Kiss of the Rose Princess

aminoapps
Image from aminoapps.com

Guilty pleasures come in all categories—food, books, and TV shows, to name a few. But none of these are as quirky as manga, which can be sweet, ridiculous, and moving all at the same time. The most unusual of these is probably the “harem” genre. Similar to otome games, the genre commonly follows a protagonist surrounded by a group of attractive characters who each fit a specific archetype. The plot of the story is usually secondary to the romance, with the main question being: who will they choose?

Though the genre is quite popular in Japan, it can seem unusual to North American readers, even coming across as creepy to some. But that didn’t stop the official English translation and publication of one of my favourite manga—Shouto Aya’s Kiss of the Rose Princess.

Yes, the title already leaves quite the impression, and the covers might make it a challenge to read in public. Underneath the glittery exterior, however, lies a story that isn’t as simple as it seems.

The series follows high school student Anise Yamamoto, who is hounded for breaking the school’s uniform policy through the minute yet rebellious act of wearing a rose choker. The rest of the students seem to think she does this in order to break rules, but the reality lies in the fact that Anise cannot take the choker off. She has worn it from a young age, when her father tied it around her neck with the ominous instruction to never take it off, or else a terrible punishment would befall her. When the choker ends up being ripped off by the strange bat/cat-like creature Ninufa, Anise finds the “punishment” to be a little different than she had feared.

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Image from aminoapps.com

Anise learns that she is, in fact, a Rose Princess. She possesses four magical cards which, when kissed, each summon a different Rose Knight: the Red Rose, Kaeda, a classmate of hers whom Anise had dismissed and teased; the White Rose, Mitsuru, a third-year and popular student council president with a pervy side; the Black Rose, Mutsuki, an ancient creature known as a Dark Stalker; and the Blue Rose, Seiran, an artificial rose who is nonetheless trying hard to prove his worth as a knight.

Together, they learn that the seal on the Demon Lord has been weakened, and the five must embark upon a series of adventures in order keep the seal from breaking. In the process, Anise must make a “true bond” with a knight, ultimately resulting in a romantic relationship.

All of the above are merely the bones to the actual story. It is only upon going further into the series that the smaller nuances begin to show up. These details bring Kiss of the Rose Princess from a simple romance-heavy series to one that touches upon topics of acceptance and authenticity. The Fake Rose Princess, Ella, has four Fake Rose Knights: Purple, Gray, Gold, and Silver. Along with the Orange and Lime roses, Idel and Yako, these characters embody the strong desire for the fulfillment of a personal wish; a desire so strong that people often go to great lengths—and sacrifice much—in order to achieve it. Anise’s father Schwarz exemplifies the endless internal debate between scientific curiosity and morality.

The series has so much to cover that its only real shortcoming is the fact that it was only nine volumes long, leaving quite a few threads dangling and making the story feel rushed. The plot-line about collecting the Arcana cards and restoring the demon seal is abandoned without a fully satisfactory replacement or explanation. Some of the characters also felt like they could’ve had some more development and a couple more scenes added to focus on them, in particular the relationship between the Orange and Lime roses. I felt that there was more to it than simply a friendship and a complex past of growing up together in a foster home, and it would have been nice to see that explored.

polyvore
Image from polyvore.com

The knight Anise “ends up with” isn’t entirely a surprise, the same way that it is frequently apparent which character the protagonist is leaning more towards in love triangles/squares in TV shows and books, and the incomplete feeling of the final volume does make it the weakest in the series. But the art is absolutely gorgeous. This is one of the reasons why I (somehow) came across this manga years ago and read it when it had only been scanned and translated by online volunteer groups, with no sign that it would one day be officially licensed in English.

The series has its fair share of adorable, hilarious, awkward, and sweet moments, all well-dispersed through each book. It shouldn’t be discredited or overlooked simply due to its sugary title or covers. It’s easy to root for Anise, and her strength and obliviousness give her character an authenticity that makes her the most balanced representation of an adolescent girl I have seen so far.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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Swamp Things and Singing True: a Review of the comic Bayou

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Image from lovelaughterinsanity.com

If you’re going to build a world with words, look at Jeremy Love’s comic book series Bayou for inspiration—you can’t go wrong. What began as a web comic is now printed in two beautiful volumes that you need to read. Southern swamps have never looked so beautiful.

