Sunday, 18 October 2015

Malachi Ward's Ritual Three: Vile Decay: The Erosion of Democracy

The Canadian government recently signed the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement hailed by the current (until October 19th) Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Hailed by the PM and his party as a milestone of Canadian trade, the focus of the press has been mostly on the impact of the TPP on the Canadian Dairy industry and the Auto Manufacturing industry (and with reason as this appears to be the final nail in the Canadian car industry’s coffin). But little has been said about the massive loss of privacy provisions that are included in the TPP. I didn't think anyone would ever include privacy provisions in a trade deal, but here it is. The TPP features many anti-privacy measures and limits the ability of governments to prevent the safekeeping of sensitive information within their own borders. This means that shortly our provincial and federal governments will no longer be able to require sensitive data to be stored locally (i.e. within it's boundaries and therefore, within it's jurisdiction). Adding to this the Mickey Mouse clause of copyright extension to prevent Disney from losing Mickey Mouse for another 20 years and thus also preventing countless works from being made available costing hundreds of millions more to the public, and you have a strange agreement where the winners are not the Canadian public as mentioned, but a handful of multi-billion dollar companies. 

In addition to this, Canada has recently passed a law that is eerily similar to the U.S Patriot Act in the form of Bill C-51, effectively creating a mass surveillance state with little oversight over what the government is doing with our information. I fear many do not understand the surveillance apparatus being installed around them. We all have this idea of George Orwell's 1984 where the repressive conditions laid out by the State can be seen with cameras everywhere. But the system didn’t place cameras around their house, they’ve placed them directly in their pockets through our smartphones, in our living rooms with our laptops. And we didn't stop it from happening. 

Whenever I think of this destruction of privacy, I think of Malachi Ward’s Ritual #3: Vile Decay. Even more so nowadays with the Canadian federal elections just hours away. In Ritual Three: Vile Decay an older woman recalls to her grandchildren the moment she felt the world went wrong. Using a virtual environment, she recalls her memories of protest, and ultimately how pointless it all felt. I feel like this in many ways; one day I’ll explain to my children that, when these moments happened, we were powerless to stop the slide because we failed to comprehend the severity of what was happening in front of us.

Brilliant rioting scene
The colours used by Ward in Ritual is stunning, his pacing is extraordinary. As the woman recalls her involvement with the riots (in a great crowd seen, rarely seen in comics due to the complexity of staging such panels), she also remembers the aftermath. As she and her friends are talking about what just happened, the conversation drifts towards the mundanity of everyday life. They too are unable to comprehend what is transpiring ahead of them. As they walk back towards their house, the group disperses under the sunrise of a new day. A darker day, where the spark of revolution has failed and the surveillance State prevailed. The brightness of the colours contrast immensely with the grim reality laid out by the world on the page. There are countless imageries of constructions and crumbling, both physical, societal and digital. It's exceptional. A remarkable work of speculative fiction. Much like Ritual Two: The Reverie, Ward finds inspiration in our troubling realities, the loss of a loved one, the loss of our privacy, and he crafts a relevant and affecting comic. I bought this in 2014 and I remember it vividly to this day.

I’m writing this, days before the 2015 Canadian election where the three major parties are fairly close in the polls and we’re unable to predict a clear winner. The only party who seems to understand the brutality of those repressive measures and who's willing to tackle them (The NDP) will be coming in third. It seems that the party who leads the charge on C-51 and caved in on internet surveillance through the TPP (the Conservatives) might win again, or that the party who doesn’t care about the implications of any of those two issues (the Liberals) might also win. I don’t think Canada will be a different country on Monday, but it will certainly be a less open and free country. One teetering ever closer to the dark and gloomy world presented in Ritual Three: Vile Decay

Endlessly staring into that abyss

Monday, 12 October 2015

Steph Hill's: A Brief, Accurate Graphic History of the Environmental Movement (Mostly in Canada): A Key to History

