Verdopolis for ever

From Greenberg’s Glass Town

Isabel Greenberg: Glass Town
Jonathan Cape 2020

Before Charlotte wrote The Professor or Jane Eyre, and Emily Wuthering Heights, and Anne Agnes Grey the three Brontë girls and their brother Branwell were creator gods. The self-proclaimed Genii founded Glass Town, a place to populate with characters based on public figures of the day (such as the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon), literary ideals such as the Byronic hero, and social archetypes such as revolutionaries and blue-stockings.

Though Emily and Anne, fed up with their domineering brother Branwell and an acquiescent Charlotte broke away to create their own lands of Gondal and Gaaldine, the two older siblings continued with their country of Angria, while Charlotte continued with Angria stories when she became a teacher.

Isabel Greenberg has created her own version of the creation of Brontë juvenilia: in what she identifies as her historical fiction she has “embroidered, embellished and indulged in a great deal of supposing.” More than that, she has illustrated her fiction — full of “inaccuracy and anachronism and many flights of fancy” — with her own distinctive style, producing a delightful graphic novel in which Charlotte discourses with the imaginary Charles Wellesley as they survey the birth, development and fate of this unique paracosm.

Continue reading “Verdopolis for ever”

#WitchWeek2019 Day 2: Graphic Villainy

WW2019

Lizzie Ross, co-convener since 2018 and last year’s co-host for Witch Week, blogs about reading and writing at LizzieRossWriter.com. In this post she rightly draws attention to villains in graphic novels, the range of which may prove surprising to those not familiar with this genre.


Yesterday, Laurie from Relevant Obscurity set the tone for Witch Week 2019 by providing us with a list of despicable qualities found in evil rulers. In this post I apply Laurie’s points to villains of all sorts in fantasy graphic novels. Some of these villains are leaders or want to be; others use/enslave/kill characters to gain power or wealth or longer life; still others just seem to get joy out of causing mayhem. But whatever their motivations, they’re all heinous enough to provide frissons of horror.

Continue reading “#WitchWeek2019 Day 2: Graphic Villainy”

Spooky portal fantasy

Neil Gaiman: Coraline. The Graphic Novel
Adapted and illustrated by P Craig Russell
Colourist: Lovern Kindzierski; letterer: Todd Klein
Bloomsbury 2008

Gaiman’s Coraline is a chilling portal fantasy, a warped version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) as seen through a distorting prism, and here impressively presented in graphic novel form. Coraline’s family moves to a flat in an old decaying mansion, but her parents are too wrapped up in themselves and their work to pay much attention to her. In her boredom, exasperated at the rather dotty aged residents in the other flats, she explores the house and eventually finds a locked door.

Though it’s bricked up she soon somehow finds herself through on the other side, only to find herself confronted by a psychic vampire of an ‘other’ mother with button eyes, eventually becoming trapped in a nightmare existence. However, just as Alice had both her Dinah and the Cheshire Cat, Coraline has a feline helper as adviser and companion, guiding her through the labyrinth and assisting her with the tricksy obstacles the other mother puts in her way.

Continue reading “Spooky portal fantasy”

From grin to grimace

dc-comicsBrandon T Snider
DC Comics: the Ultimate Character Guide
Dorling Kindersley 2012 (2011)

They say the world of comics nerdism is divided between fans of Marvel Comics and aficionados of DC Comics. (OK, I may have made that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s what ‘they’ say.) Me, I was as a kid brought up mostly on a diet of Batman, Superman and the Justice League and tended to stick to what I knew, not that I had anything against Spiderman, Hulk or the Fantastic Four. But I also read Classics Illustrated, and the cartoons in the papers, so I guess I was not too particular. My first experience of superheroes was cycling to comic stalls in Hong Kong, where the stallholder mostly turned a blind eye on my freebie reading so long as I bought a copy now and again.

But then time moves on. Come the 70s a rather camp Batman (exaggerated by the popular TV series) had morphed into a sombre Dark Knight; his toothpaste smile having gone from grin to grimace was a change I very much approved; similar things were happening to other stalwarts in the DC universe — convoluted backstories, new origins, even grown-up boy wonders. And now as a long-time absentee from comics I just don’t know where anything stands. Maybe this Dorling Kindersley publication would elucidate?

Continue reading “From grin to grimace”

Less majesty

rider-of-rohan
One of the Riders of Rohan from Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Fotonovel Publications 1979

The road travelled by the illustrated story is long and, as it were, goes ever on. Its several origins can be found in ancient Mesopotamia and on Viking gravestones, in Palaeolithic cave paintings and on the Bayeux tapestry, on medieval church walls and in early modern chapbooks. In the 20th century we were introduced to French comics called bandes dessinées and to Japanese manga and the graphic novel, while the addition of photographs gave rise to Italian fumetti and the American photonovel. When Tolkien’s epic fantasy appeared in the middle of the last century it was only a matter of time before the film of the book was produced, leading much more rapidly to … the photonovel of the film of the book.

Continue reading “Less majesty”

Crusader with a cape

batmanchalice

Chuck Dixon Batman: The Chalice
Illustrated by John Van Fleet
DC Comics 1999

Into Bruce Wayne’s hands is entrusted an object for safekeeping. Once sought and guarded by his medieval ancestors, the house of Gevain, the Holy Grail — for this is it, a relic missing since the time of the Crusades — proves a dangerous legacy for Wayne to guard, even when he is in his guise of Gotham City’s finest, Batman. Shall I list those who also seek the cup for its power? Ra’s al Ghul, the Penguin, Catwoman, Ubu, the Brotherhood of the Merivingians [sic] for a start. Lined up on the caped crusader’s side are Alfred, Azrael, the Oracle and Commissioner Gordon, but will they be enough to hold off the dark forces that hanker after the sacred receptacle? Or will Bruce be forced to call upon a more superior being to spirit it away. Continue reading “Crusader with a cape”

The witching hour

watch

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Watchmen
Titan Books 2007 (1986-7)

As a classical musician I’ve learned there’s a delicate balancing act between heart and mind, between emotional response and cool analysis. I’ve also learned that this balancing act is a transferable skill when it comes to other areas of human endeavour, whether art, architecture, drama or narrative. At a recent live performance of Wintereisse I was mentally transported to the bleak landscape of Schubert’s song cycle, the stark monochrome images of the poems perfectly echoed by the composer’s sparse writing and a sympathetic musical interpretation, whilst simultaneously admiring Schubert’s sustained technical mastery. I sensed the same kind of balance when reading the now classic graphic novel Watchmen, a symbiosis of writing and imagery that in some respects parallels Wintereisse.

After being rejected in love Schubert’s protagonist undertakes a solitary winter’s journey, where everything seems emblematic of his state: he’s pushed around by fate like the weathervane by the wind, showered with snow knocked off roofs by crows, joined by a raven which reminds him of death, and identifies himself with a despised itinerant hurdy-gurdy man. Watchmen has the same atmosphere of doom and gloom by being mostly set in autumn 1985, in the days leading up to All Souls Day on November 2nd, even concluding via the snowy wastes of Antarctica with the midwinter festival of Christmas. The twenty-four songs of Wintereisse are matched by Watchmen’s twelve chapters with eleven interludes and a kind of postlude. And the same themes of rejection and loneliness are present everywhere in the graphic novel. Continue reading “The witching hour”