I have to warn you though, Bayou is not what I would call easy reading. It will make you think in ways that might not be familiar in your standard, comic-reading experience.

For one thing, Bayou is building on African-American folklore, such as the stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Tar Baby, among others. Their stories come together in a beautiful and horrifying mix of history and fantasy. The world beyond the swamp is a kind of pre-Abolition wonderland, where the characters of slave folklore live under the Bossman’s thumb and try to get by one way or another.

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Image from vulture.com

It does help to have at least a touch of knowledge about these African-American folk tales when reading Bayou, just as it helps to be acquainted with Greek or Norse mythology when reading other comics.

It also helps to have some knowledge of the Blues. Bayou embraces what I have seen other comics merely touch on: song lyrics included in the comic’s panels. You see, our cast of character includes several rambling musicians and singers. The enchantingly beautiful and somewhat deceitful songstress Tar Baby is the mother of the comic’s protagonist, Lee Wagstaff. Brer Rabbit and Bayou come out of their swamp-side world to sing the blues in a Southern speakeasy, and it all goes to hell when the local levee breaks and a flood takes them all. But come hell or high water, these characters get to speak and sing in their own voices. The past and present overlap in Love’s storytelling, and songs ease the transition between them. Similar to how Disney movies use songs in a montage to mark the passage of time—only Bayou never turns away from real-world darkness.

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Image from webcomicoverlook.wordpress.com

Nearly every character in Bayou speaks in a dialect. This includes the Southern accent, and specifically period-consistent African-American slang. It’s easy to pick up as you go along, and what isn’t totally clear becomes clear with usage (such as when one woman calls another a “heiffer” in a barroom spat). It also includes multiple uses of the N-word, with asterisks for the following letters. It’s a jarring reminder of the history of hate and oppression. You can never forget that slavery is in the characters’ recent past—but why should you? Little Lee may be free, but we first meet her as she swims in the swamp to retrieve the body of a boy her own age. Young Billy Glass lies dead in the bayou because local white men lynched him.

This ain’t Carroll’s kind of wonderland.

Bayou is full of love and hate, cowardice and bravery, sinners and saints. Even the characters that are anthropomorphic animals are beautifully and tragically human. You’ll see the best and the worst of the characters in this comic, but all of them are truly people—even if many of them don’t recognize it.

-Contributed by Miranda Whittaker

Jessica Jones: It’s Time to Learn Her Name

The_Pulse_Vol_1_11_page_00_Jessica_Jones_(Earth-616)

When Marvel announced that it would be putting out several series on Netflix about street-level heroes, they told us who we’d be getting: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. And as I tried to force everyone I know to be just as excited as I was, whenever I reached the name Jessica Jones (to be played by Krysten Ritter), I was given a single overwhelming response:

“Who?”

With her thirteen-episode Netflix series by showrunner Melissa Rosenberg coming out in November, and my moral compulsion to tell people about good comics, I’ve decided, fine—I’ll tell you who Jessica Jones is.

In her short history of publication, a lot has happened to Jessica Jones. She gets married to Luke Cage (to be played by Mike Colter), they have a baby (who practically all the Avengers babysit), she and Luke run an Avengers team, and they fight off an alien invasion! But for this article, and keeping in mind what the show will be about, I’ll focus on the early days of Jessica Jones.

It makes sense that so few people know about Jessica. She is not of the Stan Lee golden-era of classic heroes. She’s just over a decade old, and debuted in a less than mainstream series.

In 2001, writer Brian Michael Bendis (of Ultimate Spider-Man fame) pitched a new series: a gritty, down-to-earth private detective comic, starring a former superhero who walked away from the life in tights. At first it was going to be an out-of-continuity miniseries, starring Spider-Woman Jessica Drew (who would indeed appear in a later Alias arc).

But, deciding he wanted to create something all his own, Bendis promptly changed the last name in his scripts. The wonderful watercolours of David Mack made up the covers and artist Michael Gaydos filled the interiors of Jessica’s world.

Thus, Jessica Jones was born!

Jessica begins as a normal kid, attending Midtown High alongside Peter Parker, who she has a crush on but never works up the nerve to speak to. Then, she is in a car accident—her family hits a truck carrying the trademarked radioactive waste that always activates superpowers in comics. Her family is killed. After a year-long coma, Jessica survives. Gifted with flight, durability, and super strength, Jessica briefly tries her hand as a costumed superhero called Jewel. But after a scarring event, she gives it all up.

