Emily Carroll’s delicious and innovative horror comics are a yearly Halloween treat, and now she’s gifted us with a Christmas themed comic about two little girls who are perfect angels…or are they?Display Comments Add a Comment
Emily Carroll’s delicious and innovative horror comics are a yearly Halloween treat, and now she’s gifted us with a Christmas themed comic about two little girls who are perfect angels…or are they?Display Comments Add a Comment
The other day, Tom Spurgeon linked to a Facebook post by cartoonist T Edward Bak in which he frets about the “money vs art vs oh god what the hell am I doing” feeling that many in the indie world are having, and which we’ve written about many times. In response I was about to go link to a fantastic FB post by Derf Backderf in which he talks about being a cancer survivor and what he’s done since—delivered the great book My Friend Dahmer, continued to cartoon, enjoyed life with his family, travelled the world. It was a wonderful life affirming post that puts a lot of things into perspective.
But….it was gone.
Along with the rest of Derf’s lively, informative FB page. Becuase Facebook decided that “Derf Backderf” isn’t a real name and turfed his entire account. Never mind that Backderf is his real name and Derf is a long-running nickname that’s good enough for the LIbrary of Congress. Not good enough that he’s won awards, appeared on TV and is a real life person that I and many others have had lunch with. Not good enough for Facebook.
Looks like I’m screwed with Facebook. Unless I send scans of my ID (fuck that) I’m banished. After 8 years. This really sucks.
— Derf Backderf (@Derfcity) December 16, 2014
But of course, Facebook keeps my content until the end of time, to use as they please.
— Derf Backderf (@Derfcity) December 16, 2014
— Derf Backderf (@Derfcity) December 18, 2014
Ever pragmatic, Backderf has already started a new page under his Christian name, John Backderf, but yeah, every other post and conversation lost.
If the Sony hack has taught us anything, it’s that maybe saving every thing on the web for all times isn’t a good idea, but we put our whole lives out in the hands of a few digital players….and they can take it all away in a heartbeat. I wrote a few months ago about how my Tumblr account was removed overnight for some infraction that was never explained to me. I managed to get it back but…oh the humanity. And of course, Google decided that I’m a porn site and took away my AdSense revenue.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: DON’T TRUST PROFIT SEEKING COMPANIES TO LOOK OUT FOR YOUR BEST INTERESTS. And Don’t put all your digital eggs in one basket! A few years ago a lot of cartooners switched over to FB as their main outlet, and I can see why — instant feedback from your peers, instant community. But it can all be taken away in an instant for reasons that don’t have anything to do with real life, just silly rules made by people who don’t seem to have any interaction with real life. (Just try to contact a Real Human at Google OR Fb.)
WordPress is also a profit seeking enterprise, but at least they give you the tools to do with as you please. Setting up your own site under your own URL takes a few minutes and a few bucks a year and gives you your OWN turf to do with as you please. It’s amazing that we’ve been given all these great tools for free, and we should take advantage of them, but don’t get seduced into think it’s all for OUR benefit.
As for the malaise thing, I quite enjoyed this quote from Mark Hamill on returning to the role of Luke Skywalker:
Given a second chance at playing Skywalker, three decades after that hero’s journey, the now 63-year-old actor says he tried to appreciate the experience more than he did before. Back when he made the original trilogy, he was just launching his career and the pressure was on. This time he said it was different than when he wrapped shooting on Jedi in 1982. “It’s kind of like Scrooge on Christmas morning. ‘Oh my God, this time I’m going to appreciate it in a way I wasn’t able to as a young man,’” Hamill says. “The fact that it is so special to so many people … it’s hard to believe you could take something for granted like that.”
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There were few dry eyes across America as Stephen Colbert wrapped up his nine year run on The Colbert Report—and staying in character, instead of breaking the wall and getting sentimental, he went gonzo fantasy, defeating Grimmy, his long time nemesis, or Death himself, and gaining immortality. Immortality has perks, such as assembling a zeitgeist all-stat lineup of pals from Bryan Cranston to George Lucas to Cyndi Lauper and James Franco who came out to sing the closing song from Dr Strangelove, “We’ll Meet Again. ” Although it was hard to spot all the celebs in the chorus, among them was two-time guests, Marvel CCO Joe Quesada:
Thanks to @StephenAtHome for the invite. It was a honor to be at the show and amongst such amazing people. What a night!!!
— JoeQuesada (@JoeQuesada) December 19, 2014
As I watched the show, I wondered what would become of the Captain America shield prominently displayed behind Colbert. It’s been a fixture of the Colbert set since it was given to him in 2007 after Captain America died in a storyline, and Colbert was deemed worthy to carry it. The actual shield is one that was owned by late Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald, and held a lot of residual mojo for Marvel fans. To my surprise, it made a starring role in the finale of the show, as Colbert wonders what t do with his new found immortality, and is whisked off to Valinor* in a sleigh with Santa, Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek.
You could actually see some dents in the shield on the close-ups—it’s a real life horcrux, and I hope it goes to some dignified resting place.
Colbert had a bunch of comics folks on his Report over the years—The Late Show is a bigger venue, but I have a feeling he’ll sneak in a few nerd icons along the way.
* Since Colbert is such a Tolkien scholar, you KNOW it was Valinor! In real life, however, Valinor is CBS, where Colbert will take over The Late Show in May, 2015.
Screen cap via KEvin MelroseDisplay Comments Add a Comment
The federal government is suing NYC over the treatment of teen-aged inmates at the legendary—and not in a good way— Riker’s Island detention facility.
The federal government plans to file a lawsuit against New York City alleging “widespread civil rights violations” against teen inmates at Rikers Island. The suit comes on the heels of a blistering report conducted by U.S. district attorney Preet Bharara that was released this summer and detailed shocking abuses of adolescent Rikers prisoners, including beatings, verbal abuse, and excessive use of solitary confinement.
If you’re wondering why, here’s a comic book that explains how teens—many of them mentally ill—are put in “the box” for minor infractions.
The comic was reported by Daffodil Altan and Trey Bundy, and illustrated and designed by Anna Vignet, based on conversation with “Izzy” now grown and a case manager for people coming out of Riker’s.
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Designer Kris Anka has just crafted some new threads for Jessica Drew A.K.A. Spider-Woman, a woman in need of a super-makeover. Anka has been pulled into reinvent some classic costumes with great results, including Storm’s newish outfit during Marvel NOW! that stuck around only because it was really fantastic. Anka’s new design for Drew will first debut in the Spider-Man Unlimited mobile game, then in March it will spin into the Spider-Woman ongoing title by Dennis Hopeless that spun it’s first web straight from the Spider-Verse.
The new outfit features a jacket, that is almost reminiscent of the new Batgirl outfit, with a couple more refinements in color scheme. The webbed tail surrounding the edges of the sleeves in particular is a great callback to past Spider-Man outfits, as are many of the other little details in the costume itself.
Brian Truitt debuted the news on USA Today, and shared this quote from Spider-Woman editor Nick Lowe:
“they’re clothes to kick ass in.”
Another interesting new feature are the gloves that sport the same black and red design from the rest of the outfit. It’s also great to see Marvel combatting some of the bad press they have seen with the Milo Manara variant cover with an outfit that seems more conservative in nature, especially when factoring in the preliminary sketches. It’s also simply enjoyable to see the same old Jessica Drew leaving 1977, she’s not a character that gets a costume design update once a year.
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§ Veteran Batman artist and nice guy Norm Breyfogle has suffered a stroke, as reported by his ex-wife. He’s expected to make a full recovery but send good thoughts.
§ Wow Cool/ Alternative Comics recently suffered a break in robbery and a bunch of indie comics were stolen. Boy are they in for a surprise! You can see the whole list in the link, and some covers above. As Wow Cool is a distributor as well as a publisher, it wasn’t just Alternative Comics that were taken. You can help out by buying some books.
§ And very influential Boom!/BoomBox editor Shannon Watters gets interviewed at CBR:
I consider it a really important part of my job because I feel like a kid who read “Adventure Time” is not just going to put down “Adventure Time” and call it a day. Well, maybe he or she is, but when I was a kid, I wanted to know everything. I looked at the ads in the back of my comics and was like, that looks really cool, I’m going to go get that. I had a gateway drug comic and it all spun out of that. I really want to kids to read “Adventure Time” and then read “Dinosaur Comics.” Or see a cover that they really like and seek out that person’s personal work. You don’t want to create a kids comics culture that’s just predicated on them buying “Adventure Time” because they love “Adventure Time” and then being done with comics. You want to create a situation where you have turned these kids onto this art form and now they’re checking out everything–or they’re making their own comics. Not everything is going to be to everybody’s taste, and so scouting new talent and interesting talent and people who are doing interesting things is just so, so important. Getting those people’s stuff in front of people’s eyes is essential and one of my favorite things about my job. I devote a lot of time and energy to that and a lot of time and energy to thinking about who’s going to bring the best to a certain book or concept. I’m lucky that I get to that. I’m really lucky BOOM! encourages me in that way.
§ In advance of the Mumbai Comic Con this weekend founder Jatin Varma recommends comics from many continents.
Here’s a video of New Yorker cartoonists Sam Gross, Arnie Levin, Lee Lorenz and Victoria Roberts chatting with Richard Gehr at SVA.
§ Director Tim Burton helped kick off the “modern” superhero movie with Batman, but now he’s totally over it.
