Monday, October 11, 2010

Work in Progress: The Woc Herder's Craft

Back-of-the-movie-case summary for The Woc Herder's Craft:
After reconsidering the moral implications of his work, a young Chinese research assistant for the military named Chan Lao decides to return to his hometown to care for his younger brother and mother who suffers from Alzheimer. Chan Lao follows his younger brother, Chan Meng, to work in the nearby mines in order to watch over him. One day, while working in a coal chamber deep underground, Lao sees the shadow of a giant ant project onto the shaft's sidewall. However, when he tries to get a better look, the giant insect disappears. Later that day a surprise Collapse kills several miners including Lao's brother Meng. After trying to explain the death of her son to his ailing mother, Lao sets off across the country side to track down the large ants he suspects are responsible for the mine's collapse. His discovery forces him to question man's responsibility to the natural world and the danger of manipulating her laws for military gain.

Fun Home

I really like comic memoirs. Something about the graphic medium seems to fit the act of glossing memories like old film reels very well. Fun Home also does an excellent job bridging the gap between comic art and creative fiction writing. The narration is composed of segmented chunks of prose that could easily be collected and turned into a novel. But the author is able to keep the visual part of her story integral by leaving the vague generalities to the prose narration while the graphics tack the vagueness down with plenty of concrete 'e.g.s'. I also really like how the text blocks, which contain anything from labels, dialogue, and narration, are not limited to any specific part of the frame. The boxes drift around the panel and interact with the image and characters in interesting ways. To go back to the subject of the graphic memoir, I think the author's loose-detail comic style lends a genuine voice to her life's story. Like Persepolis, Fun Home invites us to assume the author's loose self-caricature as our own.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reading the Arrival

The author Shaun Tan does a very good job of packing his landscape portraits with metaphoric meaning.  The story's subject is a man who leaves his family for another, less economically troubled country, to find work. There is no dialogue so the pictures often pack a lot of information by projecting the characters emotions out onto the world around them. The approach is similar to other works of expressionism like the Metamorphoses or the Cabinet of Dr. Calligari, except that when Tan uses it for his 'comic', it helps serve the structural need to show rather than tell in the most extreme sense. Even the Cabinet, which was a silent film, used title cards during scenes for dialogue. 
I can't imagine the amount of effort the author put into each painting. Really beautiful.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shaft: Can you dig it?

I'm so thankful this exists. The colors, the shapes, the sounds, the full gold chain bodices, all make me pretty nostalgic for the seventies (even though I wasn't born until 89 and I only have the romantic imagery of videos like this one to go off of. Still, I can dig it).
Shaft theme song performed live by Isaac Hayes

