epilogue famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and finally Wilson Taylor interact with mysterious suited gentlemen who offer literary fame in exchange for adherence to their agenda. The ascendency or decline of these authors is determined entirely by the whims and caprices of these mysterious men.

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The three stories begin to strangely intertwine as the narrative continues. The mysterious suited gentlemen  frame Tom as a murderer but while Tom is being arrested, the winged cat Mingus, his childhood companion from the comic series appears to him.

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Once in jail, Tom encounters Lizzie Hexam and another inmate Savoy, both reporters who have planted themselves in jail to shadow Tom. Together they plot an escape. Lizzie reveals she is still in touch with Wilson Taylor the author of Tommy Taylor and uses an magic door knob from the comic books to break out from jail. Tom, Lizzie and Savoy, now mirror the three young characters, Tommy, Peter and Sue, from the Tommy Taylor stories. The door knob carries the three into a series of parallel stories.

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It seems we are a party three layers of authorship. While it seems that Tom lives in the real world while Tommy Taylor exists in the scripted world of comic books. However, increasingly it is revealed there exists a higher world vying for control of Tom’s life indicating he is perhaps the one and the same Tommy Taylor written into different scenes, but one with moral agency and self-consciousness.

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The stories explore the interesting nexus between fiction and the human consciousness. Is Tom in fact also Tommy, and is he still the subject of Wilson Taylor’s fiction?

Who are the mysterious suited gentlemen and is Wilson Taylor writing Tom into “real life” in order to subvert their controls?

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Like Sophie’s World – the text explores the interaction of author with characters of their literary worlds. The characters are granted life by the author; at what point do they have moral agency or free will of their own?

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At what point do we question whether it is in fact us that are the characters within someone else’s story? Who controls the forces within our world, wars, revolutions, famous ideas, cultural change. To what extent are we truly free?

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Count Ambrosio the arch villain of the Tommy Taylor comics, who breaks into Tom’s world and seeks to execute him, articulates the main point best:

Stories are the only thing worth dying for.

Stories shape our world, powerful story tellers influence generations to think and feel in history shaping ways. Stories shape political and religious ideas and shape cultural identities. It is for stories and ideals that people go to war, begin revolutions, sacrifice wealth and change laws and social systems.

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Who would seek to control our stories? And as agents within a story, how can we use the devices of stories to escape the powers that would control us?

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JRR Tolkien, philologist, linguist and lover of ancient narratives and myths, argued that:

Myths are not lies.

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Tolkien detested heaved handed moralism of fables such as Pilgrims Progress, opting instead to created internally consistent worlds with characters each with their own place within history and mythology. So serious was he about story, that he argued with CS Lewis, then a staunch atheist, that life was in fact a grand narrative into which the great mythical archetypes had intersected.

As a Catholic, to him the Christ narrative was the event in which myth…

…has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.

For Tolkien and later Lewis who later wrote much on the matter, the ground and truth of the Christ narrative was that in it the Word became flesh.  The intervention of voice and hand of the author into history transformed history from a random collocation of events into a grand narrative imbued with profound meaning.

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To them both, this miraculous juncture gave ground to the struggle for meaning in their lives. In it, the author meets them and exonerates their quest for agency.

 

Why the French Love Comics

Since childhood I have been charmed by French and Japanese animation or anime. TV shows of my childhood included Astro Boy, Voltron, Ulysses 31, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and more. They held a charm that regular US animation lacked!

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As a young adult I discovered the works of Tin Tin and Asterix, both French/ Belgian creations. What was curious to me  was that these works were largely directed at an adult, rather than child audience.

Perhaps this fact helped articulate the charm these works held? These artists took their work seriously. It wasn’t just for kids.

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A bit of research reveals the fact that the French have elevated comic strips or bandes dessinees, to the level of a national art form labelled The Ninth Art. Comic strips for adults thus portray historical and political events and political satire, philosophy and more.

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Certain characters such as Asterix and Obelix have become a part of national consciousness, embodying the national spirit. Peter Davy [2011] in his article published in the June edition of France Today writes:

The indomitable little Gaul fighting off invaders quickly resonated with the [1950s]  French public…..

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Even today, the character [Asterix] continues to represent the determinedly independent French spirit. It does illustrate the fact that comic strips, or bandes dessinées, play a real role in what historians term “the construction of Frenchness”. To put it simply, Astérix is part of the French national identity.