As a private detective, Jessica takes on clients who often hire her to find a loved one or to spy on a spouse. She makes a living. She smokes, she swears, and sometimes she drinks too much. She is disillusioned with both the system and the world she lives in. Police resent her for her former superhero lifestyle; heroes hate her for giving it up. Jessica hates most of them because she thinks they’re awful.

This is how we first meet Jessica Jones. She’s angry, she’s unhappy, and she’s carrying a lot of baggage that she doesn’t like to face. She’s self-destructive, and has a bit of self-hatred. She’s not a superhero. She doesn’t throw herself at muggers or race into burning buildings.

But she does her job. Each time Jessica is given a case, she is thrown into a world of dangerous people and people in danger. But underneath all her pathos, her messed-up sense of self, her cynicism, and her bad language, Jessica can’t help but get sucked into other people’s problems. Ultimately, she is an empathetic, moral person—and a hero.

In a great crossover moment, she’s hired to be Matt Murdock’s bodyguard when he is publicly outed as Daredevil (the comic Daredevil was also written by Bendis at the time). There’s also a time when J. Jonah Jameson hires her to find out who Spider-Man is, and she spends weeks billing him while she feeds the homeless and doesn’t bother to investigate… because Jessica Jones is amazing.

Far away from the fantastical epics of the Avengers or the X-Men, Jessica’s world is that of a noir detective drama, infused with superpowers and a heavy dose of humanity. I think the story that truly best illustrates what made Alias such a special book also happens to be the only case that takes Jessica outside of New York.

Alias issues eleven through fourteen tell the four-part story, “ReBeCCa, PLeaSe CoMe HoMe”. Jessica is hired by single mother in small-town New York to find her missing child.

Some claim her alcoholic father kidnapped her; others don’t know what to think. But as Jessica continues her investigations, a single uniform rumour about the missing Rebecca begins to emerge: Rebecca has run away from home because she is a mutant.

This is a story in which Jessica tackles the horrible reality of how bigotry still holds its place in the modern world. Its greatest moment is when Jessica confronts a priest as he gives a sermon filled with hate speech against mutants. It really says something about the nature of this book and its character that it tackles the mutant metaphor of oppression and persecution better than most X-Men books.

But Jessica is by no means a perfect character. In a way, Alias is a book about someone suffering from depression and PTSD, caused by her short time as a costumed hero and the abuse she suffered at the hands of the mind-controlling villain, The Purple Man (to be played by David Tennant). In the end, however, Jessica manages to beat The Purple Man and begins to make an effort to fight her inner demons as well.

Alias starts with Jessica punching a man through her front door and getting far too drunk, but ends with her beating the bad guy and making a stab at happiness.

Hers is a crass, brutal, and blunt story. It is about the importance of having friends, standing up for what one believes in, and how to love oneself. It is a great story. So, if you have any time between now and November, I’d suggest picking it up and reading it. Then on November 20, please join me in binge-watching all thirteen episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix! (Viewer discretion is advised.)

Contributed by Ben Ghan

Sandman : Handful of Dust

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Image from empireonline.com

 

When a young Neil Gaiman first approached Vertigo comics about The Sandman, he was pitching a simple revival of the 70s series of the same name by Joe Simon and Jack “The King” Kirby. But DC editor Karen Berger insisted that while they keep the name, Gaiman should create a new character.

And thank goodness he did, for otherwise the world would have been robbed of something beautiful. Running from 1989 to 1996, for a total 75 issues collected in 10 volumes, The Sandman managed to create its very own expansive self-contained mythology.

The original artists Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth fashioned the title character after Gaiman himself. The Sandman, also known as Morpheus or Dream, and by many other names, carries with him an aura of inhumanity. While early issues exist in the DC comic universe with appearances by The Martian Manhunter and John Constantine (hellblazer), the creators quickly realized that Sandman should be a world unto itself, and so that is what it became. Sandman used several different types of stories to keep itself going and to keep it feeling new and alien all the way through to its final issue, but over its run, three types of stories were prevalent.