Saturday, October 2, 2010

How Katamela Returned Silence to Bach Thai Monastery: An Allegory

Late in the fall, the old Master of Bach Thai monastery summoned his disciples to his side. Seated near his cell’s shrine, the Master told them his time on earth had drawn to a close. Some of the young monks began to weep, but he was quick to comfort them: “Friends, what does our teaching tell us? We are one with the great river of existence; if for a time we feel separateness, it is only our perception, as droplets that make a waterfall perceive they are separate. But upon again entering the river, we remember our oneness. That is death, beloved disciples”. He looked into each of their warbling glossy eyes, reaching out to their grief with his heart. “I hope you all find peace and happiness”, he said finally. With those last words the Master became quiet and still, and entering a breathless meditative state, departed his body. The tall monk seated at the master’s side turned his face away from the Master’s remains and found the other monks had turned their eyes to him. The privileged monk, closest of the Master’s disciples, had been chosen to succeed the deceased Master in the leadership of Bach Thai Monastery, and the monks waited for him say what they should do. The New Master perceived they were comforted by Master’s last words, but that the helplessness they felt was beyond the reparation of wise words. He bowed to his new disciples then, and they bowed to him. Then the New Master said, “we will meet on the mountainside at Dawn tomorrow morning to celebrate the Master’s passing. After the burial, life in the monastery will resume as usual. Tonight you may rest or meditate; you know your needs. Dosho and Ooyoo, we’ll go together to the wood pile for planks to build Master’s coffin before it is too dark”.
As the sun sunk behind the mountains and the bird’s chirping trickled away, the two disciples sorted through cedar planks, weeding out those warped or knotted. The New Master chuckled at the young monk’s thoroughness, their readiness to please him, to please the monastery, to please Master. He looked away down the mountainside, scanning the withered groves for nesting sparrows, when he noticed a group of men emerge into the valley below. Squinting, he perceived around their shadowy shoulders the barrels and stocks of rifles. The Master became alarmed for the young monk’s safety, but then relaxed, seeing that the armed men were too focused choosing their footing in the loose pebbles as they descended the hill to look back at the mountain behind them. What are they doing, the new master wondered? Perhaps they are out hunting for Katamela, the great bat of the nearby hills; it ‘s too bad, but any poacher worth the name wouldn’t hesitate to claim the Great Mother’s body for a trophy… or perhaps they are here for something else, but what other reason would draw them to this isolated mountain?
At Dawn the next morning, after the monks had buried the Master’s body in the fresh cedar coffin and as the last echoes of their chanting had died on the mountain air, an envoy of fifteen military vehicles rumbled to the gate of Bach Thai. Two men in uniform stepped out of the leading vehicle and shouted to the silent monks: “We’re looking for a group of revolutionaries who we have word are seeking refuge in these hills. Have any of you seen these men?” The monks, dazed as if their rituals were a dream from which they had been woken, were uneasy, confused what men the soldiers meant. They had never heard of any revolution; news from world below rarely reached them in the mountains. But the New Master, remembering the men he’d seen in the forest, called back to them, “I saw men with rifles leave the woods at the foot of these mountains and descend into the valley. Maybe they are revolutionaries you’re looking for, though I thought they behaved like poachers. With respect officers, why else would they go into the valley where there are known military outposts?” The two soldiers whispered to each other. They looked at the New Master beneath their eyebrows, flashing looks back to the idling envoy. Suddenly, pivoting on their heels, they got back into their vehicle and, followed by the rest of the envoy, turned down the hill. The New Master followed with his eyes the dusty clouds their vehicles kicked up from the road until they disappeared behind a distant ridge.
Later that night, as the monks sat on the floor of the meditation hall, feeling the warmth of the melting light on their faces, a loud raucous boiled up into the air, shattering the silence. Through the window of the shrine the monks saw the military envoy return up the hill and circle around Bach Thai like a wagon train on the offensive. Armed sentries spilled out from the bellies of the roving vehicles, and hoisting their rifles onto their shoulders, stood still to await orders. When the bustle of movement stopped, a squat man with a chest decorated in stars, ribbons, and medallions, jumped down from one of the smaller jeeps, landing on the loose soil with his heavy leather boots. His squinted eyes jumped from one end of the monastery’s grounds to the other as if to probe every shaded corner for danger. The New Master emerged from the mediation hall, calm, ready to hear the major out; but the Major did not notice him and began to shout so that all of Bach Thai’s monks could hear: “After our officers visited this monastery earlier this afternoon, a gang of revolutionaries raided one of our outposts at the foot of these mountains. We know they will try and find refuge higher where they believe no troops are stationed. They hope to find quarters here or in the homes of the nearby tribes and residents. I’ll tell you so that you can spread the word; the administration will bring the full weight of its invested authority down on the heads of those caught assisting the marauders in any way: monk, child, or spirit, the administration cannot relax the law that applies equally to each of its citizens. Until these armed men are tracked down and captured, the military will use this monastery as its outpost. You may continue your monastic practice to the extent it does not interfere with our official duties.” His eyes blazed like tiny coals as they bounced from one stunned monk to the next until he was sure they understood. Then he spun round to face his troops motioning them with a whirl of his finger.  Yellow tents began to pop up on Bach Thai’s lawns; soiled Laundry was hung from the rows of prayer flags strung between the pine saplings in the gardens; soldiers began to bustle in the vegetable patches, harvesting food for their night’s mess. Amid the bustle, ill fit for Bach Thai’s arched stone passageways and chambers, the first victim in this small conflict was claimed without a bullet fired: silence.
Weeks passed.
While the monks meditated, the soldiers marched in the fields. While the monks ate in silence, the military joked and drank on wooden stumps. One day, when a monk sounded the morning gong in the dim dawn light to wake the monks for morning meditation, a grumpy lieutenant who had stayed up all night with a barmaid from the local station, hurled his shoe from his tent at the bell-ringer’s head, yelling for quiet so the regiment could sleep. The bell-ringer complained about his treatment to the New Master, to which he received the response that they should meditate and rest. Even still the New Master was troubled, and he went to bed with a clouded head:
What am I to do Master? he thought. These men give us no peace, no quiet. We cannot perform our duties clear minded with all their noise in our ears. Please help guide Bach Thai through this difficulty. Then the New Master fell asleep and had a dream. In his dreamscape he found himself high above his chamber, soaring, clutching firmly to the feathers on Katamela’s back. They glided over Bach Thai where he saw the military camp, thinking they looked like tiny mustard seeds scattered beside the Monastery’s polished stone. He felt the wind running over her leathery wings onto his cheeks, the power and confidence of her shoulder muscles that propelled her forward rolling beneath his body, the size of the moon growing in their eyes as she approached closer to the upper boundary of the atmosphere. Then the New Master heard Katamela’s voice rumble from her beak. “Oh, what a hopeless situation you are in. The soldiers have broken your silence; you practice peace, hospitality, but Bach Thai’s illness is not responding to the treatment. You’re faith wavers, is your trust in Master misplaced? Have you taken his word over your own? What does your wisdom tell you? Do you trust the scripture written in your heart? Answer me: why do you practice? Why do you sit?”
The Master hesitated, searching inward for an answer while they rose higher into air increasingly cold and thin. Finally, as the stars grew in his eyes, he answered, in words measured and deliberate,  “I      sit     to     become     open”. “What else do you become?” asked Katamela. “I become    receptive     ready     free     big     alone” “And?” Silence. “Hmm, lovely answer”, said Katamela, and with one last powerful stroke of her wings, they burst into space, a vacuum drained of oxygen and sound. The New Master felt as if he were a wanderer from the desert taking his first drink of water in days. It was only weeks since the military arrived, but he felt he had not known silence for years. He closed his eyes and gradually all his thoughts and concerns fell away like old scabs. He heard Katamela whisper, as if she were leaning into his ear, “sometimes we climb to great heights, where no trace of our attachments exist, so we can be alone”.
The New Master woke refreshed well before the morning gong. He stretched his limbs and then, knowing the morning was still hours off, left his cell to take a walk until the other monks had risen. As he passed through the military’s camp he recognized Dosho and Ooyoo, though they were disguised in soldier’s clothing and were bent to their noses over the open hood of a soldier’s truck. “What are you doing?” He asked. The monks were startled, and flushed at the wrenches they held in their hand. “Leave those”, he said,  “we are monks, not saboteurs. Put on your robes and walk with me. Do you have faith in our practice, or did you listen to the master’s talks just to please him?”
The morning came and the monks had filled the meditation hall. The military camp remained quiet. Noon came and still the soldiers had not left their tents. “Take them some tea and bread, perhaps they are ill”, said the New Master to Dosho and Ooyoo. When the monks returned their eyes were wide and their hands twitched with excitement: “Master - the Major asked to talk to you”.
As the Major looked up from the ground at the New Master who entered under the tent flap his eyes flickered as if his pupils were sparks sizzling out on wet tinder. The New Master stood waiting at the tent’s entrance for the Major to speak but instead he turned his face into his hands, forcing his elbows into his pudgy sparkling chest, and was silent. Eventually, he cleared his throat and, straightening his back a little, said,
“I had a dream last night that … has made me think. I cannot shake it, I’ll be frank, because you have been cooperative, and I think you are a trustworthy fellow, but… I have never felt death so close as I do now. It’s ridiculous, I know, what threat is there? We aren’t surrounded (except by unarmed monks)…but I can’t bear the thought of never seeing my wife and daughter again…especially since the last time I saw them…that cannot be how they remember me”, he looked into the New Master's eyes with pupils centered and without fire, reflecting only the breathtaking coolness of the ocean; a scope to some – terrible, while to others it is liberating. “I walked up this mountain and found a large mine carved into its peak. A soft voice spoke from inside but though I strained my ear, I couldn’t make out the words. I stepped cautiously inside. Darkness swallowed me and dank dew collected on my skin. I could still hear the voice chanting, and though I felt an urge to listen, I started to feel afraid, certain I’d walked into a trap. I turned to escape out the cave entrance when a strong wind swept over me and the light at the entrance disappeared like a candle’s flame puffed out. Then, a huge beast swooped down on me, wrapping me in its terrible leathery wings. I started to scream, clawed at its breast, jerked and wormed, panted for breath. It spoke in my ear so I couldn’t mistake its words, though I struggled to shut its voice out, “Why are you screaming? Why Are You Screaming? WHY ARE YOU SCREAMING? WHY SCREAM? Why Are You Screaming? why scream… and then… I woke”. “Dreams are no more real than we are”, said the master and laid a hand on the Major’s shoulder. “So you already know?” asked the major. “Know what?” “Last night…me and the regiment all shared the same dream”.
 Sure enough, the monks found each soldier sagging under the weight of their fear and raw eyed. It took all afternoon for the monks to convince them to come out of their tents. They brought food and tea, comforted them, held the worst of them who could not stop crying. By the time dusk came the monks had managed to take down the military’s camp and loaded up their equipment into their vehicles. The soldiers accepted everything the monks did like helpless children until finally the monks blessed and thanked each of them and helped load them into their car. Soon the major was the only one left. He approached the New Master, reaching out his hand, but the New Master only smiled, and then slowly, bowed. The Major pulled his hand back to hold it with his other, then, he too bowed. Turning to a waiting jeep, he hoisted himself into the passenger seat and grunted at the driver. The car immediately lurched forward down the hill. The Major did not look back though many of the soldiers did turn to stare as they descended the hill with eyes dilated and teary in the fading light, straining to capture for memory the image of rows of waving smiling monks, growing smaller against the range of purple mountains. When the envoy had disappeared down the hill and into the valley’s foliage the nightly gong sounded and the monks disappeared with folded hands into the meditation hall. The New Master remained on the hill, listening to the wind and grasshoppers. Just as he turned to join his disciples he noticed the massive body of Katamela appear from behind the mountain ridge. Her powerful wings dipped slowly into the air like long creaking oars into the sea; her beak opened wide to capture small insects and birds; she dove, recovered, and then finally disappeared into the moonlit clouds. The New Master inhaled slowly: peace, he thought. Peace.

Background on the Zapatistas: Reality is stranger than fiction

1. Why the EZLN is different: anarcho. look at the EZLN's structure 
2. Interview with Subcomandante Marcos 
3. History of the EZLN 
4. 1st interview with Marcos in San Cristobal shortly after the liberation of the city