He continues:

 The country boasts the largest comic market in the world after the US and Japan, worth almost €330 million in 2009, and it sells some 40 million comic albums a year. The annual Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême is the biggest in the world, say the organisers; San Diego’s Comic-Con doesn’t count, they argue, because it is an exhibition as opposed to an artistic festival.

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The gallery dedicated to French comic strips, La Musee de la Bande Dessinee has been elevated to the category of Museum of France, equating it with the Louvre.  In fact,  the Louvre itself hosted an exhibition of comic strips in 2009.

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The secret seems to be to take an artform utterly seriously and allow it capture a national spirit. May there be many more de la bandes dessinees toujour !!

Birdman

Birdman is a 2014  comedy-drama with a stellar cast inlcuding Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts [among others]. It is an interesting commentary on being an artist in a celebrity mad world.

Most of Birdman appears to be filmed in a single shot.

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The story follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a faded Hollywood actor famous for his role as superhero Birdman, as he struggles to write, direct and star in a Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver.

The parallels between Keaton [Batman] and Riggan [Birdman] overlap parrallels between the Raymond Carver play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and  Riggan’s own quest for affirmation.

 

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We follow his feeling of insignificance in an age in which comics make billions and anyone without a Twitter account “doesn’t exist”.

When Riggan is visited by his ex-wife but all he can think of is whether Clooney [another Batman] will be more remembered than him. His wife informs to him that he misunderstands admiration for love.  He is not alone in this delusion however. His charismatic costar Mike [Edward Norton] can only be himself on stage, off stage his life is a mess. Another co-star Lindsay [Naomi Watts], neurotically awaits to be told she has “made it” by performing on Broadway.

 

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Riggan faces the harshest of New York theatre critics, one who promises to destroy him and delivers the ultimate insult – he is  a celebrity and not an artist.

Ironcially, a mistake causes Riggan to be locked out of the theatre in his underpants and forced to walk through Times Square, causing tens of thousands of shares on twitter, and thus propelling him into the limelight.

Later a failed effort to commit suicide on stage results in him being declared an exciting new method actor by the same theatre critic.

 

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The film is a reflection on success in art, fame, celebrity and integrity of being. It looks at the pressures and anxieties artists face to have their work scrutinised and destroyed by critics, at the mercy of the twitterverse, seeking to hold onto a feeling of being a part from their artistic creations.

In a profound life learning, Riggan’s daughter [Emma Stone], a world weary rehab survivor, maps out the age of the universe in dashes on a roll of toilet paper. One small square equals the entire time humans have been in existence.

The illustration reduces human hubris to one insignificant square of tissue.

Into the Woods

The latest Disney holiday release, “Into the Woods” is interestingly, not a children’s film at all but rather an exploration of contemporary philosophical themes.

Written by Stephen Sondheim,  “Into the Woods”  initially debuted on stage in San Francisco in 1986 and since has won several Tony Awards, and toured globally. Despite its mature themes, in 2014, Disney pictures released a star studded version directed by a Rob Marshall to great critical and commercial success.

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The point of the musical seems less to entertain and beguile children, but rather to make a forary into post-modern thought. Admittedly, it does so lightheartedly and with flair.

Step one, de-sanitise the tale, return it to its gruesome original state and juxtapose it with other tales.

 

The musical tells the interweaving tales of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Bean Stalk and the characters sing and dance their way through the narrative with charming ease. Retainin the gruesome elements of the original Grimm’s tales means the ugly sisters chop of toes to fit shoes, Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf [and promptly revived by the gallant baker and his knife], and Rapunzel is banished to a swamp by the witch who has blinded her lover.

Step two, explore what happens after the characters attain their wishes, the post- “happily ever after”.

 

Once each character receives their wishes, and “happily ever after,” the narrative explores their subsequent unravelling. Cinderella’s Prince is adulterous, Jack’s giant ramgaes through the country in search of her lost harp and hen, key characters die off. Each of the characters begins to blame the other for the chaos.  The story moves from fairy tale into solemn reality……. things don’t always work out the way we think they will. The witch cautions them all to question their wishes, that each of them contributed to the demise by what they desired.

Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you

Perhaps the most profound lines come in the closing song:

Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

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Step three: Redefine the very notion of knowing and meaning.

 

The characters chant to each other:

Wrong things, right things…

Who can say what’s true?…

Witches can be right, Giants can be good.

You decide what’s right you decide what’s good

The story closes with half the fairy story characters dead or disappeared, and the remaining few, huddled together in the woods, to hear the story from the beginning. They are adrift in a world without certain meaning and outcomes and must define meaning for themselves together. The find comfort in each other and not in the narratives they have imagined.