“Marvel, they have their thing and there’s a certain formula to it all which seems to still be working,” Burton told Yahoo Movies. “But how many times can you say ‘you’re wearing a funny costume’ with the tights and stuff? That’s been going on for 20 years now. Yes, we all know that superheroes are damaged individuals. Maybe we need to see a happy superhero?” Later in the same interview, he added “you think we need more superhero movies? It keeps on going. It’s amazing how long it’s been going for and it just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Some day people will get sick of it.”
§ BEST OF/FAVORITE COMICS OF 2014 LIST CORNER: Mental Floss has a list that goes from She Hulk to Study Group with conviction.Display Comments Add a Comment
In case you missed it, Sony Pictures has been forced to cancel the theatrical release of The Interview after hackers have released a catastrophic trove of private emails and scripts, and threatened to bomb theaters showing the film—and theater owners began saying they wouldn’t carry it. The film follows a pair of bumbling journalists sent to North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong Un, and apparently, Supreme Leader did not like this plot line.
The repercussions of this Hollywood disaster will be felt for years to come, but one piece of collateral damage was a planned adaptation of Pyongyang, Guy DeLisle’s graphic novel about his two months spent in the North Korean capital working on an animation project. New Regency has pulled the plug on the project which was to have starred Steve Carrell and be directed by Gore Verbinski from a Steve Conrad script. However the log line for the movie bears little resemblance to the book that I read:
Based on the graphic novel by Guy Delisle, “Pyongyang” is a paranoid thriller about a Westerner’s experiences working in North Korea for a year.
Delisle spent two months living in North Korea’s capital, where according to Wikipedia, he struggled with the difficulties of outsourcing and the bureaucracy of the totalitarian closed state. He was authorized to bring Aphex Twin CDs, Gitanes cigarettes, Hennessy cognac and a copy of George Owell’s novel “1984,” but left the country with no expectations to ever return.
Well, for now you can still just go buy his books and not worry about getting your emails hacked, so show the terrorists haven’t won by getting a copy of Pyongyang!Display Comments Add a Comment
The world recently learned that the Islamic State in Iraq (ISIS) has resurrected a biological weapon from the second century. Scorpion bombs are being lobbed into towns and villages to terrorize the inhabitants. As the story goes, this tactic was used almost 2,000 years ago against the desert stronghold of Hatra which was once a powerful, walled city 50 miles southwest of Mosul. But this historical interpretation might be just a bit too quick.
What we know from the writings of Herodian, who documented the ancient attacks by Hatrians on Roman invaders, is that the people crafted earthenware bombs loaded with “insects.” The favored hypothesis is that these devices were loaded with scorpions. And it’s true that these creatures (although not insects) were abundant in the desert. In fact, Persian kings offered bounties for these stinging arthropods to ensure the safe and pain-free passage of lucrative caravans through the region. But the local abundance of scorpions is not sufficient to draw a conclusion.
Scorpions tend toward cannibalism, so packing a bunch of these creatures into canisters for any period of time would have been (and presumably still is) a problem. According to an ancient writer, powdered monkshood could be used to sedate scorpions, although at high doses this plant extract is insecticidal (how ISIS solves this problem is not evident). But there’s another problem with the scorpion hypothesis.
A Syrian account of the siege of Hatra specified that the residents used “poisonous flying insects” to repulse the Romans. But, of course, scorpions don’t fly. One possibility is that the natural historians of yore were thinking of the scorpionfly (a flying insect in which the male genitalia curl over the back and resemble a scorpion’s tail), but these are small creatures are found in damp habitats, not deserts. Another possibility is that ancient reports of scorpions becoming airborne during high winds account for flying scorpions, although such a remarkable phenomenon hasn’t been reported by modern biologists. Finally, some scholars speculate that the clay bombshells were filled with assassin bugs, which can fly and deliver extremely painful bites.
In the end, it seems likely that the Hatrian defenders and the ISIS militants latched onto the opportunities presented by the local arthropod fauna. But why would scorpions be so terrifying then or now? These creatures deliver a painful sting to be sure, but they are only rarely deadly. The responses of the Roman invaders and the Iranian townsfolk seem disproportionate to the consequences of being stung.
To understand why panic ensues when insects (or scorpions) rain down on a village, we must appreciate the evolutionary and cultural relationships between these creatures and the human mind. Our fear of insects and their relatives is rooted in six qualities of these little beasts—and scorpions score well.
Perhaps it is in this last sense that scorpions most resemble the ISIS assailants. Both seem to be predators, unconstrained by ethical constraints, maniacally and unreflectively seeking to satisfy their own bestial desires. Of course, we ought not to dehumanize our enemy—no matter how brutal his actions—by equating him with insects or their kin. (This rhetorical move has been made throughout history to justify horrible treatment of other people.) But perhaps this sense of amorality accounts for our fear of both ISIS and their unwitting, arthropod conscripts.Add a Comment
After revealing the first wave of Free Comic Book Day titles, it was only a matter of time before the rest of them started to pop up. This next batch is very exciting, and full of fun offerings from all your favorite publishers with the big guns like Marvel and DC, along with Valiant, Comix Tribe, IDW, Image, Oni and the mysterious new Legendary Comics imprint that kicked off with Grant Morrison’s Annihilator. DC still has their titles blocked out with the letters ‘TOP SECRET’ sitting on the front page, it’s likely whatever these comics are will be revealed closer towards Convergence. Of course, Marvel is launching Avengers material close to their upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film. Included in this silver collection of titles is a lot of material from other media, meant to turn you non-comics reading friends completely addicted to this medium. See if Attack on Titan, Avatar, or Sonic can hook your non-reading friends. Free Comic Book Day is on the first Saturday of May. CBR broke the news this morning with covers, and quick description information. All these titles are considered silver comics, with the gold titles being the first wave of books.
Ticket sales for the Long Beach Comic Con held the weekend of September 27 – 28th, 2014 saw a 25% increase, over last year held November 23 – 24, 2013 event, according to LBCC Executive Director, Martha Donato. Putting attendance somewhere between 31,250 – 37,500. Anecdotal information from exhibitors seems to corroborate this increase in sales of comic books, toys and other merchandise.
“In terms of foot traffic, sales were very good,” according to Jeremy Price, Floor Manager for Comic Madness in Chino, CA. “New books did best.”
As you might expect, among the comic books best sellers, guests were on hand to sign them. At LBCC this year were Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn); Mike Mignola (Hellboy); Mike Allred (Madman, Silver Surfer, IZombie); and Richard Starkings (Elephantmen).
“There’s been steady growth each year,” says Brad Sloan of FVF Comics in Woodland Hills. “While I did four figures last year, I did five this year.”
To what does he attribute the increase?
“Cosplay.” Adding, “the popularity of the cross over of Comics from page to Film/TV media helps drives people’s interest in Comics and to Cosplay.”
In the right costume, anyone can be a Hero and an instant media star. Making fellow attendees whip out their phones for pictures to post to the world via: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.
While some Comic vendors interviewed on the LBCC Exhibit floor did grumble about Cosplayers blocking the view of their tables when striking poses for photos, others said the presence of Cosplayers drove people to their booths who might otherwise overlook them. In fact, the one vendor selling clothes, pictured bellow, incorporates Cosplay into her booth.
But, hey, don’t Cosplayers distract from selling comics? Particularly, Vintage Classic Comics, Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age? Like the one’s Brad Sloan sold at his booth?
“Cosplayers bring more people to the show and they buy related comics. The Super Hero, low grade to the mid-grades Keys were were grabbed up.” (“Keys” are generally a first issue of a comic. But can also be first introduction of an famous character into a given publishing company’s Universe i.e., first appearance of Wolverine in Hulk #181.) Marvel Keys sell. Thanks to the movies!”Add a Comment
After a lengthy hiatus, the creative team behind Image Comics’ EGOs is back in action and ready to serve up more interplanetary crime drama with their upcoming fifth issue. Writer Stuart Moore and artist Gus Storms were kind enough to take some time to chat with the Beat about their series, in addition to humoring some ill-fated Beyoncé puns.
Comics Beat: So let’s start with the basics. Give us the gist of what’s going on in EGOs for new readers.
Stuart Moore: EGOs is basically about a superhero team in the far future, but what’s it’s really about is a marriage between two of the founding members. They’ve been together a long time, and they’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and it’s kind of a show business marriage because they’re both stars in a way. Deuce, the leader, is a former pretty boy who now uses a thing called an “imager” to make his face look younger than it is whenever he’s on camera. Pixel was very young when she joined the team, and she’s become her own brand and has sponsors and products and stuff like that. So they both basically have their own lives. In the course of the first storyline which is collected in the first trade, Quintessence, Deuce decides to re-form the team. Mostly because of a huge threat to galactic peace, but also because he wants to be relevant again and he kind of feels Pixel slipping away from him, and thinks this could be a way to bring them together again.
CB: And what will be going on in the forthcoming issues?
SM: So having set all that up, in this arc we’re setting up a big galactic conspiracy – a sort of invisible threat to the entire galactic economy. And in the course of investigating that, what happens is we meet a lot of new characters, and it becomes a bit of a mystery. Some combination of these characters are behind this gigantic plot, and it’s up to the two EGOs teams on two different planets to unravel and solve this mystery. So what we’re doing with the two main characters, Deuce and Pixel, they were together in the first story, but now they are completely apart. Deuce is involved in the core of the conspiracy on Earth, while Pixel is leading a stealth team on the remote, lawless planet of Tortuga with a subset of the team. So they’re off in two different places. It’s kind of weird because their relationship is still the heart of the story, it runs through every page of the book, but we’re really seeing them do their jobs here, and we’re seeing them do it separately. So it’s this weird mix of superhero and science fiction and in this story, crime drama.