The Sandman was able to hold on to many overlapping threads throughout its near decade-long run, with characters who appeared in early issues later returning to have their stories told in elaborate detail. This worked well for the first main kind of story that was used. While several volumes are focused on the Sandman himself, there are also a number of stories in which the title character only appears in a minor capacity, and sometimes he fails to appear at all, instead being merely alluded to or referenced by the other characters. These stories were all set in the present and centered on ordinary people who are pulled into problems or adventures that they don’t understand, becoming involved with magic and monsters.

But even when Dream himself didn’t appear, Gaiman never lost focus on what the series was about. Even in these more domestic stories, the focus is on these ordinary people’s dreams, and the effect that dreams can have on the waking world. Whether it be the story of a young woman named Barbie who becomes trapped in her own dreaming, or of a girl named Rose who finds herself with mysterious powers, the underlying idea behind the story is always clear—what is important are the dreams that these characters have, and how these dreams provide a glimpse into the effect that Dream has on the world he inhabits .

The next kind of story that Gaiman used most often involves the various preexisting mythologies that the world has to offer. In The Sandman, the deities from various cultures and mythologies coexist. This allows Dream to engage with different stories from various mythologies, and allows Gaiman to teach the reader about histories and mythologies that they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

The Sandman also includes Biblical figures such as Cain and Able, who in the series exist as servants to Dream in his mystical realm. Cain is doomed to always kill his brother and Able is doomed to be endlessly resurrected. The devil himself is a key figure in several volumes, with Dream actually visiting hell to sort out his conflicts with the infamous fallen angel Lucifer. One such conflict is when Lucifer decides to retire and leaves Dream in charge of hell, leading to all sorts of problems .

Dream also has stories with characters cut from Egyptian mythology, such as the cat god Bast, and characters from Norse mythology, such as Thor, Odin, and Loki, with the latter two becoming important figures in The Sandman’s later volumes. The three Fates from ancient Greek mythology also figure, and in the end they become Dream’s most important foes.

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Image from wikimedia.org

But the third—and probably my personal favorite—kind of narrative that The Sandman employs is historical: the blending of the Sandman’s unique and eerie magic with historical figures and events. This is used to showcase the Kings of Rome and Marco Polo, and, most notably, is used when Morpheus visits the dreams of William Shakespeare, helping to inspire some of the famous playwright’s most beloved works. In issue 19, collected in the third volume Dream Country, Shakespeare’s company puts on A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Morpheus, with actual Fairy Folk sneaking into production. This issue is the only comic book to ever win the World Fantasy Award.My favorite example of this blending of history and fantasy will always be from Volume 6, Fables and Reflections, in which Dream inspires the broken and suicidal Joshua Abraham Norton in the year of 1859 to become the self-proclaimed Emperor of America, a real historical figure who solved social disputes in the city of San Francisco.

The Sandman is an intelligent, unnerving saga that follows an inhuman, monstrous magical figure. It traces his deeds and misdeeds throughout history with his siblings Destiny, Despair, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, and Death. The Sandman is a unique and beautiful series, and should always be remembered both as one of Gaiman’s crowning achievements and as one of the greatest creations of the comic book medium.

-contributed by Ben Ghan

No Capes! An Introduction to Comics and Graphic Novels of the Non-Superhero Variety

If you’ve read my previous articles for The Spectatorial, you may have picked up on the fact that I like comic books. I think the graphic novel is a fantastic vehicle with which to tell or devour stories. But there is one thing that prevents a lot of people from being sucked into this great medium: capes. There is an idea that comic books are about superheroes, and superhero stories might not be for everyone. That’s okay! I’m here to tell you that there are entire worlds of books out there for you to explore! There are literary graphic novels! Independent, creator-owned comics! And they’re great.

The literary/alternative graphic novel is not exactly new, and whether you know it or not, has been seeping into the public conscious for years. If you haven’t come across the books themselves, then you have almost certainly come into contact with their small/big screen adaptions. If you have ever seen or referenced things like V for Vendetta, the Swamp Thing, The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, or even the new Kingsman: The Secret Service, then you have come into contact with stories that originated as graphic novels. But there are many more that have not jumped from the page to the screen that still absolutely deserve your attention. Both classic and contemporary teams of artists and writers have been working hard for decades to bring us an entire literary genre, one that is slowly but surely creeping into the public eye.

In a sense, it is almost surprising that that the graphic novel format is not more widely recognized as a mode of storytelling outside of the classic superhero genre. Words and pictures—what could be a better means of telling a story?

