The baby seal book club
I thought I had the genre of "crazy space antics" pretty well covered before finding out about Alejandro Jodorowsky.
As it turns out, there's still a lot to learn. Chilean-born Jodorowsky is primarily known as a filmmaker - he got some press recently after Kanye West cited his surreal movie "The Holy Mountain" as a key inspiration for the Yeezus tour - but crucially, he also wrote a series of brilliant science fiction comic books.
The Guardian says Jodorowsky got into comics after his planned movie adaption of Frank Herbert's Dune failed. If it had worked out, the film would have been incredible - Jodorowsky rounded up French comics artist Moebius, Alien designer HR Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali and many other luminaries to work with him on it.
When the dream team burned through their budget too quickly and had to abandon the project, Jodorowsky and Moebius instead focused on creating a French-language graphic novel called The Incal. It took them 10 years to make, and was followed up by several sequels and a prequel called Before The Incal.
The best way to introduce The Incal's aesthetic to a modern audience is to say that it looks a lot like director Luc Besson's 1997 action film "The Fifth Element". This may not be entirely coincidental.
It's amazing the kind of details you notice when you take the time to look properly at your surroundings. Roald Dahl's quote from The Minpins says it all:
"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
The four fashion photographers behind Kiwi street style blog Four Eyes are particularly good at spotting magical people. For the last two and a half years, they've compiled a huge database full of images of people who manage to stand out from the crowd for their clothes and their attitude.
My favourite part of Alex Blanco, Chin Tay, Danny Simmons and Mino Kim's vision is that they aren't constrained by market considerations in the same way a fashion magazine's creative director would be, so there's no need for their images to fit in with the artificially homogenous world of commercial fashion photography.
Instead, Four Eyes are free to concentrate solely on clever clothing and interesting faces: older people, plus-size people, people from racially diverse backgrounds, op-shop divas, backstreet fashion designers and non-traditional beauties of both sexes all dominate their lenses.
Elizabeth Knox’s Wake is possibly the first of its kind – a supernatural horror story set in Tasman Bay.
Made famous by her 1998 novel The Vintner’s Luck, Knox has been steadily creating innovative and immersive novels infused with magical realism for more than 25 years. I found her after picking up 2003’s Daylight in the midst of a pre-Twilight teenage fascination with vampires, and then moved on to her excellent Dreamhunter and Dreamquake duo.
One of the most attractive aspects of Knox’s work, to me, is the way she manages to balance recognisably New Zealand settings and sensibilities with potent fantasy.
I’ve felt for a long time that one of the primary issues with the fantasy genre is that many popular writers seem to set their stories “everywhere and nowhere”. Authors like Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch and Tim Powers appear to downplay the need for an authentic sense of place in the alternative worlds they build, exchanging recognisable settings for what must feel like more freedom to run wild with supernatural or magical themes.
It’s easy to sympathise with the wish to set up an exciting story in a new world with no rules, especially when you’re living in sunny Nelson. In the lazy routine of the everyday, it’s easy to roll out of bed, brush your teeth, pat the cat and start the morning commute thinking that nothing too outrageous could be possible in this country.
Louise Wallace has just returned to Wellington after three years living and writing poetry for her second book “Enough” in Nelson. She will celebrate the book’s launch with an event called “Three Poets Read” from 7.30pm at the Free House next Thursday.
Wallace will read there with local poets Rachel Bush and Cliff Fell. I spoke to her about the book’s genesis, the poems and stories inside and life in Nelson.
What brought you to Nelson?
We’d been in Wellington for a number of years. My husband was doing a Masters in geology and he finished that, and I felt stressed out there after a while.
I just didn’t seem to have the right balance in terms of lifestyle – obviously Wellington is really busy. We just thought, “Let’s go and have a change somewhere for a while.”
He applied for jobs anywhere we thought might be a nice place to live in New Zealand. We had places like Taupo and New Plymouth, and he got the one in Nelson.
It’s hard to tell how well-known Alison Bechdel is in New Zealand, but in case you were wondering, we should definitely be excited that she’s coming here as part of the New Zealand Festival.
The festival’s website helpfully informs us that her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For is considered a “preeminent oeuvre in the genre”. Although it doesn’t tell us who thinks this, what genre they were referring to or what in the world they meant by “preeminent oeuvre”, this is still deservingly high praise.
Dykes to Watch Out For is a lot of fun to name-drop in polite company, and it’s also a really important representation of lesbian culture. After beginning it in 1987, Bechdel continued to draw and write the comic for nearly 25 years, incorporating social commentary on contemporary events, processing changes in her characters’ lives and generally running it a bit like a soap opera.
The strip also birthed one of my favourite litmus tests for equal gender representation in popular media – the Bechdel Test.
The Bechdel Test is deceptively simple to apply. Let’s say you’re watching Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim for the fifth or sixth time. This is completely reasonable because it’s a gorgeous film that everyone should watch.
In this movie, is there more than one female character? Yes. Do they have names? Yes. Hooray, Pacific Rim has passed the first hurdle!
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