CB: There’s quite a time gap between the release of the last issue and the date for the upcoming fifth issue. What caused the extended break?
SM: Well, I needed time to rethink the thing. Gus isn’t quite a monthly comics artist, he needs more than a month to do a book. And it ended up being a little longer than we planned because the two of us are doing a two part story for DC as part of their Convergence storyline. So that wound up delaying our return a little bit. But it should work out nicely since Convergence will come out during the middle of this EGOs run, so hopefully people will notice the two things together.
CB: Is there anything different about how you’re approaching the making of the book this time around?
SM: The biggest difference for me is that it’s a much longer, more extended storyline. I had to plot it out in great detail. The first part is sort of a teaser, issue six is almost a little self-contained story within the story, and then it’s full-barrel to the end with a lot of twists and turns for the next three issues.
Gus Storms: I had fun with the art – it’s totally more terrestrial. It’s more location based and there’s nothing I love more than drawing location, as in the people in it and world-building. So I didn’t approach it differently, I just think that art-wise it’s more in my bailiwick and my natural inclinations.
SM: I actually had Gus in mind for Tortuga, which is a former prison planet that’s now sort of a lawless trading world. A lot of the long-time inhabitants are missing limbs and have artificial limbs and I thought that was just right for Gus. “Shankers” are a mass produced sort of artificial limb, and they’re a very important element to the story, as in who has them and what they’re used for.
CB: So does a lot of research go into the writing for this, science and space-wise?
SM: Well, I try and make it a little more plausible than a lot of comics! I have sort of a background in science fiction, and my father was a nuclear physicist, so I don’t come from that side of the family at all. I don’t understand any of that stuff, but I like bashing my head against it every once in awhile. So I try to keep current, but at the same time I’ve written stuff much more hardcore sci-fi than this. This is at core a superhero story with a science background, and when you get down to people’s powers… there is only so plausible it gets. In terms of the story-telling approach, I want to work as drama first, and then make it as plausible as possible, rather than the other way around.
GS: And this one is more cyber-punk than space opera. The first one is really sort of a more space opera, and this one is dystopia noir.
SM: That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about it as cyber-punk, but it probably seems that way because of the noir influence. There’s a pretty hard edge to issue six when you meet some of the suriviors of the Crunch War. One of the new characters, the Commander, fought it in. What that war did to these people, and these planets, is a crucial part in where the story is going. I’m very fond of an old subset of noir that focuses on damaged WWII veterans and the crimes they committed, and it was something people were writing a lot about in the 1950’s and that influenced this story as well, but in a more futuristic context.
CB: So in to your first collected trade, you had an essay on why you took on the mantle of writer/editor and how Gus is also sort of an artist/editor. Are you sticking to those titles this time around?
SM: So what I said, for those who haven’t read it, is that I very purposefully gave myself the title of writer/editor on this book, which I got some criticism for, and I expected. But I did it for a couple of reasons. One was there are projects I do where I need an outside editor, I could absolutely not do without one, and then there’s EGOs where I pretty much know where I’m going. Gus backstops me, he’s absolutely invaluable in story matters, and so does Marie Javins who has been our co-publisher and co-editor all along. But I don’t really need a traditional editor on this book. I’ve been a comics editor myself, I’ve edited a lot of books, so I pretty much know what I’m doing. More than that, it was almost a little tribute to the fact that in the 1970’s and 80’s when I start really reading comics, a lot of people had that title, and a lot of the best comics published were under that title. Howard the Duck, Firestorm, Conan, even things like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four were done that way for awhile. It fell out of favor partly because most of the major companies don’t work that way anymore, but it’s kind of my way of showing that this can still be a valid way to work on the right project.
GS: We don’t have a lot of continuity stuff to manage, which is a big part of the Big Two editorship. I think [Moore] needs an enforcer, you need someone to hassle the artist more.
CB: So let’s talk about the art. It’s been great seeing it develop across issues and tighten up to where it’s at now. It seems like you draw a lot of inspiration from French comics and the like, so did you have anything in mind when you started creating these designs?
GS: The process of the artist is just trying to shore up your deficiencies. So I’m just trying to occlude my poor drawing as much as possible. As far as inspiration… definitely a lot of the European guys. I like static shots. Not a huge fan of the forced perspective, sort of fish-eye lens type comics bombast you see in American mainstream. Lifetime Moebius devotee, and Darrow and Quitely. I always have trouble with people – with drawing handsome and attractive people. I find them way less interesting than the weird, grotesque side characters. Part of the evolution of EGOs art wise is that EGOs started as my first all-digital thing, working on the Cintiq, and there’s a big learning curve there. The most recent book has a lot of zipitone, and you can just sort of throw it on willy-nilly, so that’s sort of a different look. I like in particular the bar scenes. I would just draw weird back-water bars all day if I could.
SM: When I plotted out the first storyline, Gus wasn’t onboard yet, but I had him much more in mind on this arc.
GS: I found a lot of difficulties in the first one, there was just so much “people floating in space.” I had a hard time making that interesting. And some people can do it so well, like aerial fights. I had to figure out how to do it.
CB: Tell me a little about what it’s like to design such unique characters. Masse, for example, seems like he would have been very difficult to take from concept to execution.
GS: Yeah, that was maybe the most design discussion we had. I had originally wanted to make him more ambulatory – give him sort of malformed arms or something. But I think Stuart guided us in the right direction with that. He was a lot of fun. The other one I really enjoyed was Quark, which is the pink, constantly-shifting, energy dude. And the most high concept design guys come a little later in the story, and they’re an interesting… firm-type thing.
SM: Oh yeah, the Quantum Trust. This story is a little more grounded, as we said, and most of the characters are human or humanoid. But there are some pretty strange looking people coming.
CB: Is there anything you hate drawing that you found yourself having to improve on this series? Maybe something that you’re now good at drawing?
GS: I meannnn, I don’t think I got GOOD at drawing any of the stuff. This is my first job pretty much save for one little comic project I did out of school. And in school, when I was drawing, everyone was just really ugly and monstrous, so I guess I just had to draw allegedly attractive people. You know, Deuce and Pixel are supposed to be good-looking – they’re celebrities. I did have to focus on trying to make people look comely.
SM: I’ll add one other thing – these are not easy scripts. One of the games with EGOs for me was to pack as much into each story as I could without seeming crowded. That was one of the things I really wanted to do. Partly because I think if you’re going to do an original indie comic where people aren’t buying it for Batman, you need to really give people their money’s worth. If people are going to pay three dollars for an issue of this comic, I want them to walk away thinking they really got an experience. And that means there’s a lot of scene-changes, there’s a lot of characters, there’s a lot going on. These scripts are not easy to draw, and Gus has done a beautiful job at every stage.
GS: The best part is design, and it’s just been an option to constantly design little pieces, like Shara’s home world that you see just for a second. That kind of thing is all over the comic, which is a real treat.
CB: Anything else you’d like readers to know about what’s to come?
SM: Well, there are a lot of twists and turns. Not all the characters will necessarily survive… Basically what I had wanted to do with this story is do a large-scale epic where the villain is hidden. The villain is not out in plain sight, you don’t know who it is. And kind of bring some of the ways a good police procedural story work into this and see what happens. Hopefully that’ll work, hopefully people will like it…
I’ll just say one more thing. When it came time to decide whether or not to continue this book, and how long to continue it for, I plotted out the story and I sat down and wrote issue five. I know I’m too close to really know, but I think it’s the best script I’ve ever written for comic books. And then issue six is good, but I think issue seven is even better. So if people have read my stuff this is the one I would recommend, because out of all the comics I’ve written, I’m as happy with this one as anything I’ve ever done.
GS: I second that. I love it. It’s been a lot of fun to work on. It’s a great story, it’s exactly the type of thing that I like to read.
EGOs #5 is due out February 4th from Image Comics. Item Code: DEC140641Display Comments Add a Comment
I suspect that I’m not alone in thinking any day that brings new work from Dr Bryan Talbot is a very good day indeed. The fourth of his Grandville books, featuring the adventures of Detective Inspector LeBrock (who is, as the name might suggest to the scholarly, a badger) in an anthropomorphic steampunk Paris, is at least as good as the three previous volumes, if not considerably better. Wherever LeBrock goes, mayhem and a high body-count ensues, and this book is no different. We also have a messianic unicorn, evil criminals, and a Lucky Luke look-a-like, called Lucas Chance. Briefly, if you’re not reading Grandville, you’re missing some of the best fun there is to be had between two covers. I’d interviewed Bryan pretty comprehensively before (here & here), so I got in touch to ask him just a few more questions about Grandville, and his future plans for the character.
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: I had been meaning to ask you, before I started reading this one, if there were going to be any further Grandville books after this, but by the end of it you’ve several trailing story threads that I imagine might take a few more books to sort out. What can you tell me?
Bryan Talbot: Although the books are stand-alone stories and can be read individually, you will have noticed that each takes place a month after he previous one, and there has been a story arc gradually building that comes to fruition in volume five. I scripted it over two years ago now, though have been polishing it since. It’s much longer that the other stories, about 160 pages, and will probably be the final one. If I write any more stories set in the world of Grandville, they’ll be drawn in a different style. The fifth, although still containing some of the humour of the other books, is definitely the darkest story and features one of the vilest villains in the history of crime fiction. Characters from earlier volumes have cameo roles and we finally meet the execrable Chief Inspector Stoatson, mentioned in all the books since the second one but never seen. We also discover, for the first time, [Detective Inspector] LeBrock‘s backstory and are introduced to his mentor, the great detective who trained him up. I’m currently drawing Mary*’s 3rd graphic novel, but will start work on the 5th Grandville when I finish that, in summer.