For my purposes here, I am going to draw your attention to some contemporary graphic novels. I want you to be able to walk down to your local shop and feel a spark of recognition when looking at the titles. For that, I am going to focus largely on Image Comics, which I believe regularly puts out some of the best independent books at this time.

the wicked and the divine art Jamie McKelvie
Art by Jamie McKelvie

I have always had a strange obsession with ancient mythologies, and especially how they are reinterpreted in a modern context. Nothing has scratched that itch better in recent years than The Wicked + The Divine, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie. Gillen and McKelvie effortlessly give voice to characters of a younger generation, and imagine that if the gods of the world walked the earth today, they would probably be celebrity pop stars. Wicked + The Divine offers a fascinating look into celebrity culture, wrapped in mystery, mythology, magic, and murder.

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Art by Chip Zdarsky

Next, I don’t think I could go without calling attention to Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction (of Hawkeye fame) and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. This book is about… exactly what you would expect it to be about, actually. A couple discovers that they have the power to stop time by… well, you get it. But under a riot of laughs and inappropriate shenanigans, this is a comic book that explores themes of relationships, lust, and depression.  Most importantly, Sex Criminals positively portrays female sexuality without objectification! What’s not to like? (Note: mature readers only.)

Art by Christian Ward
Art by Christian Ward

Matt Fraction is the only name to come up twice for me, as I also have to mention his series ODY-C, illustrated by Christian Ward. Diving back into a passion for mythology, this series is a beautiful retelling of Homer’s ancient epic, the Odyssey, but with two twists: 1) all the characters’ genders are reversed, allowing for amazingly strong developments; and 2) it’s in space. ODY-C takes this ancient story and twists it into an amazing, psychedelic science fiction space adventure extravaganza. This is a must-read for lovers of the classics and science fiction geeks alike.

Saga Fiona Staples

The next comic to be mentioned strays into the territory of space fantasy, and triumphantly seizes the title of space opera: Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and beautifully illustrated by Fiona Staples. A cross between Star Wars and Game of Thrones, this wonderful series follows two parents from different planets as they try to keep their family intact while trying to brave an intergalactic war between their people. This book perfectly encapsulates how the graphic novel can render a creator’s imagination like no other medium.

Bitch Planet Valentine De Lando
Art by Valentine De Lando

Lastly, I feel obligated to mention Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet, illustrated by Valentine De Landro. The series is billed as “Margaret Atwood meets Inglourious Basterds”, and that’s a pretty accurate description. DeConnick pens a fantastic love letter to feminism with a big middle finger to the universe in a series that celebrates the female rebel, depicts a science fiction women’s prison, and lobs a powerful ball of hatred at everything unjust about these characters’ reality.

These five ongoing series are a great introduction to graphic fiction, but there’s even more excellent work out there waiting to be read.

 -contributed by Ben Ghan

Your Daily Dose of Comics: an Interview With Dakota McFadzean

If you’ve been to a comic arts festival in Toronto you can bet you’ve seen Dakota McFadzean there, selling his books and sketches. This Canadian cartoonist is well-versed in the strange and the imaginative. He also has a talent for making people relate to comics about things like ghost rabbits and cave-dwelling monsters. His comics range from depictions of mesmerizingly weird scenarios to witty commentary on familiar ideas. In this interview I asked Dakota to give The Spectatorial’s audience an idea of what his work is like and how he approaches cartooning.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Many people find you through “The Dailies”, the daily comic strip you’ve been putting out for 5 years now. You also have longer narratives, like the ones collected in your book Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On. How do you decide whether an idea gets turned into a ‘Daily’ or a longer piece?

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“Voices” by Dakota McFadzean

I’ve tried to view “The Dailies” as an exercise from the beginning. Part of the reason I started doing daily comics was because I was working full time and I was unhappy with my cartooning output. Back then, whenever I did have time to draw comics, I was way too precious about it. “The Dailies” were an attempt to force myself to put something onto paper every day, with no regard for perfection, no room for preciousness.

“The Dailies” have become a way for me to digest ideas and stumble on to new ones. If an idea keeps showing up in “The Dailies” over and over again, or I accidentally come up with something that I wouldn’t mind spending endless hours with, then I’ll try to explore it in a longer form.