I picked up Steph Hill's A Brief, Accurate, Graphic History of the Environmental Movement (mostly in Canada) while in Vancouver last April. I was intrigued by how such a small comic would convey the history of the environmental movement. It is a movement born out of necessity to counter the changes affected by the modern development of our planet. Canada's economy relies on natural resources, so if we look at the example of forestry and the lumber industry, the past centuries have affected massive changes on the way wood is cut and sold. Mechanization of wood cutting and transport has allowed for a greater capacity to harvest wood. Globalization meant that the market was no longer limited to it's geographic boundaries, but could expand beyond it's borders. The response, and opposition to these changes, have also adapted to reflect the larger scope of the issues being faced by the environment and Canadian citizen. S.A. Hill (or Steph Hil) tries as best she can to summarize decades of social changes that brought about the rise of the environmental movements and the specifics of Canada's place in this history. She succeeds in some ways, but falls short of explaining all that one needs to know about the topic, partly due to the nature of the topic and the short length of the comic.

Hill appropriately intersperses her comic with bits of trivia about her subject. It was quite jarring that her opening tidbit was about the US (Cuyagoha River in Ohio) and not Canada. I had to look at the cover a couple of times, to make sure I had the right comic in hand. Notice the parentheses "mostly in Canada", which allows a fluidity of examples to come into play. Hill does use some examples and trivia that isn't specific to Canada, but I think it works to the comic`s advantage. Besides, the reader quickly adapts.

Hill manages to convey a lot of information in a short time. Although her focus is broadly on the environmental movement, how it started and how it took shape from the 1960's up to 2014, she is able to bring into focus both organizations and individuals that were important to the history of the movement. This humane approach is quite interesting and complements the subject nicely. She is able to balance the constraint of history and the personal aspects of the subject really well. She starts be defining the historical context, then focuses narrowly on some specific aspects of it before bringing it back to the larger context. My main complaint may be that some elements are brought up without much detail on why they may be relevant. It was a bit jarring when I didn't recognize the name of an event being described (I had to look up what Silent Spring was for example), but I guess this was inevitable given the shortness of the comic. 

There is a lot of information in this comic, none of that "infotainment" nonsense. Hill wants you to learn. She uses her art to make history interesting and aesthetically pleasing, but never trivializes her subject. You'll come out with a better understanding of both the movement and the issues at stake. 

Although her art might appear simple, her page composition is not. Hill doesn't adhere to a standard page layout, she uses a free flowing approach and this allows the information to be displayed innovatively. I feel the topic may have been too dry otherwise. A rigid panel page would have tied it down too much, encasing it in a rigid structure that would have limited the flow of the comic. Her approach allows the reader to follow the comic organically and absorb the information much faster. 

Hill's drawing is simplistic, but efficient. Her figures and characters are consistent, but I feel that she may have a harder time with facial expressions and differentiating facial features. I could hardly tell if stand-in characters were supposed to be the same from one page to the next. This hardly matters though, the comic isn't a narrative about characters, but about history.

Although I do recommend this comic, I feel it would be an incomplete recommendation without additional reading material. The comic is good, but left me wanting for more. I guess it reached it's objectives in trying to teach me about the environmental movement; now I want to know more. A good companion book might be Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni or Oil & Water by Steve Duin and Shannon Wheeler. And for those of you who may prefer comics without drawings (also known as books) here are some other suggestions: Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why we Need a Green Revolution, by Thomas Friedman and Moral Grounds: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, a collection edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson. The NASA also has some resources, though mostly focusing on climate change HERE. You can read A Brief, Accurate, Graphic History of the Environmental Movement (mostly in Canada) in it's entirety online. 

Update from Barbed Comics

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to talk with Tatyana Gerbasi from Centretown News concerning the unfortunate closure of the Ottawa Silver Snail. I had published an article in early September (Farewell Silver Snail) and she contacted me via the blog. Here's the article that was published afterward: Comic Book Store's Final Chapter.

In other news, I'm happy to report that Comet Comics, the new comic book store by former Silver Snail employee Heather MacDonald, is open! Located in Old Ottawa South, the new shop looks fantastic. Final touches are being given to the shop after a lot of renovations and it looks incredible. Kin is still involved there in some capacity and they were hard at work at installing new custom shelves when I visited. Take a look at their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter; you can also see their website (still in construction at the time of publishing this article). I was quite happy to see they expanded the kids comics section and they still have an impressive alternative section (read non superhero crap) on the wall.

Congrats to the team at Comet Comics!