[*That’s Dr Mary M Talbot, Bryan Talbot’s wife, with whom he collaborated on Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, and co-collaborated with on Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, along with Kate Charlesworth, both of which are recommended.]
PÓM: I notice that the human characters – the ‘doughfaces’ in the story – seem to be getting restless, and coming more to the fore, in the 3rd and 4th volumes. Will we be seeing more of them in the last volume, too?
BT: They’ll be reverting to background characters, as in the 1st book. It’s in Grandville Noël where they come centre stage and, by the end, there is some kind of resolution.
PÓM: As I was rereading my way through the Grandville books, I was wondering how many different animals you had included in them. Have you any idea what sort of number you’ve done?BT: No idea, but quite a lot! As well as common animals, there are several many people won’t have heard of, such as an aye aye, an echidna and a star-nosed mole. As well as a computer file containing hundreds of animal photographs that I’ve accumulated on line, I’ve visited the natural history museums of Milan, Helsinki and Dublin, all of which have large collections of stuffed animals that I’ve snapped from different angles. It’s always hard to find pics online of exactly the right angle you need. I also have a collection of plastic animal models to draw from.
PÓM: How do the Grandville books do on the European market, particularly in France, where they’re up against work which they’re sometimes drawn from?
BT: I’m very disappointed with the French Publisher of Grandville, Bragelonne. They are primarily a publisher of horror, SF and fantasy prose and I don’t think they really pushed the books. They don’t even have a booth at Angouleme. The books went into profit (I know as I regularly receive royalty payments from them) but obviously they didn’t make as big a profit as they’d like, as they only published the first two volumes. This, despite Grandville Mon Amour winning the prize given by French railway industry, the Prix SNCF, for best graphic novel, voted for by the rail-traveling public and all the many French reviews of both books, which were universally positive. In Spain and Germany, though, they seem to be quite popular, Noël coming out both places next year. I think a Finnish edition of the first book is forthcoming too. It’s also been published in Serbia, Greece, the Czech Republic and Italy.
PÓM: You mention a third book by your wife, Dr Mary Talbot. Can you tell me anything about this, or is it still under wraps?
BT: As it’s only going to be published in 2016, we’re keeping quiet about it at the moment. Primarily because we think someone else might pinch the idea, research the subject, and produce a graphic novel of their own before then! Suffice to say that it’s another historical story about a strong female protagonist, one that most UK readers will never have heard of.
PÓM: There’s a very brief mention of a cataclysmic event that helped shaped how things are in the Grandville world, in the fourth book. This seems to me to throw you into the same general Wold-Newton Universe concept that Philip José Farmer initiated, and which also informs Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books. That, plus the fact that the aircraft that we’re constantly seeing in the air over Paris look very like the ones we see in your Luther Arkwright stories, makes we wonder if there’s a larger ‘Bryan Talbot Universe’ setting behind all your work. Or is this just something I’m over-thinking?
BT: I never actually got around to reading the Farmer books but, yes, the cataclysmic event is basically a reference to Firefrost. In the Arkwright story, where it’s made clear that its arrival on earth sent ripples affecting reality through all the alternative time streams. I did have the intention on doing a story based on it sometime but, as I said earlier, the 5th is now probably going to be the last of the series. The iron flying machines are common to Arkwight and Grandville, though in the former, there is only one type, a military vessel, and only made by one of the countries involved. In Grandville, they are public and private skyships of various designs. Vaguely inspired by Jules Verne and Albert Robida, I use them because every other steampunk story uses airships.
PÓM: Do you have any idea when we can expect to see that fifth and final Grandville volume?
BT: I’m hoping 2017.
PÓM: That’s a long wait! You already mentioned the book with Mary, but is there anything else we need to know about, to fill up the lonely days while we wait – more Luther Arkwright, maybe?
BT: ‘Fraid not. Not many people realise what a long slog it is, producing a graphic novel. These books take a long time, especially in the sort of style I use for Grandville, which takes up to 4 days per page. The fifth volume is going to be 160 pages. That’s nearly two years’ work, more if I’m away a lot. Plus, big publishers like Cape ideally want the finished books up to a year before they publish them, so they sit around for months before being released. One reason for this is so that they meet the scheduled publication dates. Another is so their reps can show the books around to retailers several months in advance to create interest. So it may be an even longer wait than that! I do actually have a folder full of notes for a possible Arkwright story, and have done for several years, but it’s simply not gelled. Perhaps after I finish Grandville.Add a Comment
There is a tower defense game I love to play on the iPad called Kingdom Rush. Not too long ago they released a new version called Kingdom Rush Frontiers which is the most imaginative and adorable version of the game yet. Like all fantasy games, it’s completely tangled up in the vision of JRR Tolkien, with elves, dwarves, rangers and even in this version an ent. Each stage has many extras like little dragons, gnomes, fairies, magic mushrooms and even a game of Simon. It’s adorable and a great way to pass the time.
I found the first Hobbit movie two years ago to be similar to a tub of Cosy Shack rice pudding in that I never got sick of each and every bite, and I just liked watching people named Thorin and Elrond run around. Since then, while I have yet to tire of Cosy Shack, I have tired of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies because they are nothing but a map in Kingdom Rsh blown up to IMAX size and length and noise. Maybe it’s just me being 11 years older than when the Return of the King came out, or Peter Jackson being 11 years older, but The Battle of Five Armies seemed to take as much from Jackson’s fanfic King Kong remake as it did the slim book it was based on. And that is not good.
I’m just going to lay down some thoughts here in no particular order. And yeah MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE
• The opening sequence with Smaug setting fire to Laketown and Bard shooting him down was easily the best sequence in the movie. It also steeled me for disappointment because Bard’s little speech before he uses his last arrow is one of my most favorite parts of the book:
“Arrow! Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!”
Perhaps saying this would have slowed down an intense action sequence, but I really missed it.
• I’ll admit, this movie did stump me as a Tolkien scholar. When, just before the big battle kicks off about 45 minutes from the end, the orcs employ giant sandworms called were worms that recall nothing so much as the lampreys that took up about three hours of the 8 hour King Kong…I thought “THIS GOES TOO FAR!!!!” But lo and behold, while I knew about stone giants, Queen Beruthiel and the Variags of Khand, I happened to miss the one sentence in the VERY FIRST chapter of the Hobbit that mentioned were-worms:
“Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”
That’s what Bilbo says. It’s clearly a reference to a more primitive fairy tale version of Middle Earth that Tolkien explored in The Hobbit. So you get a pass there, Peter Jackson….but JUST BARELY.
• Similarly, Thranduil, king of the Sylan elves of Mirkwood rides an Elk into battle. This struck me as…well it looked awesome. And it seemed sort of Tolkienish. But then Radagast has a bunny sled, Dain rides a boar and in the middle of the BoFA, suddenly out of nowhere some ridable mountain goats appear to enable Thorin, Kili, Fili and Balin to go hopping up a mountain. I understand that the mountain goat steeds were introduced in a longer cut of theemovie—Warner Bros insisted Jackson deliver a brisk 2:20 cut of the film and a LOT of stuff was left out. I think if I’m sitting in a movie theater for two hours and 20 minutes of cgi action I’ll take another 10 minutes to explain where dwarves got mountain goats to ride but then…I don’t run a studio. Anyway, one cute animal steed I could take, but three whole movies of them???
• AND YET THEY COULDN’T SHOW BEORN FOR MORE THAN 10 SECONDS???? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.
• All that said, Lee Pace as Thranduil astride an elk…OMG. Thranduil was the best thing in the last two movies. He has the only truly funny moment in the whole Battle of Five Armies—I won’t spoil it for you because it is so so precious—and despite being effete and aloof is a total badass in battle.
• Am I the only one who thinks that Thranduil and the only female on screen maybe hooked up after Legolas is sent off to find Strider? Thranduil is a lonely elf who has lost love and now so is Tauriel. The age difference doesn’t matter because ELVES ARE IMMORTAL. If I were Tauriel I would totally go for it.
• Ever since I heard about these films and how the Hobbit was going to be three movies, I was all set up for the scene where the White Council kicks Sauron out of Dol Guldur. Maybe I just built it up in my mind too much because in the movie it seemed like an after thought. Yes we got to see Battle Action Galadriel and Battle Action Saruman and Battle Action Elrond, but…this should have been the ultimate Boss battle and it was…eh.
• ALSO…9 figures of CGI and you couldn’t make it look like Cate Blanchett was not carrying a dummy?
• Battle of Five Armies carries over one of Jackson’s WORST habits from King Kong: The Subplot Character Who Goes Nowhere. In King Kong it was Tintin, I mean Billy Elliott, I mean Jimmy, who has many long conversation with the ship’s captain about responsibility and duty and something, and you think it’s going somewhere and….it was a lot of wasted time. In BoFA that character is Alfrid, the two-faced assistant to the Master of Lake Town. At first Alfrid is just a slimy Wormtongue like character. But when he attaches himself to Bard after the death of Smaug, we see Bard begin to trust him a little, despite Alfrid being completely inept at everything he tries. At the end of the battle, Alfrid absconds in drag with all the gold he can stuff into his bra. REALLY. Was he merely there for comic relief the whole time? Or did he have an actual story arc? Also, he had really weird shoulders, and at first I just thought he idolized Linda Evans in Dynasty and favored shoulder pads. Then I realized that he was supposed to be a hunchback—yes it’s the deformed, slimy weasel thief trope. I think Alfrid was just around to throw in some comedy and keep the dwarves in battle mode, but it was positively Jar Jar esque.