I’ve never thought of myself as one of those cartoonists who has a bunch of graphic novel ideas sitting in their back pocket, although I think drawing a daily strip has helped me to better recognize ideas with potential.

 

Where would you say a lot of those ideas come from in the first place? Is there some treasure trove of creativity you have stashed away?

Maybe everything and nothing. Drawing a daily strip has made me realize that ideas are pretty much endless, but how they come to be is still a mysterious alchemy to me. Sometimes the lines flow out as easy as breathing, and other days I stare at a blank page for an hour while complaining that I have no ideas, and that I’ve peaked, and it’s all over so why do I even have to do this anymore?

I certainly don’t have a treasure trove, but cartooning is the kind of thing that usually leaves one alone with nothing but thoughts and memories. If I find that I’m thinking about something over and over, like the way bus drivers wave to one another or the way a three-legged dog walks, it will find its way into a comic.

 

A lot of your work deals with unusual representations of faces and masks. Is there a reason you frequently come back to this motif?

I like drawing faces. I like drawing grotesque things too. … Part of it likely comes from this idea that Scott McCloud articulates in Understanding Comics—that as humans, we see faces in everything. We’re hardwired to see ourselves. We can see a face in an electrical outlet, in wood grain, the moon, three dashes on a page. It’s a fundamental part of being human, and it’s a big part of why cartooning even works.

Beyond that, I’ve always loved (and feared) masks. I remember buying a werewolf mask at a garage sale as a kid, and putting it on at night and running around my grandmother’s back yard like an animal. It was play, but I was also spooking myself a little. When a face is slightly off, or unclear, or obscured, it can be deeply, irrationally unsettling, and I find that fascinating. I enjoy making things that are somehow disconcerting, and one way to do that is to make something that is simultaneously familiar and yet unfamiliar.

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Page from “Hollow in the Hallows” by Dakota McFadzean

 

You’re part of a collective of cartoonists who continually produce an anthology of comics, called Irene. What is the selection process for those cartoons and comics?

Irene is a funny project that I think me and my co-editors, Andy Warner and d.w., are only gradually beginning to understand. We initially discussed the idea of starting an anthology near the end of our MFA program at The Center for Cartoon Studies. We hoped to find a way to maintain our creative momentum after graduation.

Our process for each issue is to approach artists we admire, and see if they’d be interested in doing a few pages. Beyond that, they get free reign. We’re there for editorial assistance if they want it, but few ask for it or need it. … We get a lot of enjoyment out of trying to arrange each book in a way that feels like a complete whole despite being made of disparate parts.

 

To make a ‘Daily’ you have to use any and every idea—so, a lot of it is pretty weird and surreal. What would you say to someone exploring that side for the first time?

It’s funny—weirdness and surrealism have been part of cartooning since forever, but audience tastes shift and change so much over time. Part of the maturation and acceptance of the comics medium has meant that more cartoonists are able to tell stories rooted in reality.

One of the most common comments I get on my online comics is “What.” (Or “wat.” Or some variation thereof.) Further, one of my most shared strips simply depicts a floating human skull eating out of a bird feeder. I don’t understand why that strip resonated with the masses, but they just can’t seem to get over how weird it is. Of course, if you imagine a world where floating skulls exist, the fact that they might eat is a pretty likely thing to happen.

For those trying to explore the strange side of things, I think it’s partially a matter of refining and recognizing those impulses through repetition like anything else. Exposure to art that does what you wish you could do helps too.

 

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24/05/2013 by Dakota McFadzean

Anyway, I guess if you find your work gravitating towards the unusual, embrace it but don’t expect people to always love it.

 

What’s your opinion of speculative fiction?

I love speculative fiction, or as I called it as a kid: “anything that’s not just boring grown-ups talking.” The great thing about fiction is that anything can happen, even if it couldn’t happen in real life. The right cartoonist can show us something we’ve never seen before. It’s full of incredible possibilities.

You can follow Dakota’s work at http://dakotamcfadzean.com

 – contributed by Jonathan Ramoutar

 

Without Fear: The Devil in Depression

just put this one first cause it looks neat, daredevil by david mack
Art by Dave Mack

Superheroes have struggles and conflict. Their stories need this. Without conflict, they wouldn’t have any reason to wear spandex and go jumping off rooftops. But not all conflicts have to be outlandishly dressed villains. The Marvel character Matt Murdock/Daredevil has his share of foes (mostly ninjas). Matt’s crusade against Wilson Fisk, the criminal Kingpin of New York, and the other villains who invade his ninja-filled home in Hell’s Kitchen is fantastic, and his representation of disability as a blind superhero (albeit with some fun powers) makes for some fun adventures. But this is not all of what makes this character so great.