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So what?

 

Doctor of Philosophy and Catholic commentator, Taylor Marshall in his blog review,  labels the story “pernicious” and outlines the philosophic nominalism evident in the narrative. For him, the moralism evident in which the characters are cautioned to make their own reality, is deceptive. Instead, he cautions that in fact “rationalism” and discovery of “what is” is in fact the fittest form of human endeavour. As sojourners here, our job is to discover the world, it’s rules and paradigms, the order that God has placed and to abide by this order. http://taylormarshall.com/2014/12/into-the-woods-movie-a-dads-critical-review.html

I find his reasoning misses the mark.

Fairy stories have always been ground for phillsophical and theological debate – rich with imagery they naturally speak to the dream and the psyche. They play an important role in our subconscious development. It’s important to know that you can overcome the giant. It’s important to know that while there is wickedness in the world, that goodness still prevails. It’s important to know that love saves and that goodness is redemptive.

However, fairy stories, for their simplicity, can be oppressive too.  Is wickedness so black and white? is the witch always wrong  or is she a person too with a story to understand? Should girls be waiting for a prince or there is there another narrative girls can listen to? Does a requited love story always bestow the end of all unhappiness upon a girl or boy? Can our wishes for wealth, greener pastures, beauty and so on – lead us into more trouble than we know?

“Story is a spell and we should be careful what we tell,  because children listen” !!

Definitely !!

“Be careful what you wish, wishes are children, they come true”.

Absolutely !!

There is ground to question the narratives we absorb year after year. However, what “Into the Woods” shows us is that by dissolving meaning, we dissolve the grounds for narrative itself. The characters cannot ascertain whether the giant is “good” or “bad” and so slay her out of their immediate need. The cling to each other in the woods, a community adrift finding solace, and meaning  in each other.

The true end point of post-modern thought is absurdism. There is no more story to tell because there is no meaning to speak of. We’re just “Waiting for Godot.”

Instead of deciding this,  I would urge the characters of these fairy stories, to not define their own meaning but instead to break out of the story they are trapped within to find a GREATER story and a GREATER meaning. If we as readers find tales we read too limiting in moralism, in their two dimensional villains and stereotypical endings, we need to read MORE narrative, and absorb MORE and broader definitions of meaning, not less.

Narrative by nature, says something, and asserts meaning. Meaning is required for crisis and catharsis. Without these we have no stories to tell, no songs to sing.

Stories are wishes, wishes are children, we should be careful what story we wish, what spell we tell, because children believe them, because they come true. The stories we listen to define us and our perspective on the world. What we believe, we become.

I know a story where the wishes of the two protagonists, unravel the whole of human history requiring a promised hero to save them, a king, a prince to arrive and deliver them. This story covers thousands of years and weaves its way through civilsations and empires and finds itself in a regional outpost, a backwater, where a young man from a country village gives his life up for his nation. And saves the world.

That is a GREAT story.

Why archaeologists?

In Science fiction and fantasy there is an abundance of scientific professionals such as archaeologists, journalists, detetectives and doctors who end up on quests in strange realms, seeking talismans of great power or significance, and encountering strange and mythical creatures and tests. My childhood favourite was Tin Tin, who always managed to run into some mystery and follow it through to its mysterious end.

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The more I read, and the more I read “about reading”, the more I discover something called the “hero journey”. This ‘hero journey’ accounts for common features between stories, such as:

  1. An ordinary person, selected for a quest. Sometimes unwillingly, due to birth right or a prophecy.
  2. The leaving of home or the realm of the familar.
  3. Encounter with mythical creatures, tests and trials.
  4. Characters who come along at the right time as “helpers” to aid the hero.
  5. Hero battles creatures and overcomes trials and tests through courage and wit, often this requires great self sacrifice.
  6. Return home of hero to the realm of the familar  but forever changed inside.

In the case of the archaeologist/ scientist, it seems that the curiousity of the individual and their passion for knowledge leads them into a hero quest, often a treasure hunt. Their scientific nature gives them a firm footing in our current familiar world, making them believable as they journey through mythical realms. They stand as though the bridge for us between two worlds, the real world and the mythical dream world which we cannot reach ourselves.

They become our avatar into dreams.

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The tougher, the more sceptical and scientific they are, they more we can trust them and allow them to guide us into the dream world, knowing that they will be able to discern the tests that await and bring us home.