• The actual main action of the film, such as it is, involves Thorin’s falling prey to the gold lust of the dragon, and how it ultimately destroys him and nearly Dale and Erebor and the free peoples as well. I thought Richard Armitage did a fine job of showing the evolution of the character, even if turning evil only meant wearing a black fur coat for a while (he liked Joan Collins in Dynasty?) Once he throws off the coat, he turns back to his regular self. As you do.
• Bilbo’s story arc is mostly from the book, with his giving the Arkenstone to Thranduil and Bard so they can make Thorin keep his part of the bargain and avoid war. When I was a kid and read The Hobbit this whole part of the book annoyed me greatly. WHY WAS EVERYONE BEING SUCH A DICK??? They killed the dragon, can’t they just have a party and be friends? As an adult, this was more satisfying and realistic
• If you had told me that there would someday be a movie version of Mt. Gundabad, I would have been so excited. But then it is thrown in just so Legolas and Tauriel can go off and…spend some quality spying time together. WHY. The actual amount of the book that this movie adapts is only three or four chapters so they had to throw in all kinds of extra action.
• If you read the book, you knew that Thorin, Kili and Fili, the three most loveable dwarves, are all doomed to die. In the book, they just die in the general battle. Because this is a movie and plotlines must be ended they first have to go to Ravenhill where Azog is flying kites and tooting horns. Legolas and Tauriel must get there because they have to warn Thorin that another army of orcs is coming! Seeing as how HE WAS ALREADY SURROUNDED BY AN ARMY OF ORCS. Ravenhill does appear in the books, but a short trip to my bookshelf to retrieve my childhood copy of The Hobbit reveals that IT IS NOT ACTUALLY ON THE MAP IN THE BOOK AS IT IS IN THE MOVIE MAP. Not that it all has to be like the book, but in the LoTR trilogy when they threw in extra stuff my heart soared with joy at seeing things I had only imagined being acted out on a giant screen. In general in the Hobbit the additions are all to make a giant, bloated movie that will make a lot of money. (I did like the call back to the Battle of Azanulbizar in part one.) Ravenhill is one of the worst examples of that. “Say how can we get all the main characters separated from the fray?” “What about that Ravenhill thing?” “Great idea!” Once on this remote locale, Legolas, Tauriel, Azog, Bolg, Thorin, Kili, Bilbo and anyone else who had a story arc run around and have tumultuous fights. This also leads to the ONE truly creepy and memorable shot in the whole film when Thorin and Azog are having it out. I won’t spoil it!
• I did not hate all the Hobbit movies as the above may indicate. The problem is that with the Lord of the Rings films I had years to think it was going to suck and then they turned out to be better than I had ever dared dream. With The Hobbit I had year to think it was going to be great and…it wasn’t.
• That said, when they announce the inevitable three pack of extended editions, I will pre-order it lickety split.Display Comments Add a Comment
One of the dialogues in Jonathan Swift’s work titled A complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738) runs as follows:
Neverout: Why, Miss, you are in a brown study, what’s the matter? Methinks you look like mumchance, that was hanged for saying nothing.
Miss: I’d have you know, I scorn your words.
Neverout: Well, but scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings.
Miss: My comfort is, your tongue is no slander. What! you would not have one be always on the high grin?
Neverout: Cry, Mapsticks, Madam; no Offence, I hope.
This is a delightfully polite conversation and a treasure house of idioms. To be in a brown study occupies a place of honor in my database of proverbial sayings (see a recent post on it). I am also familiar with scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings, but high grin made me think only of the high beam (and just for the record: mumchance is an old game of dice or “a dull silent person”). But what was Neverout trying to say at the end of the genteel exchange (see the italicized phrase)?
The first correspondent to Notes and Queries who wrote on the subject—and the problem was being thrashed out in the pages of Notes and Queries—suggested that it means “I ask pardon, I apologize for what I have said” (4 October 1856). Two weeks later, it was pointed out that mapsticks is a variant of mop-sticks, but no explanation followed this gloss. When fourteen years, rather than fourteen days, passed, someone sent another query to the same journal (8 May 1880), which ran as follows: “Like death on a mop-stick. How did this saying originate? I have heard it used by an old lady to describe her appearance on recovery from a long illness.” Joseph Wright did not miss the phrase and included it in his English Dialect Dictionary. His gloss was “to look very miserable.” Although the letter writer who used the pseudonym Mervarid and asked the question did not indicate where she lived, Wright located the saying in Warwickshire (the West Midlands). We will try to decipher the idiom and find out whether there is any connection between it and Swift’s mapsticks ~ mopsticks.
As could be expected, the OED has an entry on mopstick. The first citation is dated 1710 (from Swift!). In it the hyphenated mop-sticks means exactly what it should (a stick for a mop). The next one is from Genteel Conversation. Swift’s use of the word in 1738 received this comment: “Prob[ably] a humorous alteration of ‘I cry your mercy’.” This repeats the 1856 suggestion. After the Second World War, a four-volume supplement to the OED was published. The updated version of the entry contains references to the dialectal use of mopstick, a synonym for “leap-frog,” and includes such words pertaining to the game as Jack upon the mopstick and Johnny on the mopstick (the mopstick is evidently the player over whose back the other player is jumping), along with a single 1886 example of mopstick “idiot” (slang). The supplement did not discuss the derivation of the words included in the first edition. By contrast, the OED online pays great attention to etymology; yet mopstick has not been revised. I assume that no new information on its origin has come to light. In 1915 mopstick was used for “one who loafs around a cheap or barrel house and cleans the place for drinks” (US). This is a rather transparent metaphor. Mop would have been easier to understand than mopstick, but mopstick “idiot” makes it clear that despised people could always be called this. Johnny on the mopstick also refers to the inferior status of the player bending down. The numerous annotated editions of Swift’s works contain no new hypotheses; at most, they quote the OED.
I cannot explain the sentence in Genteel Conversation, but a few ideas occurred to me while I was reading the entries in the dictionaries. To begin with, I agree that Swift’s mapsticks is a variant of mopsticks, though it would be good to understand why Swift, who had acquired such a strong liking for mopsticks and first used the form with an o, chose a less obvious dialectal variant with an a. Second, I notice that the 1738 text has a comma between cry and mapsticks (Cry, Map-sticks, Madam…). Nearly all later editions probably take this comma for a misprint and therefore expunge it. Once the strange punctuation disappears, we begin to worry about the idiom cry mopsticks. However, there is no certainty that it ever existed, the more so because the sentence in the text does not end with an exclamation mark. Third, mopstick, for which we have no written evidence before 1710, is current in children’s regional names of leapfrog, and this is a sure sign of its antiquity (games tend to preserve local and archaic words for centuries). A mopstick is not a particularly interesting object, yet in 1886 it turned up with the sense “idiot” in a dictionary of dialectal slang. Finally, to return to the question asked above, to look like death on a mopstick means “to look miserable,” and we have to decide whether it sheds light on Swift’s usage or whether Swift’s usage tells us something about the idiom.
I think Swift’s bizarre predilection for mopsticks goes back to the early years of the eighteenth century. In 1701 he wrote a parody called A Meditation upon a Broomstick (the manuscript was stolen, and an authorized edition could be brought out only in 1711). It seems that after Swift embarked on his “meditation” and the restitution of the manuscript broomsticks never stopped troubling him. At some time, he may have learned either the word mopstick “idiot” (perhaps in its dialectal form mapstick) and substituted mopstick ~ mapstick for broomstick; a broomstick became to him a symbol of human stupidity. To be sure, mopstick “idiot” surfaced only in 1886, but such words are often recorded late and more or less by chance, in glossaries and in “low literature.”
Swift hated contemporary slang. The last sentence in the quotation given above (Cry, mapsticks, Madam; no offence, I hope) seems to mean “I cry—d–n my foolishness!—Madam…”). The form mapsticks is reminiscent of fiddlesticks, another plural and also an exclamation. The dialectal (rustic) variant with a different vowel (map for mop) could have been meant as an additional insult. If I am right, the comma after cry remains, while the idiom cry mapsticks, along with its reference to cry mercy, joins many other ingenious but unprovable conjectures.
The phrase to look like death on a mopstick has, I believe, nothing to do with Swift’s usage. In some areas, mopstick probably served as a synonym of broomstick, and broomsticks are indelibly connected in our mind with witches and all kinds of horrors. Here a passage from still another letter to Notes and Queries deserves our attention.
“Fifty years ago [that is, in 1830] I recollect an amusement of our boyish days was scooping out a turnip, cutting three holes for eyes and mouth, and putting a lighted candle-end inside from behind. A stake or old mop-stick was then pointed with a knife and stuck into the bottom of the turnip, and a death’s head [hear! hear!] with eyes of fire was complete. Sometimes a stick was tied across it, to make it ghostly and ghastly….”
Those who have observed decorations at Halloween will feel quite at home. The recovering lady looked like death on a mopstick, and we now understand exactly what she meant. In 1880 the letter writer (Mr. Gibbes Rigaud) resided in Oxford. Oxfordshire is next door to Warwickshire, and of course we do not know where our “heroes” spent their childhood.