Daredevil struggles with depression. This is a comic book character who has openly confessed to struggling with clinical depression; this is a comic book that has treated depression as a mental illness and has portrayed it realistically.

It didn’t start out that way. In his early stories, Daredevil was a grinning, swashbuckling acrobat, whose quips and stories were just as silly as any other (he once pretended to be his own twin brother for some reason). But as time went on, Daredevil took on a much more adult edge. He became a darker character that inhabited a grimmer world, a world where most of the people around him died—sometimes repeatedly. Throughout the 80s, Daredevil stories were lead in an increasingly bleak direction with the introduction of grief and depression.

But the story that really introduced depression as a foe was the 1986 story Born Again (Daredevil Vol.1 #232-233) by Frank Miller. In this story Kingpin’s discovers Daredevil’s real identity, and proceeds to ruin the hero’s life. He bankrupts Matt and burns down his building. This is the point in the story where the hero always feels like they can’t win, before they are reminded of how cool they are and then going back out to kick some butt.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, Matt feels crushed, hopeless, and alone. Matt feels like his life is over. But this isn’t done with melodramatic tears and cheesy monologues.

screen cap volume 1 227, 228, 229
Art by David Mazucchelli

 

He reaches for the phone, but is incapable of calling his friends for help. Matt finds himself lying in bed, and he can’t get up. When Matt finally does get help, it’s because those who care about him go and find him. In the end, of course, Matt puts his Daredevil horns back on and goes to save the day, but this is an important turning point for his character. This is a rare example of depression being portrayed as depression.

Then, jump forward more than a decade and come to the Daredevil run of Brian Michael Bendis that stretched from 2001-2006 (Daredevil Vol.2 #26-50, 56-81). This five year saga has Daredevil’s identity publicly revealed by the press (because Matt can’t keep his mask on); has the character get married; and, most notably, violently claim control over New York’s mafia himself, threatening all crime with gruesome retribution. The saga shows the character acting increasingly violently and erratically as he loses more control over his life.

But when this comes to a head, it isn’t really with a fight. It isn’t with bloody knuckles or a dramatic car chase. The true climax of this story is when Matt’s friend Ben Urich comes to him while Matt is lying hurt and asks if he is okay. It turns out that Matt’s increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior was part of depression and a nervous breakdown. This is the turning point of Bendis’s saga for Daredevil: his friends noticing he needs help.

Now let’s jump forward just a few more years, to the current run of Daredevil, written by Mark Waid. Never before has depression been such an ever-present foe. In Waid’s run, Matt openly acknowledges his struggles with mental illness, and makes a commitment to being a healthier, happier version of himself. This run has Matt, and his friends, consciously acknowledge depression as an obstacle, and several of the story arcs involve Matt’s struggle to continue to rise above the darkness in his life and in himself.

Now Daredevil is about a constant struggle against the darkness of depression, which grows ever more apparent with each issue. This culminates perfectly in the tenth issue, in which writer Mark Waid pens a story where not only is the hero fighting his illness, but he even allows Matt to describe what his experience is like. This is a moving, insightful, and informative piece, allowing us a window into both what it is like to struggle with mental illness and what it is like to be around those who do.

Superheroes’ lives usually suck. So on one hand, it is a little surprising that there aren’t more costumed characters that struggle like Matt. But the point is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad Daredevil’s life might be—he would struggle regardless. The story of Daredevil is deep, and is a decade’s long, insightful look into the mind of someone fighting the good fight against both mental and physical handicaps. Daredevil is a rare character in that his creators are willing to take him to extremes; they are willing to take him right to the edge, to break him down, and to try to find their own ending for the man without fear. But, as is the nature of comic books, nothing ever really ends. So every time he gets knocked over, Daredevil still gets back up and fights without fear.

Daredevil is great. Go pick up an issue. I promise you won’t be disappointed. (He also fights ninjas, guys—so many ninjas. I’m not even sure where all those ninjas come from.)

-contributed by Ben Ghan