In the film A Christmas Story, Ralphie desperately wants “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle.” His mom resists because she reckons it will damage his well-being. (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) In the end, though, Ralphie gets the air rifle and deems it “the greatest Christmas gift I ever received, or would ever receive.”
This Christmas, why not give your friends and family the gift of well-being? Even removing an air rifle and the possibility of eye injury from the mix, that’s easier said than done.
Well-being is tough to pin down. It takes many forms. A college student, a middle-aged parent, and a spritely octogenarian might all lead very different lives and still have well-being. What’s more, you can’t wrap up well-being and tuck it under the tree. All you can do is give gifts that promote it. But what kind of gift promotes well-being?
One that establishes or strengthens the positive grooves that make up a good life. You have well-being when you’re stuck in a “positive groove” of:
Your life is going well for you when you’re entangled in a success-breeds-success cycle comprised of states you find (mostly) valuable and pleasant.
Some gifts do this by producing what psychologists call flow. They immerse you in an activity you find rewarding. Flow gifts are easy to spot. They’re the ones, like Ralphie’s air rifle, that occupy you all day.
A flow gift promotes well-being by snaring you into a pleasure-mastery-success loop. A flow gift turns you inward, toward a specific activity and away from the rest of the world. It involves an activity that’s fun, that you get better at with practice, and that rewards you with success, even if that “success” is winning a video game car race.
Flow is important to a good life. It feels good, and it fosters excellence. It’s the difference between the piano-playing wiz and the kid (like me) who fizzled out. But there’s more to well-being than flow and excellence.
A bonding gift turns you outward, toward other people. A bonding gift shows how someone thinks and feels about you. In O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi, a young couple, Jim and Della, sacrifice their “greatest treasures” to buy each other Christmas gifts. Della sells her luxurious long hair to buy a chain for Jim’s gold watch. And Jim sells his gold watch to buy the beautiful set of combs Della yearned for.
Bonding gifts change people’s relationships. The chain and the combs strengthen and deepen Jim and Della’s love, affection and commitment. This is why “of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”
The bonds of love and friendship are not just emotional. They’re causal. We’re tangled up with the people we care about in self-sustaining cycles of positive feelings, attitudes, traits and accomplishments. Good relationships are shared, interpersonal positive grooves. This is why they make us better and happier people. Bonding gifts strengthen the positive groove you share with a person you care about.
You’re probably wondering whether you can find something that’s an effective bonding and flow gift. I must admit, I’ve never managed it. A tandem bike? Alas, no. Perhaps you can do better.
So this holiday season, why not give “groovy” gifts – gifts that “keep on giving” by ensnaring your loved ones in cascading cycles of pleasure and value.
Image credit: Stockphotography wrapping paper via Hubspot.
Recently I was talking to a younger colleague, a recent PhD, about what we and our peers read for pleasure. He noted that the only fiction that most of his friends read is young adult fiction: The Hunger Games, Twilight, that kind of thing. Although the subject matter of these series is often dark, the appeal, hypothesized my colleague, lies elsewhere: in the reassuringly formulaic and predictable narrative arc of the plots. If his friends have a taste for something genuinely edgy, he went on, then they’ll read non-fiction instead.
When did we develop this idea that fiction, to be enjoyable, must be comforting nursery food? I’d argue that it’s not only in our recreational reading but also, increasingly, in the classroom, that we shun what seems too chewy or bitter, or, rather; we tolerate bitterness only if it comes in a familiar form, like an over-cooked Brussels sprout. And yet, in protecting ourselves from anticipated frictions and discomforts, we also deprive ourselves of one of fiction’s richest rewards.
One of the ideas my research explores is the belief, in the eighteenth-century, that fiction commands attention by soliciting wonder. Wonder might sound like a nice, calm, placid emotion, but that was not how eighteenth-century century thinkers conceived it. In an essay published in 1795 but probably written in the 1750s, Adam Smith describes wonder as a sentiment induced by a novel object, a sentiment that may be recognized by the wonderstruck subject’s “staring, and sometimes that rolling of the eyes, that suspension of the breath, and that swelling of the heart” (‘The Principles Which Lead and Direct Philosophical Enquiries’). And that was just the beginning. As Smith describes:
“when the object is unexpected; the passion is then poured in all at once upon the heart which is thrown, if it is a strong passion, into the most violent and convulsive emotions, such as sometimes cause immediate death; sometimes, by the suddenness of the extacy, so entirely disjoint the whole frame of the imagination, that it never after returns to its former tone and composure, but falls either into a frenzy or habitual lunacy.” (‘The Principles Which Lead and Direct Philosophical Enquiries’)
It doesn’t sound very comfortable, does it? Eighteenth-century novels risked provoking such extreme reactions in their tales of people in extremis; cast out; marooned; kidnapped. Such tales were not gory, necessarily, in the manner of The Hunger Games, and the response they invited was not necessarily horror or terror. More radically, in shape and form as well as content, eighteenth-century writers related stories that were strange, unpredictable, unsettling, and, as such, productive of wonder. Why risk discomforting your reader so profoundly? Because, Henry Home, Lord Kames argued in his Elements of Criticism (1762), wonder also fixes the attention: in convulsing the reader, you also impress a representation deeply upon her mind.
One of the works I find particularly interesting to think about in relation to this idea of wonder is Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a deeply pleasurable book to read, but I wouldn’t describe it as comfortable. Perhaps I felt this more acutely than some when I first read it, as a first year undergraduate. The year before I had witnessed my father experience a fatal heart attack. Ever since then, any description or representation that evoked the body’s motion in defibrillation would viscerally call up the memory of that night. One description that falls under that heading is the climactic moment in Shelley’s novel in which Victor Frankenstein brings his creature to life: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” If the unexpected, in Smith’s account, triggers convulsive motions, then it seems fitting that a newly created being’s experience of its own first breath would indeed be felt as a moment of wonder.
When I was a nineteen year-old reading Frankenstein, there was no discussion about the desirability of providing “trigger warnings” when teaching particular texts; and even if there had been, it seems unlikely that this particular text would have been flagged as potentially traumatic (a fact that speaks to the inherent difficulty of labeling certain texts as more likely to serve as triggers than others, given the variety of people’s experience). I found reading Shelley’s novel to be a deeply, uncomfortably, wonder-provoking experience, in Smith’s terms, but it did not, clearly, result in my “immediate death.” What it did produce, rather, was a deep and lasting impression. Indeed, perhaps that is why, more than twenty years later, I felt compelled to revisit this novel in my research, and why I found myself taking seriously Percy Shelley’s characterization of the experience of reading Frankenstein as one in which we feel our “heart suspend its pulsations with wonder” at its content, even as we “debate with ourselves in wonder,” as to how the work was produced. High affect can be all consuming, but we may also revisit and observe, in more serene moments, the workings of the mechanisms which wring such high affect from us.
In Minneapolis for a conference a few weeks ago, I mentioned to my panel’s chair that I had run around Lake Calhoun. He asked if I had stopped at the Bakken Museum (I had not), which is on the lake’s west shore. He proceeded to explain that it was a museum about Earl Bakken, developer of the pacemaker, whose invention was supposedly inspired by seeing the Boris Karloff 1931 film of Frankenstein, and in particular the scene in which the creature is brought to life with the convulsive electric charge.
As Bakken’s experience suggests, the images that disturb us can also inspire us. Mary Shelley affirms as much in her Introduction to the 1831 edition of the novel, which suggests that the novel had its source in a nightmarish reverie. Shelley assumes that Frankenstein’s power depends upon the reproducible nature of her affect: “What terrified me will terrify others,” she predicts. Haunting images, whether conjured by fantasies, novels, or films, can be generative, although certainly not always in such direct and instrumental ways. Most of us won’t develop a life-saving piece of technology, like Earl Bakken (my father, in fact, had a pacemaker, and, although it didn’t save his life, it did prolong it) or write an iconic novel, like Mary Shelley. But that is not to say that the impressions that fiction can etch into our minds are not generative. If comfort has its place and its pleasures, so too does discomfort: experiencing “bad feelings” enables us to notice, in our re-tracings of them, the unexpected connections that emerge between profoundly different experiences—death; life; reading—all of them heart-stopping in their own ways.
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We have plenty of excuses for torture. Most of them are bad. Evaluating these bad excuses, as ethical philosophers are able to do, should disarm them. We can hope that clear thinking about excuses will prevent future generations–for the sake of their moral health–from falling into the trap.
Ignorance. Senator John McCain knows torture at first hand and condemns it unequivocally. Most of the rest of us don’t have his sort of experience. Does that give us an excuse to condone it or cover it up? Not at all. We can easily read accounts of his torture, along with his heroic response to it. Literature about prison camps is full of tales of torture. With a little imagination, we can feel how torture would affect us. Reading and imagination are crucial to moral education.
Anger and fear. In the grip of fear and anger, people do things they would never do in a calm frame of mind. This is especially true in combat. After heart-rending losses, soldiers are more likely to abuse prisoners or hack up the bodies of enemies they have killed. That’s understandable in the heat of battle. But in the cold-blooded context of the so-called war on terror this excuse has no traction. Of course we are angry at terrorists and we fear what they may do to us, but these feelings are dispositions. They are not the sort of passions that disarm the moral sense. So they do not excuse the torture of detainees after 9/11.
Even in the heat of battle, well-led troops hold back from atrocities. A fellow Vietnam veteran once told me that he had in his power a Viet Cong prisoner, who, he believed, had killed his best friend. He was raging to kill the man, and he could have done it. “What held you back?” I asked. “I knew if I shot him, and word got out, my commander would have me court-martialed.” He was grateful for his commander’s leadership. That saved him from a burden on his conscience.
Saving lives. Defenders of torture say that it has saved American lives. The evidence does not support this, as the Feinstein Committee has shown, but the myth persists. In military intelligence school in 1969 I was taught that torture is rarely effective, because prisoners tell you what they think you want to hear. Or they tell you what they want you to hear. In the case of the Battle of Algiers, one terrorist group gave the French information that led the French to wipe out competing groups.
Suppose, however, that the facts were otherwise, that torture does save lives. That is no excuse. Suppose I go into hospital for an appendectomy and the next day my loved ones come to collect me. What they find is a cadaver with vital organs removed. “Don’t fret,” they are told. “We took his life painlessly under anesthetic and saved five other lives with his organs. A good bargain don’t you think?” No. We all know it is wrong to kill one person merely to save others. What would make it right in the case of torture?
The detainees are guilty of terrible crimes. Perhaps. But we do not know this. They have not had a chance for a hearing. And even if they were found guilty, torture is not permitted under ethics or law.
The ad hominem. The worst excuse possible, but often heard: Criticism of torture is politically motivated. Perhaps so, but that is irrelevant. Attacking the critics is no way to defend torture.
Bad leadership: the “pickle-barrel” excuse. Zimbardo has argued that we should excuse the guards at Abu Ghraib because they has been plunged into a situation that we know turns good people bad. His prison experiment at Stanford proved the point. He compares the guards to cucumbers soaked in a pickle barrel. If the cucumbers turn into pickles, don’t blame them. This is the best of the excuses so far; the bipartisan Schlesinger Commission cited a failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib. Still, this is a weak excuse; not all the guards turned sour. They had choices. But good leadership and supervision would have prevented the problem, as it would at the infamous Salt Pit of which we have just learned.
We need to disarm these bad excuses, and the best way to do that is through leadership and education. Torture is a sign of hubris–of the arrogant feeling that we have the power and knowledge to carry out torture properly. We don’t. The ancient Greeks knew that the antidote to hubris is reverence, a quality singularly missing in modern American life.
The Great Recession of 2008–09 badly shook the global market, changing the landscape for finance, trade, and economic growth in some important respects and imposing tremendous costs on average citizens throughout the world. The legacies of the crisis—high unemployment levels, massive excess capacities, low investment and high debt levels, increased income and wealth inequality—reduced the standard of living of millions of people. There is an emerging consensus that global economic governance, as well as national policies, needs to be reformed to better reflect the economic interests and welfare of citizens.
Global recovery is sluggish and the outlook uncertain. The economies of the Eurozone, which may have fallen into a “persistent stagnation trap,” and Japan remain highly vulnerable to deflation and another bout of recession; in the advanced economies that are growing, recovery remains uneven and fragile. Growth in emerging and developing economies is slowing, as a result of tighter global financial conditions, slow growth of world trade, and lower commodity prices. Because consumption and business investment have been tepid in many countries, the gradual global recovery has been too weak to create enough jobs. Official worldwide unemployment climbed to more than 200 million people in 2013, including nearly 75 million people aged 15–24.
Professor Roubini, one of the few economists who predicted the 2008 crisis, has argued that the global economy is like a four-engine jetliner that is operating with only one functioning engine, the “Anglosphere.” The plane can remain in the air, but it needs all four engines (the Anglosphere, the Eurozone, Japan, and emerging economies) to take off and stay clear of storms. He predicts serious challenges, including from rising debt and income inequality.
Relatively slow growth in the advanced economies and potential new barriers to trade over the medium term have significant adverse implications for growth and poverty reduction in many developing countries. Emerging economies, including China and India, that thrived in recent decades in part by engaging extensively in the international economy are at risk of finding lower demand for their output and greater volatility in international financial flows and investments. A combination of weaker domestic currencies against the US dollar and falling commodity prices could adversely affect the private sector in emerging economies that have large dollar-denominated liabilities.
Rising inequality is holding back consumption growth. The ratio of wealth to income, as well as the income shares of the top 1% of income earners, has risen sharply in Europe and the United States since 1980, as Professor Piketty has shown.
The ratio of the share of income earned by the top 10% to the share of income earned by the bottom 90% rose in a majority of OECD countries since 2008, a key factor behind the sluggish growth of their household consumption. During the first three years of the current recovery (2009–12), incomes of the bottom 90% of income earners actually fell in the United States: the top 10%, who tend to have much lower propensity to consume than average earners, captured all the income gains. In developing countries for which data were available for 2006–12, the increase in the income or consumption of the bottom 40% exceeded the country average in 58 of 86 countries, but in 18 countries, including some of the poorest economies, the income or consumption of the bottom 40% actually declined, according to a report by the World Bank and IMF.
Some signs of possible relief may lie ahead. In September 2014, leaders at the G20 summit in Brisbane agreed on measures to increase investment infrastructure, spur international trade and improve competition, boost employment, and adopt country-specific macroeconomic policies to encourage inclusive economic growth. If fully implemented, the measures could add 2.1% to global GDP (more than $2 trillion) by 2018 and create millions of jobs, according to IMF and OECD analysis. (These estimates need to be treated with caution, as the measures that underpin them and their potential impact are uncertain, and the nature and strength of the policy commitments vary considerably across individual country growth strategies.)
Another potential sign of hope is the sharp decline in the prices of energy, a reflection of both weaker global demand and increased supply (particularly of shale oil and gas from the United States). The more than $40 a barrel decline in Brent crude prices is likely to raise consumers’ purchasing power in oil-importing countries in the OECD area and elsewhere and spur growth, albeit at considerable cost (and destabilizing effects) for the more populous and poorer oil exporters. It could also be a harbinger of energy price spikes down the road, as the massive investments needed to ensure adequate supplies of energy may not be forthcoming as a result of their unprofitability at low prices.
Major global challenges have wide-ranging long-term implications for the average citizen. By 2030, the world’s population is projected to reach 8.3 billion people, two-thirds of whom will live in urban areas. Massive changes in the patterns of energy and resource (particularly water) use will be needed to accommodate this 1.3 billion person increase—and the elevation of 2–3 billion people to the middle class.
A citizen-centered policy agenda would need to reform national economies to spur growth and job creation, placing greater reliance on national and regional markets and the sustainable use of resources; emphasize social policies and the economic health of the lower and middle classes; invest in human capital and increase access to clean water, sanitation and quality social services, including a stronger foundation during the early years of life and support for aging with dignity and equity; improve labor market flexibility to employ young people productively; and enhance human rights and the freedom of people to move, internally and internationally. These policies would need to be complemented by policies that use collective action to mitigate risks to the global economy.
To prevent another global crisis, there is an urgent need to strengthen global economic governance, including through global trade agreements that favor the bottom half of income distribution; reform of the international monetary system, including the functioning and governance structure of the international financial institutions; encouragement of inclusive finance; and institution of policies to discourage asset bubbles. To achieve sustainable growth, all countries need to remove fossil fuels and other harmful subsidies and begin pricing carbon and other environmental externalities.
Worldwide surveys show that citizens everywhere are becoming more aware and active in seeking changes in the global norms and rules that could make the global system and the global economy fairer and less environmentally harmful. This sense is highest among the young and better-educated, suggesting that over time it will increase, potentially leading to equitable results for all citizens through better national and international policies.
Headline image: World Map – Abstract Acrylic, by Free Grunge Textures. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
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If you are a human and alive, you know someone who loved Guardians of the Galaxy this year. Odds are high you have a Guardians fan somewhere on your holiday shopping list, too. Whether they’re long-time comics fans or they’re new to space opera, here’s some gift ideas for cosmic Marvel fans of any level.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3D Blu-Ray + Blu-Ray + Digital copy. The film, just as you saw it in theaters. There’s two discs, but not a lot of bells and whistles — concept art, commentary by director James Gunn, deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and all the other stuff you might look up on YouTube one day but never actually watch on your blu-ray. But still — Chris Pratt!
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1. A real compact disc of the fake mix tape from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. All of the songs you might have listened to secretly/ironically before they were featured in the year’s biggest hit movie. If the person you are shopping for can find an operational cd player, they will love this mix. If they live in the actual present, it exists as a digital download.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection, vol. 1 by Abnett, Lanning, & friends, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers by Bendis, McNiven & Pichelli. Oh, hey! Comics! There isn’t really a collection that the movie is based on, but these are the most recognizable to a Guardians fan who knows the team from the movie. The Abnett/Lanning Complete Collection collects issues 1-12 of the 2008 relaunch that introduced the new team to the Marvel Universe, bringing Star-Lord, Rocket Racoon, and Drax to the fold. The Bendis-penned Cosmic Avengers collection was released this summer and collects the Marvel Now! relaunch and also features Iron Man as a member of the team. There’s a relatively large amount of GotG collections out there, but these are two versions that look closest to the team on the movie screen.
Infinity Gauntlet Omnibus. Not a Guardians title, but this is the cosmic Marvel event by which all others are compared. Thanos, infinity gems, Avengers, Drax, Silver Sufer, Jim Starlin, George Perez — this one’s got it all, true believer. The omnibus is the motherlode collection, collecting the complete Infinity Gauntlet 1-6, the prequel series Thanos Quest, a good dozen Silver Surfer tie-in issues, and an assortment of other crossover titles. You can also find more economical collections of the Infinity Gauntlet series itself, as well the not-quite-a-sequel collection, Infinity Gauntlet: The Aftermath.
Funco POP! Groot or Rocket Racoon. Star-Lord and Gamora and Drax are nice and all, but obviously it’s Groot and Rocket that you’d want to put on your desk at work. There’s an obviously preferable dancing Groot bobblehead available for pre-order, but if you need something under the tree for Christmas morning, all you have to do is decide between tree or raccoon.
Lego Milano Spaceship Rescue. The only thing I like more than building Ikea furniture is building Lego spaceships. Maybe I like the sound and feel of plastic pieces snapping together? Maybe I just like to follow directions? Either way, the blue & gold spaceship design is neat, and there are 5 minifigures in the box, including Gamora. You’ll have to look to other sets for your Lego Groot/Rocket fix, but if you gift only one Lego Guardians set this year — this is the one.
A Doctorate in Galactic Guardians.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino, Vol. 1. Your mileage will vary, but these are the Guardians I remember. Tomorrow’s Avengers includes the team’s earliest 1960s & 70s appearances, back when the Badoon had taken over the Earth. Valentino, Vol. 1 collects issues 1-7 of the 1990s series by Jim Valentino, chronicling the team’s search for Captain America’s lost shield. It has a time travel, a lady with fire-hair, and a peek into the Marvel Universe of a thousand years from now. I can’t really separate the contents of these books from the nostalgia-filter I see them through, but the Valentino series was from the last wave of Marvel books before the great migration to Image. Yondu aside, there’s not much to link them to the movie — but if you’re buying for someone who likes cosmic superhero adventure stories, you can’t go wrong.
Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy and Rocket Racoon and Groot: The Complete Collection. The title of the movie is Guardians of the Galaxy, but the characters onscreen are a consortium of 1970s/80s characters created and fleshed out by folks like Steve Englehart, Bill Mantlo, and Jim Starlin. These volumes collect some of the wonderfully weird space adventures that inspired the characters in the movie. Star-Lord is introduced in a Claremont/Byrne adventure from the 1970s, and Rocket Racoon and Groot collects everything from a Jack Kirby Groot story to Bill Mantlo’s 1980s Rocket Racoon mini to some modern era Annihilators titles.
Warlock: The Complete Collection. This is the business. Thanos is Jim Starlin’s most recognizable cosmic creations, but it’s Adam Warlock — created by Lee & Kirby in the pages of the Fantastic Four – who brings out Starlin’s best work. I can’t say it has the Guardians sense of humor, but this complete collection of 1970s Warlock stories has cosmic grandeur, moral complexity, and a real sense of the weird.
And One More Thing…
Know someone who loved that post-credits tag? Take them from the end of reality t’ the middle of nowhere. Happy Holidays!Display Comments Add a Comment
A new translation of one of the best-known works to come out of modern Greece, Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek, is coming out -- at least in the US, from Simon & Schuster.
Why a new translation ? Well, Carl Wildman's did come out in 1952, so one can argue that, after more than half a century, it might be time for a new one. But Peter Bien offers a better explanation in his Translator's Introduction:
The answer is both clear and simple. The earlier translation was made by someone who did not know Greek and who worked from a previous translation into French.[That sound you might have heard in the distance was my pained wail, followed by by the thud of my head again smashing against a brick wall. Is there no international court of literary justice seeing to it that the miscreants responsible for these outrages are held accountable ?]
when one places the earlier translation next to the original Greek text, one is quite amazed by the differences: omissions sometimes of many sentences, obvious errors, even commissions, i.e., supposedly translated material not in the Greek text at all.Surprised ? Hardly. Editors and translators continue to take such absurd liberties (and readers continue to be kept in the dark ...).
Translation copyright © 2014 by Kazantzakis Publications LtdSorry -- no, no apologies necessary: translation copyright belongs with and to the translator. Any other 'arrangement' is unacceptable. Add a Comment
In The Herald Beaven Tapureta has a piece Reflecting on the 2014 literary scene in Zimbabwe.Add a Comment
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Estonian author Kristiina Ehin's collection of stories, Walker on Water.
(While there's much here that impresses -- there's some great writing here, and some great ideas --, ultimately this is yet another collection that just reinforces my novel-bias; sometimes I wonder why I (or anyone) bothers with anything else.)
Last month Marvel announced former WWE Superstar, and upcoming UFC fighter, CM Punk would contribute a ten page story to February’s Thor Annual. Today on Vertigo’s blog, the publisher announced a new book for debut this Spring that will also feature a story written by Punk. Strange Sports Stories #1 is set for March release and will see the former wrestler join a list of talented creators such as Paul Pope, Gilbert Hernandez, Lauren Beukes, Ben McCool, Ivan Brandon, Monica Gallagher, Lee Loughridge, Nick Dragotta, Christopher Mitten, Darick Robertson, Mark Finn, John Lucas, Gabe Soria, Ronald Wimberly, Michael DiMotta, Tim Fish, Rael Lyra, and Brian Azzarello.
Strange Sports Stories shares a name with a six-issue DC Comics series that ran from 1973 to 1974. In 2015, Vertigo will release four chapters of the new series. No word yet on plot details or what issue Punk’s story will be featured in. However the series general theme seems to be, “strange, sexy, scary and extraordinary sports stories.” If any athlete in the last decade has experience with that it’s CM Punk. Only the first piece of art from the book was shown for solicitation today.
With his upcoming multi-fight UFC deal happening in 2015, CM Punk’s writing gigs could prove to be a great way for the comic book industry to get new eyes on the medium. Strange Sports Stories #1 is set to hit stores on March 18, 2015.Display Comments Add a Comment
By December 1914 the Great War had been raging for nearly five months. If anyone had really believed that it would be ‘all over by Christmas’ then it was clear that they had been cruelly mistaken. Soldiers in the trenches had gained a grudging respect for their opposite numbers. After all, they had managed to fight each other to a standstill.
On Christmas Eve there was a severe frost. From the perspective of the freezing-cold trenches the idea of the season of peace and goodwill seemed surrealistic. Yet parcels and Christmas gifts began to arrive in the trenches and there was a strange atmosphere in the air. Private William Quinton was watching:
We could see what looked like very small coloured lights. What was this? Was it some prearranged signal and the forerunner of an attack? We were very suspicious, when something even stranger happened. The Germans were actually singing! Not very loud, but there was no mistaking it. Suddenly, across the snow-clad No Man’s Land, a strong clear voice rang out, singing the opening lines of “Annie Laurie“. It was sung in perfect English and we were spellbound. To us it seemed that the war had suddenly stopped! Stopped to listen to this song from one of the enemy.
“We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. We did not intermingle.”
On Christmas Day itself, in some sectors of the line, there was no doubting the underlying friendly intent. Yet the men that took the initiative in initiating a truce were brave – or foolish – as was witnessed by Sergeant Frederick Brown:
Sergeant Collins stood waist high above the trench waving a box of Woodbines above his head. German soldiers beckoned him over, and Collins got out and walked halfway towards them, in turn beckoning someone to come and take the gift. However, they called out, “Prisoner!” A shot rang out, and he staggered back, shot through the chest. I can still hear his cries, “Oh my God, they have shot me!”
This was not a unique incident. Yet, despite the obvious risks, men were still tempted. Individuals would get off the trench, then dive back in, gradually becoming bolder as Private George Ashurst recalled:
It was grand, you could stretch your legs and run about on the hard surface. We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. We did not intermingle. Part way through we were all playing football. It was so pleasant to get out of that trench from between them two walls of clay and walk and run about – it was heaven.
The idea that football matches were played between the British and Germans in No Man’s Land has taken a grip, but the evidence is intangible.
The truce was not planned or controlled – it just happened. Even senior officers recognised that there was little that could be done in this strange state of affairs. Brigadier General Lord Edward Gleichen accepted the truce as a fait accompli, but was keen to ensure that the Germans did not get too close to the ramshackle British trenches:
They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men. Let them come? You could not let them come into your trenches; so the only thing feasible was done – and our men met them half-way and began talking to them. Meanwhile our officers got excellent close views of the German trenches.
Another practical reason for embracing the truce was the opportunity it presented for burying the dead that littered No Man’s Land. Private Henry Williamson was assigned to a burial party:
The Germans started burying their dead which had frozen hard. Little crosses of ration box wood nailed together and marked in indelible pencil. They were putting in German, ‘For Fatherland and Freedom!’ I said to a German, “Excuse me, but how can you be fighting for freedom? You started the war, and we are fighting for freedom!” He said, “Excuse me English comrade, but we are fighting for freedom for our country!”
It should be noted that the truce was by no means universal, particularly where the British were facing Prussian units.
For the vast majority of the participants, the truce was a matter of convenience and maudlin sentiment. It did not mark some deep flowering of the human spirit, or signify political anti-war emotions taking root amongst the ranks. The truce simply enabled them to celebrate Christmas in a freer, more jovial, and, above all, safer environment, while satisfying their rampant curiosity about their enemies.
The truce could not last: it was a break from reality, not the dawn of a peaceful world. The gradual end mirrored the start, for any misunderstandings could cost lives amongst the unwary. For Captain Charles Stockwell it was handled with a consummate courtesy:
At 8.30am I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas!’ on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He put up a sheet with, ‘Thank you’ on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches – he fired two shots in the air and the war was on again!
In other sectors, the artillery behind the lines opened up and the bursting shells soon shattered the truce.
War regained its grip on the whole of the British sector. When it came to it, the troops went back to war willingly enough. Many would indeed have rejoiced at the end of the war, but they were still willing to accept orders, still willing to kill Germans. Nothing had changed.Add a Comment